Monday, June 30, 2008

Democratic Unity in New Hampshire?

Once bitter rivals for the Democratic nomination just a few weeks ago, now in a political marriage of convenience? Senators Clinton and Obama in Unity, New Hampshire on Friday, 27 June.

Is the kiss genuine, or will it be like Judas' kiss of Jesus? Time will tell.

On Friday evening, I was surprised to see on the evening news that Senator Hillary Clinton had finally joined Senator Barack Obama on stage in the obviously chosen site of Unity, New Hampshire for their public coming out party, to show supporters and skeptics alike that the feud in the Democratic house is over. The candidates have kissed and made up. Hillary is now fully on board to help Obama win the presidency in November. They even coordinated outfits (Obama's tie matching Clinton's pantsuit) like some married couple.

I hate to be cynical, but the Clintons inspire that in me. I keep thinking that the Clintons are plotting something, because they just don't give up power that easily. Hillary has long dreamed of becoming the first female president, yet here she is, giving her full public support for Obama. Pundits have pointed out that in previous races, it took a longer time for the runners-up to fully embrace the nominee, and none of them came as close as Hillary did to winning the nomination. There had to be certain deals made behind the scenes, and I'm not talking about the paying off of Hillary's campaign debts.

But about that debt...I think it's outrageous that she spent a lot of money on high priced lobbyists to help run her campaign. Some have reported that she paid one person over $7 million, which, if true, is absurd. Why would anyone deserve that much money? Even a salary of $200,000 would be too much for a campaign. It's the reason why I don't donate money to presidential campaigns. They are just boondoggles for corporate lobbyists who don't want to give up their high salaries on K Street to run someone's campaign unless they get paid the same wages. I say, give the campaign staff jobs to people who don't require that outrageous salary. People like me who live and breathe politics and would gladly work for $30,000 a year during the course of a campaign. So, I'm of the view that Hillary should pay off her campaign debts, not Obama or his supporters. If she couldn't afford to compete against Obama and ran up huge debts, it's her fault for overpaying high priced consultants and basing her support on low wage income earners who can't afford to give money to her campaign.

Whatever deal they came up with, I hope that it's not the Vice Presidency or any cabinet level appointment. Hillary said in 2006 that she loves being a Senator and gave no thought to a presidential campaign in 2008, so she should be made to live by those words. We'll see if she's truly happy in the Senate when Obama is president. Will she run for reelection in 2012 or will she run for president again (if McCain is president)? This all remains to be seen.

For now, we'll have to take this rally at face value. Perhaps she made peace with the fate the Democratic primary voters gave her. Maybe she's far more graceful than pundits make her out to be. Whatever she truly feels, we'll see if she's serious in the months ahead. I'll be watching body language, because it betrays whatever image she wishes to present to the world (see photo of Gore with Obama from an earlier looks like Gore is thinking that maybe he should've run for president after all, for Obama is smiling like usual while Gore looks serious and lost in thought).

I'm just extremely happy for Obama and this moment, the "fierce urgency of now." I truly hope the Hillary supporters who intend to vote for McCain really question themselves why they'd do that. What possible motive would they have for doing such a thing? If they're thinking that making Obama lose to McCain will guarantee another Hillary campaign in 2012, they better think real carefully on that one for a few reasons: (1) Hillary might face stiff competition with Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who has executive experience and knows how to win in a "Red State"; (2) Obama might run again; (3) McCain might be the one to appoint the Supreme Court Justice to replace one of the ailing liberal ones (Souter or Ginsberg), thus putting an end to Roe v. Wade; (4) Hell, Gore might run again and win the nomination; or (5) sabotaging Obama this year might result in a lot of angry Obama voters who want payback in 2012. So, it's not a good scenario to play like spoiled children who don't get their way. Suck it up and vote for the party. I did in 2004 when I wasn't happy with Kerry's nomination. I voted for him anyway because the alternative was worse.

Besides, when the choice comes down to adding one more white male president to the list of 42 white males who served as president, why vote against a truly historic figure whose election would signal to the world that the America they once loved is back, and back with a global superstar that we haven't seen since Mandela was president of South Africa? When the choice is between change versus more of the same, why would any Democratic Hillary supporter choose an unofficial third Bush term? Something's screwy in their logic and they ought to examine their true motives for why they'd vote for McCain over Obama if they claim to be true progressives. They need to come to terms that they backed a seriously flawed candidate who ran a lousy campaign. On top of all that, this election proves that Americans just want to move beyond the Bush-Clinton-Bush years. Two families should not control the White House for more than a quarter of a century.

We will have a female president someday...but her name will not be Hillary.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Golden Rule in Foreign Relations

I'm going to do something different for today's post because I didn't realize until recently that someone had posted a comment on a post I wrote months ago about the CIA and how it violates the Golden Rule and other spiritual laws, even as it tries to fool people who visit its headquarters in Langley, Virginia that the organization lives "Biblical principles" (quoting the Bible does not make a person authentically religious, as Jesus often pointed out that the most sanctimonious religious people often pointed out Torah versus to prove themselves, while violating the spirit of the law).

Here's what a person named "DonQuixote" wrote in response to my post:

i don't know, i'm not cia, but i don't see how there is necessarily a contradiction for one to be a cia officer and not be able to follow the golden rule. take your example--iran--for example. what is wrong with trying to overthrow a fascist regime which is on record of favoring the eradication of a certain people? the average iranian--the iranian in the street,if you will--would be better off (in my view) with a less fanatical regime, which itself was dedicated to the golden rule. What's anti-golden rule about tryig to better the plight of the average iranian, while, one hopes, reducing the amount of blind prejudicial hatred in the world, i wonder?
Do you even know what the Golden Rule, Karma, and even the warnings of our Founding Fathers mean in its application?!?

Here's a refresher...

In our sacred Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote that it is up to a people to decide the form of government they wants for themselves, NOT a foreign occupying power to decide for them. How on earth can Americans even pretend to know what the Iranian people want? We don't even know what the Iraqi people want. History has a consistent track record where empires who impose a foreign governmental presence on a subjected people have all resulted in dismal failure eventually. The reason is simple...people would rather live under a homegrown despotic regime than under a foreign occupying power.

The reason why Iraq hasn't been secured after all these years is because we're still there. Americans have to decide if the continual occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan are worth the blood and treasure our country is spending to maintain control of both places. We might be there for ten years, twenty-five years, or a hundred years, but at some point, the occupied people are going to evict us once and for all and we'll be left debating whether it was worth the lives and resources squandered. With our country crumbling from within (shoddy infrastructure, dismal education, real estate market that went bust, credit crisis, companies in bankruptcy, etc), it appears like our efforts to control another country only hastens our own demise. Perhaps that's a spiritual law at work: whenever you violate such a spiritual law, the boomerang of karma hits back hard. Payback, as they say, is a bitch.

My question to that person's comment is: "How do we know what's best for the Iranian people?"

Here's a history of Iran that got us into trouble a half-century later:

Back in the 1950s, the Iranians had a popularly elected leader named Mossadeg. The UK and the US did not like him because he wanted to nationalize their oil, which was under control of foreign corporations. That's wasn't considered good for the British and American oil companies, so they had a coup to oust Mossadeg and install the Shah. The Shah ruled with an iron fist and grew increasingly unpopular with Iranians, who turned to fundamentalist Muslim clerics, headed by the Ayatollah Khomeini. The anti-Western message resonated with a large swath of the population, which led to the revolution in 1979 that ousted the Shah from power when he came to America for a medical operation. Despots leaving the country run the risk of becoming permanent exiles, because that's when coups seem the most successful.

Because we supported the unpopular Shah, Iranians turned to anyone who was anti-American and the Ayatollah Khomeini was the perfect adversary. However, the Iranians didn't count on a repressive religious regime that restricted their freedoms even more than the Shah did. By the 1990s, the mullahs who ran Iran were unpopular and a reformer (Khatami) was elected. In 1998, the most popular movie in Iran was "Titanic" and Brad Pitt was a popular actor. American pop culture was making serious inroads with the under 30 age group (which represented a huge portion of the population).

So, the question is, why is it our responsibility to bring regime change to Iran? When the American colonists had enough of British rule and the increasing taxes imposed by King George III, it was Americans who rose up to declare independence and enlist the aid of France to help in the war effort. That's how to create lasting government. It always has to come from within. It is the people of a culture or country who have to rise up and overthrow their own government. The only thing foreign powers should do is to intervene only when genocide occurs. If the Iranians truly want a new government, they must rise up and remove the mullahs from power. It was the young generation that rose up in 1978-1979 to revolutionize the country from the Shah. They've proven that they are capable of changing governments, so if life is truly bad in Iran, that's what they'll need to do.

When the people rose up against oppressive governments in Eastern Europe in 1989, America did not intervene. In the 1990s, our country was invited by the democratically elected governments in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland to help out their military (with their desire to join NATO). That's the way to nation build. It's world's away from what we did in Iraq. "Blowback" is the CIA-term for karma. It's the same principle. For every action, there are possible unintended consequences that could make things worse. Looking at our history in Iran, just think how different the world would look if we never removed Mossadeg from power. There would not have been a Shah, a Khomeini, the 444-day hostage crisis, the Iran-Contra scandal, and the arms-for-hostages deals of the Reagan years. If you think about the number of lives lost, billions of dollars misspent, and the complete destruction of Beirut (the Paris of the Middle East), was it truly worth it to have a puppet regime to keep oil in the hands of western corporations for twenty years (the 1950s-1979)? It seems like a huge price to pay just to gas up our large American vehicles.
Here's a map of Iran's ethnic groups. Americans have no clue about how other countries are organized or how they work. It's absurd to think that we can just invade a country and create a government that we think is best, when it hasn't worked in Iraq. Iran is even more diverse with a larger population and territory. If we can't control Iraq outside of the Green Zone, how the hell are we going to control a country as large as Iran?

The Shah, the perfect puppet for western oil companies.

Who's crazier? Both Bush and Ahmedinejad (sp?) are of extremist religious views, each believing that God speaks directly to him. I remember reading an article in college that claimed that the U.S. actually has more in common with Iran than it does with Western European countries. That's pretty scary when you think about it, but the point of the article was that in both countries, too many citizens are easily manipulated by religious leaders who have a nationalistic political agenda that is prone to war instead of diplomacy. Europe is war-averse and prefers diplomacy above all. Oh, and Europe is very secular, pretty much having given up on religion as a legitimate belief system for the modern age. Not that that's a good thing or a bad thing, just that they've seen the destruction religious wars have done to our planet with little benefit and they've moved on towards transnational cooperation and interdependence.

Finally, if you truly don't understand the Golden Rule (do unto others what you would want them to do unto you), then the best way to understand it is to flip the scenario a little bit. If you think invading Iran and bringing democracy to the people there is "the Golden Rule in action", then how about this scenario?

Imagine a country like China wants to colonize America for our assets. The best way to do this, they believe, is not a military confrontation, but to buy a politician and rig an election. Let's say that they find the perfect candidate in Hillary Clinton, so they help behind the scenes to see that she wins. But someone else wins. They decide that's no good, so they invade and install her as president. Then as president, she makes decisions that most Americans find unpopular but are beneficial to China. Would we Americans stand for such foreign meddling in our politics? I don't know a single American who would stand for it. So, if we Americans don't like foreigners deciding who's going to be our president, then why do we do that to other countries? That's what it means to live by the Golden Rule. So that's why invading Iran and creating a government for them is a violation of the Golden Rule. If you can't understand this, then you don't understand the Golden Rule or karma. If you understand it, then you know why such actions are destined to fail.

Our Founding Fathers knew this. That's why Washington warned us to stay out of foreign entanglements. That's why Jefferson wrote that it is the right of people to establish their own form of government. Our Declaration says nothing about establishing a government for other people, where we don't know the language, culture, and history.

Put me down as one who supports a more respectful foreign policy, in which we no longer attempt to influence the political affairs of another nation, either covertly or through invasions. If we're truly "the greatest Christian nation on earth" (I, of course, don't believe we are nor should we be), then let's be a bit more Christ-like in our foreign policy, shall we? Nothing is worse than a hypocrite, which our country has been for a long time. We need to be greater than that and live true to our founding aspirations.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The John Adams Miniseries

I finally watched all of the excellent "John Adams" miniseries on DVD. This was one television event that I was looking forward to for a few years when I heard that my favourite actor Tom Hanks had bought the rights to David McCullough's bestselling biography on one of the most neglected Founding Fathers. Because of that critically-acclaimed biography, Adams had seen his historical rank rise a little bit. Before, he was mostly known as the first one-term president who established the Alien and Sedition Act (a forerunner to today's equally un-Constitutional USA PATRIOT Act). The biography gave Adams a fuller picture and what's more, it shows how remarkable his relationship was with Abigail. Would he have been as successful without such a strongly opinionated wife?

It is my hope that Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney will win Emmy Awards for their excellent portrayal of John and Abigail Adams. Paul, especially, did an outstanding job. He truly did embody how I envisioned Adams to look and behave. He was passed over for an Oscar nomination in the film "Sideways" (a slight I never understood, for he made that movie what it was), so if he doesn't get an Emmy nomination for this role, something is seriously amiss.

Laura Linney has been one of my favourite actresses since I first saw her in the film "Congo." She has what I consider to be an excellent track record for choosing film projects that I'm interested in seeing and each role has never disappointed me yet. I love her portrayal of Abigail, a remarkable woman living in a time when women were considered second class citizens and expected to keep her opinions to herself when the men are talking. It's nice to see that even back then, during those times, a man like John is not threatened by the opinions of a lady and has no problem following her advice.

Here's a scene of Adams with Benjamin Franklin in Paris. The two episodes in Paris vaguely reminded me of the film "Jefferson in Paris." They even have the same opera and music in one scene. It's amusing to watch the level of discomfort Adams (like Jefferson in that previously mentioned film) has when talking to the somewhat obscene French. You can see the clash of cultures just in the dinner scene. Franklin was quite popular in Paris because he had no problems with the sexual decadence of the upper classes in aristocratic France.

Stephen Dillane plays the best Jefferson I've seen yet! Forget Nick Nolte or Sam Neill as the firebrand liberal. Dillane plays him EXACTLY as I envision Jefferson in my head as I read his books or books about him. Since Jefferson is my favourite president, I wanted to see more of him. I think he comes across well in the miniseries, which is surprising because I had heard that McCullough is no fan of Jefferson at all.

After seeing the show in its entirety, I'm really glad they made it into a miniseries rather than a two or three hour movie. They are able to do much more with the longer running time and we get a richer experience for it. Granted, I could've done without the gross stuff (the smallpox, the leg amputation, and the breast cancer surgery), but those are minor complaints. I'm just completely blown away by how good this miniseries is and I want to see more! Every Founding Father should have one of their own. Jefferson, especially, should have a miniseries of his own. To me, this is what makes me feel patriotic. It's witnessing our history come alive on screen and getting a better idea of the times our Founding Fathers lived in.

Definitely worth owning and watching every year. I'll have to add it to my wish list.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Flashback Friday: On the Fritz

I've decided to do something new for Fridays. In the past, I've had "Fun Friday" posts where I post a survey, questionnaire, or some other list of favourites type of thing. I'll continue doing that, but I also wanted to add "Flashback Fridays" where I review an old album or movie or book that I love. Something you might not have ever heard before or seen, but something that has really made an impression on me in the 1980s and 1990s. So, for my first "Flashback Friday", I wanted to review my all-time favourite Christian rock CD: "On the Fritz" by Steve Taylor.

Here's a little backstory. Back in 1986, when my family lived in Germany, our church met in a town that was too far to attend every week, so we only went a few times a year. However, my dad wanted my brother and I to have a Christian grounding, so he made us attend the local protestant youth group on the Army base we lived on. I hated it with a passion and didn't want to go. But my dad showed me what was more important to me when he gave me a choice: either I go to these youth group meetings every Sunday afternoon or I forfeit that week's allowance. So, I went and hated the hour or two I was there. I hated their propaganda and their hypocrisy. Most of all, I hated their constant challenge to us to give up secular music and listen only to Christian rock/pop. Back in the mid-1980s, Christian rock music actually sucked for the most part. It didn't really come into its own until the 1990s. At the time, I disagreed quite passionately about their view of secular music being evil or of the devil. And besides, there was no way that I'd give up my music. I loved 80s pop music (and still do!). If my love of 80s pop music was going to send me to hell, then by God...send me to freakin' hell!

On top of this, my parents made me attend Christian rock concerts with them. Once, we went to see Sandi Patti in concert. I admit that I actually liked her songs...but I was a teenager who didn't want to go to her concert, so I probably pouted a lot and tried to make things as miserable for my parents as possible for forcing me to go. At the concert, there was a table full of a variety of cassette tapes and CDs of various Christian singers. One of them captured my attention and I asked my dad if I could buy it. He actually said yes. I had no idea who this singer was, but I loved his cassette cover (see the photo above). It just stood out from the rest and I hoped that I chose wisely.

When I listened to it on my Walkman later on, I was impressed. I didn't think a Christian album could be so cool. With song titles like "This Disco Used to be a Cute Cathedral," "You've Been Bought", and "I Manipulate", how can you go wrong?

One song on that album was "Lifeboat", which was hilarious and cool. It's about the idea of who would you save on a lifeboat if you had to judge which people board and which to be thrown overboard. It reminded me of a discussion we had for a class at RLDS Church camp in Guthrie Grove, Iowa in the summer of 1985. Steve Taylor shows his sense of humor in that song and it packs a powerful message. I was absolutely impressed.

The song, "Drive, He Said" is about a road trip in which the driver finds the devil in the back seat. It's one of my favourites and one I'd love to "act out" as a skit while it plays in the background.

My two favourite songs on the album are "To Forgive" and "I Just Wanna Know." The first one is about suicide and the second one has an important line: "if there be any wicked way in me, then pull me to the rock that is higher than I" (a kind of anti-hypocrisy song, if there ever was one). I also love it's opening line: "Life's too short for small talk, so don't be talkin' trivia now." I used both songs as part of my sermons that I gave at the Orem Utah congregation in 1998 and 1999. They had a good impact on the people who were there.

What I most like about Steve Taylor is that he uses humour and irony to get his point across. He's not afraid to knock the sanctimonious attitudes some Christians have about faith and those who don't have it. He is the kind of Christian that I wish there were more of. Most of all, he proved that it was possible for Christian pop music NOT to suck. Later songs that show his provocative use of titles and lyrics include "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good" and "Jesus is For Losers." Those songs are not what you might think they'd be about, proving that you don't judge a song by its title.

The unfortunate thing is that his albums are quite hard to find on CD. I have a worn out tape of "On the Fritz" and some of the better songs of that album are on the greatest hits CD I have, but that's no good, because I love all of the songs on that album. "On the Fritz" is the rare album in which I love every song. So, I made the right choice...and all because I liked his cover art. It stood out. However, I never had the opportunity to attend his concert, which was something that I had hoped to do, but he never made a tour that I was aware of. I did like the fact that the follow-up CD was titled "I Predict 1990" because that was the year I graduated high school, but the CD came out in 1987 or 1988.

If you've never heard of him, please seek out a copy of his "On the Fritz" album and give it a listen. Let me know what you think. I think you'll be quite impressed. So many songs are worthy of a discussion, if you lead a youth or young adult group. I certainly would like to use his song "Lifeboat" as a lead-in to a discussion about that idea.

I don't know what he has been doing since 1994 (when his last album came out), but I think he was involved as a producer with the Christian rock band "The Newsboys" (which does carry on his style of songwriting and melodies). That's another Christian band that I dig for their catchy music and provocative/ironic lyrics. Simply put, there is no one quite like Steve Taylor, and unfortunately, I know so little about him. His music had a big impact on my life and to this day, I can't regret going to those protestant youth group meetings or concerts, because I never would have been exposed to Taylor's genius. All I ask about music is to be catchy, provocative, powerful, and cool. It doesn't matter to me if it's secular, Christian, Hindi, African, or whatever else. I just love good music. No one can ever make me restrict the music I listen to, because I know which ones to avoid (never liked the heavy metal, angry punk, and that hardcore type). It pays to be open-minded, so I can discover artists like Steve Taylor and lose myself in his music with clever lyrics.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Congratulations to Charles and Sarah Lewis!

Just found out yesterday that Sarah Lewis gave birth on Friday, June 20th (the actual due date!) to 7 lbs 3 oz Coakley Anna Lewis at 5:41 pm. I want to extend my congratulations to the happy couple on their first child.

Hopefully, little Coakley won't be a huge distraction as her daddy, Charles Lewis, runs his campaign for City Council. It means we'll just have to work that much harder for him while he enjoys his new role of fatherhood as much as he can between now and November.

These are exciting times...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Problem with Fundamentalist Christians

I was actually at a loss for what to write about for today's post (if you can believe that!). Nothing much of interest has captured my fancy until I came across an article that Dr. James Dobson was now criticizing Senator Obama for comments that he made about religion that the demented doctor claims to misrepresent Christianity. This, of course, piqued my interest. When I read the article, I couldn't believe the latest manufactured controversy. I couldn't find any fault in what Obama said. No surprise. I have a long bad history with fundamentalist Christians and have never found anything they had to say as being credible or even all that interesting. Too many are dogmatic, ideologically blind, and completely free of logic. I have no use for a belief system that encourages blind obedience to authority figures, antiquated "traditions", and general lack of personal freedom.

So, what bug got up Dobson's ass this time?

Here are some interesting bits of what Obama said:

"Even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson's or Al Sharpton's?" Obama also said that "folks haven't been reading their Bibles. " He cited examples from the book of Leviticus where slavery is okay but eating shellfish is an abomination in God's eyes. Even more impressive, Obama said that Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is "a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application."

Wow! That's what I'm talking about! Finally, a politician who gets the absurdities of religion and how it's distorted by other politicians and charlatans like Dobson, Robertson and the late Falwell. Dobson was so offended by what Obama said that he accused the Senator of "dragging biblical understanding through the gutter." Most audacious of all, Dobson said: "I think he's deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology."

Wow, he actually said that?!? Does the man even look at himself in the mirror? People like him (and Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Bob Jones, Erik Prince, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Fred Phelps and their ilk) have used their religion to serve a corporate and conservative agenda that hardly reflects Christ. So, why is Dobson pointing out the splinter in another's eye when his own has a huge beam in his own? His support of right-wing economic, corporate, and military power, is hardly the stuff Jesus would endorse. Anyone who thinks so is clearly deluded and will have to show me specific examples from the Bible where Jesus promoted a culture of greed, deceit, violence, and materialism. In one passage, a rich young man asked Jesus what more he could do to live a righteous life. Jesus' response was: "Give everything you have to the poor and follow me", NOT "invest in the stock market and buy an SUV."

So, where does Dr. Dobson get off on condemning a political candidate who has merely pointed out the obvious that previous politicians avoid because they worship at the altar of mammon, not God. It's shameless, but I don't expect anything less. I've never liked Dobson. It saddens me that there are people in my church whom I love, who think Dobson is a truly great spiritual leader and they follow his every utterance like it was gospel.

Here's my experience with the Dobson propaganda...

When I was a Junior or Senior, my home congregation (Atlanta North RLDS Church) used Dr. James Dobson's "Focus on the Family" materials for the Senior High Sunday school class. We didn't really question it until one issue completely knocked "Empire Strikes Back" as an example of Hollywood's sneaky attempt to influence impressionable minds with Buddhist ideas. As every fundamentalist Christian knows, Buddhism is synonymous with Satanism. In our church, no one I knew had a problem with "Star Wars" at all. This was the first time I heard of a Christian finding offense in that film series. I also had no idea that Yoda's ideas were taken from a lot of Buddhist concepts. So, I give credit to Dr. James Dobson for pointing it out. Up until that time, I had not explored Buddhism because of my being indoctrinated with Christian propaganda (from the protestant youth groups my dad made me attend when we lived in Germany) that Buddhism was satanic. If Yoda's views were Buddhist, then it only made me want to learn more about this belief system because I loved the ideas that Yoda presented to Luke Skywalker.

Thanks, Dr. Dobson! Your narrow-minded ignorance helped me to break out of the Christian propaganda and begin my long journey to learn more about this mysterious religion that predates Christianity by a half-millennium. To this day, I cannot find anything in Buddhism that would violate what Jesus taught. I consider Jesus and the Buddha to be spiritual brothers. One founded an extroverted religion, the other founded an introverted religion. Studying and integrating both belief systems can really give you a huge spiritual boost. And I know that from personal experience.

The second and final straw Dr. Dobson's propaganda presented us with was a series on religious cults. Of course, he put the Mormon church in that category. Because he was criticizing our religious "cousins", we had an interesting discussion in Sunday School about what he said and decided to drop his materials from our Sunday School class. While we obviously have our own issues with the Mormon church and numerous differences between our two churches, we understood that Dobson would most likely consider our church a cult as well. Why support his curriculum if he was going to attack any spiritual ideas that he doesn't agree with? Our church has materials we could use.

I was glad to be rid of Dobson's propaganda from our Sunday School. To this day, I have no qualms to say bluntly that I do not like fundamentalist Christians at all. I haven't met a smart one yet. So many of them seem proud of their ignorance. Knowledge is scary to them and they take a silly offense for God, thinking that by bashing anyone who views religious beliefs from a standpoint of logic and history as being corrupted by their own arrogant thirst for knowledge. However, let's get real here. No matter how much we learn, we will never know all the knowledge that God has, yet to remain willfully ignorant in the face of new ideas is self-sabotage. Why remain ignorant?

Here's a bit of history that these types don't like to think about. Our country was settled in part by Pilgrims who escaped religious persecution in Europe. What did they do when they set up a colony in present day Massachusetts? They created the first theocratic police state on the continent. They chased away dissenters. They burned "witches" (most of whom were the foremothers to today's feminists). They couldn't see the hypocrisy in themselves, doing to others what others had done to them. It's an interesting twist of fate that Massachusetts has become perhaps the most liberal state in the union. And like Scientology is to California, the Mormons to Utah, the Unitarian-Universalists have churches everywhere you look in Massachusetts. The most liberal of Christian churches has taken hold in this state that was founded by the most rigid and hypocritical of religious puritans. How does history twist that way?

My wish for those who prefer to remain in the dark cave of fundamentalist Christianity should follow the lead of the Amish or the Jehovah's Witnesses. Don't participate in the political process. We have a democracy where all religious views are tolerated, so long as they don't violate the law. We'll never have a theocratic police state like some of these people desire. You have to wonder why they are so threatened by freedom that they want to deny it to others, even as they proudly claim to live in the most free country on earth. Don't they see the disconnect? Wanting freedom for yourself but denying it to those who don't share your views is not what freedom is about. If you want to remain ignorant, give your money to Dobson, watch the 700 Club all day, and listen to Haggard's homophobic remarks without thinking that he might be getting some in a dark closet somewhere, go ahead. Be my guest. You can have those intolerant religions. Just let those who have no problems with diversity live in peace.

I once asked a person who was quite conservative in his views (to the point of being fundamentalist), yet had a pretty wild past why he felt the need to control other people's behaviour. I notice this trait a lot. Introduce me to a fundamentalist, and I will discover their wild past everytime. That they can't see the glaring contradiction is fascinating to me. Anyhow, this guy told me that what most appealed to him about fundamentalism is that it has helped control his addictive personality. He couldn't imagine living life without some sort of control over his behaviour. He didn't want to hit rock bottom again. That's understandable. I countered his example with one of my own. Because I've never been a wild person and I've been in situations as a young teenager and as an older teenager where people were doing things that I strongly disagreed with, but I never needed someone to make me live a moral life. I trusted myself that I was strong enough to stand up to peer pressure, and I was. So, it's interesting to me that the people who fall easily into addictions need fundamentalist religion to keep them living right while a person like me belongs in a church that allows me complete freedom and doesn't try to control me. That's why I love our church. Though there are fundamentalist types within our church, the leadership of the church itself has never been about making morality statements to members all the time. It truly does allow members complete freedom of conscience without fear that they'll be disfellowshipped or excommunicated (unless it's something really bad, like murder or trying to operate a personal cult on church property).

That's what the different religions are for. Obama is smart enough to see that. Why fundamentalists can't appreciate our democracy for allowing them to live in ignorance is amazing to me. Because they have major control issues to work out, I'm of the view that we should not allow anyone of a fundamentalist mindset to ever hold political office or have power over policies that affect the diversity of a community, state or entire nation. We have Bush as a perfect example of rigid belief systems rendering him incapable of changing course in the midst of disaster. He's another fundamentalist type with a wild past who desires to control others, even if those who've never had a wild rebellion are quite capable of living well without his intolerant religious beliefs.

Finally, to Dr. Dobson, I'd have to say..."Read the Bible and get a clue. You won't find the Christ you claim to worship in Bush's underwear. Stop conning the masses with your mammon lies. You're nothing but a stooge for godless capitalism and Ayn Rand-greed."

Obama is proving himself to be the opposite of John Kerry, which I'm glad. Anyone who picks a battle with the religious reich is a hero of mine. It's time that America really gets serious about religion and stop our blasphemous posturing that we're God's favourite country. Until we truly learn what Jesus was really about, we'll always be suckered by the phony puppet prophets that are merely marionettes dancing to the hand movements of the neo-conservative kleptomaniacs.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

If You Want God to Laugh...

...Make Plans!!!

Okay, so I was a complete idiot in deciding to have a nice, quiet, solitary retreat in Coeur d'Alene WITHOUT checking to see if anything was happening there this past weekend.

I learned too late that this past weekend is one of the biggest event weekends Coeur d'Alene has all year: the annual Ironman competition, with nearly 3,000 super-competitive athletes streaming into town to prove their physical endurance in this grueling competition (2.4 mile swim; 112 mile bike ride; and a full marathon--26.2 miles!). Yikes!

It was exciting to watch and see all the people, but nice and quiet was not going to be part of my weekend plans with all this craziness going on. I did walk around Tubb's Hill a couple times (once on the lower path; once to the top of the hill for a good view) and got some ideas regarding my future goals. I also went for a couple drives, particularly the one that matters most: driving east of Coeur d'Alene and turning around at the edge of the lake. The reason for this is because it was my roadtrip in 1999 (from Provo UT to Bremerton WA) on this stretch of I-90 coming into the Coeur d'Alene area that hit me as being "the most beautiful place" my eyes had ever seen on earth. I had to know if the same feeling would hold nearly a decade later. Sure enough, it did. Once again, my breath was taken away at the gorgeous sight of the lake as the Interstate curves around at a high elevation and descends into the town of Coeur d'Alene. It was that scene which made me fall in love with this place and I can't believe I got to visit it twice in six months after dreaming about it since 1999.

On Sunday, before returning to Spokane to catch my flight back to Portland, I took a drive up to Sandpoint to see what that area looks like. I didn't stop, just drove up to Sandpoint, around the downtown and back down to Coeur d'Alene. My mind recorded as much beauty as my eyes could take in. I have this compulsive need to SEE as much of our world as possible, because it's all these scenes of incredible beauty that helps me to endure the bland days of a mundane job. If I ever get stressed, all I have to do is call up an image of a beautiful scenery I've seen and I'm centered and calm and able to endure the most menial of tasks. This is probably why I love traveling so much. Back in January, when I did a road trip with a lady who used to live in Spokane, we discovered a difference in how we view the journey. She just wants to get there and would teleport herself if she could. I've always preferred the journey...the longer the better. When I've done solo road trips in the past, I've had the most profound spiritual experiences as I view the landscape while I drive. No offense to those who just want to get to where they're going, but I much prefer my view of enjoying the journey on the way to the destination.

The ultimate question for the weekend is...did I get an answer that I was searching for?

I think so, with a mystery attached that I won't go into but will investigate further.

What truly surprised me about Coeur d'Alene is that I saw a building that advertised itself as a "Human Rights" educational center. In Coeur d'Alene?!? For those who know me well, in college, human rights was the focus of my International Politics major. Being a human rights activist is one of my top three dream career scenarios. Why would Coeur d'Alene have such an organization? The town is approaching 40,000 residents, and while I've been searching for such an organization in Portland (larger and more cosmopolitan), I haven't found one yet to send my resume to. So, this intrigued me and merits further investigation. Who knows?

I suppose if you listen really closely, you can hear the sound of distant laughter. It's cruel in a way. Everything about who I am as a person needs to be in a career that is globally focused and matches my talents, passion, knowledge, and interests. How I ended up so far from my college goals is the continuing mystery of my life. But it's a mystery that I want solved as soon as possible. An eight year detour from my dream life is simply too long with no hope in sight. I know from experience that turnarounds could be just as dramatic and exciting, but the ultimate question I face is what I need to do to put my career into turnaround?

As much as I love Coeur d'Alene, I think that it will remain a place to vacation for me, but not to actually live there. When I got back to Portland, all that I love about this city bubbled up in me. When I lived in Atlanta and traveled to cool destinations, I always felt repulsed when returning to Atlanta. I had a feeling of "ug!" Not so with Portland. The diversity (yes, even though it has a reputation for being one of the "whitest cities in America", I like the progressive and artistic vibe of the city.), the neighborhoods, the politics, the passion for all things environmental and sustainable, the location, and even the size (just small enough to have a feel of a town, but enough excitement and activities of a major city to never get bored). I believe this is where I'm meant to be and perhaps someday, I can spend my summers in Coeur d'Alene, writing novels in solitude as I take in the gorgeous scenery, and then when it's done, I return to Portland for the rest of the seasons to continue my social life of being actively involved in the lifeblood of a great city.

That's the feeling I returned from my retreat with. I have enough beautiful images in mind to carry me through the rest of the year. But I belong here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Rendition and Redacted

In the past few weeks, I watched two more Iraq War/War on Terror related films. It's interesting that most Americans, who supported these wars at first, avoid seeing any movie related to current events in our foreign policy...while me, who was always against the war can't get enough of these films. I want to see them all. The documentaries, the movies, whatever, just bring it on! I guess I'm the oddity, as I can't turn my eyes away from the current mess. But, in reality, I guess I'm just not dysfunctional. A sure sign of dysfunction is when no one wants to mention the elephant in the room that you know everyone notices but pretends doesn't exist. I've always been the one who likes to give voice to the thoughts people have, and in many cases, I've gotten flack for it, but I stand my ground. I hate dysfunction and I hate avoidance. I want elevated dialogue and clash of philosophies. Let's have a debate. Let's address the issue, shall we?

First, "Rendition." Now, if you thought Meryl Streep played the boss from hell in "the Devil Wears Prada", her role in this film makes Miranda Priestly look like Julie Andrews in "the Sound of Music"! Her role as a CIA operative who authorizes rendition and torture will give you chills because she apparently has no trouble sleeping at night.

This film covers the concept of disappearing suspects and sending them to other countries to be tortured (in other words, think "outsourcing" at its most extreme). Reece Witherspoon plays a pregnant wife with a young son who starts her own investigation when her husband doesn't show up at the airport after a business trip to Cape Town, South Africa. Oh, but he did! She has proof of his boarding the flight in South Africa, so he had to have exited the plane in Chicago, even if the computers had already deleted his name from the flight list. That's because he was already taken into custody on the flimsiest of excuses. His cell phone records included calls from a phone number known to be of a certain terrorist.

So, we get to see the process of interrogation and even waterboarding (so that's what it is!), on his end. From his wife's perspective, we see her seek answers from an old college friend who works for a Senator in D.C. Her main demand is to know what her husband is accused of doing and where he is being held. Meryl Streep's CIA agent prefers to pretend that she doesn't know who Reece is talking about, and makes veiled threats to the Senator, who has a bill he desperately wants to pass.

The film plays with your sense of time with the central plot device. It's well done and portrays all sides of the issue quite fairly. In the end, you end up thinking about the use of torture to gain information. I know some "Christians" who aren't troubled by our government using it (because they're just "terrorists" after all), but that view shocks me because many of these people who are blase about it tend to be the same ones who are fanatical about ramming Jesus down everyone's throat because "he DIED for your sins!!!" So, torturing Jesus is bad, torturing terrorists is good. Moral ambiguity from people who claim to have Christian values. Yeah, right. Whatever.

Also in "Rendition" is actor Jake Gyllenhaal as a newbie CIA agent who oversees the torture of Reece's husband and how he comes to terms with it. The other final storyline concerns the daughter of the man who tortures suspects for the CIA, and her love for a troubled young man who is ripe for recruitment by jihadis. By having all these diverse characters interract, we see the complexity of this issue regarding rendition and torture. It helped me to understand the mindset that always baffled me....those Nazi death camp workers who pushed the button that released the gas that killed Jews by the thousands. Many were married with children, so what is it about the human disconnect that would allow a person to live a normal life when his job encourages monsterous brutality? What's even more alarming is that I see this tendency in a lot of my fellow Americans who claim to love and worship Christ while being completely okay with what our government is doing in Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Air Base, and Abu Ghraib Prison.

The other film I watched recently is Brian De Palma's "Redacted." As I watched it, I couldn't believe that he was ripping off his own film, "Casualties of War." There were at least three scenes that were nearly identical or even had a word for word plagiarism of his earlier film. I suppose that's okay if he's cannibalizing his own work, but I don't think it worked so well. The reason is because "Casualties of War" is the most powerful film I had ever seen. The film had such a profound impact on me that it ranks in my top four all-time favourites list. It is the film that I often cite to people as an example of true nonconformity (portrayed by Michael J. Fox's character). Even though the film is 19 years old, I still can't watch it very often because it packs a huge emotional punch. I always have to prepare myself mentally when I want to watch it, then I have to do a post-viewing ritual to shake my nerves. It's that powerful to me. Every time I see it, there are a few scenes that never fails to cause me to cry buckets. So, why watch it, you ask? Because it's a reminder of how difficult it is to stand up for what's right. You will face ridicule, threats of violence, and whatever else. Standing up for something is not comforting and this film, more than any other, is brilliant at making you feel very uncomfortable.

So why De Palma wanted to revisit the intense subject matter (American G.I.s taking it upon themselves to rape and murder a local girl in the midst of a warzone) is somewhat baffling to me. Especially since this film lacks the emotional punch that his brilliant "Casualties of War" did. It was a pale imitation. On the DVD is a short interview that he gave, in which he called it a companion piece to his "Casualties of War." So, the similarities between the two films were intentional.

This one has no known actors, which gives it a very real feeling to it. He also uses handheld cameras and edits it in such a way that the film does feel like a documentary, using soldiers actual video blogs, YouTube like videos (the hilarious one being an angry leftist chick who wants to allow the Iraqis to have their way against the G.I.s who raped a girl and murdered her family), and even a foreign journalist type documentary (in French). It's interesting to watch, but after it's over, you have to wonder what the whole point was. De Palma did it so much better with "Casualties of War." You know something is a classic when it transcends time, thus making an update or a reinterpretation or a companion film unnecessary.

That won't stop me from seeing any others that come out. Like I said, I'm all about seeing everything regarding our war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and against terror. There's a lot of ways of looking at these issues and it's a shame that Americans shun these films. What are my fellow countrymen and women afraid of? How can we hope to change our government policy if Americans prefer to remain blissfully ignorant about the wars that they signed off on (while portraying those of us who questioned the necessity of launching a war in the first place as unpatriotic traitors)? It's just interesting to me that a person who was against the Bush presidency and his desires for endless war can't get enough of these films, while practically everyone else I know (especially the pro-war folks back in 2003-2004) ignore these films in favour of films like the "Saw" series or crappy Jack Black/Mike Myers/Adam Sandler comedies.

Can we get some depth, please?!?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Soul Retreat in Coeur d'Alene

I have this on a timer, to post while I'm secretly on a personal retreat in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Even though I cancelled the Memorial Day retreat, I've been feeling a need to go there for my own purpose. I had wanted to walk Tubb's Hill (seen below) back in January but it started snowing and I didn't want to get lost. I had planned to have a morning meditative walk at this hill during the Sunday morning of the retreat. My goal is to walk with an intention in mind with the hope that I will receive a clear answer by the end of my walk. The purpose of this retreat is to determine my future goals. I'm so far off track from where I want to be, that I need to do something to find myself back on the path that leads to my destiny.

Does Coeur d'Alene represent my future life? I've dreamed about living there since I first drove through in 1999 and was struck by how beautiful it was. But my living there is dependent on my finding a job there or (ideally) being established in a writing career. We'll see how this weekend plays out when I get back and post my report.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Scenes from Sunny San Diego

As promised, here are some photos from my visit with the Hagmans in San Diego over Memorial Day weekend. Above is a family picture of Lisa, Nathan, and little Ean. I'm not sure what that line is above Nathan's head. It wasn't there when I took the picture, so I'll be doing some "spiritual research" to see if there is an other-worldly explanation to it (like a flattened orb, an odd aura or something).

Here's Nathan in his backyard, playing with Chelsea (the German Shepherd) and Myra (the Komondor). One thing I loved about Myra is seeing her run because her dredlocks look really cool when she's running. She's very rastafarian, I think. And adoreable. Having a dog like her is guaranteed to get a lot of attention. I noticed that when Nathan and I took her to the vet and watched people stare.

Ean at the beach in La Jolla.

I hope this is not a foretelling of a future career! Ean loved being behind bars! I like how the light seems to shine down on him, like he's being blessed by God's favour. I told Nathan that I hope Ean will be president someday.

Nathan, Ean, and I at the LDS Temple grounds in La Jolla. I'm hoping that in a few years, Ean will serve as the ring-bearer at my wedding. But, I have a feeling that's still about three years away. First to find a better paying job before I re-enter the dating pool.

This is probably my favourite LDS temple. It has a unique and very cool design. Of course, we couldn't go in, being the heathen renegades that we are!

A building at Balboa Park. I thought it looked cool and I liked the angle of the sun.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Comedy of Errors

Having a blog is interesting. But even more than that is having a tracker/counter to check daily who's reading my blog, how they found it, which blog posts prove more popular (currently in the lead is my post on the International Women that I admire--feminists watch out!), and most of all, where these blogreaders live. Only a few times did I see ones that only mention a country and not a city. But on Wednesday, I was shocked when I saw a hit from an unknown computer with no details given as to where in the world they were accessing my blog from. Even more alarming, they looked at only one post...the one on Blackwater...and spent an hour and sixteen minutes! Could it be secret government agents or Blackwater execs?

Anyhow, that was the thought in my head when my cell phone rang while at work. I looked at it and saw a 202 area code. Had it been anywhere else, I would've let it go to voicemail, but it was Washington, D.C. calling! My first thought was that some government official was going to offer me a job or tell me about a career opportunity. I was excited, so I answered it, expecting great news.

What I got was a rambling telemarketer who spoke with a sense of urgency and told me that because Hollywood is producing a lot of "filth" and making even PG-13 movies more offensive, he wanted to let me know about a new opportunity with Deseret Books, where I can join the DVD club and get a wholesome, family (and Mormon) film that won't offend anyone!

Excuse me?!? I told him that I was a single guy and hadn't paid any attention to the rating system since I turned 17. Why should I? As a teenager, I was always disappointed when a film was Rated R because it meant that I couldn't see it and my parents wouldn't allow me to see it. Once I turned 17, I could see them without supervision or permission, so it's become the thing I pay attention to the least when I'm wanting to see a movie. The rating system is a guideline for parents, but this sanctimonious Mormon telemarketer made it sound like it was a moral guide direct from God.

Anyhow, it became obvious that he was following a script because everything I said in response to his questions was flatly ignored. He kept trying to sell me on to this. When I asked for examples of movies that they send, he mentioned a few Mormon movies that I already own as well as some really bad Mormon movies I'd never want to own.

No matter what I said, this guy wouldn't let go. He kept coming up with new angles to sell his movie club plan, and my co-worker (the one I have had ongoing personality problems with) was filing paperwork behind me and was eavesdropping (of course). She kept saying, "just hang up!" I was laughing at the whole ordeal...with my being suckered into answering my cell phone just because it had a Washington, D.C. area code, and my personal feeling that hanging up someone is extremely rude. But my co-worker kept shouting, "just hang up on the telemarketer because you have work to do!"

I eventually interrupted the spiel to announce that I had to get back to work, but the telemarketer just kept going without missing a beat. So, I finally had enough and said, "Listen, I really do have to get back to work now and I'm not interested."


After I hung up, my co-worker had some words (and even told my supervisor about it). She's often rude to people on the phone, so I pay her no mind. All I told her was, "Hanging up on people is just plain rude and I won't do it." She said, "but it's a telemarketer!" And I said, "Telemarketers are people, too."

Anyhow, what this incident really brings up with me is what I hated most at BYU. I heard too many sanctimonious Mormons claim a sort of "moral superiority" because they'd never watch an R-rated movie. I had debates with quite a few people over the rating system. They see it as a "Ten Commandments" kind of thing, I see it as a guideline that doesn't affect our salvation. There are plenty of great R-rated films that are not appropriate for children to watch until they reach a level of maturity (such as "Schindler's List" and "Casualties of War"). But to put a moral judgment on a film just because it's rated R?

Once, at BYU, I was at a party where one guy announced to the group with an excited tone that he had an edited version of a movie (I forget the movie, but it was something tame like "Forrest Gump") and everyone "ooohed" and "ahhhed" like it was a hard to find and coveted item. I remember thinking at the time, "what universe am I on?" It was an odd experience for me. That's not the only oddity I saw or heard while at BYU. One co-worker of mine had told me that she was offended by the film "Annie" because Carol Burnett was a drunken and sleezy character! You know someone is a bit too innocent for our world if a film like "Annie" is offensive!!!

It's no surprise that the Mormons I got along with the best were ones who had no hang-ups about R-rated films. I mean, let's get real. I see movies as a way to experience something or to learn something. Sure, I prefer films that inspire ("Forrest Gump", "Field of Dreams", "Dead Poets Society"), but I also like films that raises awareness, shows complex situations, or asks provocative questions ("Blood Diamond", "Syriana", "Munich"). Besides, I also like seeing historical events on screen, to better understand human nature. What's wrong with that?

At the time I had some of these debates with Mormons who refused to see R rated films, the film "Saving Private Ryan" was in theaters. My Great Uncle Jim fought as a paratrooper during the D-Day invasion. He rarely talked about it in details. He only focused on some of the humourous aspects (like one buddy who landed in a pasture and spooked a cow). By seeing this R-rated film, I felt like I partially experienced what he did a half century ago, though I experienced it from the safety of an air-conditioned theater. The violence was too intense for me that I almost passed out, but I endured. That film had a profound effect on me.

I've seen plenty of PG and G-rated fair that don't do much for me. A lot of them are crappy films. I need to be engaged mentally, and it's no shock but the best movies tend to be rated R. There's a difference between going to see an R-rated film like the "Saw" movies (I see no point in their making it) and a film like "Saving Private Ryan" or "Casualties of War" or "Schindler's List." So, I wish people would just stop thinking of our rating system as a moral guide that we must abide by if we hope for salvation. It's useful for parents determining if their children should watch the film, but for adults making choices about what they want to see, the rating system is irrelevant.

Warning to future telemarketers who don't know when a person is not interested:

I will sic our president on you!!!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Enlisting in the Navy

Eighteen years ago on this day was my day long ordeal at Military Enlistment Processing Station Atlanta. In a personal journal I kept at the time, I spent an unprecedented thirty pages writing about the experience. It was pretty serious stuff back then. My first decision as an adult. In fact, at the time, I was still thinking like a dependent teenager.

After passing all of the physical tests (except that I had to get a waiver because I weighed in at 103 pounds...and I had to weigh at least 110), selecting my rating specialty (Yeoman), and signing all the paperwork, I was ready to be sworn in with all the other enlistees. The constant that day was "hurry up and wait." We spent most of the day waiting and signing paperwork, but when they were ready to process us during various tests, we had to move quickly. All day it went like this. During the final waiting period before the swearing in ceremony, I decided to call my parents for permission to join the Navy. Here I was an 18 year old, just graduated from high school two weeks earlier, and I was still used to asking my parents permission! They weren't home and when we were told to head into the ceremonial room for the swearing in, I hesitated. A part of me still thought, "but I don't have my parents permission, yet."

I then realized that it was my life's decision, so I followed the herd into the room, raised my right arm, repeated the oath, and the deed was done. I was officially enlisted in the Navy, in the delayed entry program. I wouldn't head off to Basic Training until May 1991, the latest I could go. I selected that far in advance because I wanted time to prepare mentally and physically, which I did. I started a fitness routine and I read books written about soldiers in Vietnam ("Letters home from Vietnam"), about life aboard an aircraft carrier ("Supercarrier"), and watched "Biloxi Blues" (the best film I've seen about Basic Training).

While on vacation in Florida with my family, Saddam Hussein decided to invade Kuwait (August 2, 1990) and a part of me was worried. I signed up for the peacetime military. I had no desire to be in a war. But my journals at the time reflected a kind of pro-war viewpoint (or probably more accurately, a very strong anti-Saddam sentiment). I even went as far as buying a Saddam Hussein voodoo doll and stuck it with a pin so many times, hoping that he felt every prick. My parents were alarmed by my hatred of Saddam. Their cool response was, "what did he ever do to you?"

As Desert Shield grew with talk of war looming early in the new year, I thought of moving up my date to go off to basic training. In January 1991, I made my first solo trip (on Grayhound) to visit my best friend Nicholas Smith in Omaha (who was a freshman at Creighton University) and my grandparents in Atchison, Kansas. War began while I was on that vacation and when I returned home, I went to MEPS to move up my basic training date. March was the earliest I could go without losing my Yeoman "A" School assignment, but that was perfect for me.

When President Bush (the first one) announced an end to the land invasion after a mere 100 hours, I was very disappointed. The war was over before I'd have my chance (I had wanted to be on an aircraft carrier in the Gulf) to go over there.

Basic Training ended up to be the greatest experience of my life (which still holds to this day) for reasons that don't seem to make a lot of sense to most people. But, for the first time in my life, I was known simply for me. I was not thought of as "Chris' brother". Growing up, I felt like I was raised as a Siamese twin and being the staunch individualist that I am, I hated it. Boot Camp was liberation. I finally got to be known for myself. I also loved the marching and cadence. Being in a company of 78 men was like a fraternity and we bonded, especially when our company won the Cheerio flag (during the athletic competition with other companies in our training group). Most surprising of all, however, was that I expected the Company Commanders to be more intense than they actually were. There were amusing moments when the ladies who measured our uniforms would chide the company commanders for yelling at us. I remember one in particular. She told a mean company commander: "You don't have to yell at these boys so much! They're missing their mommas and you're not helping." Even more startling, the company commander actually listened and backed off! I never expected that at all. I had spent months preparing for the mental game of having someone yell in my face after eating an onion.

I can't believe it all began 18 years ago. What a long, strange trip it's been. Would I do it again? Well, not right now, but if I had a chance to go back and change my life at that point, I wouldn't. How could I? With Basic Training still the greatest experience of my life, it's just one of those things that I look back fondly and find deep satisfaction with. It's one memory that I hope to live in full detail over and over again in the heavenly realm. I guess you could say that it was the closest thing to a male rite of passage.

(By the way, the photo above was taken off a Google image search, so don't go looking for me in the photo. Most of my Navy photos are not digitized yet and unfortunately locked away in storage where I can't get to it).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blackwater versus Whitewater

Sunday night, I went to Powell's Bookstore for another packed audience, this time to see Jeremy Scahill promote the paperback edition of his New York Times bestseller about the notorious Blackwater corporation.

He didn't read any excerpts from the book, for which I'm glad because I hate it when authors do that. I prefer the lecture format followed by Q & A. Jeremy began by talking about the incident that put Blackwater under the microscope, when some trigger-happy Blackwater employees shot up a bunch of innocent Iraqis in a traffic circle. To these employees (many of them former Navy SEALS, Green Berets, Special Forces types), Baghdad is like living in the old west, where the law doesn't apply and they are free to be cowboys bringing justice to an untamed land.

Jeremy spent a lot of time going into detail about this incident, which is something that I'd prefer to read about. I wanted to hear more about the organization itself and when Jeremy finally spoke about it, that's when the lecture really got good. He got laughs when he compared Erik Prince (the founder and CEO of Blackwater) to Batman/Bruce Wayne, even implying that Erik Prince thinks himself that way. Jeremy also criticized the U.S. Congress for bowing to White House wishes in not asking tough questions of Erik Prince last fall. I remember reading the fawning stories about him in news magazines, which complimented him on his good looks and mentioned his evangelical Christian faith.

Excuse me?!? Christian?!? Erik Prince (pictured above) is a Christian?!? More like ANTI-Christian. It's no secret that he's a major financial supporter of President Bush and the current administration. In fact, the Bush years have been very good for Blackwater. Their profits soared since the invasion of Iraq.

What is most chilling about what Jeremy said is that corporations like Blackwater (and Halliburton, KBR, DynCorps, to name a few) actually profit from an escalation of violence, so it's in their economic interests to encourage nations going to war instead of diplomacy. Does that sound Christian to you? Forget Prince of's more like Prince of Pieces! The fact that Erik Prince thinks he's a Christian should alarm anyone who cares about authentic spirituality. By his very actions, he shows that he knows nothing about what Jesus was all about. Nope, Prince is yet another misguided soul who has mistaken Capitalism for Christianity and the Almighty Dollar for the one we call God. Delusional people like him should not have access to any wealth or power. He belongs in an asylum with all the other neo-conservative crazies. He may have an "all-American boyish face" that the superficial media drools all over, but beneath that plastic exterior lies the heart of a demonic soul.

Is Blackwater a bad thing? They have a reputation that is impressive on the face of it. The main mission of the company is to provide security to VIPs in a dangerous place like Baghdad and they have not lost a single VIP yet. It's a record that they are quite obviously proud of.

However, they are expanding operations. There were reports (confirmed by Jeremy who was there) that Blackwater moved into New Orleans just before Katrina hit (without any directives from the government) to provide security in case havoc unleashed. They seem to operate in a James Bond world with a license to kill first, without having to ask questions later. They operate outside the law. It should alarm anyone that Blackwater is moving in a domestic direction. It's the job of the National Guard to be deployed during times of emergency to keep the peace. But the military operates by rules and tradition, whereas Blackwater does not. It's a trend that we've seen in too many chilling sci-fi films about the future being nothing but police states where people are monitored and controlled. We're heading in that direction. If Blackwater is allowed to operate outside the law, and sees nothing wrong killing people over private property issues, what does that say about our country?

Again, I fail to see any "Christian mission" in Blackwater. Would Jesus really have us KILL people who were trying to steal our property? Are we willing to say that a material object is worth more than a human life? I know some already think so, evidenced by insurance companies that have hired private security guards to protect expensive mansions in California during the fires last year. We've seen it in New Orleans, when African Americans were called looters for taking food from flooded stores (is it truly humane to allow food go bad because people won't pay for it?). Blackwater's solution is to kill anyone who disturbs the peace and security of whatever area they happen to be in. And in Iraq, they operate with no threat of ever being punished by the law.

I had wanted to write about Blackwater last year when it was in the news as Erik Prince testified in Congress. It was one of those blog topics that got lost in the deluge of topics at the time. What truly fascinates me about the whole "Blackwater" versus "Whitewater" controversies is that I hear very little outrage from conservatives over Blackwater, yet all throughout the 1990s, they pounded a constant drumbeat over Whitewater, the land deal in which the Clinton's had LOST money. It was the ongoing and open investigation of Whitewater that ultimately led to Clinton's impeachment over lying about an affair (which had nothing to do with Whitewater).

To me, it's proof that the conservative sense of outrage is very misplaced. An opponent that they hate with a passion lost money in a land deal gone bad and that warrants a ten-year, $70 million investigation. On the otherhand, Blackwater has seen its profits skyrocket in the past ten years and employees have killed innocent people in a war zone, but that doesn't register any moral outrage from the "Christian" and conservative right! So, losing money and failed land deals are scandals worth investigating, profiting on death and war as well as killing innocent people gets a pass?

For me, it's just one more example of the huge moral disconnect that conservative views have from the values they claim to own. It's all a lie and I hope more and more people will wake up to the fact that you simply cannot trust these conservative-financed and backed corporations that view themselves as above the law.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


The nomination that could've been yours, Gore!

Finally...after a long primary season, former Vice President Gore makes a public endorsement when it's safe to do so. I have my theories on why he was more cautious this time around, and I don't fault him at all. He was smart about it, unlike in 2003. That's because after he endorsed Howard Dean for president in December, many pundits think that high-profile endorsement was what started Dean's fall from front-runner status. Suddenly, the knives were out on Dean as Kerry and Gephardt attacked him for this or that. Also at the time, the media still portrayed Gore as a loser who didn't know how to pick a winner. So, after getting so publically burned, why risk it once again?

I had a sneaking hunch that Gore has always been in Obama's camp. It's no secret that he and Hillary aren't the closest of friends (they were conflicted over the amount of influence each would have as a "co-president" during the Clinton Administration). But, I also believe that it was Hillary's ambition to run for president that kept Gore out of the 2008 race. Had she not run, I'm pretty certain that he most likely would have. So, if we lose in November because of racist voters and dirty tricks, we can all blame Hillary. Gore would've been a sure bet to win the presidency this year because of America's seeming desire to set things right over the disaster Bush has become for our country and world. It's the reason Republicans picked McCain this time, after passing him over in 2000. America wants redemption from the mistake of 2000 and Gore opted out of that chance.

Even though I had long dreamed of working as a political aide in the Gore Administration, I was actually relieved when he decided not to run because like Gore, I've lost my taste for national politics. I made the decision in 2006 to move to Portland, Oregon because out of all the regions of the country I've been to, the Pacific Northwest is the most beautiful to me and where I want to settle and start a family of my own. I have no desire to return to the east coast to live, as much as I love Washington, D.C. and Boston. Hopefully, I'll be able to visit frequently my favourite spots on the east coast, but I intend to stay on the west coast.

My disenchantment with national politics has been a boon to my increasing passion for local/city politics. Portland is a progressive city with a lot of innovative ideas (I think it's the only city or one of the few that has Voter Owned Elections for local races to limit big money candidates bought by corporations seeking influence in City Hall) and I want to be a part of it.

Now that it's safe for Gore to endorse Obama with enthusiasm, I hope that a President Obama will utilize Gore in some way in his administration. I doubt that Gore would want to serve as a Cabinet secretary, though. There's a lot he can do as a private citizen and even if he's just one of Obama's advisors on environmental policy, that's a good step up from what we have now (oil company execs writing Bush's environmental policies).

I'm sorry that I missed the entire speech and had to settle for clips, but I'm happy to see this endorsement, finally. I only wish that he had made it sooner so he wouldn't look like he was jumping on the bandwagon when it's safe to do so. The Clintons actions helped cost Gore a clear victory in 2000, so why he remains loyal to them can only be seen as a sign of his integrity, even though the Clintons don't deserve it. Gore stepped out of the way of Hillary's ambition and now the moment belongs to Obama. I can't help but wonder if what's going on in Gore's mind right now is "that could've been me!" Hillary wasn't the sure bet after all.

What an amazing year so far! Who would've thought?!?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Across the Boomer Universe

A month or so ago, I finally watched the film "Across the Universe." I remember seeing the trailer for it back at the midnight screening of "Spider-man 3" last year and when the lead actor sang "nothing's gonna change my world," someone in the audience made fun of him by singing something back, which made quite a few people laugh. At the time, I thought it was kind of rude. But in retrospect, I can totally understand. Boomers are so in love with their generation and it's history that they continue to come out with movies about their experience. The younger generation is, frankly, tired of it.

That was the feeling I had when I watched "Across the Universe." It's all been done before...BETTER. No other movie captures the Baby Boomer experience as well as "Forrest Gump." And like "Forrest Gump", "Across the Universe" has the standard cliches of starting at innocence then protesting the war, with some being drafted while others protest and fall into the hippie culture. I mean, this is "Hair" redux, with Beatles tunes.

I admit that it's a highly creative, visually stunning film, and quite ambitious (to form a story/plot around Beatles songs!). There are some scenes that work remarkably well (my favourites include the scenes when "With A Little Help From My Friends" is sung; when they are at the bowling alley; and most especially the creative "I Want You/She's So Heavy", where they do a brilliant choreagraphy about being inducted into military service--it kind of reminded me of my MEPS experience in 1990), but the movie runs a bit long. Perhaps as much as 40 minutes too long. The movie started losing me when they do the whole psychedelic bus trip. It really didn't add to the movie, only made it a cliche. Even Bono (channeling Ringo channeling Tim O'Leary) couldn't save this part of the movie. He might be a walrus ("coo-coo coo chew!"), but I was bored. The film tries to put too much of the Boomer experience into a story and it doesn't work as well as it did in "Forrest Gump."

It wasn't surprising that the film bombed at the box office. The Beatles and the Boomers are too over-exposed and they need to get out of the way for the next generation. This movie is meant to be a love letter to the Beatles and the Boomers, but I get the sense that Boomers weren't interested in watching a movie like it was a bad acid flashback (it'll only remind them how much they've betrayed their youthful sending our generation off to two catastrophic wars and by over-medicating their own children because they don't want to deal with ADHD or whatever else).

Message to Hollywood...NO MORE BOOMER MOVIES!!! The 60s are overdone. There's really nothing new you can add, even if you dress it up in kaleidoscope colours and feature the music of what many consider to be the world's greatest rock band. How about movies about Generations X/Y's experience? You Boomers betrayed their youthful idealism and ruined the world for the succeeding generations to inherit. Simply put, President Bush is the perfect personification of the self-indulgent Boomer generation. Learn nothing from the Vietnam War experience and send the next generation to fight in TWO quagmires (with threats of a possible third one before he leaves office).

So, skip "Across the Universe" and get ready for the "Battle in Seattle" (about the 1999 WTO riots)!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Come On Up for the Uprising

On Friday night, I went to Powell's Bookstore to attend a lecture by David Sirota (another member of my generation). It was one of the larger crowds I had seen at a Powells lecture. Unlike other lectures I've gone to, Sirota had a cool powerpoint presentation complete with video clips and cool special effects to illustrate data points more dramatically (such as showing the sea-change between the 1928 election when Herbert Hoover won a majority of the states to 1932 when FDR did a complete landslide over Hoover). On the scale of literary lectures I've been to, I rate this one high on the awesome scale.

I overheard someone remark that David Sirota kind of resembles John Stewart. I would say that yes, they could probably pass for brothers. I had seen him on either "Nightline" or "Charlie Rose" recently but was only half-paying attention to it. I'm glad that I went to this lecture because it contained a lot of statistics and data that a wonky guy like me could spend hours staring at and interpreting what they mean (oh, to find such a job!).

Sirota's main thesis is that America is ripe for a major uprising like we haven't seen in a long time. He pointed to past uprisings that have brought one party or the other to power. In our lifetime, unfortunately, conservatives have had the upper hand, with the election of Nixon in 1968 in a backlash against liberalism's excesses and the war in Vietnam; then again with Ronald Reagan in 1980, followed by the Gingrich Revolution in 1994. But signs are such that things don't look well for Republicans anymore. Bush truly broke the bank with his brazen incompetence and massive giveaways to corporations, Wall Street, Enron, foreigners like Saudi Arabia, etc.

There is concern that the average American can be duped into once again voting against their self-interest, especially in regards to race and the persistent fear many have that Obama is a secret Muslim agent who will make everyone convert to Islam. I'm actually shocked that so many people believe that crap, including people in my own church. It just amazes me how people prefer to live and vote in ignorance and get angry when I point out the facts to them. I guess I just don't understand the mindset of a person who prefers to believe lies over truth. I never though Americans would ever desire that for themselves. We've seen how believing lies over the truth led to the downfall of the Soviet Union (because communist leaders really wanted to believe that having five and ten year plans for the economy was doing fine keeping up with capitalism, which left them far in the dust).

However, Sirota also claims to be the eternal optimist and thinks that the Democrats are going to win big this time. He made a few caveats, such as his insistence that he's a progressive rather than a liberal. I agree with his assessments on history. Mainly that Washington, D.C. is the last place to affect change in our country. To really change our country, we have to do it locally. I learned this lesson late. After my disgust over the stolen election of 2000, and seeing our national government do things I never thought I'd ever see it do (authorizing torture, detaining people without charge, violating the U.S. Constitution, lie us into another war, even concocting the most traumatizing scheme on the American people: 9/11). I moved to Portland in part because it's a progressive city that I want to be a part of. Thus why for the first time in my life this year, I've actually been more excited about the local races than the presidential one. I'm volunteering on a city council race now that Sam Adams was elected mayor (to be sworn in at midnight on January 1st). Portland is an exciting place to get involved in politics at the local level.

One thing I heard a pundit mention recently is that there might be a repeat of 2000 in which Obama wins the popular vote while McCain wins the electoral vote. I'm telling you if that happens, Democrats should not allow the Republicans to once again take office that way. It should be fought against, perhaps even with a threat that the Blue states will not abide by that result and refuse to participate at the electoral college election. You might have seen on the side bar the "Republic of Cascadia" flag that I have. As much as I love America and want it to remain unified, I also believe in the words of the Declaration of Independence that it is our right as a people to dissolve a government that no longer represents our interests. If McCain gets the presidency through fraud or similar to how Bush came into office, we as progressive Americans should not allow it to happen. I'd be fully in favour of Washington, Oregon, and California forming a new union, the Republic of Cascadia. I fear further calamities for our country if we continue down this path of environmental destruction, violations of human rights, illegal war and spying, etc. Remember, the president we elect in November will be the president when December 21, 2012 comes into the present. From what I've read about that mysterious date, the choices we are making now determines the kind of future our planet will have the day after that date comes to past.

As Dr. Martin Luther King so eloquently put it: "Where do we go from here? Chaos or community?"

I choose community. I hope you will too.