Friday, December 26, 2008

Flashback Friday: 1998

For the final Flashback Friday post of the year, I'm going back ten years to 1998. It wasn't one of my favourite years for many reasons. However, in retrospect, a few notable things happen to make it one of the "watershed years" for me. Read on, if you wish to review this year with me.

What I most remember about 1998 was that the first half of the year, I was missing Hawai'i, where I had spend my best Christmas vacation ever in 1997. I bought a CD of Hawai'ian traditional songs with ukulele and listened to it constantly that year. The second half of the year, I was anxious to finish college and move to Washington, D.C. In 1998, I saw it as a midway point. I was two years out of the Navy and had two years to endure of college before I could get started on my life and career in Washington, D.C.

It was the most difficult year of my college experience. The novelty of the first semester in being new to Provo, Utah and getting immersed into Mormon culture started to wear off and it wasn't cool anymore. I thought of quitting several times that year, particularly after the Spring Term.

Part of what made this year horrible was the news report that broke early in January that President Clinton had an inappropriate relationship with an intern. I first heard the story in an article in BYU's student newspaper and dismissed it as yet another example of the paper's anti-Clinton bias. When I went home after finishing my classes for the day, I watched the news and was shocked that the story was true. BYU didn't make it up. CNN was talking about it. It soon became a huge scandal from which there was no escape. I felt sick to my stomach, because Clinton had done the very thing I never thought he would be foolish enough to do. I actually believed him in 1992 when he said that the "problems" he had caused in his marriage were over.


I argued with Yudelka (a classmate I'd end up dating a year later; she was a Democrat) about Clinton. I believed he should resign, she thought he shouldn't. Turns out, she was right and I was wrong. I'm glad he didn't resign because it would've been a victory for the Ken Starr and Newt Gingrich. Later in the year, Newt Gingrich tried to make the election a referendum on Clinton's infidelity, but it backfired and Republicans lost seats in Congress and Gingrich ended up resigning as Speaker of the House and we learned that he, himself, was guilty of committing adultery at the same time as his campaigning against Clinton. The hypocrisy truly reeked. But as Republicans like to point out, "at least he didn't lie under oath." Oh...so, lying is okay so long as you don't do it under oath?

What truly offended me about Monica Lewinsky was that this flaky, oversexed brat actually got a White House internship. From what I read, she wasn't all that into politics and she had supposedly told friends that she wanted to go to D.C. to "earn her presidential kneepads." It was disgusting that anyone would seek a prestigious internship to fulfill some sex fantasy. Which applicant with political aspirations got rejected because of her acceptance letter? I'm a person with little tolerance for people who don't like politics or government yet seek a government job or public office. If you hate government or are not serious about politics, why not pursue something else? Leave politics and government to those who love it.

Because of Monica Lewinsky, she probably changed the course of my life. When I started college, my goal was to study a semester in Australia in the fall of 1999 (partly so I stay on afterwards to celebrate Christmas and New Year's Down Under before returning to the U.S. for my last semester at BYU). I sometimes wonder what might have happened if I had gone to Australia for a semester rather than do the Washington Seminar my last semester. Since the Seminar has turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life, I don't have any regrets about it and I have to thank Monica for being such a ditzy slut and bringing dishonour to the title of "White House Intern." I wanted to add my knowledge and experience to the quality of interns.

A part of me still wonders if I'll ever make it to Australia, the country I have wanted to visit since I was 11 years old. Maybe I should think about it a lot in 2009, just to test out the idea of the Law of Attraction for a big desire of mine. I seem to have no problem manifesting the little things, but for a big thing (better paying job in a field I love; published novel; trip to Australia; foreign girlfriend), it still eludes me.

In August 1998, American embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya were attacked in terrorist bombings. I had a political science class in which a classmate was from Kenya, who was suspicious of anyone approaching him in a friendly manner. I understood his concern. At lily white BYU, he didn't want to be anyone's "token black friend." He was even cold to me at first, until he learned that I knew more about Africa than most students and I was genuinely interested in him as a friend, and not some tokenism. We talked a lot about Africa and both agreed that Clinton made a huge mistake bombing a factory in Sudan in retaliation. Turned out to be a baby milk factory, though it could've also been a cover for a weapons lab for all we know.

Professors talked about these attacks in my political science classes, but in terms of outrage, what I remember most was that Republicans in Congress accused Clinton of trying to distract the American people from his sex scandal when he retaliated with missile strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan. Funny how Republicans are obsessed with sex while unconcerned with a more life threatening matter: terrorism. I suspect the outrage was minimal because most of the casualties were African employees of the embassies. Further proof that Americans don't value the deaths of dark-skinned people as much as white folks.

1998 was the year that I first heard the name of Osama Bin Laden and the network known as "al Qaeda." As I read more about him, I was surprised to learn that he was funded by the CIA as one of the mujahadeen in Afghanistan, fighting the Soviet Union. What turned him against the U.S. was our 1990-1991 Gulf War to evict Iraq from Kuwait. He was deeply offended to see Americans in large numbers based in Saudi Arabia, because its the site of two of the holiest places in Islam: Mecca and Medina. As I read about him, I was surprised to see the consequences of our foreign policy coming back to haunt us. But this was something I've known since 1989 with Manuel Noriega, who was also on the CIA payroll until he no longer wanted to do the CIA's bidding, and thus had to be brought back to the U.S. for "justice."

At my last job in Atlanta, a Bush devotee co-worker would often get angry any time I brought up Osama Bin Laden. She fell for the belief among conservatives that Clinton is to blame for 9/11 because he didn't catch Bin Laden in Sudan in 1998. They believe that Clinton let him go. But look how short their memories are! When Clinton sent missiles into Afghanistan and Sudan, conservatives at the time were accusing Clinton of using the military to distract Americans from "the true scandal" of his sexual affair. What makes more sense...to hold Clinton accountable for 9/11 because he didn't catch Bin Laden in his last three years in office...or Bush, who was president on 9/11 and ignored the CIA memos that Bin Laden was determined to strike in the U.S.? Bush leaves office in less than a month and there is still no sign of Bin Laden anywhere. Bush had eight years to get him after vowing to bring him to justice. Clinton was in a damned if he did or damned if he didn't situation.

In 1998, Primary Colors was my favourite film of the year. This movie already received a "Flashback Friday" review, so I won't repeat myself here.

One of my favourite television shows was MTV's The Real World: Seattle. I've watched every season from Los Angeles (season 2, airing in 1993) through New Orleans (2000). The Hawai'i cast (1999) was my favourite one, though. The season in Seattle offered me a glimpse of this city I had been wanting to visit to see if I'd want to live there some day. I actually never heard of Pike's Place Market and the famous fish throwers until I saw it on this show.

The most memorable moment of the show was when Irene went crazy because of her lyme disease relapse. Classic is the line where she's laughing like a lunatic and saying, "I'm not crazy!" Um...that's not how it looks on camera! In her craziness, she accuses Stephen (the African American castmember) of being a homosexual and he retaliates by throwing her teddy bear into the Puget Sound next to their pierside loft. He then ran up to her as the cab starts to drive away and slaps her in the face, and she continued to laugh like a lunatic.

Reality TV up to this point hardly got that good. Though Stephen had to attend anger management, the other interesting drama of the show was David having a relationship with the show's casting director. In one scene he can be overheard crying in a conversation with her, and he has been known to deck fans who mock him this way. It was a personally emotional moment for him and he's from a rough neighbourhood in Boston where you have to be tough and free of emotions. Though he tried to seem like a thug, I thought he was easily the most likeable castmember.
Even better than that season of The Real World, however, was MTV's Road Rules Australia. I never watched a whole season of Road Rules until the Australia cast (I liked the Latin America and Semester at Sea seasons as well). I was absolutely addicted to this show and taped every episode. Part of what hooked me on this show was my crush on both Susie and Christina. Never before on television had I seen two more attractive, "real" young ladies that I'd naturally gravitate towards. Of course, Susie was a major hottie so she has no problem attracting any guy. She has her choice. Christina, on the other hand, had a cool vibe to her. She made sarcastic statements and came across as dangerously intelligent. I would watch the show trying to figure out what it was about her that I found so attractive and I guess I would have to say that it was her intelligence and her not being easily prone to emotionalism. Piggy, the British chick, on the other hand was a complete mess. From her hair to her personality, she was annoying on the show and the only cast member I did not like.

Shane was the Canadian castmember who betrayed his nationality every time he pronounced a word with "ou" in it ("I don't know what you're talking aboot"). Kefla, the only African American castmate, found it difficult to relate to the others at times that when they had a task with aboriginals, he actually found a deeper connection with them than his fellow Road Rulers.

One CD that I listened to A LOT in 1998 was Ben Folds Five Whatever and Ever, Amen. From the moment I heard their single "Brick", the melancholy melody just grabbed me and wouldn't let go. Its a pretty powerful song that would get me to buy an entire CD by a group I had never heard of before. When I listened to the CD, I was hooked. It reminded me a lot of Joe Jackson ("Steppin' Out", "Is She Really Going Out With Him?") but was even better. I haven't listened to the CD in years, so I'm sure that it would transport me back (mentally) to that year. It's funny to reflect on the albums that just grab my attention and interest over the years. Usually, a great CD will get a year or two of heavy airplay on my CD player, then fade into the background as I discover the next great CD. But the CD then becomes a "time machine" in which I can transport myself mentally back to the year(s) when I listened heavily to that particular album.

My celebrity crush of 1998 was Natalie Imbruglia. From the moment I saw her video "Torn" to the even better "Smoke", I was smitten. Who was this gorgeous Aussie chick? Once again, I found another lady with short hair to be the epitome of sexy. I love her facial expressions as she sings both "Torn" and "Smoke." It took awhile for me to like her album, Left of the Middle, however. I hated it on the first few listens, but it eventually grew on me. However, I didn't follow her career or buy later albums.
I wanted to feature her video "Smoke" as one of my Music Video Monday selections, but each one I found on YouTube has a block on embedding it into my blog. If you've never seen this video and are curious, just go to YouTube and search for it. It was my favourite music video of 1998. I love how she disappears and reappears in a cloud of smoke.

My favourite novel that I read was What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson. I found it by pure happenstance, I guess you could say. I had seen the movie poster in theaters in the fall of 1998 and was intrigued by the tagline: "After Life There Is More." I've been interested in afterlife ideas and Near Death Experiences since 1994, when I had my own "near death experience" (not in the sense that my soul left my body and saw a glimpse of heaven, but that I was robbed by a mob at knifepoint and could have very well been killed on the streets of Johannesburg, South Africa).

At Barnes and Noble in Provo/Orem, Utah, I was walking down an aisle when a book fell from a shelf in front of my feet. I picked it up and it was the novel "What Dreams May Come" with the movie poster cover. I knew from other reading that when a book falls in your path, its a sign that maybe you should read it. So, I flipped through it and read several spots before deciding to buy it. That led to a strange experience. For one thing, I was hooked and couldn't put the book down, even though I had classes to study for. I even read the novel in a few classes. The whole time I read it, I had "the burning in my bosom" that Mormons always tell people that you will feel when you know something is true. However, they meant it for the Book of Mormon, not this NOVEL. But, what happened, happened. I can't explain it other than it had answered EVERY question I had about the afterlife and the purpose for life on earth.

I had such a beautiful vision of heaven that I was excited to see the movie. That turned out to be a mistake. The movie is so unlike the novel (there might be a 20% similarity between novel and movie) that I felt sick upon leaving the theater. I blamed the director for going in a different direction. I didn't like the image of heaven in the movie, or even of hell. However, in the years since, I do own the DVD because I learned to view the movie as a separate story from the novel. It's still a spiritual film worth watching, though I truly would love to see a more faithful film adaptation. Since the movie bombed in theaters after 20 years of being on a Hollywood shelf, it's unlikely that anyone would want to make a more loyal film.

What was it about the novel that grabbed me? Well...all my life, I've been intrigued by the idea of reincarnation, even if I didn't quite believe it was true. Three events at BYU led me to believe that reincarnation is the process by which we evolve. The way the purpose of life is presented in this novel is exactly the kind of heaven that I want to experience. The novel also inspired me to write my own "heaven novel" that's one of my writing projects on the backburner.

In the decade since, I've read plenty of books on reincarnation and learned a lot about how the process might work. Its a fascinating topic that I'd love to study in grad school (the UVA supposedly has a good program on metaphysical topics)...but at the very least, it's something I'll continue to study on my own.

So...in examining the year 1998, the two most notable events that affected my life was: (1) being offended that someone like Monica Lewinsky could get a White House internship; and (2) finding the right book to break my resistance to believing in reincarnation once and for all. The friendships I have because I went on the Washington Seminar program, I owe to Monica Lewinsky. Had there been no scandal, I would've gone to Australia. Of course, I could have possibly met my wife there and be living there these past eight years...but, I wouldn't give up my Washington Seminar experience for any alternative life possibilities. I'll get to Australia someday soon. Oh yes I will!

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