Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dad Reaches the Big Six

Pictured above is my mom, sister, and dad in 2003, when my sister, Melissa, graduated from Emory University (B.A. in Psychology). There was another photo of my dad that I wanted to post, but it's not saved on disk (someday, I'll digitize all my photos), so this will do.

My dad is 60 years old today. I remember when I thought 30 was ancient, but of course I don't believe that now. So, in honour of his 60th birthday, I wanted to write a tribute to him.

My dad is the second of five boys. Born in St. Joseph, Missouri and raised in Atchison, Kansas from the age of 2 until 18. He joined the Air Force so he wouldn't get drafted in the Army during Vietnam. It turned out to be a wise decision, because the USAF sent him to Thailand in 1968 or 1969. That's where he met my mom. She was a housekeeper. To hear them tell it, the romance sounded fated. Made in heaven, in other words. Or in my spiritual belief system, a pre-mortal existence agreement to meet at a certain time and place on earth. Mom was pursued by quite a few guys, including officers (and the ladies in Thailand knew all about the pay differentials between the two distinctive groups)...but she fell for the enlisted man.

They married in a Thai courtroom in December 1969, even though my dad's chain of command was against the marriage. His own father wrote him a letter (the first ever letter he wrote to his son) telling him not to marry. He didn't like Asian people because "the Japs killed my cousin." That logic made as much sense to me as, "I hate Italian food because Germans spit in my water." It took a year before the American government granted a marriage license, and in that time, my brother was born. I arrived fourteen months later. My dad was stationed in Taipei, Taiwan at the time. We moved to Eglin AFB, Florida then to the Philippines, where my earliest memories are from. After eight years in the military, my dad got out and attended school at the University of Kansas. I started school in Lawrence. Once my dad graduated and received his commission as an officer in the USAF, we moved to State College, Pennsylvania so my dad could get an additional year of school at Penn State University.

I consider my dad's decision to make a career out of the Air Force a blessing in my life. Had he remained in civilian life, I would've lived probably my whole life in Lawrence (and even gone to college there). Instead, I got to see a lot of the country thanks to my parents love of travel. It seems like he picked different regions on purpose: Pennsylvania so we could travel the northeast and New England; Utah so we could travel out west; Nebraska so we could visit the upper Midwest; Germany so we could see all over Europe; and Georgia so we could travel around the South. However, the one place I wanted to live the most was California and my dad never wanted to live there.

I'm proud to be an "Air Force Brat" and an officer's kid. Expectations were higher for officer children than they are for enlisted children. Supposedly (or so I was taught), my behaviour could affect my dad's career. Not that I was unruly. Being an officer's kid might've had an affect on how I was viewed when I was an enlisted man in Italy and other people thought I was an officer when they saw me in civilian clothes.

Because of the choices that my dad made in his life and because he has four brothers, I can see the huge difference between what I experienced and what my cousins experienced. They grew up in poverty, stuck in a dying Midwest town and no desire to travel. I've probably seen more of the world than anyone in my family and I got a head start in life because of my dad. By the time I graduated high school, I had been to 44 states. Twelve years after that, I finally added state #50, beating my dad (he's been to 49 now).

As a kid, I remember being worried if anything would happen to my parents, because I didn't like the brother he selected to be our legal guardian in the case of death. Out of all of his brothers, my dad values education the most. He loves school so much that he sometimes jokes that he would love to be a permanent student. He retired from the Air Force in 1993 and when he retires from his current job (RN), I wouldn't be surprised if he went back to school for a doctorate in something.

Though I inherited my love of books from my dad as well as my journal keeping, love of travel, and love of maps, I'm not like him in "playing it safe" in terms of career. Job security is important for my dad and he has done well financially, especially in comparison to his brothers. Me, on the other hand, I still haven't landed my dream career where I'd want to work until retirement. I didn't see the military as a career option. I'm too much about freedom and not being tied down. My mother told me that when I was a little boy, I was "unhuggable" because every time she tried to hug me (or anyone else), I would always try to break loose. I think it's interesting that I always had that tendency, for I think it reveals the true essence of my soul (the strong dislike of being trapped). Though I hug people now, it's not something I particularly enjoy and is almost always initiated by the other person (and I feel it rude to reject).

Because I have witnessed first hand how my father's life differed from his brothers, I can see the difference education made. Seeing my cousins get pregnant or getting girls pregnant when they were fresh out of high school and the struggle they have just trying to live in towns without good wage jobs, with dependent mouths to be responsible for feeding, it has made marriage and children a scary prospect for me, particularly when I'm still trying to break out of my own low wage nightmare. My dad was 22 when I was born. When I reflect on that, I shake my head because I remember what I was like at 22. I couldn't imagine being a dad at that point in life. I loved being 22...for it was the year that I went to South Africa for my vacation and the year that I bought my first car.

Often, I think and wonder how my parents were able to raise two boys at a young age. The sacrifices they made. I'm so spoiled...yet, I do desire my own family some day. I didn't count on the tragic detour my life has been on since losing my dream jobs in my dream city of D.C. in 2000. Though my parents don't say it to my face, I have heard them tell other people how much they want grandchildren. I'm disappointed in myself that I haven't been able to give that to them. Had I known college wouldn't lead me to the promise land of good paying jobs, I never would've done it. I would've followed my dad's example and made the Navy a career. Not a great option, but a safe one. Just recently, I saw a pay scale and was shocked to see that had I stayed in and made it to E-8, I would be making DOUBLE what I make now!!! That can't be right, can it?

But, it's all about choices. My dad made smart ones and was able to support a family of five. A life of moves to different locations and of vacations aplenty. I have no complaints. Some day soon, my ship will come in and I might be too travelled out to give my future children the kind of travel experiences my dad gave me. Hopefully, they won't hold it against me. I'll just say, "I lived life before you came into the world! Now I'm ready to focus on parenting." But, there won't be any marriage and children so long as I work in the place that I work, with the poverty wages, no chance for advancement, and the hypocritical claim that it's all about the family.

Here's to my dad on his 60th birthday! I wish I was as smart as you and I still hope that one day, I can give you a grandson (I want a son named Patrick) and give my sister a nice sister-in-law. But first things, first...landing a satisfying career.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Flashback Friday: Monte Negro

In honour of President Obama and the ten Inaugural Balls he and the First Lady attended on the first night of his presidency, I decided to write this week's Flashback Friday on one of my favourite foreign albums of all time, Bailando Con El Presidente by Monte Negro, a band I know little about other than that they are most likely from Spain. The album came out in 1990, but I didn't discover it until a 1992 trip to Madrid when I wanted to buy a cassette tape of one Spanish rock group for my international music collection. I'm glad that I pick well!

Basically, I went by cover design and I liked their's the best (I can't find a photo of it in my Google search. The best I could come up with is a photo from one of the singles from that album, seen above, which is similar). I like wearing vests and when I lived in the Mediterranean world as a young man, I was pleased to see that wearing vests was quite popular in Spain, Italy and Greece. Seeing a Spanish band with the lead singer in a vest and T-shirt and black hat just looked like a cool style to me, so that's how I made my superficial choice.

You know the cliche "never judge a book by its cover"? I can understand it to a point, but sometimes you have to make those kind of judgments when you are indecisive about buying a book or a CD without knowledge. However, I did judge this Spanish band by the cover of it's album and was shocked when I listened to it. It wasn't just likeable or good, it was FANTASTIC! It was a gamble that paid off. I bought the cassette tape and have searched for years for the CD version. It's hard to find. From what little info I did find out, they only had two albums in the early 1990s and then disappeared. It's kind of bad that they named their band "Monte Negro", which is also a breakaway province of the former Yugoslavia. That means any Google search is going to turn up too much irrelevant information about the band.

When I listen to foreign bands and tell my friends about them, I try to give an American or British band equivalent in terms of sound so they can get the idea. However, after all these years, Monte Negro defies my attempts to compare them to any band you might be familiar with. I almost want to say that if you like early 1990s REM or Maroon 5's first album, you'll probably like Monte Negro...but good luck finding any cassettes, CDs, or record albums out there. You won't find it in the Latin music section. For some reason, bands from Spain seem hard to find in the Latin section, which is dominated by music from south of the border.

The songs on this album are pretty catchy. I have no idea what they are singing about and this always caused arguments when I was in the Navy. Too many guys were paranoid about foreign language music because they always claimed that the band could be singing anti-American things. I had two responses to that: (1) So, the whole point of a foreign band is to sing in their native tongue so they can make fun of America? And dumb Americans will buy it and they sure fooled us, eh? That's the xenophobic mindset I had to deal with in the Navy...guys so concerned over the possibility of anti-Americanism in any foreign phrase, song, or movie. (2) If they did sing anti-American songs, so what? My favourite foreign band is Indochine, from France. I know a bit more French than Spanish, and it is true that some of their songs are critical of the U.S. But their music is so damn good, it's like, who cares? Everyone's entitled to an opinion. Some Friday or Monday this year, I'll feature Indochine because they ranked in my Top Five Bands of All Time. I consider them a cross between Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, and the Cure.

As for Monte Negro, they have two of the most beautiful ballads I've ever heard: "Tiempo Perdido" and "El Adios" ("Lost Time" and "The Goodbye", respectfully). When a song's melody can bring me to tears, it's truly powerful. I'm talking BEAUTIFUL! And there aren't a whole lot of songs that I would call "beautiful." It all comes down to the melody for me and how it's sung. Even if the lyrics are not good, when I listen to these two songs, I'm in awe. It's discovery like this that always makes me wonder what great music exists out there that I'm not having access to right now. When American radio stations play the same set list every day, I can't help but wonder if that contributes to the narrow mindedness of most Americans. There is so much great music out there and I wish I had enough money to operate my own radio station that plays the most diverse set list...stuff you have to search on several channels of Satellite Radio to find. The only difference is that I'd play songs with catchy rhythms or ballads that will make your heart melt it's so gorgeously beautiful.

I wish Monte Negro had greater success and was still around today. If I'm ever in Spain again (which is unlikely, as I did not have a good experience in Madrid or Cartagena), I will be searching record stores for their two cds. Until that day, I'll be wearing out this cassette tape on my walkman (yes, I still have one) until I figure out how to transfer songs on cassette to digital format.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

What Makes a Great Year?

I've been thinking a lot lately about the years of my life that I count in the "GREAT" column as well as those I put down in the "Not So Great" column. In my desire to make 2009 one of the best years of my life, I'm re-reading a book I bought two years ago: Debbie Ford's The Best Year of Your Life. I read it two years ago, meant to read it last year, but am commiting to reading it and absorbing the lessons for this coming year.

In my own life, I would rank my ten best years as such (and the reason why):

1) 1991

I was in a great two-fer with the years 1991-1992 and its hard to put one over the other, but for me, what's notable about 1991 was that I made my first solo roadtrip (via Greyhound) to visit my best friend in Omaha in January, along with my grandparents in Kansas. The Gulf War started while I was on this vacation and a snowstorm caused me to delay returning home for a couple days. When I returned to Atlanta, I knew I was psychologically and physically ready for the challenges of Basic Training, so I had my training moved up two months, shipping out in March instead of May. Basic Training turned out to be a wonderful surprise and still holds as the single greatest experience of my life (hard to believe, I even slightly beats out my Washington Seminar experience). I still reminisce about those days and listen to the music that I listened to during that time. Though I thought "A" school in Mississippi was a joke, it was still a good experience and I got to pick my dream assignment: Sardinia, Italy. By September, I was back in Europe and loving it. Before the year was out, I got to see Rome, Naples, Ibiza and Cagliari (capital of Sardinia). And, on my 20th birthday, I toured my first submarine, USS Atlanta, with a fellow Yeoman assigned to it as my guide. How sweet was that?

2) 1992

This year continued my emotional high because the most significant event of the year involved the French. As a teenager, I had wanted to be an exchange student with a French family, but it never happened for whatever reason. However, the universe does recognize one's desires and strives to fulfill it, so this was the year of fulfilment, as I met two different French families (one that lives in a suburb outside of Paris, where the girl was a couple years younger than me and my penpal; the other was a French submarine sailor I had met and become friends with, who lived with his family in Brittany). They invited me to stay with them and showed me glimpses of the French way of life. It was truly a dream come true for me and still one of the great blessings of my life. Other events this year included: trips to Naples, Florence, Sicily, Toulon, Nice, Madrid, Corfu (Greece), Alexandria (Egypt), and my first Eurail trip to visit Venice, Vienna, Budapest, Fulda Germany (where I lived as a teenager), Paris, and Brittany. I also saw Corsica. And of course, I was blissfully ecstatic when Clinton won the election and that the Senate saw the election of four more women (two in California, one in Washington state, and one in Illinois).

3) 1994

This was my last year in Sardinia, and I strove to enjoy it, even though I was in a nightmarish job of "babysitting" drunk sailors off duty watching bad videos and complaining about how much life sucks "on the rock." I never understood why enlisted guys hated living in Sardinia, because I always thought of it as an incredibly lucky break. I often asked myself, "how did I get so lucky in my first duty station?" Even though I did not like working at the Palau Community Center, I did get to travel to a few places...a trip to Fulda, Germany once again to see the base I lived on as a teenager in its last months before closure. I also got to travel to South Africa in a trip of a lifetime, still the best vacation I've ever been on. The wisest money I ever spent. Beyond that, I got to see Sting in concert in Sassari, Sardinia, and I transferred back to the U.S. in October, with a final Eurail trip to my friends in Brittany, then to visit the D-Day beaches of Normandy before visiting the family in Paris and a flight home to see my family for the first time in three years. I also met my other best friend, Nathan and bought my first car this year. The year also saw fulfilment of another dream come true. I had joined the Navy to be stationed on an Aircraft Carrier, and for my final year in the Navy, I experienced life aboard the most exciting ship you could ever be stationed on...the carrier USS George Washington.

4) 1997

This year has the unique distinction for being the year that I've been through 12 timezones...from Berlin in June to Hawai'i in December. I spanned half the globe in six months, probably the widest distance I've ever traveled in a single year. This was the year that I also started college, moving west to Utah to attend BYU. In addition to Berlin, I also visited Paris and Brittany; and then in my travels out west, I saw Santa Fe and San Francisco. But the year was capped for me with a Christmas vacation on the island of Oahu, visiting with best friend Nathan and church members I knew, the Ishikawas.

5) 1988

Last year, I was often nostalgic for this year for some odd reason. What was it about the year? For me, it was the music, it was that I had finally found my stride in a great group of friends during my sophomore year (and final year in Germany). In the summer, my dad took me on a trip to Paris (our second time there) and then we moved back to the U.S. in August, with a vacation in Charleston, South Carolina and Jekyll Island, Georgia. I started a new school and had to go through the whole process of loneliness once again. This year, I also acted in two plays. This year was the highlight of my teenage years and it helped that I loved the music from this year a lot.

6) 1999

I was taking mostly upper level political science classes and loving it. I also got over my year long loneliness of 1998 because I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I was making plans for a new life in D.C., so I decided to enjoy BYU and college as much as possible. This year also has a unique distinction in that I had been to or through 25 states in a single year! I did a lot of travel this year...with my spring roadtrip to visit Nathan at his base in Bremerton, Washington (where I made sure to visit Victoria and Vancouver BC, Seattle, Olympia, Cannon Beach, Salem, Portland, Boise, and Shoshone Falls). On the journey up, I got to press the pedal to the metal and see how fast my Saturn SL1 could go in Montana (which had no speed limits on its Interstates) and I had the most beautiful vision of Coeur d'Alene ID as I drove through right at sunset. I knew I wanted to be back there again someday, and in 2008, I fulfilled that wish not once, but twice! Also in 1999, I returned home to see my sister graduate from high school and I visited my relatives in Minnesota. As I left Utah for home at year's end, I spent Christmas at a church member's house in Scofield, Utah before hitting the road and spending one night in Santa Fe and another night near Dallas, and then a lunch break in Meridian, Mississippi, where I had attended "A" school 8 years earlier.

7 ) 2000

Though the year didn't go as planned, the Washington Seminar experience was truly one of the greatest experiences of my life and it helped buoy an otherwise disappointing year. Besides the internship, I got to be best man at Nathan's wedding and I attended my ten year high school reunion in the fall, and also met up with a good friend from my senior year to see how he ended up in life (quite successful). I was also thrilled that best friend Nicholas moved to my home state of Georgia, so we could spend some time together over the years before he transferred elsewhere. It wasn't a bad year, and the good far outweighed the bad.

8) 1984

This was the year that I started 7th grade and had a great group of friends, including meeting the guy who would eventually become my best friend, Nicholas. I hated elementary school, so I was never intimidated about junior high. It was an exciting change for me and I remember feeling truly grown up for the first time. Other notable events were the Los Angeles Olympic Games and a family vacation to Lamoni, Iowa and Nauvoo, Illinois (church history sites). And of course, I was all about the Ghostbusters this year.

9) 2006

The year I decided to quit my job in Atlanta, cash in my savings, and take the risk in moving to the city that was my post-college Plan B. I enjoyed a three month sabbatical at my parents home as I went through my belongings as well as finish the Biology course so I could finally get my college degree. In retrospect, if I knew what lay in store for me (finding a job that pays far less than what I was making in Atlanta as well as being a far worse working environment), I probably would have not moved to Portland. Had I known that Nicholas would be stationed in D.C., I would most likely have considered moving back to the D.C. area to pursue a job in my chosen field. But, I said I wasn't going to regret my decisions, and I don't. Sometimes, it's better that we don't know the outcomes, because we might not take it otherwise, and if anything, I've learned a lot through my disappointments in Portland. At any rate, I also got to see many beautiful things, and taking the cross-country train journey from Atlanta to Portland was truly one of the best rail journeys I've ever taken anywhere.

10) 1985

This was the year that my family moved to Germany. I was sad to leave behind my group of friends and start over again, but I was very excited to live in Germany (something I had dreamed about since the 1970s when one of my uncles was stationed in Germany and my dad told me about it). What also stands out about this year is a lesson that I learned about girls. I had a crush on a girl that many guys had a crush on (she was a Madonna "wannabe") and asked her to dance with me at the last dance of the year. I had to work up my nerves to ask her to dance and one girl (who I later learned had a crush on me) was especially helpful in getting me to ask the other girl to dance. When the popular girl danced with me, she wouldn't even look at me and spent the whole ordeal talking with her best friend. I thought it was rude and even put a nasty note in her locker the following Monday (which I heard had made her go into the restroom to cry). But the lesson I learned was that I was chasing after a girl who wasn't interested in me and didn't pay attention to the cute girl who had a crush on me. STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!!! School was near the end at the point and had it occurred earlier, I would've definitely had a girlfriend in the girl who had a crush on me. I'm reminded of her every time I watch the James Bond movie The Living Daylights, because this girl looked so much like my favourite Bond girl Kara Milovy (Maryam d'Abo). What can I say? I was a stupid teenager, especially when it came to girls. I always want what I can never have.

The other notable thing about this year were the number of pop rock stars who had theme songs for movies: Huey Lewis and the News, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Tina Turner, Duran Duran, Pat Benatar, to name a few off hand. It was another great year in music for me.

Now, in my search for patterns, I naturally looked at my ten best years on record to see the common demoninator and what I found was that each of those years had CHANGE and/or TRAVEL in common. This fits with my natural desires in terms of what makes me happy. I'm someone who requires constant change, whether jobs, location, or experiences. Being stagnant or stuck is the characteristic of my worst years. I hate the feeling of being stuck or trapped. And this is certainly true, as I've been in some situations where I was dependent upon someone else for something (such as a ride) and I actually felt an anxiety about it because I do not like to depend on other people for anything. I like being independent and free. When I'm in a situation, I'm always looking for potential escape routes, just in case I feel a need to bolt. Thus why I feel such a great despair over being "trapped" in a job that I hate with no exit signs. It's the worst case scenario for me.

So, what would make this year truly great for me? A huge change. What better change for me than a change of jobs? If I had the money, a change of locations would be great as well. Working in the Obama Administration, even if it means manning an office at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad would suit me just fine. Just get me the hell out of here! I do not like the feeling of being trapped. It's funny that most people fear change. I'm the opposite. I fear being stagnant and stuck. I thrive on change. For that, I blame a life of moving once every two or three years. But I shouldn't say "blame" because I wouldn't want a life any other way. I get bored by routine.

What would make 2009 a great year for me? A NEW JOB!!! Winning the lottery would be nice. A possible move (in connection with a dream job). A literary agent accepting representation of my novel and getting big publishers to have a bidding war for a nice advance and a lot of publicity (the themes in the novel have a great possibility to cause controversy). A vacation to Australia. Meeting the woman I want to marry who feels the same way. So...if any or all of these come true this year, as great as it would make my year, it would still be hard to top my three best years (1991, 1992, and 1994). But, I'll take a great year in any form it comes.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Real Reason Conservatives Obsess Over Abortion

The news is reporting that Obama's "honeymoon" with conservatives is over. The Pope and religious conservatives have now supposedly "turned against" President Obama because he lifted the gag rule on abortion, proving which side he comes down on (as if there were any doubt).

Each year in January, anti-abortionists hold a rally in Washington, D.C. in front of the Supreme Court to protest the controversial 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which made abortion legal. Ever since then, the decision has rallied groups of outraged religiously conservative people around a cause they view as just. Some go so far as to claim that abortion is a new "holocaust."

Whoa. Wait a minute, there. Now, I'm no fan of abortion. But I'm tired of the never ending argument and name-calling by anti-abortionists. You can't have an intelligent conversation with these people because they are so fanatically devoted to the cause of making abortion illegal that they can't answer a few questions that need to be asked.

Before abortion was legalized, women risked their lives going to back-alley butchers or they used coat hangers to end the pregnancy. If abortion is made illegal again, how do we prevent a black market of people willing to provide abortions in unsafe conditions? And will we ban coat hangers because it could be used by women to end their pregnancy?

Another idea to consider is the global population. Can our world truly sustain many more millions of people? I don't know how many abortions occur every year, but what we're seeing in our world crisis is the result of over population. The Pentagon predicts that wars of the near future will be fought over water, which will make our current wars over oil and other natural resources child's play. It doesn't take a genius to know that most people can live without oil, but if water supplies are dwindling and unable to sustain the six+ billion people on earth, you know that a lot of people are going to die. What are these anti-abortionists going to do about it?

I remember hearing the outrage by the conservative evangelical Christians over Terri Schiavo, the comatose lady who was kept alive for a couple decades by a machine until her husband decided it was time to pull the plug. The husband was accused of being a murderer and these people raised a sanctimonious uproar. Over a comatose woman kept alive by a machine! When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, conservatives weren't so charitable about their view of the people who couldn't leave the danger zone due to chronic poverty. These two incidents illustrate that conservative evangelical Christians don't really care about "right to life" issues. Not when they value the life of the unborn and a comatose woman connected to a machine over the lives of living people stranded and threatened by rising waters in one of America's blackest cities.

This is what I think about whenever I hear them protest abortion. They seem angry about women who might go into an abortion clinic, as though it was a personal affront to them what someone else decides to do with her body. Yet, for every outrage over an aborted pregnancy or stem cell research, there are many more children living in poverty, being born into poverty and/or abusive families, babies abandoned in trash dumps, children in custody and foster care. Why not devote their obvious passion for the children who are living in less than ideal circumstances? Why not adopt a pregnant teenage mother and help her raise the child as a kind of "godparent"? I don't know the reasons why a woman seeks an abortion, but instead of condemning them outright or seeking to make it illegal, why not help make the need for it rare? Making it illegal won't prevent back-alley abortion "clinics" from popping up or from coat hangers being used.

Here's my theory on why conservative evangelical Christians are so passionately against abortion. It's a deeply rooted existential issue. Evangelical Christians believe that human life begins at conception. Before that moment, we don't exist. That's a scary thought if you truly think about it...what if you never existed? So, they think they are saving people that way. Saving them from not existing. That's why they refer to abortion as a "holocaust", because the numbers of fetuses that have been aborted since 1973 is in the tens of millions or more. That's millions of souls that have never been born, in their view. These souls are non-existent because someone aborted them before they had a chance to live.

I'd tell them, get a grip! Of course, in my belief system, abortion isn't the end of the world. I don't believe life begins at conception. I believe in a pre-mortal existence, where we were souls in the spiritual realm BEFORE we came into being on the earthly plane. So, a woman who aborts a fetus that a soul was "assigned" to isn't snuffing out an existence forever. All she's doing is ending that particular life experience for the soul. Yes, that's a sad tragedy that has spiritual consequences in itself, but that's a lot different from the view that abortion ends a newly created soul any chance at existence.

However, any discussion of spiritual ideas is pointless to argue about because we really don't know what is the eternal truth. Conservative Evangelical Christians KNOW that their beliefs are true and they feel a special mission from God to save the existence of all these newly created souls. From my perspective, I believe our souls existed way before Mr. Sperm met Ms. Egg. Why would God entrust something as important as existence to imperfect humans? Non-existence before birth is not something to worry about. Yet these conservative Evangelical Christians don't seem to care about the reckless way we treat our environment or the problems overpopulation will cause our planet in coming years. It seems silly that they're worried about saving the lives of the unborn while many millions of lives on earth right now are suffering malnutrition, starvation, disease, and lack of access to potable water (if you want a scary preview of the future, read about the situation in Bolivia where water rights are owned by a corporation that can charge however much they want for it--despite the chronic poverty many residents live in). It's time they stop looking in the wrong direction and start doing something for the people who are living in dire circumstances.

What all these sanctimonious anti-abortionists need to realize is...screaming about abortion while living mouths cry out in hunger is ass-backward moral blindness. Let's work to improve the lives of the living before we outlaw abortion. Education and liveable wages is but a first step towards lessening the need for women to seek an abortion.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

In Observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day...

According to my calendar, today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Since I haven't written on this topic, I decided to once again pre-empt a post long written to observe this day with my thoughts about it, as well as my thoughts about the best film made about the Holocaust: Schindler's List. I will be spending Tuesday evening after work watching Steven Spielberg's masterpiece for the first time in years. The first time I watched it was in 1994, at a movie theater in Fulda, Germany. It played in the German language and I happened to be visiting Fulda (where I had lived for three years as a teenager) in the last months of the U.S. Army base's existence. They held a Farewell Volksmarch (a German tradition of walking 10k through woods and countryside to get a souvenir medal or goblet or mug) and I went up for the occasion.

When I saw that Schindler's List was playing in a German theater, it was just too much to resist. An American made movie about Nazis and the Holocaust, dubbed in German, with a German audience?!? How could I resist? This was the first time I saw a movie in a German theater and I realized one thing I didn't like. Smoking was allowed. However, when I noticed people smoking in the movie, I thought it was okay this time because it made for a multi-sensory experience.

I don't know German besides a year and a half of high school German. I just let the visuals of the black and white film speak with powerful force. Sure, there were dialogue that I missed out on, but by film's end, I understood it. The film was powerful. Also, I noticed that after the movie finished, people didn't hurry up and leave. The audience remained in their seats. I wondered what it must feel like to know that your country did that, a generation ago. That your parents or grandparents did nothing to stop it. That they were partially responsible for allowing a far right political party come to power and propagandize everything. A heavy burden, indeed!

When the film played at the Italian theater in La Maddalena, I decided to see it in the dubbed Italian language, just for the sheer oddity of it. A shipmate also went to the theater, but he understood more Italian than I did and after the movie, told me about the gist of an important conversation in the film between Oskar Schindler and Amon Goethe.

Finally, I watched the film at the American theater on the Navy base at La Maddalena when it arrived in the summer of 1994. This is not the kind of movie I'd see that many times in a theater, but I three languages. It's powerful no matter what language you happen to see it in.

When I lived in Utah in 1997-1999, a network (ABC?) decided to air it unedited nation-wide, as per Spielberg's instructions. This caused some controversy in Utah because of the whole censorship issue. It wasn't certain if it would even air in Utah, but I watched the TV channel just to see if they did, and then watched the film to see if it would be edited. During the sex scene, the screen got noticeably dark. I thought that was curious. During the scenes of people being gassed or killed, there wasn't any darkening of the screen. Just as I thought. Squeemish about sex, but okay with violence. That's conservatives for you.

During the Washington Seminar, I wanted to visit the Holocaust Museum. I had asked a fellow BYU student about what it was like. I can't remember who it was, but he told me that if I did see it, I shouldn't plan to do anything else the rest of the day. "Why?" I asked. "Did it take that long to go through?"

"No," he said. "You'll feel like crap that you won't want to do anything else."

Well, since you put it that way...

I decided that it was one of those things that I needed to "psyche" myself up for, and since I had planned to live in D.C. for the next decade, I wasn't in a rush.

Big mistake! I left D.C. in July 2000 without having seen it (though I did force myself to visit the Smithsonian's American history museum before I left). So, if I make it out to D.C. this October, I will make a point to visit this museum. Psyched or not. I'll be ready.

During the internship, it was a great honour to meet Holocaust survivors Tom and Annette Lantos, who are Hungarian Jews. Tom Lantos was a Congressman representing the people around San Mateo, California. His wife Annette was a colourful character, a true "dah-link" (as she'd pronounce it) who converted to the LDS Church. Lantos remained Jewish through his death (last year, or the year before?). During one class lecture, Tom shared a little about his experience with the Holocaust and how it shaped him to become a passionate advocate of human rights.

Later on, months later as a matter of fact, the roommate I didn't like very much just started ripping on Lantos for even talking about the Holocaust. My jaw dropped when he actually said: "It's great and all that he had this Holocaust experience, but I don't want to hear about it."

I truly don't understand people like that. Why be ignorant of history's most unpleasant events? That's the problem with people who deny that the Holocaust even happened. They claim that there's no "evidence" or that it's simply not possible to mass execute that many people in such a short amount of time. Yet it does happen. It happened again in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Cambodia. What's so hard to believe about it? My guess is that they are either in denial or they truly are ignorant or even sympathizers for that particularly ideology.

Because of the dangers of denying that the Holocaust occurred, there was a flood of movies, books, documentaries, and museums in the 1990s to preserve the memory of this tragedy in human history. While I generally don't make a point to see Holocaust-related movies, I believe that there is only one that really needs to be seen and that's the Oscar-winning Schindler's List.

The tagline was "He who saves one life, saves the world entire." In case you've never seen this excellent film, it is about a German industrialist named Oskar Schindler who doesn't see saving Jews from the Nazi party policy of forced removals as a human right. For him, it's about protecting the workers in his factory, who happen to be Jewish. He doesn't support the war effort and manages to sell bad ammunition to the German military without their suspicions.

Amon Goethe is one of the most villainous characters you'll see on screen. He's about as homicidal as one could get and his name alone should send chills down anyone's spine. He belongs on the list of bad Nazis: Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Goering, and a few others I can't think of right now. One of my favourite lines in the film is when Schindler tells Goethe that "forgiveness is power." Goethe struggles with it, but ultimately, his thirst to kill is more important than seeing a Jewish person's humanity.

The film is not easy to watch, and Spielberg employs tricks to get your attention (though it's black and white, a young girl wears a red coat, and a candle's flame burns in colour). The concentration camp scenes are hard to watch. You see the horror of not knowing what will happen to you when Nazi guards divide you into separate lines. Even children aren't spared. As they find places to hide, the one that brings the most sympathy is the young boy pictured below, who jumps into the cesspool of human waste. That scene always makes me cry. I'm not sure I would want to jump into an outhouse, but that only shows how desperate for survival the situation calls for.

So, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is important to remember what human beings are capable of committing. We have seen humanity at it's best last week, when people endured the cold and crowds to watch the Inauguration of President Obama. Good will seemed to prevail and most everyone felt prouder and walked taller than they have in years (Rush and company excluded). On the flip side, we have to remember how dangerous humans can be when true believers are willing to kill other human beings in service of their ideological blindness.

Let's honour this day and remember with prayers the six million Jews who perished in the 1930s and 1940s because of religious and cultural bigotry. May it never happen again on our watch.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Music Video Monday: Australia Day

Today is Australia Day, a big day of celebration down under. If I'm not mistaken, it marks the anniversary of Australia's founding as a penal colony at Botany Bay. Since Australia is a commonwealth of the British Empire and never demanded independence from England, they remain part of a group of nations that have Queen Elizabeth II as the official "head of state", just as she is for Canada, New Zealand, Gibraltar, Fiji and the United Kingdom (and a few other places I can't recall off hand).

A few years back, there was talk about Australia becoming a republic, but many Australians were apparently worried that they'd become more like the USA. Since I'm not an Australian, I have no idea on the ins and outs of being a republic versus remaining part of the British commonwealth. One thing I'm adamant about, though...they have one of the coolest looking flags and I'd hate to see it changed (unless a new flag featured the shape of the continent on the flag--out of all the countries and continents, Australia has the coolest looking shape).

In honour of this country that remains at the top of my list of countries I hope to see before I transpire to the spiritual realm, I am featuring two music videos by Australian rock groups that pay tribute to their nation.

The first music video is Midnight Oil's beautiful tribute to their native land. The song is "One Country" from their 1990 album Blue Sky Mining. The video shows the beauty and diversity that is Australia and it makes such a great tourist advertisement.

The second music video is Icehouse's "Great Southern Land", which I believe should be the official rock anthem of Australia. This video also shows the beauty of the land down under. It's from the 1980s Australian hit film Young Einstein. You can tell just how 80s this video is by the lead singer's horribly bad mullet. Gawd, I can't believe that I actually thought mullets looked cool back in 1987. I'm so glad I never got one!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Humiliation and Humility

I've had a week to digest the Mayor Sam Adams sex and lies scandal. I even read my old blog posts about him and laughed when I wrote that he's honest. See? He fooled even me. He does have a reputation for being kind of blunt and from what I saw of him, he's not a person who can fake particularly well. I noticed this when watching his press conference, where his voice cracked. And again on Saturday when reporters hounded him at City Hall and he answered a few questions. You could tell that he has been humbled and humiliated by this scandal. He looked rather pathetically sad and his voice betrayed his sadness. I'm not excusing his lies or what he did, because ultimately, he has to be able to look himself in the mirror every day and only he knows the full truth of what everyone else can only speculate on (such as if Breedlove was 17 or 18 when the sexual relationship began).

After Tuesday's press conference, Mayor Adams was absent from City Hall for three days. Reports had him holed up in his home making calls to supporters for advice and counsel, as well as to personally apologize. The ultimate irony in this was that he was scheduled to speak at Portland State University on Friday morning, where the forum's theme was "Ethics and Social Responsibility." County Commissioner Jeff Cogen spoke instead. A wise decision. Had Mayor Adams continued his schedule as planned, he would've been laughed out of the room. See? That's what happens when you lose credibility.

News reported today that he doesn't plan to resign, so how effective can he be now as mayor? Any controversial decision he makes will be questioned as to his real motives with people wondering if he's being truly honest. Staying in office means that he will have a tough hill to climb to get back into the good graces of Portland residents. However, this scandal happened so early in his term that I doubt most people would remember it when reelection comes around in 2012. If other scandals surface or there's more to this story than currently reported, it'll only serve as a distraction throughout his term as mayor.

One solution I read online was that Adams should resign and when a new election is called for (possibly in November), he could run again, offering voters a chance to vote for him again knowing what we know now. However, that's a risky venture on his behalf because he'll most likely not get the 59% that he enjoyed last May. Besides, most politicians hate the campaigning aspect. They endure it because its the only way to get into office. It's the work on behalf of voters that politicians desire, not the campaigning. It's the reason why Adams (and his campaign staff) were relieved that he won the election in May, rather than face a run-off in November. I don't think Adams will want to go back into campaign mode again, so soon after his victory of last year.

Remaining in office means he will most likely face a movement to recall him starting on July 1st. This buys him six months of working like a dog to redeem his image. Perhaps by then, enough heads will have cooled off that a recall measure will fail due to a lack of signatures (I believe it takes 32,000 signatures to introduce a recall election). I'm not surprised that he's deciding not to resign because the guy is ambitious and to admit defeat now is throwing in the towel. Other politicians have weathered controversies and scandals. He can certainly ride this one out for the next six months.

However, the news is now reporting that Breedlove has admitted that they have kissed at least twice when he was 17, including once in the restroom of City Hall! What is it with gay guys and public restrooms, anyway? If there is more to be uncovered (and only Adams knows this), the best thing would be to resign for the sake of our city. If the current details are all that's out there, I don't think he needs to resign. The reason I think this is because one thing that bothers me about the whole thing is that a Portland developer who was thinking of running for mayor decided in 2007 to spread a rumour that he heard about Adams having sex with a borderline legal young man. Spreading rumours in an attempt to character assassinate an opponent is wrong, especially if you don't have hardcore evidence of wrongdoing.

For the media to pick up on every little rumour and ask about it without having evidence, seems like entrapment. They could ask a politician to answer about any such rumours, regardless of the relevance. Is it right to lie? For me, I can't fault a person for lying about what they do in their personal life. The sexual relationship is not much of an issue, despite the creepiness of a 42 year old man preying on an about to turn legal young man. As long as its true that they waited until after the boy's 18th birthday, the lie is not an issue to resign from office for.

However, I believe that should Adams remain in office (and risk facing a recall in six months), he should offer a few ways to show contrition beyond his apology for lying. Some ideas might be, community service (though mentoring youth is unacceptable), reducing his salary and donating the difference to a charitable organization that does help youth (such as Ethos Music Center), abstaining from chasing after any young man, seeking personal counseling, hiring as a staff member someone who is from a certain conservative organization known for teaching boys how to be upstanding men (wink, wink!), or some other idea he might offer that would show a true desire to repair the damage and serve a higher cause.

On Friday, there were two rallies at City Hall. The Anti-Sam protest happened earlier in the day and was basically a few evangelical Christians with their moral outrage and typical homophobic signs of repenting and of God hating fags variety. How clever and original.

In the evening was the Pro-Sam rally that had over 500 supporters and celebrities, such as Storm Large (a singer who is one of Portland's famous, though she might not be known elsewhere) and sex-advice columnist Dan Savage (who came down from Seattle to show his support, even though six months ago in his column, he wrote that any man in his 30s or 40s who has sex with a teenager is "almost always scum."). A spokesperson for director Gus Van Sant also attended the rally and read a statement by the just recently nominated for Best Director Oscar. Of course the guy who directed the Oscar-nominated film Milk is going to be supportive of Portland's openly gay mayor! But their friendship goes back years.

I didn't attend either rally because I'm on the fence with this one. It's a difficult situation to be in because I understand the arguments of both sides and I'm okay with either option (resigning or staying). My only condition is that if Mayor Adams decides to stay in office, he must offer some visible means of contrition...whether to reduce his salary and donate the difference to charity for a couple years or community service or whatever else he might think of.

One thing I've been thinking over the past few days was the similarities in the words "humiliation" and "humility." Sam Adams has a reputation for being arrogant, ambitious, and somewhat of an ego-maniac who throws his weight around and is not above intimidating people into doing what he wants. In other words, he's a man who has worked his way through politics in twenty years by not being a humble guy. Humility is the last word anyone would ever associate with him. And yet, after two weeks in office, he was publically exposed in a sex scandal that has gone worldwide (I noticed on my blog's statistical counter that someone in Beijing, China had Google searched "Adams and Breedlove" and read my post about the scandal! And someone in the U.S. Capitol's Sergeant-at-Arms office was also interested in what I wrote about the scandal). Mayor Adams in the past week looks humiliated. I suppose that's the reason why he lied about it back in 2007. He was embarrassed about his weakness for giving into temptation in 2005 and thought it was old news, but the media was interested and it didn't have anything to do with how he would be mayor, so he lied and got caught after he was safely elected and sworn in as Mayor.

What is it about humiliation that humbles people or brings arrogant people into humility? I can't help but think that there is a spiritual purpose behind all of this. Perhaps further evidence of karma. Adams thought he could get away with his lie and it finally caught up to him. And the public lashing has served to humble him. Whatever choice he makes from now on, I hope that one of them is not a return to his old ways of being. His reputation as a bully is one that I hope has been killed off in this scandal. If he becomes a better man, a more cooperative politician who isn't quick to anger and make enemies would be a great redemption story for our city. It would serve as a reminder that sometimes, humiliation is the only path towards humility for some people. Humility is the first quality we should seek in public servants.

At the Pro-Sam rally, Storm Large sang the following lyrics to the tune of "Stand By Your Man." She named her version, "Stand By Your Sam." In a non-related bit of info, at a Candidates Gone Wild event back in October, they aired a hilarious video tape where City Commissioner Randy Leonard was claiming that Adams wasn't really gay and was only using it to get elected. In the video spoof, he was seen spying on Sam, who was with Storm Large at his house. The video was hilarious and I was surprised that these public figures would even joke like that on film. It only made me think about how cool this city is and not uptight about maintaining appearances. I love good self-deprecating satire, especially by our public officials. Anyhow, the lyrics to Storm's song is pretty interesting, but I'm not ready to stand by Sam just yet. I'm more interested in seeing a list of potential replacements for Mayor if Adams decides to resign after all or the recall election removes him from office (City Commissioner Randy Leonard would serve in the interim until a new election determines the next mayor).

Sometimes its hard to be in Portland
Giving all you got to this guy Sam.
You'll have bad times,
He'll have some good times,
Doing things that you don't understand.

But if you love him,
You'll forgive him,
Even though he's hard to understand.

Oh, Portland,
But if you love him,
You can be proud of him,
Cos after all he's just a man.

Stand by your Sam,
Give him two arms to cling to,
And something warm to cling to,
When the nights are cold and lonely.

Get Some Generation Kill (Oooh Rah!)

A couple weeks ago, I finally finished watching the excellent HBO miniseries Generation Kill. I had read the book of the same name by Journalist Evan Wright in 2005 (when the film Jarhead came out). I was glad that Hollywood decided to make the book into a miniseries (rather than a movie for a theatrical release). What you end up with is seven excellent hours instead of two or possibly three. This gives time to develop the characters (in seven "one hour" episodes) as they prepare for combat through the initial invasion of Iraq. The book and the miniseries focuses on an elite group of USMC recon unit who had already experienced a tour in Afghanistan together. Now they are what was referred to as "the point of the spear", leading the invasion in the rush to Baghdad.

When the miniseries originally aired last summer, it stirred some controversy because of the language used by the men in combat. Another example of "political correctness" run amuck! I'm certain that easily offended feminists were behind the whole uproar, because based on my experience with a few radical feminists, they don't want to believe that men are really like the way they're portrayed in military movies...and if they are, they need to be "civilized." If anyone watched this miniseries and actually got offended by it, they truly are too "precious" for reality. I'd tell them...go back to your fairy tales.

From a male perspective, especially one who served on two male-only ships...watching this miniseries truly brought me back to my Navy experience. Granted, I did not serve in a war zone and the Marines are pretty hard core compared to the Navy, but guys are pretty much the same no matter which branch you find yourself in. I'm not saying that ALL men behave this way, for the miniseries does show the diversity of the men who make up this cool fighting force.

There's Brad Colbert, the sergeant who often observes his surroundings without speaking. He'll show traces that he cares, such as when he recommends a new way to stop cars at roadblocks instead of firing warning shots, after his men went gun happy on innocent travelers. He also influences a cynical Marine to give a couple MREs (the infamous packaged food rations military members eat) to shy Iraqi girls. When a trigger happy Marine wastes some camels, and they later discover that he had shot an Iraqi kid on the camel, Colbert takes responsibility for it. He is the true heart and soul of the series, and before you accuse him of being a bleeding heart liberal, he yelled to an Iraqi bystander who thanked them for going after Saddam, "Vote Republican!"

Colbert is played by Alexander Skarsgard, who is an actor to watch. He can convey a lot from his facial expressions without uttering a single word. That's acting at its best. He looked so familiar that I had to Google search him and thus I was shocked that he is a Swedish actor who hasn't made anything I ever heard of. He speaks with no foreign accent and he has what some might call an "All-American look" rather than a European one.

The driver of the main humvee is a wise cracking Marine named Ray Person. He offers his opinions on all kinds of topics. He'll even break out into song. He's a good match for the more quiet Colbert, who sometimes tells him to shut up. Ray is basically the witty clown who provides much of the comic relief in this series (such as the line "they think we're cool because we're so good at blowing shit up!" when Iraqi kids approach a truck they had blasted away). In the first episode, I knew I'd love this show when Ray tears into the "Dear Any Soldier" letters that the unit received. He starts ripping on the people who write the letters and another Marine looks at a photo of an elementary school girl and makes some sexual comments. I can understand if some people might find this to be offensive and think that it goes too far...but, the reason why I love the scene is because it is SOOOOOOOOOO TRUE!!!

When I was in the Navy in Italy, a church member who taught the fifth grade decided to surprise me for Christmas 1992 by sending me a box of letters from her students. I loved it and felt like a celebrity. She had asked me if I could get my buddies to help write letters to her students. That proved more difficult than I thought. When I went around asking for volunteers, the question I always got was about how old the girls were and if any pictures were enclosed. It was harder to get them to volunteer to write to a boy. This was FIFTH GRADERS, I'd remind them. One sailor wrote a letter to a girl and then after he wrote it, he tore it up because he realized that he was writing as though she was 18 because he had closed with a phrase about possibly meeting! I couldn't believe it. I did get a few guys to write a couple letters, but mostly, I had to write the bulk of the letters. It proved to be a big hit on the other end, because I wrote personal letters, answering each kid's specific questions. I didn't write a form letter, and they appreciated it.

On my last ship, the Postal Clerk left a box of "Dear Any Sailor" letters on the mess decks for anyone to pick up. I watched in shock as guys opened envelopes, looking for pictures and if finding none of an attractive lady, they'd leave the opened letter on the table for someone else to take. Later, I checked, and what was left behind were letters from old ladies and young boys. You couldn't find a letter from a lady when sailors got done with it. I always think of this whenever I hear conservative people talk about "supporting the troops" by sending "Dear Any Soldier" letters hoping for a penpal in the military. If you're not a single young lady, forget it! I hate to break it to you, but guys in the military aren't the noble heroes that conservatives like to portray them as. They are young men, fresh out of high school, horny, immature, love to fight. This doesn't make them bad, but I get tired of hearing conservatives worship people in the military as though they were saintly gods. They're not. Maybe that's why this miniseries received some controversy...because conservatives were shocked that our military members might not fit their "saintly" image of them.

If you want to test the theory out...send a letter to any soldier where you write as a young lady and include a nice picture of someone you know in their 20s. Then write a letter to any soldier as a man, a young boy, or as an older lady and see which one gets a response. I'd bet Dick Cheney's millions that the letter with a young lady's picture will get a response while you'll be left wondering if anyone got the other letters.

Before I get accused of stereotyping, which I never understand why I do when I share my experience of what I've seen, not all guys are like that. I noticed a difference between the behaviour of officers and enlisted men. I always thought it was amusing that when people saw me in civilian clothes first, and later saw me in uniform, they were shocked because they thought I was an officer, based on the way I carried myself. I did have more in common with officers than enlisted men when I was in the Navy, but because of the rules of fraternization, we really couldn't hang out or be friends.

Anyhow, that scene in the series might offend sensitive viewers who believe that military guys are noble heroes. It always irritates me that people put military members on pedestals, thinking that anyone who joins is doing it for a deep desire to serve the country. When I was in, and the bullshit rationale stopped, the real reasons people join the military are numerous: it's a job, there's job security (no matter how bad you mess up, you can't get fired and find yourself unemployed...until your enlistment is up), they want to escape a small town, they got a girlfriend pregnant, they're running away from family problems, they want money for college, they want to see the world...whatever it is, it's just like any other job. Its not a noble thing or a bad thing. Its just a career option with plus and minuses like any other organization you find yourself in.

Also in the unit is the "psycho" who can't wait to make his first kill. Every war movie I've seen seems to have this archetype character. No one seems to take him seriously.

What makes the miniseries great is the camaraderie among the men. This is what "guy culture" is all about. The constant ribbing and insults. I know that some women have expressed shock when my Navy buddies and I ribbed one another with insults. Women seem to think it's "mean", but's a guy thing. The camaraderie I experienced in the Navy has not been replicated in the civilian world and I sincerely miss it. The constant ribbing does keep your mind sharp. It's not easy to come up with wit that gets everyone laughing, and the ability to make your buddies laugh is considered an asset.

An example of male ribbing is shown in the character of Rudy Reyes, who is a married, well-built Marine that cares a little too much about the way he looks, earning him ridicule for being gay. He takes it in stride. He has a cool, California Zen vibe, and makes comments about karma, treating your body like a temple, and even confessing to wearing clothes that are "body conscious" (which, of course, set him up for further ridicule). In a brilliance of casting, the real Rudy Reyes plays himself.

Lieutenant Nathaniel Fick is also a major character in the miniseries. He leads the men through the invasion of Iraq and has to balance following orders that he thinks are idiotic with protecting the unit he's tasked to lead. After the war, he wrote a book (One Bullet Away) that won Barnes and Noble's "Discover Great New Writers" Nonfiction Book of the Year for 2006. It's a perfect companion piece to Generation Kill, featuring the same characters from a different perspective. Generation Kill was written by an embedded journalist for Rolling Stone magazine. Of course, when he's introduced to the unit, he's immediately under suspicion for being part of the liberal media. He has to earn their trust. His presence also encourages the Marines to play up their personas for the sake of his magazine articles.
Pictured above and below are the actors who play Nathaniel Fick and Brad Colbert.

For most war movies, I have to psyche myself up to see them because I have a hard time watching violence (in 1998, I almost passed out watching the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan). But I have a distinct criteria between what I consider "realism violence" as portrayed in war movies and "gratuitous violence", which I won't see (the Saw movies for example). I don't have a problem watching war movies because it reflects what's going on in our world. It amazed me when I met war supporters who refuse to watch war movies. Its like they don't want to know what we're sending our young men to do on our behalf. Such denial is disturbing to me. Why be a flag waving, rah-rah-rah cheerleading, yellow ribbon bumper magnet displaying, "support the troops" kind of person if you refuse to watch war movies?

I didn't need to psyche myself up to watch Generation Kill because I was already psyched to see it. Yes, there are some scenes of violence and injuries, but this is first and foremost a male camaraderie movie. It is absolutely perfect in that regard. People who question it don't have a clue and probably haven't experienced the military themselves. One of the criticisms about the miniseries was that some people don't believe that our military servicemembers would joke around the way they are seen doing throughout the series. But in one of the special features, someone explained that often the best humour comes from the forbidden. When you're surrounded by death and bombs and bullets and you see buddies getting shot or innocent people dying, humour might be the only healing balm you have in that moment. And yeah, you might laugh about things that would shock civilians back home.

When I was in the Navy, during stressful moments at sea, I would always find a laugh a day with my buddies, just to keep us sane. For instance, in the shock of the O.J. Simpson verdict in 1995, I shared my frustrations with a shipmate about how outrageous that he got away with murder. He responded with, "we could always do justice the old fashion way." "How?" I asked. "Hang him from a tree," he said. I laughed when he said it, not because I think lynching is funny, but it was such an unexpected response for the situation we were discussing. Yeah, the Navy is where I got my gallows humour...and I find that a lot of civilians simply don't get it. Too sacriligious.

Speaking of sacriligioius, one of my favourite scenes in the miniseries was when the Chaplain comes by to give the men a short service before they roll out to battle. Most men avoid him and then talk bad about him out of earshot. Brad Colbert shares his views about the pointlessness of having chaplains in the military. Its one more thing that these evangelical Christians who love our noble military members don't seem to understand about the mind of a young man in the military. Guy culture can be boiled down to sex, sports and guns. The last thing they want is a chaplain talking about religion as they are mentally preparing to "kill the hajjis." The code of the military is "protect your buddies." Religion is seen as weak.

By the final episode, I didn't want it to be over and the way they ended it seems kind of lame. A "forced ending" (the guys are watching a movie that a fellow Marine had made on his own video camera and edited, and one by one, the guys peel away while the movie is still being shown on the TV). Truthfully, though, I didn't want it to end. This miniseries is absolutely brilliant. They got the concept of male camaraderie exactly right. As I pondered the journey the men went on, it reminded me of the reason why I am against women serving in combat units. As I learned on my one ship (the USS Simon Lake) where 30% of the crewmembers were female, male camaraderie breaks down when women are present. In one aspect, raunchy humour is often targeted by easily offended people (if a guy finds "offense" at something, he's ridiculed for being such a girl, if a female finds "offense," guys run the risk of a sexual harassment accusation), without realizing the purpose it serves in "guy culture."

In another aspect, what I witnessed in the Navy was that female sailors who were pretty and feminine were fought over for dating and relationships, but not accepted as being "one of the guys." They were valued in sexual terms. Women who were "masculine" or plain looking found greater acceptance as being "one of the guys", but they rarely got asked out on dates. We ignore gender differences at our peril. I am all for women serving in the military in supporting roles, but why they push to serve in combat is baffling to me. Women should cherish their natural inclination towards "building relationships" and community. It's not relegating women to second-tier status by not allowing them to serve on submarines or in combat. Killing and war is not a "right" women should be fighting for in the quest for complete equality. Guy culture is naturally suited for war. Training women for combat would be like forcing men to shop in department stores all day. Neither concept taps into the respective gender's inclinations. It's in our genetic code from the caveman days...the men hunt and grunt, the women grab and gab.

So, ladies, if you want to understand true male all of this miniseries without getting offended. I'm testifying that what is presented is true to my experience in the Navy on all male ships. If you want to think of me as being sexist for pointing out obvious gender differences, I suggest taking courses in psychology, anthropology, and gender studies. I'm not the only one who notices that gender differences are inherent (not cultural, as radical feminists claim that it is). For guys, you'll love this miniseries. Now go "Get some!"

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Andrew Young's Visit to Portland

On Thursday evening, I went to nearby Portland State University to attend their Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. program, which included a couple short speeches from the university president and a host of local radio show "Thinking Out Loud", a couple songs by a jazz band, an awesome hand slapping and tap dancing quartet of African American fraternity brothers, and the key lecture by Civil Rights icon, Andrew Young. He's considered one of Dr. King's "Lieutenants" in the Civil Rights movement. He was present on the day Dr. King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN. In the forty years since the tragedy, Andrew Young has been elected to Congress from Georgia and selected by President Jimmy Carter to be the Ambassador to the United Nations. He later resigned due to some controversy about his position on Palestinians (can't remember the details off hand). That was just the 1970s. From 1982 through 1989, he served as Mayor of Atlanta.

He was the mayor when my family moved to the Atlanta metro area in 1988. After his term ended, he served on the Atlanta Olympic Committee and was instrumental in wooing the votes of African members of the International Olympic Committee. In 1990, Atlanta was bestowed the honour of hosting the 1996 Olympic games. After the Olympics were over and the Olympic stadium was being retrofitted into a baseball stadium, there was debate over what to name the stadium. I thought it should be called "Young-Payne Stadium" (in honour of Andrew Young and Billy Payne, the president of the Atlanta Olympic Committee). It had a cool ring to it, doesn't it? However, the stadium was named after the owner of the Atlanta Braves: Ted Turner. Locals affectionately call it "the Ted."

Andrew Young ran in the Democratic primary for the 1990 Governor's race. He was the first politician I was eligible to vote for and I had hopes back in 1990 that he would win and serve as governor for eight years and then run for president in 2000. As a teenager, I thought Andrew Young had the best chance to become the first black president. However, he had to win the governorship and Georgia still had a racist mindset (in 1988, Forsyth County, which is the next county north of Fulton County--where Atlanta is located--still had a "white residents only" policy. This was 1988, people!). Young didn't win the primary. Zell Miller did. I didn't like Miller because he was such a "good ole boy" with a face that looks like a prune. Most Americans probably remember him best as that ranting Democrat at the 2004 Republican National Convention where he looked like he was going to erupt he was so angry. Yeah...the great Civil Rights hero Andrew Young lost the governor's race to a ranting lunatic. But back in the 1990s, Zig Zag Zell was a "Friend of Bill" Clinton.

When I was robbed in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1994, I no longer had cash on me and my glasses were even stolen. I had no way of getting back to my hotel, if not for a good samaritan, an African lawyer named Patrice Motsepe, who drove a BMW. He took me to the police station to fill out a report and then drove me back to the hotel. In our conversation, when I told him that I was from Atlanta, he mentioned having once worked for Andrew Young. I was impressed. I felt a connection already. Though I hadn't met Young at that point, I might have if I had volunteered on his campaign for governor, but after he lost the primary, there was no fall campaign.

At a booksigning in 1997, I finally met Andrew Young. He signed my copy of "An Easy Burden" (great memoir, if you enjoy reading about the experiences of our Civil Rights leaders). Of course, I had to ask him if he knew Patrice Motsepe, and he did. He told me a little about the guy and asked how I knew him, so I told him about my story. What a small world.

When I noticed a sign that Andrew Young would be speaking at Portland State University on Thursday, January 22nd, I knew what I was going to do that night. Even though I had a headache after I left work and on any other night would've gone straight to bed, I'm glad that I went. I had forgotten how funny Andrew Young was. He had everyone in stitches! He opened up with an unknown story about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He said that he often gets asked to share something about Dr. King that only he knows. The anecdote he offered was King's first trip to Amsterdam in the 1960s. Since Young had been there previously with his wife, King had asked him to come along. Young wanted to show King "the Red Light District" as a joke, but Dr. King said that too many people knew who he was that it might prove to be embarrassing. Young managed to talk him into a quick tour during the day, and a Dutch man approached them in the District and said, "I'm glad to meet you, Dr. Martin Luther King!"

In Young's speech, he went off on a tangent to talk about the current economic crisis and how it relates to Bretton Woods and why taking the dollar off the gold standard was a foolish thing to do. It got a little too economical to me and I kept looking at my program which indicated that this speech was supposed to be about "Living the Legacy" of Dr. King. However, it was all build up and Young was quite brilliant.

He started talking about President Obama and saying that he saw the hand of God in Obama's meteoric rise. Before the audience could roll their eyes or groan (this is secular Portland, after all), he pleaded for us to hear him out. He gave a brief life history of Barack Obama as only Young can, and it was so hilarious that I'm not going to be able to do him justice. Basically, he said that first, God selected a bright and ambitious African young man and sent him to Hawaii, so he could meet and impregnate a young woman from Kansas. Young, went on, explaining that this young woman from Kansas was affected by an experience she had as a young girl in Texas, when she was the only white girl to play with her black schoolmates. When whites threw rocks at them, her father decided that he didn't want to raise his daughter in a racist state, so he moved to Hawaii.

Young said that Barack Obama Sr. was typical of African males in that they don't stick around. He was off to Harvard when Barack Obama Jr. was two. Later, his mother married a man from Indonesia and moved there, where Obama got a half-sister with Chinese-Indonesian heritage. Young then explained the significance of this and why he believes that God purposefully created a man like Barack Obama to become our president at this time. He said that because Obama has Kenyan blood in him, along with caucasian blood, and that he was raised in the world's largest Muslim country...his background is exactly what is needed in the world at this time. Young said that it was hit home for him when he watched the Inauguration on TV and saw images from Kenya and Indonesia. In both countries, the people proudly claim Obama as one of their own. And with a middle name like "Hussein", it only helps Obama's stature in the Arab countries.

Young then mentioned about Obama's experience as a community organizer. Since he had a similar experience, he said that community organizing is some of the hardest work around and he did his with Dr. King. He believes this helped Obama, because had he used his brilliance to get a nice paying job on Wall Street, we probably would've never heard of this guy. What got the biggest laughs was when Young claimed that he even believes that God placed Bush in the White House to mess things up so badly that Obama could come in and do His bidding in bettering our world. The statement that got the biggest laughs was along the lines of: "you see, things have to get really bad before a black man could become president, because who else would does Americans expect to clean up the mess?"

I agree that Obama's unique heritage seems perfect for what our world needs right now. That so many people around the world want to claim him as being one of them will go a long way in helping to rebuild our American image abroad. I read an article the other day that there are hundreds of thousands of African-Iraqis, most of whom live in southern Iraq around Basra. One African-Iraqi man has the last name of Hussein and said that he admired President Obama, because he also dealt with race issues in Iraq.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who sees some kind of spiritual destiny with Obama's meteoric rise to be the right man for the job at the most vital period of our nation's history. I agree that we probably would've never heard of him if we had been living in President Gore's America these past eight years. In that alternative universe, Hillary Clinton would've been the Democratic nominee in 2008. Speaking of Hillary, Young admitted that he supported Hillary in the campaign because he has known her since she was a senior in college (through some family members). I had wondered about that when I was surprised to learn some time last year that he had endorsed her over Obama. At this lecture, Young admitted that he was slow to see Obama's unique gifts and sense of destiny. He had tickets to the Inauguration but gave them away because it sounded like he was afraid of something terrible happening (the pains of 1968 are probably hard to wash away for someone like him). Now, he says that there are just too many odd coincidences that lead him to believe that Obama has God's blessing because of how Obama's life experiences and racial / cultural heritages made him the right person for this job.

Young ended his lecture by telling us that "coincidences are God's way of remaining anonymous." He got a standing ovation. I made my way over to meet him, and what I told him was that "I'm from Stone Mountain, Georgia, and your governor's race was the first election I was eligible to vote in. I wish you were elected governor." He shook my hand and thanked me before turning his attention to the other people who wanted to talk with him.

I'm glad that I went. I had debated not going because it cost $10 and I had a headache. But somewhere early in the program, my headache went away and during Young's lecture, he had me laughing and on the verge of tears (when he spoke of spiritual destiny and how God operates in our world). When I walked back to my apartment, all I kept thinking was: "I want to be a part of the Obama Administration!"

With my own racial diversity and a life lived in several countries, along with my passion for international issues, with my International Politics degree I so want to put to good use, I truly hope that someone in the Administration notices the online application I filled out a few months ago. I want to help Obama's administration be one of the best in our nation's history. Especially after hearing that Rush Limbaugh has said on his show that he hopes Obama fails (what kind of jealous crap is that? Why does he hate America so much? Is he mad that Bush was such a disaster? Does he truly think a President Palin has the ability to make our country better?). I'm fully on board with the Obama Administration and I think I'd make a great staff member. What can I say...but I'm still ecstatic about our new president and the direction he will be taking our country (No more Gitmo, no more Gitmo, hey hey hey, goodbye!).

Friday, January 23, 2009

Flashback Friday: The Nelson Mandela Inauguration

Fourteen years before Barack Obama was inaugurated as the first black president of the United States of America, the world saw another truly miraculous event. 1994 was the year. South Africa was the country. On an eventful day in May, leaders from around the world gathered to witness one of the greatest days in human history. The day when the world's most famous political prisoner was inaugurated to lead a nation that had racial segregation only a few years earlier. I watched the event on CNN International from my barracks room in La Maddalena, Sardinia. I even taped it to watch and re-watch. I rarely felt that ecstatically blissful in my life. It was a true historical moment.

To my surprise, my co-workers couldn't care less about it. It was like we were speaking different languages. For me, I considered the inauguration to be the greatest event in my short lifetime of 22 years. To them, it was just some foreign thing that had no bearing on their lives spent drinking and complaining about life "on the rock."

What made this a great event for me was not just seeing a former political prisoner get his karmic justice after 27 years of false imprisonment, but it was the sheer number of world leaders attending his Inauguration. Castro was there, as well as Mobutu. Al Gore led the U.S. delegation that included Hillary Clinton and Jesse Jackson (Tipper Gore captured my favourite photo of all time: Hillary Clinton and Winnie Mandela face to face with Jesse Jackson facing the camera with his hand out, beckoning Tipper to put down the camera and join the conversation). There were kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers, and dictators present. For one single day, everyone put aside their political differences and honoured a man being bestowed with the responsibilities of leadership in a nation that ended its apartheid laws only a few years earlier. The political prisoner-turned-president had won an overwhelming mandate to lead the new South Africa into the new century.

Gone was the flag that paid tribute to South Africa's English and Dutch heritage. The new flag was brilliantly designed, featuring the colours of its European ancestry (red, white, and blue) as well as the colours of Africa (green, yellow, and black). What's truly remarkable about the flag was the green stripe, forming a triangle and merging into one. It was to symbolize the different heritages merging into one. The flag quickly became my favourite national flag (bumping the Australia flag into second place).

Along with a change in the flag, South Africa also made official 14 different languages, a big jump from the previous two (English and Afrikaans) for most of its modern history. And they added a second national anthem ("Nkosi Sikelel'iAfrika") to their first ("Die Stem van Suid Afrika"). It was touching to see white people singing the African anthem and the Africans singing the Afrikaans anthem. Also in the inauguration, Mandela had diverse clergy to offer prayers, which included a Muslim cleric and a Jewish rabbi...something our country for all its supposed advancement has yet to do.

South Africa under Mandela proclaimed itself the true rainbow nation and the new constitution even surpassed the American one in terms of human rights guarantees. It was amazing to see how one nation could do such an abrupt swing in a mere couple of years. America has had gradual change, but South Africa was a complete makeover.

Though Afrikaners grumbled about the flag being changed, the new flag was far more inclusive. I often thought about how important a flag design could be, because South Africans did this in 1994. In the lead-up to the Atlanta Olympics, there were people in Georgia working to change the state flag because of the Confederate stars and bars on 3/4ths of the flag. Too many good ole boys, however, saw any change to the state flag as an insult to their Confederate ancestors, even though the flag was changed in 1956 to protest desegregation laws of the federal government. It wasn't until 2001 that the flag finally changed, and 2003 when it changed again (I like the new flag and was glad to see the idiotic Barnes flag of 2001-2003 replaced).

Back in 1994, when I watched Nelson Mandela take the oath of office in South Africa, I wondered when America might have its own black president. If someone had told me that we would elect one just 14 years later, I would've thought they were naively optimistic. I didn't expect to see one for maybe 26 years or more. And I thought for certain that we would have a woman president before then.

Though Obama pales in comparison to Mandela, I often thought during the campaign, if he doesn't win the presidency, who will? Granted, he came out of nowhere pretty quickly. Back in 2000, I truly thought Harold Ford, Jr. of Tennessee had the best shot at becoming our nation's first black president. However, he lost a brutal Senate race in 2006 due to the ugly racist stereotypes Southern whites still like to protray to scared white voters (that black men will steal your white women).

With the election of Obama, I heard on many newscasts where African Americans are interviewed and was surprised to hear many say that with Obama's election, they tell their children that they too can now become president. It's a nice sentiment, but not really true. We've only had 44 presidents in our 232 year history. I'm 37 and have lived under 7 presidents. We are a nation of 300 million people, selecting one individual to lead us for four to eight years. Not everyone can become president. It takes the right kind of charisma, looks, personality, experience, education, connections, and even luck (being in the right place at the right time, as Obama was). Gore was groomed to be president since childhood by his ambitious Senator father, but he didn't become president. McCain had the kind of biography you expect in a president, but he couldn't become one either. Then there's George, with his limited intellect and incuriosity, not to mention his long stated disinterest in ever being president.

Back to Mandela. He had a remarkable life and serves as a role model for leadership. After an unjust imprisonment during 27 of the most vital years of a man's life, he didn't get bitter and seek revenge. Instead, he forgave, he showed grace even towards his prison guards, and its no surprise that his karmic bank account accrued to the point where he did get to lead his nation during the last half of the last decade of the last century. After a single five-year term as president, he retired. One of his biggest challenges as president was to prevent a massive "white flight" of South Africans to the U.K., the USA, Canada, and Australia for fear of an increase in crime.

When I visited Johannesburg in August 1994, I heard many call it "the most violent city in the most violent country on earth." It remains as the only place where I was victimized in a violent crime, but I survived without injury and learned an important lesson in forgiveness, myself. The situation didn't ruin my vacation, for I met too many wonderful people, saw many eye-opening things that made it a dream vacation. South Africa is a country I hope to return to because I never got to see Cape Town, which many compare to San Francisco, nor Kruger National Park (for a full-fledged Safari).

What my experience in South Africa showed me was how similar our two countries are. Out of all the countries in the world, I believe that no nation on earth shares a similar experience to our own than South Africa. Many think Australia and the U.S. are similar, and of course, Canada and the U.S. are pretty similar...but when you look at history, there's no denying that South Africa and the U.S. share a special bond. For example, the U.S. was founded by a trading company at Jamestown in 1607. South Africa was founded by a trading company at Cape Town in 1652. The Afrikaner pioneers (voortrekkers) moved from the Cape Province into the interior of Transvaal when the British forced them out of the Cape. Their history of "persecution" and exile reminded me of the Mormon experience and migration to the interior of the intermountain west. In the early part of the 20th century, when the Afrikaners gained political power, they created segregation laws, which they called "apartheid." America had its own segregation laws in the aftermath of the Civil War, after slaves were freed. What's interesting is that the numbers are reversed. In South Africa, it's 70% African with the whites making up the minority (along with the other races of Indians and "coloureds"--those who were of mixed race). In the U.S.A., whites make up 70% of the population, with African Americans and hispanics making up the minority.

The Civil Rights era in the U.S. began in the 1950s with the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, led by a young preacher who was inspired by Mohandas Gandhi of India. Gandhi had lived in South Africa as a young man after being educated in England. His experience of mistreatment for not being white planted the seed of his commitment to justice and racial equality. Nelson Mandela (who was born in 1918, whereas Dr. King was born in 1929) began as a young lawyer who joined the African National Congress and wanted to commit himself to nonviolent civil disobedience until the brutal massacres committed by the white government made him realize that only strategic strikes against government targets would work. This also started in the 1950s and 1960s. Though America finally passed the Civil Rights Act in the mid 1960s and gradually came to accept integration, South Africa still had states of emergencies throughout the 1970s and 1980s until an international boycott finally put the squeeze on the livelihoods and living standards of white South Africans.

I don't think its any surprise that the death of apartheid happened alongside the death of communism. One of the biggest fears of white South Africans was the communist infiltration of African liberation movements. The Cold War helped to prolong the conflict, as white South Africans shared many of the same fears that white Americans did: that communism would creep into their countries and take over their governments. With the communist threat subsided in 1989, the apartheid government realized that it had to do something about it's unpopular political system. So began the negotiations that led to a newly democratic nation.

I think it's remarkable that the first time that Mandela could vote in his life was when he could vote for himself to become president of a country that had imprisoned him for nearly three decades. Talk about karmic justice! I love that photo above because it shows the power of commitment to your ideals and beliefs, and that no matter how long it might take, you can get what you work hard for.

Nelson Mandela is one remarkable human being. I would love to see a Mandela Monument somewhere on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Though he's not an American, I think he still deserves an honoured monument in our nation's capital. If I had one question to ask him, I would most like to ask him what he thinks of Obama's historic election and if he thought he would live to see that day when America, too, finally elects a black man to lead it in the new century.

With President Obama, the histories of our two nations are even more closely tied. I hope South Africa and the United States will always be friends and allies, appreciating our shared experience as we cope with racial diversity through an often ugly history. They gave the world Nelson Mandela, Stephen Biko and Desmond Tutu. We gave the world Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Barack Obama. Halleluia! "Nkosi Sikelel'iAfrika" and "Nkosi Sikelel'iAmerika" ("God Bless Africa" and "God Bless America").