Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Specter is Haunting the Republican Party

A Specter is haunting the Republican Party and it is not communism. It's not even socialism or liberalism. The Specter is the voice of moderation. As in, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. He basically called the Republican bluff. The evangelical wing(nut) base of the Republican party is fanatical (FANATICAL!!!) about conservativism. In fact, they are so fanatical about their ideology that they still cling to the myth that conservativism hasn't failed. Nope...the reason why Bush was an unmitigated disaster of Titanic proportions is because he wasn't "conservative enough."

Can you imagine?!? The most right-wing, retro-reactive president in our nation's history is considered too "liberal" by this group of fanatical purists. Bush was so right-wing (reich-wing?) that he actually made Nixon look pretty liberal. Even conservative Barry Goldwater would've been embarassed to know how far to the right Bush took the Republican party. And yet, these reactionaries think the way to win elections is by moving even further to the right!

So, these group of activists who make up the majority of the primary voters decided they've had enough of the "liberal" Republican Senator and found a candidate with conservative credentials to run in the primary against him. He saw the writing on the wall. His career since 1980 will be finished in 2010 if he remained in his party. What's the most logical step? Declaring himself independent of party and trying to run that way (a la Joseph Lieberman, who faced a liberal primary challenger in 2006 and lost his party's nomination, but decided to run as an independent and won reelection). However, that's still a risky move. His best bet was to cross the aisle and become a Democrat, where his views put him square in the middle (there are actual Democratic Senators more conservative than him). Plus, it gives the Democrats power as they creep closer to the filibuster proof 60%.

This move stunned the stupid Republicans because they obviously didn't consider that forcing him into a primary challenge from the right would force his hand and give it to the Democrats. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Kind of reminds me of the Republican Senator who switched in 2001 from Republican to Independent after President Bush insulted him, which ended up tipping the dead-even Senate to the Democrats by one vote.

With Senator Specter's announcement, Rush was quick to say "good riddance" with the advice to take Senator McCain and his daughter with him. What a pompous dick! He truly is such a "big, fat idiot."** The Republican Party is quickly becoming the world's shrinkiest party. We don't hear talk about "the big tent" anymore. In fact, I haven't heard Republican pundits use that term since their party went all anti-immigration in 2006. Their hope for having numbers to compete with the Democratic demographics was to earn the loyalty of a large block of hispanic voters. Their litmus test of being pro-life on abortion prevented Senator McCain from selecting Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison or Olympia Snowe, or former Governor Tom Ridge as running mates. Any of those VP choices would have gained him some much needed independent votes, whereas Palin's ideological purity (and Rush-approved endorsement) cost them respect, votes, and the "experience" argument.

The Republican insistence on conservative purity in their ideology reminds me of Soviet communists in the last days of the USSR. Die hard communist ideologues saw Gorbachev as a traitor to the party. Gorbachev was actually correct because he wasn't blinded by ideology. He knew what they all knew. Communism wasn't working by the mid-1980s. The common joke in the Soviet Union was "they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work." Communist planned economies couldn't compete with the capitalist west. No where was this more starkly obvious than the two Germanys and the two Koreas. The communist counterparts in both nations fell far behind in standard of living than the capitalist counterparts. Something had to be done. Yet, for all Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika, the ideological communists believed that if communism was failing, it was only because true communism hadn't been tried.

What good is ideology if it leads you further and further away from rationality, facts, and the record? We have countless historical examples of right-wing economic policies (not just in our country during the Bush years, the Reagan/Bush years, the Nixon/Ford years, and the Hoover years, but also in Nazi Germany, Peronist Argentina, Mussolini's Italy, Franco's Spain). Right-wing economics DOES NOT WORK people!!! The war mongering and tax cuts for the wealthy are the surest way to wreck an economy. Economic growth is spurred on by investments, incentives, and protecting the middle class from being fleeced by corporations or over-taxed by government. How many times are we going to have to go through a tricked-out economic scheme for evangelical conservatives to understand that they are only screwing themselves and their children's future livelihoods by drinking the poisonous Kool-Aid of Republican ideology?!?

I must say, however, that I am thrilled to watch the Republican Party self-destruct in such a daily fashion. Ever since Hurricane Katrina finally ripped the mask off of the ruse "compassionate conservativism" and revealed the true snarling demon beneath it (like those beautiful people who make up Al Pacino's firm in The Devil's Advocate). That is the true face of conservatism and it has been a non-stop parade of corruption scandals, sex scandals, hypocrisy, and blatant lying that didn''t fool anyone (except the die hard true believers). The constant parade of Republican self-immolation for the past three and a half years has been a small consolation for the nastiness they've unleashed on good people since their reign of terror began in 1994 with Gingrich's Republican Revolution that took control of the Congress away from Democrats for the first time in forty years.

Is it right to take pleasure (schadenfreude) in the destruction of a political party? A former friend had criticized me for it, saying that it wasn't very Christian...but, the way I see it...a bully deserves his comeuppance. In movies, audiences always cheer when bad guys get the justice due bill delivered by the hero at the end. In the fictional world and the sporting world, Americans seem to side with the underdog. However, when it comes to politics, too many Americans take the opposite view. They side with the bullies, even when the bullies' self-destruction leads to the destruction of our national village. What good is that? So, I think it is okay spiritually to be grateful that these bullies were their own worst enemies and destroyed themselves. Let's not ever forget what they did to our country, though, okay?

If the Democrats (my party) ever fall into the kind of arrogant hubris that the Republicans found themselves in from 2001-2006, I would hope that they, too, get the thumpin' they deserve. Our country is greater than either political party and my loyalty is to America first, before the Democratic party.

However, based on what I've learned since coming into political awareness in 1989...Republicans and Democrats are held to different standards and go by different set of rules. If a Democrat criticizes a Republican president, he or she is called a traitor or worse. If a Republican criticizes a Democratic president, he or she is considered a patriot. Republicans hold the Democrats in power to very high standards, while Democrats tend to cower and not hold Republicans to a high standard for fear of having their patriotism called into question. When a Republican politician has committed an act so hypocritical and outrageous that it can't be ignored by even the corporate media, the Republicans close ranks around the accused politician. In the Democratic party, they have no such loyalties (think John Edwards or Rod Blagojevich will ever get elected again? Only if they had chosen to be Republicans at the start of their careers!). To put it simply...Republicans are like sheep and the Democrats are like cats.

Seeing the self-destruction of the Republican party reminds me of how a runaway ego ends up destroying a person's life. When you live by complete ego and don't allow reality checks (whether through friends and family who keep you grounded, or by reading alternative opinions from your own, or by being exposed to different ideas), it's easy to become isolated and think you know everything and lose all touch with reality. We've seen this happen with O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson. They went so far from reality that they lost any respect as well as their careers. Both men are walking punchlines for a Jay Leno joke.

Thus why the Republican Party has done itself a huge disfavour. It had become so arrogant during the Bush years, so obsessed with ideological purity that they could no longer see that the reality they believed in was not the same as the reality that the rest of the world lived. That's why they imploded like those Soviet communists who clung to their ideology. Ideology is the problem. It's always the problem.

I know evangelical Christians hate it, but...the Buddha learned from his own experience. He grew up in wealth, then gave it all up to live an asthetic life. What he found was that neither brought him close to enlightenment. His "eureka moment" occurred when he realized that moderation in all things was the proper way of being. A Greek philosopher wrote about "the Golden Mean." Moderation is a good thing. Take it from a liberal guy who has an incureable conservative nature. I believe that my natural conservative instinct keeps me from going off into the liberal extreme. My ideas on politics and spirituality might run more liberal than most people, but as I apply these ideas to my life, I find a balance that works. Moderation doesn't mean a compromise to one's just means that you're centered, grounded, able to see the dangers in following extremist ideologies.

Maybe the Republicans will have to go through their ideological purging and forty years in the political wilderness before they come to their senses and realize the wisdom in moderation. In the meantime, I welcome any of the remaining voices of reason within the Republican party to defect to the Democrats now. That means you, McCain, Hutchison, and Snowe. Abandon the sinking ship that the Republican Party is and join us on a new adventure towards the center. You have nothing to lose but your chains and a whole world to gain!

(** From above: the "big, fat idiot" line was from the title of Al Franken's 1996 book Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat Idiot. I read recently that there is speculation that the reason why Norm Coleman won't concede defeat to Senator-elect Franken is because of pressure from Rush Limbaugh, who does not want to see Franken become a Senator. It's all about ego! Rush, after all, led the charge in 2000 that Al Gore (who was ahead in votes nation-wide) was a "sore loserman" for pursuing legal action to count all the votes. Why the double standard? Isn't it obvious? It all boils down to a satirical book published a decade ago. Proof that Rush can't take a joke.)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

One Hundred Days, One Hundred Ways

The first major milestone of President Obama's Administration: the First Hundred Days, that unfair standard all presidents are held to because of a certain Democratic president who set the standard in his first one hundred days in office. That president was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had to do something after the do-nothing President Herbert Hoover basically took the Republicans favoured "hands-off" approach to fixing a thoroughly collapsed economy.

Seems like Democrats are always coming into power during a recession. Kennedy inherited Eisenhower's recession, Carter inherited the oil shocks and inflation of the Nixon years, and Clinton had the soiled baggage of Reaganomics to deal with (and the first Bush's S&L bailout mess). But none of them hold a candle to the mess Obama had to deal with, prior to taking the oath of office on January 20th. Though his First Hundred Days pale in comparison to FDR's, I think he has done a fair job overall. Already, he changed the tone of our government, meeting with world leaders and letting them know that the America they knew and respected is back, under new management.

Throughout the past three months and ten days, we've seen him overturn Bush policies like torture, going so far as to make public exactly what our government has been the dismay of a certain Dick-less Cheney. In fact, Cheney has broken with standard decorum that the outgoing administration doesn't criticize or comment on the current administration (at least until the first war is launched). Cheney has no right to bitch. He had eight years and left America worse off than when he and his protege found it. All the waterboarding in the world hasn't turned up Osama Bin Laden. So much for "wanted: dead or alive."

Also during this benchmark period, Obama had his first major international crisis to deal with: the pirate hijacking of an American ship off the coast of Somalia. While Republicans were criticizing him for not acting, news was released on Easter that Navy SEALS had taken out the Somali pirates who held the captain of the tanker hostage. The American crew was rescued, some baddies lost their lives, and egg was left on conservative faces. They thought Obama would be like Carter, and it turns out he's a bigger bad-ass than Will Smith fighting aliens.

I can't tell you how much I love seeing and hearing Republicans in their desperation to find relevancy in the post-Bush years continue to snipe at Obama with petty concerns, such as his "missing birth certificate", calling him a fascist or Nazi or even a black Hitler, threats to teabag him, and other such nonsense. The more they harp on non-issues, the dumber they look. I'm sure one day, there will be a serious gaffe or mistake worth criticizing, but by harping on petty little things, they are only building an immunity against future scandal.

Republicans need only to look at Clinton for this. By the time the Monica Lewinsky scandal hit (sixth year in his administration), Americans had already heard about Troopergate, Filegate, Travelgate, Paula Jones, cocaine-running, rape and even murder that he was immune from any serious threat of removal from office. He was riding pretty high in the polls throughout 1998 and the Democratic party even picked up seats in the mid-term elections. Though his scandal hurt his successor's chances in 2000, I believe that if Republicans had not been so nitpicky in trying to bring Clinton down since the moment he took office, he might have had a rougher time during the Lewinsky scandal. But, Clinton build up immunity because he was subjected to nonstop personal attacks since day one of his administration.

The Republicans are repeating the same mistake with Obama. However, they are even more outrageous in their claims, which is proving to be a major backfire as more and more people see Obama as a "Cool Hand Luke." It reminds me of the line in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The Sheriff of Nottingham doesn't understand why the poor won't turn Robin Hood in for the reward money. His aide tells him that the bigger the reward, the more the people seem to like him. Besides, Robin Hood gives the money he steals to the poor. Obama strikes me as the kind of no-nonsense guy who won't embarrass us the way Clinton did. He's disciplined, he has a wife who probably won't tolerate any hanky panky, and he also carries the hope and aspirations of an entire race on his shoulders. He knows that there are a lot of racist people in our country still who would love to see him live up to their stereotype of a wild-eyed black man. He can't afford to give Republicans the kind of amunition that Clinton gave his detractors. Obama wants to rank in the top tier of American presidents and by God, I hope he succeeds.

So far, I'm pleased with the First Hundred Days. He's a hundred ways different from his predecessor. Hearing him speak, seeing how he handles things, showing humility and confidence in his dealings with foreign's a definite change from the arrogance and hubris of the Bush era. I go to bed every night thanking God that Obama is our president now. I'm still amazed that the Bush era is history, that our long national nightmare is off the scene (but the stench of his economic, foreign, and war policies remain). Hopefully by the time reelection comes around, Obama will have turned our country around onto solid footing, with a booming economy as the Republican naysayers cry and wail and still claim that the sky is red and falling.

The only major concern I have at the moment, though, is that the stimulus plan is not large enough to make a difference. It's a gamble, for sure, but if he made the wrong bet, we're in for some possible inflation...which would be awful (but something Republicans are hoping for, no doubt). Its sad that a bitter segment of society, the very people who rah-rahed the entire Bush agenda on the American public despite some internal dissent, are hoping that Obama fails. All because their beloved, second coming of Reagan proved a disasterous failure. They had eight years to prove that their policies worked and they were dead wrong. The best they should offer us is to Shut The F Up! Let the Obama Administration attempt to rescue the economy, and allow the American people to render the verdict in 2012.

The above photo was supposedly taken on Obama's first day as president. It caused an uproar among conservatives because the president was in the Oval Office without a jacket on (gasp!). Somehow, that's disrespectful. In the age of the Internet, it didn't take long for people to find photos of Bush in the Oval Office without a jacket on. I didn't hear any outrage on conservatives' part for that. To me, that's proof of conservative hypocrisy. They create false outrage and hold double standards. Democrats are held to impossibly high standards (the way it should be), but Republicans are held to ridiculously low standards (which can only be disasterous for our country). Message to conservatives: stop being hypocrites and hold your own people to high standards first. Since you love to quote Jesus, here's one to munch on: "Take out the beam in your eye before you pluck the splinter in another's eye."

Here's to President Obama on the next milestone: the Thousand Days. Pass universal health care and create a national service plan. I'm anxiously looking forward to the next eight years.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Media's Mass Panic Time Again

Once again, it's panic time according to the mass media. We've been through this before. Bird flu. Ebola. Killer bees. SARS. Scary, scary. Now, the pigs have their shot at scaring people worldwide with fears of a global pandemic that might kill off millions.

Am I worried? Nah. Give me some of that swine flu. Life is so much better when you don't fall into the mass hysteria of corporate media's latest scare tactic. We all have to die sometime. If my number is up because of some swine flu...well, at least I won't be working in my current job anymore (and that's a good thing).

Watching several of the national news programs (ABC, CBS, and PBS), they all featured lengthy stories about the "crisis", which originated in Mexico. Already, cases have been reported in not only the USA and Canada, but Spain, as well. What can we say...we live in a globalized world where people travel everywhere all the time. The European Union has recommended that people not travel to the USA or Mexico for the time being, and our country is telling citizens not to go to Mexico if they can help it. That's no problem with me. I've never had a desire to set foot in Mexico. The closest I came was last year, when I walked to the border at San Ysidro (south of San Diego CA), the most frequented border crossing in the world.

It was interesting to hear the news report on technology that many airports have where they can spot a person with a fever in a mass crowd at customs. Anyone sporting high body temps are pulled aside and questioned/examined for possible quarantine. It's like a scene out of a Michael Crichton thriller (I'm thinking The Andromeda Strain). Or the 1995 movie Outbreak.

When I first heard about "swine flu" a few days ago, I thought it was a joke. It made me think of a sailor I knew on my last ship, who told me: "the swine will mess up yo' mind!" When he told me that, I asked if he was Nation of Islam. He said that he wasn't, but he went on to denigrate pigs. Being born "year of the pig", I feel a special affinity for these animals. I do eat ham, and maybe a pork chop on a rare occasion, but its not my favourite meat (I love salmon the if that produces a deadly outbreak, I'll truly be at a loss). From my understanding, the outbreak of swine flu was traced to a village in Mexico where people lived in close proximity with pigs. That's pretty disgusting and unsanitary. It sounds like a problem of poverty, more than anything else. Now, it's gone global, after shutting down Mexico City (with a population of 20 million people in a dense area, with lots of filthy neighbourhoods). As if Mexico doesn't have enough problems already (with the drug wars increasing beyond the Mexican government's ability to fight back).

When I retook my Biology 110 course a few years ago, one thing that really stuck out in my mind was our planet's "self-correction mechanism." When an animal species gets too overpopulated for the habitat's "carrying capacity", predators move in as well as disease to get rid of the excess. The balance returns to normal. Well...humans have been able to "cheat" mother nature through technology and the manipulation of the environment. We are well over-populated. Things like climate change, water shortages, drought, crop failure, species extinction...all stem from our over population of humans. At some point, you would think that our earth will have had enough of our abuse and really let us have it in ways that create a massive die-off, like we saw during the heatwave in Europe a few summers ago that killed tens of thousands of people, or earthquakes and tsunamis that have killed hundreds of thousands. Is swine flu part of this trend? Or is it just another media manufactured scare tactic?

I'm not scared. Whatever happens, will happen. No use getting into a panic about it. But, I may ease off on partaking of the swine. No more ham sandwiches for me. I won't wear a surgeon's mask, but maybe I'll have to remember to wash my hands more thoroughly. Other than that, I won't bother with any other precautions. The government doesn't have to tell me not to go to Mexico, because that country has never been on my list of places I wanted to visit. When the hysteria dies down, the media will come up with the next thing to panic over and we'll go through this again. I'll just hit the mute button.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Music Video Monday: Johnny Clegg and Savuka

Fifteen years ago, South Africa experienced its first fully-participatory democratic election. According to my calendar, today is called "Freedom Day" in South Africa. After an election spanning several days, Nelson Mandela was pronounced the winner (I can't remember the exact percentage of the vote, but I believe it was over 60% and there was about 15 parties on the ballot). This year, there is yet another election and the international media laments the lack of candidates of Mandela's wisdom and stature. The African National Congress has run the post-apartheid South Africa, but the younger generation is not as loyal to the ANC like their parents are, so there is a need for a good opposition party (monopolies have a tendency to self-destruct because they coast on their laurels, ignoring the current needs of the people). South Africa faces many challenges: continual violent crime, illegal immigrants competing for limited number of jobs with citizens, HIV/AIDS crisis, tyrannical lawlessness on their northern border (Zimbabwe), and the global economic meltdown. In 1994, the ANC promised houses and jobs for all, but 15 years later, promises have proven expensive and more difficult to deliver.

In honour of this significant anniversary, I decided that a Johnny Clegg video is most appropriate. His "One (Hu) Man, One Vote" single is the opening song on the Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World album. When I first bought that album in 1990 as part of a promotional sale at a music store, it was that opening song which made me realize that I was about to go on a musical journey I had never experienced before. The album quickly became my all-time favourite, as I've heard nothing like it before or since. It's a true masterpiece. The video is great as well. Johnny Clegg was inspired by the revolutionary events of 1989 and probably hoped the worldwide yearning for democracy in China and Eastern Europe would also sweep his country (which it did). I would love to know what Johnny Clegg thinks of the election of Barack Obama in our country.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hiatus from Church

This might sound petty of me in light of the hiring decision about the church job I more than qualified for, but I've decided to take a hiatus after May 17th from church activities for the foreseeable future. Its a combination of factors. Though I was not really upset this time about not being invited to interview for the job again, I was still disappointed not to be considered. I could do so much for the church with the experience I have and the desire to see the church grow. The hiring committee, for whatever reason, selected a person last October who quit after three months, so they've had to go through the process again, even sending out an email asking for more young adults to apply. It'll be interesting to see who they selected this time. Hiring me would've guaranteed that I wouldn't quit for at least three years, because I'm loyal. Hey, if I haven't quit the worst job I've ever had (my current one) yet, there's not much that would make me quit the church job.

The frustration I have with the church is on several issues. This church position is just one. They didn't take a chance on me, so that has lessened my opinion of them a little bit. Additionally, that the person they had selected last October quit shows me that they have an obvious discernment problem. I believe they were influenced by superficial reasons and their judgment ability is weakened in my view. It will only grow if the person they hired quits after a few months on the job. I hope it doesn't happen, though. I really hope they made the right hiring decision. But a doubt will always remain in my mind because of the previous "discernment problem."

If my dream is to be believed, my path might be a year in Iraq (or Afghanistan). Or it might be somewhere else. Maybe I'm never meant to work for the church (which has been a dream of mine since adolescence that I would work for the church at some point in my life). The way I see it though, taking a chance on someone / investing in someone goes a long way in building trust and loyalty. If anything, I'm a pretty loyal guy and would not do anything to violate a trust. I mean it when I say that I love this church that I grew up in and when I hear dire warnings of our prophet/president, I'm concerned about our dwindling resources and membership.

President Steve Veazey recently spoke to the church on April 5th about the crisis we are facing. In one part of the sermon, he made an appeal to the young adults of the church and while I agree with what he said, I also know from personal experience that my involvement in church is actually IN SPITE of how ignored I feel by the local congregation. Because I didn't grow up in this congregation, the elderly members didn't see me since childhood. I'm just a person who moved here a few years ago with no family to add to the church rolls. That's how I unvalued I feel by church members, and I know its not wrong to feel that way because my brother left the church. One family he knows who were members of the congregation also left. They never felt welcome in the local congregation, so they found a more welcoming church (with a toxic message of intolerance for anyone who is not an Evangelical Christian). This church should consider it a good thing how loyal I am to family heritage and a lifetime of personal experience in this church. I'm so loyal, I attend church even when I find the services a dull waste of time and lacking inspiration and life.

In my ongoing personal crisis, I've been searching for a better job since January 2007 when I realized in my fourth month that I was in a crappy, dead-end job and was lied to by the office manager who promised me a different job when the offer was made. One of my frustrations with the job is the separate rules for LDS people. Our organization basically has one set of rules for LDS and another set of rules for everyone else. I disagree passionately with such double standards, because I believe that there should only be one set of rules across the board. Not only that, after I left BYU in frustration over the intolerance, judgmentalism, and conservative views on spirituality and politics I found among Mormons, I really didn't want anything to do with the LDS Church again. So, it only adds to my misery factor that I work in an organization that makes exceptions for the LDS Church members and that my supervisor is a micro-managing, control freak of a Mormon. Not only that, I also share a tiny office space with an emotionally unstable and prone to hissy fits co-worker who is also Mormon (she is someone who will most likely never get married, which is the most important thing in LDS theology, so I'm certain that's part of her misery. Guys just don't find her attractive. She makes that current singing sensation on Britain's Got Talent look downright gorgeous).

My church could've saved me from this misery! I would've taken my knowledge of data management and membership to benefit my church. What's wrong with that? In the past couple weeks, work has been pretty bad (surprise, surprise!) to the point where I'm begging God every night: "Please get me the hell out of here, now!!!" If I had known how dysfunctional and bad this place was, I never would have accepted it. After all, when I was offered this job in 2006, I had an interview scheduled the following week for another place that paid a salary of $10,000 more with better benefits. Over the course of my life, I've worked in about a dozen offices...but none of them come anywhere near the level of dysfunction I've seen in my current office environment. Even my last job in Atlanta, with its membership fraud scandal, didn't have this level of misery among co-workers.

So long as I spend my free time in search of another job, I'm not getting personal projects done (such as the second novel I want to write), I'm not dating, I don't have much free time to truly enjoy life and be more involved in the young adult group (perhaps even taking a leadership role). My world will completely change once I'm in a new job, because I will have the time that is not spent on a job search. I really want to devote my free time to writing my next novel (as well as editing my first one and submitting it to agents) and to building MAYAs into a bigger and better group. With my energies focused on a job search, it leaves little time for other things.

Not being hired for the church job isn't the only thing about the church that has frustrated me. Its also seeing the lack of Young Adult interest in things...such as the Young Adult class that the Portland Congregation was going to start a few weeks back. I was the only one who showed up. Then there was the weekend retreat in Ethel, WA that I was looking forward to, but was cancelled due to a lack of interest by both YAPS and MAYA members. Another recent disappointment was the lack of interest in participating in the environmental clean up for Earth Day. One final complaint is the lack of discussion regarding selecting dates of special services (such as the Lincoln City Congregation that MAYAs is planning). Had I known that it was planned for 17 May, I would've bought my returning flight from Atlanta for one day earlier so I could participate. Because I wasn't told about the date, I'm missing out (however, I will be participating in the YAPS service in Puyallup, so I got lucky). Basically, I want to be more involved and make a point to be involved...but communication is key. Officially, I aged out of "Young Adults" at 35 (for our church. I heard that the LDS Church considers young adults to be 18-25), so maybe I should just forget about it and focus exclusively on my personal goals.

What I'm feeling is major burn-out, though. The 28 consecutive months of searching for a better job has left me mentally exhausted and depressed, especially when the unemployment rate has gone from 4.7% when I arrived in Portland in August 2006 to the current 13%. My hopes of finding a better job grow dimmer and dimmer. I truly need a change of jobs for my own mental well being. That's why the prospect of a year in Iraq or Afghanistan doesn't scare me. I crave adventure and if that's the only option available to me, I will take it just for a change of careers, pace, and environments, with the hope that it leads to an international career, where I feel I belong. I thrive in the international scene and I want to be around professional people again.

Truly, I have never worked in an office where so many co-workers had major emotional problems, which leads to lashing out at others for any little thing on a frequent basis. There are five of them, and they all share a few things in common, which is burned into my long-term memory. Since I look at patterns, I now know exactly which elements make for a "miserable work environment", so in any future job offer, I will have to meet or see the people I would be working with first before accepting. To my work environment's credit, though, the two most recent hires do not fit the pattern of the "problem employees", so even management is learning to distinguish. Hopefully the new hires will contribute positive energy to the environment to dilute the negative energy.

To keep myself sane and happy, I need to spend as much of my free time as possible doing things that I love (enjoying Portland and writing) and let all other commitments go until I find myself in a happier working environment. So, instead of going to church on Sundays, I will focus on personal writing projects (filling in old journals and writing my spiritual autobiography), exercise, spiritual study, and reading. I also have things to sort through if I'm going to pursue the year in Iraq option. This means going through clothes to donate to Goodwill, getting rid of paperwork, organizing my photos and film negatives, getting rid of books I'll probably never read, etc.

I'm sad to let go of my church involvment after May, but I feel like I have no choice. I want out of my situation and have to make drastic changes in the hope that it will send a ripple effect, to where I will find a job that will keep me in Portland. Once that happens, I will resume my involvement with the church again. Until then, I am letting go of the church like I did when I joined the Navy. The irony of my life is that the best years of my life were the two years I didn't believe God existed (1991-1992). Though I abandoned God as a young man, God never abandoned me. I hate childish games with spirituality, but after 28 months of praying for direction regarding a new job, I'm sick of praying, I'm sick of sharing my testimonies about God and the church. I want results. I want change. The time for deliverance is now.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

More Nostalgia about 1999

For yesterday's Flashback Friday, I wrote a nostalgic post about 1999, but completely forgot about my trip to Las Vegas in November with a group of Young Adults in my church, in the Utah area. A freshly graduated (from the church's Graceland College) young lady had moved to Salt Lake City in the summer of 1999 and since there was at least four young adults in the area, we got together a few times, including a trip to Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake and the road trip to Las Vegas during a weekend in November (before Thanksgiving).

The trip brought up some issues that went to the heart of integrity for me. Because I know our church is not wealthy, I don't expect the church to fund Young Adult activities. A group of us wanted to visit Las Vegas and we knew it was cheaper to travel together (splitting the costs of gasoline and hotel). The self-appointed Young Adult leader (the Graceland grad) decided to ask the church to fund the trip. I made it conditional. As in, if the church is funding this trip, then we need to visit a church congregation in Las Vegas on Sunday morning. She nixed that idea and got the funds anyway. She didn't want to do anything church related, which offended my sense of ethics.

But the real kicker was when she and two guys from the Salt Lake City area carpooled down to Provo and met me at the Orem Congregation. We had decided to ride in my car. Before everyone piled in to my car, this lady pulled out a liability waiver form for each of us to sign, absolving both her and the church from any responsibility in the case of an accident. Never mind that it was my car and I was driving, so I was responsible. I made a huge deal about it and we argued. For me, it was a violation of trust. Never in all my years in the church had anyone asked that of me. Especially since we were just a group of young adults going on a roadtrip. Who thinks in legal terms? Not someone I care to know. Though she was romantically interested in me, this stunt really killed it for me (besides, I was more interested in the Mormon lady from the Dominican Republic that I was dating at the time). She refused to get in the car until I signed the waiver and I relented. Las Vegas was on my list of places to visit while I attended school out west and in two months, I would be back on the east coast.

Vegas was amazing! Cheesy, but exciting. The Young Adult leader booked us in the Las Vegas Hilton. I didn't realize until much later that it was the same hotel that was the site of the notorious Tailhook Convention in 1991 that caused a huge scandal in the Navy. For those who aren't aware of it, a group of Naval Aviators held a convention every year in Vegas. In 1991, an admiral's aide claimed that she was forced to walk a gauntlet of drunken aviators who groped and harassed her. The party included the infamous "Rhino" (a punchbowl-type container shaped like a rhino, where the drink comes out of the male organ like its urinating into your cup). The admiral's aide was offended, told her boss, who ignored her complaint and she went higher up until the shit hit the fan. It was no surprise this would've come out in 1991, because the selection of Clarence Thomas for Supreme Court Justice and the Anita Hill testimony put sexual harassment front and center in the public consciousness.

The Tailhook Scandal broke in 1992 and as a result, the Navy forced all personnel to undergo sexual harassment training (I endured that three times in 1992 alone). The Navy's heavy-handedness in trying to do damage control put too much power into a female accuser's hands and scarred me for life. I worried about being falsely accused, just for showing an interest in female sailors, so it made me have the tendency to move much slower in terms of approaching women and asking them out.

Anyhow, I think it's kind of ironic that on this Young Adult trip to Vegas, I would end up staying in the same hotel where this scandal occurred 8 years earlier. I wasn't the one who booked the hotel (the Graceland grad did), because if it was up to me, we would've stayed in the Luxor Hotel (still the hotel I hope to stay in the next time I make it to Vegas). The lady who booked our hotel rooms picked the Hilton for the simple reason that it was the site of the Star Trek Experience and Quarks Restaurant. She was a major the point where she had to read every single word on the "Timeline of the Future" that led to the entrance of the Star Trek Experience ride (I preferred to go on the ride, and had to make do with talking to a Klingon when he made the rounds THREE times. He would say odd things like, "I don't trust that Captain Kirk!"). The ride was pretty cool. The restaurant was awesome, though. I had a triangle shaped burger and drank some Romulan Ale.

During our weekend, we hit up all the Casinos and took away souvenir plastic cups from each that were stacked next to the slot machines. When I was home last year getting rid of stuff, one of the things I got rid of were the Casino cups, which I would not have done had I known that casinos have done away with them now (according to a co-worker of mine). I have a couple of the casino cups, but not all of them. They made a cool and cheap souvenir.

My favourite Casino shopping center was Caesar's Palace. My favourite casino on the inside was Paris Las Vegas. I also liked the Venetian. Mandalay Bay has the best name and the best swimming pool. The Bellagio looked really nice. Luxor is my favourite, though. Wasn't wild about the Hilton, Excalibur, New York, or MGM Grand. We didn't ride on any of the rides or go to the top of the Eiffel Tower or Stratosphere.

What I took away from the experience was how sad it was to see people sit in front of slot machines feeding coins into it. Workers came around with drinks. No clocks anywhere, nor windows to the outside so you would know what time it was. It was a 24 hour city, with most of the places worth seeing on that one main strip. I did wonder what the actual downtown looked like (for those with real jobs) as well as the residential neighbourhoods. We did go to a drug store off the strip and it was like any normal city. Just one block in either direction from the strip and the whole city feels bland. The different themes of the hotel casinos were fascinating, but fake (when you've been to the real Paris, New York, and Venice, there's no comparison). It's a plastic world, with a lot of unhappy people hoping to become rich.

I managed to spend a mere $1.25 on slot machines. That's how long the thrill lasted for me (these were quarter slots). I could've spent $10 (my limit), but I just lost interest. Good thing I don't have a gambling addiction! I did have a mischievious side, though. I had worn a sweatshirt with a BYU logo on it as we wandered through the casinos. I even wore it when the two other guys wanted to go into an adult store. I didn't care, because I wanted to give Mormons a bad name to anyone who saw my sweatshirt (that's the result of the intolerance I experienced at BYU after two years: my way of getting back at the Mormons!).

When we left back for Utah, it started snowing and I had never driven on a freeway during a freshly falling downpour. At one point, a car in front of me slowed down and I had enough of a cushion between us, but slowed down as well and ended up sliding off the road. That was a scary moment for all of us, but through the grace of God, we made it back safely.

The following weekend was Thanksgiving and the lady invited me to spend the holiday with her, but I decided to spend it with Yudelka, the Dominican lady I was very attracted to. I don't regret it. I don't think I spoke with the Graceland grad ever again. In all the times I've spent with fellow Young Adult members in my church (before and since that Vegas trip), not a single one has asked me to sign a waiver absolving them of any liabilities. For me, trust is very important. I can't forsee myself ever suing a fellow church member for anything, especially if it was accidental.

In 1999, I also made a second trip to Seattle over Labour Day weekend to visit Nathan again for his 25th birthday and to meet his girlfriend, whom he had indicated wanting to marry (which he did in 2000). That was an interesting trip. Unlike the spring roadtrip to the Pacific Northwest, I flew roundtrip for this one.

Sometime in October, Nathan's way of announcing his engagement was an email asking me to be his best man. I was shocked, but honoured. How could I say no? I thought he would've asked one of his brothers, but to this day, I still consider it one of the greatest honours of my life to be his best man. Last year, when I visited him in San Diego, a Navy buddy of his on another ship happened to be in port and we went to pick him up for a barbecue at Nathan and Lisa's place, Nathan introduced me to his friend as "the best man." I was touched that he would do that (he had said back in 2000 that I would be forever known as "the best man" and I guess he wasn't kidding).

So, that was my 1999. I saw Missoula, Coeur d'Alene, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver, Olympia, Astoria, Cannon Beach, Portland, Salem, Boise, Shoshone Falls, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Atlanta, Seattle (again), Bremerton, Las Vegas, Santa Fe, Dallas, and Atlanta again. When I think back to that amazing year, I wonder how I was able to travel to so many places on so little income. I really knew how to make my money stretch.

My dream job still remains any where I would travel several times a year. Even if its just for business, with conferences and meetings. I just can't get enough of seeing different places and I always find something of interest in every place I've been. Where can I find such a career?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Flashback Friday: 1999

Above is a photo of me taken in Victoria, British Columbia on April 24, 1999.

In thinking about the past ten years of my life, I wish I could go back and party like it was 1999 all over again. There are a few changes that I would make that would probably change the trajectory of my life (namely, not failing Biology 110 my last semester on campus). Besides that, it was a great year. I was regularly working out in a gym and saw impressive improvements before getting lazy. I saw the end of the tunnel of my lonely BYU experience, taking mostly upper level political science courses (having finished the other courses, except for the science ones). My favourite CDs at the time were New Radicals Maybe You've Been Brainwashed, Too (an appropriate title, I thought, for what I felt I was going through at BYU), Garth Brooks recording as Chris Gaines (a rock concept album that was supposed to lead to a film role as the imaginary Australian rocker, followed by a film soundtrack), and Eric Clapton's Pilgrim (a truly great CD).

My best friend Nathan had gotten back from his West Pac, where he got to see Australia AGAIN (and happily rub it in, knowing that its been my dream vacation since I was 11 years old), and was leaving Hawaii for his new duty station at the Naval Hospital on the Bangor submarine base in Bremerton, Washington. He convinced me to make a spring break trip up to visit him and since Washington and Oregon would be two new states for me (states # 47 and 48) as well as possible places I wanted to live after college, I couldn't resist.

BYU doesn't have an actual spring break, which has its plus and minuses. That means we have to endure winter semester without a week long break, but it also meant that we finished the semester a month earlier than most universities. I had to explain this when a police officer caught me speeding on I-15 between Pocatello and the Montana border. I had left Provo late, due to unusual strong winds that had completely blown 18-wheel trucks on their sides in northern Utah. News casters didn't recommend driving in it but didn't say when the winds would die down. I kept waiting and waiting, until finally leaving three or four hours later than planned. I had promised Nathan to be in Bremerton by midnight. We had planned to catch the early ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria on Saturday, 24 April.

The cop thought I was skipping school and asked what the rush was. I told him that I was headed to Seattle and wanted to be there by midnight. He let me off with a warning and the advice to return to school after my vacation. Once I crossed the border into Montana, I let it rip (this was when Montana didn't have speed limits. They just advised you to drive at a "safe and prudent speed"). I pushed the pedal to the medal and saw my speedometer hit 100 mph. I even laughed when I passed a BMW (my car was a 1991 Saturn SL1). I also started getting sleepy, and since a friend of mine had died by falling asleep on a long distance road trip, I decided to pull over at a rest stop somewhere on I-90 east of Missoula and take a short nap. I grabbed supper and filled the tank up in Missoula, where I saw plenty of cars without license plates (a sign of anti-government extremists). The scenery between Missoula and Coeur d'Alene ID is the most beautiful I have ever seen (and I've seen some pretty gorgeous scenery around the world). In fact, as I drove into Coeur d'Alene around sunset, with the interstate high above Lake Coeur d'Alene, I heard a voice say "this is it--this is heaven on earth!"

When I called Nathan from a gas station west of Spokane, he thought I had reached Seattle already. I wouldn't reach Seattle until 2 a.m. and then I had at least an hour more to go, by way of Tacoma onto the Olympic Peninsula. But I made it, and it was great to visit with my best friend again, who was kind of a jerk when I visited him in Hawaii during Christmas break in 1997. Of course, I didn't get much sleep since we had to arrive in Port Angeles to catch the first ferry to Victoria. He insisted on driving (no complaints there). We stayed overnight in Victoria with a Canadian lady he had met when his ship made a port visit there. She took us around the quaint capital of British Columbia and then we saw The Matrix for our evening entertainment, even though Nathan had already seen it. It was one of those films that I would not have seen without a friend's insistence that I see it (I was concerned about the violence, and that some people had blamed the movie for influencing the killers of the Columbine massacre).

Besides a great visit, during that week in the area, I visited the guy who had baptized me into the RLDS Church in 1980 (he was formerly a Mormon who converted to our church, who eventually left our church to become a member of a Christian religion I can't remember now, but I think it has Calvinist roots). He shared with me his thoughts about the LDS and RLDS Churches and admitted that he viewed the RLDS Church as a "stepping stone out of Mormonism." I kind of felt sorry that he felt that way about our church, but it was nice to visit him and his wife (who was from Belgium). He and my dad have exchanged letters over the years.

I made the trek up to Vancouver and only spent a day there. I fell in love with that city. It's amazing that 10 years later, I was able to visit it again three more times, seeing all the things that I missed on that single day trip a decade ago. Out of the two cities, Victoria and Vancouver, I'm definitely more of a Vancouver guy. Victoria is too prissy for my tastes...basically a quaint English town of proper virtues and culture. It's the kind of place you'd honeymoon or stay in a bed and breakfast with the love of your life. Vancouver is exciting with a very young, energetic vibe. If it was an American city, I would've moved there after college.

Seattle had some interesting places. I was really interested in seeing the Lenin statue in the funky neighbourhood of Fremont and got photos of it. I also wanted to see the Pierside loft that hosted MTV's The Real World: Seattle the previous year. Of course, I went up the Space Needle, rode the monorail (disappointing), and walked through Pike Place Market.

By the end of the week, I drove down the coast with stops in Olympia, Astoria, Cannon Beach, and over to Portland to stay at a college friend's house in La Center, Washington. He and I visited Salem and Portland on Saturday, May 1st. The next day, I left back for Utah, with a stop in Boise and supper at Shoshone Falls (Niagara Falls of the West!). Without a doubt, this was the best roadtrip of my life. I packed a lot of places into those 10 days. The trip also spoiled me, though. In my disappointments in being unable to find a better job as I'm stuck in a job that I hate, I wonder if I was truly meant to live here. This part of the country was where I wanted to settle down and start a family. I would give up a career in D.C. or overseas to settle here...but now, I'm not so sure. If living here means being stuck in my current job for the rest of my life, or leaving to find career satisfaction, I will have no choice but to give up living here. Career satisfaction is more important to me than location.

Nathan with his friend Joanne in Victoria, BC

After winter semester, I took spring term off because my sister was graduating from high school and I didn't want to miss that. I had been attending school nonstop since September 1997, so I definitely enjoyed the break. I worked two part-time jobs and really went crazy over the new Star Wars prequel (which I ended up seeing 13 times in the theater that year--a personal record). When it was time to return home, I decided to go on Greyhound so I could catch up on reading (I was reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance at the time) and relax. Though my brother still lived at home, somehow, he missed out on attending our sister's graduation. It was an outdoors ceremony (something I wanted for mine).

I resumed school for the summer term and when there was a week long break between summer term and fall semester, I took another Greyhound journey to visit my relatives in Bloomington, Minnesota. I kind of felt guilty about choosing my Great Uncle Jim and Great Aunt Effie over my grandparents...but my grandmother's memory had been fading and she was kind of uncharacteristically short with me the last time we had talked. Besides, I hadn't seen my Great Uncle and Great Aunt in a long time, nor their son and daughter. The last time I was in Minnesota was 1985, so I played tourist to the hilt.

My Great Uncle Jim thought it was crazy that I thought their Governor (Jesse "The Body" Ventura) was cool, but he took me to the state capitol to see if I might be able to meet him (fat chance!). The photo below and to the left were taken on the state capitol grounds of St. Paul.

It was a great visit.

Fall semester, I was busy with my final courses and prepping for the Washington Seminar that I kind of neglected studying Biology. Big mistake. Well, the first mistake was taking an honours course. I only did so because it was the only one that did not require a lab session. I also liked the innovation that we would learn from CD modules instead of a textbook. However, this meant going to computer labs on a regular basis, where I learned the joys of "chatrooms" (I only chatted on the RLDS website's webboard and "met" people who knew people I knew...that strange phenomenon in my church). If I could redo any part of my life, it would be to study harder for Biology so that I would pass it and graduate in 2000 like I wanted, instead of having to retake it and postponing it until 2006. It might've made all the difference in the world if I had my college degree by the summer of 2000 when I was looking for my dream job in D.C.

By Thanksgiving weekend (I didn't go home, since I would be home for Christmas), my parents called me with the news that they had received a large envelope from the White House. They asked my permission to open it. When they did, they read me the best words that I had wanted to hear. I was accepted into the White House Internship Program for Spring Semester 2000. I had applied to 12 places for internships: The White House, The Democratic National Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein (all three accepted me for internships), Senator Evan Bayh (rejection), Senator Bob Kerrey (no response), Congressman Leonard Boswell (the only RLDS member of Congress--no response), two other members of Congress (no response), and some non-profit organizations (no response).

I was actually quite torn between The White House and Senator Dianne Feinstein's office. I wanted to experience both the White House and Congress. Feinstein accepted me first, but when the White House offered, I really couldn't pass that up. Its funny to reflect on how torn I was, and how I discovered in D.C. that I got my wish to experience both. I was the only White House intern assigned to work in the Capitol building, where I saw Senators up close and personal each day (it was a lot more exciting than working in the dreary Old Executive Office Building). I view this as the universe's perfect fulfilment of my wishes. Out of all the places I could've been assigned, why was I the only one (out of 184 interns) to be assigned in the OVP's office in the U.S. Capitol building? Amazing!

Because I had so much last minute things to pack, I didn't get to leave Utah on time. In fact, I was still packing boxes on Christmas Eve! My car had some mechanical problem around finals time that added to the stress, so I lost time packing. The church gave me money out of the oblation fund to help cover the expenses of the repairs (to which I'm eternally grateful). One lady from church who lived in Scofield, Utah (south of Provo) kept insisting that I spend Christmas with her, rather than on the road. My parents were concerned about my not finding a gas station open on Christmas Day. I'm glad that everyone insisted, so I spent Christmas with a nice lady from church at her house, with her husband, sister, nephews, and dogs (photo below of one of them).

The day after Christmas, I headed to Santa Fe, which was a stopping point on my journey to Utah two years earlier. I like that symmetry of my experience. I shopped for Christmas gifts in Santa Fe to bring to my family and spent the night in the same adobe-style motel that I had stayed in two years earlier. I love Santa Fe, New Mexico! Definitely worth a vacation.

The next stopping point was east of Dallas, Texas. I had driven through Lubbock, down to I-20. When I drove through Dallas, I played the theme song to the famous 80s television show on my car stereo and got a kick out of it (one of my favourite TV theme music; Knots Landing's theme is my favourite, though). The next morning, I noticed that my car had a flat tire. My car was fully packed, so I had worried about possible vandals at night. At the gas station, I bought one of those spray can tire fixers and drove eastward until Longview, when I went to a mechanic, who fixed the tire for me.

I stopped for lunch in Meridian, Mississippi, where I had attended Navy "A" School just eight years earlier. When I think about that, I just shake my head because it felt a lot longer than eight years between those two moments in time when I was in Meridian. By contrast, the last eight years have zipped by. In 1999, I felt worlds apart from who I was in 1991. I hate how time speeds up as you get older!

When I arrived home on the 28th of December, my family celebrated a belated Christmas (they gladly pushed it back for me because they wanted to enjoy the season a little bit longer). The photo above was to be my "unofficial" graduation photo (in my BYU gear, rather than cap and gown). I didn't plan to return to BYU to participate in the ceremony, which my dad thought was not a good idea. But, because I failed Biology, that didn't matter anyway. I understand that the graduation ceremony feels like closure on the college experience, but I felt that I had done that in high school and it was enough to experience once. College commencement was just more people who didn't know me. I didn't get the closure from my college experience. I consider the end of it that sad day in April 2000 when nearly everyone on the Washington Seminar program left D.C. with only a few stragglers remaining, and I went into withdrawal symptoms of missing everyone as I began my job search in earnest.

Hard to believe that was ten years ago...when I finished college, made three trips across country (turns out that 1999 was a record travel year for me...I went through or set foot in 25 states!), and was anticipating my White House internship. It remains one of the greatest years of my life. It is also the year I pinpoint to where my life went wrong (not passing Biology). The decade that followed has been difficult, as nothing seemed to go right in my life after my internship ended. This past decade has been one of loss after loss. My only wish is that I will end this decade with magnificent and well deserved gains (a publishing contract for my novel, a great new job with a salary that matches my age, and meeting the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with).

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Great News from the Literary World

This week, I learned the great and long-awaited news that Dan Brown has finally, finally!, completed his third Robert Langdon novel that was due to his publisher in 2005. He was rarely seen in public since the movie version of his Da Vinci Code was released in May 2006. Vanity Fair Magazine did an expose article about the rumours surrounding his plagiarism of another novel that was published earlier in the decade that covered a similar story and plot.

I forget the details, but the research into Dan Brown's life showed someone who started out as a musician, who taught (English?), and wrote some techno-thrillers (Deception Point and Digital Fortress), which didn't become bestsellers until his Da Vinci Code was published in 2003 and slowly gained a huge following, becoming a phenomenal smash. He was portrayed as a guy searching for a way to become famous and stumbled upon the idea of writing something so controversial that it would create a huge outcry. That view of his success is hard to buy, though, because who knew that his Da Vinci Code would become such a phenomenon? It captured the zeitgeist, whereas the novel he was accused of plagiarizing bombed and didn't make that writer rich or famous.

The Da Vinci Code has sold around 80 million copies worldwide. To understand what this means, just think that John Grisham sells about 1 or 2 million in hardback. A book that sells 50,000 copies will catch the notice of the publishing world, and many bestsellers only sell in the hundreds of thousands in hardcover. How and why did this novel become so huge? Dan Brown definitely touched a nerve, because it spawned critics, lawsuits and condemnation from Christian churches. Some churches even held courses to debunk the claims of this novel. They wouldn't have done this if the novel hadn't caused Christian readers to question the history we've all been taught about Jesus.

Because of the controversy, and his announcement that the third Langdon novel would be surrounding the Freemasons and the founding of our country, I thought he was as good as dead. Secret societies don't want their secrets revealed and after the success of the Da Vinci Code, I'm sure the last thing Masons want is for their esoteric beliefs to be served up for mass consumption.

According to the news article I read, The Lost Symbol (previously known as The Solomon's Key) takes place over a 12-hour period in the life of Da Vinci protagonist Robert Langdon. “Weaving five years of research into the story’s twelve-hour timeframe was an exhilarating challenge,” said Brown in a statement. “Robert Langdon’s life clearly moves a lot faster than mine.”

The publication date is September 15, 2009, the 222nd anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Coincidence? Is anything a coincidence with Dan Brown?

The Da Vinci Code was released in March 2003. I remember seeing the novel in a prominent display at the Buckhead Barnes and Noble in Atlanta. Since I've been interested in Leonardo Da Vinci since childhood, I thought it looked interesting, but I didn't buy the book for several reasons. First, it looked like a genre novel (formulaic and the kind that you find on drug store racks). Second, I generally don't buy novels in hardcover (unless its Crichton, Sparks, or a literary novel featured in Barnes and Noble's "Discover New Writers" seasonal promotion). I decided to wait until paperback, which is normally a year.

2004 passed with no sign of paperback because it was still on or near the top of the New York Times Bestseller list. When 2005 rolled around, I found out that my dad had bought it and read it, so I borrowed it from him. I couldn't put the book down. It was better than I thought, for "genre fiction." Kind of reminded me of a Crichton novel. I love books that make me think outside of the box about fascinating topics (like that we've been lied to about the truth regarding Jesus). The novel was finally released in paperback in 2006, in time for the movie. However, my parents gave me for Christmas the Illustrated Edition of the book (along with the Illustrated Edition of Angels and Demons), which is fantastic. When I read the novel and his descriptions of paintings (such as Da Vinci's Last Supper), I had to go online to see a picture of the painting so I could see what he was talking about (the idea that Mary Magdalene is one of the disciples in the painting).

In early 2006, I read Angels and Demons and found it to be an even better book than The Da Vinci Code. I was hooked and could not put the book down. It is fantastic. I'm really excited about the movie this May. Though I loved The Da Vinci Code movie, because I had read the novel a year before the movie's release, the story and plot was still fresh in my memory so I found the movie "predictable." The movie is loyal to the novel (a very good thing). With Angels and Demons, Director Ron Howard promised to have a faster pace with this one, and since it has been over three years since I read the novel, the plot is not so fresh in my mind.

I'm really excited about The Lost Symbol. I only wish that it would be released in May, instead of in the fall season (always a big pocket book hit, as the best movies, best music, and high profile books are released in the fall). As one who worked in the U.S. Capitol building for the four months of my internship in 2000, I am really excited to learn the history behind the symbols found on that building and others in our nation's capital.

The other great news is that my favourite writer Michael Crichton has left behind a completed novel that will be published this November. It's about pirates. Quite timely (with the piracy off the coast of Somalia), though his is a historical novel set in 17th century Jamaica, which makes me think he was influenced by the Disney movies. He was working on another novel and was a third of the way through it when he passed away last November. Though he has notes that give an indication of where he would take the story, his publishers are going to hire a techno-thriller writer to complete Crichton's "vision" for the novel. I'm not sure how I feel about that or how the soul of Crichton would feel about it. Would it really be a Crichton novel? That remains to be seen. He's such a fantastic writer that his death left a huge void in the literary world. If I could write the way he does, I would love to fill his niche, but my interest is more literary than techno.

Anyhow, when this year began, my hopes for this year included: an awesome President Obama Inauguration; the new U2 album; novels by Crichton and Brown; and Spielberg's Lincoln movie. Could this year get any better? Oh...a great new job for me and finding a literary agent for my novel. That would really cap my year.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Music Video Mercredi: Midnight Oil

In honour of Earth Day, this week's music video selection is by Midnight Oil, who recorded a great environmental album in 1990 called Blue Sky Mining. With songs like "River Runs Red", "Blue Sky Mine", and "Antarctica", they offer tributes to our planet and humanity's impact on our environment.

The music video is for their song "Antarctica," though I don't know if its truly their music video or something someone put together and posted on YouTube. The song is simple, but powerful. When I first heard their Blue Sky Mining album, I thought the album as a whole would make a great musical for Broadway. "Antarctica" is the perfect closing song on a brilliant album.

This Earth Day, I will continue with my annual tradition...which is watching Gore's An Inconvenient Truth documentary. Its such an inspiration, and I need a reminder on what personal habits I need to adopt that leaves little to no impact on our planet.

So, have a happy Earth Day!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Cult Joining Type

I've probably harped on this a bit too much, but I can't resist one more post about the Jeffrey Lundgren cult that a former friend once belonged to, who in an intense Facebook debate a month ago accused me of having the tendency to join a cult simply because I admitted that I admire some politicians like Gore and Obama. She views all politicians as scum (but puts everyone who serves in the military on a pedestal of perfection). She couldn't see it as a difference of opinion. I loved politics so much that I majored in International Politics in college, so of course I'm not going to view all politicians as corrupt scum! Duh.

Since I was in elementary school, my heroes have been political. Gandhi was one. Dr. King was another one (a religious man who transformed our politics of segregation). There was Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, Mikhail Gorbachev and Aung San Suu Kyi. That's just the way I'm wired. To say that my admiration of politicians (like Barbara Boxer, Russ Feingold, John McCain) somehow makes me prone to join a cult is truly a moronic thing to say.

When I was getting ready to intern in D.C., I read up on everything about working in the Clinton Administration. One thing that bothered me was that Ken Starr's investigation really put a lot of low level employees in severe legal debt. There was the advice that people who want to work in politics shouldn't keep journals. I remember thinking at the time that I didn't want to have to lie for my boss nor did I want to face Ken Starr's gestapo-esque inquisition or have to hire a lawyer. What's wrong with serving the government without a never ending investigation into every little thing they could find on the president to which to impeach him?

In a previous post, I had given countless examples since childhood where I stood up to bullies, questioned what adults tried to tell me, and how I follow the beat of my own path. In Friday's post about the Lundgren cult, I also wrote about how he wouldn't have impressed me as a teenager because he preached a very angry God. I've never been comfortable believing in an angry God, nor have I been comfortable when people blame Satan for every little thing that goes wrong in their lives.

As I read the book Prophet of Death by Pete Earley about the Lundgren cult, one thing that struck me was that his followers were all people who had a problem with the mainstream RLDS Church (Community of Christ) allowing women to hold priesthood offices after the 1984 World Conference, with President Wallace B. Smith's liberalization of the church, and even dropping the claim that the RLDS Church was God's only true church. I guess it was kind of hard to argue that when our church membership has stagnated at 250,000 (the number I've heard all my life. By comparison, in the late 70s, I heard that the LDS Church had 3 million members. By the time I went to BYU, the LDS numbered over 10 million). However, I'm glad that we don't talk about being "the only true church" because I don't believe God has any churches. Its purely a man-created institution. I, personally, prefer to look at my church as my tribe and as an experience of heaven on earth.

I've never had a problem with the church leadership because they seem to be moving in my preferred direction of inclusion with a focus on peace and justice issues. Conservatives have a problem with the direction because they keep thinking that we are betraying founder Joseph Smith's vision. However, I believe that Joseph Smith betrayed his own founding vision by the time the church moved to Nauvoo. In fact, as I read Prophet of Death, I couldn't help but think that Joseph Smith was most likely a cult leader. He changed after the Governor of Missouri gave the extermination order against the Latter Day Saints. By the time he moved the saints into Nauvoo, he basically ran the town like a theocracy and revealed his most bizarre revelations.

The lady I knew who was part of Lundgren's group but left before it got deadly told me about the cult leader a few years back. She, like others, was taken in by his charisma and scriptural knowledge. That's one difference with me, because I've never been impressed with a person's scriptural knowledge. Whenever I meet one, I tend to ask questions to trap them into making a contradictory claim. Anyhow, she said that she was fascinated by what he preached early on. Then, once his followers understood the principles he had taught, he would add a slight twist. It was very incremental. Like a frog in a pot of slowly boiling water.

The author of the book interviewed both Jeffrey Lundgren and his wife Alice. What's shocking (or not) is the contempt with which he views his followers. To him, they were losers. I guess since he knew he was a fraud, how could he respect anyone who swallowed his sack of lies? He often threatened to kill his followers if they didn't stop their sinful ways. When he decided to kill the Avery family (Dennis, Cheryl and their three daughters), none of his followers really believed he would do it, but they participated in his plan because he convinced them that God required a human sacrifice to purify themselves enough to see God. That's another belief that would never convince me that Lundgren was spiritual. Since childhood, I've had a problem with the story in the Bible where God supposedly commands Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Though God does change His mind before the deed is done, it's a story that I don't believe represents God. Animal sacrifice is a very pagan thing. It has nothing to do with authentic spirituality, no matter who claims it. If that weren't enough, I don't believe in Jesus as an atoning sacrifice, either. That view of Jesus is vulgar to me and I have no qualms rejecting it.

Jeffrey and Alice's son Damon is about a year older than me. Had we grown up in the same congregation, I'm sure he and I would've been friends. I feel really bad for him because he was the oldest of the Lundgren children and was obedient to his psychotic father and is serving in prison for the rest of his life. Though he didn't actually kill the Averys (Jeffrey did that all his own), he participated in plan and didn't report the deed to the police afterwards. He was the only one who broke down and cried after the murder, though. I can't imagine what it would be like to be an 18 year old watching your father kill five people and claiming that God had willed it. The younger children were taken to someone's house the night of the murders so they wouldn't be a witness to it.

After the murders, Lundgren's group abandoned the farm commune in Kirtland, Ohio to go out into the wilderness. They camped at a national park in West Virginia for about five months. This is where the dysfunction really set in. Jeffrey Lundgren's "revelations" took on a more sexual nature, as he twisted scripture verses to mean something else. He demanded the women in the group to dance naked in front of him for an hour while he jerked off into their underwear and then forced them to wear it for the rest of the day. He claimed one man's wife for his own and had sexual relations with her for a couple weeks before getting tired of her and releasing her back to her husband. Then he fell for another man's wife and revealed that God had told him that she was to be his second wife. His wife Alice was insanely jealous and physically attacked him in front of the group. That group members could still believe that he was a prophet of God after all that is baffling to me. How stupid do you have to be, at that point?

A few years later, when David Koresh (who broke away from the Seventh Day Adventists) came into the public consciousness, he, too, had twisted scripture verses into a sexual meaning by which to have sex with the wives and daughters of his male followers. This pattern repeats itself over and over. Cult leaders seem to have a sexual dysfunction that it should automatically register in people's minds that he can't be a prophet of God if he's demanding the right to have sexual relations with members' wives and daughters.

The Lundgren group kind of disintegrated after Alice left the group to return home. Jeffrey followed her to Missouri and the rest of the group made plans to move to a commune in Missouri. To get new members and more money (members were required to work and turn over their paychecks to Jeffrey, who didn't work because he was "God's prophet"), Jeffrey spoke to conservative members of the RLDS Church. When I read in the book that one lady who attended knew he wasn't a prophet, I cheered her intuitive insight. She had told the author that she knew he didn't meet God or Jesus because she believed that you would be so filled with joy if that occurred, but Jeffrey looked like a crazed mountain man filled with anger and hate. I agree with the lady in that experiences with the divine are so fantastic, that you are filled with bliss and ecstasy and love. Hate and anger would be nowhere in your energy field. That woman should educate people on what to watch out for in charlatans posing as prophets.

The group ultimately dispersed when Lundgren stated his intention to move to California with his family and no one else. He basically abandoned his followers, even though he had the audacity to tell them where they could send their checks to once he got to California. The followers were so shocked by his abandonment that they decided to leave the farm property they had been staying at in Missouri. They discussed how they would deal with the police and confessing to their roles in the Avery murders.

The Lundgrens were arrested in San Diego in January 1990. During the trials, Alice portrayed herself as a terrified woman in an abusive marriage. That was true, but she also played cheerleader to Jeffrey's teachings. Though she screamed at him in private about being a fraud and conman, to the rest of the group, she testified to his Divine gifts. When she was a young lady, in her patriarchal blessing, she was told that she would marry a man who would do good things for the church. She believed that she would marry a man who would become prophet of the RLDS Church and thought Jeffrey was the one, even though she was troubled early on in the courtship phase during college of his sexual perversions and obsessions. Proof that the love of a woman does not reform bad boys into gentlemen.

Though Lundgren's defense lawyer didn't bother pretending that he wasn't guilty, he tried to blame it all on Lundgren being abused by his parents (the examples they used in court were kind of lame and none who testified personally witnessed any abuse) and even more audacious...blaming it on the RLDS Church! I didn't know this. That's outrageous.

A professor of religion at Graceland College (the church owned college in Lamoni, Iowa...which is now a University, since 2000), William Russell, said that Latter Day Saint churches were more vulnerable to self-proclaimed prophets because our founder Joseph Smith was one. Since we believe in ongoing revelation, this can be abused by psychotics who also believe that they speak for God. I've seen this among some Mormons, too, such as a college roommate of mine who told me a lot of wacky revelations he had. To blame the church, though?

When the book was published in the early 1990s, Russell claimed that there were at least twelve other self-proclaimed prophets who broke away from the church (including one named Ron Livingston, whom my parents liked when we lived in Omaha in the mid-1980s but I never did). From my understanding, the people who are most prone to join a cult are those who are obsessed with religious purity and are impressed by scriptural knowledge. These are sincere people who want to understand the mind of God so they are taken in by these charismatic charlatans who preach about the ability to decipher the will of God.

I must admit that I have a lifelong fascination with cults, which I trace to the Jim Jones cult when my mom told me about it. I was young, but my parents didn't shy away from educating me about the dangers of our world. Then as I moved into adolescence and lived on an Army base in Germany where my dad made me attend evangelical youth group meetings and rallies, I was not pleased when the hypocritical evangelical teens and leaders called my church a cult without even knowing anything about it. Also during my teens, I remember a great episode in the Web of Spiderman comic book where Peter Parker joins a cult to investigate it and ends up being a believer for a brief moment. One of my writing projects in the brewing stage of development is a story about a cult. I'm interested in cults the same way I find propaganda fascinating.

And speaking of cults, I feel like America has fallen into a cult this past decade. The Republican Party under Bush seemed to operate like a cult, with the Fox Propaganda Network doing the brainwashing. That so many people swallowed his lies and personally demonized anyone not taken in the sway of Bushism is amazing how it can happen so easily. Anyone or any group that asks you to check your critical thinking skills at the door is something to be weary of. I'm glad that I place a high premium on logic and reject anything that doesn't make logical sense. I happen to believe that God exists in the realm of logic and light.

Its sad to me that there are good people in my church who can fall under the sway of these self-proclaimed prophets. After I read the book, the impression I got of Lundgren was that he probably didn't start out in life thinking that he would be a cult leader. It just gradually happened. Because no one kept his ego in check (particularly his wife, who encouraged such delusional thinking), he just kept getting more outrageous to the point where his sexually dysfunctional fantasies were imposed on his followers, yet they still didn't object. He was done in by his desire to have two wives...the one thing his wife Alice refused to tolerate. He ruined many lives, including his own...but most of all, his son Damon. Man, I am so glad that I wasn't born in his family!

Anyone who is obsessed with scriptural truth and learning "the mind of God," my advice is that it truly is simple. Inspiration, love, and forgiveness are the only practices to follow. God is not hateful, vengeful, and wanting to destroy sinners through chosen prophets, or to bring about the apocalypse. Free will is the gift God will not violate. And if God gave us free will, who is the false prophet to demand complete obedience of his followers? We have every right in the world to turn our backs on the charlatans of the world. I wish people would trust in their own power and not support these ego-maniacal losers. A personal relationship with God requires no intermediary.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tenth Anniversary of the Columbine Massacre

Ten years ago on this day, the mother of all school shootings put Columbine High School on the tragedy map. Like a bad repeat of the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 (also in April), both tragedies occurred just days before I went on a road trip (in 1995, it was from Norfolk VA to visit friends and family in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri; in 1999, it was from Provo UT to the Pacific Northwest to visit one of my best friends and to see if I wanted to live in this region someday). Both tragedies made me think a lot on the long road trips.

When school shootings happen, I always tire of hearing people ask "why?" Its a natural question, though, but kind of ridiculous. We live in a gun-obsessed society with violent movies, video games, and music. The social structure of high school is probably the most superficial you'll find in society. Who does the shootings? The loners, misfits, bullied. Why? Because they want other people to feel their pains. They lash out. People get shocked and ask why and cry a lot, but our society doesn't ever change. Obama gets elected president and there's a run on guns with ammunitions actually sold out and on back order in many places.

Guns. A false sense of power. So long as Americans love their guns, we shouldn't be shocked and ask "why?" and cry when more shootings happen (as this month has shown all over the country, with frustrated men externalizing their pains in deadly ways for others to feel).

Above are the photos of the students and teacher who lost their lives that day.

Though I lost interest in the Columbine massacre shortly after the event, I read in a recent article that there is a new, comprehensive book about the tragedy that clears up the myths that have developed. One of the shooters was a psychopath, the other was a follower who was capable of compassion. They weren't picked on, nor part of a "trenchcoat mafia." The leader of the duo thought he was God, who had the right to administer fatal judgment.

This past weekend, I finally finished reading Prophet of Death, about Jeffrey Lundgren, the former church member who formed a cult. It was a chilling read, especially when he claimed to his followers to be "God of the whole earth" who had the right to end human life for their sins (despite sinning himself, often far worse than his followers). I can't help but think how dangerous religious beliefs can be for people with psychological disorders. I will be writing a post soon about my thoughts on cults, especially in light of this book that I finished reading and the accusation by a former friend that I was "prone to join a cult" simply because I admitted admiring politicians like Gore and Obama.

Back to Columbine, though. A few years ago, I saw Gus Van Sant's film Elephant, which had a disclaimer that any resemblance to actual events was purely "coincidental." Yeah. Right. He basically followed the news accounts of the Columbine shooting. The only difference is, he filmed the movie in Portland, not Littleton, Colorado where the tragedy occurred. The film is horribly bad and dull. I've read in reviews that that was the point of his movie. You were lulled into the boring routine of the students and when the shooting happens, its truly shocking. I get it. But its still a boring and pointless movie to make.

One of the theories that came out of Columbine was that the shooters were influenced by Hitler. Considering how many deadly events occur around April 20th (Hitler's birthday), it makes you wonder if his soul is still wandering the earth looking for susceptible minds to influence towards deadly actions. In the past couple decades, on or around April 20th included Jeffrey Lundgren's murder of the Avery family in Kirtland OH in 1989, the Los Angeles riots in 1992, the Branch Davidian compound fire in 1993, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Columbine High School in 1999, and the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007.

I shake my head wondering how ten years can pass by so quickly. The students who died that day were deprived of the joys of young adulthood, of self discovery, of possibility. All because some deranged loser with access to semi-automatic weapons thought he had the divine right to rid the world of people he considered losers. Another rumour at the time was that he was influenced by The Matrix movie, which was a major hit in the spring of 1999. I can see how the shoot-em-up scene in the lobby of a building could inspire certain psychopathic people into wanting to replicate it in reality. In the movie, the scene looked cool...but it was just a movie!

While the tragedy scars the people who witnessed it or were victimized by it, the rest of the world moves on to the next tragedy. Nothing ever seems to change. We are shocked, we cry, we chatter, then we resume our gun buying compulsions. Truly how many guns do people need to feel safe? I don't own a gun at all, yet I feel completely safe. I wish more Americans would ignore the media hype about these shootings. We need to do a better job with easing people's pains of an isolated, lonely existence. The lack of compassion in our society for those on the margins (those who don't fit in the school culture that values the jocks, cheerleaders, student council, and affluent kids). We just never know when a young mind will snap, causing blood to flow and tears to fall. We can do better than buying more guns. We must try.