Thursday, May 28, 2009

Grandfather's Funeral

Since I don't have any digital photos of my grandfather, the above photocopy of a picture will have to do for now (he's holding a picture of his younger self; photo taken in May 2005). Today is my grandfather's funeral. I intend to speak on his behalf, just as I did for my grandmother in 2005. However, I hope I'm not the only one of his descendants to speak. I have a couple of interesting anecdotes to tell about him and I want to publically thank him for the two things I inherited from him: a love of maps and a love of travel. In fact, since I was a young boy, I could often spend hours just staring at maps and dreaming about road trips and other travel adventures. There is something magical about maps and I loved it when he would pull out a map (whether it was of the USA or of his unit--the 11th Armored Calvary Regiment in World War II...which fought at Bastogne, Belgium in the infamous Battle of the Bulge), and start talking about travel.

I'll give more details about the funeral when I return to Portland. Hopefully, I will do justice for my grandfather, sharing some memories that causes a laugh or two, as well as touching people's hearts, just as I did for my grandmother in 2005.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Back to the Family Homestead

My father lent me the money to buy a plane ticket so I could make it to his father's funeral on Thursday. If all goes well, I'll be on the plane at 6 a.m. and arrive in Kansas City just after noon. My parents will pick me up at the airport for the short drive to Atchison, a town of about 13,000 on a bluff overlooking the mighty Missouri River. This town is known for three things: Aviator Amelia Earhart was from here (can't wait for her big screen biopic later this fall. Hopefully its Oscar-calibre); the Atchison, Topeka, Santa Fe rail line; and old Victorian mansions on steep hills with streets made of brick.

This is my first visit since my grandmother's funeral in October 2005. My dad and his brothers grew up in this town, so they consider it their hometown (I consider Stone Mountain, Georgia to be my hometown). Though my grandparents lived here most of their adult lives (since the early 1950s), the town holds little appeal to me. Its small-town...with all that implies. I'm too much the "sophisticated, secular, urbanite" (by secular, I mean that I don't let my personal spiritual views impose itself on how I vote or how I talk to other people; as I believe in a religion-free government that represents all citizens, religious or not) to ever feel comfortable living in such a town. I have fond memories from my childhood of staying with my grandparents during the summer, but with their passing, I really don't have an attachment to the place any more.

Above is a map of Kansas, with Atchison County highlighted, and then the county seat of Atchison shown above that. Kansas is not one of my favourite states and I consider my dad's decision to go into the ROTC to be one of the best things that happened to me. Otherwise, I might've lived my entire life in Lawrence, about an hour's drive south of Atchison. Instead, I saw the world!!! It proves the old adage do you keep junior on the farm once he's seen the sites of Paris? can't!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Elizabeth Edwards: Resilient Enabler

While on vacation in Atlanta, I happened to catch Elizabeth Edwards on "The View", hawking her latest memoir, Resilience (which everyone in the audience got a free copy of). One of the weekly news magazines had an excerpt from her book recently. Frankly, I'm annoyed with her and don't hold her in a high regard like others are willing to do. True, she was betrayed by her philandering husband...particularly while she was diagnosed with cancer after having thought to conquer a previous bout with the disease. Because of her health struggles, it might be unseemly to be overly critical of her. Naturally, she was wronged in the most publically humiliating way. As she pointed out in the interview, her only requirement of John Edwards when they married was that he would never cheat on her. That was supposedly her one request of him and he failed to live up to it.

Even worse, John apparently fell under the sway of star-struck political groupie posing as a spiritual advisor, Rielle Hunter when she said to him, "you're so hot!" Those magic words led to an encounter, he had told his wife. It was a one time thing, he had revealed...though the truth was otherwise. When did he spill the beans? It was on 30 December 2006. What a day. I remember what I did that day. It was my 35th birthday and I had gone to the OMSI to see the special Star Wars exhibit, followed by a lobster tail dinner at home. It was also before candidates started announcing their presidential bids for 2008. That is a significant fact that can't be ignored. It is that date which makes Elizabeth a complicit enabler in her husband's deceit and reveals their true nature: John Edwards' presidential aspirations were more important than the chances of the Democratic party or our country's future. After hearing the news of her husband's affair, she still went along with his charade, campaigning in Iowa and elsewhere on his behalf.

In interviews, she claimed that the reason why they continued to run for president despite the indiscretion was because dropping out of the race would have alerted the media that something was up and worth an investigation. their loopy logic, they believed that only by entering the presidential race would the secret remain in the dark. However, they had an "easy out" if they wanted it! John Edwards came off looking like a cad when he refused to drop out after it was revealed that his wife's cancer had returned. No one in the media or the public would have faulted him for dropping out at that point. He might've even gained more respect. Instead, they continued with their charade.

What's even more galling is that John Edwards is on record of having criticized President Clinton during the Monica debacle, in which he said something to the effect that it was inexcuseable for a person in a high profile position to even think that his actions could remain a secret. I guess it's always easier to condemn someone else than to live up to those same ideals. Just as Clinton couldn't resist when a horny young intern delivered a pizza and flashed him her thong underwear, Edwards couldn't resist when a horny middle-aged "spiritual advisor" gushed to him "you're so hot!"

I don't have a lot of sympathy for Elizabeth, though, because of her complicity in covering up her husband's affair for the sake of presidential ambition. During that election season, I had met a few Edwards supporters who had told me that the reason why we should back Edwards in 2008 is because he had the best chance of winning. They claimed that Hillary's gender and Obama's race were the unknown factor and voters who might prefer a Democratic president might hold off just because of their racist or sexist views. I remember thinking what ludicrous logic and argued that now was the time for something radically different and history-shattering. America was ready for a non-white or non-male president. Had that argument prevailed, though...had Edwards won the Iowa caucus as he had so hoped, he might have been the nominee and you know that Republicans were salivating at the chance to expose Edwards hypocrisy. They would've painted him as another Clinton, who would bring his sexual problems into the White House and distract the American people from the work that needs to get done. The last thing the Democrats needed in 2008 was a reminder of the worst aspect of Clinton's personality.

This didn't seem to bother Elizabeth, though. She might have been betrayed by her husband breaking his wedding promise to be faithful to her, but she didn't care if he kept that secret from the American public. The presidency was more important to them than the truth. I'm glad that they lost. I believe that many Americans, particularly those in Iowa, sensed something phony about the guy. Up until the night of the caucus in January 2008, I really thought Edwards would win (and I thought Hillary would take New Hampshire and Obama would win South Carolina). Good thing the people of Iowa took a chance on Obama, thus helping to kill Edwards chances (he couldn't compete financially with Obama or Clinton, as he ran into trouble shortly after Iowa and counted on South Carolina to save his candidacy).

What I would like now is for both John and Elizabeth Edwards to disappear into obscurity. You had your chance and you blew it. Forget public life. You're wealthy, you have a huge mega-mansion, and you have young children. You can afford to not work and just raise your children and enjoy the rest of the time you have left live. That's not a bad life to live. If you want a public life, you should've strived to be more virtuous and not hypocritical. Granted, there are plenty of elected officials getting into some hanky panky...but as for the presidency...we've already endured that public drama of the media's obsession with presidential sex. The times are far too challenging to be distracted by personal dramas. It's probably the biggest asset Obama brought to the electorate: stone cold sobriety and drama-free seriousness. We truly did elect the right person for the job this time and America proved itself to be willing to take a chance on someone who doesn't fit the presidential mold of old white men. I knew those Edwards supporters were wrong when they cynically proposed that reason (his white maleness) for supporting their candidate.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Music Video Monday: Rihanna

For last week's music video selection, I picked Chris Brown's "Forever." Naturally, this week, I had to go with Rihanna, the singer he was in a relationship with and physically abused earlier this year before the Grammy Awards, when they were due to perform. It was kind of a shock when it happened because Chris Brown wasn't known to be a physically abusive person, and with all the confidence Rihanna displays in her videos, she doesn't come across as the type of woman who would put up with such abuse.

I think it's interesting that Rihanna has a song called "SOS," which is the international distress call. What I like about the song is how it samples the tune for the quintessential 80s pop song: "Tainted Love." I see this as an example of irony on so many levels. Yeah, her love with Chris Brown is kind of "tainted" and she does need to put out a distress call for someone to rescue her. But, how about a more updated view? She needs to rescue herself and bid that abusive loser goodbye and good riddance. Otherwise, she'll end up like Whitney Houston: drugged out, career suicide, and destroyed vocals. Women who go for jealous men are only destroying their well-being...physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Grandfather's Goodbye

On Friday, my dad called to let me know that his father had passed away on Friday morning, 22 May. We were kind of expecting it, but it was still a bit of a shock. I had just seen him two Sundays ago, for the last time when we went to the Atlanta North congregation before he (along with Uncle John, Aunt Merry and cousin Marisol) returned to Kansas. During the family reunion, he didn't really talk much, but he was well aware. At my sister's wedding reception, he was singled out by the D.J. as the special guest. It was unusual to see him so tearful, but he was clearly proud to see my sister's wedding.

In fact, he had told Uncle John that he wanted to reach two goals before dying: turning 90 and seeing my sister's wedding. Both were accomplished this month. Less than two weeks after the wedding, he let go. The interesting thing is that he did something similar to what his wife did when she passed in October 2005. The day she was supposed to check into a hospice, she had passed sometime during the night before. She didn't want to live in a hospice. Apparently, neither did my grandfather. The funeral is on Thursday. I want to go, but I don't have the money. We'll see if my dad will buy me a plane ticket. Somehow, it feels wrong not to attend the funeral, but I've been in such a rotten financial state this entire decade, I can't afford last minute trips. This is one reason why we should live near our families. My parents and sister will drive up from Atlanta, most of our relatives live within a three hour drive of Atchison, Kansas.

I'll write more about my grandfather's life in a blog post for Thursday. For now, all I can think about is that this latest death in the family (grandma started a trend! She passed in 2005, cousin Michael died in 2006, Great Aunt Effie passed in 2007, and Aunt Marie died last New Year's Eve), is one more thing that makes this decade one of loss for me. In this decade, starting in 2000, I lost: my dream job (working for President Al Gore), the woman I wanted to marry (to a foreigner), my car, income, elections of three politicians I really liked (Gore, Dean, and Lewis), another dream job (working for the church), another lady I was interested in (also to a foreigner), my dignity and self-respect (in my current job), and four relatives.

I keep asking God..."can I have at least ONE major gain before the year is out?!?" Just one??? I told my dad about it and he said, "well, you did gain a brother-in-law." Um...that is nice and all, but doesn't exactly benefit me any. I'm talking about a MAJOR GAIN to offset the decade of loss after loss. I want one of three things to occur: a new job in an organization where I can see a career potential, which pays in the mid-30s to 40s range; a relationship with a woman I want to marry; and/or my novel finally landing an agent and publisher with a nice advance to pay off some of my debt. Unless or until I have one major gain (winning the lottery would be very nice!), this decade is definitely going down as the worst one I've had to endure in my young life. Even my childhood didn't have this many losses in a ten year span! I'd do anything to experience all the wonderful things I did in my 20s. I certainly hope the next decade of life will be one of important gains. I'd like one gain for every loss I've had to endure this decade.

With my grandfather's passing, I didn't have time to write the post on my sister's wedding. Not sure when I'll get around to that. I don't really feel like blogging much with the latest family event. I may take a hiatus this week. Monday and Thursday should have posts ready. In case there isn't a post on Thursday, it means that I somehow acquired the money to make the trip to attend my grandfather's funeral.

One thing cool my dad told me was that in the last couple days of my grandfather's life, he was seen looking off into the distance and reaching out to whatever he saw. My dad said that this is common in people facing death. "The veil between lives lifts a little bit," as he put it. Who knows what my grandfather saw? Perhaps his wife, his grandson Michael, and his sisters Hazel and Jewell. With his passing, now his younger brother Jim is the family patriarch.

May God bless my grandfather, Jackson H. Carroll. He's part of the spiritual realm now, and I can imagine him telling my grandmother all about my sister's wedding. It's a shame that she didn't get to live to see it herself. But, what perfect timing. He reached his two goals for the year and leaves the earthly realm with the joys of the last family reunion to share with our relatives in the spiritual realm. I hope that reunion is also a joyous occasion.

(The photo above was taken in May 2005 with my grandfather front and center. Grandma was on his left. My parents and myself are on his right--or your left).

Friday, May 22, 2009

Flashback Friday: The Phantom Menace

Ten years ago, on 22 May 1999, George Lucas finally released Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. This was THE MOVIE of the summer. In fact, in the trailer for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, they spoofed Star Wars and said "if you see just one movie this summer, see Star Wars, but if you see two movies, see Austin Powers..." I remember hearing audiences laugh about that truth in advertising. Star Wars was unescapable that summer. Lucas went overboard on product endorsements, including a deal with Taco Bell, specially made cans for Pepsi products, books, action figures, and clothing. Lucas claimed that he needed to get his brand out in public consciousness since it has been a long time since the last Star Wars film was released (1983). A new generation of moviegoers had been born. Thankfully, with the release of episodes II and III, the over-commercialization of the film franchise was scaled back, allowing the films to stand on their own.

The Phantom Menace holds a record for me. I saw this film 13 times in a movie theater. Never have I done that before. The previous record was Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope), at 7 times (two of those times were in 1997 for the "Special Edition"). Before that, I only saw a few films 5 times in a theater. It seems amazing that I saw The Phantom Menace that many times in the theater, but in the summer of 1999, there weren't many films I wanted to see. I also had the desire to see the film a week after I had seen it. In fact, opening weekend, I saw it twice. This went on all summer long. The 13th time was on my birthday. My sister had asked me if I wanted to see it at the $1 theater when I was home for the holidays, and of course I couldn't say no. It had been months since I last saw it.

By contrast, I only saw Episode II: Attack of the Clones 6 times in a theater and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith 3 times in the theater. These days, I don't go to the theater as much and I certainly don't see movies a second time in theaters (though I might for Star Trek since it was that good and I'm still unclear about some of the story).

When the first teaser poster was released well in advance of the movie, I thought it was very well done. It was simple, yet foretelling. It made its point very clearly. However, when the official title was revealed, I was disappointed. I'm not a fan of the word "phantom" and think its usage makes the movie sound cheesy. Is the phantom supposed to be Darth Sidious? There's no mention in the film at all of a phantom. Its pretty vague.

Ewan MacGregor as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi was an excellent choice. Back in the early 1990s, when there was talk about the prequels being made, I remember reading that Kenneth Branagh was talked about as starring as Obi-Wan Kenobi, which I thought was a good choice, as well. MacGregor is younger, though (I can't believe he's the same age as me!) and Episode I is supposed to take place 30 years before the events in Episode IV.

Before the film was released, there was a lot of hype and speculation about Darth Maul. He became a fan favourite and the new face of evil. However, in the film, it was surprising that Darth Maul was in only a few scenes and was disposed of pretty quickly. The only purpose he served in the film is to show the way the Sith operate: master and apprentice. As Yoda says, "only two there are." Supposedly, Darth Maul had been groomed all his life to become Darth Sidious' replacement at some point. When he's killed off, Darth Sidious has to find a new apprentice who is already a Jedi because it would take too long to train one from childhood. That's where Count Dooku (Darth Tyrannus) comes in (Episode II). At any rate, Darth Maul is a waste. All hype, with little relevance in the movie itself.

One detail in The Phantom Menace that I really like are the diverse costumes of Queen Amidala. Many were easily recognizable styles from the Far East, particularly Mongolia (upper right photo), China (upper middle photo) and Japan (upper left photo). Costume designers had fun with this film, coming up with a different style each time she appears on screen. Sure beats Princess Leia's simple white dress and honeybun hairdo!

My favourite costume she wears is the one above. It's totally Japanese style and very cool looking. While these costumes look terrific onscreen, in reality, they look very impractical and uncomfortable to wear.

One of the complaints I've heard people make about the film is that the story is boring. Taxation of trade routes causes the Trade Federation to invade the planet of Naboo? I laughed whenever I heard people make that complaint. I was deep in political science courses when this film came out and I've read interviews with George Lucas about his underlying point about this film series. He believes (based on actual history) that empires started out as democracies/republics. People give up the right of self-rule and their own freedoms. He's interested in how this happens.

I consider this movie quite prophetic, actually. Remember, it came out in 1999. An illegal invasion is launched against a sovereign planet. Darth Sidious is insistent that Queen Amidala must sign the treaty herself to legitimize the occupation. Does this sound familiar?

In 2003, the Bush regime launched an illegal invasion of a sovereign nation. The U.S. set up a Coalition Provisional Authority government headed by a "viceroy" to oversee the transition from the collapsed Baathist government of disposed dictator Saddam Hussein. The U.S. had U.N. resolutions authorizing the invasion, as well as Congressional approval. Everything was done to make it seem legal, as bureaucracies are obsessed with the appearance of legality. Once the U.S. established a transitional government with favoured candidates, the elected government of Iraq became tasked with approving the Status of Forces Agreement, which every country that has U.S. military bases is required to pass (one benefit is that it grants American servicemembers immunity from being tried in the host country's court of law, which was a bone of contention in Japan when U.S. Marines raped a Japanese girl or in Italy when an Army pilot accidentally clipped the cable of an aerial gondola with his plane and killed skiers).

So, some might think the politics in The Phantom Menace as boring stuff, but its the stuff of history. Our country proved the genius foresight of George Lucas with our own illegal invasion of Iraq. Because Americans don't pay much attention to the world outside our borders, we are easily manipulated into going along with what the ruling class wants, and we let our fears of "the other" control us into making bad decisions.

We can learn a lot from The Phantom Menace about the purpose of life. For me, the best kernals of spiritual wisdom come from two scenes. In one, Yoda tells young Anakin Skywalker: "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering." Whenever I meet people who are afraid, I'm stunned that they don't often examine WHY they are afraid. When I feel the emotion of fear, its automatic that I will quiz myself as to the source of my fear. I like to get to the root of fear, because I think there's an important message there. If we act on our fears and cause harm to others in order to stifle our fears (such as being okay torturing another human being because we are afraid that they might kill us), we slowly become someone we won't recognize eventually.

The other powerful spiritual statement is when Qui-Gon Ginn told Anakin: "Remember: your focus determines your reality." That is pure "law of attraction" right there. I remind myself of that statement whenever my focus gets negative. I have ample evidence in my own life that reality can reflect your inner desires. I just need to do a better job of it, lately.

If there is any flaw in the film, it would have to be the pod racing part. It takes up too much of the film and it ceased to be interesting to me the third time I watched the film. I understand its purpose (to show young Anakin's precognition and mechanical genius), but its kind of boring. I dislike the Queen decoy. It was set up to fool the audience in the beginning. What was the point? I also don't like the way Natalie Portman speaks throughout the film. Its very wooden and monotone. But, I'm just being nitpicky. I love the entire saga and don't understand why fans of the original trilogy seem not to like the prequel trilogy as much. I love both trilogies, but I have to admit that the prequels are far more visually stunning (due to the advance in special effects technology). Whenever I hear fans complain about the prequel trilogy, I will ask them, "are you glad that they got made, though?" I sure am. One thing I don't understand about fanboys is that they are fanatical about someone else' creation. They might have let their imaginations run wild and dreamed up their opinions on what might have happened, so when Lucas' vision doesn't meet the fanboy's opinions, there's a lot of griping and discontent.

They need to get a life. I had no problem going to the theater and watching the prequel storyline unfold according to the genius of George Lucas. It is his story and his creation. We're just the spectators. I can't believe it has been ten years now since the release of Episode I. The ten years between 1999 and 2009 seemed to have moved much faster than the ten years between 1989 and 1999. This Memorial Day weekend, I will be watching the entire saga (stretched out over the weekend, rather than watching them all in one day). I love the Star Wars saga, but I wouldn't call myself a fanboy (I don't read the various novels, go to the conventions or obsess over the tiny details about the characters and storylines. Also, I still haven't seen the animated Clone Wars--it never really interested me).

What I get out of the films is the spiritual message. That's probably why I like it far better than Star Trek. There's a deeply spiritual message behind the Star Wars saga, whereas Star Trek is more about logic, science, and humanism. In the summer of 2002, I was in Barnes and Noble bookstore looking at the Star Wars display of books and some guy had complained to me about Attack of the Clones. I told him that I liked it because it was such a spiritual film. He looked at me like I was crazy and walked away. To understand what I mean...check out the scene where Obi-Wan Kenobi goes to the Jedi Library. The visual on that really attracted me and I can easily see the libraries in the spiritual realm being like that (glowing blue lights, holding important information). Also, the scene where Obi-Wan disrupts the younglings in training and they have to meditate on his question before receiving an answer. That's exactly how spirituality works. To not see the spirituality inherent in this film series is to be blind (perhaps by the special effects?). Star Wars is very Buddhist and New Agey and that's a good thing.

May the Force Be With You this Memorial Day!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

SS(2): First Bit of Exposure

"It's all over the news, honey," said Rodney Wailin, as he paced back and forth in the living room. "Your photo is the latest Internet sensation. Are you happy about that? I told you that it wasn't a good idea to put it on your Myspace page."

His wife Amanda was just finishing breakfast. She didn't want to argue about the photo again. In fact, she didn't see anything wrong with it. Her husband took the photo, after all. He was proud of it. She still looked good, after having giving birth to four children and navigating mid-life. His high school beauty queen could still compete in pageants with ladies twenty-five years younger than her. They were the "It" Couple at their school, Salmonella Springs High, and since 2006, she was the mayor of the town.

Before people get too impressed with that distinction, Salmonella Springs was a po-dunk town of 6,347 residents about an hour due east of The Dalles, Oregon, on the Columbia River. Amanda's great-grandfather, Edwin Wiser, founded the town a century ago. The town got its name after he had died of salmonella. The chief industry is salmon farming and the logical name would've been Salmon Springs, but the residents decided to honour the town's founder by adding the extra "ella", making it actually sound pretty. Now the residents had a pretty mayor and she finally brought much needed attention to their town when her Myspace photo was discovered and quickly went viral. Amanda's bikini-clad pose in front of a fire engine had achieved as close to a Farrah Fawcett status as favourite pinup as could be had in this era reality shows and Andy Warhol fifteen minutes of fame.

Amanda had always wanted to be famous. Since high school, she saw fame as her big ticket out of there. But she got pregnant the summer before her senior year and married her high school sweetheart. They made sacrifices so she could attend college. After a couple years at a Bible college, she transferred to the University of Idaho, where she got her degree in broadcast journalism. Juggling young motherhood and college courses wasn't easy, but she managed just fine. Their son, Marathon, turned out to be an exceptional young man. Patriotic and proudly serving our country in the Iraq War.

Now, about that photograph. Her husband served as her most important advisor. Though he took the photograph, she had posted it on her Myspace page. Through some magic of how things go viral in the Cyberworld, that photograph had achieved something she long desired. Now America knew her name. How best to capitalize on this to further her ambitions?

"Don't worry about it, Rod," she said, trying to reassure her husband. "Now that I have the media's attention, we need to strategize how to make this work for my career."

"Your career?" Rod asked. "Do you realize how the media's going to play this?"

"The hardest part is always getting your name out there and catching the media's attention. Now that we have it, all we have to do is reel them in. It won't be long before they're camping on our lawn, demanding interviews."

She left the table to change into her work clothes in the bedroom. Rod followed her, still focused on how to play this controversy to their advantage.

"I could see the City Council calling for your resignation, though. This isn't the kind of attention the town wants to be known for."

She thought about that for a minute before responding. "They need to understand that we now have the national media's attention. Our dusty little town is finally on the map, so it's up to us how we want the media to view our community. Talk up the zero crime rate and the active involvement in city government of our residents...the media will think of us as a real-life Mayberry."

"I think you're being a little naive, honey. The media has a liberal bias, so all they have to do is look into your biography and portray you as something else, something we won't even recognize."

"Give me some credit, dear. My charm offensive can win over any crotchety old reporter. I'll have them eating out of my hand and talking me up as a possible governor candidate in 2010."

"I don't know about this, honey. I just can't escape a bad feeling about how this is going to play out. Especially given our views on things and the fact that your brother is mayor of Portland. I think we need to prepare the children for the rough days ahead."

"My brother? Don't you dare bring my brother into this! He made his choice back in college and our family disowned him. I haven't spoken to him in years and I will not have my name attached to his, you hear?"

Rod walked over to hug his wife and reassure her. She always felt safe and protected in his arms. "I'm just thinking ahead. There are many ways this can play out. Its not ideal to come to national attention this way, so we are going to have to work hard to spin our side of things."

"Well, I'm ready for a good fight." They kissed. Sometimes in the morning, before she headed off to work, if she kissed too long, it would lead to something else. They could still behave like a bunch of teenagers, but that's what kept their marriage alive. Both of them still believed the other was hot and they could hardly stand to be away from each other for long, or keep their hands off of each other. The media would like that, wouldn't they? A photogenic couple, still hot for one another after twenty-five years of marriage? A perpetual honeymoon. Good thing the kids were in school now. They romped in the kitchen, before heading off to work. She always accomplished more at work when they made love in the mornings. It was better than coffee.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

An "Angels and Demons" Rush to the Head

On Friday, after shipping off 18 boxes to myself in Portland (via Amtrak shipping), my dad took me to see Angels and Demons, based on the first Robert Langdon novel but in a switcheroo, is considered the sequel to The Da Vinci Code. In 2006, dad and I saw The Da Vinci Code in theaters. I had read The Da Vinci Code in 2005 and Angels and Demons in 2006. I liked Angels and Demons even more than The Da Vinci Code (this is actually consistent with popular opinion among readers of both novels). However, the movie lacks Audrey Tautou, my favourite actress, which is understandable (since her character, Sophie Neveu, was not in the other novel). But Angels and Demons does have two of my favourite actors (Tom Hanks, repeating his role with a better hairstyle; and Ewan MacGregor). I was especially stoked to see Vatican City and Rome as the backdrop since I have been there quite a few times in the early 1990s.

The problem with movies like these is that you want them faithful to the novel, but if you had already read the novel, you already know what's going to happen. Fortunately, though, it has been three years since I read the novel (it was one of the most readable novels I've ever read. I simply could not put the book down). When I saw The Da Vinci Code, I had read the novel the previous year so the details were still fresh in my mind (one thing cut out of the movie version was the idea Dan Brown presented in his novel that the Mona Lisa was supposedly a self portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci in drag, which is a claim I found absurd).

For those who have not read the novel nor seen the film, this post will contain no spoilers because I believe this novel and film has a very cool twist that you should uncover yourself. Basically, the story is about the theft of anti-matter from the CERN Headquarters in Switzerland. I'm no scientist, so I don't know if its true or not, but according to Dan Brown, anti-matter can be quite explosive if it comes into contact with any form of matter. What scientists have done is to create "the big bang" on a small scale. If humans now have the ability to create a universe, does that make us gods, and thus religion irrelevant?

Meanwhile, the Holy See seeks out Harvard professor and Symbologist Robert Langdon to decifer the meaning behind an ambigram that was found, which says "Illuminati." Four cardinals have been abducted and held hostage somewhere, just as the conclave to select the next Pope is about to begin. To increase the tension, the anti-matter device is discovered on a closed-circuit camera (which could be anywhere within Vatican City, which is considered the world's smallest country) and has just 12 hours of battery life before the big bang will completely obliterate the center of Catholic Christendom. The chase is on to find the four cardinals and the anti-matter canister before they (and everyone else) die.

Though the Vatican is reluctant to ask for Langdon's help (due to his last adventure in Paris, which uncovered the secret that Jesus' bloodline lives on through a modern genetic heir), the threat of complete destruction of their headquarters, with its priceless relics, millennial presence on the western banks of the Tiber River, and the most sacred archives on earth (supposedly containing many of history's most important and controversial works, including by Galileo, who was forced under torture to recant his scientific findings because of the threat they posed to the Catholic Church). I'm no fan of the Catholic Church. In fact, I find it (though not the people who practice it) to be a complete abomination and about as far from Jesus as you can get. Vatican City may be the world's smallest country, but within its borders contains a wealth of human history that can never be replaced. So, yes, of course...I believe any terrorist who threatens to destroy Vatican City to be a threat to all humankind. I am the kind of person who holds sacred any site that any religious group holds sacred (within reason). When the Taliban destroyed thousand year old statues of Buddha in early 2001, my fundamentalist co-worker cheered while I felt saddened. One doesn't have to be a Buddhist to appreciate the art and devotion of people thousands of years ago put into carving huge statues of Buddha into the side of a mountain.

One of my favourite scenes in the film is when Robert Langdon is called into a private conversation with the Camerlengo (played by Ewan MacGregor) before he starts his quest in the restricted access of the Vatican archives. The Camerlengo is the Pope's official assistant. The Vatican is aware of Langdon's desire to access the archives after denying his previous requests. However, before granting special access in order to discover the Illuminati plot to destroy the church, the Camerlengo asks Langdon if he believes in God. Langdon is taken aback and then launches into an all too familiar academic response when a simple yes or no would do. The Camerlengo was not impressed with Langdon's reponse, so he asks again. I forget the exact thing Langdon says, but its something along the lines of a true skeptic, confessing that while he may like to, his heart simply won't allow it. The Camerlengo advises him to be careful with sacred church doctrine before sending him on his way.

The search begins with a passage from one of Gallileo's works. Supposedly, the Illuminati turned violent a few centuries ago to avenge the Catholic Church's violent persecution of scientists and freethinkers who made discoveries or held ideas that contradicted what the Church doctrines claimed as true. Now, the tables are turned. Each hour, a Cardinal is selected to die in a certain location by one of the elements: earth, fire, air, and water. This turns out to be a caper across Rome from one church to another, based on clues and codes that only Langdon seems able to grasp. It all leads to an interesting conclusion. To say more is to reveal too much.

Dan Brown has received a lot of flak for his two Langdon novels. People criticize his writing style, the ideas he presents, and his mix of facts into a fictional premise which blurs for readers what is true and what is made up (I personally love that writing style because it forces you to think and investigate for yourself if you really want to decipher what's real and what's fiction). I think those kind of criticisms are a bit unfair. Brown has never claimed to be Shakespeare. People who dismiss popular fiction for its poor characterizations and depth of character study should be reading literary fiction for that. In literature, it is well accepted that some stories are character driven (most literary novels) while others are plot or story driven. If one is writing a page turner, suspense novel, the whole point is to keep the action moving. Rich characterizations, exposition, and descriptive details slow down the pacing. So, it is simply ridiculous to blame a novel for accomplishing its purpose.

There are millions of novels out there and when I'm in the mood for a suspense action novel, I read Dan Brown, John Grisham, or Michael Crichton. When I'm in the mood for a romantic story, I read Nicholas Sparks. Most of the time, I love great writing and non-formulaic plots, so I generally read literary fiction (Dave Eggers is a favourite of mine). At no time do I complain that a character driven novel is not fast paced or a suspense action novel too skimpy in its characterizations. People really do need to understand the differences and be okay with it. Otherwise, just read the type of book you prefer and don't waste your time reading popular works and wishing it was written differently. Considering that The Da Vinci Code has supposedly sold anywhere from 50 to 100 million copies worldwide (by comparison, an average John Grisham novel might sell between 3 to 10 million copies in paperback), Dan Brown obviously did something right. You don't sell that many copies if people think the writing is "crap."

I really enjoyed Angels and Demons. Is it better than The Da Vinci Code? I don't know. I like them both equally. The Da Vinci Code has Audrey Tautou, who is a huge draw for me (I find her irresistably female ideal. So if there are any ladies out there who have a similar look or personality to her, please contact me!). Both films raise important questions. Namely, that religion is based on mythological and unproven supernatural traditions. One day, when we pass out of this life into the next one, we will probably learn the truth about all that has occurred on our planet's history and we'll probably all be shocked by how wrongly we figured things out because we started with premises that don't pass the test of logic (Talking snakes? Resurrections? Jonah living in a whale's belly? Golden Bibles buried in a hill to be translated by a treasure seeking teenage storyteller?).

What I love about Angels and Demon is a speech the Camerlengo gave about science and faith, being locked in a never ending battle for the discovery of truth. There is a place for both. It need not be a never-ending war for the hearts and minds of spiritual people who are comfortable with scientific discoveries which might contradict Biblical stories. After all, the Bible is not a science book. Faith grounded in logic can withstand any controversial idea or scientific discovery. Seeing Angels and Demons is not going to cause people to leave their faith communities in disillusioned disgust. It's simply a thrill ride rush to the head and you just gotta love that.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Best TREK Ever!

Last Wednesday, my dad took me to see the latest Star Trek film. My dad has been a Star Trek fan since the T.V. show aired in syndication. I've seen most of the films in theaters, but stopped after 1996's Star Trek: First Contact because that film hit a home run with me. I didn't think it could ever be surpassed. Until now.

One thing I love about this new century is the trend towards "rebooting" famous film franchises that had run its course. First it was Batman Begins, which I consider to be the most perfect comic book action hero film ever made. Finally, a director has managed to convey the best Batman comic book storylines for the big screen. I'll never forgive Joel Schumacher for turning Batman into a big, homoerotic joke (he was the guy who was obsessed with adding nipples to the Batsuit, after all, while adding too many characters and villains into absurd storylines).

Next came Casino Royale, complete with a blond haired James Bond in a sort of origins story (it was the first Bond novel that Ian Fleming wrote). Not only did he not have his "00" status yet, we also learned about his family background and why he became so callous about women. Of course, with films like these, continuity between the new films and the older ones are basically non-existent. Literalist minded people might balk, but I love a good reinvention of an old story. It keeps things fresh.

Star Trek is certainly that! In fact, when I had read an interview with the director J.J. Abrams, he had mentioned being more of a Star Wars fan than a Star Trek fan. I'm that way as well. I've had debates with "Trekkies" (excuse me..."Trekkers") about which is better: Wars or Trek. For Trekkies, Star Wars is too much of a space FANTASY. It's a fairy tale soap opera set in space. Though I like both and am familiar with both "universes", Star Wars simply has more pizzaz to it. It's visually stunning, the hero's journey motif features prominently, and it's deeply spiritual. Star Trek, on the other hand, was more cerebral and scientific. Spock is all logic, seen as the ideal. Though I have no idea if George Lucas was inspired by the Star Trek television show in creating his own universe to populate with a vast array of creatures, Han Solo does seem to be a kind of Captain James T. Kirk. On the flip side, I noticed in Star Trek V that there seemed to be a Star Wars influence (the odd creatures on the planet Nimbus III reminded me of the Mos Eisley cantina on Tatooine).

The Force is definitely strong with the current Trek. James Kirk was expelled to an icy planet and comes across a creature much like Luke Skywalker did on the planet Hoth in Empire Strikes Back. There's even a bar scene early on in the film that seems ripped from the Star Wars universe. This might have been intentional or perhaps subconscious, but the point is well taken. The Star Wars films have a broader fan base, as each film easily crossed over at least $200 million mark at the box office. The Star Trek films are lucky to limp to the $100 million mark, which the fourth installment (The Voyage Home) did, making it the highest grossing Trek film (until now).

Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in 1979. No doubt, studios were jumping on the Star Wars bandwagon, by turning to an old TV show and bringing it to the big screen in the ultra boring first film. All I remember is the bald chick. My dad made the mistake of bringing me to the film when I was a kid. I suppose he might've expected it to be like Star Wars (which he knew I was a major fan of, thus taking me to see a Disney knock-off called The Black Hole), but it was more like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Boring!

The funny thing about that first motion picture is that my cousin Anita (who was 18 at the time) was planning to see the film with a friend. I kind of had a crush on her and wanted to go see it with her and asked my dad if I could go with her. He said, "I thought you didn't like it." He was right, but I didn't care. I just wanted to go with Anita to the movies. Well...Anita happened to be with us for the wedding and I suggested that we go see it (30 years later and I'm still trying to relive that moment of childhood denial! Not that I still have a crush on her...I was only 7 at the time, after all). She wanted to, but didn't want to deal with the crowds and she flew back to Minnesota on Monday. So much for that.

When I first heard that Paramount Studios was rebooting the Star Trek franchise for the next film rather than continue with the Next Generation cast or bringing film versions of Deep Space Nine or Voyager to big budget proportions that you can only see in theaters, I believed it was a great idea. I got excited that it would be set at Fleet Academy and show audiences younger versions of the characters and how they came to meet. Thus, if there's only one flaw in the film, it's the skimming of Fleet Academy. I wanted to see more about their training, but it was not to be. That's okay, though, because the action was packed.

Time travel plays prominently in the film. Though some might bemoan the "lazy way" of story telling, I don't see it like that. The use of time travel was the only way they could bring Leonard Nimoy into the film as the older Spock. Did they need to have an original cast member in the film? Not really. My guess is that it was a way to claim legitimacy. And to appease fanatical fanboys who tend to go apeshit when a film doesn't live up to the hype or their imaginations. With Nimoy in the film, no one can claim that this film was made without the original cast's blessing. Besides, to transition between Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, which marked the original cast's final film, James T. Kirk made an appearance in Star Trek: Generations, despite the centuries apart. So, don't fault a director for wanting to show some continuity and legitimacy.

What I really liked about this new Trek is that we finally get to see the planet Vulcan and what Spock was like as a young man, struggling with his bi-racial identity (half-human, half-Vulcan). Emotions represent the human part of him, which he surpresses until someone makes a "your mother" joke. That's when we see Spock acting without logic.

Another scene in the film reminded me of Empire Strikes Back (or Attack of the Clones). When Kirk and Sulu are fighting Romulans on a platform hovering above the landscape on Vulcan, I thought of Luke Skywalker hanging on for dear life at the bottom of Cloud City or Obi-Wan Kenobi fighting Jango Fett on a platform suspended over water on the planet of Kamino.

The new Spock has an uncanny resemblance to Nimoy's Spock. He's the only castmember who really looks like a member of the original. Chris Pine as James Kirk seems to have been hired mostly for an ability to attract females into theaters to see this film because God knows we don't have enough female Trekkies. Kumar might have went to the White House to work, but it looks like his comedic partner Harold is making a new name for himself as a younger version of Sulu. There's never a White Castle when you need one!

After the film finished, I was impressed. Finally, a director did something right. I definitely want to see this film in theaters again. Since there are very few movies I want to see this summer, I'll probably watch this film. The confusing plot merits such an indulgence. Nero, a renegade Romulan with a cockroach-looking spaceship, goes back in time to destroy the planet Vulcan (again, reminiscent of the Death Star's destruction of another peaceful planet of Alderaan) in retaliation for what he feels was Spock's broken promise to save his planet. I'm still not clear on the motives. Eric Bana was barely recognizable in his role as Nero.

With a young cast, I forsee a long series of new films though I don't understand why they'd want to. It just seems to me that they have explored everything already so there's not much new to center a story around. This Trek beats all the others. Its worth seeing more than once. In a summer of bland movies, Star Trek might show remarkable continuity of business. The Force is definitely strong with this one.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Music Video Monday: Chris Brown

For this week's music video, I wanted to have one of my favourite songs of 2008, "Forever" by Chris Brown. However, his video on YouTube has the embedding feature disabled, so I had to find another one (fan created, I presume) that features the awesome song. Now, this song will be forever burned in my memory as the song played at my sister's wedding. It wasn't her first dance song (that was "When the Stars Go Blue" by someone who is not Tim McGraw). Most of the evening, the music was pretty 1940s sounding (Sinatra-esque). It wasn't until later (near the end) when the good modern dance hits started playing. After she threw the bouquet, guests started leaving, even though it was only around 10 p.m. The DJ was paid through 11 p.m. After the party started winding down, the music got really good (with the lights turned out and strobe lighting kicked on). By that point, however, it was basically the bride, groom, best man, and bridesmaids dancing to "Forever" and Fergie's "Glamourous" as well as other songs. I wish the music was that good early on.

Anyhow...enjoy "Forever" (on the dance floor!). Even if Chris Brown is a physical abuser of extremely gorgeous young women.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Feels Good to be Back in the P.R.P.

On Sunday, at 8:50 p.m., I arrived back in (the People's Republic of) Portland on Amtrak from Tacoma. The train ride was shorter than I expected. Didn't even get to finish the book I'm currently reading (only a couple pages left)--Imperial Life in the Emerald City (review is forthcoming)--but I'll finish it before I go to bed. While back in Atlanta for nearly 10 days, I didn't do my nightly reading before bed. I used up nearly all of my waking hours after the relatives left on Monday to sort through the 30 boxes I still had in my parents attic. That was a lot of shredding of financial records (I had saved EVERY bank statement, credit cards statement, and payslip since 1990!!!). Whew! What a chore.

I ended up sending 18 boxes on Amtrak, which should arrive by the weekend. A lot of that are personal records like my Navy paperwork, college papers, high school yearbooks, photo albums, family history paperwork, and other personal effects. I'm truly a one man bureaucracy! The last week kept me so busy that I didn't even make it out to visit a friend of mine who lived in Marietta or my last job (as I had "promised" a few former co-workers). Oops. But, when my parents live on the east side of Atlanta (think of the three o'clock position on the clock) and Smyrna and Marietta being at the 10 o'clock position, I honestly did not feel like driving that far. It would have taken up my entire Friday. After driving a long way to attend my old church congregation north of Alpharetta, it was just too much driving. Portland has truly spoiled me. I basically have all my personal needs met within Portland's fareless square boundary. Everything I need or want is pretty much in this free public transit zone (which is walkable from my apartment). I realize that I only love driving on long road trips, but city driving is annoying.

I'll share more of what I did the first week (when the house was packed with 14 relatives and four dogs) in a later post about the wedding (probably for Saturday). I'm just glad to be back in Portland. The interesting thing about the trip is that the day I left (two Mondays ago), it was raining pretty hard when I left work to catch my train to Tacoma. I flew to Atlanta on Tuesday morning and had a row of three seats to myself. When we arrived in Atlanta, I regretted not having my camera conveniently out because we flew over Stone Mountain (and my parents neighbourhood) near sunset. That would've been a cool shot!

I flew on Airtran from SEATAC directly to Atlanta. My brother flew out of Portland with a change of planes in Houston, Texas. His plane left Portland a few hours before mine left SEATAC. But I arrived in Atlanta first. There was about a 30 minute differential, so my parents didn't have to make two trips to the airport. The weather was mostly rainy while I was home. When I arrived back in the Pacific Northwest, I was shocked how hot it was. Essentially, I brought the Pac Northwest weather with me to Atlanta and brought back Atlanta's heat! Can't we have one more month of rainy weather? Yeah, I know. I actually love Portland's rainy season.

On Saturday, I flew out of Atlanta. The Transportation Security Administrator selected one of my bags for personal inspection. Talk about mild embarrassment. I had decided to fill one carry-on bag with things I considered my most "prized" possessions that I did not trust the post office or Amtrak to deliver. This included several rare Australian souvenirs I had found on eBay (including an ashtray in the shape of Australia that was inscribed with my first Navy ship, the USS ORION and the date of 1944), a map of Australia I had made in 1983 in art (using yarn and a piece of burlap), two volumes of the Journal-Letters that my best friend Nathan and I corresponded in during the 1990s (Nathan has the other three volumes), and the item that probably attracted the most interest in the X-Ray machine: a shadow box I had made to display the boutonniere I had worn as Best Man at Nathan's wedding in 2000. The shadow box also had a picture of Nathan, Lisa, his brothers, another friend and me...and a bottle of the liquid used to blow bubbles (it was part of their wedding favors). Yeah, I saved it and never used it. I had completely forgotten about the TSA and Homeland Security's paranoia about carrying any kind of liquid on the plane. Fortunately, I didn't have to break into the shadow box and dump out the contents. But, I wondered what that TSA guy thought of a guy like me carrying a bag of stuff like this. Most guys aren't sentimental.

After he completely emptied my carry on bag, he asked if I wanted him to pack everything back or if I wanted to do it. I told him that I would do it. No sense keeping him from his job of catching those terrorist killers that might slip through with real explosive liquid!

The concourse at the airport was packed with people. I don't think I've ever seen that many people at the airport before. For some reason, I didn't believe that Saturday was a crowded flying day. I thought Friday and Sundays were the most traveled days. The flight was fully booked. We left late and because of heavy storms in the Midwestern part of the country, the pilot wisely chose to fly around it, adding forty minutes to our flight time. We were supposed to land in SEATAC at 9:30 p.m., but it was 10:10 when we actually touched down. Then there was a problem unloading the luggage. They had us go to one baggage carousel, then 40 minutes later, they switched to another carousel. This meant that my ride was kept waiting 90 minutes!!! I felt really bad about it and offered to buy a late dinner, dessert, pay for gas...but he would have none of it. He did get an Obama magnet, though (a small token of my appreciation for his hospitality of taking me to the airport and picking me up and letting me stay at his place). He's the one who thinks Obama could be the anti-Christ (he's a Hillary supporter). Hey...I'm all about promoting love and support for our president!

Sunday, YAPS did the church service at Puyallup Congregation. It was the same service we did at the Vancouver BC congregation in January 2008 about "Uncommon Devotion" with silent acting scenes of various situations, as well as playing The Black Eyed Peas' "Where is the Love?" I was pleasantly surprised to see that David made it (he's Nathan's youngest brother and the most similar personality to Nathan of his three brothers). He and I caught up on what's been going on in our lives. I haven't seen him since 2003. After church, YAPS went to a Putt-Putt golf place. I actually made one hole in one shot (very unusual!). My average was three to five strokes per hole. I thought it was interesting that David and I were playing putt putt golf, because the night of Nathan's bachelor party (in June 2000), we did not have enough room in the car for everyone, so David was the only one of Nathan's brothers who did not get to play Putt Putt golf with us. I always felt bad about that. That night, Nathan and the two brothers with him, and another friend all made a hole in one in at least one of the holes. I was the only one who did not accomplish that feat. Nathan even hit a hole on my behalf and got a hole in one for me. In Sunday's game, David got two holes in one, just like his brother did that night nine years ago. I don't know if it means anything, but somehow, I just find it fascinating that nine years later (after feeling bad for having to exclude David from our "wild night" on a putt putt golf course), I had the opportunity to play putt putt with David. I think that is really cool. Maybe its an example of how spirituality works to correct your regrets eventually.

Now its back to work. I hope that the negative energy won't wear me down like it did before I went on vacation. This vacation was so needed and came at the best possible moment. My least favourite co-worker has the strange pattern of having explosive temper tantrums every three months and was due for another volcanic explosion in May. The last week in April, she was slipping...having daily whiny temper flares, but no all out screaming. If she did have an eruption, I hope it occurred while I was gone. I really don't want to deal with her negative energy tomorrow. My vacation was soooooooo good for my soul. I was truly relaxed, happy, content, and enjoying my time with family. Unfortunately, though, I did not have time to really visit my old stomping grounds in Buckhead, visit the Zoo (and see the baby panda), or go to the Aquarium and the new Coca-Cola museum (they switched to a new building. I had visited the old one a couple of times in the 1990s). My next trip to Atlanta (next year, perhaps?) will hopefully be more relaxing since I pretty much got all of my things out of my parents house finally.

It's good to be home. I definitely feel more like a Pacific Northwesterner now. My old stomping grounds in Stone Mountain was depressing. So many of the shopping centers I once walked to from my parents house are empty. Even Stone Mountain Village had mostly abandoned store fronts (in 2006, they had stores that catered to tourists). Its too sad to see the place where my parents live become a virtual commercial ghost town. Shipping the rest of my things from my parents house shows my commitment to settling in Portland. All that's needed is a job offer that will keep me from going off to Iraq later on this year. I feel optimistic and upbeat about my prospects for this summer. Good things are happening. I can feel it!

Friday, May 15, 2009

First Official Wedding Photos

I have been too busy to blog since I've been home. I wanted to write the next installment of my serial drama, Salmonella Springs, but haven't had time. I will return to my regular blogging self on Monday, my first full day back in Portland. In the meantime, I wanted to display a few of the professionally done photographs of my sister's wedding. These photos were taken by their wedding photographer, Art Pinney (see his website at My sister bought the copyright on the photos so that she can send copies of the entire wedding to anyone who wants copies. Since the photographer put a select few on his website, I've attached them to my blog.

My sister used the same photographer for her engagement photos. When I went to his website, I was astounded by his photography ability. In many examples, he has managed to capture brilliant poses (something I'd love to have the ability to do). Though currently based in Atlanta, he and his wife are moving to Seattle, so someday if I'm fortunate to marry, I would like to enlist his services as the official photographer.

It'll be awhile before my own personal photos will be developed. As for the details of the wedding itself, I'll write about it sometime in the upcoming week. Other near future blog posts will include reviews of the new Star Trek movie, Angels and Demons, some personal developments and thoughts currently kicking around my head. In the meantime, please enjoy the photos and if you want to see more of Art Pinney's brilliant work, please click on his website on the above link.

The Kiss.

My favourite photo (so far) of my sister.

The kiss on the steps of St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Grant Park, Atlanta.

The groom's cake...a red velvet cake shaped as a firefighter's hat. That's right. My sister married a firefighter/EMT guy. I was actually quite stoked about that. I'm glad to have a firefighter for a brother-in-law. After the wedding when they were waiting to pose for photographs, the first thing I said to my brother-in-law was: "I'm glad you showed up. I didn't want to have to go out and buy my first shotgun today." He had a nervous laugh when I said that. Later at the reception, he told me that he only had a sister but always wanted a brother and "now I have two." When he said that, my eyes started watering and I had to hurry away after thanking him for saying that. I know...silly, but it was hard to keep the tears at bay. My baby sister...married! It was such an awesome day.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Music Video Monday: Alanis Morissette

This week's music video selection is from Alanis Morissette. My sister became a fan of hers with the hit album Jagged Little Pill in 1995. She was in high school then. She told me that someday, at her wedding, she wanted the song "Head Over Feet" to play as the first dance song.

Last year, when my sister was talking to her fiance about what song to dance to for the "first dance", I asked, "I thought you wanted 'Head Over Feet'." My sister had forgotten all about it until I reminded her. Since I'm writing this a week before her wedding, I'm curious to see if this was the song she used, or if they danced to something else. Whatever song it was, I select this one for my music video of the week. In honour of my married little sister.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Tribute to Mom on Mother's Day

In honour of mother's day, I'm writing a post on my mom. She was born in a village near Ubon, Thailand in 1947. Her father died when she was a young girl (I can't remember now, but I think she was 4 years old). What she remembers most about her father is that he had told her that she would one day live in a far away place. Her mother remarried, to a man who turned out to be abusive but the abuse was secret, as he presented pious face to the other people in the village. In fact, my mom's step-father is what we in the West would call a "witch doctor."

Her life is a true Cinderella story. Her step-father wouldn't let her go to school after first grade and made her work in the rice paddies. My mom got tired of seeing her mother abused by this man and her mom was afraid that her daughter might one day kill him, so she sent her daughter to live with relatives in the city of Ubon as a teenager. My mom worked as a housekeeper to various families, including Thai, Chinese, and British. She said that Thai people treat their housekeepers the worst, as she was forced to eat on the floor after the rest of the family ate and her chores were done. The British were the best, because they made her take tea breaks with them and have a conversation.

She was a housekeeper for a group of British soldiers when my Air Force enlisted father went over to the British headquarters as a courier in 1969 (my dad was stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War). It was attraction at first sight. When he learned that her name was Pon, his first thought was "our names rhyme" (his name is Don). A courtship began, but my mom broke it off because she fell in love with him and knew that he would return to his far away country at some point. After the breakup, my dad was a devastated lovesick puppy. One day his buddy insisted that he come to a restaurant with him. He was hesitant to go along, but figured a night on the town was better than moping around the barracks.

A friend of my mother's wanted to go to a restaurant in town where an Australian singer was performing that night. My mom didn't want to go but her friend insisted. At the restaurant, my dad saw my mother at a table with her friend and went over to them and asked to continue the relationship. My mom's friend told her, "don't you dare say no!" The rest is history. They got married in a Thai court of law in December 1969. My dad's supervisors were dead set against the marriage because they believed that interracial marriages would not work. It actually took over a year for the American government to approve the marriage. In that time, my brother was born in October, in a Thai hospital. He had a traumatic birth experience and was declared dead by the nurse. The next day, another nurse delivered the baby to my mom's arms, and my mom was confused and said that another nurse had pronounced him dead. Because my brother was born without oxygen, he was brain damaged. Who knows how different he might be today if he had been born in an American hospital, with oxygen machine set up for emergencies.

Growing up, my mom often spoke about what life was like in Thailand. Most of her stories were not good stories. Particularly about the Thai government. She said that it was against the law to step on the Thai currency. The reason is because every Thai baht has a picture of the King on it and the bottom of the feet is considered the dirtiest part of the anatomy, so by stepping on the currency, you are supposedly insulting the King of Thailand, which is subject to arrest and imprisonment. My mom has a logical way of thinking, because she thought this law was stupid. She said that when we put money in our wallet and the wallet in the back pocket, whenever we sit down, our bottom is smashing the face of the King...but that is not an arrestable offense in Thai law.

My interest in government probably stems from what my mom told me growing up about the differences between Thai government and American government. There's no question that she viewed the American government much better than the Thai one. Even today when church members complain about our government and accuse it of tyrannical behaviour, my mom knows from personal experience what a true corrupt government looks like. She said that in disasters, the Thai people would be kept in the dark (as we saw with the Christmas Tsunami of 2004) and left to fend for themselves. People in our country who complain about paying taxes truly need to visit a developing world country like Thailand to see what a difference taxes make in terms of infrastructure and quality of life issues. Heck, one doesn't even have to travel that far to see the difference. Just go across the border to Mexico.

Despite not having a formal education beyond first grade, she learned English mostly on her own and her education consists of reading newspapers and magazines. She mostly reads spiritual books. She has more common sense than most people, and that's an important quality to have. One of her teaching lessons that I value the most was that she would not intervene in the intense fights my brother and I had as teenagers. She would simply say, "one of you will end up dead and the other in prison." I didn't like either option. She also said that it was better to be the one leaving than the one being left behind.

When my parents attended a church retreat that was part of the Contemporary Christian Ministries movement within the church, one lady had "taunted Satan" by having the children attack a doll that she claimed represented Satan. Later, someone had supposedly spoken in tongues and several people got physically sick and started throwing up. When my parents told me about the events of the retreat, it was funny to hear my mom say that they shouldn't have "taunted Satan." In fact, whenever I complained about CCM members' obsession with Satan, my mom would tell me that those people didn't understand that if you focus on Jesus, your back would be turned towards Satan. Though she was from a Buddhist country, she was never a Buddhist. Her mother taught a kind of universalist view of spirituality. In fact, in Thai villages, they have spirit houses where people leave food offerings for earth bound spirits. My mother's family didn't participate in that because her mother considered it a waste of food since spirits didn't need physical food to nourish their non-existent bodies. My mom believes that her family was not affected by a lot of the afflictions other villagers had because they did not focus on dead spirits.

She believes that a lot of the bad things that other church members talk about all the time (and attributing it to Satan) are a result of their focus on negative thinking. My mom taught law of attraction before it became a popular phenomenon in recent best selling books. Her view is that you can focus on God/Jesus exclusively or blame things on Satan, but if you blame Satan for your problems in life, then you're only inviting more of the same or more problems into your life.

Though she doesn't believe in reincarnation, she told me a story about a young girl in her village who asked to see her husband. The girl described her previous life and the villagers took her to the person she claimed was her husband, who was an old man. Because of stories like that, I've always been open minded about the possibility of reincarnation. According to my parents, they believe that reincarnation is possible, but that having Christian beliefs would exempt them from having to be reborn. Of course, I believe differently. Am I the only one who wants to be reborn on earth again and again? Everyone I talk about reincarnation to say that they'd hate to be reborn on earth again. Why? There is so much to experience and we get to be part of the process of spiritual and physical evolution. The perfection of heaven would get boring after awhile.

I love hearing stories about how I was as a kid. My mom said that when I was young (before I could walk), I would crawl around the floor and she would sometimes see me asleep in the middle of the wood floor. She said that I could sleep anywhere, no matter how uncomfortable and I'm such a deep sleeper, that I could sleep through an earthquake or a hurricane. Another trait of mine she told me about was that whenever people would hug me as a kid, I would always break away from their embrace. She said that I didn't like being touched. It's actually quite true, even today. Whenever a person touches me (unless I'm interested in them), I instinctively recoil. I'm not much of a hugger, either, and I'm in a church full of huggers. I tolerate it, but I don't really enjoy it. At my last job in Atlanta, co-workers even named a hugging style after me! They noticed that when I hug, I do it in a way that looks like I'm trying to be far away from the person as possible, while still hugging. You'd have to see it to believe it, I guess. I think my life long aversion to hugging is an indication of my strong feeling of not wanting to feel trapped. I always need an escape plan. Whenever I enter any situation, I'm always looking for possible escape routes. Just my personality quirk, I guess.

As a teenager, I went through that phase where I didn't want to be seen with my parents. My mom took it very personally, as I also went through the whole struggle of having Asian heritage and the shame of it (possibly a legacy that the Vietnam War had on the consciousness of black or white Americans). I did deny her part of my heritage as a teenager and it probably wasn't easy for her. It wasn't until Tiger Woods came along in the mid-1990s where I finally felt comfortable owning my mother's heritage as well. Because many people didn't know my heritage, I often got mistaken for being Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and even Italian or Greek. I didn't mind being confused for those heritages because they weren't as made fun of as Asian culture was (which included kids making slanty eyes, talking gibberish in a sing-song fashion to mimick the way Chinese or Vietnamese sounds, and even the moniker "gook"). When I was in YN "A" School, a hispanic sailor started speaking Spanish to me in front of his hispanic buddies. When I told him that I didn't speak Spanish, he got insulted and said, "you shouldn't be ashamed of your heritage, man!" That always struck me, and I laughed about it. If he only knew!

I feel kind of bad that it took multi-racial Tiger Woods (his mother is Thai) and Barack Obama for me to take pride in my own multi-racial heritage. Those two made it cool to be mixed breeds, but it shouldn't have taken their fame and comfortable coolness with their own heritage to inspire me to take ownership of mine. There's always going to be racist people who will accuse me of not being authentically American...but I know differently. I've been to all 50 states and seen more of this country than most Americans, so what defines a true American?

My mom became a U.S. citizen in the early 1970s. The first election she voted in was 1976. She, too, has been to most of the states (I think 49). Since she was young, she loved to travel and she did end up fulfilling her father's dying "prophecy." She's a great woman and I learned a lot from her. I inherited her common sense approach to religion and spirituality. Though she is quiet oftentimes, she is not afraid to start conversations with strangers. She's probably more extroverted than my dad. She's lived a good life and it was because my dad was a good man. There have been many G.I.s who went to Thailand or Vietnam or the Philippines, impregnated a local girl and left the country after their tours of duty to marry "their own kind" at home, leaving behind mixed-race children who never got to know their American father. I often wonder how the life of my mom, brother and I would've turned out if my dad had been one of those kind of men. My mom took a chance on love with a foreigner, gave up the life she knew and all her relatives in Thailand to live in this strange country faraway, and has lived a pretty good life. The last time she has been to Thailand was 1975 and my goal is for one day, all of us to make a visit as a family to meet her relatives. I think my life will finally feel complete when that happens. I will finally know what the Thai half of my heritage means to me.

Happy Mother's Day, mom! I love you.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Attending My Sister's Wedding

I found the above cartoon online in a Google search and thought it was perfect. My sister's wedding is today at a United Methodist Church in the Grant Park neighbourhood of Atlanta. The reception is being held at the Conference Center in Zoo Atlanta, also in Grant Park. No, animals or our primate cousins are not allowed out of their cages to join in the festivities.

Details on the wedding will be posted on another day. I hope all goes well today.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Tribute to My Sister

Tomorrow is the big day. My baby sister is getting married. In honour of her big day, I'm writing a tribute to my sister.

When my parents told me that I would be having a baby brother or sister, I prayed every day for God to send me a sister. Since I already had a brother, I really wanted a sister. I thought my parents felt the same way, but when I asked, they said that either one was okay with them. However, I think its no secret that my parents wanted a daughter.

I was 9 years old and in the 2nd grade when I was excused from class to go to the principal's office to receive a phone call from my dad that mom was taken to the hospital because she was about to give birth. My grandmother was due to arrive in a week, but the joke in our family is that my sister wanted to beat her. On May 14, 1981, my sister was born at the base hospital on Hill AFB, Utah. My parents named her Melissa, which means "little Honeybee", which was appropriate since Utah is known as the "beehive state." Unlike her two brothers, she also had a middle name (Mae, after our grandmother's middle name). Had she been born a boy, the name would have Nathaniel Jackson. I think this is significant, because when I met one of my best friends in 1994, Nathan, I felt on the day we met that he was the brother I had always wanted. I consider him to be my spiritual brother in the eternal realm.

My dad took my brother and I to the hospital to meet our sister. I was so excited. When we got to view her through the window, I was disappointed. She was asleep. I really thought at the time that she would be just as excited meeting her brothers as we were meeting her. But she was sleeping. Her official baby photo is adorably cute. In fact, I thought she was the cutest baby, ever. My parents would take evening walks in our neighbourhood on Hill AFB and we would meet other couples with babies. I remember thinking that all the other babies we saw were not as cute as my little sister.

It was fun to watch her go through the milestones...learning to crawl, learning to walk, talking, etc. We had a cousin a year older than her and when her family visited us in Utah (they lived in Tucson, Arizona), they claimed that their daughter taught Missy how to walk (not true!). When we moved to Bellevue, Nebraska, there was an odd looking building (it looked like a golf ball) and my sister would shout excitedly, "ball! ball!" It was fun watching her learn language. There were some things about her that impressed us, such as the way she squinted her eyes in the cutest way. We called it "sweet eyes" and every time we asked her to see it (before she could talk), she would do that thing with her eyes. We couldn't believe how smart she was. As a toddler, she coined a phrase that my dad even used in a sermon. It was called "God manners." At our church congregation in Bellevue, there was another girl her age named Linda Gail. They were a study in opposites. My dad said that Linda Gail was "rough but not tough" and that our sister was "tough but not rough."

She was just a little girl when we lived in Germany, starting Kindergarten there. I don't know how much she remembers, but when fights with our brother Chris got so intense and crazy, I acted as her keeper and protected her from his rages. I once took her to the PX to buy some things, but she acted wild and embarrassed me. I never took her anywhere again. Its pretty funny in retrospect.

She was 10 when I went off to basic training. When I lived in Italy without coming home for three years, I didn't think of the impact it would have on my sister. My mom would tell me that my sister really missed me. She would write letters complaining about our brother, which always made me laugh. I was the dutiful brother, the only one to attend both her high school and college graduations. However, it is fortunate that all of us will be at her wedding, along with other family members.

My sister has been through a lot since adolescence, so I am very happy to participate in this joyous occasion with her and the rest of our family. May their wedding be beautiful and inspiring, and one of the happiest days of their lives. Here's to a long and fruitful marriage.

With her fiance Dave at the Vortex in Little Five Points, August 2008.

Posing with my sister in October 1994 when I returned home after a three year absence being stationed in Italy. She was in elementary school when I left home, a teenager when I returned.

Posing with my sister in October 1994. She wore hippy style clothing, but it was just a phase. She was never really a hippy.

One of my favourite photos of us. We were in Williamsburg, Virginia in December 1995. My sister and I, what a pair.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Salmonella Springs (Episode 1): Wailin' in the Desert

As promised last week, Thursdays on my blog will feature a creative writing exercise with a brand new serial drama satire, modeled along the lines of Knots Landing, Dallas, and Dynasty but with a political spin. Since I love to mix fact with fiction, readers will have to keep up with current events to catch telling references. Most of all, this is a satire. Any resemblance to public figures is both intentional and satirical. Without futher ado, I present to you...

The heat burned with more intensity than the summer Marathon Wailin spent in Arizona as a construction worker. Then again, most of the road constrution he worked on was done at night, when they wouldn't fry on asphalt like those eggs he saw in an anti-drug commercial as a kid.

No, this heat was much, much worse. For two weeks, he and his platoon were out patrolling in it. Looking out for snipers and roadside bombers. Why did he have to volunteer for duty in Iraq? The question lingered for a second before he remembered his reason. He was a patriotic American, inspired by John McCain's service in Vietnam. He believed in what America was doing in Iraq. Anyone who thought differently...well, they were a traitor and should be shot. He'd gladly volunteer to pull the trigger and blast them away. Even a hajji would suffice as a surrogate. Just give him one shot and that fucker was roadkill. They lived like dogs, and who can blame them. This heat was enough to make anyone go crazy. No wonder why the hajjis volunteered for a chance to kill themselves.

After their patrol into the red zone of Iraq, his platoon got to rest up inside the security of the Green Zone in central Baghdad. Compared to all that he had seen in this God-forsaken landscape, the Green Zone was an absolute paradise. A Garden of Eden in the Desert of Allah. There was the coolness of the marble Republican Palace, with a mess hall that served all kinds of American-style food. Sure beats the bland MRE anyday. There were the air conditioned trailers, a couple of restaurants and even a club where alcohol was served. The pool was a popular hang out. All that was missing were the chicks. Sure, there were a few who worked for the State Department. But it was a fight to get their attention. A long line of guys and the woman had her choice of men. Some of the ladies even went out with a different guy each night. At that rate, she could spend a year in the Green Zone and not date the same guy twice. He didn't like those odds. But he loved a good challenge. Time for the charm offensive. Flashing a bleeched white grin with a raised brow seemed to do the trick. He never lacked confidence, that's for sure. Something his dad taught him at an early age.

When his convoy passed through security and safely entered the Zone, the Kevlar vests came off, and he jumped from his Humvee, rushing to the nearest head to take advantage of the luxury of a flushing toilet instead of digging a hole like a dog. No sooner did he come out of the restroom than his buddy was flagging him down.

"Check this out, sucker!"


"I was checking the Net for my latest downloadable fantasy girl and found my MILF."

He hated that term. MILF. The guys in his platoon often go on about the kind of MILFs they'd hook up with. If it wasn't that, it was on the younger side of the equation. He didn't know which was worse. What's wrong with a girl their age? Most of them were between 19 and 21. Old enough to die for their country, but too young to drink legally.

"Is that all you think about, Johnston?"

"When you've been in the desert for as long as I have, especially in a sandbox like this with women all covered up, sometimes fantasy is the only thing left. Besides, I don't think I've seen an over 40 woman looking this hot. She's a total MILF. I bet she popped out at least three kids, but she still looks hot."

The photo he downloaded showed a woman wearing a bikini and standing in front of a fire engine. She had the kind of body that twenty year old beauty pageant contestants displayed to judges and audiences, while answering idiotic questions about gay marriages and the U.S. education system. The lady in the photo looked much older, though. Beautiful, but definitely not in her twenties or even thirties. The photo was the latest sensation on the Internet. In fact, it caused an uproar because the photo was taken from a Myspace page.

"Let me see that," Wailin said, as he grabbed the paper from Johnston's hands.

"Like I said, total MILF, right?"

"She's no MILF--"

"Of course she is! Every guy in this platoon would do her. She's a prime-rate MILF!"

"Listen, damnit! She's not a MILF," Wailin said with a force that startled his buddy. "She's my mother."