Friday, July 31, 2009

Flashback Friday: Contact

For this week's Flashback Friday, I decided on Contact, which is my favourite film of 1997. When it was released that summer, critics called it "science fiction for adults" (in contrast to 1996's Independence Day, a special effects-laden summer action film that was aimed at young movie-goers). Based on a novel by Carl Sagan, Contact is an intelligent film about a scientifically minded atheist lady (played awesomely by Jodie Foster) whose life-long dream is to make contact with extra-terrestrial beings.

It's been awhile since I've seen this film. I had a copy on VHS but never upgraded to DVD because I suspected that a two-disc DVD collection might be released at some point (though it hasn't and there hasn't been any indication that there will. But as soon as I buy it, then Hollywood will probably decide a two-disc set is a good idea). I really love this movie for many reasons. However, I am also baffled that atheists and humanists I know love this movie too. Are they crazy?!? The movie is incredibly spiritual! In 1996-1997, I was involved in my former high school teacher's group: Humanists of Georgia. I remember in the summer of 1997 hearing many of the humanists praise this film. I suppose they were thrilled to see a character on the silver screen who admits to being an atheist. That's such a rare thing. The villain in the film is the guy who steals credit for receiving the radio transmission from Vega and during an interview process about who gets to travel in the strange machine first, he uses his supposed religious beliefs against the atheist scientist.

I don't know why Jodie Foster was never nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for this role, because she was fantastic. The scene that most exemplified this was when she had expected to speak at the White House Press office about the discovery but was passed over by her supervisor, who took the credit. The camera focuses on her face and you can see all the pain and hurt in that moment, before she puts on a brave face and smiles in the pride of the history of the moment. She did all of this without a single word. Any actor or actress who can emote that well deserves an Oscar nod (to see an example of bad acting, watch Madonna in most of her movies. She cannot emote well at all).

My favourite line is when her supervisor acknowledges to her that he wishes that we could live in the kind of world that she had presented to the selection board. Her response was beautiful: "I always believed the world was what we make of it." So true. Such a great comeback line. What's the point in pretending to an ethical or moral life? We create the world we live in each day of our lives.

The reason why I'm baffled that atheists and humanists love this movie is because the entire movie is like a metaphor for the Near Death Experience, which atheists and humanists are always quick to dismiss as "oxygen deprivation to the brain causing hallucinations." Anything that cannot be logically explained by the laws of science is dismissed. Atheists and humanists are so certain that death is the end of existence that they don't even want to entertain the possibility that there might be things that science cannot explain. Things like ESP, NDE, Remote viewing, manifesting, synchronicities / coincidences, out of body experiences, ghosts, telekinesis, and other ideas considered "paranormal." Scientists are weary about even entertaining such possibilities for fear of being thought of as a flake and not being taken seriously. However, there have been studies that have shown benefits from meditation and prayer. Patients who have had people who pray for them have recovered faster than patients who don't.

There are a few indications that Contact is a more spiritual film than atheists and humanists want to admit. Matthew McConaughey plays a religious advisor to President Clinton (who has a cameo in the film that was taken from actual press conference about the Mars rover). In one scene, he argues with Jodie Foster about religion. She bases her beliefs on lack of evidence that God exists. He tries a different tact. He asked her, "Did you love your father?" She is taken aback but responds that she does, very much. He breaks her out of her wistful nostalgia for her father when he bluntly says, "Prove it!" Can science ever prove that love exists? Why not?

The biggest indication that Contact is more than just some humanist movie is the final act. When I first saw the film, I loved the way it built momentum and intrigue to the point where Dr. Arroway meets the extra-terrestrial life forms who sent the design for the expensive space transportation machine. Then it was kind of disappointing when they get to the "contact" part of the movie. But the film redeems itself when the audience learns that everyone has doubts about her testimony. At a Congressional hearing, evidence is revealed that she was the unwitting receipient of an expensive hoax by an eccentric wealthy guy who conveniently died. The atheist scientist argues that every fiber of her being knows that her experience was real and she can't deny what she knows to be true, even though the evidence to everyone else looks like a hoax.

That is the brilliance of the film. Like I said, I view Contact as a metaphor for a Near Death Experience (I really wish that someone would make an incredibly spiritual film about Near Death Experiences). Thus why I find it amusing that the atheists and humanists that I knew who loved this movie couldn't see the connection. They had no qualms about dismissing Near Death Experiences, yet they love this spiritual movie because the lead character is an atheist (who has a spiritual experience she can't prove).

I started losing interest in the Humanist group because of the narrow-mindedness I found among members. Though they would say that religious people were "narrow-minded", they thought of themselves as open-minded. Whenever I would ask about interesting ideas that fall under the catch-all "new age spirituality" category or psychology (such as synchronicities), they were every bit as dismissive of it as people who considered themselves religious. I learned that it didn't matter if a person was a fundamentalist Christian or a die-hard atheist. Both of them were fiercely dogmatic about their beliefs and reject even the idea of entertaining other possibilities. I don't like this narrow-mindedness.

For me, I believe that every single spiritual idea I come across should be examined for the possibility of being true. Whenever I come across a religious claim, I will examine it and see how it "fits." If it makes logical sense, I'll consider it further. If its illogical, I'll dismiss it. I have a test for logic, so its not an outright dismissal. For example, reading about Scientology's claim that an evil warlord once ruled the galaxy and thetans inhabit volcanoes on earth, which infects every human born on this planet, thus requires everyone to undergo an expensive "auditing" process through the Church of Scientology can be dismissed pretty quickly. Why? Well...a science fiction novelist is making this claim to explain how our world came to be. How can anyone believe anything claimed by a writer whose job is to create the kind of alternative worlds for that genre of fiction? Then there's the money aspect (it is too expensive for most people on our planet to take all the auditing courses required to be declared "thetan-free"). One can logically deduce that Scientology is a money-making fraud. I'm still uncertain, though, if it meets the standard of "cult." I don't throw that word around as easily as evangelical Christians do.

An example of spiritual ideas that aren't so easy to dismiss include Near Death Experiences and reincarnation. Brave scientists such as Dr. Raymond Moody and Dr. Ian Stevenson have spent much of their careers, putting their reputations on the line, to document and study NDEs and reincarnation, respectively. When you use the criteria of consistency, it becomes harder to deny the strong possibility that both these spiritual ideas are worth considering. Dismissing them outright seems foolish if you want to understand the meaning of our existence on planet earth.

I'm in such a strange position in terms of spirituality. Because I haven't met many people who are as open minded about spiritual ideas as I am, it is pretty lonely. Some people in my church think I'm influenced or tricked by Satan because I believe reincarnation is true. They use the fear of searching for more spiritual knowledge will take me away from God, which couldn't be further from the truth. On the other hand, humanists clump me with the fundamentalist Christians because its just easier to lump together all people who don't believe in the strict rules of scientific theories and laws. That's a mistake. With humanists, I share the commitment to a separation of church and state. With religious people, I share the belief that some phenomenon cannot be explained or proved by science.

I heard an awesome quote recently that sums up what I believe. I can't remember who thought it up, but its true: "When we decide what is, we close our minds to possibilities of what could be."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I'm So E

I've been meaning to write about the HBO series Entourage, which I watch as soon as each season is released on DVD. I first watched it a few years ago out of curiosity about young celebrity in Hollywood. For years, I had heard about these young celebrities who travel with an entourage in tow and I thought that was strange. It reveals the neediness of the celebrity who can't spend a minute alone, as well as the parasitic relationship of the hanger-ons. If I was a celebrity, I would not have an entourage. Sure, it would be fun to take a trip to Las Vegas, Sundance, or the Cannes Film Festival with your best friends, but to live in the same house and hang out all the time (even on the set)...just seems weird to me.

This show was developed by Mark ("Marky Mark") Wahlberg and is loosely based on his experience as a young guy in Hollywood in the 1990s. He was known for having an entourage, which included his once more famous older brother, Donnie (the lead guy in the boy band New Kids on the Block). Entourage centers on actor Vincent Chase, who is so casual about his fame and career that he really needed a disciplined personal assistant to look out for his best interests. That person is his best friend since elementary school, Eric (or E, as he is called). He has an older brother who achieved modest fame before him and struggles with Vincent's bigger fame and popularity. That brother is nicknamed Drama, because he is overly dramatic (not to mention annoying as hell). In a brilliant casting call, Drama is played by Kevin Dillon, who is the brother of the more famous Matt Dillon. The final member of the group is a guy nicknamed Turtle, who no one knows what his whole point is. Turtle is the leech of the group, though he does find a role as the chauffeur and the one who gets the drugs for the group.

Vincent Chase kind of reminds me of one of my best friends. When Nathan visited Portland a couple years ago, he invited me out for a couple evenings with his brothers, but he withheld information each time (as he often does). The first time, he didn't reveal that he had invited an Asian-Australian woman to spend time with the group. The second time, he didn't tell me that he invited some other guy, along with the Asian-Australian lady and her friend along. When I later confronted him about his withholding information about other people he invited to hang out with him and his brothers, he admitted that he knew that I wouldn't have come along if he had told me at the outset (before I left my apartment, in other words). I admit that when it comes to friends, I am selfish. I've always been a one on one type of guy and hate hanging out in groups. Its hard to get to know people in groups. Groups are fine if I know everyone, but when someone new is introduced into the group, it always changes the vibe. I'm naturally reserved around people I don't know, and I prefer to observe people at a distance before I feel comfortable.

I admire Nathan's ability to attract people of all kinds into his group outings. But during this visit, it hit me that he is the entourage-type. He always has to have a group around him, and to be the center of that group. He would make a natural celebrity if he had that ambition (he doesn't). Out of all my friends, Nathan is the most star-quality person I know. In all the times we've gone out, I notice women checking him out. He turns heads all the time but doesn't seem to realize it. This is one of the reasons he achieved best friend status: when I point out that women are checking him out, he often says, "they're not checking me out. They're checking YOU out!"

On Entourage (I'm currently watching Season 5 right now), I quickly identified with E (played by Kevin Connolly). His personality and role is how I see myself. If Nathan or some other friend of mine was an actor or politician, I would be the natural go-to guy who manages his career or serves as a political aide. I like the behind the scenes work. I would love to be the guy who reads the script and gives my endorsement on which ones to accept an acting job for. Or, in the political world, I would be the aide who learns about the issues in depth, sustains the relations with staffers of other politicians, and gives the summary advice the politician needs to do the job.

Basically, that's how I see my ideal career. I handle the details so the star or politician can shine, schmooze, and get the work done. Like E, I have the traits of being the serious guy, I'm intelligent, a hard worker, and most important of all: loyal to a fault. Even more like E, I would make a great gatekeeper who guards access to the VIP. I think I have a good sense for people who want to take advantage (since I've seen the types that hang around my brother). Celebrities are always at risk for parasitic people who latch on when the money is good. Falling prey to these people leads to self-destruction (like Michael Jackson) because they need people who has their best interests at heart and won't indulge the celebrity's ego.

Nathan is the one person I would love to be the E for, but he neither desires a Hollywood career nor a political one. That's probably for the best, since his politics are more conservative than mine and it would be difficult for me to work for anyone who wasn't a Democrat. Last year during the city council race, I met the candidate I wanted to be the E for. He was a month older than me, more accomplished, and shares similar worldview. During the campaign, I really loved meeting people in a parade and pointing out to him which people wanted to talk with him. I also liked when we drove to a neighbourhood to canvass or drop literature door to door. He would ask my opinion about some issues or my impressions of certain people. Unfortunately, he lost. Hopefully he'll run again, because he has my loyalty for life and should he win, I would make a great political aide for his career.

So, I'm just an E in search of a person who needs a loyal advisor to advance his career. Any takers?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

When the Puppet Breaks Free of His Manipulator

This past week was one of the most insightful Time Magazine cover stories I've read in a long time. It was a special report on "The Final Days of Bush and Cheney." Basically, the strange story of the Vice President lobbying hard for President Bush to pardon his Chief of Staff Scooter Libby. This news when I first heard about it earlier this year truly surprised me. It was the first instance I heard about where Bush actually stood up to his minder, Dick Cheney. Why didn't Bush pardon Scooter Libby? It was the one pardon I truly expected him to make. Maybe Bush has some inkling of a principle after all. Reading the article, I did feel a little bit of respect for Bush, which is no easy feat.

It may come a surprise to my regular blog readers, but I always saw Bush as a likeable guy. Its true...he is the kind of guy you wouldn't mind having a beer with (if only he and I drank beer). But that doesn't mean he should be president! It seems obvious that Bush never wanted to be president. That's how he began his campaign in telling people that he had never grown up wanting to be president. People should have listened to him and moved on. It would have saved our country and the entire world the pain of the last eight years. During his debates with Senator John Kerry in 2004, he said repeatedly that being president was "hard work!" It sounded like he was complaining. Again, the American people should have listened to him and spared him the burden of having to work so hard. In his last year in office, he seemed gone already. The pictures revealed a broken man. He was too cocky and arrogant to admit to any mistakes, but you could see from pictures in the final year that he was not his usual frat boy self. The burdens of a failed presidency truly weighed on him.

How and why did Bush become president? I read a comment awhile back that former governor Michael Dukakis blames himself for losing in 1988. Had he won, Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush would not have been president and the ne'er-do-well son would not have been pushed into running for governor of Texas in 1994. According to press accounts, the matriarch Barbara Bush thought their son Jeb would easily win the governorship of Florida in 1994 and that George was the long-shot to win the governorship of Texas from the popular Ann Richards. When the reverse happened, Barbara is said to have exclaimed, "Can you believe it?!?"

In retrospect, having two of the one-term president Bush's sons run for governor in 1994 seems like a set-up to put one of them back into the White House in 2000. Of course, Jeb was the serious son who had an interest in politics all his life. It could not have been easy for him to see his irresponsible older brother who lived life without any set goal, going from one failed venture after another, beating him to the White House and thereby wrecking any chance he might have to become president. Then again, if Jeb hadn't been such a willing player in helping his brother steal the election in Florida, he would have spared us the disasterous presidency of his irresponsible brother. I hope Jeb will live the rest of his life with the knowledge that his helping to steal the election for his family created a karmic boomerang on his own ambitions.

Around 1995, there was speculation that former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney might run for the Republican nomination in 1996. Cheney had joined the executive board of Halliburton and was a member of the Project for a New American Century, a neo-conservative think tank that advocated the overthrow of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Cheney had self awareness, though. He realized that his personality was ill suited for the glad handling of a political campaign. People would actually have to like him, and his personality was about as pleasant as rubbing sandpaper on your arms. He knew he couldn't get elected dog catcher, so he decided not to run. Around 1998, though, in the midst of Clinton's sex scandal, Cheney was reported to have visited with Governor Bush many times, probably urging him to run for president in 2000. Bush received many visitors who begged him to run for president. He was seen as the next Ronald Reagan. An oafish guy without any curiosity who would do whatever he was told and had the likeable charm to fool enough Americans that the harmful policies he would enact would actually benefit the middle and lower classes.

I knew something was afoot when Cheney was in charge of the Vice President selection committee after Bush secured the nomination, and after supposedly vetting several candidates (including Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania), selected himself for the job. I had a feeling that was the plan all along. Cheney wanted to be president really bad because he disagreed with President George Herbert Walker Bush's refusal to invade Iraq after liberating Kuwait and going all the way to Baghdad to remove Saddam from power. Back in 1991, even I was disappointed when Bush left Saddam in power because it made the whole Gulf War seem like a pointless and expensive exercise. Cheney needed an incurious moron he could control. Bush the younger served as the perfect puppet for his nefarious plans. I believe the whole rationale for the second Bush presidency was to correct the first Bush president's mistake: leaving Saddam in power.

A revealing moment into Bush's psyche occurred when he cited Saddam's attempt to assassinate Bush the father as one of the reasons he ordered the invasion of Iraq. It makes me wonder if the whole thing was staged, just to make it personal for the younger Bush, in case he lacked the resolve to wage illegal war against Iraq, as Cheney planned from the beginning.

Iraq might have been the prime reason for the necessity of the stolen election of 2000 (because it was common knowledge that a President Gore would not likely go to war against Iraq), and the entire Bush presidency can be boiled down to Iraq. The entire case for war has been discredited. It has been an expensive disaster which resulted in a blowback to our economy (Afghanistan was expensive enough without adding Iraq into the mix). The case for war was very flimsy and politically motivated. Bush the younger forced a vote on the Iraq War resolution BEFORE the mid-term elections in 2002, whereas his father waited until after the 1990 mid-term election to push for a war vote because he didn't want to politicize the process. The 2002 war resolution forced some weak-kneed Democrats into a clever trap, even though many of them knew better (namely Senators John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards; all of whom had presidential aspirations). The vote was political: support the president's war plans or else be branded as "unpatriotic." Senator Paul Wellstone, the most firebrand liberal member of the Senate, was the loudest opponent against the war and he died a month before reelection in a mysterious plane crash that I wouldn't be surprised if it was deliberately sabotaged by rightwing operatives.

The Bush regime made a doomsday scenario out of the spectre of Saddam having nuclear weapons, with talk of not wanting the "smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." This scare tactic came on the heels of the unresolved Anthrax attacks (which was later found to have originated in a U.S. government lab, which spurred talk of an orchestrated effort by certain elements in our government to terrorize the American people into going along with the neo-conservative plan for war). The Central Intelligence Agency sent former Ambassador Joseph Wilson to investigate the claim that Saddam Hussein had sought to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger to use in making a nuclear weapon. Wilson was the American Ambassador to Iraq during President George Herbert Walker Bush's presidency and was the last American to have shaken Saddam's hand in 1990 before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Ambassador Wilson had impeccable credentials (aside: I had worked for him briefly when I was a Naval reservist during my two week duty at the base in Vaihingen, Germany. He had the career that I thought I wanted at the time and I asked for his advice. I learned that he had worked for Gore when the Vice President was in the Senate).

Wilson had also served the Department of State in a few African countries and was fluent in French. He had personal contacts all over Africa, so he was the best person to find out the truth about the claims presented in a mysterious paper that the British government had. It was this paper that Bush cited in his 2003 State of the Union Address to make the case for removing Saddam from power. As it turned out, the paper was a forged document that was written by a grad student (perhaps with neo-conservative backing). Wilson found this out in his trip to Niger. When he wrote about his findings in the New York Times, the White House was livid. Someone in the know revealed to the media that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative. Publically exposing a CIA agent is against the law. Even more audacious, Valerie Plame (the agent in question) was working undercover to secure loose nuclear materials that could be bought on the black market by terrorist groups to use against our country. Blowing her cover put her and the people who worked for her in harm's way. There's a reason why it is illegal to reveal the name of undercover agents. Considering how pro-secrecy conservatives are, it is surprising that someone in the Bush White House would do such a petty thing to get back at Joseph Wilson.

What's really interesting about this is that Bush's father is quoted as saying something to the effect that anyone who reveals the identity of an undercover agent is committing an act of treason. Had it happened in the Clinton White House, you can bet that the rightwing would have been all over that with their outrage. Clinton would have been impeached for something like that (they had to settle for lying about a blow job). That it happened in their beloved president's administration, they tried to spin it by attacking Wilson's character. An investigation was launched and though Karl Rove's and Dick Cheney's fingerprints seem to be all over this petty act of revenge, Scooter Libby was the only one indicted, tried by a Grand Jury and found guilty. He was sentenced to jail and given a half million dollar fine. Bush commuted the prison term, saying that it was unduly harsh. He kept the fine in place, which Libby's legal defense fund paid for (how's that punishment if your supporters pay your fine?).

According to the article in Time Magazine, Bush saw this punishment as enough. For Cheney, though, he kept pushing a full presidential pardon. Without one, Libby can never practice law ever again (GOOD!). As a convicted felon, Libby can't vote, either (GOOD!). But that's not the reason why Cheney was obsessed with securing a pardon for his loyal Chief of Staff. The former Vice President is worried that Libby might be pressured into revealing everything he knows about his former boss in possible investigation into the crimes committed in the Bush White House. The most secretive Vice President in our nation's history has a lot to hide. He is the darkest, most evil person to ever work so high up in our government.

I personally believe that he is the true mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks (with Osama Bin Laden probably hired out through intermediaries to recruit and train the 19 terrorists to commit the deed). Why do I believe this? For several reasons:

(1) He is a founding member of the Project for a New American Century. In a document written in the late 1990s, this group advocated for the U.S. government to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. This document acknowledged that the American people would not support an unprovoked war against Iraq, and that "it would take a Pearl Harbor-type event" to change people's minds. 9/11 was exactly what they needed.

(2) In the days leading up to 9/11, there was an increase in short selling of United and American Airlines stock. This was an obvious upswing from the norm. What that means is that someone (or some group of investors) placed bets on Wall Street that stock on United and American Airlines would take a nosedive on 9/11 and 9/12. Who did this? No other airlines received such heavy bets. Additionally, someone told Attorney General John Ashcroft not to fly commercial aircraft the week of 9/11.

(3) When the 9/11 Commission requested to interview the President about the events, conditions were made: the interview would not be under oath, it would not be recorded, the commission could not take notes or reveal what was said in the interview, and most baffling of all, Bush and Cheney would be interviewed together.

Think about that. It is the most outrageous demand ever! Why would they not want to be put under oath and allow for a transcript of the interview to be made? Most of all, why would they insist that both had to be present for the interview? The whole incident spells conspiracy and coverup. It gives the impression that Bush could not be trusted with the answers without his minder present. Cheney didn't trust the president alone with the 9/11 Commission? Of course, Bush is on record of having said in a couple interviews that he saw the first plane hit the WTC as it happened! How did he know a plane was going to hit the WTC? If you saw the first plane hit the WTC, then you had advance knowledge of the terrorist attack. Maybe it was slip-ups like this that Cheney was worried about.

When Clinton had to face Ken Starr for a four hour interrogation in 1998, it was videotaped, he was sworn an oath, and he didn't have Vice President Gore in there with him. This only proves the inconsistent double standard of Republicans. Democrats are held to a higher standard, while Republicans can flaunt the law without consequences.

The article had an interesting quote that made me laugh for the sheer audacity of it. Bush is quoted as saying about the Scooter Libby indictment: "Our entire system of justice relies on people telling the truth. And if a person does not tell the truth, particularly if he serves in government and holds the public trust, he must be held accountable." How can a liar like Bush make such a statement without any hint of self-awareness or irony? He has never been held accountable in his entire life! He has lied without paying the price. Any sympathy I might have had about Bush as I read this article was gone by the time I hit that statement. He may have been Cheney's puppet, but he can't avoid his role in the crimes of the past eight years. He was, after all, the President. Cheney was only the Vice President.

According to the article, the reason why Bush did not pardon Scooter Libby is because all of his personal staff of advisors and lawyers were deadset against it. They believes that it might backfire on Bush one day, and supposedly Bush was afraid that there was some sort of coverup going on under his nose. Cheney's constant lobbying for a presidential pardon annoyed Bush to the point where he had to remind Cheney who the decider was. All those years of Cheney calling Bush "the Man!" apparently wore off. To Bush's credit, he's not a big believer in political pardons. Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich did not sit well (it was, I admit, a wrong pardon that damaged Clinton's exit from the White House, particularly as news came out that Rich's wife had donated large sums to Hillary's Senate campaign and Clinton's presidential library fund). Beyond the political aspect of a presidential pardon, Libby wasn't found to be remorseful or taking responsibility for his wrongdoing.

Hopefully this is not the end of that. I really hope that President Obama's Attorney General will pursue an investigation into the crimes of the Bush White House. Someone needs to go to jail. Ideally that would include Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, Karl Rove and George W. Bush. But at a minimum, Dick Cheney needs to be indicted, tried, convicted, and given the death penalty for committing treason against the United States of America. He is the most vile, evil person to ever be bestowed with power in our government. The sooner we send him back to hell where he came from, the better for our planet. Let him return to his lord and master Satan. I'm willing to forgive Bush for his disasterous presidency because I believe that he didn't realize he was a pawn in Cheney's scheme until too late. It is a small act of redemption that he stood up to Cheney in the final hours of his presidency. I give him credit for that.

In thinking about the relationship between Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, the best comparison I could come up with is from Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. In the film, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine manipulates a naive young Jedi, Anakin Skywalker, into going along with his plans for an empire. At first, Anakin is confused when Palpatine tells him that it is useful to learn "all aspects of the Force, including the dark side" rather than rely on the just the good side. Cheney is quoted as saying that our country needed to go to "the dark side" in our war against terrorism. As we learn in the Star Wars film series, Palpatine was the one who manipulated the invasion of the peaceful planet of Naboo in order to put himself into power of the Galactic Senate. He then manipulates a civil war to cause a conflict that necessitated the creation of the Grand Army of the Republic so he could create an empire.

I wouldn't be surprised if Cheney found inspiration in Emperor Palpatine. They certainly look alike. In pictures of Dick Cheney, you really see a difference between pictures of him pre-1995 and post-1995. Something happened to him around that time that completely changed him. Even an old friend, Brent Scowcroft is quoted as saying that he didn't recognize Cheney any more. Cheney always has his lips in a sneer and his head slooped down (like Mr. Burns of The Simpsons or a vulture). I honestly would not be surprised if he sold his soul to Satan for power in 1995. Not that I believe Satan exists, but perhaps he made an alliance with evil spiritual forces. The recruitment of Bush for president, the stolen election of 2000, 9/11, and the illegal war in Iraq are all his doing. For that, he deserves a lifetime in hell when he dies. He is an evil man to his core.

This evil was most apparent when he accidentally shot a buddy in the face with birdshot a few years ago and failed to tell either the police or the president for several hours (to allow time to lessen his blood alcohol level). His friend had to go to the hospital and apparently almost died of a heart attack. Had he died, would Cheney have been arrested for murder? We'll never know. But, what does it say about a person who cared so little about his buddy's safety that they would go hunting while intoxicated and not seek medical care until the body dilutes the blood alcohol level? To top it off, his friend apologized to Cheney for the inconvienence being shot in the face caused the Vice President! Like I said, EVIL.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Playing With the Queen of Ignorance

On Sunday afternoon, Governor Sarah Palin officially resigned her duties as governor with her trademark rambling and incoherent style. You betcha. Also. God bless the troops, right?

I listened to her 18 minute speech and failed to see what it is about her that has the religious conservative base of the Republican party so enthralled. She lacks eloquence and if you thought Bush spoke out of his ass, Palin makes him look like Winston Churchill (considered one of the finest orators of the past century).

On Facebook, I made the mistake of "joining" the 2012 Draft Sarah Palin Committee. I was curious to read the comments her rabid fans make and I seriously thought we on the left were being "elitist snobs" for making fun of these people as trailer park idiots...but my God! It's true. Their logic is baffling! An example: Palin is getting praises for quitting in the middle of her first elected term as governor because its such a "mavericky move." But...Senator Obama is the "real quitter" because he didn't serve his full Senate term. Um...the American people PROMOTED him to the Presidency, thereby he kind of had to give up his Senate seat so he could assume leadership of the country! How complicated is that for these brainless morons? Meanwhile, their beloved Sarah is giving up her governor's seat WITHOUT any kind of job offering (unless there's a secret Fox Propaganda Network show in the works).

More amazing, Sarah ridiculed Obama during the Republican National Convention last September for being a "community organizer." Well...turns out, based on what Palin has said in her farewell address, she's going to "fight even harder for you, for what is right, for truth." Speculation is that she is going to develop her grassroots network, which is exactly what "community organizing" is. Duh! What a hypocrite. However, I remember how Republicans ate that up in the convention. Now, of course, they are going to argue the opposite because community organizers are now officially cool.

This ability of conservatives to do a full 180 degree reversal on a previously held belief is perfectly demonstrated in George Orwell's famous novel 1984. One minute, the people are hating Eastasia and allies with Eurasia. Then the government of Oceania decided to switch the two and the people start hating Eurasia and thinking of Eastasia as allies. No one seems to notice this switch. It was an eerie part of the novel and one would almost find it laughably absurd, if we hadn't seen it too often in recent years. Remember, Saddam Hussein was our ally in the 1980s. Then he became "worse than Hitler" in the 1990s, but not enough for President George Herbert Walker Bush to remove him from power. President George Walker Bush took care of that, even as he vowed to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice. Then later was quoted that he didn't spend much time thinking about Bin Laden and to this day, we don't know what happened to the world's most wanted terrorist suspect.

Since I came into political awareness in the late 1980s, conservative voters have gotten more and more rabid with their absurdities and contradictory criticisms. Clinton was a bad man because he received oral sex from a willing intern, but Governor Mark Sanford flying down to Argentina to cry in the arms of his mistress on Father's Day (while his kids go to a beach with mommy) gets a pass. Hillary is a scary, socialist lesbian feminist who will destroy America, but Sarah Palin is "well qualified" to become president because she carries a gun and can see Russia from Alaska. Barack Obama is a Muslim communist fascist terrorist who will surrender our country to Islamic mullahs, but Bobby Jindal with his Hindu religion background and exorcism-practicing Catholicism is an all-American immigration story to be proud of. With conservatives, its the demonization of any intelligent liberal and a sanctification of an ignorant ideologue who shares their extremist religious views. Where's the logic?

Its high time for the media to treat the conservatives in our country for who they really are: complete whack jobs who prefer to live in ignorance and fear instead of learning the issues and making a logical argument that doesn't include more bends than a pretzel doing yoga. Honestly, if a candidate I supported for president in the future resigned in the middle of his or her term of office, they would automatically lose my support. The doubts about their resolve would always be in the back of my mind. As a matter of fact, when I think about Clinton being hit with three controversies (dodging the draft, Gennifer Flowers, and marijuana smoking) before the 1992 New Hampshire primary, he could have done what Gary Hart had done before him: quit. But he stuck it out. I remember that I was impressed by that back then, even though I didn't quite trust him at the time (he only won my vote after he selected Gore as a running mate). I'm also glad that he did not resign in 1998 because of the Monica scandal. When the going got tough, Clinton stuck it out. No matter how personally embarrassing the scandal, he never flinched in the performance of his duties and he left office with high approval ratings, a surplus, and a booming economy.

If, God forbid, Sarah Palin became president...would she quit at the first terrorist attack? Or when President Nicolas Sarkozy pinches her ass at the G-8? Or when Congress defeats her initiatives? Or when David Letterman makes a joke about her kids again? We are talking about a woman with a pattern of flakiness. She went to five different colleges before she got her degree. She was appointed to a position with Alaska Oil and Gas and quit after two years. Now she quits the governorship after serving two and a half years. Granted, she served as Mayor of Wasilly for eight years. No doubt, Palinistas will argue that her eight years as Mayor trumps President Obama's four years as President. That's how they roll. No rhyme or logic. Never mind that Wasilly had a population under 10,000 people during her mayorship. A university president has more executive authority than a small-town mayor in a podunk town on the fringes of America.

My impression of Palin remains. It is this: She has an obvious chip on her shoulder and desires the limelight to prove to all the people who were mean to her growing up that she is better than them. She doesn't want to be president because she cares about our country and the lives of the American people. She wants the prestige of president, and who else would have a bigger prestige than her if she became president? That's right. Sarah Palin only cares about one thing. She wants to be glorified in history as the first woman president. That's the prize her winking, lyin' eyes are after. You betcha! That'll show them!

Here are some select quotes from her Farewell Address that I found interesting...

First, she starts off by praising the natural wonder of Alaska. Then she praises the troops (always a guaranteed audience pleaser among the conservative base...never mind if you slash funding for their medical care, GI Bill, or transition assistance. Just send them to neverending wars and praise their sacrifice and you're an instant hit with the moron base of the Republican party).

Palin says: "...we are facing tough challenges in America with some seeming to just be hell bent maybe on tearing down our nation, perpetuating some pessimism, and suggesting perhaps that our best days were yesterdays." Pardon my Alaskan, but is she for FUCKING real?!? The woman who incited the crowd during her rallies last fall that Obama "pals around with terrorists" and laughed off the audience cries of "Kill him!" It is the conservative Christians who are talking up a doomsday scenario by constantly questioning Obama's birth location, and with their teabag rallies claiming that Obama will lead our nation to economic collapse. And yes, it is the Republican that is obsessed with the glory days of their beloved Ronald Reagan! Who's the one looking backwards into yesterday?

She goes on to trash the media and once again praises the troops: "Democracy depends on you, and that is why, that's why our troops are willing to die for you. So, how 'bout in honor of the American soldier, ya quit makin' things up. And don't underestimate the wisdom of the people, and one other thing for the media, our new governor has a very nice family too, so leave his kids alone."

This proves that Palin is either a bad liar or she has no self knowledge whatsoever. She made up stuff about Obama and she gets mad because the media ridiculed her inability to name a single newspaper or magazine she reads? Will the media attack the new governor of Alaska? Doubtful. He probably won't parade his children around for political points. After all, Sarah was the one who forced her very pregnant daughter to hide behind a blanket when she was revealed to be McCain's running mate that fateful day last August. What kind of mother would expose her daughter to the national media, all for the sake of appearances? There's no rule or law that says a politician's children has to appear at rallies. Remember Rudy Giuliani? His daughter supported Obama and his son hates him, so he never had his children at rallies. Then again, he lost.

She claims that Alaska has a secure future ahead as the energy producer for the rest of America. Then she knocked Hollywood. She said: "'re going to see anti-hunting, anti-second amendment circuses from Hollywood and here's how they do it. They use these delicate, tiny, very talented celebrity starlets, they use Alaska as a fundraising tool for their anti-second amendment causes. Stand strong, and remind them patriots will protect our guaranteed, individual right to bear arms, and by the way, Hollywood needs to know, we eat, therefore we hunt."

Seriously. I can't believe she made it as far as she did in elective office. She seriously needs a speechwriter. With comments like that, though, we are beginning to see the unhinged Palin emerge. She's definitely positioning herself to take up the mantle of the cultural wars...extending it into a new decade. This never ending ludicrous battle of non-issues. Republicans don't realize it, but the cultural wars were merely a distraction as the corporate executives raided their pensions and pocketbooks, all the while screaming at false outrages like Janet Jackson's exposed boob at the Superbowl or speculating on the sexuality of the purse-carrying purple Teletubby. You know how to win the culture war? Spend your money elsewhere. Don't watch television. Read a book. Get educated. Stop listening to the cultural warriors who specifically seek out things to be outraged by. They remind me of my school marmish co-worker. Every day, she finds something to get angry about. She thrives on anger and always finds just the outrage she needs to fuel her righteous indignation. I seriously feel sorry for people like that. Pop culture is rarely worth the attention we give to it.

Near the end of her speech is this gem: "So, we are here today at a changing of the guard. Now, people who know me, and they know how much I love this state, some still are choosing not to hear why I made the decision to chart a new course to advance the state. And it should be so obvious to you. It is because I love Alaska this much, sir that I feel it is my duty to avoid the unproductive, typical, politics as usual, lame duck session in one's last year in office. How does that benefit you? No, with this decision now, I will be able to fight even harder for you, for what is right, for truth. And I have never felt like you need a title to do that."

Did you catch the giveaway into Sarah's psychology? Right there, she said it. "A title." That's what being governor is to her. A title. Like a beauty pageant crown. She's discarding it like it was a trifling thing that messes up her hair. A title! The governorship is more than a title. Its an office. An office which people are elected for a four year term. A military enlistment is also a four year term. By Palin's standard, what would be the reaction if a person decided after two and half years of serving in the military, that he or she wanted to quit because the military person already "accomplished" everything he or she set out to do? Would that fly?

Guess what? I served in the military for four years and ten months. I did not renew my enlistment because I achieved everything I wanted to achieve (travel, money for college, and making the rank of E-5). I was given a two month early out because my supervisor wanted me to either extend for the entire Med cruise or to get out before the ship left for a Med cruise. I chose the early out so I wouldn't miss the 1996 Olympic Games in my home city of Atlanta. Otherwise, I would have extended for another trip to Europe, via an aircraft carrier on a six month deployment. But I served a full enlistment and ten months extra. And I have the Honourable Discharge certificate to prove it.

Awhile back, I read a conservative pundit's view on Palin's resignation. He said it best. Something to the effect of: any person who fails to complete the term of office to which they are elected should be disqualified from seeking a higher office. Simply put, if you couldn't hack a full term as governor (or senator), you have no business seeking higher office. The only office Palin would be suited for is the House of Representatives, because its a quick two years.

Palin had been hinting for a couple weeks now that once she sheds her official duties as governor, she will be unleashed and tell people what she really thinks. She'll Twitter her every banal observation and incoherent rambling. I can't wait. Perhaps they should rename Twitter in her honour: Quitter.

A few weeks ago, I read an essay by Reagan's speechwriter Peggy Noonan, who is deathly afraid of what Palin will do to the Republican Party. It was amusing to read, since Noonan (along with other people in the GOP) are responsible for the model of president they like the best: ignorant idiots who have the charisma to con the masses most of the time and are willing to whore themselves out for the interests of the moneyed elite on Wall Street and K Street. Neo-conservative Bill Kristol is credited as the guy who saw potential in Palin when his cruise ship docked in Juneau in 2007 and he scheduled a meeting with the unknown governor. I'm sure after an hour of a revealing discussion (revealing that she really does know nothing about anything of importance), he thought he found his next Dan Quayle (Quayle ruined the GOP puppet parade of idiots by declining to run for Arizona governor in 2002 to put him in line for 2008's presidential campaign). Kristol was supposedly one of a few people (Rove was another) who pushed McCain into selecting Palin as a running mate.

This all points to an interesting future for the Republican Party in 2012. The moneyed elite do not like her (except for people like Kristol, who still seems under her spell) and will most likely back Mitt Romney, who proved in 2008 that he can out-whore the biggest whore of them all (that'd be Bush the younger). Romney has the experience in turning around failing companies as well as a full (single) term as governor (sometimes I wonder if he wished he had run for a second term). His only problem is his Mormon religion. So, Palin has the potential to split the vote in 2012. Let's say that Romney does become the GOP nominee and to placate the conservative base, he selects Jeb Bush as his running mate. Meanwhile, Palin has yet another grudge to bear and decides to do the Teddy Roosevelt thing and revive his Bull Moose Party (of 1912). This time, she takes the evangelical Christian votes with her while the Republicans get the votes of the wealthy class and the Mormons. This is the Democratic Party's dream scenario.

This potential situation almost makes it worth secretly supporting Palin's run for president. However, I'm cautious in that I would absolutely hate it if this woman ended up as president. It would be a true disaster for our country because the woman is clearly too ignorant to even handle the job as governor of a low-population state like Alaska (the Portland metro area has three times more people than the entire state of Alaska; the city of Portland itself has 100,000 less people than Alaska's population, which puts our mayor almost on par with being a governor of Alaska). Her history of quitting colleges and government jobs does not lend much confidence in her ability to tough things out. If she runs, Billy Ocean should remake his hit song with a new title: "When the Going Gets Tough, Sarah Gets Going."

I would love to see Palin fracture the Republican Party and put it in the political graveyard next to the Federalists and the Whigs. But I'm not willing to risk the most important elective office on the planet to the whims of a petty, ignorant woman whose only motive to run is to cement her name in the history books for centuries to come. Make no mistake, I want to see a woman become president in my lifetime, but I want someone intelligent, tough, and in it for the right reasons. A woman like Hillary Clinton, Kathleen Sebelius, Barbara Boxer, Christine Todd Whitman, or Kay Bailey Hutchison. Intelligence and a consistent work record matter if we want our country to be the best it can be.

I just wish evangelical conservatives would be honest and consistent. Palin is not the saviour they are looking for to bring them back into power. Her candidacy could destroy the Republican Party for decades to come. She's that divisive.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Music Video Monday: Maroon 5

I've been meaning to feature this music video for several months now. After I finished watching my James Bond Marathon (since November, I watched each James Bond film in order of release until I got to the latest release, Quantum of Solace, which I watched on DVD in June. I saw it in theaters in November), I thought about what band could the makers of this film series get to sing the next Bond song. They haven't had a good Bond song in a long time. Madonna's "Die Another Day" was the best in awhile, but the 1980s were the heyday of great Bond theme songs.

When I saw the video "Wake Up Call" by Maroon 5 a year ago or longer, I loved the mini-film aspect of it. They truly did make a short film out of the video, with a sense of humour to boot. The music is equally awesome. The song just sounds like a Bond song. It has that attitude and driving force that made Duran Duran's "A View to a Kill" such a killer song. Maroon 5 is the perfect band for a Bond theme song. After all, the lead singer Adam Levine probably fancies himself as a James Bond type, who most likely does get groupies on tour.

This will be my last music video selection for awhile. I'm thinking of taking the entire month of August off from Blogging to focus all my energy (for real, this time) on landing a new job. 6 of the last 8 jobs I've had were found in the month of August. Last year, in all the places I've applied, I got my first job interview in the month of August (after applying all year!). I absolutely need to be in a new job before Labour Day because the Fall Season is crazy season at my work and after last year's stupidness of management, I really cannot psychologically handle another fall season with these dysfunctional idiots. So, may this song release whatever energy needs to be released. This is my wake up call to the universe! I'm ready to bust out of here, after three years of hell. Hopefully in terms of news and celebrity deaths, nothing will happen that will prove too much to resist blogging about!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Coincidence That Brought Me Back to God

Pictured above is the sprawling Italian metropolis of Naples, one of the most polluted cities I've ever been to (only Alexandria, Egypt was worse). Though there is not much to like about this city, it remains as the site of the most significant coincidence of my life. In keeping with my plan to write about my experiences with coincidences and synchronicities, I wanted to share the most significant one I had in my life. In fact, it was the coincidence that convinced me that there was more to our world than either Christians or atheists claimed in their rigid ideologies.

First, some background. I was raised in the Community of Christ all of my life (known as the RLDS Church until members approved the name change at the 2000 World Conference). When my dad was stationed in Germany during my teen years, there wasn't a church congregation near us, so we were only able to attend church retreats during Christmas, Easter, and reunion during a week in August at an American-operated resort in Berchtesgarten in Bavaria (near Salzburg, Austria). My dad wanted us to maintain our regular church service, so we attended the protestant service at the base chapel, with additional involvement with the youth group (under threat of no allowance if I refused to go). Because of my resentment over having to learn ideas I did not believe in by hypocritical evangelical Christians who considered my church a "cult", this resentment (matched with natural adolescent rebellion) formed a seed in my soul that would sprout in my Senior year, when (at a stateside high school) I discovered that my favourite teacher (Mr. Malone, who taught U.S. Government and World History courses) was an atheist.

For several months, I would hang out in his classroom after school to ask him all kinds of questions regarding his beliefs and his thoughts on religion. He was just 30 years old (hard to believe today, as he seemed to me at the time to be over 40). He had no intention to dissuade me from my religious beliefs, but I couldn't help but fall sway to his sense of logic. I already had numerous questions myself over the years about the hypocrisy and inconsistencies I personally saw in evangelical Christians. So, one day in December 1989, I decided to shed myself of religion and consider myself an atheist, like my personal hero.

This view was fine. I didn't want anything to do with an inconsistent God and I wanted proof that such an eternal being existed. I joined the Navy, did my thing, focused on enjoying my newfound freedoms away from family influences, and had debates with fellow sailors who considered themselves religious (even though they drank and fornicated like horny rabbits). I couldn't help but be amused by the comparison. I didn't need religion to live a good and moral life, but these sailors used religion to mask their behaviours, which only undermined their credibility. 1991 and 1992 were such great years for me that to this very day, I have not had a year that comes close to the emotional high I sustained for most of those two years. I really lived the life of my dreams in Europe during that two-year period.

Then came 1993. I remember waking up in January with one of my eyes bloodshot red. It wouldn't go away after a couple days. Guys joked that someone "must have come in your eye!" Yeah, guy humour is crude like that. A month passed with my eye still bloodshot red. So I saw the Squadron doctor about it. He didn't know what was wrong with it and recommended that I see an eye specialist at the U.S. Naval hospital in Naples. Because the USS Orion was set to be decommissioned, with the USS Simon Lake sailing from Holy Loch, Scotland to replace it in La Maddalena, Sardinia, we had a lot of work to do in getting ready for the cross-decking (transferring everything from our office to the other ship). Besides, the Yeoman I worked for kept teasing me that going to Naples would be seen as a boondoggle and wouldn't look good on my record. So, I kept resisting. The Squadron doctor looked at my eye again and was alarmed when he saw some cells break apart. He didn't know what it meant and he insisted that I had to go to Naples if I cared about my eye. He raised the spectre of possible blindness if I didn't get it treated.

Boondoggle or not, I finally relented and got orders. I flew to the airport in Rome and had to rush to catch the last train to Naples before the strike went into effect. This was a common occurence in socialist Italy. Unions would go on strikes all the time, shutting down the transportation and inconveniencing travel for everyone who didn't have a private automobile...just for the hell of it. I did make the train, though. Otherwise I would've been stuck in Rome for however long the strike lasted (anywhere from 24 to 48 hours, if memory serves). When I arrived at the Naval Hospital in Naples in the evening, a female officer on duty checked me in and set up an appointment with the eye specialist the next day. She even made sure I got a meal, bringing it to me like a concerned mother. I was impressed by her maternal instinct (it is unusual for an officer to serve an enlisted person, which is what she was doing by delivering a tray of food at the closed hospital dining facility).

I checked into the barracks at Capodichino (one of the sites that the U.S. Navy leases from the Italian government in the Naples metropolitan area). In the barracks, I found one of the sailors from the USS Orion who was there indefinitely for reasons I can't remember now. He was pleased to see me because I brought something of his that he had left behind in La Maddalena. It was Madonna's notorious Sex book. He had let some shipmates borrow the $50 book (with the metal covers that came off the combed spine) and they didn't return it to him. He thought he would never see that book again, so I did a very good deed for him. To answer a question you might have...yes, I did look at every page in the book. I even photocopied one photo that I found hilarious: Madonna on a hang-glider, completely naked! I thought the book was a dumb idea and the lowest point in Madonna's career. I feel sorry for her children when they one day learn that their mother made such a provocative and explicit book. No one wants to see their mothers in that light.

There was another USS Orion buddy who was reassigned to Naples. He hated the ship and life in La Maddalena, which was a shame. We had met a year earlier when we both got to ride the USS Sunfish (a fast attack submarine) for three days (from La Maddalena to Naples). He told me that he was in Naples and refused to go back to his command. He had gotten a lawyer to defend him because his situation involved some male sailor who had a sexual interest in him. He wouldn't give me the name of the sailor, but I had my suspicions because I had also been solicited. I couldn't believe that one could refuse to return to one's command. I tried to convince him to return, but I had my own reasons. It was rare to meet an enlisted person who shared my interests in other cultures and travel, and who could have an intelligent conversation.

This guy, though, had an Italian girlfriend and they had sex in his barracks room. When I told him that he could get in trouble for that, he didn't even realize it was against Navy regulations, but he didn't care. His girlfriend was amusing to talk to. She confused the Mormon religion with Jehovah's Witnesses and would rant about the Jehovah's Witnesses because her grandmother had converted to this strange American religion. The rest of her family saw it as a betrayal of their Catholic heritage. If I remember correctly, she believed that Italians could only be Catholic because everyone was Catholic. After all, Vatican City and the Pope were in Italy.

The next day, I went to my eye appointment at the Naples Hospital. The doctor looked at my eye and said that he had never seen anything like that before. He gave me some kind of ointment to put on my eye each night. When the appointment was finished, I boarded the shuttle bus to take me back to Capodichino barracks. At the bottom of the hill, the bus came to a jerky stop. I stared out the window and saw two guys in suits on bicycles. One waved nervously to the bus driver. The bus drove and as we passed the guys on bicycles, I was shocked to see that one of the guys on the bicycle looked like my old friend from 7th grade, John Adams. He never kept in touch after I moved away from Nebraska in 1985, but I always remembered him. He was a Mormon and these two guys on bicycles were definitely Mormon missionaries. Back at the barracks, I looked up information about the Mormon church. I learned that one of the Navy Chaplains on the base was a Mormon, so I called him and told him about that coincidence in coming across this possible old friend of mine. He investigated for me and got back with me.

What I learned was that the missionary was indeed John Adams, but he was not assigned to a mission in the Naples area. He was in a Rome mission and I was able to get the address. After I received the confirmation of my hunches, I was shocked by the meaning of it all. I had not seen or heard from this guy in eight years. What was the likelihood that his path and my path would intersect on the road leading up to the U.S. Naval hospital in Naples, Italy in an afternoon in the spring of 1993? As the Navy Chaplain told me, Elder Adams had to come to the American hospital to get new contact lenses or something eye related. So, we both had an eye problem. And this chance meeting could have been missed if I had taken a later bus that day, or if I had gone to Naples weeks earlier as my Squadron doctor recommended. It was a coincidence that depended on both of us being at that exact spot at that exact time and day. It also required that I had the ability to recognize an old friend (for John had no way of seeing who was on the bus or might not even remember me).

This coincidence opened the way for a new understanding. It was the one event I needed to shatter the logic-based view of atheism forever. I know that atheists and agnostics dismiss coincidences as "just a coincidence" but when I think about how improbably that situation was, I knew that there was an unseen force in our world that works in a mysterious way that defies any sense of logic or mathematical probabilities.

When I was released from the doctor's care, I dealt with another of the Navy's bureaucracy...getting back to my command in La Maddalena. I had to wait on a MAC flight, with no guarantees that I would get on a specific flight. MAC flights were twice a week, if I remember correctly. I kept my command up to date on my status. The Yeoman I worked for kept referring to my stay in Naples as a boondoggle, which annoyed me. The Navy was keeping me in Naples. True, I took advantage of being in Naples by shopping in the Navy Exchange and buying the latest paperback novels in the Stars and Stripes Bookstore (which La Maddalena did not have) and eating at Wendy's (no American fast food restaurants in La Madd either). But I decided that rather than wait for a MAC flight, I would return on my own dime and get reimbursed. Talk about initiative! The Navy was giving me an extended "vacation" in Naples by delaying my MAC flight spot, but I used my own travel abilities to get back to my command.

In Rome, I stopped by the Mormon mission office to talk with John Adams, who didn't remember me as much as I remembered him. Everyone was curious about this coincidence story and I got to see how a mission office operated. They even gave me an Italian language Book of Mormon. Normally, American missionaries aren't permitted to use a military hospital, but since Adams was an Air Force dependent, he had an I.D. card that allowed him use of the hospital. Back in the seventh grade, my circle of friends were all sons of Air Force personnel, since our junior high school was near Offutt Air Force Base.

After the short visit, I made my way to Civitavecchia to catch the overnight ferry to Olbia, Sardinia. The next day, I caught the bus from Olbia to La Maddalena, and my trip was completed. Did I receive thanks from my Yeoman supervisor? Hell, no. He was a complete dick. He thought the whole thing was a scam to get a free vacation to Naples, even though I had medical documentation. I think in retrospect that he was jealous that I got to go to Naples while he had to work his ass off. Besides, it seems like the universe conspired in a way to get me to that place of having an amazine coincidence.

What does that coincidence mean? To be honest, even sixteen years later, I still haven't a clue what it means. I know some would think that this means I should join the Mormon church, seeing as how the Mormons played a huge role in this coincidence. However, my years at BYU and all the information I learned about this church, not to mention all the coincidences I have within my own faith community over the years, have taught me that I wasn't meant to be a Mormon. At least not in this lifetime.

I did get a letter or two from John Adams after our meeting, but no friendship sustained itself, so that's another dead end. The best answer I could come up with is that this coincidence was a wake up call. The kind that God knew I needed to experience for proof of the spiritual force that operates in our world. It was the coincidence that began a series of coincidences.

My eye returned to normal. I think my red eye lasted for three or four months. I still don't know what was wrong with it. Its one of those spiritual mysteries, I suppose, whose sole purpose was to get me to Naples to be in the precise location to experience that coincidental meeting. I wish I had a profound coincidence like that right now. I could really use one, particularly one that relates to my job search. But, at any rate, I have decided to devote more attention to the little coincidences and synchronicities around me. Most of the ones I've had are small ones. I consider the coincidence in Naples to be the biggest one of my life. I've had a few other big ones, but nothing lately.

What I did learn about this is that I don't like sharing coincidence stories with atheists and agnostics because they generally are dismissive of it. I suppose they don't want anything to disrupt their logic-based worldview. They don't want to search for a spiritual force at work in their natural based world. Its sad to live a life based strictly on logic. For when I look back over my life, it was the moments of coincidences that really make life remarkable to me. I guess this only proves that I am a person who looks for meaning in things, for a life without meaning is a life not worth living.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Don't Mess With Dr. Dean!

Above is a photo of me with Dr. Howard Dean in Plains, Georgia in January 2004 when he attended church with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter two days before the Iowa Caucus. I made the three or four hour trip from Atlanta to be there, as it killed two birds with one stone: I wanted to meet Dean (for a second time) and I had wanted to see Jimmy Carter teach Sunday School since I first heard about it in the late 1980s. That's right...two Sundays a month, former President Jimmy Carter gives the Sunday School lesson at the Maranatha Baptist Church in the tiny town of Plains (near Americus) in southern Georgia. It truly is one of the best experiences I've had in life. Tourists come from all over to attend church on the Sundays that Carter is in town and on the teaching schedule (this schedule is available at the Carter Presidential Library, the Plains Visitor's Center, as well as the Maranatha Baptist Church website). The lesson that Sunday was on the trials of Job.

Anyhow, in the summer of 2003, I was leaning towards Senator John Edwards in the Democratic primaries. Then, I received word that Howard Dean's campaign kick-off announcement would be aired live at various locations around the country, including Atlanta. Each location set up a videolink and had food available. I went out of curiosity because when I was an intern in D.C., I had heard quite a bit of good things about this progressive governor in Vermont, who contemplated running in 2000 but decided against it (only former Senator Bill Bradley had the courage to give Vice President Gore a run for the nomination, which I saw as a good thing for Gore. Walking to the nomination without a competitor doesn't toughen a candidate up for the fall campaign against the Republican nominee).

At this campaign event, the Dean volunteers served small sandwiches, including my favourite: mozzarella and tomato. That was a good sign. This campaign had style, and they fed us. We also got a goodie bag that included a Dean for America button and bumper sticker as well as campaign literature, including a biography sheet. The speech was broadcasted live from Vermont and Dean said everything I had wanted to hear a Democrat say in the aftermath of a stolen election in 2000 and the outrageous extremism of the Bush presidency. The line that got the biggest applause was "I'm Howard Dean and I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." It was a line that he co-opted from the late Senator Paul Wellstone (who was widely expected to run for president in 2004 had he not died in a tragic plane crash within a month of the 2002 elections). So, Howard Dean filled Wellstone's void quite well and I walked out of that meeting a devoted volunteer for Howard Dean.

He was character assassinated by the media with the way they overplayed his post-Iowa caucus speech that was dubbed "The I Have a Scream Speech." He became ridiculed and riled as an unhinged, off his meds, angry guy, which could not be further from the truth. His speech showed no trace of anger. He reminded me a lot of the cool Company Commander who helped drill our company until his company formed in basic training. This Company Commander had an infectious enthusiasm that when he yelled, it wasn't an angry yell, but an excited one that the guys in the company found to be a good motivator. Many of us wished that this person had become our Company Commander because he was just cool and had a track record of leading companies to the coveted status of "honour company" (the best of the best). Anyhow, that's how Dean came across to me in that infamous speech: trying to pump up the enthusiasm and excitement to all the campaign volunteers who were depressed about Dean's third place finish in the Iowa caucus (behind John Kerry and John Edwards).

Though he did not become the Democratic nominee, I've read a few books (ones he wrote as well as the one his campaign manager Joe Trippi wrote) where Dean did not really expect to be the nominee. He was shocked by how quickly his campaign caught on with the activist base of the party. He ran with the expectation that he would not gain the nomination but still could influence the debate for his pet issue: universal health care. As the only Democrat who was bluntly honest to tell people what he really thought of the Bush presidency, his campaign was a breath of fresh air.

I've read online speculation that the Democratic Party establishment feared Dean's popularity (as they preferred Democrats from the Clinton/DLC wing of the party, which represents the corporate interests) so they supposedly allowed him to be the Democratic National Committee Chairman with the condition that he would not run for President again in 2008. It was a smart move, because Dean was a great DNC Chairman. The Kerry/Clinton/DLC wing of the party wanted to focus on blue states and a few swing states, as they saw that as the path to victory. Dean's vision was that Democrats needed to run everywhere, especially in the red states. Conceding conservative Congressional districts to the Republicans meant that they were allowing the Republicans to define Democrats and not giving people a choice. Dean's 50-state strategy paid off in the 2006 Congressional and Gubernatorial elections. And yes, I would even daresay that there would be no President Obama Administration without Howard Dean paving the way in 2003. If not for Dean's run in the previous cycle, we would now be living in a President Hillary Clinton America (not that that's a bad thing, though. She's seriously impressing me as Secretary of State). Obama definitely picked up the grassroots who supported Dean in 2004.

Yesterday, Howard Dean came to Portland to talk about the health care debate and to sell his latest book (Howard Dean's Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform--a thin campaign-style treatise). The odd thing about his Powell's City of Books appearance was that it was scheduled for NOON, rather than the normal evening lecture. By fortunate luck, Friday was my furlough day (I don't like being furloughed, as it means a serious hit to my paycheck that will only put me behind in my bills. We have five of them, spread out over one per payday. More incentive to find a new job soon!). I was free to attend the lecture instead of working. It was strange for me to see Portland during the weekday. Particularly Powell's City of Books. I thought the evenings were pretty crowded, but its even busier during the day. I'm certain that many of the people browsing the books were out of town tourists, though (you can easily spot them because they are completely shocked by the sheer size of this four-story, one city block-large bookstore).

The lecture space was also crowded. As Howard Dean began speaking about health care reform, an angry man in the back started speaking up and calling Dean a liar. Dean stopped what he was saying to give the man a stern rebuke, telling the man that he was being rude to everyone else, many of whom were on their lunchbreak. He went back to his talk and was interrupted again by the guy. Then another guy raised his voice to criticize Dean for something. Everyone else was frustrated and angry with these two party spoilers. Dean was not pleased either. He raised his voice and once again mentioned that people had come to the lecture on their lunch break to hear him and it was rude to disrupt.

Fortunately, a Powells employee escorted the two men out of the room. Someone in the audience asked if that happened to Dean at other lecture/booksigning events. Dean laughed and said, "No. Only in Portland." That got a laugh, because Powells lecture attending regulars know that this simply does not happen...and I've been to many of them with far more partisan flair (though I don't recall a conservative person making a lecture tour stop here). Why Dean attracts the angry disruptive men is baffling to me. I couldn't figure out if they were conservative Republicans (a rare breed in Portland) or Dennis Kucinich-type liberals obsessed with progressive purity.

Though Dean did raise his voice at the two disruptors, it only reminded me of what I most love about Dean. He is a scrappy fighter with a kind of raspy-ish voice that I find appealing to listen to. He is perhaps the perfect opposite to the wimpy and milquetoasty Senator Reid (a man who seems afraid of his own shadow). So, I love seeing Dean go after people with his blunt honesty. He let slip in his talk the word "whackjob" in referencing Limbaugh and Coulter. Yes, he actually used the term "whackjob," which received laughter and applause.

With the two disruptive hecklers gone, Dean explained that he was fine with free speech and being questioned by opponents in a political arena, but he also understood that nearly everyone there came to see him and hear him speak about the current health care debate in Congress, not some hecklers who don't like what he has to say. For me personally, I find it rude to disrupt a speech. I wouldn't do it at a Cheney or Palin speech, as much as I loathe those two individuals beliefs. I believe they have a right to speak their thoughts without interruption. During the Q&A portion is the appropriate time to ask the tough questions. When Sarah Palin releases her inevitable book, I truly hope she comes to Powells for a lecture booksigning because I definitely plan to attend and hope to ask a question that would reveal more of her ignorance.

Dean spoke for ten minutes about the current health care debate and touched on some controversies. As a medical doctor, he has credibility in what he says. He even said some surprising things, such as pharmaceutical companies are not the evil people seem to think they are because these companies have reduced hospital stays by developing new drugs that help patients recover faster. He also revealed that he was still skeptical of homeopathic and alternative medicines even though many Portlanders are into holistic medical practices, which the scientific, traditional medical field still remains cautious about embracing. Dean advised people to never give politics a rest, otherwise we'll just end up with people like Bush/Cheney. Like I said, I love how he is a clear partisan and not afraid to speak his mind. His blunt candor is exactly what you want in a doctor as well as a politician.

The debate over medical care seems to rest on "single payer" and "public option." But he gave a perfect example of the fear tactics used by the right. Republicans screaming about how universal health care is creeping socialism seem to ignore the fact that all members of our Congress have government run health care. If a member of Congress has a medical issue, they simply go to the medical office in the U.S. Capitol to get treated and they never get billed. As an intern in the OVP office in the U.S. Capitol, I did visit the Congressional medical office to get treated (I had a bad case of the coughs early in the winter semester). It was quick, easy, and free. And, I learned techniques to lessen the coughing (drinking lots of water!). So, hearing these Republicans scream about socialized medicine just makes me laugh. I want a medical care as simple as they have it.

In the early 1990s when our country went through this debate the last time, I was in the Navy and was shocked to hear my fellow sailors call Clinton's plan for universal health care as socialized medicine. I had to point out that what we had in the Navy was socialized medicine! Duh! No one complained about not getting a bill and wondering how they would be able to pay for it. I am all in favour of the Public Option. I believe universal health care is the right way to go for a society that cares about the well being of its citizens.

Dean then allowed questions for the remainder of the hour. I was impressed that nearly all of the questions dealt with some aspect of health care. Its good to see that people are asking relevant questions. Had the media been present and selected to ask questions, I'm sure that they would ask about his "Scream speech", about his failed presidential campaign, and about his consistent personal "attacks" on Bush and Cheney. To me, the quality of the questions by American citizens tells me that the media are out of touch and superficially shallow. Dean even mentioned that he found it interesting that Jon Stewart is considered the most trusted news anchor.

In answering one lady's concerns about the possibility of Americans being scared by the right again to reject universal health care, Dean was more optimistic. He doesn't believe the tactics of 1993 will work this time because too many Americans around the country have seen and felt the rise in health care costs, have faced a medical crisis themselves or know someone who was financially ruined because of a health related crisis. He also mentioned that people have become accustomed to the scare tactics of the right that it doesn't resonate well anymore. The Bush years have been far too damaging to many lives that Republican credibility is simply not there anymore.

For the final question, he selected a person who wore a white plastic campaign hat with a Howard Dean for America sticker attached. He even said that he was picking the person for that reason. The question was about whether Dean planned to run for president again (I'm assuming 2016). Dean gave a very Gore-like statement in saying that he thought it was highly unlikely but he didn't want to say a flat out no, because circumstances might one day cause him to run and it would be awkward to have to address such an absolute if he made one. I totally understand his answer because it applies to all areas of life. Never say never. I've said never on some things only to see a few years later that I actually did what I said I would never do. Sometimes I think the universe plays with you when you make an absolute statement, so one should always leave wiggle room for possibilities.

I don't see Dean running in the future, though. He has found his niche, which is as a private citizen using his fame and experience as a medical doctor to promote universal health care to the grassroots so that we can put the fire to the feet of the politicians who represent us. Like Gore and his personal advocacy of climate change, Dean is just another person who realizes quite wisely that sometimes you can affect more change from outside of public office. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. should be a model for many people. He was never president, but he transformed our country with his crusades for civil rights. Who has more monuments in his honour...President Lyndon Johnson or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Obviously, the King trumps the president in our history books. So, people who are hoping Dean will run again don't seem to understand that he is where he needs to be. In 2016, there will be candidates we probably have not heard about yet who will be on the scene. We might even see a Hillary Clinton versus Kathleen Sebelius contest for the Democratic nomination in 2016.

After the questions, Dean signed copies of his campaign treatise on healthcare reform. When I got to the table, I told him that we had met when he attended church with Jimmy Carter in January 2004. I also told him that I was the guy who gave him the Keb Mo cd, which jogged his memory and he actually remembered! Then he did something amazing for a politician. He was brutally honest. He told me that he listened to that CD, but ended up giving it to a campaign staff member who was a huge fan of Keb Mo. He asked me if that was alright. I told him that it was okay, that I gave it to him because I wanted him to hear the song "A Better Man", which I thought made a perfect campaign song for him. He said that because of the CD I gave him, he did go to a Keb Mo show and enjoyed it.

When he signed my book, he pointed out that he personalized it especially for me. What did he write? I read it and was impressed. Dean flashed me that huge grin of his and I thanked him for coming to Portland. My book was signed: "To Nick, Best wishes -- Viva Keb Mo" with his signature below. Cool!

Totally made my day. As I left Powells with an extra spring in my step, I kept thinking...I've met Howard Dean three times now. Then I thought about all the famous people I've met over the years. And the thought came...why is it so easy for me to meet the famous people I admire a great deal, but I still can't manifest a better job? I have amazing experiences with famous people (from politicians to actors to musicians to authors) but I want to manifest a great job for myself. I think my ability to meet famous people only proves the Forrest Gump-like nature of my existence. I'm an unknown "nobody", yet my life is extraordinary in that I probably have met more famous people, been to more countries, and seen more things than the average American. The next famous people I want to meet are Audrey Tautou and Barack Obama. He and I have something to discuss...namely, why I would be a great person for his Administration.

The picture above was a candid shot I took of Howard Dean after I had my picture taken with him (picture at the top). In his hand is the Keb Mo CD I had given him. I think its interesting that the universe allows me to find out what happens afterwards. It might take years, but I learn. Such as when I met my favourite singer Johnny Clegg backstage at his 1996 concert during the Atlanta Olympics. I had given him one of my personalized Virginia license plates (it was personalized with "SAVUKA", the name of his band, which means "we have awakened" in Zulu). At a concert in 2004, I had another personalized license plate to give him (the specialty Utah plate that featured the natural landmark Delicate Arch, with the word--you guessed it!--"SAVUKA"). As soon as I gave it to him, he remembered me from 1996 and told me that people were impressed with the Virginia license plate I had given him. He said that his son wanted to have it.

I love how the gifts I give famous people, I eventually learn what happened to those gifts. Honestly, I could wait until the spiritual realm to learn such details, but its nice to know "the rest of the story" within this lifetime. Life and the way it works is amazing to me. Let's hope that these good vibes will carry over into a job offer to start in August. I dropped off my application and resume at another place on Friday that would be a pay raise as well as within my college major (international politics).

I also found out that the company that offered me a job two years ago (the one where I would have to travel to the north slope of Alaska for three weeks of every month) is hiring you can bet I'll be applying again. Last time, they wanted me to start right away but my loyal nature of not wanting to leave my current employers without a two week notice caused some problems. I told my dad recently that I would leave my current job at the first offer I receive, with only a day or two advance notice. Management burned a bridge with me long ago and lost my loyalty (once a person or organization loses my loyalty, that's it. There is no fourth chance to make things right with me). Howard Dean isn't the only scrappy fighter with a backbone!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Flashback Friday: Dirty Dancing

Tonight, Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland is breaking out the large inflatable screen for the annual "Flicks on the Bricks" summer film festival. Since I moved here in 2006, it has become a personal tradition for my brother and I to attend a few of these Friday evening film viewings. Pioneer Square is often called "Portland's Livingroom." Its a great hangout spot in the middle of the city and a great place to meet up with people. The Starbucks on one of the corners of this square is probably the busiest one in the entire city. Good luck getting your drink during the Christmas shopping season in less than 30 minutes! For those in the know, there's a less crowded Starbucks a couple blocks away.

Two weeks ago, the Flicks on the Bricks showed Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which they played in the summer of 2006 when I was new in town. My brother and I went to see it. I can't believe its playing again so soon. Two weeks from today, Jurassic Park will be the film, which I've seen in theaters five times (including once in Prague, Czech Republic and in Rome, Italy in Italian). However, tonight is the 22-year old classic, Dirty Dancing. I've been wanting to feature this film in my Flashback Friday series, so here it is.

In the summer of 1987, an unhyped, low-budget, independent little film opened in theaters and slowly gained an audience as word of mouth grew. It ended up becoming a phenomenal smash hit around the world. A lot of it had to do with the awesome soundtrack, which featured some classic hits from the 1950s/60s mixed with new songs. It got to the point where you didn't know if the music made the film a hit or did the movie make the soundtrack album a hit?

I was living in Germany at the time, on the U.S. Army base at Fulda. The thing I hated about living overseas (though it was only a minor thing in comparison to the privilege of living and traveling in Europe) was that it took at least six months before films made it to the AAFES-run movie theaters on the base. My penpals at home would rave about the latest movies that I had to see (Short Circuit! Top Gun! The Golden Child! Beverly Hills Cop II!), but I had to wait six months, while they were already raving about the next new movie to see. I can't remember when Dirty Dancing finally reached our theater, but I remember that it was after it was already on videotape. That's how I saw it. I don't believe that I ever saw this film in a movie theater.

When I think of my Sophomore year in high school (1987-1988), its hard to separate out the music of Dirty Dancing. I listened to the soundtrack album A LOT during that year in high school. Yes, even more than Michael Jackson's Bad, Whitney Houston's Whitney, Debbie Gibson's Out of the Blue, and George Michael's Faith. In fact, the Dirty Dancing Soundtrack became my third favourite film soundtrack of all time (behind the Footloose and Top Gun soundtracks). The movie and music that was Dirty Dancing was much talked about among my group of friends. I was surprised that even my mom liked the movie (her tastes are always hard to guage). I can still remember which parts made her laugh.

So, what was it about this little movie that captured so many people's fancy in the summer of 1987 and well into 1988? In fact, because I lived in Germany, I even had exposure to what was popular among Germans and Dirty Dancing was definitely hugely popular there too (along with the TV show ALF and the music of Michael Jackson). The movie is a pretty simple coming of age story of an idealistic young daddy's girl in the summer of 1961 (?) when Kennedy was president and his call for engagement in the world was taken up by fresh-faced American kids. "Baby" as she is called, is on vacation with her family to the Catskills in upper New York. The resort is mostly made up of older people, so Baby hangs out with the staff and soon has eyes for the rebellious "bad boy" Johnny, played by Patrick Swayze.

A plot about a botched abortion is important, not only for the film (Baby reluctantly volunteers to pinch hit for Johnny's dance partner, who undergoes the illegal operation from a back alley butcher), but also for the never-ending debate on abortion in our country. Abortion did not become a legal medical procedure until the Supreme Court ruling in 1973. Before then, there was a black market of unsavory people performing the deed, which was very dangerous for the life of the woman. Coat hangers were also used by scared women wanting to terminate the pregnancies themselves. As horrible a practice abortion is, making it "safe, legal, and rare" is preferrable to the pre-1973 alternatives.

The dance choreography is excellent, as well as the song choices. Full on movie musicals were a rare thing in the 1980s, but through the influence of MTV emerged a "new kind" of movie musical. One in which the characters don't break out into song, but the music is played in montages (Flashdance, Footloose, Top Gun, Rocky IV and Dirty Dancing exemplified the 1980s version of the movie musical). Honestly, I much prefer this type of "musical", provided that the music is good. Now, however, musical tastes have diversified and individualized to the point that it's rare for a film to capture the zeitgeist of massive popular appeal.

In my sophomore year, the girl I had a crush on (Vicki Garcia, whom I'm Facebook friends with after twenty years of not keeping in touch) loved to talk about the movie with me. I remember her laughing because she hated the way Patrick Swayze made his face when he lipsynched that song "Love is Strange" with Jennifer Grey ("Baby"). But, I knew she had a crush on him and I wonder what might have happened if she had gone to my next high school, Clarkston. My best friend in my senior year, Ben Cranor, had an uncanny resemblance to Patrick Swayze. She probably would have liked to date him.

What I love most about Dirty Dancing is how simple the story is, yet it packs an emotional punch. I would definitely put it into the category reserved for timeless classics. It never seems dated, though the last time I saw the film was perhaps five years ago. The film may have utilized standard cliches (innocent and naive daddy's girl, jealous sister, bad boy, pre-judging someone's worth) but it all comes out fresh. You're simply swept away by the characters and the relationship (and chemistry) between the two leads.

My favourite moment in the film, though, is probably when Baby's sister sings (horribly!) in a rehearsal for the closing show. She's a nut! The song and the way she sings it is downright hilarious, though. Its interesting how obvious the father shows his favoritism towards Baby. I also like when the mother watches Baby dance with Johnny and tells her husband that Baby got that talent from her.

Another thing I love about the film that I never realized until recently is that the resort reminds me of my church's reunions that we have at church-owned campgrounds around the country every summer. Its a tradition in my church that I love the most, since childhood. For one week in the summer, church members from several congregations within a given area go to their region's campgrounds to spend time in fellowship and worship with others. It gives us a glimpse of what this world could be if it was a truly spiritual place. People let their guards down. Cabins can be left unlocked and things unsecured, conversations form easily, chores are assigned and done with fun and grace. I could never find the closest approximation to the experience in any film, except for Dirty Dancing (though there wouldn't be any "dirty" dancing at church reunion!). And yes, church reunion does have a talent night (usually on Thursday evening).

I haven't gone to a church reunion since 1999. Its hard to take five days off from work when I have only 12 vacation days and try to balance them between visiting family and friends with my desire to travel somewhere new. My policy on vacation is "one trip to visit family or friends, and one trip purely for me." But my travel days are over until I get a better paying job or sell my novel.

Anyhow, I'm stoked to see Dirty Dancing at Flicks on the Bricks. There's something about watching a classic, feel-good movie with an audience that beats popping my DVD into my TV at home and watching at my leisure. I love the social aspect of watching films in a public place like Pioneer Courthouse Square on a cool summer evening. Its one of the many things that makes Portland feel more like a community than a city of strangers.

Tonight, we'll be having "The Time of Our Lives"!