Monday, August 31, 2009

Finally, the Best Movie of the Iraq War Has Arrived!

I'm taking a break from Music Video Monday this week to write about an awesome movie I saw on Sunday evening. Before I get to it, though, I will mention that I was VERY indecisive about what movie I wanted to see this weekend. I haven't been to the theater since July, when I saw The Hangover. This summer has been pretty dismal as far as movies go. I only wanted to see Star Trek and Angels and Demons. Nothing else interested me, though great word of mouth convinced me to see The Hangover.

Then August came and I was suddenly hit with several films that interested me, either because of fantastic reviews or great word of mouth. So, on Saturday, I went out to eat a couple slices of pizza at a great pizzeria near PSU (which features pizza as close to authentic Italian as I've ever found in the USA). I had a copy of the movie listings in front of me as I ate and for the life of me, I could not decide which movie I wanted to see. Time ran out, and I didn't want to catch the last show, so I decided to try again on Sunday. If I had the money to spare, I would have seen all five that I wanted to see. But at $10.50, even one would be an indulgence, especially since I have Netflix and should wait until the films come out on DVD.

But, I wanted to see a movie in a theater this weekend and these were the films that really had me in a bind: District 9, The Hurt Locker, The Time Traveler's Wife, Julie and Julia, and Inglorious Basterds. I was actually leaning towards The Time Traveler's Wife, but I don't like the theater its playing in (too many teeny boppers go to that one). Plus I had wanted to read the novel first (better get cracking on that before Edward Kennedy's memoirs hits next month!). I also wanted to see Julie and Julia, but that's a good date movie, if I could only find a date.

I like any movie that features Nazis in it, but I'm not really a fan of Quentin Tarantino. Yeah, he has some good dialogue, but his movies never really hit a home run with me. So his Inglorious Basterds was out. I can wait for DVD on that one. My sister loved District 9 and someone else on Facebook raved about it. I love that its set in South Africa, but I hate slimy and ugly looking aliens. Besides, its a film that my brother will probably want to see, so I'll save that for another day. So, by default The Hurt Locker won out over Julie and Julia because I figure that if I really want to do the private contractor thing in Iraq or Afghanistan, I should see this film now.

I'm glad that I did. The movie is the best movie yet about the Iraq War. And I've seen several: Jarhead (okay, so that was about the 1991 Gulf War), Redacted, Stop-Loss, and the miniseries Generation Kill (which I really loved). Hmmm, I thought there was more. I haven't seen Grace is Gone or In the Valley of Elah, yet. And I can't wait until Green Zone comes out (based on the book I read back in May about life in the Emerald City). The Hurt Locker, however, will be hard to top as far as war movies go. I'm not necessarily a fan of war movies, but its part of the male psyche, I think, so I have a few that I love: Casualties of War, Tigerland, and The Thin Red Line. Some are harder to watch than others.

I knew very little about The Hurt Locker. I haven't read the reviews beyond the blurbs seen in newspapers (I generally never pay much attention to those until this year, because District 9's ringing endorsement by Rolling Stone magazine calling it the movie event of this summer got my attention). I thought the title was dumb, but I read an explanation somewhere that all it meant was that men in war are taught to put whatever emotions they feel (fear, grief, anger) into a "hurt locker" (compartmentalizing of the sort that President Bill Clinton was famous for) to deal with later or never, though this may actually contribute to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The film sounded like a deeply psychological tale worth seeing. However, I don't recall hearing that term mentioned in the film. Though it may have been and I missed it.

The movie focuses on a team of three soldiers who work to find and dismantle the Improvised Explosive Devices found on roads throughout Baghdad. The year is 2004, at the beginning of the insurgency. This work is extremely dangerous, as one man suits up in a very spacey looking outfit that provides some protection from a blast, though it doesn't always turn out that way. The entire movie is intense because of this dangerous mission. Talk about an adrenaline rush. Even EMTs don't get this kind of excitement in their jobs!

Actor Jeremy Renner (above) plays Staff Sergeant William James, the lead guy in the I.E.D. squad. He's a bit of a daredevil who is an expert at what he does. He tells one officer, after being proded when his modesty was dismissed, that he has defused well over 800 I.E.D.s. He's the true hero of the film. What a great tribute to the actual soldiers who do this for a living. The pride and professionalism of our military members in Iraq is definitely something worth honouring, especially in film.

Though SSgt James sometimes clashes with his point man, Sgt Sanborn (played by Anthony Mackie), over leadership style and who gives the order and who follows, he does show his human side when he befriends a young Iraqi boy who hawks pornographic DVDs to soldiers. Its actually quite touching to see the lengths he goes to for the sake of the boy. The third man in the group is Specialist Eldridge (played by Brian Geraghty, who also played crazy in Jarhead). He obsesses over death and talks to the Army doctor about his thoughts. He is someone you wonder if he'll make it out alive, because he sometimes comes across as jumpy and afraid of his own shadow.

To reveal any more about this movie is to ruin your experience. I would highly recommend that you experience this two hour tour of duty. In fact, I would force all those people who supported the war in 2003 and accused those of us who were against the war of being "traitors" to watch this film. The strange irony is that while over 70% of Americans supported Bush's invasion of Iraq, all movies about the Iraq War have bombed (this one included. Even critical acclaim can't seem to save it from the indifferent movie going public). True, most people don't want to pay to see a movie about an ongoing event. Some distance needs to occur. But that would be a mistake for this film in particular because it is worth watching. The special effects are top notch and almost artistic in several scenes. Anyone who knows someone who served in Iraq (or Afghanistan, for that matter) should see this, just to have a better understanding of what its like to live day after day in an environment where an I.E.D. could end your life with a simple step on the wrong pile of trash.

In addition to writing about this movie and encouraging people to watch it, I did want to mention a pet peeve of mine. A lot of evangelical Christians speak in empty platitudes about "God bless our troops!" and that they "support the troops" (by displaying a MAGNETIC yellow ribbon to put on or take off their SUVs as they put their fingers to the wind). This always bugged me. Especially when some ladies in my church talk about how honourable the troops are. They really put military guys on a pedestal, which I don't understand.

When I try to tell them about the reality of how guys behaved in the military, they refuse to believe it! They have this fantasy image of a military guy as a conservative, church going, God-fearing, family man. Sure, there are some of that type. But more likely, you'll find profanity-spewing, sex-obsessed, adulterous or whore-mongering young men who are wild, reckless and irresponsible. Not that there's anything wrong with it. I just get irked, though, that when I bring up the debauchery I personally witnessed in the Navy, these naive evangelical Christian ladies at church refuse to believe me because it doesn't fit their image of the good Christian soldier who sacrificed his college ambitions to serve our country. No decision to join the military is ever that simple and selfless. None!

So, when I hear people mouth pithy platitudes, I just want to strap them to a chair and make them watch Generation Kill in full, from start to finish. If they still like the men after that, then they can keep on supporting the troops as they desire. If, however, they are offended by "guy behaviour", then they really need to shut the fuck up about "supporting the troops." Morality is a filter they blind themselves with. I just hate the pedestal they place military members on. Joining the military doesn't automatically make you a hero because many guys are just like any young guy in a fraternity. Its a time of incredible freedom...including a freedom from the imposition of values put upon them by the women in their lives. Women do civilize men in many ways, but for these women to pretend that men aren't the way we are in the company of other men without women present is absurd.

The guys in Generation Kill had the same kind of dialogues with the same kind of "profane" language as the guys I served with in the Navy. Its a universal male experience. So don't tell me that your image of the saintly soldier or sailor is realistic. Watch a war movie or miniseries first, then we'll talk. If you don't watch war movies because you don't like the violence...then why do you support sending our troops off to endless foreign wars? The real violence they face every day changes them in ways you can't possibly imagine. Watching a war movie in their honour would give you empathy and understanding. If you can't even do that for the war you supported, then you really need to rethink your entire value system.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

In the Name of God, Leave God Out of It!

Saturday marked the one year anniversary of Senator John McCain's announcement of his Vice Presidential pick. Until that day, most people had never heard of Alaska's governor. She had only been elected not quite two years earlier. Sarah Palin has turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving.

Saturday also marked a day in which a conservative church member who is friends with my parents decided to drop me from her Facebook friends list, for what she claims is my "hateful posts that is toxic to her spirit." When she REQUESTED to be my Facebook Friend a few months ago, I hesitated, because I knew she was quite conservative. Because my parents have told me about the political stance of nearly everyone in our church in the Atlanta area, I knew which people I would avoid talking politics with. Not that I wanted to, but I knew that if I did, my parents would hear about it and they tend to take everything negative someone says about me as a sign of my unpopularity among people (they never quite seem to believe the nice things people say about me). However, my friends all know that I'm a pretty political person. Even if they don't agree with my beliefs, they aren't offended by my beliefs because they are my friends and know that our friendship transcends beliefs. So, it probably came as a shocker to this lady that I am so political. She had no idea.

Even more baffling, she has accused me of posting anti-Christian comments on Facebook. I was shocked. She knows that I'm a lifelong member of this church (the same church as her). To accuse me of being anti-Christian? This is the same lady who never had a problem when some people in her congregation obsessed over Satan and even when one man claimed that he couldn't start the worship service until we "rebuked" Satan from the Sanctuary. Um...who are you to tell me that I'm not sufficiently Christian to your liking? I'm not a Satan-obsessed, speaking in tongues, rightwing fanatic like you.

Its especially funny to hear a person who watches Fox News and listens to Rush accusing me of negative comments that are toxic to her spirit. Um...Rush is toxic. I merely laugh at the foibles of Republicans. She thought I was bitter, but my posts on Facebook are making fun of the lunacy of the Republicans. Am I bitter? We have a black president and the Democrats control Congress. These are great times! Leave it to a Republican to twist things. A reflection of her feelings, projected onto me.

What was the final straw for her? It was a couple posts I did that accidentally appeared on my page (and thus the page of all 139 of my friends on Facebook). I had taken a Facebook poll about if I would vote for a gay candidate for president. I expressed in all giddiness that I would most definitely vote for a gay Republican for president just because I would get a kick out of seeing the "Family Values" party try to spin that. I've learned all too well that evangelical conservatives will deny reality just to make things fit their neat little box of moral purity. A gay Republican candidate for president would be the equivalent of throwing a clusterbomb into their primary process. We would see ugly all over the place.

So, yes...I am amused by the politics of the Republican party and when I post various articles to my Facebook page, its mostly to save it there for later reading, if I wish. I often add little sardonic comments in an attempt to get a laugh. How someone can misinterpret it for bitterness is baffling to me. I really love the spectacle that the Republican Party has become in the past three years. Watching this "Grand" Old Party self-destruct because of the incompetent leadership of their beloved president is small consolation for the election they stole in 2000.

I gladly admit that I am a partisan who favours the Democrats. If the Republicans want my respect, the best they can do is to drop the phony ploys for family values and the exploitation of God in their laughable claims to be the party Jesus would favour. Its amazing that evangelical Christians will conveniently ignore the adultery committed by Senators Vitter, Ensign, and Craig, or the pedophilia of Congressman Mark Foley, but they harp on Kennedy's Chappaquiddick of 40 years ago. Kennedy, for all his flaws, never ran on "family values" or claimed to be a model of virtue. Instead, he focused on his legislative agenda and is considered one of the best legislators in our nation's history, by the media and even Republican opponents.

So, this church member is no longer a Facebook friend because of my politics. She thinks I'm a bitter, negative person based on my comments. She doesn't get my sense of humour. I guess its hard to see the humour in my comments if I'm laughing at the politicians you admire and believe are anointed by God to bring our country back to righteousness. I feel sorry for people like her. She's conned by the lies of the Republican Party. Those who run that party know that the only way they can win is by saying the kind of things that their low information base of supporters will believe. Its all morality based stuff, which can't really be legislated. You'd think that this base would have finally figured it out when the Republican Party had both the White House and Congress in the early part of the decade, with a voting majority in the Supreme Court. Yet, abortion is still legal in this country (Roe v. Wade will never be overturned, because the wealthy backers of the Republican Party don't find abortion to be morally apprehensible like the religious base does).

When I interned in D.C., I was surprised that some of the Republican senators I could not stand for their moralism were deemed "okay" by the Gore staff members I worked for. They explained to me that the rhetoric was all a game these politicians play to get elected. Most were more agreeable in person and willing to compromise, despite what they tell the base. Politics is a game, the art of the deal. But the rabid base takes it way too seriously. To them, compromise is EVIL. Its all or nothing. To that, I'd say...let them have nothing then.

As I think about this church lady's objections to my political commentary, I find it sad. I love politics so much that I got my college degree in it. I even went to a conservative university owned by the Mormons, so you'd think that would give me some credibility in that I know what I'm talking about. Nope. When it comes to politics, any idiot with an opinion can be equal to a person who has studied it. Thus why someone like Palin can be seen as a viable candidate to these people.

Even more baffling, if a person doesn't like politics, but has political opinions that might have been shaped by viewing Fox News exclusively, what makes them equal to a person who loves politics and studies it and reads political books? That's like saying that a person who hates music is more qualified than a person who lives for music. There's a difference between having a political opinion based on personal prejudices versus having a political opinion based on study, passion, and knowledge. An example I found fascinating is that my office is made up of mostly conservative women. Not a single one of them has ever been out of the country. The few who have been out of the country have a more liberal view. Why is this the case? Its weird! Could it be that exposure to foreign cultures tends to "liberalize" a person (and I'm not talking about those who merely go to foreign resorts where locals play the role of servants who wait on you like you're a king)?

The interesting thing about BYU is that while it is a conservative university, the political science department was actually liberal. I asked my D.C. roommate who was a Journalist major why this was so. I really thought every department at BYU would be conservative because of the nature of the church. My roommate, Matt, said that he believes people who study politics naturally come to a liberal view. Knowledge has a liberalizing effect on people. He also said it was the same way in the journalism department. There is no liberal conspiracy in the media or politics. There are plenty of conservative political scientists, though, and even BYU had a few conservative professors. But it would be pretty safe to assume that a fellow political scientist you just met is a liberal.
On the 2012 Draft Sarah Palin Facebook page, I found another asinine comment on Saturday. One of her fans actually claimed that God wants Palin to lead our country back to righteousness! I don't get this strange view. After all, back in 1999 and 2000, and even beyond that, evangelicals have claimed that God wanted Bush to be president. If they really believe that, then what do they think about Barack Obama? He's obviously president, so wouldn't they extend that same belief? Or was God somehow sleeping on election day? Barack's name even means "blessed by God." Yet according to these evangelical people, Barack is a Muslim agent of Satan, even the anti-Christ, hellbent on destroying our "Godly" country. In yesterday's post, I included the comments of a recent debate with Palinistas, with the hilarity of "We NEED Sarah now!" Things are so bad that a quitter like Sarah with little governing experience is seen as the saviour for our country. What would God think of that?

The problem with the conservative evangelicals is that they can't seem to support a candidate with "flaws." So, anytime a candidate displays his or her humanity (flaws and all), they deny it when its obvious to everyone else. Reagan is still seen as the standard to follow, despite the fact that he was divorced, didn't attend church, and only gave religious platitudes while not really delivering on promises made to the right. Reagan used the religious conservatives to defeat the real evangelical president (Jimmy Carter) and occasionally threw them a bone to chew on for awhile. They never seemed to realize that there was never any meat on the bones, though.

Bush Senior had a harder time rallying the conservative evangelicals because he was a member of the establishment mainline church (Episcopalian, I believe) and was of the generation that really didn't talk openly about their beliefs. The evangelicals preferred Vice President Dan Quayle, because he was more outspoken about his conservative family values religious beliefs. Does anyone see a pattern here? Evangelicals seem to like candidates who are considered intellectual lightweights, but very talky about their Christian values. Dan Quayle, though, failed to find support for his 2000 candidacy because by then, the evangelicals had flocked to George W. Bush, who was considered to be the second coming of Reagan.

The evangelicals worshipped Bush throughout his presidency, despite a pattern of incompetence in his leadership. After Katrina turned New Orleans into a visual showcase for the Bush-style of crisis management, the worship seemed to fade. My dad even noticed at church that the people who talked about how great Bush was were strangely silent in the last years of the Bush presidency. I guess some things are just too enormous to deny. This was made quite obvious when McCain didn't want Bush to appear at the Republican National Convention last year. There was little outrage on the right that he would not appear. In fact, in the Republican primary debates, Reagan got namedropped more than any other topic of importance. None of the candidates seemed willing to bring up Bush's name. The silence was deafening. Its like the proverbial elephant in the room. No one wants to bring up the obvious, but the tip-toeing around the elephant makes it obvious that they know its there, despite the refusal to talk about it.

So, if Bush became so toxic that even evangelical conservatives don't want to talk about him, why are they now so excited by Sarah Palin? Bush had six years of executive experience when he assumed the presidency. He had one of the thinnest resumes of any president in our history, but that was never an issue. Experience was not an issue in 2000 (how did that happen? How did someone with such little experience manage to defeat two of the most experienced politicians to run for president: McCain and Gore?). But it was an issue in 2008. Hypocrisy. Don't give us an inexperienced politician then complain because the Democrats have one. If you didn't care about experience in 2000, why now? Because Bush fucked up? because Bush was a major fuck-up, you want to give our country an even less experienced candidate by the name of Sarah Palin? And then claim that she carries God's favour?

Here's a clue. God does not care one whit about American politics. Or any other politics. God does not intervene in our world, because God gave humanity FREE WILL. If God did not stop the Nazis from exterminating six million Jews, God is not going to get involved in the petty and superficial politics of our country or any other. Its incredible that people have this belief about God. It is a form of idolatry to even think that God is this kind of petty being who would stoop to the level of human to support one candidate over another.

If God wanted Palin to be president, he would have given her a brain. A serious brain. The kind that relished learning about our world. He also would not have given her ADHD, so she could concentrate and study easier. Instead, He gave her physical beauty to win pageants, and a fertility to reproduce as often as the Kennedys. And He gave her a Down Syndrome baby to take care of. Do you really believe that God would want little Trig to be raised by a nanny and not see his mother during the first decade of his life because she's too busy trying to charm the pants off of President Sarkozy of France, Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy, and President Medvedev of Russia?

So, let's get real, conservative evangelicals. Leave God out of our politics! It is blasphemy to claim to know that God would support your bigoted, hateful agenda. As I wrote on the Facebook Poll to a guy who claimed that "God hates fags": God hates is an Oxymoron. To say that a perfect God has an imperfect emotion such as hate is not possible. God cannot be anything that is not perfection and hate is imperfection. One person actually thanked me for putting it so well.

That's the problem with conservative evangelicals. They worship an imperfect God. Their God is a jealous God, petty, hateful, xenophobic, violent, schizophernic, genocidal, misogynistic, homophobic, and ignorant. That is not perfection to me. The reason why God is perfect is because God is the original source of creation and is pure love. It is impossible to hate in the presence of God. Also in the presence of God, we all feel the connection of being one with another. I know this from personal experience because of the greatest spiritual experience I ever had back in August 2001. Never in my life had I ever felt a love so pure, so intense as I did those three weeks of that experience. It was true what the Buddhist say about "enlightenment". When you experience it, you really do feel "one with the universe." Its not New Age gibberish.

Maybe that's why this church lady thinks I'm not a Christian. Because my views about God are so different from hers. She sees God's role models in the likes of Bush, Cheney, and Palin (the three names she wrote in a personal email to me that I was being "hateful" towards). If those three represent God to her, then there is little we have in common, because I see God in the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter and Aung San Suu Kyi. Each one of those are about inclusion and the universality of a spiritual worldview. In contrast, she finds Christian examples in the likes of a person who made fun of a Christian lady before he executed her while he was governor, a man who authorized waterboarding of terrorist suspects and who shot a friend of his in the face while he was hunting under the influence of alcohol, and a woman who remained silent when her crowds yelled out "kill him!" when she criticized Obama. Yeah, great examples of God.

To that, I say no thanks to your religiosity. If you don't think of me as Christian, who cares? You worship a petty God I have no interest in. My politics will continually be shaped by the world at large, rather than the small-minded obsessions of the culture wars the evangelicals are obsessed about. God is far greater than your ignorant mind can fathom. God created a world without borders, and domestic politics is nothing if not nationalistic narcissism. So please spare us the God talk about American politics. Let the logic of your arguments win the debate and allow God a break from your self-serving idolatry of false prophets and demagogues.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Who's Drinking the Kool-Aid?

For today's post, I've included a lengthy "debate" that I had on Facebook with Palin supporters. There are a couple liberals on there to check what her people are saying. Whenever I see someone make a completely idiotic statement, I admit that I cannot resist adding my own commentary. Sometimes, it leads to a lengthy back and forth as her blind followers accuse me of drinking the liberal Kool-Aid or reading the Democratic Talking Points. Its laughable that they accuse liberals of doing what conservatives are known to do. After all, there is a reason why Rush Limbaugh's listeners (and not NPR listeners) are called "Dittoheads." This was a nickname that Rush bestowed on his own followers, which shows exactly what he thinks of the brainless minions whose minds he stuffs with his corporate conservative propaganda.

After the 2006 election, when the Democrats retook control of Congress, Rush actually admitted that he was relieved because he didn't want to "carry their water" anymore! Oh, it was such a burden for you to tell obvious lies on your show in defense of indefensible Republicans and their policies, wasn't it? Their loss of Congress relieved you of that burden of lying for the sake of the party. Oh boo hoo hoo! Reading his comments about his newfound freedom, it struck me just how weak the bloated windbag actually is. He is a wealthy radio personality with a legion of loyal followers. He could say what he damn well pleased! Why not be radically honest? Why be so blatantly Republican? I suspect, though, that he prefers his role of critic and only Democrats in power can fuel his daily outrages. Having to defend the Republican Party in power when it was obvious to everyone with a brain that they were a band of incompetent kleptocrats was just too much for the poor guy.

America really should do him a favour. NEVER VOTE REPUBLICAN AGAIN! Let them always be a minority party, confined to the status of having to criticize rather than take on the responsibilities of governing. After all, the record is undeniable. Democrats are better at governing than Republicans because competence and experience matters. Democrats are also held to a higher standard by "the liberal" media (so they don't appear biased). Truly, what can the American people expect when Republicans run for office telling people that you can't trust the government and that the government is bad. If the government is so bad and untrustworthy, why the hell do you want to leave your corporate job and work in government? The pay is better in the corporate world, you obviously think its better run and does a better job at giving more choices to the American people. do your corporate thing and let those who love government and believe in the ideals of an activist government caring for the less well off among us do our thing. Simple!

The debate started on Wednesday, over the death of Senator Kennedy. Some expressed condolences, but then others brought up Chappaquiddick and Mary Jo Kopeche, the young lady who died in the car accident. Like they really cared about this woman! Some said that Kennedy would finally answer to her, while others said it was impossible because she was in heaven, implying the other outcome for Kennedy. It just got really weird, really quick.

In other news reports, an article revealed that Sarah Palin has pulled another cancellation of an event she was scheduled to appear at (a fundraiser for a Pro-Life group in Alaska). This is the seventh event she has flaked out on this year. Her supporters on Facebook have been strangely silent the past couple days. If its one thing conservatives dislike with a passion, its a flake (because that really is a flaw that tends to afflict liberals). I'm hoping that her supporters will wake up and realize that she is not the party's saviour they think she is. So many are comparing her to Ronald Reagan, which is odd, because that's what they did with George W. Bush in 1999. Now, you'll be hard pressed to find very many (if any) praise Bush at all. Its like they know the truth at some level, but they just can't admit it. So, they want to forget that the last eight years ever happened and search for the next Reagan.

Some people of like mind as me have told me that it was a waste of time for me to try to dialogue with these people. They are ideologically blind and incapable of reason. That's a shame, though. No one should ever be dismissed as a hopeless cause. I do learn from their comebacks to my arguments and take it as a "win" when I have the last word. Mostly, though, I'm playing to the readers, not the commenters. There are people who read the debate and they probably look to see who is more convincing. When one group throws easy labels around ("socialist", "communist") to make their point, while the other uses facts, its obvious who's acting childish and who can maintain the upper hand.

When I interned in D.C., I would have arguments with fellow BYU interns on the Metro about Ken Starr and the Republicans. They didn't realize that I wasn't arguing to convince them. I was playing to the "audience" of people riding the Metro. I got a few smiles from these strangers on the train when I compared Ken Starr to a Nazi or Gestapo agent. The girl was furious, but my audience was amused.

As a teenager, when I learned about the solitary protests my atheist government teacher did for the brave movie theater showing The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988, it set an example to me. He faced down hoards of angry Christians who wanted the theater to not show the controversial movie. Just one man against a mindless mob. Years later, he received a letter from a man who was among the multitudes, protesting with his church. The man said that he was so impressed by the teacher's solitary protest in defense of the film that it affected him later on when he began to question his church and his own beliefs. It was the polite way my teacher countered the angry mob that impressed this stranger and led him away from the intolerant church. That's the point of public dialogue. You're not aiming to change the minds of the hopelessly brainwashed. It is the skeptical masses who watch from the sidelines, weighing the pros and cons, and deciding which argument is most convincing.

Please enjoy, if you can (I've highlighted my favourite lines. The spelling errors and typos were left intact. I lifted this completely from the 2012 Draft Sarah Palin page on Facebook)...

The first comment was one I made about someone else's naivete about the chance that Senator Kennedy would be replaced by a conservative Republican:

Massachusetts is the most liberal state in the you can bet that there won't be a conservative replacement. As for Mary Jo references...well, at least he never got us into a costly war that has killed thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis. And I hope that people will remind you of your worst mistake for the rest of your life. We aren't judged by a single incident, but a lifetime of actions. The good far outweighed the bad. The same couldn't be said for Jesse Helms when he passed away last year.
Wed at 8:55am · Delete

Terri Braswell Deakins
Nicholas, I really do hope you open your eyes soon, but then again they probably are open and your part of the agenda to take over this country. I take it you think Obama having MANY MANY self pro-claimed communists advising him is ok?? Even if Sarah isnt elected or isnt the right person, SOMEONE had better stop the insanity and corruption in Washington! As for you, I feel sorry for you, because if your so blind that you dont see whats taking place in this country then you have no business being in America in the first place.
Wed at 9:05am

Carol Sennello
Yes, Terri - very good! I agree with you. Beck is "outing"the DC bunch - We all need to get involved - We are all talking about it! - No matter where you go or what you read. People are not happy with the way things are going right now. Understandable. We need Sarah now! - We need people like her now! - These DC one's are being paid off by whom?
Wed at 9:41am

Terri, something was wrong with America in 2000 when a candidate stole an election in Florida with the help of his governor brother, ignored warnings about a planned attack by Bin Laden, then used the tragedy of 9/11 to pass through the un-Constitutional USA PATRIOT Act and wage illegal war against a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. So, you're the one who is blind, not me.
Wed at 12:23pm · Delete

Sue Thompson Turner
Hey, Nicholas, you are not blind. You are brainwashed. You drank the liberal Koolaid and now you spout their talking points regardless of their truth. There is NOTHING wrong with America. The people cast their votes and you didn't like the result so now the election is stolen. How childishly pathetic!! BinLaden wouldn't have been an issue if Bill Clinton had taken the opportunity to take him when the Saudis offered him. And why are you worried about the Constitution? Obama said he plans to rewrite it anyway.
Wed at 1:00pm

Carol Sennello
Sue your right! - he's brainwashed (Nicholas) and sure did not know that Jeb Bush had such Power! - Wow! - Just gotmessed up in 2000, not unlike MN this past year - things happen! He just showed us he's probably too young and ortoo immature - nothing is wrong with America - as a CountryJust the people(greedy politicians) who are trying to destroy it as we know it - we don't need a government runned country -
Wed at 1:14pm

James Wass
Nicholas, several media companies - left leaning media companies - did a private recount that expanded GWB's lead. I believe it remained fewer than 1000 votes, so statistically he and Gore were tied. But election law is what it is. It's sad how bitter some people remain over what didn't go their way. I wept in 2006 and 2008 after putting in dozens of volunteer hours in losing efforts. Today I still admit that we lost those campaigns.
Wed at 1:46pm

John Bailiff
More "bumper sticker lodgic."
Wed at 1:47pm

Because 2006 and 2008 weren't stolen elections. The point is that the stolen election put the wrong person in office and everything that has happened to our country from 2001 through 2008 is a reflection of the person who occupied the White House. Bush ran up the deficits, got us into two billion dollar wars and gave tax cuts to his wealthy backers. Our economy is the way it is because of Bush's policies.To hear conservatives whine about a Democratic solution to a Republican mess is just hilarious. Obama will clean up Bush's mess the way FDR cleaned up Hoovers, or the way Clinton cleaned up Reagan/Bush's. You can go back to your Fox Propaganda programming now.
Wed at 1:52pm · Delete

Carol...who was greedy? Republicans got rich under Bush. Cheney had stock options in Halliburton and guess what? Halliburton got all the government contracts in Iraq. That kind of thing is illegal (making war and awarding contracts to a company you were once the CEO of). Erik Prince, a Republican, also got super rich during the Bush era with his Blackwater security company whom no one heard of prior to 2001.Wake up your eyes...the wealthy class is using the ignorance of Fox viewers to con them into supporting their agenda. You will never get rich supporting kleptocrats like them. At least the Kennedys helped the poor and middle classes.
Wed at 1:56pm · Delete

John Bailiff
Nicholas, just how can you spend two billion dollars, of your children's and grand childrens money, on pork, and expect to cut the deficit ? You sound like a classic case of "Bush derangement syndrome."
Wed at 2:01pm

Actually, it was originally called Obama Derangement Syndrome, but I guess Republican co-opt everything the Democrats come up with. I find it amazing that Republicans can't admit to the facts, which is: Bush came into office with a SURPLUS that Clinton left his successor. Bush left office with a huge DEFICIT for his successor. Logic and reason tells you that only one person was president during the swing from surplus to deficits. How complicated is that for people to understand? Crying about Obama's spending is a little too late. Where were your objections when Bush ran up the large deficits? I knew very few people who were against both wars in the early part of the decade. Those who were (like me) were called traitors. Well, putting your standards back on you...if you don't like what our President is doing, maybe you can move to a country with a weak government without social safety nets, Mexico or Thailand, for example.
Wed at 2:45pm · Delete

Political Stew
I could not even get through all of the comments. My prayers go out to the family because it's difficult to lose a family member. Americans please WAKE THE F#$% UP Both parties are responsible for the current state of OUR COUNTRY Reagan trained the Taliban and started a DRUG WAR his entire war mongering cabinet has been in every administration since. Bush Sr. came right out and told us about the NWO and set the stage for our involvement in the Middle East. Clinton stripped our country of any moral fiber that we had with sex scandal after sex scandal and created the credit crisis with Fanny and Freddy. Bush Jr. helped take our freedoms with Patriot Act and ran up a debt with the ongoing war that would set up the government takeover that is going on right and Obama has been groomed to be the charismatic architect to finish the job. WAKE UP SLAVES!!!!
Wed at 3:30pm

Roger Williams
Wed at 6:24pm

Jim Heber
Hey Redneck Roger hit CAPS lock key off can you ! Christ fool your rants are stupid enough as is let alone in all capital letters
Wed at 6:34pm

James Patrick Cromer
He was, without question, a hallmark of American politics. He was, also, without question, a hallmark of liberal obstructionism and pundicy. May G-d have mercy on his soul, a prayer I say for friend and foe alike. Amen.
Wed at 8:09pm

Sue: A president can't rewrite the Constitution. 3/4ths of the state legislatures have to majority vote any amendments. You know how hard that is to accomplish?
Thur at 10:37am · Delete

FYI...I don't drink the Kool-Aid. I am a college educated, well traveled individual who reads from several news sources (including foreign press). Unlike you people, I do not get all my news from Fox and Rush and Beck.
Thur at 10:43am · Delete

Sue: If Bin Laden was so easy to catch, why wasn't Bush able to get him? He had his whole presidency, after all? When Clinton was in office, every time he tried to deal with terrorism, the Republicans accused him of distracting the country from his sex problem. Read your history!
Thur at 11:02am · Delete

Jim Heber
Nick debating these people in here, Palin Zombies is like talking to brick walls They are right about everything in life they have it all figured out the whole universe is there play ground, cause God is on there side and we are just scum LOL Must be total hell for them politically these days love to watch em squirm
Thur at 4:02pm

Yeah, I just don't understand how they can not see that Bush (in 2000, they saw him as second coming of Reagan) got our country into this mess and left it for his successor to clean up...and they are mad at Obama? McCain would have done similar things. Blaming Obama for Bush's mess is like kicking the family dog because your husband abused you.
Thur at 4:53pm

Friday, August 28, 2009

Flashback Friday: John F. Kennedy, Jr.

I forgot to do a ten year anniversary reflection on the tragic death of John F. Kennedy, Jr. back in July. The passing of his Uncle Ted reminded me of the Flashback Friday post I wanted to do for one of my favourite personalities, since I didn't have a blog a decade ago to pay proper respect. Now is a good time as any to honour a man who was probably my personal hero. He lived the kind of life I could only dream of living.

Some people might have been jealous of his good fortune, but I viewed him probably the same way that the ancient Greeks viewed their designated gods. I simply cannot think of any other human in my lifetime who had all the blessings of the great genetic pool his parents contributed to, with the luck to be born in such an iconic American family, and the enviable sexual charisma that allowed him to have the widest choice of women for girlfriends and eventually a wife. He truly was the Adonis of our current age. And like the ancient Greek gods and demi-gods (Herakles, comes to mind), he should have paid some attention to the story of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun with waxed wings, which melted and caused a plummet to his death.

Ten years ago, I was in college, attending Summer term so I could finish my courses on time in order to move to D.C. for my internship at the start of 2000 and remain there for my career. I had gone to a study session with some classmates in my Physical Science course. I've never been good at science. In fact, I was required to take three science courses for my degree. I would receive a D in Atmosphere & Weather and another D in Physical Science. But it was my failing grade in Biology that I required to retake in order to receive my degree, which took me forever to complete. The biology course cost me my dream graduation date for the year 2000.

Anyhow, during the study session, one of the girls had mentioned the tragedy of John F. Kennedy and "Caroline" dying. I was stunned because it was the first that I heard about it. Of course, you can't drop news like that on me and expect me to concentrate on my studies. Especially when it involves my beloved Kennedys. The girl didn't know all the details, such as whether it was "Caroline" (his sister) or "Carolyn" (his wife). I thought it would be especially tragic if both of John and Jacqueline Kennedy's children died in the same accident. The girl didn't know, so I couldn't wait for the study session to finish so I could rush home and plant myself on the couch in front of the television, which I did and remained all weekend, watching the cable news coverage.

Such news was not the way I wanted to begin my final semester at BYU. My first semester at BYU began with the shocking news that Princess Diana had died in a tragic car accident in Paris. And like the Kennedy death, I learned about Diana's accident from another person (my sister) first before I saw it on the news. In fact, my sister had gone on and on about some death that I thought she was talking about one of her friends. She was so torn up about it. When she realized I had no idea that Princess Diana died, my mom panicked. She thought it was weird that I didn't know. My mom actually thought the Mormons had kept me from a television, that it really was some kind of insular cult that didn't allow people access to outside news! I just told my mom that I was busy with all the new student orientation activities that I didn't have time to watch television.

So, while my sister was devastated by Diana's death, I actually felt more devastated by Kennedy's death. I suspected that he might run for political office someday and I wanted to be a part of that campaign. I felt a bond with the guy...because he was left-handed, he constantly defied the expectations other people put upon him, he seemed like a genuine friend to anyone who approached him sincerely (without wanting something from him), he wasn't afraid to display a range of emotions in public (such as his infamous public spat with his girlfriend in Central Park in which a ring was taken back and arguments over who owned the dog ensued), and he created the best magazine ever (I have every single issue). Simply put, John F. Kennedy, Jr. represented the kind of person I wish I could, confident, athletic, great family, a wealth of experiences, humility, and the easy ability to attract friends and girlfriends. He dated a lineup of celebrities (Sarah Jessica Parker, Madonna, Darryl Hannah), models (a Brazilian named Xuxa, I believe her name was), and other classy beauties (Christine Haag, Carolyn Bessette). It is blessed to have a choice. America truly lost its Prince that tragic day, 16 July 1999.

Like the Jim Carrey film The Truman Show, John F. Kennedy is one of few people who has been famous from the moment of his birth, just three weeks after his father's election as the 35th president of the United States. The photo above shows his glamourous parents and his baby picture with his mother, Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy. He had an older sister, Caroline. But he carried the namesake. In later years, Jackie was reported to have said that had she known the amount of attention John would receive all his life, they would have never named him after his father.

Who the hell is she kidding, though? The entire Kennedy family has Juniors. The Patriarch Joseph Patrick Kennedy named his first born son, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr. Because Joe Jr. died in a plane crash during World War II, he never got to experience marriage and family. Third brother Robert Francis Kennedy named his first son Joseph Patrick Kennedy II, after his older brother. Then he named his second son Robert Francis Kennedy, Jr. The interesting thing is, RFK Jr. looks a lot like his father, so he was the right person to bear his father's name. As an aside, Martin Luther King, Jr. named his eldest son Martin Luther King III, but as it turns out, second son Dexter Scott King looks more like his father than the namesake son does.

The fourth brother and the last of Joseph and Rose Kennedy's children, Edward M. Kennedy named his eldest guessed it!...Edward M. Kennedy, Jr. So, was there really any choice in the name of the first son of the just elected president? Their second son, who was born in 1963 and died shortly after birth was named Patrick Bouvier Kennedy. Its a shame that he did not get to live to adulthood. I used to wonder if John Jr. would name his own son the third, but books that came out after his death have revealed that he had planned to name his son Flynn. Its a shame that they never got to have children. It might have changed the equation, taming John's daredevil streak (apparently, his wife was not fond of his flying. His mother had forbade him to fly because of a long-held premonition that he would one day die in a plane crash. Its no wonder why he only took up flying after his mother passed away in 1994).

The above photo is probably the second most famous photo of John Jr. (after the photo of the famous salute he rendered at his father's funeral procession). John unfortunately acquired the press nickname of "John John", which turns out to be a reporter's misunderstanding of President Kennedy calling his son twice: "John. John." No family member ever called him "John John." In the famous interview with Oprah Winfrey in 1996, he said that he remembered his father teasingly call him "Sam." And he would argue back, "My name is not Sam! It's John." He would also be called "Copter head." He loved helicopters.

Could that have anything to do with it? Watching his father fly away and back on Marine One. When I visited best friend Nathan in San Diego last year, it was fun to watch as he held his two year old son on his lap and played videos of airplanes on YouTube. I was fascinated by how a two year old could love airplanes so much. I am one who believes that a child's natural interest in something or aversion to something is a big hint of possible past life interests or dislikes. Its worth it for parents to make note of interesting and peculiar interests their children have, because you never know what it might spark someday.

John grew up in the shadow of a famous father he never had a chance to know. No one can ever know the kind of burden he felt on his shoulders for his entire life. Not just being the only son of a slain president, but also bearing his name and even surpassing his own father in the looks department (John Sr. married well!). By the age of 27, People Magazine had proclaimed him "The Sexiest Man Alive!" in their annual issue geared towards its majority female readership. That same year, he electrified delegates at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta with a speech in which he paid tribute to his father. Talk of a future political career only increased from that moment on.
John showed his independence early on when he decided to attend Brown University in Rhode Island rather than his father's alma mater at Harvard University. Despite his reputation as a lightweight (its obvious now that he had ADD), he would've gotten into Harvard easily, but he supposedly chose Brown because it had a curriculum where you could create your own major and out of all the Ivy League schools, it was perhaps the least rigorous.

Though he majored in History, his true passion (besides the ladies) was drama. In fact, he supposedly wanted to be an actor, but his mother considered that to be a bit low class. She was a guiding influence on him and steered him always towards a potential political future, despite his natural desire to act. Its the one thing I fault Jacqueline Kennedy for. She should have let him follow his passion, for he might have been a huge cinema star (he might have even filled the spot now occupied by Tom Cruise--both are about the same age and have a similar look and charisma). She deprived the world of a potential Hollywood star. Some speculate that it was because she never liked the way Marilyn Monroe got her hooks into the Kennedy brothers (John and Robert were equally fascinated by this 60s-era star).

When John briefly dated Madonna, Jacqueline quickly put the stops on that because she rightfully saw Madonna as a social climber not worth getting involved with. Madonna has long held a Marilyn Monroe fascination (evidenced by her appearance at the 1987 American Music Awards as well as her "Material Girl" video in 1985 and her Oscar performance in 1991 of a couple songs from the movie Dick Tracy). Madonna definitely wanted to get into John's pants and live out her JFK-Marilyn Monroe fantasy. She supposedly was disappointed in the fling, though, because he wasn't "aggressive enough" for her.

John did date Daryl Hannah for nearly five years and was reportedly close to marrying her, though his mother also objected to that relationship on two grounds: the Hollywood thing (a big no-no) and Daryl's unstable personality (she was also involved with the abusive Jackson Browne). John would play the hero and rescue her anytime she got abused, but eventually she would return to Jackson Browne.

Also in the late 1980s, John attended New York University to get his Law degree. When he failed his bar exam, the press had a field day with the copy title: "The Hunk Flunks!" When he failed the exam a second time, he said, "Obviously, I'm not quite the legal scholar." At least he took it in stride. He passed on the third try and worked for the New York District Attorney's office, which proved a distraction for the ladies who worked there. He often got marriage proposals and other assorted items in the mail, which co-workers loved to kid him about. It was definitely not easy being John.

Eventually, he got bored with it and thought of starting up a political magazine. This only came about after his mother passed away in 1994 because she most likely would have not allowed him to quit his D.A. job (it was supposed to lead to a political career). Her passing, though a great loss for the country and the Kennedy family, liberated him to pursue his heart's desires: creating a magazine and flying.

In 1995, George Magazine was launched. In the press conference, he teased the press by saying that he hoped his new venture would lead him straight to "the presidency...of a successful publishing empire" (if I remember the quote right). The press kind of pooh-poohed his idea of a magazine about politics that mixed celebrity, lifestyle, and popular culture. Before then, political magazines were pretty wordy, dry magazines with low circulation and only read by the political wonks and campaign staff. John's idea was to make politics interesting for the general public, a sort of political version of GQ or Esquire magazine.

The first issue featured model Cindy Crawford (the most popular model among sailors when I was in the Navy) dressed up as George Washington, for whom the magazine was named. Each successive cover for a time featured a celebrity dressed in colonial garb, such as Robert DeNiro, Charles Barkley, Barbara Streisand (as Betsy Ross), and Howard Stern. To advertise his magazine, he even made an awesome cameo appearance on Murphy Brown (a show that wasn't afraid to get political, especially most famously with Dan Quayle) in which he presented a copy of George Magazine with Murphy Brown (played by Candice Bergin) on the cover and stormed off when she wasn't impressed.

A cover that got a lot of attention is the one featured above, with Drew Barrymore dressed as Marilyn Monroe to serenade President Bill Clinton on his 50th Birthday in 1997. The lady I had a falling out with earlier this year told me back then that she couldn't believe John would make such a cover and that his mother would have been appalled. For me, though, it only showed how cool John was. He didn't get offended and wasn't so serious about his father that he couldn't poke a little fun. I loved that cover. It really revealed John to his avid magazine readers. I'm sure even his father would've have loved that cover.

He also got some press in another issue in 1997 when he posed nude (though obscured by darkness) under an apple and wrote about temptation, in which he scolded his cousins Joseph and Michael Kennedy (Robert's kids) for their scandals that year (Joseph wanted to annul his marriage instead of a divorce, which would've bastardized his children; Michael was caught in a sex scandal involving a teenage babysitter for his children). Joseph was Congressman at the time and gearing up for a run for Governor and he quipped, "Ask not what you can do for your cousin, but what you can do for your magazine." Again, I thought John's editor's note revealed an honest and refreshing person who was not afraid to confront his family's demons and talk openly about their reckless behaviours.

To this day George magazine is my all time favourite magazine. I have every single issue and each time one came in the mail, I would spend that moment reading it from cover to cover. There were excellent articles that featured up and coming politicians to watch out for (such as Indiana Governor Evan Bayh). During the late 90s, I was such an avid fan that I told people that I would marry the woman who loved George as much as me. In 2000, at church, after I met Jenet one Sunday, she offered me a ride after church to a couple's house for lunch. When I approached her car, in the back seat was the latest copy of George and I had mentioned it. Jenet responded by saying, "I love George magazine!" Ah, I found my love! She was the first lady I had met who loved it as much as me, but it wasn't meant to be.

The magazine ran at a revenue loss and was in danger of being cancelled in 1999. John negotiated a new contract that was supposed to save the magazine, but about a year after his death, the owners decided to cancel it, which was fine by me. The magazine lost his touch and I noticed a more conservative bias to it, which I did not like. I thought it was good of the company to attempt to keep it going in his memory, but it was really his baby and if that is the only legacy he left our world, its fine enough. Some might criticize him for being an underachiever or undisciplined, or a hedonist, but I think he lived life by his rules. He was born into a wealthy family, so he didn't really need a career. After his death, news reported all the charities he helped, not just with money, but actual mentoring of low income, high risk youth. He never talked about his charitable activities, which reflects how classy the guy was. After all, Jesus mentioned to his disciples that we should do things "in secret" not to be seen by other men (like the Pharisees do) because only God and the people we help need to know the good that we do.

The biggest event, though, for John in the summer of 1996 was his secret wedding to Carolyn Bessette in a former slave chapel on Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia. This is where he surprised people again. It was expected that John would have a lavish public wedding in New York or Boston or Hyannis Port, but that wasn't his style. The press only learned of his marriage after the fact. Cumberland Island is quite remote (one can't drive onto the island like the other islands in the chain). You can only get there by boat or plane or helicopter. With his marriage, women's hearts all over America broke to pieces. The World's Most Eligible Bachelor was off the market. The wedding was only attended by his close family (none of the Kennedy cousins) and hers, with Uncle Ted, sister Caroline, and his cousin on his mother's side serving as best man (Tony Radziwell). The chapel wasn't large enough for many people. In my years of living in Georgia, I had hoped to visit that island and see the slave's chapel for myself.

It was the wedding of cousin Rory (the 11th child of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, the only one born after her father's death in 1968) that caused what should have been a happy family reunion into another family tragedy. Two years earlier, they had suffered the loss of Michael, who died while skiing when he hit a tree (playing football on skis!). Yes, this was the same Michael who had an affair with the family babysitter.

John flew out to the wedding site in Hyannis Port, with a planned stop at Martha's Vineyard to drop off Carolyn's sister Lauren. John was rather inexperienced pilot and was supposedly caught by the haze in which one cannot tell the line on the horizon between sky and sea, thus getting the plane into what was called a "death spiral." It was a horrible way for them to go. Three lives were lost, with the Bessette family losing two daughters at once.

In the ten years since, conspiracy theories have come up about it, which I find ludicrous. I've read a few speculations and don't find them credible. I guess the rationale is that John was supposedly planning to run for the open Senate seat in 2000 because he was "offended" that a carpet-bagger like Hillary was going to run, but someone wanted him "bumped off" (some conspiracy theorists even blame George W. Bush, which I find laughably absurd. He's guilty of many things, but not the death of JFK Jr!). I don't buy that, though. While John did hint at possibly running someday, I'm not sure that he felt ready in 2000. He still seemed commited to his magazine, because just weeks before his death, he had met with the owners of the magazine to renegotiate a deal. His wife also seemed weary about a public life and might have needed some coaxing. And finally, John was incredibly self-aware, so he knew if he didn't feel intellectually ready, he would not run until he acquired whatever knowledge or experience he needed to do the job properly. He ran on his own schedule. He didn't rush into marriage, despite several lengthy relationships. He waited several years between college and grad school. When he died, he was only 38 years old (I turn that age at the end of the year). He was not a man in a rush for anything, so had he lived, I believe that he would not have run for the Senate in 2000. The media would've have loved that primary fight, I think it reflects the media's obsession, not necessarily reality (just like the media wanted 2008 to be Hillary versus Giuliani, which they were denied in the 2000 Senate race).

This is another favourite photo of Mr. and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, Jr. with President Bill Clinton talking about the famous portrait of President Kennedy in the White House. According to an article I read at the time the Kennedys visited the White House, Clinton was supposedly seen giving Carolyn the glance over. The man had no shame! But I bet he was jealous of JFK Jr, who had his pick of beautiful ladies while Clinton could only manage women like Monica, Gennifer, Kathleen and Paula (not a desireable one among them).

This is another favourite photo. I wish that this would have been the cover of the final issue of George Magazine, though. Each cover had a hard to find image of George on it. Some were obvious while others were more subtle. JFK Jr. did grace the cover of the final issue, but it was not this perfect photo (with an obvious image of George looking over his shoulder).

I know a lot of people judge John as not having accomplished much in his 38 years. However, he truly lived a blessed life. He embodied The Truman Show, as his life from birth to death was lived in the range of cameras and the press. Sure, he was able to trick the media at times (such as his secret wedding), but most of the time, he just handled the press with an easy charm. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about John is that he had incredible humility and lack of pretension. When meeting people for the first time, he always introduced himself, "Hi, I'm John Kennedy." He never assumed that people knew who he was. In contrast, you often hear about newly emerging Hollywood stars or children of celebrities telling commoners, "Do you know who I am?"

There is nothing wrong with living a blessed life. With all of the tragedies his family had endured, as well as growing up without his father to guide him, I'm sure that pain was something he carried with him until that day ten years ago when he finally got to reunite with his parents in the spiritual realm. Though our world is a little bit sadder without his presence and we will never have the opportunity to see what his life might have achieved, there is nothing wrong with the choices he made in life. He is an iconic figure, the kind that ancient Greeks wrote poetic epics about. He was a living god among us mere mortals. He had every blessing but length of years. In short, he lived life to the fullest and we shall always have his magazines as a testament to the times we lived in. In fact, I think his magazine led the way to making politics a little more accessable. In the aftermath, we have seen The West Wing and the popularity of John McCain in 2000 and Barack Obama in 2008, a kind of popularity that almost transcends the politics of old into the kind of popular politics John's magazine represented. It is our duty to make politics a valuable part of our lives, as it was for his life.

God bless you, always and forever, Mr. Kennedy.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Presidential Reading Materials

On the news recently is a list of President Obama's summer vacation reading materials. I find this ritual press obsession to be slightly amusing, as they try to read into what a president's selection might mean. A sort of look into the president's psyche, just like those campaign-era "what's on your ipod?" According to one article I read, this press obsession with presidential reading material began when someone had asked President John F. Kennedy what book he was reading. He had mentioned Ian Fleming's From Russia With Love as being a particular favourite of his. That surprised people because Ian Fleming was considered a spy formula novelist...who wrote escapist fare. It also made the young charismatic president look hip and cool (this was before the successful movie series began). I think its telling that JFK liked the James Bond character and he probably imagined himself as that debonair spy. He certainly had Bond's easy way with the ladies, and considered the Rat Pack among his friends.

The press obsessed with Clinton's reading lists, as well. The previous Democratic president was a voracious reader. He consumed books like he consumed his crossword puzzles. The man was a brilliant multi-tasker and it was easy to believe that he devoured stacks of books on his Martha's Vineyard vacations each August.

When it was reported that the Obamas were spending their first August vacation as the First Family on Martha's Vineyard, I was surprised. Why follow in the Clintons footsteps? The idea of a Martha's Vineyard vacation appears to many Americans as "elitist." After all, the Obamas stayed at a house owned by a big-time Democratic supporter. With Republican presidents, they always go to their homestead (Bush junior at his Crawford "ranch"; Bush senior at his Kennebunkport estate; and Reagan at his California ranch). Democrats stay as guests of their financial supporters or go sailing with the Kennedys. I guess a vacation at the home in Chicago is no go.

So, what's on Obama's reading list? According to the article, he has five books lined up. One is a crime thriller (Clinton loved those escapist fare, also), another is a book by Richard Price. The two most interesting ones are David McCullough's John Adams biography (still on my reading list) and Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Those two aren't surprising. Clinton read plenty of presidential biographies while he was president and seemed obsessed with wondering about his placement among that exclusive fraternity. Even Bush started reading presidential biographies at the end of his term. Obama started early, by reading Team of Rivals, about President Lincoln's cabinet, when he was selecting members of his cabinet. He also read a book about FDR earlier this year, regarding that iconic Democrat's First 100 Days, to shape his own.

Overall, though, presidential reading lists are superficial. Of course a president is going to select books that get attention or makes a subtle hint about something he wants us to know. Its like the job interview book I have, where one of the advice is to check out the latest best selling titles on the Business books list to drop in a conversation, in case your interviewer asks what you are reading. I have never been asked what book I read during a job interview, but I suppose if that were to happen, it would not be wise to tell them the truth (that I read a lot of self-help psychology and spiritual books). I am careful about what kind of books I read in public, too. If I'm riding a bus or train, I'll make sure that I'm reading one of the more interesting books that could launch a good conversation if someone notices and mentions it. I won't read what I consider "popular literature" (John Grisham or Nicholas Sparks) in public. I save that for the privacy of home. I get enough grief from my literary snob friends that I indulge in a few authors of formulaic, popular fare. I prefer literary novels, but sometimes its just a nice break to read a good Grisham or Sparks novel. Get over yourself!

Now, about George W. Bush's reading list. After the 2004 election, his handler's dropped their pretense that the president wasn't much of a reader and claimed one summer that Albert Camus' The Stranger was on his reading list! He also claimed to have read all of Shakespeares plays one summer. I found this extremely hard to believe. Particularly the Camus book. Bush strikes me as the kind of person who would call the French "frogs" and "sissy". In fact, he set the tone when our longtime allies the French refused to join the coalition to oust Saddam from Iraq. French fries were rebranded as "Freedom Fries", French wine was dumped in ceremonial displays reminiscent of the Boston Tea Party, and French cheese was boycotted from stores. All out of some petty grievance because our BFF wouldn't go along with our desire to bang up a few mailboxes on a Friday night.

Does anyone really believe that Bush would get over his anti-French, anti-intellectual inclinations and start reading French existentialist fare? I've tried to read Camus in college (both in English and in French). Its not easy reading. Existentialist literature is hardly the kind of read one does for pleasure. It struck me as funny that Bush would try to pass himself off as a nouveau intellectual after going the first term as an anti-intellectual. He strutted around like a bow-legged cowboy and partook of "manly pursuits" such as clearing brush on his "ranch" or riding shotgun in Navy fighter planes onto aircraft carriers a la Top Gun. Reading was something his librarian wife did. In fact, she probably read Camus and told him all about it in terms he could understand.

Beyond all of that, the biggest reason why I don't believe Bush reads complicated books or lengthy books is because in the 2000 campaign, he had told Oprah Winfrey that his favourite book was The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which is a children's picture book. To illustrate his preference even more clearly, on that tragic day of 9/11, when Bush was informed that "we are under attack" after the second plane hit the World Trade Center, Bush sat frozen in his seat for over seven minutes while the class continued to read My Pet Goat. What was he thinking about in that moment? What was so compelling about the picture book My Pet Goat that he couldn't excuse himself in a time of national emergency?

So, what's on my reading list these days? Well, I'm currently reading the following books: Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience by Sharon Salzberg, Getting Stoned With Savages by J. Maarten Troost, the Obama biography by David Mendell (still working my way through it), and Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh. What's on your reading list?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Senate is Missing Its Lion

Just got word late Tuesday night that the Lion of the Senate, Mr. Edward Kennedy, has passed away, just a few weeks after his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver passed on. He wasn't expected to live very long after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor last year and then having a medical crisis during a luncheon with the newly inaugurated President Obama on January 20th. His dream was to see the passing of universal health care (he called it "the cause of my life" in a recent Newsweek article), and the best way Democrats can honour him (Blue Dogs and stalwarts combined) is to do the right thing and pass health care reform with public option.

I find it most interesting that Senator Kennedy has passed away at 77 (sister Eunice was 88 when she passed). In some spiritual circles (particularly in numerology), double numbers are a highly spiritual number. Especially 11, 22, 33, 77, and 88. I actually thought he was older than that, though. He has served in the United States Senate since 1962, when he was elected at age 30 to his brother John's seat after it was vacated when the second brother became president. I wouldn't be surprised if his nephew Joe was appointed by the Governor to become the interim Senator or if Joe decides to run for the seat at the next election. All the talk earlier this year of his niece Caroline's interest in Hillary Clinton's vacated Senate seat seemed to have more to do with his desires than hers. This may partly be due to his wish for someone he trusts to carry on his fight to bring universal health care into reality, or else he wants the Kennedy family to continue on in government after he passes.

Ted was the last remaining brother in that Great American family, the only one who got to live to see old age. His three older brothers will always be remembered in their prime (the eldest Joseph Jr. died while flying combat missions over Germany in World War II; brothers John and Robert were assassinated in the turbulent 60s). Cynics point out that dying young is a great career move, because you'll always be remembered as youthful looking, rather than growing old and obese. Ted was quite a fit young man, but like actor Marlon Brando, his body did not age well. He had his bouts of alcoholism, and the events of Chappaquiddick in 1969 continued to haunt him for the rest of his life (he had a car accident off a bridge on Chappaquiddick island in which he swam to safety and left the lady in the car, who drowned).

When I interned in D.C. nine years ago, one day I had walked out of my office (the OVP for Legislative Affairs office just off the Senate floor in the U.S. Capitol building) and was in a hurry, but I found myself behind a huge, round man. He wobbled like a penguin and was kind of slow. I kept thinking, "That can't be Kennedy!" Once I passed him, I turned around to look and sure enough, he was. I didn't get a chance to talk with him, but I appreciated that moment where we shared the same space and breathed the same air. I consider such moments magical (in my internship, I never knew which Senator I would bump into whenever I left my office for an errand). Senator Ted Kennedy is an icon. Had I been able to talk with him that day, I wanted to tell him, "Senator, I just wanted to say that your family has been a great influence on how I view the world and I wanted to thank you for everything you and your family have done for our country." I know a few Kennedy haters, but for me, I am so glad the Kennedys are Democrats. Their passion and idealism keeps me in the party rather than seeking some third party based on an egotistical need for "ideological purity."

One thing that I think about regarding Ted Kennedy is how he must have felt being the only surviving brother in his large family. He played the role of surrogate father to his eleven nieces and nephews of Robert and Ethel, and to the niece and nephew of John and Jacqueline. He has a few children of his own (namesake Ted Jr. who is not in politics, and Patrick, who is the Congressman from Rhode Island). I'm sure that he must have felt the legacy of his brothers on his shoulders, and sought to honour their ideals in his lifetime of service in the United States Senate.

From my understanding, when Ted was first elected to the Senate in 1962, it had little to do with his actual experience and more with his father's pressure and influence. Joseph Sr. had wanted a political career for himself, but only managed to serve as FDR's Ambassador to the Court of Saint James during World War II. His views on Germany weren't very popular (let's just say that he was more Neville Chamberlain than Winston Churchill). So, he groomed his namesake son Joseph to go into politics after the end of the war. Unfortunately, though, Joe Jr. and John had a competitive streak going on, as each sought to outdo the other in high risk adventures. Joe volunteered for dangerous flying missions over Germany while John captained PT boats in the Pacific. Joe was killed in flight, so all hopes fell to John for the aspirations of the father. My favourite Kennedy joke was one that John told about his father. It was something along the lines of his father saying that he would spend as much as necessary to elect his son president, but he'll be damned if he's gonna pay for a landslide. I think JFK told that joke in the aftermath of the squeaky close election in 1960.

We all know that the mythological Camelot was interrupted by an assassin's bullet(s) in Dallas on 22 November 1963. This prompted the next brother in line Robert to run for the open New York Senate seat in 1964. He was ambivalent about challenging President Johnson for the Democratic nomination in 1968 and waited until after Senator Eugene McCarthy embarrassed LBJ in the New Hampshire primary. Kennedy decided to throw his hat into the ring and LBJ decided not to seek another term. RFK lost the Oregon primary but won big in California and was likely to win the nomination if not for an assassin's bullet in the Ambassador Hotel. The last remaining brother, Ted, had some bad luck in the 1960s, which included surviving a plane crash and that infamous drowning incident in 1969. In 1980, he decided to challenge President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination. I was too young to remember that election year much, so I don't know how much he was motivated by running on the twentieth anniversary of his brother's election versus how much of it was influenced by the perceived weakness of Carter's presidency. What I do know is that he lost the fight, and Carter went down in defeat against Reagan. 1980 probably represented the last chance for this Kennedy brother to restore his family's presidency.

I know it seems weird to say that a family has a presidency, but I do feel that America was robbed of a great president when John was assassinated (I believe that it was an inside job where Lee Harvey Oswald served as a convenient patsy). We were robbed of an even greater presidency with the assassination of Robert (my favourite of the Kennedy brothers. It tears me up to think that I could have been born during an RFK Administration had he not been assassinated). I'm not certain, though, that Ted would have made a great president as his two brothers. It seemed like it took him a long time to grow into his job as Senator. Now, he's considered perhaps one of the best Senators our country has ever seen (I've read this in several places, but I would have to read actual reasons why people think this because I don't know what makes him great, other than that he really stuck out for his liberal beliefs, which is rare. For example, he voted against the Iraq War resolution in 2002, which his colleague, John Kerry, voted for, even though both had safe seats in the most liberal state).

So, yeah...America was robbed of two Kennedy presidencies, and yet we're given two Bush presidencies we didn't even want? What's up with that? I know a lot of people like to say that the Kennedy family is dysfunctional with all the tragedies, adulteries, alcoholism, broken marriages, and deaths...but at least they were never hypocrites who talked endlessly about morality. They lived life to the fullest and were fiercely loyal to one another. If I could be a member of any family, I would choose to be a Kennedy. In fact, I consider myself an honorary Kennedy in spirit. I remember in the seventh grade, an English teacher mistakenly thought my last name was Kennedy and I didn't bother to correct her because I liked being called that. My school career also began at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Lawrence, Kansas, where I attended Kindergarten and First grade.

The Bush family, though, is probably more dysfunctional than the Kennedys, because they are obsessed with morality issues and evangelicalism. In comparing the two dynasties, there are some similarities (patriarch Prescott Bush, like Joseph Kennedy Sr., also had pro-Hitler sympathies): wealth, elite New England background, large families, adulteries, drug and alcohol addictions, tragic deaths, broken marriages and political aspirations. The main important difference, though, is that the Kennedys look out for the poor and underprivileged (a reflection of their Irish immigrant heritage) while the Bush family serves the interests of the wealthy class and the Saudi oil sheiks. I hope to God that we aren't cursed with yet another Bush presidency (Jeb wants it, and if he doesn't get it, his son George P. might be able to snooker a forgetful American public someday to try their luck once again with this loser family).

We never got to see the political potential of John F. Kennedy, Jr. (at the funeral ten years ago, Ted Kennedy said that the family believed that this one would live to comb gray hair). So, I think President Barack Obama will just have to be that honorary Kennedy (he certainly has JFK's cool and classy vibe going for him, with wife Michelle reminding us of the elegance we haven't seen in First Ladies since Jacqueline brought her style to the White House). I love that photo of the two of them above. Last year, I wasn't surprised when Ted and Caroline Kennedy endorsed Obama over Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. He certainly has the kind of personality and ideals that would make him fit in that all American iconic family.

The final photo is of the Three Kennedy brothers (Edward, John and Robert, respectively) as dashing young men in the prime of their lives. Will we ever see class like that again in a political family?

So, Senator Kennedy...thank you for your 46 years serving not just the people of your state in the United States Senate, but for standing up for the little guy everywhere in this great country of ours. You were the advocate for anyone who needed the helping hand of government to get back up after the bully of the market knocked him down and stole his lunch money. Despite your wealthy upbringing and privileged life, you looked after the poor, the sick, and the destitute among us. That is the mark of a true Christian. You weren't perfect by any means, but you have shown a remarkable grace and courage that can transcend any flaw, as you went about your business helping to make our world a more just place. Enjoy your reunion in the heavenly realm with your brothers, sisters, parents, and nephews. You did your family proud and the Kennedy legacy will continue to live on in your absence, carrying your memories onward to a new generation of Americans. God bless and Godspeed.