Monday, May 31, 2010

Madonna Music Video Monday: Vogue

On this last Monday and day of May, the music video selection is my second favourite Madonna song (and all-time favourite Madonna music video): "Vogue." It was the #1 song in America twenty years ago around this time. I was crazy about it when it first started getting radio airplay and I have never grown tired of this song in all the hundreds of times I've heard it. It has an intriguing melody / sound, with some interesting lyrics. If I were to wager a guess, I would bet that she was partially influenced by Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" because like that incredible song, Madonna utilizes a list of names in clever rhyming schemes. For example: "Greta Garbo and Monroe, Dietrich and DiMaggio / Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean on the cover of a magazine..."

Back in May 1990, I remember that the radio station I listened to (Power 99 in Atlanta GA) introduced Madonna's "new single." It was called "Supernatural." * I only heard it once and I thought it was merely okay. Then, they started playing "Vogue", which was the first single off of her Dick Tracy companion album called I'm Breathless. I read that this single was supposed to be included on Madonna's year end release (her first greatest hits album), but they tacked it on to her album of torch songs and 30s-style standards. Its an odd inclusion. "Vogue" certainly does not have anything to do with the movie Dick Tracy, in which Madonna had a supporting role as Breathless Mahoney, the Mafia siren who tries to get interrogated by dectective Dick Tracy. Practically all of her lines have sexual innuendo.

When the album came out, I thought it was great at the time. It was quite unusual and different. She continued with the Betty Boop-ish mannerisms of her "Santa Baby" remake in 1987. However, this album has not aged well, and I now consider it to be her worst one. Its such a joke to listen to now. Only three songs appeared in the actual film, the rest was supposedly "inspired" by the film. I'll do a special Flashback Friday for the film itself later in June.

At the time "Vogue" came out, I remember thinking about Irene Cara's tribute song to another dance phenomenon: "Breakdancing." However, that song is practically forgotten, while "Vogue" still gets radio play on adult contemporary radio stations as well as featured in a hit movie (2006's The Devil Wears Prada). There is just something compelling about this song. I had never heard of "Vogue-ing" nor have I ever seen people actually do it. Probably because its a dance that originated in gay clubs. Madonna secured her place as a gay icon with this single. In the music video, it's interesting that the dancers you see are the ones you get to know if you've ever watched her Truth or Dare documentary. They aren't nice people.

After this single, it would be a couple years before Madonna returned with another awesome single. In the meantime, she took a strange detour into perverse sexual fantasy with provocative songs filled with dirty rhythms and explicit lyrics. Some of it was catchy, but nothing in the twenty years since comes close to the perfection of "Vogue." Its her true masterpiece.

* "Supernatural" later appeared as one of the songs on the 1992 charitable album, Red Hot and Dance, which also featured three singles by George Michael. To this day, I find "Supernatural" to be one of Madonna's silliest songs (up there with "Cry Baby" and "Hanky Panky"). Its a good thing that "Vogue" pre-empted "Supernatural" as the single to release and promote in May 1990.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Ripping On Right-Wing Radio

Friday night, I went to Powell's City of Books for a lecture / booksigning by Bill Press, whom I have actually never heard of before. Apparently, he's a bigtime progressive journalist and talkshow pundit / host / personality. Shows how much I know. His latest book, Toxic Talk, is about how rightwing radio is poisoning our airwaves, which has devastating consequences in our public sphere. This is a topic of great interest to me, due partially to the numerous "debates" I've had with conservatives on Facebook, whom often credit their source of information as Fox News or Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh. Whenever I call them up on the skewed ideology of these infotainers and how they are being lied to, they often get defensive and accuse me getting my news from "liberal" sources, like Michael Moore, Keith Olbermann, or Rachel Maddow. Which is a laugh. I don't even have cable. Yes, I have seen Michael Moore's documentaries...but I'm also smart enough to know how he often manipulates information to get his points across. He's not my "ultimate authority" on political news. The fact that the Glenn Beck drones and Rush dittoheads think that I'm like them in wanting to be fed propaganda instead of facts shows just how different our thinking is. Besides, they have no idea how to check credibility. They're arguing with a guy who got his degree in International POLITICS from a CONSERVATIVE university!

Who are my go-to political pundits that I respect? Easy: Thomas Friedman, Paul Krugman, and David Brooks. Whenever I mention this to the rightwingers, they seem to have no clue who those three individuals are, which proves my point. They base their political opinions on uncredentialed entertainers who never completed college (if they bothered to go at all). If I'm not mistaken, Krugman has a Nobel Prize in economics, and Friedman has a Pulitzer Prize...but don't quote me on it. Whether you read their articles or books, or listen to them on political talk shows, its obvious to anyone that they know what they are talking about. They are serious in their study of the issues, and I don't always agree with their opinions. In fact, I don't agree with David Brooks on much, but I love hearing what he thinks, because he is an intelligent and pretty fairminded conservative. Besides that, he said the best thing anyone has ever said about Sarah Palin: "She represents a fatal cancer on the Republican Party."

So, Bill Press gave some tasty quotes from various rightwing personality types: Neal Boortz on the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans (Boortz is of the opinion that anyone receiving Section 8 housing should be stripped of their right to vote!), Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh. I don't know how those conservative talkshow hosts sleep at night, but it honestly doesn't surprise me to hear that Rush is addicted to OxyContin and pops Viagra pills like they were Mentos. I have a belief that Rush knows that he's lying to his listeners all the time and can't believe how easy it is to con his very loyal supporters. It has to weigh on one's conscience to get away with the lies because not one of his followers will ever call him out on his bullshit. I'd say that he's a ripe candidate for a major mental illness someday. He reminds me of the character in American Psycho, who tells people that he's a serial killer but no one will believe him, yet desperately wanting someone to stop him and hold him accountable for his actions.

Press is not the only person who seems to hint at Glenn Beck's mental instability. Just recently, Beck had to apologize for attacking President Obama's tweenage daughter, since he violated his own rules that children of politicians were off limits. I guess they are only off limits if they happen to be children of the Bush or Palin families. In my opinion, I think a politician's child should be off limits UNLESS they do things that warrant media attention (such as Albert Gore III getting busted for marijuana possession, or the Bush twins' underage drinking, or Jeb Bush's daughter's drug stealing, or Bristol Palin having an unwed pregnancy as a teenager while her mother preaches "abstinence only" as an effective means of solving the birth control issue). So far, the Obama daughters have been as quiet and dutiful as Chelsea Clinton has been. Its funny how conservative talkshow infotainers see nothing wrong with rude jokes about Chelsea's supposed "ugliness" or Malia's "peace sign" T-shirt, but its hands off if the children of the Bush families are busted for underage drinking or trying to steal drugs. What's worse than that, though, is that the loyal and brainless listeners eat it all up without thinking how inconsistent those criteria are.

On Wednesday, I went to the World Affairs Council Oregon discussion group for the first time in a month. One of the members happens to be an FBI agent, which is cool. I had a lot of good questions for him. Mostly, I was interested to know if there has been an increase in white supremacists activity since Obama became president. He said that there has been and that they have a criteria about how to monitor such activities. Sounds like a job I'd enjoy. Anyhow, he's a moderate, though I suspect a Republican. However, when I interned in D.C., I got along just fine with moderate Republicans who weren't into Rush Limbaugh or who weren't ideologues. I don't get along with ideologues of any stripe (this includes radical liberals who think that Dennis Kucinich is the only "pure" politician, which I know personally to be a sham). Anyhow, what most fascinated me about the FBI agent's comment was that he said it's not the really crazy folk that we need to be most worried about (the super-paranoids who rant about Blackhawk helicopters and government controlling their brains with a remote control device), because they tend to be mostly talk rather than action. What scares him more is the only "mildly crazy", which are the people who listen to Beck and Fox News every day. He believes (as I do) that Fox is irresponsible in its journalism. I personally believe that Glenn Beck's daily rants are practically a dare towards a mentally unstable listener of his show to pick up a gun and take action against the people he consider to be "an enemy." We saw how this turned out during the Clinton years, when the heated rightwing rhetoric inspired anti-government loners to take action with deadly results.

An anti-government friend of mine on Facebook (and in the church) may hate all government employees, but I am one person who always had the greatest respect for FBI agents since elementary school. The ones I've met in the past decade have been nothing short of professional and I credit a lot of it to the former FBI Director, Louis Freeh, who is a man of integrity and one I wish would run for political office someday (people I've met who knew him personally have all said the same thing: Freeh has no political bone in his body. He's pure cop).

It is my sincerest wish that conservatives in our country wise up to the manipulations of the people they give too much attention to. I'll never forget the reasoned debate I had with a conservative British guy at the Green Tortoise hostel in San Francisco in 2004. It reminded me of the conversations I've had with Europeans. Despite our political differences, the debate always stayed on facts and never got heated or personal. This rarely happens in America because people don't know how to respectfully disagree. Its also an indication just how influential rightwing radio hosts have been. They rarely educate their listeners on actual facts. Its all fear-mongering and emotional appeals. The fact that the average Glenn Beck listener doesn't know or care who David Brooks is tells us everything we need to know about the way they think. They aren't interested in learning the truth. They want validation for their opinions, which are rooted in a willful pride in being ignorant since education turns people into "elite snobs."

Here's a difference between the Glenn Beck / Fox Propaganda zombies and me: When news broke about Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, I became obsessed with every detail in that scandal in 1998. I WANTED to know the truth about the affair, because I couldn't believe it at first. Doubts about Clinton's honesty crept in when I watched his reaction and by the time he gave his poorly advised national address to the nation in August 1998, I was so mad that I wanted him to resign and that November was the only election I actually did not vote in since I reached voting age. I sat it out. On the flip side, during the entire Bush administration, even after his presidency hit rock bottom in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I did not hear a single Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Fox Propaganda zombie show any interest in the truth about why Bush went to war in Iraq. They were defensive about his agenda to the very end. Many of them still believe that there were WMDs in Iraq! If you're interested in knowing the truth, this means you have to be willing to look deeper at the politician you support when the spin does not make sense.

The book signing / lecture is awesome, because Portland is such a liberal town. The audience was on the larger side of Powell's lectures and it was a bit like church, with people whooping and hollering and clapping when Bill Press said something especially pleasing to the progressives' ears. Its amazing that there still remains today few progressive talk radio stations and hosts across the country. Many of my liberal friends from college are big fans of NPR and don't understand why I'm not a listener. Honestly, I'm not much into talk radio because I love music way too much. I'd rather hear a great 80s song than hear talk talk talk on the radio. Music is my drug of choice, I guess you could say. I have a feeling that many liberal-minded folks prefer to listen to music than talk...but conservatives are looking to have their opinions validated because they feel like they are constantly under attack (even when Republicans controlled all three branches of our government from 2001 through 2006, its amazing the amount of books by rightwing infotainers claiming that liberals had all the power and were responsible for everything that was wrong in America! Ann Coulter is the perfect example of this, as every one of her books were about the evils of liberals. Its like she wrote one book and kept repackaging it with new titles).

My message to conservative listeners of talkradio is: YOU ARE BEING LIED TO! Find out the truth on your own. Its actually not a difficult thing to learn the truth. It takes some practice, but eventually, you'll learn. If you don't know where to start, well, start with Jesus. He said "By their fruits, ye shall know them." I don't know how conservative people can tolerate being lied to by their favourite talkradio personalities, though. You'd think that they'd learn. I know for me that I hate being played the fool. If someone tells me something that doesn't make sense, I always fact check on my own. When a person gets their facts wrong time and time again, they lose credibility and once credibility is lost, its very difficult to regain. We need to hold each other accountable if we want a more civil society.

It saddens me that so many of my fellow church members in Atlanta are under the spell of Beck, Rush, and Fox. The blind conservative ideological worldview at the Atlanta North congregation nearly pushed me out of the church altogether. I figured that moving to the liberal Pacific Northwest would be the best thing to keep me faithful to the church I was raised in. Some day in the heavenly realm, I will ask these church members why they preferred to be lied to than to learn the truth on their own. What is it about being a conservative that requires such validation not based on reason, facts, and knowledge? Clinging to ideology is not evolution. We're here to be smarter and better than we were yesterday. Change is the only constant in our world.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Summer of Suck

A few weeks ago, I bought an issue of Entertainment Weekly magazine, which I used to subscribe to, but over the years, I have decided to no longer subscribe to any magazines in order to cut down on my "packrat tendencies". I only buy specific issues of this magazine, Time, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, Writer's Digest, or various travel magazines. Now, I generally only buy Entertainment Weekly's special double issues. The last one I bought was the annual summer movies schedule, with descriptions of the major films. To my dismay, for the first time since the early 1980s, there is not a SINGLE movie that I am excited to see this summer. For more than twenty-seven years, there has always been at least one or two movies that I was really excited about seeing. We're talking about the kind of excitement where I can't sleep because I'm too excited for opening day.

Last summer, the new Star Trek and the adaptation of Dan Brown's Angels and Demons were the two "can't miss" films of the summer. The best summer that I can recall, however, was the summer of 1989, when there were new Indiana Jones, Star Trek, Ghostbusters, and Lethal Weapon movies, along with the much anticipated Batman, and the excellent Vietnam War film Casualties of War. I used to buy Premiere magazine (does this even exist anymore?), which had its predictions on which movies would make how much money, and they even ranked them. I loved seeing how close they came, or more often was the case, how far off their predictions were.

I suppose this lack of being excited over summer movies is a sign that I've officially become an adult. I no longer have any trace of the adolescent in me who gets excited over summer movies. In fact, my dad once warned me that when I live long enough, I'll see the same ideas come around again. This is certainly true regarding the new Robin Hood movie. Nineteen years ago, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (starring Kevin Costner) was the most anticipated movie of the summer for me. I was new in the Navy, attending my "A" School after Basic Training and on the radio was Bryan Adams' theme song to the film: "(Everything I Do) I Do it For You." I remember reading a quote by Amy Grant (who also had a hit song that year, "Baby Baby") complaining that her song was locked out of the #1 slot because of Bryan Adams' syrupy ballad. Anyhow, though the Kevin Costner version wasn't a perfect film, it did accomplish its mission. I can't think of any reason why someone would want to make another Robin Hood movie. Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe's version simply fails to excite me. Perhaps if they made a modern-day version of Robin Hood in the corporate office, stealing from the greedy executives to give to the underpaid administrative staff, I'd be interested. Yeah...a Robin Hood in an Enron-environment, that would definitely get me interested enough to part with my $10.

I guess in the age of Netflix, there's really little reason for me to go out to a theater to see a movie, unless its a huge event film in 3-D that is better on the big screen (that would be Avatar, naturally!). There are no major bio-pics coming out, though Julia Roberts is starring in an adaptation of the popular book club selection, Eat, Pray, Love. That might be worth seeing, if I could snag a date for it. On a positive note, this weekend, theaters are still showing Ewan MacGregor's The Ghostwriter, and since I've become a ghostwriter myself, I may just have to check this film out in the theaters. The rest of this summer, though, I guess I don't need any distractions from my major goal to find a job. My goal is to make the summer of 2010 "the Summer of SynchroNICKity."

*Speaking of my ghostwriting gig, my co-worker informed me that his professor had read my most recent paper and gave the highest grade in the class, complimenting him on writing an extremely well-written paper. My co-worker was stunned...but I've gotten such praises on my writing style all my life (from elementary school, through high school, and in college). Praise matters little to me. Just give me a publishing contract already, damn it! I'm ready to see how my writing does in the marketplace of ideas: the bookstore!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Another Nostalgia Trip

Lately, I've been thinking about Ferdinand the Bull. I have no idea exactly when this children's story resurfaced in my thoughts, but it happened sometime this year. I vaguely remembered the story as one that I liked during my childhood, but I couldn't remember the reasons why. When I finally watched The Blindside a few weeks ago, I laughed when Sandra Bullock's character had a copy of this book to read to her son and the hulking teenager she takes into her home. What a perfect book for the character of the gentle giant!

On Saturday, I happened to make it to Powell's City of Books for the first time in awhile. I was disppoinated to learn that I had missed Sebastian Junger's recent booksigning by ONE DAY! I was so looking forward to that and I was free on Friday night to attend. What happened? He is one writer that I've been wanting to meet because of his enviable career (a freelance writer who has traveled to some of the world's hotspots in terms of human conflict). Bummer. I guess I need to mark up my calendar with "Must Attend Events"! In consolation, I did manage to catch his interview on the Charlie Rose Show on Tuesday night. His new book, simply called War, sounds like a good one to read (perhaps alongside Jon Krakauer's book about Pat Tillman). On the show, Junger explains the psyche behind why men bond in war and how that experience actually makes it difficult for some men to readjust back to civilian life. I went through some of that in my transition out of the Navy, as I found that one of things I missed most about the Navy was the camaraderie. To this day, its still difficult for me to work in an office full of catty women who prefer talking about celebrity gossip and shopping. D.C. also spoiled me, because the women I worked with were extremely professional and discussed political ideas.

Anyhow, at Powell's City of Books, I noticed a sales display of The Story of Ferdinand, with paperback copies of this classic (originally published in 1936!) for only $4.99! So, I bought a copy and read it when I got home. I laughed when I finished because I had forgotten most of the story. All I remembered about it was that the bull preferred to sit and smell the flowers than fight. The style of writing is not great and some of the art could be improved upon. But, considering that it was written in the 1930s, it's basically a timeless and universal story. After I put the book down, I thought about why the book had appealed to me as a youth. Like Ferdinand, I didn't enjoy playing with most children at recess. I always had one or two friends that I preferred to spend my time with. I suppose my parents were a little worried about my lack of popularity, but then again, they didn't see how the other children interacted with one another. For me, recess was always terrifying, because that was when the bully would try to enforce his willpower, to the silence of other children. I always preferred when adults were present, somewhere in the background keeping a watchful eye on children at recess.

I think this experience shapes who you are, for entirely good reasons. Because I had to stand up to bullies in elementary school, I became a strong person in the Navy who was able to withstand all manner of peer pressure to do certain things to prove to other sailors that I was one of them. Since I don't care much about what most people think of me, I do stand on my own if needs be. Just like how earlier this year, I refused to go to the strip club with eight of my co-workers, even after being called a "prude." Whatever.

Well, one of my friends on Facebook whom I know personally through our church, often rants on his Facebook wall and mine about his anti-government views. He certainly knows how to beat a dead horse to death! Ad nauseum! I don't think I've met a more tenacious anti-government person in my life. He simply does not waver in his rants. He is consistently libertarian and believes that no government would produce an ideal society. I always ask him to name me just one example of a country without a government that would be the model for the libertarian worldview. Of course, he can't name me one. I can. The one that comes up is Somalia. That country has not had a functioning government in nearly 20 years and even the most ignorant teabagger knows that Somalia isn't exactly a paradise flocking with immigrants. Many would consider it to be a true hell on earth. Life in Iraq isn't as bad as life in Somalia. There is a reason why governments exist throughout history and in practically every country on earth. The absence of government leads to a vacuum in which the most powerful can have their way on the vast majority by sheer fact of their wealth, weapons, and goon squads to do the dirty work necessary.

Probably the biggest reason why I've been pro-government all my life is because I've seen how brutal children can be towards one another in the absence of an adult. That's a reason why I love the novel Lord of the Flies. It presents what would happen to human civilization if there was no powerful entity charged with keeping the peace and enforcing a code of laws on people. My friend might think the absence of government results in a paradise, but I'm of the reasoned opinion that the absence of government actually results in hell.

So, its amazing how much a simple children's book can bring me back to the thoughts of my childhood, where I identified with a bull who preferred to sit under a tree and smell flowers than to fight with the other bulls and go to his slaughter in the bullfighting rings of Madrid. In 1987, my family went on a spring break trip to the Costa Brava in Spain. We had the opportunity to see a bullfight in Barcelona, which we were excited to see...until we realized just how brutal and sickening this popular Spanish sport is. We left after the third bull was slaughtered (I think seven fights were scheduled that day). It was nothing like the Bugs Bunny cartoons I had seen in childhood, where the bull is simply teased until it falls down tired. I had no idea that this was how the Spaniards got their fresh meat. Bullfights are on Sundays, with the carcasses of the bulls ready for market on Monday.

Here's to Ferdinand the Bull! May we all have the courage to sit out the petty fights of other people and be true to our inner calling. Listening to our passions just might save us from the slaughter others want to push us into.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Don't Misread the Teabaggers

Last week's primary election in Pennsylvania and Kentucky have really created an uproar in the media. First, in Pennsylvania, Senator Arlen Specter was defeated in the Democratic primary AFTER he had defected from the Republican Party last year when the polls indicated that he would lose his party's nomination to a more conservative candidate. I consider that to be justice served! It was extremely arrogant of him to switch parties to save his ass and I'm glad that the Democrats saw right through that scheme.

According to media pundits, Democrats were used to voting against Specter for years, so in retrospect, it seems like a stupid strategy on Specter's part to expect that Democrats would turn around and reward him for switching parties. After all, his switch wasn't ideological. Though he is often called a RINO (Republicans In Name Only) and often votes with Democrats, he's still a Republican and his Democratic challenger Joe Sestak created what many consider to be the most brilliant ad of the campaign season thus far. The ad showed Specter getting endorsed for reelection by President George W. Bush in 2004 followed by a clip of Specter's speech on why he was jumping over to the Democrats. The ad ended by telling voters that he had switched parties to save his job, not yours. Ka-CHING! See you later, traitor. And don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out of the Senate.

In more controversial news, Rand Paul, the son of Texas Congressman and popular presidential candidate among the fringe group of libertarians Ron Paul, won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Kentucky. The media is claiming this as the first major victory of the Teabagger movement. I guess they are no longer claiming that Senator Scott Brown is, since he has been keeping his distance from this radical group of illogical imbeciles (wisely, I might add, since he represents the most liberal state in the union AND he is likely being groomed by party officials to become the next Republican president).

No sooner did Paul win than his views on race come to the fore, with contentious interviews on Rachel Maddow's and George Stephanopoulos' shows. Basically, Paul stated that the federal government has no right to tell a business how to operate. He believes that if a business owner does not want to serve black people or sell to black people, its thats business owner's right! Yikes. When I first heard his interview and what he said, I was surprised by his candor. I had suspected that there are many Republicans who think such thoughts, but most are smart enough to keep their views to themselves. The fear of being labeled a racist is very real for most people. This is a huge change from back in the 1950s, when people weren't afraid to be photographed by the media screaming at, spitting on, beating up, or even lynching black folks. We've come a long way. Now, they just hide behind white sheets. When Rand Paul mentioned his views on the Civil Rights legislation, my first reaction was: "So, this is what a Klansman looks like without the white sheet!"

While I believe that everyone should have the right to believe what they want, even those who still prefer to live in the 1950s, I think its dangerous to elect a demagogue with backwards views to our government. This gives a public platform to spew his views to a rabid following that has been in search of a leader since their beloved Quitter Queen gave up her elected office in search of anyone with a blank check to bankroll her celebrity lifestyle. They still love their Palin, but I'm certain that deep down, they realize they can't depend on a flake like her. They want someone who's committed. Who better than the son of Ron Paul?

I never understood the fanatic devotion of Ron Paul supporters. I saw them everywhere in Portland in 2007 and 2008. They were even more fanatical than the hopeless Dennis Kucinich supporters. Both candidates represent the outer fringe of the establishment parties. Ron Paul straddled the border between the Libertarian Party and the Republican Party. Kucinich, on the other hand was between the Green Party and the Democratic Party. Some had even suggested a Paul / Kucinich ticket in 2008, which would have been really whacked out.

In September 2007, when I went to my first Obama rally in Portland, some vocal Ron Paul supporters kept trying to get those of us in line to support their candidate. I argued with one of them. I told her that I couldn't stand the Republican Party and her response was, "Even Republicans don't like Ron Paul!" I guess I just don't trust Libertarians at all. I see it as a party of selfish self-indulgence. No responsibility to anyone but yourself. No desire to influence the government to help the less fortunate. In Libertarian philosophy, the market should be allowed to do whatever it wants and everyone is left to fend for themselves. That's not the kind of world I want to live in. The government has to play referree between the competing interests and to make sure that huge and powerful monopolies don't form. We can still see the effect of unregulated capitalism under Bush: incompetent companies providing shoddy service to our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan while overbilling our government, doing nothing for the people of New Orleans before and immediately after a hurricane drowns the city, letting CEOs of companies like Enron, Goldman Sachs, AIG, and the others make off with billions of dollars in investor money, and demanding more off-shore drilling without spending the extra millions on safety measures. Yeah...thanks unregulated capitalism for our wrecked economy, our expensive wars, and our polluted environment! And Libertarians are asking for MORE of this?!?

Imagine, if you will, what Amerika might look like in Rand Paul's version. In his view, the federal government would have no right, no authority to enforce any of the laws passed by the legislative body. That means that we'd live in a country where everything looks ideal on paper, to show the rest of the world how liberated we are, but in practice, people are allowed to ignore the laws. So, imagine having to make a late night trek across country in your car. You stop for gas at one station, but see a sign: "White Patrons Only" and you're not white. You go to the next one. Same thing. And the next one. Soon, you run out of gas because you can't find a station where the owners aren't racist. Or how about an interracial couple? My parents have told me some stories about driving in the South in the early 1970s where people gave them dirty looks or wouldn't allow them to buy gasoline. Is this the kind of Amerika we want to live in?

How about shopping in a mall? What if certain stores would not allow non-white people to shop? What kind of cohesion do you think our society would have if people had no idea if a certain store would allow them to shop or not, based on the prejudices of the business owner? It would be strange and hateful.

Libertarians and Teabaggers may hate the Federal Government, but I love when the feds use their power to enforce the good on petty people with social grievances that their prejudiced world view is no longer supported. If society was unequal, the feds had every right to enforce compliance with the desegregation laws. Our country is better off because of it. Who could not say that its great? Discriminating based on race only created a divisive society and we're still paying the costs of that sin. However, no one of our generation (Generation X and younger) lived during that era, so we're quite used to a multicultural society. Its the racist holdovers who still haven't adjusted to the changing times. That's the bulk of the Teabagger movement. I know that they like to think that they are more diverse than what photographs of their dwindling rallies show, but its hard to escape the reality of their movement. It was born in the aftermath of the electoral victory of our first African American president. Its a racial grievance because in all their years of voting Republican, they have nothing to show for it. Life is harder, more expensive, and less satisfying after 40 years of Republican domination of the White House (only 12 of those 40 years were Democratic administrations).

I don't know what its going to take to wake these people up, but Rand Paul is not the answer. I've already seen some Teabaggers wanting "Palin / Paul 2012." Well, if the Democrats can't defeat him in November, then it looks like he might be a potential 2016 candidate. I wish, though, that he'd crawl back into his hole and put the white sheet back over his head. America does not need another demagogue playing with the fire that is the mentally unstable Teabagger class of people. Promoting an ignorance of recent history while stoking race resentments over the landmark legislation that paid the down payment on Dr. Martin Luther King's dream is a dangerous game. My message to Teabaggers is simple: America is a multicultural democracy. If you don't like it, then get the hell out. There's not a chance in hell that we are ever going to return to your fantasy version of the 1950s. If you don't like this multicultural America, then you should learn from the Amish and just drop out of modern society and live in your little 1950s bubble while the rest of America progresses right past you.

Below is an interesting "ad" I found online about Rand Paul. Seems like they are promoting some subversive style campaigning. My impression of Rand Paul is that he is not what he seems. Maybe he's the anti-Christ figure we're all waiting for? I don't know. All I do know is that this man seems to be dangerous to the future of America. I hope the media will investigate his background and that the voters of Kentucky return him back to the cess pool from which he emerged.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Music Video Monday: Bananarama

In honour of the 19th anniversary of the departure day from Basic Training (Thursday, 23 May 1991), this week's music video is by my favourite 80s female pop group, Bananarama. The popular departing song in Basic Training was "No More Boot Camp, No More Boot Camp, Hey Hey Goodbye!" At the time, I had no idea that Bananarama had sung a remake of this song ("Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)"). I only learned about it in previous decade when I had bought a greatest hits CD.

The last day of Basic Training was so different from the first day. For one thing, I had woken up after everyone else was already up. I couldn't believe that they let me sleep in. On the first wake up call, we heard the sound of a metal garbage can thrown across the floor and had to jump out of our sleep and stand at attention in formation.

When we boarded the bus to the airport, I looked up at the classroom where some newly formed company was having their lecture from a Navy lawyer and encouraged to tell their secrets before it was "too late." When we were up there at "Moment of Truth", the Navy lawyer had told us to take a look out the window at the company boarding the bus. He said that if we were lucky, we would be those sailors in nine weeks while another company was looking out the window and wondering what they had gotten themselves into. We survived! Most of us anyway.

I had flown down to Orlando with a group of about 6 guys. Only a couple made it to the very end in the same company as me. I was alone flying back to Atlanta, in my service dress blue uniform (commonly referred to as "the Crackerjack uniform"). I rode MARTA to the station closest to my parents house, who then came to get me when I called. Walking into my old bedroom, I remember sitting on the bed, not knowing what to do with myself. For nine weeks, I had no free time at all. I was always with other people. It was a strange feeling to not know what to do with one's free time, after having gotten used to someone else making your schedule for you. What I did do was lay down to take a nap, and I cried myself to sleep. It was a weird feeling to be back at home and to feel completely alone again.

This concludes my reminisces about the greatest experience I've ever had in life. I hope you enjoyed my Journal excerpts, Flashback Fridays, and special Music Videos relating to this experience. Don't expect this for the 20th anniversary next year! I chose 19th anniversary to do this special series on my blog because I was 19 when I went to Basic Training. Its amazing to think about, that from birth to age 19 is the same amount of time as from my 19th birthday to this point in my life. It doesn't feel the same. It seems like it took forever to reach 19, but only half as much time to reach 38. I guess Einstein is right...time is relative. The older you get, the quicker time seems to tick away.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Great Guy's Comedy

Last week, I watched the film I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, which is based on a book of the same name. I had wanted to see this film in theaters, but it only played in one theater in Portland last year, and that theater required a long bus ride to a suburban shopping center. I'm not a fan of suburbia, so I avoid it as much as possible. I knew the film would be on DVD eventually, so I could wait.

I had bought the book a couple years ago. I had never heard of the author (a blogger named Tucker Max who supposedly got famous by blogging about his sexual exploits) but the book intrigued me enough to buy it. He recounts a lot of his sexual experiences with hundreds of ladies and as I read the book, I was shocked that there are a lot of ladies out there who don't seem to mind being used by this hopeless cad, then written about and made fun of online. Dang, some ladies have self esteem issues! And this cad makes it harder for the next guy, who likely has to deal with the emotional fallout of his misogynistic behaviours.

Feminists, for sure, would hate the book. They'd be offended by every single page. So, if you are a feminist, I don't recommend reading the book or watching the film. You'll just end up hating men even more, and think we're all like this! I can most assuredly state for the record that I am not nor are any of my friends even remotely like Tucker Max. However, as I watched the movie, I was stunned to see a character, Drew (played by Jesse Bradford), who had my sense of humour! Yikes. I love that. Throughout the film, he makes sarcastic comments to women, who end up storming off in a huff. He offends women, without meaning to do so. Its just that his sense of humour is considered too crude for the sensitive sensibilities of the fairer sex. Some of his comments have people wondering if he's a Ted Bundy-type serial killer. When one stripper yaks about things he's not interested in hearing, he remarks to her: "Less talky, more booby" (with the appropriate gestures). Hilarious!

Here's another example of Drew's brilliant wit. He tells one lady: "Oh, I'm onto your game, De Nils. Diamonds are worthless other than the value attached to them by the silly tramps you have brain washed into thinking that diamonds equal love. Guess what, sluts? Your quest for the perfect princess cut supports terrorism and genocide. Congratulations, your avarice has managed to destroy an entire continent!" That is something I've probably said (in not as many words) to a few ladies myself. I can't believe that there's actually a guy out there like me delivering the same kind of comments to materialistic ladies!

The best part of the film is when one stripper is encouraged by Drew's buddies to keep talking to him, even though she's clearly offended by his comments. She dishes back and eventually wins his heart. She later tells him that his sarcastic comments are really a mask for something else. Subconsciously, he pushes people away because he was hurt by his girlfriend cheating on him (with a white rap star with gold teeth!). However, the wit he displays throughout the movie clearly show that he's pretty intelligent and clever, and all he really needed was a lady who could keep up with him.

I relate to his character a lot, because a lot of people don't "get" my sense of humour. Yes, some people get offended (particularly feminists, who aren't generally known to have a sense of humour to begin with). However, whenever I've met ladies who could match my comments with their own witty comments, I'm naturally smitten. To this day, I still search for a lady similar to the Dominican lady I had dated in college. Every time we bumped into each other on campus and I'd ask what she planned to do for the weekend or for after graduation, her response was "Get drunk and have lots of sex!" We were both students at a very religiously conservative university, so this kind of comment to the wrong person could cause some problems with the Honour Code office. I always laughed when she said that. I once asked why she kept saying that, and she told me, "Because it always makes you laugh and I love seeing you laugh." Who could not love a lady like that? I've always gotten along better with women who are cool and have a sense of humour and have never gotten along with the "prissy", easily offended types. I think this is true of all guys, as I saw on my second ship in the Navy (the USS Simon Lake, which had a 30% female crew). Women who didn't get offended by the jokes or comments guys make were popular.

So...kudos to Jesse Bradford for an awesome performance in this film. He played me so well!

The Tucker Max character, though, is something else entirely. After I watched the film, I was grateful that I never had a friend like him growing up. He's a completely selfish prick who would abandon a drunken buddy just to fulfill some twisted sex fantasy (I won't reveal what it is, so if you're really curious, you'll just have to watch it yourself). If there are women out there who are really attracted to someone like Tucker Max, they are pretty psychologically messed up. This guy is not good for any woman, yet he's had HUNDREDS of women (or so he claims). He's a true definition of a "cad." I wonder how many women got therapy after hooking up with him? Its actually a violation of the male code to leave a woman so psychologically messed up for the next guy to deal with. Seriously! Someone should revoke his membership in the male gender. Hopefully in his next life, he will be reborn as a woman with a bad boy fixation. Karmic retribution will be a bitch!

Is the movie loyal to the book? How could it be? If I'm not mistaken, the book was taken from his blog posts, so they are written in unconnected episodes. The movie has to have a plot, which was reminiscent of last summer's The Hangover. One of the buddies is getting married and Tucker wants to take him to a stripclub in another town for a bachelor party. Some of the more memorable and hilarious episodes from the book appear in the film (such as Tucker having sex with a deaf girl, who screams so loud that the police are called to the house to investigate). Interesting enough, this film was produced by Richard "Donnie Darko" Kelly. Maybe its a good thing that Kelly did not direct this one, because he probably would have made it nonsensical, with some crazy metaphysical ideas of his. Nope...this was simply a straight-forward guy's comedy in the tradition of The 40 Year Old Virgin, Wedding Crashers, and The Hangover. I recommend it for anyone who does not get offended easy. If you are the type to get offended easy, well...I seriously hope aliens abduct your anal retentive ass and do some much needed probing!

If Tucker Max's blog could snag him a literary agent and a published book that found itself on the New York Times bestseller about my blog? Literary agents...I have a novel ready for publication which is about the camaraderie of guys in the U.S. Navy. We need more guy comedies because the romantic comedy has become a bad cliche. The funniest jokes seem to be the offensive kinds. Life is better when you don't get offended easily. One of my favourite quotes I ever heard was from a Mormon guy I knew in Italy. He said: "A fool takes offense at something that wasn't intended, but its a bigger fool who takes offense at something that was intended." So true!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why This Democrat is Voting Republican in November

Yesterday was the deadline to turn in ballots for Oregon's primary election. The cool thing about Oregon is the unique "vote-by-mail" system, where all registered voters are mailed voter guidebooks and a ballot about three weeks before election day. When I first moved out here in 2006, I thought I would never like voting this way, as I love going to a polling place, standing in line, checking my registration, receiving my ballot, and walking to the voting booth to make my selections. Its feels like a real civic engagement and part of this is striking up conversations with people in line.

However, Oregon's unique voting system has spoiled me. This is my fourth time voting in Oregon (2006 general election, 2008 primary and general election, 2010 primary) and I love being able to vote at leisure. This gives me time to research the candidates when I'm particularly indecisive, while marking up my ballot selections on candidates I already support. Once I complete the ballot, I can drop it off at any number of ballot drop boxes at my convenience. Voting is so easy and "user friendly" this way. Sure beats having to take time off of work to go vote. Other states should make voting as easy as Oregon does.

Since several states held primaries yesterday as well, the media has been reporting on the shock of "anti-incumbent" fever going on in several election upsets. Well...this anti-incumbency fever seems to have completely missed Oregon. Nearly everyone who was endorsed by the newspapers won their race. Everyone who is an incumbent running for reelection won outright. And in other races, staff members of politicians won the top two slots to for the November ballot. So much for infusing new blood into the body politic of Portland. Incumbents won, even when major ethical scandals were reported in the newspaper, such as City Commissioner Dan Saltzman giving $600,000 of tax-payer money to a non-profit organization that his girlfriend works for!

I voted against every incumbent running for reelection. With the two star up-and-coming politicians running for a different seat than the one they started the year with, I voted for both of them because this is an investment in the future of Oregon leadership. I like both Ted Wheeler (former Multnomah County Chairman, now appointed State Treasurer who has to win the seat to continue past November) and Jeff Cogen (Multnomah County Commissioner in District 2 who filled Wheeler's vacated Chairman seat). I expect good things from both of them and no one should be surprised if either of them end up as Mayor, Congressman, or Governor in the next decade.

About that Governor's race...

I supported Bill Bradbury, who was Oregon's Secretary of State. He had a lot of great ideas and was endorsed by Al Gore and Howard Dean. Despite such high wattage endorsements from National Democrats, Bradbury managed to receive about 30% of the Democratic primary votes. His rival, John Kitzhaber, served two terms as Governor already (from 1995 to 2003) and left office famously saying that Oregon was "ungovernable." He's known as a loner, maverick, cowboy type who wears a Western-style suit (shirt, tie, and jacket matched with blue jeans, big ass belt buckle, and cowboy boots) and he kind of looks like Ted Turner or Kris Kristofferson. One middle aged lady at my work has a crush on him. So, after serving two terms as governor already and spending the last eight years doing God knows what, he decided to run again and received all the newspaper endorsements. He garnered more than 65% of the vote. I didn't expect such a blow-out.

On the Republican side, former professional basketball player Chris Dudley (who played for the Portland Trailblazers for six years as well as the New York Knicks) defeated perennial candidate Allen Alley to lead the GOP to a titanic battle in November against the former governor. The Willamette Week did a cover story on Chris Dudley a few weeks ago and one guy I know through the World Affairs Oregon discussion group told me that his brother is a personal aide to Dudley. Based on what I know, I think Dudley has "star quality" and is a genuine and likable person. He's not a hardcore conservative (he never comes out and states that he's "pro-life" on abortion, which means he's hoping to appeal to moderates and liberals, rather than chasing after the radical right teabagger vote). He's involved in summer camps devoted the children with diabetes and he seems to bring new energy and ideas into an otherwise stale race.

Those who dismiss Dudley as some jock with no experience need to check their political history. Bill Bradley was a professional basketball player before having a political career in New Jersey. Just because someone played a professional sport doesn't mean they aren't qualified to run for political office. After all, Kitzhaber was a medical doctor before he got into politics. For me, there is something too corporate and polished about Kitzhaber. Besides that, I cannot in good conscience vote for a candidate who already served two complete terms as governor. Even if this candidate is a member of my political party. My party allegiance is not applicable in this race for the simple fact that I don't do "retreads." Time for new blood and new ideas. Besides, the Democrats have held on to the governor's office since 1982, and maybe its time for a big change to get Oregon's economy to start moving. Part of leadership is the ability to inspire people, which Chris Dudley has in spades while Kitzhaber does not. This is why I'll be voting Republican for Governor in the fall (if I'm still a resident of Oregon).

In the other major race of interest, my Congressman David Wu crushed his competitor David Robinson (86.5% to 13%, respectively). In real terms, Wu received just 11,554 votes to Robinson's 1,767. That's not a whole lot of votes in the district, especially when you think about each member of Congress representing approximately half a million people. Where are all the voters? The results were disappointing, because Wu is pretty much an invisible Congressman. He only shows up in the district on election night to celebrate his victory. He doesn't hold regular town hall meetings or meet and greets with his constituents. Maybe its because his personality is pretty bland and he lacks charisma. However, to his credit, he did hold a few town hall meetings last summer and received some rude, disruptive hecklers regarding the Health Care Reform bill. Despite his vote on health care, though, I've never liked voting for him because of the report that he had raped his girlfriend in college. Its a non-issue with the media since he won his first race, but its disturbing to me that someone like that would be representing my district in Congress and that people keep voting for him.

David Robinson had an impressive biography. He's a Navy veteran who served overseas in some hotspots (Iraq, Afghanistan, and the horn of Africa). When deciding on which candidates to support, military experience is a major one for me. Double points for being in the Navy. I feel a bond with fellow sailors who happen to be Democrats, because its rare. Seriously rare. I did not know a lot of Democrats while I was in, so I'm assuming that the Bush years pushed a lot more people into the Democratic camp. Or it could be the way things are, since most of the Vietnam War veterans in Congress are Democrats, not Republicans.

With Robinson defeated, Congressman Wu faces Republican nominee Rob Cornilles in November. Looking at Cornilles' website, I learned that he served as an adult volunteer in the organization that I work for (I checked our database system, and sure enough, he's in there). Most importantly, though, Cornilles is a graduate of the same university as me: Brigham Young University. This means he is likely a Mormon. Mormon Republicans are not as scary as the evangelical, Southern, teabagger types. Maybe its because they aren't fully trusted by the evangelicals in the Republican party and have to find allies wherever they can (such as reaching across the aisle to the more religiously tolerant Democrats). I plan to contact Cornilles to talk with him and see where he is politically. He has some Bush Administration officials working on his campaign, which is a huge negative. However, when looking at candidates to support, not only do I look for military experience, I also look for any personal connections we might share. Attending the same university (though a generation apart) is a huge positive. So long as Cornilles is a reasonable person and not some right-wing crazy like Sarah Palin, I would feel quite comfortable voting for Cornilles over Wu.

I hate abandoning my party, but when you don't like your party's choices, what can you do? Party loyalty only goes so far with me. If the Republicans can offer more appealing candidates, then they deserve to be considered for my vote. Truth be told, had I lived in Massachusetts, I'm certain that I would have been one of those lifelong Kennedy supporters who voted for Scott Brown. Martha Coakley was a lousy candidate to fill Senator Ted Kennedy's enormous shoes. Brown is a lightweight, but he has the star quality to go places (such as the GOP nominee for president in 2016). Interesting aside, when I started looking at the Senate Employment Bulletin online, I was intrigued that Senator Brown is looking for a Legislative Aide and another position for his office. He seems like a cool guy to work for. I like his sense of humour.

Now, about the most important race: Multnomah County Commissioner, Seat #2. Back in mid-March, State Treasurer Ben Westlund passed away from cancer only days before the deadline to file for political races. Governor Kulongoski appointed the County Chairman Ted Wheeler to fill the important office, which set a chain reaction into motion. Commissioner Jeff Cogen was running for reelection anyway, but he refiled to run for the Chairman's seat. His admininstrative aide Karol Collymore jumped into the race, despite her lack of experience and being new to Oregon (she moved here in 2003 after living her entire life since 2 years old in New Mexico. Her first two years were spent in Panama, where her parents immigrated from).

Other people came out of the woodwork to file their intentions to run, including City of Portland Noise Control officer Paul van Orden (pictured above), whom I had met in early 2007 when he gave a talk about working for the city of Portland. Our paths had crossed a few times in the years since, but when the news reported that he was running, I found him on Facebook and offered to volunteer on his campaign. In a field of 8 candidates, I believed that he was the most experienced person (and I still believe that).

The race was interesting and amazingly diverse. Besides Collymore, there were two other African American ladies: Roberta Phillips (a Law school grad who taught school in the Florida Keys and dropped out of the race when Cogen offered her a job in his office) and Loretta Smith, who worked as a staffer in Senator Ron Wyden's office. The other lady in the race was a Hispanic lady who worked for Mayor Tom Potter. On the men's side, there was Chuck Currie, a reverend with a progressive church; Tom Markgraf, who was a staffer in Congressman Earl Blumenauer's office; and Gary Hansen, a former County Commissioner who supposedly retired years ago. What's with all the retreads?

It has been an amazing 60 days or so of campaigning. The problem with such a low level race like this is that the local press didn't really care and everyone was flying blind. We had no polling data to see where to focus our energies, so we could only make assumptions based on our understanding of local politics and how people voted in the past. I appreciate getting to know Paul a bit better and find him to be an incredibly honest, likable, and knowledgeable person who had the best set of experiences among the candidates to affect some real change in the position. Prior to his twenty years as an environmental law enforcement officer, he was a professional skateboarder in the New York and New Jersey areas. He even told me that he met Debbie Gibson in the late 1980s but didn't pay much attention to her because he was into punk, not pop. During the campaign, I also got to know Paul's wife a little bit. She's adorable and he's lucky to have found such a lady. She resembles actress Ginnifer Goodwin (who plays the young, naive third wife in HBO's excellent series Big Love). They have their own chicken coop, a couple of ducks and parrots, and a ferret.

Pictured above is Karol Collymore, who received 35.88% of the vote, or a whopping 10,175 votes! Despite her relative newness to Oregon and lack of experience, she received all the newspaper endorsements and seemed to have the favor of the political establishment class. Having seen her in person and talking briefly with her, I must admit that she is pretty dynamic with an extremely likable personality. She has a good vibe about her. However, since I don't live in the district, I was not able to vote (of course, my friend Paul would have won my vote). To me, experience matters. In the list of candidates, she would have been my third choice (after Paul and Chuck).

Now that she's in the final two for the November election, she has my support because her opponent Loretta has a negative vibe about her. Loretta received 5,165 votes (or 18%). In third place was Markgraf with 3,904 votes (13.77%), followed by: Hansen (2,598 votes / 9.16%), Rubio (1,888 votes / 6.66% -- the "mark of the beast" candidate!). Paul finished sixth with 1,738 votes (6.13%) and the Reverend Chuck Currie received a close seventh with 1,727 votes (6%). Dead last was Roberta, who had dropped out of the race after the ballots were printed. She received 1,046 votes (3.69%).

Here's to Karol! Not sure if I'm going to help campaign for her. She seems to have a good group of enthusiastic supporters and I'm kind of politico'd out after spending a lot of time trying to help Paul get his name out there through banner visibilities, attending various debates and events, and other work. Now that its over, I can focus on my own personal goals again. I felt a special obligation to help Paul on his campaign because I really wanted to see him win. Election night was kind of a bummer because the votes did not go the way I expected. Shows just how much I know. My thinking is so different from other people. Who knew that experience matters less in Portland than gender and racial identity politics? The press also coronated their chosen candidate and voters followed like sheep. This is good information to the results show clearly that to win political office in Portland, racking up newspaper and politician endorsements are #1 and raising gobs of money is #2.

The Candidate's Gone Wild Event last month seemed to be the coronation ceremony of Collymore. To her credit, she gave a terrifically awesome answer about how she would determine contracts for minority companies seeking to do business with the county. Rather than go by strict quotas, she prefers a staggered point-based system in which companies receive various number of points for whichever criterias they match (such as offering family wage jobs with health care benefits to employees). Based on that answer, I have no doubt that Collymore would be a major asset at the County Commission office. Its also hard to argue against the need for more diversity in county (and city) government. Portland is often called "the whitest city in America" so it desperately needs more diversity. Best of luck to Collymore for the battle in November.

Pictured above is Spencer Burton, a stonemason who ran for a City Council seat against an incumbent running for reelection (he only won 5,569 votes, or 5.72% in a field of 9 candidates). I only had a brief conversation with Spencer and he sounds pretty cool with an interesting set of life experiences. His website reveals a visionary, poetic, new age-y vibe. One reporter called him a cross between Jack Kerouac and Don Draper. Another newspaper seemed impressed with his command of the issues, even though they endorsed the established incumbent candidate. He sounds like he's wanting to run for City Council in 2012 and I'd love to help out his campaign (if I'm still in Portland). However, I'm also curious if he's interested in exploring other career opportunities. He just strikes me as a spiritual guy who could lead a movement of people devoted to changing the culture of this country to be more in line with spiritual values rather than material values. I'm really impressed by the views he expresses on his website that I think he is definitely someone worth getting to know and helping out. Unfortunately, though, Portland politics seems to be too cutthroat, insular and insider for any decent person to have a real shot at changing things.

After seeing the defeat of Charles Lewis in 2008, and Paul van Orden yesterday, I don't hold out much hope that someone of good values and vision will win elected office anytime soon. Maybe this is a sign to move on. Portland has been a nice four year diversion in my detour, but its seriously past time to get back on the career path I was meant to be on. We'll see in the next couple weeks what this might mean. All I know right now is that if I remain in Portland through the end of the year, I'll be voting for two Republicans, which is not something that I'm all that excited about doing. I'd rather help Governor Martin O'Malley win reelection in Maryland so he can continue improving his state and have a nice record of accomplishments to bring before Democratic primary voters in 2016. I always have my eyes on the future, and Portlanders made their choice well known yesterday: more of the same.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What is With the Ladies?

This post is inspired by a few happenings in my life. (1) I was surfing the personal ads on Craigslist two weeks ago and was surprised to see one lady request a guy exactly 5'7" tall! That's my height! You realize how rare that is? Oh my gosh, I thought all women wanted their man to be over 6 feet tall. That seems to be the magic number (its also my belief that the biggest reason why the U.S. won't covert to the metric system is because men prefer to be 6 feet tall than 2 meters tall. Our gender is hopelessly obsessed with numbers and quantities).

Also in the ad, this lady mentioned liking to hike. Wow...and I just started hiking with a group of church members in March. Was this a match?

After a few email exchanges, I was disappointed. Her emails are short and vague. She may answer a question I had asked, but she does so in the most vague and boring manner possible. She also doesn't ask any questions back to me. This means that she's not engaging my mind and intriguing me. After three emails, I was bored with her and never wrote back. She never sent a picture, either, even though she's seen mine. So, I wouldn't be surprised if she was nothing to look at. However, the most frustrating thing about the exchange is her vague responses.

For example, I had asked her what kind of music she likes. I listed some of the bands and musicians that I liked. Her response was to list a bunch of radio stations: 88.1, 106, 93.5 (something like that). That's it! I don't even know what radio stations they are! I only know them by their call sign: CHARLIE FM, KICK, KINK, etc. Why are women so weird like that? Its bad deja vu. In 2001, one lady I went out on a date with seemed to get all clammy when I asked what kind of music she likes. When I asked my sister why a lady might be nervous over revealing what music she likes, my sister said that she had a friend who felt like she was "judged" whenever people asked what music she listened to. Seriously?!? Oh my God, get over it! Some people overthink shit way too much!

Are there guys who would dump a lady after a first date because she indicated that she liked certain groups that he didn't? If he does such a thing, the woman should be grateful to be spared a shallow asshole like him. For me, I'm naturally curious what kind of music people like. Granted, some people think its a little too personal to reveal early on, but in all my friendships that I've made over the years, music was usually a great bonding experience. All of my friends at some point or another introduced me to awesome music I had never heard before, and I've done likewise for many of my friends (most would say that I introduced them to Johnny Clegg's music!). So, if there are any insecure single ladies out there reading this and wondering if they should reveal what kind of music they like, go ahead! What can you lose? Avoiding answering a simple question like this only makes me more suspicious about other things. Basically, if you can't be honest over something like one's musical tastes, then it'll be much harder to establish trust and honesty over anything else.

Perhaps I should give the lady a chance and respond to her email...but it has been a week. Her emails were so vague and boring that I believe she is probably a dull person to begin with. I didn't feel any energy in the stuff that she wrote in the email. I could clearly see some warning signs already (she sounded kind of paranoid, too). Its a shame. How hard is it to find a lady who engages my mind with intelligent conversation? This has been my one constant obsession since elementary school. Since the first grade, when my crush was on a girl in my neighbourhood whom I thought was way smarter than me, I've always been a sucker for the intelligent girl (and likewise heartbroken, too, when I saw them fall into destructive relationships with "bad boys"). This is kind of ironic, given my history of not getting along with feminists, who think I'm a "sexist" pig simply because I point out gender differences when they make claims that aren't true (one of them being that "gender preferences are cultural", which is untrue because my Thai mother told me exactly how similar little girls in Thailand are with little girls in the USA. There was no real cultural difference. Girls all over the world love to play with dolls and boys generally love to fight or play war or shoot guns).

Perhaps its the curse of my existence. I'm only attracted to women who are able to engage my mind with intelligent talk, while these women are attracted to guys who beat the living shit out of them and complain to "male buddies" like me! Don't want to hear it! I wish all it took was some bimbo flashing me and acting crazy to intice me into wanting to hook up with them...but its simply not enough. Intelligence matters! (2) Its disheartening to me that even the Yahoo personals have gotten skanky lately. In the past month alone, I've had four responses to my Yahoo ad from ladies who indicated that they were "conservative Christians" and then for a P.S. added that if I emailed them at another address, I could see "dirty pictures in their sexy undies!" Oh yeah, that's really an enticement for me. How about you tell what's been going on in Burma for the past decade...then we'll talk!

Am I the only guy in the world who finds an intelligent (and thin) woman to be extremely sexy? Why are they so hard to find? I haven't met one since the mystery lady with the scarf around her neck showed up at one of the World Affairs Oregon discussion groups a couple months ago. I don't think she has moved back from Senegal, yet, but I hope she does really soon. She's intriguing enough for me and I'd love to have some amazing conversations with a lady this summer. When both of us appeal to each other's intellect, the fireworks in our brains is pretty intense. Seriously! There's a lot more to attraction than just the physical part, but all I seem to be bombarded with are brainless bimbos tantalizing me with their intellectual unattractiveness. (3) Such as the screaming ladies leaning out the window of a Party Bus that had driven by me late one night when no one else was on the sidewalk. They were screaming at me, trying to get me excited but I actually felt embarrassed. I know from personal experience that these women wouldn't give me the time of day in any other circumstance. They were drunk and they wanted my attention. As I am learning from the Law of Attraction series...I must be mindful of where I focus my attention.

The last thing I want in my life is a brainless bimbo. There are plenty of guys who prefer those types of women. I've read that intelligent women have a difficult time finding a mate because so many men are threatened by a woman who might be more intelligent than they are. Maybe that's the trade-off on why so many intelligent women I've met have been so enthralled by bad boys. Perhaps subconsciously, these intelligent women feel guilty for being smarter than the guys they meet, so an abuser cuts them down to size. That's pretty sad, if that's the case.

Later this week, I'll review a hilarious guy film I recently watched. Its exactly the kind of film that an uptight feminist would hate, but it actually says something profound about the way men and women think. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Music Video Monday: Wilson Phillips

Today's music video comes in honour of the 19th anniversary of my Pass In Review ceremony at Navy Basic Training in Orlando, Florida. That was the day when our company officially "graduated" with the other companies in our training group. We marched in formation to the sounds of "Anchor's Aweigh / This Is My Country" medley (two songs that still fill me with pride to this day) in our Service Dress White uniforms (complete with white leggings that made us look pretty sharp). My family came down from Stone Mountain to see me graduate, so I was able to visit them briefly the night before during a visitor's reception. I also got to spend my uncontrolled liberty day with them (we went to Disneyland's The Magic Kingdom, though I really wanted to see the Epcot Center). That was an incredible day. The thing I never understood, though, is that after our Pass In Review ceremony (which is always on a Friday), we should be free to leave Basic Training. However, our training did not end until the following Thursday, which was our 8-3 Day (the Pass In Review Day was 7-4 Day).

The reason why I have selected Wilson Phillips' "The Dream is Still Alive" for this week's music video selection is because I first heard this song during my time at Basic Training, probably on the rare occasion when the galley played the radio during our meals. I was familiar with their other singles ("Hold On", "Release Me", "Impulsive", as well as the song "Eyes Like Twins") because they became popular with the debut album in 1990, at the end of my Senior Year. In fact, I had voted for "Hold On" to be our class song (by write-in, as I did not like the choices offered). Some other song won the vote for Best Song (that video will appear as a selection closer to the anniversary of my graduation date). In the summer of 1990, my family went to see Richard Marx in concert at the Six Flags Over Georgia amusement park. Wilson Phillips was the opening act. They were pretty good, but I was never crazy about them as I was for Bananarama, the Bangles, or TLC.

Despite the hit parade of singles, I actually did not buy their debut album until the summer of 1991, when I was in Meridian, Mississippi for YN "A" School. Thus, to this day, whenever I listen to their album, I'm always transported back to that awesome summer of 1991 when I was living a new adventure in the Navy. "The Dream is Still Alive" is kind of the perfect "theme song" for my Basic Training experience. Some of the lyrics speak to what I experienced for those nearly nine weeks with my company: "Not so long ago, we were so in phase, you and I could never forget the days, but then the fire seemed to flicker, cold wind came and it carried us away but we'll get back some day..." and "Some got a little bit lost along the way but somehow we're here today, and we say the dream is still alive after all this time, the flame keeps on burning..."

In my Tales of Terror From Boot Camp Hell Journal (Volume XX), I wrote my own Top Ten list of the songs that remind me of my basic training experience. All but one of them was heard at least once during those nine weeks in Orlando, Florida. The one that wasn't heard was actually thought of and hummed by several guys in our company when a certain terrifying figure in a khaki uniform appeared.

#1) "The Dream is Still Alive" by Wilson Phillips.

#2) "More Than Words" by Extreme. Recruit Byars had received this cassette single from his girlfriend and it became the most requested song to be played by our company in our barracks at night.

#3) "Voices That Care" by Voices That Care. I had bought this cassette single at the Navy Exchange (it was a "We Are The World" type of single, featuring diverse musical artists in tribute to the military fighting in the Gulf War). A few of my companymates had requested to borrow the single and they always returned it misty-eyed. Who says that guys don't "cry"?

#4) "Friends in Low Places" by Garth Brooks. This was popular with our company and RCPO Mackey in particular played and sang along to this song A LOT. It was the first country song that I truly loved and I became a huge Garth Brooks fan because of this (and other songs he made in the early 1990s).

#5) "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood. This song played at the end of our ordeal on 1-5 Day. I had always loved this song, as it is incorporated into the popular music program of Stone Mountain's Laser Show every year, but the fact that it was played during our basic training experience to help bond our company after the intensity of 1-5 Day (which I had excerpted in an April post on this blog), only makes this song even more special to me. In fact, I would be very much in favour of changing our National Anthem from "The Star Spangled Banner" to "God Bless the USA" (though the atheists would seriously object).

#6) "I Want You to Want Me" by Cheap Trick. Though this song came out in 1979 when most of the company was in elementary school, when it played on the radio one evening, the whole company stopped what we were doing to sing along. It was an awesome moment of unity and generational connection.

#7) "Love Shack" by The B-52s. This song was preferred by the Company Commanders for our cycling exercises so we could keep up with the fast pace of the song. All CC Keenan had to do was merely threaten us with: "I'm just going to have to play 'Love Shack' I guess" to keep us in line. It often worked. No one wanted to cycle to this song!

#8) "Cry For Help" by Rick Astley. I first heard this song when it played in the galley.

#9) "I Don't Wanna Cry" by Mariah Carey. I also heard this song a few times in the galley on the rare occasions that they played the radio. The two "cry" songs seemed to speak to we wanted to "cry for help" but didn't want to cry and show weakness to be exploited by the other guys.

#10) "The Imperial March" by John Williams. Though I did not hear this tune at all during my time in basic training, Albu and I in particular would hum this whenever we referred to CPO Atkinson, the Leading Chief Petty Officer of Division 8. To Albu and I, Atkinson was the terrifying Emperor to CPO Matthews' Darth Vader and this tune helped us put our experiences in the context of the Star Wars universe.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Flashback Friday: Tangiers, Morocco

On Wednesday night, I attended dinner with a group of ten members of the Community of Christ who are attending a weeklong meeting at the Tuality congregation to learn about "Wraparound Ministry" (in case you're curious what that is, my basic explanation would be to watch Jerry Maguire. When you see Tom Cruise telling people, "Help me help you!", you'll get the picture). The chosen restaurant is one that I have been wanting to eat at since I first arrived in Portland in 2006: The Marrakesh on NW 21st. Its a Moroccan restaurant and the first time I ate in a Moroccan restaurant since...Tangiers, Morocco in the summer of 1993!

The picture above is of the younger version of me (ah, my bright yellow chino pants!). Our dinner at the Marrakesh has inspired me to do a Flashback Friday post about my day in Tangiers. But before I get to that, about Wednesday's dinner...

I got off work at 5 p.m. and had to sprint to catch the streetcar. That was the quickest way to get there, and I arrived about thirty minutes after everyone else did, so I missed out on the handwashing (done at the table). I've walked by the Marrakesh plenty of times in the nearly four years I've lived in Portland and have always wanted to eat there, though I saw it as a special occasion place. The menu is on the pricey side ($20 for a five course meal), but it is one of those things that you must EXPERIENCE. The decor inside is like you are in an Arab tent, with artistic carpets lining the walls, sequined cushions for your seat, and low-level tables. They also have benches for those who find cushions uncomfortable for long periods.

The best thing about eating with a large group is that everyone can order one particular meal and then share with everyone the diverse offerings. Unfortunately for me, my ban on eating land-based meat went into full effect on February 1st. Seeing the various chicken (and lamb) dishes in different sauces was tempting. I stuck with my Vegetarian Couscous dish, which the waiter (in full Moroccan garb, which only makes me think of the monkey in the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie) kind of pooh-poohed!

One thing that wasn't cool about this restaurant, though, is that they do not offer eating utensils. Its strictly a hand's only affair. Dang. The restaurant I ate at in Tangiers had forks and spoons. Eating couscous with just your hands is NOT COOL. However, its a good thing our country doesn't have the superstitions or taboos that the Arab world has. In Tangiers, I sat on my left hand the whole time so I wouldn't "offend" any Arab onlookers (I did remember seeing an Arab-looking boy in Gibraltar laughing at me when he watched me writing postcards). If there were any Arabs at the Marrakesh watching me, they would be horrified seeing me scoop piles of couscous and vegetables with my left hand. Sorry, folks, but my left hand is sacred. I save the "cleaning" duties for my right hand. Always. I'm a leftie. A Southpaw. And proud of it! Message to Arabs reading this: GET OVER IT!

After filling ourselves with more food than should be legal, the waiter did the communal handwash again (with nicely hot water!) with some kind of scented hand liquid sprayed on our palms after that. Then we had dessert (some kind of coconut custard) and mint tea that is poured at our table in an artistic manner. During the meal, it was fun hearing people's various comments about various things. A good time was definitely had by all. The bill came out to $215 for 11 people. Whew! Just was we were walking out of the restaurant, I heard the sound of cymbals clashing. That could only mean one thing: BELLYDANCERS! I turned around to catch a glimpse. When I saw that the bellydancer had covered up her belly behind veils, I thought that was lame. I thought the whole point of bellydancing was to mesmerize guys with the sexy ways to shake their bellies. Lame.

It was a great evening and definitely worth a return visit on special occasions. Though, if I go again, I might have to "lift my ban" on eating chicken for one night. The idea of eating couscous with my hands is not fun and they don't really offer a whole lot of vegetarian options. Anyone looking for a special and memorable meal in Portland, though, should really check out the Marrakesh!

Now about the Tangiers trip. In the summer of 1993, my ship, the USS Simon Lake, went to Gibraltar for a port visit, which was one of the places I had wanted to see since the 1987 James Bond film The Living Daylights. I loved Gibraltar. It remains as one of my favourite port visits. Gibraltar is more than just the famous rock (symbol of Prudential Insurance). Its also a British colony at the very tip of Spain. Spain really wants it back, as it is a prime tourist spot. However, the citizens of Gibraltar prefer British rule to Spanish rule. One of the famous inhabitants of Gibraltar are the Barbary Apes, who reside high up the rock, in the trees. There's a saying that when there are no more Barbary Apes in Gibraltar, the British will be gone. The Spaniards can only wish!

Each time a ship is in a foreign port, the ship's MWR office offers local tours. When a day trip to Tangiers was offered for this port visit, of course I had to sign up! Unfortunately, though, we actually spent more time on the ferry (five hours roundtrip) than in Tangiers (4 hours). However, it was still worth the excursion, as it was probably most of my shipmates only claim to setting foot on the continent of Africa. Tangiers, however, is considered to be the Tijuana of Africa. Its a couple hour ferry ride from Spain and Gibraltar.

When we arrived in Tangiers, one of the things that alarmed us military folks was that we had to surrender our passports to the customs agent at the pier. He collected them all and put them all in a cardboard box. We wouldn't get them back until we left Tangiers at the end of our sojourn. Our military training drilled into our heads to never lose sight of our passport or to allow anyone else to hold on to it. What can we do?

We had a bus tour around Tangiers, with a few stops along the way. It looked like a pleasant, dusty town with interesting architecture (I love the green tiled roofs. I'd love to have a home with Moroccan architectural style). One stop included photo ops of sitting on a camel. Lame. Everywhere we stopped, there were kids hawking souvenirs. One kid was so persistent. He tried to sell me a switchblade that slides in and out (rather than swinging around from the closed position). That was illegal. Likewise a tortoise shell guitar. When I told him that all I wanted were postcards and a book about Morocco, he disappeared and a few moments later, returned with them. How resourceful! Of course I bought them from him.

Lunch was at a Moroccan restaurant and it was much the same as what the Marrakesh in Portland offered, with similar decor. We had eating utensils, though. One thing that really stands out in my memory, though, is that some sailors wanted to smoke, but a very vocal African American lady asked that they put out their cigarettes in respect for those of us who didn't smoke. They complied, which was a bit unusual. That lady instantly became my hero. I would've endured the cigarette smoke (living in Europe means that you can't escape the scent of cigarette smoke). I remember that our mint tea actually had mint leaves in it and it was far more minty-er than the one we had at the Marrakesh. But that could just be memories playing tricks on my mind.

After lunch, we went to a sales presentation on Arab carpets, which were beautiful and expensive. I think some sailors did buy some, but I thought it was a scam. I wanted to see Tangiers, not a sales presentation. Even the tourist souvenir store was not interesting to me. I wanted to see more of the city. Four hours went by quick and soon we were back on the ferry. Had I not gone to South Africa for a week's vacation in 1994, my entire experience in Africa would have boiled down to mere hours! Three crazy hours in Alexandria, Egypt in 1992 and four hours in Tangiers in 1993.

One of my friends, who was an older sailor, was big on meditation. He meditated for hours on the ferry. When I asked him about it, I thought he was a Buddhist and he laughed at my presumption. Before I met him, I thought meditation was a Buddhist thing. Christians I knew growing up considered meditation to be "Satanic" (I don't get how anyone could think that). Something about "an idle mind is a Devil's workshop." I wish I had learned to pick up the habit of meditation way back then. However, I must say that it is a very beneficial practice for anyone.

This picture above was taken at one of our stops outside of Tangiers. The water you see below is the Atlantic Ocean and the tourguide said that the beaches below was where Black Beauty was filmed. The wind was so strong, I was straining not to be blown away. I considered it the windiest place I had ever been (until my family visited the Chart House on the bluffs at the entrance to the Columbia Gorge). The gray camera bag you see hanging off my belt was a part of my accessories as I traveled Europe and Africa...until 1994. It was one of the things that my robbers in Johannesburg stole from me on my second night in South Africa. It held my camera, passport and safety deposit box key.

I think I still have those yellow chinos, but I need to lose a couple inches around my waist to wear it now. Anyhow, that was my Moroccan adventure. I'd love to return someday for a lengthier stay, and to see Casablanca and the real Marrakesh. As a young man, I had a penpal who lived in Morocco. I learned a lot about his country through our correspondence. Of all the Arab countries, I'd have to say that Morocco is the most interesting one to me. It often serves as a film stand-in for far more dangerous locales (such as Afghanistan or Iraq). If you have a chance to go, you should. If you can't afford it, check and see if there's a Moroccan themed restaurant in your area. Its a worthy cultural experience.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Journal Excerpt: Controlled Liberty

Yesterday, I forgot to write a post from my Basic Training Journal excerpt series. On Saturday, May 11, 1991, my company left the base for the first time since we had arrived on April 20, 1991 to go on our "Controlled Liberty." We were near the end of our training, and one of the advantages of going to basic training in Orlando, Florida was that we had plenty of options for our company's day of fun in the outside world: Disneyworld, Epcot Center, Universal Studios, Wet and Wild, and Seaworld.

Excerpts from my journal in the days leading up to May 11th show that the company vote was contentious. Vote and revote. Lobbying guys to change their votes by appealing to our most base instinct. In the end, justice prevailed! Thank God for "majority rule"! The following excerpts on the days indicated are only in regards to our Controlled Liberty, as I am not including the other things I wrote for the entry on those days.

May 1, 1991 5-2 Day Wednesday

...In the evening we voted on where we wanted to go for controlled liberty. It boiled down between Wet and Wild versus Universal Studios. SR Williams was lobbying guys hard for Wet and Wild, telling us that there will be women in bikinis and we have a better chance of getting laid than we will at Universal Studios. Universal won and I was glad.

May 2, 1991 5-3 Day Thursday

...Williams wasn't pleased with the company vote for Universal Studios over Wet and Wild and continued to lobby guys in hopes of doing a revote. He did change some opinions and it looked like we were going to Wet and Wild, which I didn't want to do. I don't know why he is so insistent about going to Wet and Wild. Just because there might be women in bikinis there doesn't guarantee that anyone in our company will be able to hook up with any of them. The CCs saw that it was divided, so we got to vote again and it looked like Wet and Wild won. But guys changed their minds again and Universal is it.

May 11, 1991 Controlled Liberty Saturday

Finally, we leave our prison grounds for the first time since arriving here almost two months ago! We dressed in our summer white uniforms, which makes us look like milkmen or something because we don't have rank insignias or ribbons. We boarded the bus and morale is pretty high, even though SR Williams is still complaining about Wet and Wild. I'm glad that Universal Studios won, though, because it offers more things to do.

One of the first things we did was hit up the souvenir store to buy sunglasses, disposable cameras, and candy. I bought cheap plastic sunglasses ($2.95) and a disposable camera ($9.95). Some guys bought sunglasses with white plastic frames to match our white uniforms, but CC Keenan said that was unauthorized. We were only supposed to buy black framed sunglasses. Come on, now! We all look alike, why not allow diversity among sunglasses? Its hard to argue against the color coordination.

Next, a group of us headed to the nearest food establishment, a burger place called Mel's Drive-In. I had a hamburger, onion rings, and a chocolate milkshake ($7.11). It was good. Food seems to be the biggest attraction for the guys, after eating nothing but galley food for nearly two months.

We broke into smaller groups and I decided to hang out with SR Nelson, SR Nevil and other guys I felt a closer bond to. We walked the studio lots and I took photos of the New York / Ghostbusters street scene. The Ghostbusters show was a disappointment, though. The ride that got all of us most excited is Back to the Future: The Ride. What a wild ride, too! We had a debate afterwards on whether our DeLorean actually moved, or was it purely visual effects that made us feel like we were in motion? Whatever tricks were used, it made for an exciting ride.

Walking around, we kind of felt like celebrities. Ladies were checking us out and quite a few actually approached to buy ice cream from us! That's the trouble wearing white uniforms without rank insignias or military award ribbons, though rumour has it that upon completion of basic training, we will be authorized to wear the National Defense Service ribbon, even though the Gulf War ended before we arrived here.

Morale was pretty high when we arrived back to our barracks. We are feeling good about our last couple weeks. The light is definitely brighter at the end of the tunnel.

I found on YouTube a video of the actual Back to the Future: The Ride. I can't believe that it was only four minutes long. Watching it on YouTube doesn't compare to the actual experience. I swear that our DeLorean seats were moving, because it felt like we were falling at a few points. From my understanding, this ride no longer exists. It was replaced by a simulated The Simpsons Ride. That's a shame, because I had hopes of going to Universal Studios again someday and experience this ride once again.