Monday, August 30, 2010

Music Video Monday: Take That (again!)

When I went to see "The Oracle" earlier this month, I had mentioned that I really loved U2's song "Stuck in a Moment That You Can't Get Out of It" and that it pretty much described my life for the past decade. Her response was: "You need to get a new song."

A few weeks later, while watching music videos on YouTube, I learned that Take That had released a song in the fall of 2008, called "Greatest Day." So, I clicked on it and was blown away. The video is gorgeously shot (the band is seen atop a skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles, near the tallest skyscraper that was blown up in the 1996 film Independence Day by an enormous alien spaceship. They are awaiting the sunrise of a new day). I have no idea what inspired the song, but the release as a single in the U.K. in November 2008 could perhaps be coincidental (timed around the U.S. presidential elections when the entire world was hoping that Americans would vote for Obama). Or perhaps deliberate. Take That is not known to be political, though.

Anyhow, after hearing the song and relating to the lyrics ("This could be the greatest day of our stay close to me..."), I have found "my theme song" for this upcoming decade. In fact, during some stressful moments at work this past month, I found myself singing the song in my head. Its like a mantra: "This could be the greatest day of my life!" So, I am gladly trading in U2's awesome hit from 2000 for an uplifting, inspiring song to serve as my personal anthem. May it lead me to better things! This song will definitely play at my wedding reception someday. I will also play this on the evening of 21 December 2012 (the last day of the Mayan calendar, which has paranoids thinking it'll be the end of the world).

Enjoy! This concludes my "Boy Band" series of posts. It's back to substance now.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Boy Bands Part VII: Jericho Road

The final Boy Band in the spotlight is Jericho Road. Ever heard of them? Didn't think so. They are a Mormon quartet (essentially a Mormon version of 98 Degrees). I would not have heard of them if not for a couple music videos of theirs being part of the "special features" of a couple Mormon movies on DVD. The irony is that I LOVE LOVE LOVE Mormon movies while none of my Mormon friends like them! I have quite a collection of them on DVD. My Mormon friends don't understand why I like them, since they don't. There are some good ones that were made (The Best Two Years, Return With Honour, God's Army, The Work and the Glory trilogy) as well as a lot of cheesy ones. On the Single's Ward DVD, the special features had a music video by Jericho Road (which is today's music video feature), which I liked on first viewing.

Like all Boy Bands, pay attention to their hand movements. They have to do something with their hands because they aren't playing instruments! The coordinated dance choreography is another cliche of Boy Bands. The melody and message of this song is awesome, thus I don't know why it did not make the playlist on pop radio. That's where you get someone like me, who loves all good music, regardless of who sings it. I'm a fan of good melodies and this song is simply awesome.

A couple years ago, I saw a Best of Jericho Road CD at Deseret Books (a Mormon bookstore. I'm probably the ONLY person who shops at Mormon, Evangelical Christian, New Age, and secular bookstores! Open-mindedness is so awesome!). I only knew two of their songs, but like the other Boy Bands, Jericho Road has also sang cover versions of popular songs. I've listened to this CD quite a bit. Its a very uplifting CD.

I'm sure that Jericho Road's fanbase is primarily tweenage Mormon girls in Utah. I don't know much about the band, but I would not be surprised if a few or all of them attended BYU while I was there (during the years I attended, the writer / director and the actor of Napoleon Dynamite were both students there, as well as the writer of the Twilight series of romantic vampire novels that you may have heard about, and the Mormon girl on MTV's Real World: New Orleans. When is my novelist success due? I'd love to join this creative class of famous BYU alumni, though my novel about the Navy might have BYU officials denying my attending there!).

Hope you enjoy this final Boy Band tribute. This concludes this series. I've thought of spotlighting girl groups, but that will probably have to wait until next summer. August is a dead month for news, so it'll be harder to devote an entire week to pop culture posts while substantial news are begging to be written about. Coming this week, my thoughts on the Glenn Beck ego-mania love fest and the fifth anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans. Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Boy Bands Part VI: Musical Youth

For today's Boy Band selection, I thought of three different groups to shine the spotlight on. The first was New Edition, which had quite a few hits in the mid-to-late 1980s (notably "Cool It Now", "Mr. Telephone Man", and "If It Isn't Love"). This African American Boy Band also launched the solo careers of Bad Boy Bobby Brown (the abusive, drugged-out asshole who ruined Whitney Houston's career), Ralph Tresvant, and Johnny Gill (if I'm not mistaken). The remainder of the group formed BellBivDevoe in 1990.

In the 1990s, came Boyz II Men, which had even more success than New Edition. In fact, their singles "End of the Road" (from the 1992 Eddie Murphy film Boomerang) and 1994's "I'll Make Love To You" both sat atop the Billboard singles charts for more than 10 weeks. That's a rare feat for any artist, and this group managed to do it twice! During my first semester at BYU, Boyz II Men scored another hit single with "Four Seasons of Loneliness", which described my experience being a non-Mormon at the Mormon university.

It was difficult to choose which of those two bands to spotlight in today's Boy Band tribute. Then, I realized that there is a one hit wonder that should get the glory, instead. This band even has the kind of name that people with an interest in a long-term career in the music industry should not have. They came out in the early 1980s and was the first calypso / reggae song that I ever heard. I loved it and still do, even though I don't know what they are singing about.

Of course, I'm talking about "Pass the Dutchie" by Musical Youth. I have no idea if this group is from the Caribbean or Africa. Their accents make lyric decifering a challenge. What the hell is a "dutchie"? Does it mean what I think it means? One thing that I love about the song is a mention about "the spirit of Jah", which is the Rastafarian word for God. So, does this mean that Musical Youth is from Jamaica (JAH-maica)? The Rastafarians are famous for a few things: dreadlocks, reggae music, ganja weed ("dutchie"?), and "The Lion of Zion" (supposedly the King of Ethiopia plays into their religion somehow).

Whatever they are singing about, it just sounds cool. However, they are a one hit wonder. I did buy their album in the early 1990s after having forgotten about them, but the album was not memorable. I guess if you're destined to only have one hit song, why not this one? Let the spirit of Jah lead you!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Boy Bands Part V: 98 Degrees

For today's Boy Band spotlight, I have chosen 98 Degrees. They have a slight difference on the "Boy Band formula" in that there are only four members, not the usual five. I never understood why five guys was the "standard"...particularly when none of them play instruments. Is it an aesthetic thing? One guy takes the lead and the four guys pair off?

In the early 90s, there were a couple of guy quartets: All 4 One (which had a one hit wonder with "I Swear" in 1994) and Color Me Badd (a two hit wonder in 1991 with "I Wanna Sex You Up" and "I Adore, Mi Amor"). In my first semester at college in the fall of 1997, one of the songs on the radio that I loved was "Invisible Man", which I often feel like in social situations. This was the debut single of 98 Degrees. I heard nothing more from them as Backstreet Boys and NSYNC racked up hit after hit single from their debut albums. Then, in 1998 came "Because of You" from the new album, which had an awesome music video set in San Francisco. I love that song and video.

What I like about 98 Degrees is that their music sounds really soulful. They have great harmonies and their second album, 98 Degrees and Rising, was perfect. The single "The Hardest Thing" caused some controversy among one of my roommates in D.C. He (Jantzen) actually paid attention to lyrics, so any music that got played would be questioned if he found the lyrics to be "immoral." So, we debated this song. He didn't like it because it was about lying to a girl. But it was lying so she could move on to someone better for her. Its a great song. For me, though, melodies matter more than the lyrics. If I don't like a song, its because the melody sucks. I did find it amusing that my roommate Jantzen was such the censor of music in the apartment. In case you're curious, he also found these songs "offensive" and said that it could not be played while he was in the apartment: "It's Not Right, But It's Okay" by Whitney Houston, "The Bad Touch" by the Bloodhound Gang (obvious reasons!), and "Obsession" by Animotion.

The single "I Do" is probably one of the best songs to play at a wedding. It will certainly play on my wedding soundtrack someday, though it is not in the running to be a first dance song due to its obvious nature and rather cliched lyrics. I prefer something a little more unique. The video is interesting, because it starred the attractive lady from the Superbowl Doritos commercial, as she plays with the emotions of all four of the 98 Degrees guys. The music video is cheesy, though, because in the end, she marries "Screech" (from Saved by the Bell). One thing you can count on with Boy Bands: cheesy is part of the deal. Also on this album is a really hip song that I love: "Do You Wanna Dance", which samples the old Kool and the Gang classic "Get Down On It." I never really liked that song, so 98 Degrees took the melody and made something hipper and fresher.

The album also featured a collaboration with Stevie Wonder on the theme song from the Disney animated feature Mulan: "True to Your Heart." I like the song, but I think its slightly over-produced. It would sound even better if they quieted it down some.

Like New Kids on the Block, 98 Degrees features two brothers: Nick and Drew Lachey. Jeff Timmons and Justin Jeffre make up the other half of the group. After their third release in 2000 (Revelation), Nick went on to greater fame with his Hollywood marriage to Teen "queen" Jessica Simpson. They decided to open up their marriage to the prying eyes of video cameras with MTV's reality series The Newlyweds. The show begins after the wedding and honeymoon. The interesting thing about having their marriage on a reality show is that when the show began, Nick was the bigger celebrity. By the end of the four season series, Jessica Simpson's career was bigger than Nick's. Their marriage couldn't seem to last outside of the reality series. They divorced soon after the show ended, which is a shame, because if they had children, their children would have had the great opportunity to watch their parents adjust to married life.

What made the show interesting to watch were Jessica's "blonde moments." She once asked Nick if the tuna she was eating was chicken or fish, "because it says 'chicken of the sea'." She was fun to watch. Incredibly naive, not too smart, but sweet at times, and beautiful. The show itself is revealing in the incredibly narcissistic waste by which these celebrities live their lives: mega-mansions in the Hollywood hills, fancy sports or luxury cars, jet setting off on vacations or for work whenever they feel like it, endless parties, and extravagent shopping sprees (Jessica would buy things just to buy things, not even thinking how outrageous some of the prices were for the things she bought). Is it an enviable life? I hardly think so. I don't think I could live in too much house and attend parties all the time. I'd love the travel, but it would be by the least expensive means possible. What I love most about the show, though, was hearing Jessica say in her sweet, pouty way, "Nick!" I could listen to her say my name all day, she's that sweet.

As I watched the series several years ago, I was struck by the idea of writing a novel about celebrity life in relation to real life. I haven't come across an actual storyline / plot or characters quite yet, but it will be along the lines of two pop celebrities in a marriage for public consumption. This reality series increased the profiles of both Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson, so it was definitely a good career move. Britney Spears seemed to get jealous, because she decided to allow her marriage to Kevin Federline to be made into a documentary, which I had never seen. I heard that it was horrendous, though. Britney Spears might have been a much bigger celebrity than Britney Spears, but she married trashy and our televised culture prefers telegenic and physically fit people (i.e. Jersey Shore).

Out of the three major Boy Bands to emerge in the late 1990s, 98 Degrees was my favourite because their music simply sounded more soulful than the others. They had an R&B feel to many of their songs. Nick Lachey came out with a solo album in 2006, with a heartbreaking ballad about his divorce, "What's Left of Me." Its pretty heartbreaking to listen to. I have no idea what caused the dissolution of their marriage, but it was doomed for failure due to the intense media scrutiny. You know how some pairings seem to get the paparazzi and celebrity media outlets in a tizzy? For example, when Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were an item, they were constantly in the tabloids. The media just had it out for them as a couple that it could never work. When both Ben and Jennifer married someone else (Jennifer Garner for Ben and Marc Anthony for J.Lo), the media seemed less interested and thus they are able to have a normal family life without the glare of a critical spotlight. I think the same can be said for the Hollywood marriage of two former teen pop stars. It was doomed for failure from the start.

There's a lesson in here somewhere for future aspiring Boy Band members. Like Take That sang in "Never Forget" ... "Never pretend that it's all real / Someday, this will all be someone else's dream." Enjoy the ride while it lasts. Some don't even get the pleasure of three albums and a string of radio hit singles. Also while I was in college, another Boy Band that went by the name of 5ive had one hit single: "When the Lights Go Out". There was also a reality series about the selection of guys to be in a Boy Band. I believe the name of that band was O-Town, but I never heard any of their songs on the radio. There was also a Boy Band trio, named LFO, which had a hit single with "Summertime Girls", which name dropped Abercrombie & Fitch and New Kids on the Block. The late 90s seemed to be a time of more of everything that you don't really need or that's not good for you. The radio seemed to have room for only three major Boy Bands at the time. Let's hope that never happens again!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Boy Bands Part IV: *NSYNC

Today's Boy Band spotlight shines on the biggest rivals to the Backstreet Boys in the late 1990s: NSYNC. They were a lot more popular and I've tried to figure out why. Based on music videos, they seemed to have more fun and their personalities were much more animated than the Backstreet Boys. I thought "Tearin' Up My Heart" was an okay pop song and I liked the World War II themed music video for "God Must Have Spent A Little More Time on You." The single that made me take notice, though, was "I Drive Myself Crazy" because the melody sounded very similar to the Thai music that my mother used to listen to when I was a young child in the 1970s.

If you watch the music videos of NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys, you can definitely see the difference between the two bands. The Backstreet Boys are serious while NSYNC's sense of humour and love of having fun comes through. A good music video that shows NSYNC in their element is their Christmas song "Merry Christmas."

In 2000, they came out with their second album, which was the much anticipated follow-up to their hit parade debut album. In their follow-up, they played with certain ideas, such as their being puppets on a string or mere plastic dolls marketed to girls. I don't know if they actually came out with dolls like the New Kids on the Block did, but their awesome music video "It's Gonna Be Me" has a lot of fun with the idea. I love this song as well as "Bye Bye Bye," which has a very Hollywood mini-movie style to it. They were definitely aiming higher.

After the second album, the most popular member of the band went on to solo success. That would be Justin Timberlake, the Robbie Williams of this Boy Band. His debut solo album Justified found some success, but it wasn't until Lovesounds / Futuresex that he found critical success and even greater fame. He has also found acting roles in movies (Richard Kelly's dreadful Southland Tales is one of them), dated Cameron Diaz, became an extremely popular host of Saturday Night Live (making one of the most hilarious music video skits of all time: "Dick in a Box"), and collaborated with others on music projects (such as his song and video with Madonna, "4 Minutes."). There's no doubt that Justin Timberlake is an extremely talented guy. He was part of Disney Channel's Mickey Mouse Club in the early 1990s, which included Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and actor Ryan Gosling. Justin and Britney were a couple for a brief period, but I get the impression that he was only dating her to take her virginity and once that mission was accomplished, he moved on and Britney went crazy.

Not to be overshadowed, two other NSYNC bandmates have found some attention for themselves. Lance Bass famously came out of the closet and dated the winner of the reality show The Amazing Race, Reichen Lemkuhl. He also wanted to buy his way into space through the Russian space program (which was desperate for money that they allowed multi-millionaires to pay millions for the opportunity to travel into space with the cosmonauts), but that seemed to fall through. JC Chasez recorded a solo album, called Schizophernia, which was supposedly all over the map on music styles and did not sell well.

While the Backstreet Boys seems to have taken their singing careers seriously and continue to record albums and go on tour, NSYNC was a short, fun ride and followed the advice of Take That's "Never Forget". They enjoyed themselves while it lasted, before the spotlight moved on to other groups. At least we can expect to see Justin Timberlake in the spotlight for years to come. His talent is undeniable and his star quality is such that very few stars these days can match. Its amazing to reflect that he once performed on the 80s show Star Search, singing a country song. He's so urban / hip-hop that I can't imagine him in the restricted confines of the country music genre. I hope he will continue to record more songs like his brilliant "What Goes Around."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Boy Bands Part III: Backstreet Boys

Today's Boy Band is the Backstreet Boys. They first emerged on the music scene in 1997, alongside another Boy Band, NSYNC. During that summer, I was in Paris and saw huge advertisements for both the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. I stayed with a French family that I know and I asked the girl in the family who these bands were. I thought they were English. She looked at me in shock and said that they were American. This was surprising, because they weren't known in America at the time.

By the time fall rolled around and I was in college at BYU, radio stations played debut singles by both Boy Bands. I learned that they were sent to Europe first, to break through before the American roll-out began. It was strange that there were two Boy Bands releasing singles and debut albums at the same time.

Musically, I preferred the Backstreet Boys. I thought they had better songs. On campus, I noticed that NSYNC was more popular. During my last semester at BYU, the Political Science department had a special gathering at a lodge near Sundance in Park City. The biggest hit of the evening was when a few Political Science professors (including my Human Rights course instructor, Darren Hawkins) took to the stage to sing their version of the Backstreet Boys "I Want It That Way." I was impressed. The professors' version was about the student demands for an "A" and trying to put conditions on the professors, rather than accepting what the professors give them. I thought it was pretty bold and hip of these Mormon university professors to sing a Boy Band song.

Another song that I like is "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely." This was a hit single my last semester (which was appropriate because I was definitely lonely at BYU, being the only RLDS student among 30,000 Mormon students. Interestingly enough, during my first semester, Boyz II Men had a hit single with "Four Seasons of Loneliness", which I also loved). If the Backstreet Boys really want to know the meaning of being lonely, I recommend that they attend college at BYU! That was the loneliest place in the world for a non-Mormon.

After the release of their second album, Millennium, in 1999, the Backstreet Boys seemed to follow the "curse" of the Boy Bands. What's that curse? As we've seen with New Kids on the Block and Take That, the album that brought the Boy Band fame with a hit parade of singles causes ecstastic enthusiasm for the follow-up album, which, once release either fails to live up to expectations or satisfies the craving, though they don't have as many hit singles and the band kind of fades out until they break up.

In the past decade, the Backstreet Boys did release a couple of albums, but they haven't had much radio play. They seem to prefer ballads and aim for the Adult Contemporary music market, which is why they aren't successful. Once members of Boy Bands get married, their career seems to die off. Part of the marketing appeal of Boy Bands is the fantasy aspect for young girls and married guys lose that appeal. Last I heard, Brian Littrell (the main lead singer) was living in Atlanta with his wife. Instead of recording new music under the same Boy Band name, they should take the advice of Take That from the song "Never Forget." Their time in the spotlight was over at the Turn of the Millennium. Boy Bands don't last forever. The market favours Justin Bieber right now and the Backstreet Boys are not the Beach Boys.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Boy Bands Part II: New Kids on the Block

In the second part of my week long series regarding Boy Bands, today's spotlight is on New Kids on the Block, which first hit the charts in the fall of 1988 with the ballad "Please Don't Go Girl." When I first heard the song on the radio, I thought the group was black. A New Edition clone. The creator of the group, Maurice Starr, had also formed New Edition. His goal was to assembly a group of soulful white teenage guys to be more successful than his previous creation, which got away from him. He wasn't going to allow that to happen again.

The first rule an aspiring Boy Band should keep in mind is that if you want a long career, its probably best if you do not use the word "Boys" or "Kids" in your group name. You're going to be men at some point and it will be harder to make the transition if your name reminds music fans of your youth. Okay, so maybe the Beach Boys managed to escape this fate, but Backstreet Boys did not. Even New Kids on the Block started calling themselves "NKOTB" (awkward!). More like Old Kids on the Block!

In this Boy Band, Donnie Wahlberg was the resident Bad Boy while Joey McIntyre was the baby of the group. Before the group found fame, Donnie's younger brother, "Marky" Mark was a member, before he went on to solo rapping and acting fame. This group also featured two brothers: Jordan and Jonathan Knight, and the odd man out Danny Wood (he always looks like a thug who will rough you up).

New Kids on the Block accomplished a major feat in the summer of 1989. During that summer, they were the opening act for Teen "queen" Tiffany (of shopping mall and "I Think We're Alone Now" fame). I had wanted to see the concert at Six Flags over Georgia (I had a season pass), but didn't make it. By the middle of summer, Tiffany became the opening act for New Kids on the Block. I'm sure that probably did not sit well with her. However, she was coasting on the strength of her first two singles from two years earlier and her sophomore album wasn't selling nearly as well. In the summer of 1989, the New Kids on the Block found hits with their singles "(You Got) The Right Stuff", "Hangin' Tough", "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)", "Cover Girl" and a release from their first album: "Didn't I Blow Your Mind?" By year's end, they even released a single from their Christmas album, "This One's For the Children." Not bad for a bunch of young guys from the tough hoods of Boston.

My sister, who was the right age that Boy Bands aim for (8 years old), was a fan of Joey McIntyre. When I worked at Lionel Playworld before going into the Navy, we had a whole aisle devoted to New Kids on the Block products. It was an incredible waste. We did not sell much, which was a sign to me that their popularity was already cooling off in the fall of 1990. I bought a Joey McIntyre doll for my sister that Christmas. I wonder if she still has it. There was a young teenage girl at church who loved New Kids on the Block as well. In the spring of 1990, she was really excited about their upcoming new release and thought it would be an even bigger success. I told her that after their string of hits on their breakthrough second album, and with excitement among fans for the follow-up, I thought they would fizzle out. By that point, fame was already getting to them. Bad Boy Donnie Wahlberg was having fights on airplanes. This kind of behaviour would not sit well with tweenybopper parents.

The new album was just as I thought. Overproduced with only a couple good songs. The music video above shows New Kids on the Block at the height of their fame, with the release of their brand new single from the new album: "Step By Step." The video was a step up from their previous, low budget ones. The second single, "Tonight" was great in that it referenced their other hit songs by title and the music specifically evokes psychedelic-era Beatles. There was no mistaking their intentions. They wanted to replicate the Beatles success (the ultimate "Boy Band" that evolved into a critically acclaimed and artistic pioneers of rock n' roll) or maybe at least get some respect.

Too late. The new album satisfied their fan base and it would be a few years before they attempted a "comeback" (in 1994 under the name NKOTB). Since the guys in the group were a couple years older than me, it was interesting to see their rise and fall from my perspective. I had fantasies of being in a rock band, but I knew that I would not a fan base of tweenage girls. They are the most fickle, and wouldn't be around to support a career. The idols of tweenage girls today are Justin Bieber, the Jonas Brothers (who actually play instruments!), and Miley "Hannah Montana" Cyrus.

The smartest member of New Kids on the Block was Mark Wahlberg, who left before fame hit, became a rap star in his own right, showed off his physique in Calvin Klein's most famous underwear ads of the 1990s, and went into acting. His older brother Donnie has been in his shadow ever since. Mark has surprised me with his acting ability. He has a great sense of humour (watch Saturday Night Live or Scorsese's The Departed if you doubt this) and he chooses his roles wisely. When he first came on the scene in 1991 and with the underwear ads, my impression of him was that he was a meatheaded asshole. Perhaps it was all an act, for he has been a lot smarter than his "Marky Mark" persona would indicate. As I watch the excellent HBO series Entourage, which he executive produced, it makes me wonder how much of it was based on his life. Like Mark, the character Vincent Chase has an older brother who is always in his shadow. The older brother, Johnny "Drama", is annoying as hell.

When I listen to their music now, which isn't often, I'm transported back to my Junior and Senior years of high school, as well as the exciting summer between those two criticall years. They've tried solo projects and reunion tours with new albums, but nothing works. They are frozen in that era from 1988 to 1990. That's what happens when you call yourselves the "New Kids on the Block." You can't be the new kid on the block forever!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Music Video Monday: Take That

In honour of Glenn Beck's Saturday "Historical Revisionism" rally in Washington, D.C. this Saturday, this week, my blog is going shallow! How shallow? Boy Band Shallow!!! That's right. This week is "Boy Band Week." All week long, my posts will feature a music video by one Boy Band and my thoughts about the group.

What is it about Boy Bands? They get no respect. While it might appear to be any teenage boy's dream to be in a Boy Band, this is actually not the case in "guy culture." Guys derogatorily put down Boy Bands as GAY! With the five part harmonies, dance steps in unison, the hand thing (they all have to do something with their hands...usually the grand gestures), none of them playing instruments, the 24 / 7 lifestyle of always being together on a tour bus, and the scary young fanbase, these all add up to the idea that Boy Bands are gayer than a groom at a Liza Minelli wedding. Why is it that the guys in Boy Bands tend to be late teens / early 20s, but most of the fans are tweenage girls? Shouldn't the police be looking into this?

Seriously, Boy Bands don't get any respect at all. Guys who admit to liking them will often set off speculation about his allegiances. Guys aren't supposed to like pop music. Its hard rock, classic rock, country, or misogynistic rap. Boy Bands are pretty much fabricated and calibrated, designed not only to sell records, but all kinds of product. Tweenage girls tend to be the biggest consumers of fads. Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen made most of their wealth on selling products with their images on them and they had a running start since toddlerhood. These are the kind of products that one is embarrassed to have owned once they reach a certain age, after money has long been spent and you can't get your refund.

As far as Boy Bands go, I think Take That is the best. They were a group of British guys that emerged on European radio in the summer of 1993 with the infectious song "Pray." I thought of featuring that music video for today's post, but I do not like that video at all. If any music video by a Boy Band screams "GAY!", its "Pray." Oooh, and those words rhyme! Anyhow, in the summer of 1993, you simply could not escape this song in all the bars of all the resort towns all over the Mediterranean (where I was at the time). Take That had a string of hits with their second album, Everything Changes. It was a pretty good album. Other singles included "Babe", "Everything Changes", "Why Can't I Wake Up With You", and "Love Ain't Here Anymore."

Take That came about because a British music producer wanted to create a British version of New Kids on the Block. He actually found a young aspiring singer / songwriter in Gary Barlow, who became the lead. Amazingly enough, Gary did write some of the biggest hits for the band, including "Pray." Auditions were held and by fortunate luck, the ultra-talented Robbie Williams found his way into the band (though his bad boy antics would cause a mutual decision for him to leave in 1995). The other band members include Mark, Jason, and Howard. They became a huge sensation all over Europe and started eyeing the American music market, which all good musicians do.

However, they only managed to score one hit in the U.S. "Back for Good" played a lot on the radio in the summer of 1995, from their follow-up album Nobody Else. I loved this song and bought the CD and played it often, surprised when one of my best friends Nathan and a buddy of his both took a liking to this Boy Band album. If you listen to the music and not worry about things, you can appreciate highly addictive, feel-good pop music. My favourite song on this album was (and still is) the musically brilliant "Never Forget." It works on so many levels: lyrically, musically, harmonically. I love the melody shifts and the high charging chorus, along with the children's choir. Its, as the Brits would say, "absolutely brilliant" as the perfect pop song. The lyrics are just incredible. Its written with a complete self-awareness about the short shelf-life of a Boy Band. Its quite Buddhist in its outlook. And yes, Gary Barlow wrote this song as well.

I especially love these lines: "There's a road going down the other side of this hill / Never forget where you're coming from / Never pretend that it's all real / Some day this will all be someone else's dream." I also love the way the guys sing "We're not invincible." For a group of young guys caught in the machine of materialism, with hoards of screaming young female fans, they show remarkable self-awareness with this song. I never get tired of hearing "Never Forget." I think you can apply it to anything in your life. Its important to not get carried away by success, fame, good times...because what will you do when the inevitable "crash" comes? Its far healthier to embrace the Buddhist view of nonattachment. The video shows clips of moments to give you a glimpse of what life was like in a Boy Band. It looks like a fun, fraternal experience that all guys should experience on the way to adulthood (mine was the Navy). As you watch, I wanted to have dreadlocks in the late 80s like one of the band members has in the video. I have never seen a white guy with dreadlocks before. It looks pretty cool.

With the most popular member gone from the band, the rest of the group disbanded in 1996 with the release of a Greatest Hits album, featuring a remake of the Bee Gees "How Deep Is Your Love." Lead singer and the songwriter, Gary Barlow, went on to a solo career to modest success, while bad boy Robbie Williams became the solo superstar. I think it was probably hard to share the spotlight, so Robbie Williams made a better solo artist. His songs dripped with irony and wit. He wanted to find success on American radio, but only his "Millennium" found radioplay (the song samples a classic James Bond theme song, "You Only Live Twice") in 1999. It was the perfect song for the Turn of the Millennium. He's had plenty of great songs since then, but only cool people in America have heard of him. In fact, if you have heard of him and like him and you're an American, consider yourself a hipster!

Take That reformed a few years ago and look like they are aiming to be a young version of U2 or something. The latest news is that Robbie Williams has agreed to record a new album with his former bandmates (due this year) and tour with them. That should be interesting. However, don't expect them to tour the U.S. None of the new songs by Take That in the past few years got any radio play on this side of the Atlantic. American music seems to be in some kind of lame limbo right now. Our loss.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Mosque That Roared

I'm sorry if I'm a bit late to the discussion. I've been meaning to write this for Thursday's post, but for the past few nights, I've fallen asleep way before my usual bedtime. That is, falling asleep before I wrote my blog post for the following day.

The controversy over the proposed Muslim community center in lower Manhattan seems to have reached a fever pitch in the past week, with outrage from conservatives claiming to hold the best interest of the victims of 9/11 in their hearts. President Obama weighed in, during a meeting with Muslims, but then seemed to backtrack when it didn't play well in the news. Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised Obama's opinion regarding the right of Muslims to build a community center on a piece of property they happened to own. Yes, its a couple blocks north of the former World Trade Center site, but listening to the ranting on the news, you would think that the Muslims were wanting to build a Mosque directly on top of the World Trade Center site, as they did with the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem by building it on the very site of the Jewish Temple that was destroyed in 70 A.D.

Surprisingly, Dr. Howard Dean weighed in on the controversy and came down on the...conservative side?!? His argument was about being sensitive to the families of those who perished in the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001. If they don't want a "mosque" near the "sacred site", then by golly, we should just listen to them and do what they say! I hate to say it, but I'm gonna have to disagree with the good Dr. Dean on this one. My view is with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. If the Mayor of America's largest and most diverse city doesn't see a problem with it, why do red-state conservatives have to get all up in arms about it? Before 9/11, these were the same people who called New York City and Los Angeles "Sodom and Gomorrah"! A couple devastating terrorist attacks later, they claim to love NY and only have its best interest at heart.

The above photo is of the location of the proposed community center. It was formerly the home of Burlington Coat Factory, but due to some structural damage from 9/11's events, it has been empty for many years. Empty and for sale. A Muslim group bought the property to develop. They already have a place in lower Manhattan. They actually meet in the basement of some other building. The new facility would contain a community center and a prayer room. It is not a full scale mosque. Even if it was, with the appropriate architecture featuring minarets and intricate lace designs, so what? I say, BUILD IT!

I'm not understanding what the controversy is. Islam has well over a billion people who consider themselves Muslim. 19 hijackers from Saudi Arabia and Egypt supposedly carried out 9/11's horrible events under orders from terrorist Osama bin Laden. So, we're going to let 19 misguided souls speak for 1 billion people? Does that mean the non-Christians throughout the world can base their view of Christianity on the likes of Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or Fred Phelps?

Maybe I'm just too universalist in my thinking to be bothered by this plan. I honestly do not see any problem with it. In fact, I think its a great idea. By allowing Muslims to develop the property that they own, like any other business or organization or church in America, we are showing the world how great our country is. It would send a positive signal to the rest of the world, as people are baffled by our tolerance and forgiving nature. In the Middle East, they fight back and forth over petty and trivial issues. Tit-for-tat. Eye for an eye. A never ending vicious cycle of violence. America has been lucky and I don't think its an accident. From the beginning, our country decided to not have an official church (i.e. Church of America). The wall of separation between church and state has been pretty solid, despite recent attempts to chip away at it. This wall is a good thing (despite evangelical protests) because it allowed so many religions to flourish. Churches don't need government sanction to function. Churches that want government assistance, though, generally want it at the expense of a rival religion or church. That's not "The American Way."

I know its hard for conservatives to understand, but their claims that a Muslim community center near ground zero would be tantamount to victory for the 9/11 terrorists is absurd. The terrorists come from impoverished developing world countries in the Middle East, where there are few job prospects (as much as 50% unemployment exists). Many are trained or brainwashed in madrassas in isolated areas. If there are any "home grown terrorist cells" in the United States, so far, they've been pretty quiet. Maybe there aren't any, because people who live in the U.S. really do appreciate our freedom of religion. Many Muslim countries are authoritarian police states. Given the opportunity, I think life in the U.S. for many Muslims is much better than in a Muslim country, thus why we haven't seen any homegrown Muslim terrorists (yet).

This could change, though. If people want to be petty and deny them the right to develop the property that they own in the way that they wish, it will likely create a backlash. Even worse, there is a religious group in Florida, which uses the word "dove" in their name (the dove being the symbol of peace), that plans to burn copies of the Qu'ran this September 11th, despite their permit being denied by the local fire department. When I read this bit of news, I was stunned. Doing this is practically an engraved invitation or a double dare to Muslims around the world to sign up for suicide missions and once again strike the U.S. Maybe that's what this Christian group wants, so that conservatives can rejoice at President Obama's "failure" to keep America safe.

In thinking over what this community center means, I just don't understand why anyone would get so worked up about it. Maybe my thinking is so different. I see this as a great outreach tool. A symbolic gesture that in America, we are religiously tolerant and forgiving. People in the Muslim world would be impressed that Americans allowed people of their faith to build a community center so near a place of tragedy. Its not a victory for the terrorists, but a victory for the forces of tolerance and good will. A cynic might even argue that its good from the standpoint of being an insurance policy against possible future attacks at the site (whenever a memorial actually gets built). If terrorists dare strike again, they might unintentionally take out a community center of their supposed religion.
The map above shows the location of a few landmarks in lower Manhattan. As one can see, this community center is not on the World Trade Center site. One cannot even see the site from the community center (due to New York's famous skyscrapers). People simply need to chill!

My impression is that this controversy is a smokescreen for something else. A proxy argument for a deeply rooted issue that people don't want to talk about. Conservative media keeps claiming that President Obama is really a Muslim. While I don't see a problem with that if it were true (in fact, I think it would be awesome if we had a non-Christian president for once), I think this whisper campaign is truly cynical and unbecoming anyone who claims to believe in the Ten Commandments (one of which is: "Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness"!).

I believe there is an ulterior motive behind it all. There is an ongoing push by conservatives to plant into the minds of their un-critical-thinking sheeple that President Obama is an "illegitimate president" because he was supposedly born in Kenya as a Muslim admirer of Pol Pot who represents al-Qaeda's secret plan to destroy America from within!!! I hate to break it to you Fox Propaganda subjects, but your beloved Bush did just fine destroying America on his own. Obama is just cleaning up the mess, like that soda shop custodian in the Back to the Future movie who ends up becoming mayor of the town thirty years later.

I've been having some intense debates with brainless Fox viewers and Glenn Beck fans on various Facebook walls. Its baffling the amount of ignorance that is spewed from their mouths. No one tends to think of themselves as "ignorant" and it has become a charged word for many people, but how else to explain the preference for propaganda and lies that have no basis in reality or fact? I simply do not understand why so many people prefer to be lied to than to know the truth. Is their narrow view of the world that important to them? Don't they understand that the Soviet Union collapsed because of the ideological blindness of communists? Being blind to ideology means that you cannot see when something is no longer working because you are deeply invested in its outcome. The world does not work in ideology. That is the hidden hand of egotism. How many arrogant giants must fall before people wake up their eyes? Gloating that communism was doomed to fail while believing that unregulated capitalism will continue gaining market share and increase profits forever is just as blind a political philosophy as any other.

Facts matter. Sideshow trivia only keeps people trapped in ignorance. Why would anyone want to be masters of their own enslavement? The rightwing paranoia machine knows how to manipulate the gullible views of Fox and Beck. They have old ladies scared of an extremist black man with a strange name from a foreign land who somehow got elected as our nation's leader. Who knows where this paranoia will go? During my internship in D.C., the worst aspect of my job was dealing with the crazies who called in and said some pretty strange shit. The "aliens are zapping my brain!" or "government is controlling me with a remote" variety of loony tune. I am not comfortable around OCD people who engage in wacky paranoid fantasies that the government is out to get them with Black Hawk helicopters. I really fear that some demagogues like Rush or Beck or O'Reilly or Hannity is practically daring a crazy person to pick up a gun and go Taxi Driver on our president. And no, I hope I ain't "talkin' to you"!

My comment on my extremist uncle's Facebook page about the illogical belief that Obama was born in Kenya caused him to de-friend me. Well, maybe it could have been some other comments I had made regarding my interest in the Hindu religion and the joke that I "worship" the sacred cow (by not eating them). My uncle and his wife have gotten so far right, its actually surprising. This was the couple who showed up at my 7th grade play for Speaking and Listening class wearing Harley-Davidson T-shirts and black leather pants and jacket. At some point, they traded in their Harley-Davidson obsession for religion and it has gotten more intense over the years. The good news is that their daughters are rebellious. Neither one of them seems interested in their parents church. Even more interesting, this uncle is the most conservative member of the family, yet his daughters smoke, drink, hang out at bars, had children out of wedlock, gotten divorced. My father is the most liberal of the brothers and both my sister and I have college degrees, are pretty stable, not into smoking or drinking, and attend church regularly. Oh, the irony! Gotta love it!!!

As for Islam, I have my own problems with it. Let's just say that its not my favourite of the religions out there. I could never be a Muslim, but I am able to appreciate some of it. I love the architecture of the mosque, particularly minarets. I have a copy of the Qu'ran, which I hope to read someday. I also have a Muslim prayer carpet that I bought in Alexandria, Egypt for $25 and sometimes use when I pray. Even if I am not particularly fond of a religion's tenets, though, I have no problem being friends with Muslims, having conversations about religion with them, or even attending a service with them. I think they should be allowed to develop the property they own for whatever they want, within the zoning laws of Manhattan. This is the essence of tolerance. This is what makes America a great country. You don't have to like someone else's religion, but they should be afforded the same rights that you have. And the respect should be mutual (i.e. I won't burn your Qu'ran if you won't burn my Bible). If such intolerant actions are allowed (making the Muslim group sell their property and establish a community center elsewhere; burning Qu'rans on the 9th anniversary of 9/11), I fear for our country. In fact, we shouldn't be surprised if our intolerant actions result in another terrorist attack on our soil. However, we should not do the right thing out of some fear of the possibility of an attack. We should do the right thing because it IS THE RIGHT THING to do.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Flashback Friday: Jaws

Tonight, at Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland, the final Flicks on the Bricks of the summer was the 1975 classic, Jaws, which is considered the first summer blockbluster. In the era before people could see movies at home, popular movies were re-released occasionally. I can't remember when my parents thought it was a wise idea to bring their two young sons to see this movie at the drive-in, but I'm thinking it had to have been in 1976 or even as late as 1978.

This movie TERRIFIED me to the point where I feared the dark beneath the bed. I had to make a running jump from the doorway to my bed, lest the shark beneath my bed gobbled me up! When my family went on a vacation to New England and went to a beach in Maine, my brother and I ran along the beach in the water, obviously without fear of sharks. Mom even pointed out that we weren't afraid of sharks in the place sharks were more likely to be (rather than hiding under the bed).

My parents were in the mid to late 20s in the late 70s, so perhaps they did not realize how a movie like this could scare a little kid and give him nightmares. In all the years since, I have not revisited this movie to see it with the maturity of an adult. Thus, when I saw that this film was one of the five summer movies featured on Portland's popular Flicks on the Bricks schedule, I knew I just had to see this movie once more. I don't remember much about the movie, so it was like watching a movie for the first time.

I consider the movie poster to be a classic. Even the image of the great white shark with all those killer teeth making a direct line towards the unaware swimmer was terrifying for a young boy to look at. As I watched this film again, I was impressed by the intensity of it. The brutal attacks with screams are still pretty tough to take. That would be a horrible way to go. By the time we see more of the shark, I was stunned by how fake it looked as it attacked the boat. I had my own encounter with this mechanical shark during a Universal Studios tour in Hollywood in 1980. The same great white that was used in the movie jumps out at people riding the train through the amusement park / film studios. I thought that was cool.

This movie was director Steven Spielberg's first blockbuster. You can definitely see the hallmarks of his touch. There are similarities with his Jurassic Park, in that some men think that dangerous animals can be managed and controlled. Only by appreciating the abilities of one's nemesis can one even hope to defeat them.

If I was a parent to a young child, though, I don't think I would allow them to see this movie. Its not terribly exciting for them. They wouldn't be interested in the slow, talky segments and the intense sequences featuring the shark attacks or shark scares would be too much for them. Though I wouldn't own this movie on DVD or likely see it again, I understand why it was a huge hit. Before it was released, there was nothing else like it. Film critics love the adult-themed movies of the 70s (The Godfather, Chinatown, The French Connection, Taxi Driver) and some audaciously blame Spielberg and George Lucas for ruining it all with their blockbuster summer movies. In fact, until Jaws came out in the summer of 1975, there was no such thing as "summer movies." Movies were released year round. After Jaws, studios jumped on the bandwagon to finance the next summer blockbuster, which generally involves lots of special effects and action. The more serious films got pushed back to the post-Labour Day period so that they could be on the minds of the Motion Picture Academy for Oscar consideration.

How ironic, then, that 35 years after a great white shark thrilled audiences that in this summer of sucky movies, the best of the bunch is one that requires your ability to think (that would be Inception, of course). Who said summer movies were all mindless explosions and action sequences? After the movie finished, the people I was with told me about the sequels, which I had never seen. Spielberg did not direct any of them, which is understandable. How does one replicate a movie like Jaws? It would simply be more of the same, though with more gore.

In 1988, when my family vacationed on the beach in Jekyll Island, Georgia, we saw fins in the water and my brother yelled "shark! shark!" to people on the beach. No one reacted. Turns out, it was merely dolphin fins. Its hard to tell from a distance. Dolphins, I can deal with. Its my dream to one day swim with dolphins. I leave the shark viewing to aquariums and the Discovery Channel in August.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Perils of Using Vile Language

The news is reporting that "relationship expert" Dr. Laura Schlessinger has decided to "retire" from her radio show when the contract is up at the end of the year. This comes on the heels of a recent controversy where she used the "N-word" 11 times in a short segment to make a point. I'm not fan of Dr. Laura, but I did listen to the clip and believe that the outrage was a little bit out of proportion. Its obvious to any listener that she was not calling anyone by that term, but stating her opinion about hearing that word on HBO, used by African Americans to one another in movies, music videos, and rap / hip hop songs. She, like many conservatives, don't like the "double standard" (the idea that a white person is not allowed to use it, while African Americans are free to use the word as much as they want).

There's a reason for this, though. The word has a vile history. It truly is an ugly word. There is no justification for people to use it. People often want to say that words are just words, but some words carry stigma because of how it was used or abused. It can't be helped. That's just the nature of a living language. I've seen first hand exactly the kind of pain this word can inflict on a person.

When I was in the Navy, stationed in Norfolk, Virginia in the mid-1990s, I had met a fellow church member who was also in the Navy (who became one of my best friends, Nathan). He was friends with an Army guy who was a white supremacist. I learned this fact when the three of us went to the Navy Exchange one day. While driving in the parking lot, Nathan didn't see a young African American lady in the crosswalk. His soldier friend yelled out, "Watch out for the nigger!" Since this was summer and Nathan's truck did not have air condition, we had our windows rolled down. The woman just stared at us and I could see the hurt and pain in her eyes. She obviously heard the comment. I was horrified and wanted to apologize to her. As she crossed in front of the truck, Nathan's friend continued, "You almost hit that nigger bitch!" Based on those two comments, I knew that I would not hang out with this guy anymore. There was no reason to use those terms to describe a person. And that's the thing, the lady was a human being. Racial epithets are designed to dehumanize a person. When a person is dehumanized, it makes it much easier for someone to override their natural born conscience and do atrocious things to them, as we've seen in My Lai, Vietnam; Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad; and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. If one sees another as a "gook", "spic", "raghead", "nigger", "cunt", or "injun", its a license for abuse.

During that period of my life, I actually ended a friendship with a "step-cousin" who was stationed in the area, because he kept using the n-word after I had asked him to stop. He tried to play it off by saying that he only calls cops that, but I wasn't buying it. I knew better because of who his mother was (my dad's older brother had married a divorced lady with six children in their teens in the 1980s and I became friends with a couple of the "step-cousins"). His mother has been known to make racist statements at various family gatherings, including her belief that a neighbourhood has the right to deny a house being sold to a person of a minority race if they want to keep their neighbourhood white. This view only increased her unpopularity in our family.

While I don't think its a sign of racism to use a word in the context of making a larger point, I thought Dr. Laura was widely off the mark in her "advice" to the African American lady who had called her show to get advice on her caucasian husband's friends who always seem to make her race a topic of discussion at gatherings, such as barbecues. The example given was that her husband's friend would ask her questions about why black people do such and such. That is inappropriate behaviour and the husband is not being a good husband by allowing his friends to make his wife feel uncomfortable and marginalized. Instead of giving useful advice, Dr. Laura wanted more examples of the kinds of things the caller's husband's friends say to her that make her feel uncomfortable. When they get into a debate about the use of the n-word, Dr. Laura accuses the caller of being "hyper-sensitive" and even more audaciously, said: "If you're that hypersensitive about color and don't have a sense of humor, don't marry outside of your race." What a moronic answer! Love is more complicated than that.

When I was at BYU, I fell for a lady from the Dominican Republic. Had she not been committed to her Mormon religion, I most likely would have pursued a deeper relationship leading to marriage with her. Whenever we spent time together, I never saw her skin colour being different than mine. She would be considered "black" in our country's racial category, though she would also be considered hispanic. People who saw us might have seen the stark contrast between our skin pigmentation, but from my vantage point, I only saw a beautiful woman who had everything I was looking for in a wife. Race was not an issue between us. Sadly, religion was the issue that could not be resolved. I don't think its "hyper-sensitive" to demand that other people treat you with respect and not as a spokesperson for your race or to be referred to by derogatory words that carry a weight of ugliness that goes back to our country's slavery era.

A few years ago, there was a media bruhaha about a speech in which the speaker had used the word "niggardly", which some people thought highly inappropriate because of its close proximity of the offensive word. They are completely different words, with different meanings, but it only shows the power of the sound of a certain word to make sound alike words also "offensive." Books have been written about the n-word and its ugly history. From my experience in the Navy, I never heard an officer use such a word. The only people I heard using it were the uneducated, grunt workers of the enlisted ranks...those whose AFQT score were too low to earn a rating speciality (guaranteed job assignment category). I've never been comfortable among people who use racist words, because as a "half-breed" myself, I've faced my share of racist comments since elementary school (the word "gook" is extremely vile to my ears. I can't tell you the feeling such a word evokes in me whenever I hear it, but its not a good one. Basically, if a person ever called me that, they would likely never earn back the respect I'd instantly lose for them).

In the excellent film A Time to Kill (based on John Grisham's first novel), one of my favourite scenes is when Samuel L. Jackson tells Matthew McConaughey's young, idealistic and Southern liberal lawyer: "When you look at me, you don't see a man. You see a BLACK man." The "birthers" who obsess over President Obama's Kenyan heritage and claim that he's not an American citizen are likely racist because of their inability to accept Obama's unique background and quintessential "only in America" biography. At one of the World Affairs Council discussion groups I attended a few months ago, we had an interesting discussion about how African Americans tend to be disappointed when they travel to Africa. To many, its a spiritual "homecoming" and that can be euphoric, for awhile. But also in such a journey, they learn that the Africans don't see African Americans as "African". To their life experience, these black visitors are American, first and foremost.

For much of our country's history, there have been attempts to keep African Americans from being full citizens, starting with the 3/5ths compromise in the U.S. Constitution. The Southern states wanted to include their slaves for the census in order to boost the population, yet they didn't want them to be considered citizens with the right to vote, to be free, and to be paid for their labours. This continued through the Civil Rights era, when schools were integrated by way of National Guard troops sent to keep the peace, to the current teabagger rallies with signs comparing our first African American president to Adolf Hitler (the man who was so digusted by Jesse Owens Gold medal winning track and field performance at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games that he refused to watch the medal ceremony) or the Joker (from The Dark Knight movie), which is a twist on the racist "blackface" of the Minstrel Show era of the 1950s.

The point in all of this is that time and time again, African Americans are always having to defend their status as American. It shouldn't take a disappointing trip to Africa for African Americans to finally realize that they are Americans, first and foremost. When white Americans go to Europe for vacation, they know that our culture is vastly different from European culture, even though we trace our ancestry to the old continent.

In the controversial segment, Dr. Laura actually said to the caller: "Don't you NAACP me!" I thought this line was hilarious. It immediately made me think of the Michael Jackson song "They Don't Care About Us" when the King of Pop sang these controversial lyrics: "Jew me, sue me, everybody do me; kick me, kike me, don't you black or white me..." What does Dr. Laura mean by "NAACP me"? Is she blaming them for launching a boycott of sponsors of her show?

By quitting, she's doing the Sarah Palin thing..."when the going gets tough, the tough get going." What a thin skin! She made ridiculous comments on her show and even though she apologized the next day, the fall out was too much that she decided not to renew her contract when it expires at the end of the year? At least she didn't use the word the way Mel Gibson had used the word. Context matters.

The reasons she gave for quitting sounded very Palinesque: "The reason is I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what's on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors. I'm sort of done with that."

Before anyone calls her a "Quitter Queen", though, Dr. Laura emphasized that she is not retiring, but ending her radio program.

"I'm not retiring, I'm not quitting, I feel energized actually," she said. "Stronger and freer to say the things that I believe need to be said for people in this country."

I'm not buying that reason. Rush Limbaugh uses his radio program to spout all kinds of lies and propaganda. He doesn't care what people think of him or his views. It sounds like Dr. Laura's skin is every bit as thin as Sarah Palin, because the former half-term governor of Alaska also claims to be a passionate defender of the First (and Second) Amendments.

This episode with Dr. Laura automatically made me think of a beautiful song from the early 1980s, by Christopher Cross. Its "Think of Laura", and although its about the passing of a lady named Laura, when I listened to the lyrics, I was struck by how well the song fits Dr. Laura and her decision to quit radio. You gotta love the irony of it all! Enjoy!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Music Video Monday: Robbie Williams

For this week's music video, I've selected a cool retro song by Robbie Williams (and actress Nicole Kidman), which is a remake of Frank and Nancy Sinatra: "Something Stupid." A week ago, British bad boy Robbie Williams finally got married. A shock! He has been quoted as saying several times over the years that he saw himself dying old and alone. He didn't think he would ever get married. He's been known to bed numerous models, actresses, girl band members, and of course, groupies. In fact, in his single "Rock DJ", he sang a line tongue-in-cheekily: "Give no head, no backstage passes." In the music video, he even acted out that gesture (putting his tongue into his cheek). This is the sort of knowing wink and witticisms that he's known for. His songs are full of irony, and perhaps why he's never found the kind of musical success in the USA as he had hoped to. He's simply too smart, too witty, too British for Americans.

The woman who managed to tame the wild bachelor, Ayda Field, is an American actress (ever heard of her? Me neither!) and claims to have "psychic ability." She supposedly foresees them as an old married couple in Australia. Why she captured his heart over all the other ladies is because he credits her for helping to turn his life around, inspiring him to be a "better man", and all those other cliches that cause everyone else to roll their eyes. I hope, for their sake, that this love is genuine and long-lasting. But, we've seen enough celebrity marriages ending in divorce to be cynical.

In a British magazine, Williams said that he gave in to her wishes for a dream wedding. He wanted a quick wedding in Las Vegas. She wanted a wedding with family and friends at his Beverly Hills mansion. Williams said, "I didn't have those marital dreams that are ingrained in women. My idea, was 'Yeah, I love you, I'm yours for life, so why don't we just pop to Las Vegas and make it official?' But then I realized how important the day is to Ayda, and that she had a day planned in her head. I thought, 'Baby, whatever you want to do.' It's about the bride, isn't it?"

I agree...the bride gets the most say in how she wants the wedding. Many women seemed to have dreamed about their fairy tale wedding day since elementary school. Someday, when I get married, I hope that the lady I marry will allow me "creative control" over the invites / programs and the music. I don't care about the flowers, seating arrangement, location (nowhere cheesy, though), cake, menu, gift registry, etc. Just music and the writing aspects. Because I have ideas that I think would be awesome.

The duet "Something Stupid" has that 1950s bossa nova sound that I love. The whole thing is retro (from the song, the musical arrangement, and the video itself). I used to not like the 1950s, but in the last decade, since I've gotten into the Beat Generation and went to a special exhibit on the 1950s at Emory University's museum, I've come to the view that a lot of how our society is now was shaped by the decisions and styles that originated in the Eisenhower decade. A big reason why I love the show Mad Men (it takes place in the early 1960s, which was still similar to the 1950s. Things didn't really change until after 1966 because of Vietnam, the Peace Movement, the inner city riots), is the style of the 1950s. People dressed better back then. Bossa Nova (a Brazilian jazz style of music) became popular during that decade and for some reason, while I'm not a fan of jazz, there is something about bossa nova that has intrigued me. I'm still searching for the ultimate bossa nova CD.

Robbie Williams seems to like the 1950s and 1960s as well. He acted as a James Bond wannabe for his music video "Millennium." In 2001, he came out with the album, "Swing When You're Winning," in which he sang standards that Frank Sinatra and other members of the Rat Pack were well known for. Williams also loves Las Vegas (a Rat Pack hangout, along with Palm Springs, California). I think he should take his love for all things 50s and 60s to the next level. I've seen quite a few of his music videos and have read a little about his exploits (his drug and alcohol problems). He would be the perfect personality to play Jack Kerouac in a biopic. Williams has acting ambitions and this would be a great project for him. He could even record the soundtrack (Kerouac wrote a cool song about his traveling experiences). I'd love to write a screenplay biopic on Kerouac and see Robbie Williams star as the famous author.

Anyhow, here's to Robbie Williams and Ayda Fields on their marriage! Best wishes for the future. I hope she stabilizes him. I never understood why such a talented guy was so self-destructive. In a future post, I'll be writing about boy bands because I'm intrigued enough about them to consider a future novel about a fictional boy band in the context of our celebrity-obsessed culture. This writing project is in the incubation phase, though, as I have four writing projects ready to be written as soon as I land a new job (thereby ending the longest job search in my life). For now, the future blog post will have to do.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Flashback Friday: Pretty Woman

Since Julia Roberts' new movie Eat, Pray, Love opens in theaters today (which I'm predicting to be a huge hit. This year's Julie and Julia, as a matter of fact) and I've been wanting to write a post on the movie that started it all for this popular and most successful actress, I figured today was the perfect time for this Flashback Friday post.

Twenty years ago, in the spring before the major summer movies opened, a little Disney film about a prostitute opened in theaters with little pre-release hype. I was in my senior year with a severe case of "Senioritis". A friend asked me if I planned to see this movie. I laughed and said, "Yeah, a movie about a hooker with a heart of gold is exactly the kind of movie I want to see!"

I didn't think much about the film. The radio played a few songs from the movie (Roxette's "It Must Have Been Love" and Go West's "King of Wishful Thinking") that I liked. The movie was a certified hit, receiving some of the strongest word of mouth recommendations that guarantees a hit with "legs". This film definitely had more legs than the ones on the movie poster (it was still playing in theaters at the end of the year). Before this movie came out, Julia Roberts was an up-and-coming actress who was best known for 1988's Mystic Pizza and being the ONLY actress to score an Oscar nomination in the excellent ensemble cast of that ultimate "chick flick" Steel Magnolias. In a movie that starred Sally Fields, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Darryl Hannah, and Dolly did an unknown and new actress Julia Roberts manage to receive the only acting nomination for this movie?

Its amazing to reflect now, but Julia Roberts only received $300,000 to star opposite Richard Gere (who had played a gigolo for hire in an early 1980s film). However, there was no doubt what made this movie a popular success. Its the kind of "destined role" that you can't imagine any other actress playing. This movie is Julia Roberts, pure and simple. Hopefully, she received money through profit sharing or bonus checks from this movie. Her asking price jumped to over $1 million for her first post-Pretty Woman role, and rightfully so. Soon, she became the highest paid actress ever and would finally earn her first Oscar in 2001 for Erin Brockovich.

Since I lived in Georgia at the time, Julia Roberts was a source of pride for Atlanta since she grew up and graduated from high school in the northwestern suburb of Smyrna (where I lived from 2004 to 2006), replacing previous Georgia pride and joy Holly Hunter (1994's Best Actress Oscar winner for The Piano), who replaced Kim Basinger (the actress who bought the town of Braselton GA and did absolutely nothing with it!). The tabloids hurried to uncover skeletons in Julia's closet. I was shocked when my favourite teacher, Mr. Malone (whom I've written about in a few previous posts about the impact he's had on my life and thinking due to his atheist activism), bought a copy of a tabloid that featured a cover story on Julia Roberts. The story was about losing her virginity in high school. The guy who was bragging about it to the tabloid was none other than a former student and soccer player of Mr. Malone, who took some strange pride in this story. He taught and coached the guy who "deflowered" Julia Roberts as a teenager! That's "two degrees of separation" between the school teacher and the famous actress. I thought then (and still believe today) that its sleazy to sell that sort of thing to a tabloid. Who cares? Obviously, enough people did--including my government teacher!

The movie was still playing in theaters through the summer and fall of 1990. I saw it at the $1 theater with a girl I was interested in (who also went to see Johnny Clegg and Savuka in concert with me). If I remember correctly, we had gone to see it on my birthday, but I didn't tell the lady that it was my birthday (I've been known to do that a lot, because I think its just weird to bring that to other people's attention. I only tell if asked).

I was impressed with the movie and could not believe that I did not want to see it before. I chalk it up to my conservative morals. A movie that "glamourized" prostitutes just did not sound appealing at all. Usually movies about prostitution or feature one tend to be dark. This one was different. A "romantic comedy" based on the play Pygmalion which also inspired the musical My Fair Lady (starring Audrey Hepburn, the Julia Roberts of her day). In the modern update, Julia Roberts plays a Hollywood streetwalker who approaches a driver of a white Lotus Esprit. She gives him directions to his upscale hotel in Beverly Hills. Something about her strikes him as endearing, so he invites her to stay the night. She charms him with her un-prostitute like personality (sweet, funny, and girlish...who cares about her teeth to the point where she advises him: "You should never neglect your gums!"). He propositions her to stay with him for the week that he's in town. Naturally, love blossoms while both are in denial.

The comedic aspects of the movie center around the attempts to make her more lady-like, as she takes lessons from the Hotel manager on the proper etiquette for dinner. The most popular scene is probably when she tries to go shopping on Rodeo Drive (pronounced roh-DAY-oh, not roh-dee-oh, for those who don't know) and is turned away by snooty sales ladies of the ultra luxurious stores that line one of the most famous shopping streets in the world. To ease her hurt feelings and build up her self esteem, the wealthy suitor takes her shopping, where he demands ass kissing as part of the experience.

In one of the most audience-pleasing scenes ever created in the movies, Julia is dressed like one of those wealthy women who live to shop, carrying multiple bags featuring designer names on the outside, and walks into the shop with the snooty salesladies. They don't remember her, because the last time she came in, she looked like a low class hooker. She reminds them, asks if they make a commission, then tells them that they made a big mistake, "huge!", and walks out with the taunt, "I have to go shopping now!" In the outtakes that plays during the closing credits of Valentine's Day, Julia Roberts is in the back of the limo and the limo driver points out Rodeo Drive and asks if she's ever shopped there. Julia repeats her famous lines about the big mistake, "huge!" It was pretty funny. I think that scene is what sealed the deal on Julia Roberts becoming "America's Sweetheart." How can you not root for such a lady?

Over New Year's 1997 / 1998, a former Navy buddy gave me a driving tour of Los Angeles and drove down Rodeo Drive. It looked like a movie set to me: fake fake fake! I also got to see the Ambassador Hotel (where RFK was assassinated in 1968), the Brentwood house where O.J. Simpson murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in 1994 (it was smaller than I thought it would be), and the Viper Room (where River Phoenix collapsed from a drug overdose). L.A. -- a fascinating place!

Another favourite scene from the movie for me is when Julia is singing Prince's "Kiss" in the bathtub and gets embarrassed when Gere catches her. She plays it off by saying, "Don't you just love Prince?" or something like that. When he propositions her with an offer to stay the week and they negotiate a deal, I love it when she ducks underneath the bubbles in the water and pops back up with bubbles all over her face. She's giddy...and she's damn cute when she's giddy.

At my first command in the Navy, one guy I became friends with who was into movies and celebrity culture hated this movie. He thought it set a bad example for young girls. He laughed at my theory on why it was such a hit (I had called it a "modern fairy tale", based on the scene at the end of the movie where the fantasy of a knight in a shiny white "horse" comes to rescue her from the highrise she's trapped in). He said that it doesn't happen. Of course not. Its a freaking movie! One scene that we both loved to make fun of was when Laura San Giacomo advises her newby friend to "work it, baby, work it!" My favourite line in the film is when Laura San Giacomo struggles to think of someone they both know that experienced a fairy tale come true. She then laughs and says: "Cinder-fucking-rella!"

It was interesting to see how the edited for television works. I had seen this film several times unedited, so I knew all the lines. When Laura San Giacomo tells an elderly couple at the hotel: "Fifty bucks, grandpa. For seventy-five, the wife can watch!" in the movie, the TBS version has her saying: "Your dress looks like my mother's curtains!" The couple storm off in disgust. That's the best line they could come up with? What's so offensive about the original line? A crass, low class prostitute is likely to say such a thing. My sister and I have laughs over that changed line.

In 1991, I had gotten up early to watch the Oscar nominations and remember hearing the stunned reactions of the press when Ghost was nominated for Best Picture and Julia Roberts received a Best Actress nomination for her role in Pretty Woman. It was a well-earned nomination. She truly made the film what it is. Its proof that when the right actor or actress meets the right role in the right movie, synergy happens. To this day, I consider this film to be Julia Roberts best. She's made some interesting choices over the years, but none have come close to the magic of this movie (My Best Friend's Wedding, Runaway Bride, Erin Brockovich, The Pelican Brief are other ones that I really like). Naturally, there have been talk of a sequel but that would be a mistake. Realistically, we all know what that movie would be about (the unraveling of the relationship as they realize that they just aren't right for one another). Better to leave it as is.

Instead of a sequel, though, what fans of the movie got was a completely different film which featured both Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in a new love story, with some familiar secondary cast members and the same director (Garry Marshall). That movie, Runaway Bride, was brilliant in the number of sly references to Pretty Woman. If you don't believe me, watch those two movies back-to-back. You'll see just how clever and brilliant Runaway Bride is with all the subtle references to Pretty Woman. To me, this was an even better idea than a sequel and you get a completely fresh story, as the film works in its own right.

Below is a clip from my absolute FAVOURITE scene from Pretty Woman. The song is perfect. In fact, that song ("Fallen" by Lauren Wood) is on my short list as a potential "first dance song" at my wedding someday (of course, I'm certain that its one of those negotiation things with the lady I end up marrying). What I love about the scene is how stunning and elegant Julia Roberts looks. Its a true transformational scene as they fly off to San Francisco for a night at the opera. The dress is phenomenal and the scene where Gere closes the jewelry case on Julia's fingers is perfect. It was actually unplanned, so the laugh was spontaneous and genuine. Just one more example about the little details that make a standard movie into a classic. Can't believe that its 20 years old this year.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Newt Gingrich: Posterboy for Amoral Neo-Conservatism

There were several political posts I was considering writing this week, but nothing beats the upcoming Esquire magazine article on disgraced Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. The article was featured on the Huffington Post, which captured my interest because he is apparently still suffering from delusions of grandeur if he believes that he has a chance to become the next president.

To his credit, however, stranger things have happened. In fact, according to the article, he believed in the early 1980s that he would become Speaker of the House, which most people in Congress found patently absurd. Yet, in 1994, that's exactly what he accomplished when he led his party out of the legislative wilderness in the "Republican Revolution." The Democrats held the majority of the seats in the House of Representatives for FORTY years!!! Gingrich's coup was an amazing feat. Much of the success, though, was due to a backlash of President Clinton, particularly on his health care reform initiatives, led by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Voter turnout was kind of low. In fact, many of the voters who helped Clinton defeat Bush in 1992 likely stayed home in 1994, allowing the "revolt of the angry white male" to "take back Congress." Republicans are hoping for a repeat this fall, but I don't think they'll manage to take back control of Congress simply because people still remember that it was Republican control of both the Executive and Legislative branches that got our country into the economic crisis we are still feeling today.

In 1994, Congressman Newt Gingrich presented his strategy in a pamphlet he called "Contract With America." This was more like a Contract ON America. Some of Gingrich's ideas included bringing back orphanages, turning back the clock to the 1930s and 1940s; ending welfare; and balancing the the point of shutting down the government in 1995. In fact, in the ultimate case of irony, it was the government shutdown of 1995 that allowed unpaid White House interns to have closer access to the president when many Executive Branch employees were furloughed until Clinton and Congress agreed on the budget. During this shutdown period, Monica Lewinsky was able to capture the wandering eye of our lustful president and the rest is history!

During the budget standoff, Clinton won the battle but lost "the war." It was the case of two alpha-males in a showdown about who was the bigger bad ass. Speaker Gingrich forced the government shutdown and the American public blamed Congress more than the President for it. Little did we know at the time that a slutty intern was doing her part to keep the president's morale up. By the time the relationship was exposed and became the #1 topic of conversation for the entire year of 1998, Speaker Gingrich thought he could increase the Republican margins in the House by emphasizing the President's "immorality" in every speech he gave. Turns out, in 1998 (the only year in which I did not vote since reaching the age of eligibility, partly due to my disgust over the scandal), the Republicans actually lost seats including several high profile Senators and Congressmen who were the biggest adversaries of President Clinton (namely, Senator Al D'Amato of New York and Senator Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina). Despite the national "referendum" on Clinton's sex scandal (Gingrich had stated that the 1998 mid-term was nothing more than a referendum on the Lewinsky affair) showing that the American people sided with the president, the Republican Congress still voted for articles of impeachment during a lame-duck session (I remember seeing the "breaking news" on TV at the airport for my flight back to Atlanta for Christmas break during college).

There was a "coup" within the Republican Party over Speaker Gingrich, who resigned not only as the Speaker but also as a representative for the Congressional seat in Georgia he had just won for another term. He was never my representative in Congress (thank God!), but I learned enough about him from the local press in Georgia to know that he was as slimey as they come. My former Congressman was Ben Jones, who played "Cooter" (the mechanic) on The Dukes of Hazzard. He was defeated in 1992 after serving two terms and spent his time trying to bring media exposure to Gingrich's unethical financial schemes through a PAC.

The reason why I don't think Gingrich has a realistic chance at the presidency, though, is because of his lack of character. He is the ultimate hypocrite and the Esquire article, which features extensive insight from Gingrich's second wife, points this out quite plainly for all to read. You have to wonder about a man who would try to make the 1998 mid-term election a "referendum" on President Clinton's adultery while he, himself, was guilty of cheating on his wife! That's right. While Gingrich was running around the country giving speeches to conservative groups outraged by our president's "immorality", Gingrich was having an affair with his Congressional aide. I remember reading an article in the aftermath of his resignation that Clinton had called him on the carpet and tried to "connect" with him on a personal level. Apparently, both Clinton and Gingrich believed that receiving oral sex from someone other than their wives did not constitute "adultery." This view is actually quite common among guys I knew in the Navy, as well.

In the article, Marianne Gingrich said a lot of interesting things about her former husband, particularly the conversation she had with him after she learned that he was cheating on her. She mentioned a speech he had given in Erie, Pennsylvania about compassion and family values. "How do you give that speech and do what you're doing?" she asked him.

His response was: "It doesn't matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There's no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn't matter what I live."

This morsel of Newtism tells us EVERYTHING we need to know about this slimey politician. He's definitely a neo-conservative down to the marrow of his bones. Though some of his ideas aren't all bad (he actually deserves credit for forcing Clinton to balance the budget, which resulted in the surplus our country enjoyed from 1997 through 2000; and he made a secret deal with Clinton to salvage social security and medicare for the far foreseeable future), neo-conservativism is what got our country into the mess that we're in now. The basic philosophy of this movement stems from Plato's Republic, where the ideal form of government is rule by the "Philosopher Kings." I will admit that while in college, though I wasn't aware of it at the time, I was "sold" on the ideas of the neo-conservatives (particularly that philosophers or deep thinkers make the best kind of leaders and that we have a moral obligation to spread democracy to nations suffering under the grip of despotic, autocratic dictatorships).

Seeing neo-conservativism in practice, though, woke me up to the reality of the underlying dishonesty and cynicism at its core. According to neo-conservative philosophy, lying to the masses is actually considered a "virtue" because they believe that most people are too ignorant to know what's best for them, so telling them what they want to hear in order to manipulate them into going along with the philosopher king's plans is considered perfectly acceptable. That's exactly how the invasion of Iraq was sold to the American people. On lies upon lies. And the karmic consequences of this unjust war resulted in the collapse of our own economy with so many people out of work and unable to find jobs.

Marianne Gingrich reveals a man with no moral compass. She said: "Newt always wanted to be somebody. That was his vulnerability...Being treated important. Which means he was gonna associate with people who would stroke him, and were important themselves. And in that vulnerability, once you go down that path and it goes unchecked, you add to it. Like, 'Oh, I'm drinking, who cares?' Then you start being a little whore, 'cause that comes with drinking. That's what corruption is--when you're too exhausted, you're gonna go with your weakness. So when we see corruption, we shouldn't say, 'They're all corrupt.' Rather, we should say, 'At what point did you decide that? And why? Why were you vulnerable?"

In another telling description in the article quotes a former Congressional colleague, Mickey Edwards: "I've known Newt now for thirty years almost, but I wouldn't be able to describe what his real principles are. I never felt that he had any sort of a real compass about what he believed except for the pursuit of power."

These are the patterns of a neo-conservative. Morality is for the masses, not the "philosopher kings." And if Newt is anything at all, he is most definitely a lifelong studious thinker. While its great that he loves ideas and has shown that he can compromise to achieve great things for our country (despite the moralistic rhetoric he tells his conservative, evangelical base), the fact that he lacks an inner moral code is bothersome. Even Clinton has a moral center that does not waver (his compassion is legendary and he has shown in his fights against the Republican-controlled Congress that he will protect those who depend on government services to survive. That's one line he won't cross). As I told the Fundy co-worker a decade ago (which pissed her off): "I'd rather be a sinner like Clinton than a hypocrite like Gingrich." I stand by those words to this day. If you go back and look at Clinton's campaign speeches (against Bush in 1992 and Dole in 1996), you won't see any personal attacks on either men. He was even gracious to the Republican successors to the Speaker of the House after Gingrich resigned (both Bob Livingstone and Dennis Hastert had committed adultery as well). Clinton has never claimed to be something he wasn't, so he was never a hypocrite. He had his flaws and it nearly cost him his presidency as well as his marriage, but not once did he ever attack an adversary on personal grounds. His criticisms stuck with the issues.

Its entirely something else when a person PRETENDS to be something they are not, such as Gingrich. I have a close friend who believes that politicians should talk about and legislate morality, EVEN IF they violate their own moral claims. I was stunned when I heard him say this. I tried to get him to understand what he was saying (that it was okay if a person tells someone else how to conduct their lives when they are guilty of doing the very thing they condemn), but he couldn't because he believes that its important to set a moral standard to abide by, even if we fall short of it. My problem with moralists, though, is that many people are pretending to be something they are not while condemning others who disagree with their morality and live according to their own values.

Its always much worse to be a hypocrite than a person who just lives a sinful life without condemning other people for doing the same. There is a reason why hypocrisy turns people off and makes us more cynical. If you can't live the values and morals you profess, then you have NO RIGHT to demand that others live by your standards. After all, if you can't live by them, why would you expect someone else to? Since I prefer honesty over morality, I much prefer someone who does not pretend to some morals just to win votes. Be honest with your life and let others have the same right.

If Newt Gingrich does run for president in 2012, I predict that his campaign will go the same way that Rudy Giuliani's campaign did in 2008. The Republican primaries are dominated by the religious right who vote their values. They are the ones who demand that candidates stick to the narrow confines of their religious views. Abortion and guns seem to be the first two issues of importance, followed by praises to Ronald Reagan. Giuliani had a hard time gaining support of this key constituency because of his mayorship of New York City, which put him in the "socially liberal" camp. Additionally, his well-publicized divorce did not help. Mormon Mitt Romney did not find traction with this group either, because no one really knew where he stood on core issues. He flip flopped on several issues.

I think Newt will face the same questions from the religious right. The most important thing to know about Newt Gingrich is that as a 16 year old, he fell in love with his twentysomething year old Geometry teacher and married her after he graduated high school. When she was recovering in the hospital from cancer years later, he served her divorce papers so he could marry Marianne, who became his wife during the middle part of his life (the time when he won a seat to Congress in the early 1980s all the way to the turn of the millennium). During the time when he was telling conservative voters that President Clinton needed to be impeached for the Monica Lewinsky affair, he was cheating on Marianne with a younger Congressional aide. This pattern of behaviour is hard to ignore, especially if people really mean what they say regarding values. If you vote your values, it does not make sense to support such a cynical, manipulative politician like Newt Gingrich. Neo-conservatives view religion much like Karl Marx did: an opiate for the masses, but philosopher kings know better than to believe in all of that. Its not surprising that many neo-conservatives tend to be secular Jews.

Finally, the other nail in Gingrich's presidential ambitions coffin is the fact that he converted to Catholicism. Evangelical Christians have an uneasy alliance with Catholics, which seems mostly centered on the abortion issue. However, the reality is that many evangelical Christians view the Catholic Church as "the great, abominable church" that is ruled by Satan (Pat Robertson has been known to reiterate this point in his books and on his propaganda network). Its unlikely that this group would want a Catholic President, convert or not.

Marianne was asked about her former husband's conversion to Catholicism. She laughed before explaining that "It has no meaning. It's hysterical," she said. "I got a notice that they wanted to nullify my marriage. They're making jokes about it on local radio. The minute he got married, divorce, married, divorced -- what does the Catholic Church say about this?"


The best thing she said about him, though, was: "When you try and change your history too much, you lose touch with who you really are. You lose your way."

That's what happens when a person lacks an inner moral compass. We have plenty of evidence about Newt Gingrich already to know the most important thing when it comes to choosing a president: he cannot be trusted. I truly hope the evangelical Christians will neuter this Newt during the 2012 Republican primaries, if he decides to run. Don't be conned by his false moralism. He's a neo-con, through and through, and after the past decade, no one should be conned again!