Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Flintstones at Fifty

I was not aware until I logged on to Google that the animated classic by Hanna-Barbera, The Flintstones turned fifty years old today. Google had a special logo for the anniversary (one of the reasons why I love Google...those cool tributes that appear occasionally on its main page).

Fifty years! It hardly seems dated. Even by today's standards, the animation is good and the stories are timeless. Fred, Wilma, and Pebbles are America's favourite modern Stone Age family. Best friends Barney and Betty Rubble, with their super strong tyke Bam-Bam, filled out the show. The success of this prime-time animated series (debuting on television September 30, 1960) led to another family at the other end of the timeline: The Jetsons.

An atheist friend of mine likes to joke that this animated series is the "evidence" that Creationists like to cite for proof that man and dinosaurs co-existed (since many believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old). As a child, I might have thought, while watching this, that ancient humans lived among the dinosaurs, but by second grade, when we learned about the Ice Age, mastodons, woolly mammoths, and cave men, it all became clear. Still, this show held my imagination like few shows have. I love the creative ideas, translating modern conveniences into a "Stone Age" framework, such as dinosaurs serving as garbage disposals, lawn mowers, can openers, tractors and even pets.

Dino, the pet dinosaur, remains as one of my favourite cartoon characters (along with Scooby Doo and Jerry the Mouse). I think I've always liked the sound that he makes. It sounds cute.

During a 1984 family vacation to North and South Dakotas, there were big billboards along Interstate 90 that advertised a Bedrock amusement park in the Black Hills. I wanted dad to take us there, but he refused, rightfully seeing the tourist gimmick that it was, even though he disappointed me at the time. I really wanted to see the real life version of the family car that Fred drove (using his own feet as the engine). Imagine that, though. I'm surrounded by the beauty of the Black Hills with Mount Rushmore and the beginning of the Crazy Horse monument, but I wanted to see a tourist gimmick! Despite the disappointment, this vacation has been one of the most memorable ones (up there with our three week British Isles vacation in 1987 and our New England vacation in 1979).

In 1994, a live action film was released in theaters. The right band was chosen to sing the theme song: the campy B-52s became the B.C. 52s for their version of the theme song, "Meet the Flintstones." The movie was an interesting adaptation, though I don't remember the story. What I remember most was that Halle Berry looked really good in this movie. She played a character named "Sharon Stone", which got laughter among the audience that I saw it with (at the Navy base's theater when I was in Sardinia). I didn't find her name all that funny, because I had read in an article about the movie that her character's name was originally Rosetta Stone, but it was changed because studio heads thought Americans wouldn't get the joke. This change reminded me of the controversy of 1989's James Bond film, originally called Licensed Revoked. Studio execs thought American audiences wouldn't know what "revoked" means, so the film became Licence to Kill. LAME! This sort of dumbing down continues to this day. The first Harry Potter novel was called Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, but since Americans are so anti-intellectual, it was changed to "Sorcerer's Stone."

I feel old for saying this, but they don't make animated series like The Flintstones (or even The Jetsons) anymore. Granted, The Simpsons has been far more successful, but television today seems to only offer crappy annimation a la South Park or crude humour like King of the Hill or all around annoying like Spongebob Squarepants. Give me the modern Stone Age family anyday. For your enjoyment, the intro title sequence to this classic show. Happy 50 years, Flintstone family!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How One Lady Managed to Boost My Blog

On Monday, I was shocked when I checked my blog's status counter. By the end of day, I had over 2,892 hits, which was a huge jump from the usual daily count of 200 to 400 hits per day. I was shocked by the substantial increase, since there's a usual consistency from day to day. What could have caused the jump?

To my surprise, nearly everyone who viewed my blog on Monday had found it using a Bing search on "Octomom". In second place, many people have also found my blog by doing a Bing search on John F. Kennedy and Carolyn Bessette's wedding. That's even more surprising to me, because why would many people be interested in that old story on Monday? It must have gotten a mention in the news or something.

As I learned, "Octomom" has been in the news lately because she is desperate for cash (surprise, surprise!) and an offer came for her to make a porn film. When I saw an article link on the Huffington Post, I glossed past it because I thought its the kind of crass news that we don't need. Its the reason why I despise our capitalist economic system. This woman needs real help and the solution offered is to make a porn film?!? How sick and twisted is that? If people read my blog, they would have learned my proposal to her financial woes. I had suggested that Rush Limbaugh should marry her because he needs a lot of unconditional love that children provide and with his millions upon millions of dollars, he would be creating good karma for himself by doing such a charitable act. However, he got married since that post and who knows how long this marriage will last.

Tuesday's blog visitors dropped down to 1,589 hits. Again, most of the hits were from people doing searches for Octomom. These two days helped push September's total hit count past the 10,000 mark (a new milestone). So, September has been a record breaker for my blog (I also crossed the 150,000 hits mark), which is ironic, since I haven't been posting as much this month. A friend of mine worried that my lack of posts was due to work, but it was actually due to the fact that since I moved into a new place, I have been falling asleep much earlier...before I get a chance to blog the next day's entry.

As I look for topics to blog about, I haven't found much that I want to say. There is one post that I'm dying to write, but that's going to have to wait a little while. For now, if you happen to come on here daily and don't see a new post, please don't be alarmed. I'm probably busy with other things or I haven't found something blogworthy to write about. Rest assured, though, that Monday and Friday will generally have a post due to the recurring features of Music Video Monday and Flashback Friday. Of course, the latest bout of crazy emanating from the Republican Party will certainly inspire a post.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Tea Partying Gooper Girls

A few weeks ago, an evangelical Christian woman named Christine O'Donnell shook the political establishment when her unlikely campaign for the Republican nomination of Delaware's Senate seat beat out the favourite Congressman Mike Castle, who was seeking a promotion. In fact, so well known and well regarded was the Republican Congressman that he was expected by EVERYONE to have an easy win. The population of Delaware is so small that they only have one member of Congress, so that means everyone in Delaware was familiar with him. His stature was so high in that state that Attorney General Beau Biden (son of Vice President Biden, who vacated his Senate seat when he and Obama won the presidential and vice presidential election in 2008) decided not to run. Big mistake! Now, it looks like the Democratic nominee Chris Coons will win in a race he was not expected to win against Congressman Mike Castle.

Its a topsy-turvy world. This shock to the system is indicative of just how crazy the Tea Party movement has become. They seem to have no other motive than to get rid of what they call "RINOs" (Republicans In Name Only) from Congress, replacing them with the most extremely conservative candidates, many of whom lack experience in government. Intelligence doesn't seem to be a quality that is valued, either. All that matters is if the candidate hates taxes and plans on more tax cuts to solve our deficit problem. They are angry, but they seem incapable of holding accountable the very politicians who put our country's economy in the toilet. Nope. The person they blame happens to be the first African American president, who has come into office under the worst set of circumstances of any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932.

I think its interesting that in the aftermath of Sarah Palin's disasterous public vetting process in the fall of 2008, more female candidates have thrown their hats into the political arena. Its like they all thought, "If this beautiful, but brainless idiot could be elected governor and chosen as the Vice Presidential candidate, then I can be elected to office, too!" So in this first national election cycle after the 2008 election when we were introduced to the Disasta from Alaska, we have more crazy Republican ladies to capture our attention.

First is Christine O'Donnell, the 41 year old evangelical Christian who appeared on Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect show 22 times in the late 1990s. She was part of an organization called S.A.L.T., which advocated for sexual abstinence in teenagers (which has worked out so well in the Palin family). When past footage of the show began surfacing, I was surprised because I used to watch that show religiously during my college years. I remember Christine O'Donnell on that show and while I rarely agreed with her views, I thought she always came across as likable, sincere, and sweet. She seems like the kind of person who can tolerate disagreements among friends. The most dangerous thing about her, though, is that she has the same quirky cuteness that Newsanchor woman Katie Couric has. Yikes, its deadly for any guy within range of her charm. Even Bill Maher is not immune. In fact, since her win, he has come out and said that Christine O'Donnell is nothing like Sarah Palin. Where Palin is mean and vindictive, O'Donnell is sweet and congenial.

That does not mean we should vote for her, though. While the media punditocracy are having a field day with her comments from well over a decade ago (such as her admission that she had "dabbled in witchcraft" as a teenager, which I find to be a non-issue), there are more important problems in her past that have surfaced, such as her personal financial messes; her belief that if evolution is true, then why aren't monkeys evolving in front of our eyes; and her very Victorian views on sex (she wants the whole world to abstain!). After her primary election night victory, even Karl Rove was criticizing her, until he strangely backtracked the following day and now praises her as though she's going to win.

The reality is that Delaware is a pretty Blue State, so it was foolish of the Teabaggers to vote for the most extreme candidate in the Republican primary. The Republicans had a sheer lock on picking up that Senate seat. Now, there's a snowball's chance in hell. The only way O'Donnell could win is by fraud (such as Diebold computer voting system). She'd have better luck winning a Senate seat in the Deep South, where her religious views would be considered an asset (in the South, religion matters more than intelligence; which is the opposite of the Blue State criteria for winning).

Bill Maher has asked her to appear on his weekly HBO show, threatening to release one video clip of her per week until she appears. Its unlikely, though, because she took the advice of "Mama Grizzly" Sarah Palin to only go to the sympathetic Fox Propaganda Network for media interviews, so they can ask fluffball questions like what her favourite colour is or what brand of tea she likes to drink. It should be an automatic disqualifier if a candidate does not want to face a real interview or debate an opponent. I always wonder what they are hiding, and in this case, its likely ignorance. Beyond her obsessive issue of sexual abstinence, I don't see much interest in deeper issues. Her financial situation alone disqualifies her (if she can't manage her own finances, how can she expect to handle the federal government's?).

My prediction is that she will have a Fox Propaganda Network show after she loses badly to Chris Coons. If she truly wants to be elected to office, she ought to consider moving to South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, or Mississippi where her views would be right at home in those Red States.

Up next is Sharron Angle, another Teabagger who defeated a more established Republican candidate in the Senate race to defeat the milquetoasty Senator Harry Reid. As a Democrat, I don't like Harry Reid because he's such a wimp. He reminds me of Alan Colmes, who basically played possum to Sean Hannity when they had a show together. I prefer my Democrats to be scrappy fighters like Howard Dean. Republicans play dirty and they play to win. The last thing we need is for a Democrat to roll over and play dead, like Tom Daschle, the Senate Minority Leader in the first couple of years of the Bush Administration.

Its amusing to me that conservative Republicans demonize wimps like Reid and Daschle as sinister manipulators a la Dick Cheney or Karl Rove. Nothing could be further from the case. Reid and Daschle remind me more of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, naively believing that accomodation with "evil" (that would be the Republican agenda in our case, Adolf Hitler in Chamberlain's case) would "keep the peace (in our time!)." Yeah, right.

Harry Reid is so wimpy and ineffectual that I wouldn't mind seeing him tossed out of Congress. That is, until Sharron Angle arrived on the scene. She believes that rape victims should be forced to carry and give birth to the baby that results, claims that people use autism as an excuse to get more medical benefits, wants to cut out maternity leave (since she doesn't plan to have any more children and doesn't want to pay for anyone else to have that benefit), and most audacious of all: says that people who are unemployed are enjoying it too much because of the unemployment insurance that she would like to see done away with. Yikes, this woman sounds perfect for the Nazi Party! Where do the Republicans find these people? Additionally, there is concern that she is an agent of Scientology, since she introduced bills in the Nevada legislature that favoured using programs developed by Scientology (which is anti-psychiatry).

I feel sorry for the people of Nevada who have to choose between a wimp and a woman without compassion or good sense. If I was a resident, I'd hold my nose and vote for the wimp. He's unlikely to do as much damage as someone like Sharron Angle.

Next there's Jan Brewer, who became Governor of Arizona when Janet Napolitano vacated her office to join President Obama's cabinet as the Secretary of Homeland Security. She made national headlines when she signed into law earlier this year a bill that made it a requirement that anyone pulled over by the police had to show proof of citizenship or legal resident status. Some say that she did this to shore up support on her right flank, which is exactly what happened. She easily won her primary race.

That's not her only controversy, though. In a debate with an opponent, she had claimed that there were headless corpses in the Arizona desert. This comment was unfounded and she did not offer proof. The whole point was a scare tactic aimed at white suburban residents. She wanted people to believe that Mexican drug cartels were moving into Arizona and bringing their mode of execution with them.

If that weren't enough, she messed up in the opening statement of a debate and laughed it off. The video footage made it to the Huffington Post and itw as an embarrassment. She seems woefully inadequate for the job she was promoted into. When reporters after a debate had asked her about her "headless corpses in the desert" comment, she refused to respond and walked away. She's also not agreeing to do any more debates. I guess she can't hack it.

In California, there are two women running for high profile positions. The first one is Meg Whitman, formerly of eBay, who has already spent more than $100 million of her own money to become the next Governor of America's most populated state, which pays $200,000 a year. Why would anyone drop that much cash for a job that pays so little? Think of what you can do with all that money! It seems like such a vanity campaign and I would not be surprised if she has ulterior motives, such as being a trojan horse for corporations to continue to wreck havoc on the state's ongoing budget crisis.

Her opponent is a career politician who was already governor of California back in the 1970s. That's right. I'm talking about Governor Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown. Brown has had such an interesting career trajectory. After being governor, he naturally ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 (I supported his candidacy after my chosen candidate, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, had dropped out of the race and I still wasn't won over by Clinton). When he became mayor of Oakland, I was stunned. Usually, the political trajectory is the other way: Mayor, Governor, Senate, President. Brown is all over the map. Now, he wants to become Governor again. Why? Doesn't California have plenty of Democrats to choose from?

However, in this choice, even though I do not support retreads (I certainly don't in Oregon's gubernatorial race), if I were a voting resident of the great state of California, I most certainly would be voting for Jerry Brown. The reason he got the nickname "Moonbeam" is because his ideas were considered so "far out there" back in the 1970s (but I think its become the norm now). I believe that he is in politics for the right reasons, while Whitman is not. Besides, dropping that much cash for a political office is a huge red flag for me. If I was a friend or relative of Whitman's, I'd be pissed. It would be awesome if the voters of California made her "The Biggest Loser in the World." I will be celebrating if Jerry Brown wins on election day. It would send a message to the country that one can't just buy political office. She'll feel like the biggest idiot in the world if she loses after spending such a large fortune. Please, Californians, make her The Biggest Loser in the World!

Next, there's Carly Fiorina, who is running for the U.S. Senate against one of my favourite Senators, Barbara Boxer. Boxer always seems to have a tough reelection fight. This was the case in 1998 and 2004. In fact, I was at her campaign party in 2004 to watch the election returns during a vacation to San Francisco. I enjoyed the free food and big screen TVs. No one seemed to mind and no one checked my backpack. I was shocked by the lax security, especially since both Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein showed up later to declare victory.

The biggest reason why Carly Fiorina should not win this race is because she was fired as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard after a disasterous tenure, which included a spying scandal at that company and a $20 million golden parachute. Other vital information about her is that she has not voted in many elections. How will she take her job as Senator, which requires a lot of votes? Why does she even want to be Senator? You would think that California has plenty of well-qualified Republicans. Perhaps the biggest shock is that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger decided not to run for the Senate seat this time. He would have made this race a lot more exciting to watch. Hopefully Senator Barbara Boxer will defeat Carly Fiorina and continue to serve my favourite of U.S. states.

Speculation continues to increase that Sarah Palin is likely to mount a presidential bid in 2012. Her endorsements of several "Tea Party candidates" has Republican establishment figures running scared. As long as she continues to destroy the Republican party, I say, "more power to ya!" However, the choices she makes in her endorsements are so bizarre. They come off without rhyme or reason. She seems to have no consistent standard, other than to shoot RINOs. She wants an even more rightwing conservative Republican party than the one George W. Bush managed to destroy.

I'd love to see her get the Republican nomination for president in 2012, just so President Obama would likely be reelected, allowing him enough time to set our country back on track. However, there is risk involved, because many people thought that Nixon could never get elected, nor Reagan, nor George W. Bush. Palin might carry on that tradition, which would prove disasterous for our country were she to become president. However, in 1964, Barry Goldwater was the candidate that both JFK and LBJ had wanted as their opponent, thinking that he was way too conservative to ever get elected. LBJ had a huge landslide victory because of the extremist views of Goldwater (though in today's climate, he would be considered moderate compared to the likes of Bush, Gingrich and Palin).

I don't see Palin winning as president simply because she's a quitter. Its the one thing she'll never be able to live down: after serving two and a half years as Governor of Alaska, she quit without giving a good reason for her decision. All we have is a rambling announcement speech where she quotes statements on refrigerator magnets. The glass ceiling is pretty strong, so it would take a strong woman to shatter that glass. I personally believe that Americans aren't going to vote for just any woman to become the first Female Chief Executive of the United States. Hillary Clinton had the best shot, but even she came up short. Perhaps this is why the Republican party is running so many female candidates in high profile races this year. They want to set the stage for 2016 or 2020. However, I believe after Obama, it will be back to a white male president. None of the women running in this year's races have the quality Americans are looking for in a first Female President.

Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota is a darling of the Teabagger set. I'll admit that she is physically attractive, but that's about it. Her views are as toxic as Sarah Palin's. Before I was banned from the Sarah Palin fan Facebook group, the Palinistas were salivating at the prospect of a Palin / Bachmann Administration!! Nothing sounded more moronic to me than that. That's a guaranteed ticket to failure.

Bachmann makes the press for idiotic statements. I haven't read any lately, but in the past, I've scratched my heads wondering why people elected her into office anyway. She's little on the substance and she uses religion more than anything else. If she's so enamoured of religion, why didn't she become a member of the clergy, rather than the government? It doesn't make sense to me at all.

Finally, who can forget Florida's scary Secretary of State, Katherine Harris? She became famous in the 2000 election battle when Florida's electoral votes were "too close to call" and the world waited with baited breath for 36 days until the Supreme Court made its unConstitutional decision. Katherine Harris was nicknamed "Cruella de Vil" by Democrats, which I thought was unfair, but her photo above certainly did not help her cause. In reality, she saw herself as Esther, from the Bible. Palin, as well, loves the story of Esther. I'm not familiar with that story, so I won't attempt to explain it here. I'm just tired of these conservative, evangelical women using religion to make the case why they should be elected into political office. No! If you are into your religion, you should become a member of your church's clergy. Perhaps they don't because they belong to churches that don't recognize the right of women to hold the priesthood. That's their problem, though.

Given the choice between the two parties, I love the women in the Democratic Party, especially Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Patty Murray (Senator in Washington state who is in the fight of her life as well for a fourth term). Democrats value substance and knowledge over beauty. Republicans just want their women beautiful and brainless. Or religiously kooky. That's why I call them "Gooper Girls." Let 'em drink all the tea they want. Just don't vote for them.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Music Video Monday: Lynyrd Skynyrd and Will to Power

I've been meaning to write posts this weekend, especially since I had a most interesting Friday, but that story will have to wait until another time. For now, let me just say that a great burden has been lifted from my shoulders. I feel free, like a bird, ready to spread my wings into a new future. So, of course, the classic song by Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Freebird" came to mind as I sang it to myself all weekend long.

This is probably the best Southern Rock song that emerged out of the 1970s. Its not only musically brilliant, but the lyrics are perfect, as well. Perfect for a free spirited person who cannot be confined by conventions, corporations, and conformists. This bird you cannot change! It's all about freedom!

I actually did not know about this song until an 80s duo named Will to Power merged two classic 70s songs into one hit single that burned up the airwaves in 1988.

That's right, I'm talking of "Baby, I Love Your Way / Freebird (Medley)." I love this song because it has the most incredible sound to it. I love that sound (still do!). Who knew that you could blend two different songs into one and maintain the same melody. Will to Power continued their signature sound with another remake two years later: "I'm Not in Love." That song kept them from being a "One Hit Wonder."

In the coming week, I will finally write my opinion on the craziness of the Republican Party with the latest media sensation, Christine O'Donnell, who I am sure has Sarah Palin in jealousy mode that she may no longer command all the attention on crazy ignorant yet beautiful Republican women. Hopefully the media will be able to manipulate a public catfight between the two ladies. If that weren't enough, the Republicans unleashed a bad sequel to their 1994's "Contract on America" (er, it was actually called "Contract With America" but I didn't sign on to that contract). The new manifesto has been much panned by the media as more of the same solutions that got our country into this economic mess in the first place. And finally, to top the insanity of it all, Republican Speaker of the House-wannabe lives up to his name in an expose to be published in the New York Times and New York Post today that he has been having an affair. Surprise, surprise. Another family values Republican politician who can't keep his marital vows. Its become such a cliche that its hardly shocking or even newsworthy anymore. Headline I'd love to see is: "John boehns his mistress." Hopefully the Republicans will continue with their certifiable freak show this week.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Flashback Friday: Young Adult Retreat at Samish Island

The photo above was taken last week at the Samish Island Young Adult Retreat. The chairs were purposely set in a haphazard way as an object lesson. We learned that we were supposedly on a boat and our challenge was to boldly step out of the boat, as Peter did on the Sea of Galilee when he saw Jesus walking on the water in a storm.

I hadn't planned to attend this year's retreat because I felt like I "aged out" of the Young Adult group. Officially, the Community of Christ considers Young Adults to be 18-35ish. I'm well into the "ish" part! A couple years ago, when the President of the church was in Portland, I had asked him at what age were we officially not a "young" adult. His response was that if you have children who are teenagers, it was time to face the facts that you're well into middle age! Well, that's fine and good for those who are married and with children, but what about people like me, who is floundering in life...a whole decade in search of a career that has not materialized, with no indication in the near future that marriage and parenthood is even a remote possibility?

I've made the mistake in 1996 to attend the church's "Single Adult" program. As I quickly learned, it was made up of mostly over-4o year old women who were BITTER about their marriage experience. I only went hoping to meet a young, single (never married) lady who was a member of the church. A day or so after that event, I actually did meet Young Adults and learned that I had attended the wrong group. This was at our church's World Conference in Independence, Missouri.

What caused me to change my mind this year was that I had told a friend on Facebook that if he came to the retreat, I would. He actually decided to come, so I couldn't back out! His name is Richard and we "met" online in the church's chatroom back in 1999. He's a British church member who is related to a lady that my family knows from our time in Germany. Of course, I also know quite a few people he knows quite well because my family spent about 3 days at the British Isles RLDS reunion during our 1987 vacation. It was great to finally meet him in person. He considers himself a Conservative Party voter, but that doesn't mean much in our country. I asked him to correlate with our politics, and was stunned that he said the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom would actually be to the left of the Democratic Party. And the Republican Party? He actually said that they would be considered "The Fascist Party" in the United Kingdom! Conservative Brits don't have a problem with the Universal Health Care system and don't understand why conservatives in America are so adamantly opposed to it. Gotta love the Brits! If I remember correctly, though Richard works for the church in the USA and is married to an American lady, he won't give up his British citizenship in part because of the National Health Insurance program. I know plenty of Europeans and Canadians who find our health care system to be scary (the idea of having a health crisis that causes one to file for bankruptcy because of the exorbitant costs).

Above is the photograph taken at 2009's Young Adult Retreat at Samish Island. The founders of Orphans Africa were the guest ministers. Unfortunately, a lot of people fell ill at the last minute, so the retreat was one of the smaller ones that was held. I was a little disappointed, because I was looking forward to seeing a few people. However, on a positive note, I did meet a couple new people, which is always nice. Also, I learned more about Orphans Africa and the work this charitable organization does for villages in Tanzania (building schools and wells). One of the most heartbreaking stories I learned was that a human albino has to be extremely cautious because in African tribal culture, killing one is supposed to give one special powers or something strange like that. There was one such albino lady in the village that the guest ministers actually met.

Another tidbit I learned was that a goat was killed for the special visitors of the village. Normally, the Africans eat grains. Eating meat is considered a special feast. Since I've had contact with foreign cultures, I know from personal experience that it is considered an insult if you do not accept what someone gives you. This would make it quite difficult to abide by my non-land meat diet. If I traveled to an African village and they killed a goat for a feast on my behalf, I'd just have to eat it. But, it wouldn't be that big a deal, since my whole point in banning land-based meat from my diet is to not participate in our factory farming industry. At least the African goats are a sustainable enterprise.

In 2008, the guest minister of the Young Adult Retreat was Erica, who is the official Young Adult coordinator for the Community of Christ. It was great to meet her and hear her story. She worked for quite a few years at a special community center that our church operates near the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. This is considered one of our church's most successful outreach programs. While I'm pleased to hear that, I'm also confused about why Michigan of all places? Too bad we don't have the kind of resources or manpower to operate one in several other university towns.

She presented information about the differences in how members of Generation X (1965-1979)and the Millennial Generation (1980-2000) view spirituality versus the older (Baby Boomers) generations. None of that surprised me, actually. I know plenty of people our age who feel that church is too stuffy, static, and boring. Not that we think it should be entertaining. However, its not just me who loves using a secular pop song with a powerful message in a worship setting. Some might find this sacrilegious, but I think it actually enhances the worship experience.

The 2007 Young Adult Retreat was probably the best one, as a two car caravan from Portland drove up for it. This retreat was the one where I made one of the worst mistakes of my life. Christine (seen above with her arm around me) had asked if I wanted to walk the grounds with her. For reasons I don't recall, but stupid nonetheless, I said no. She asked Tim (the guy laying down on the right side of the photo), and he said no. Then she asked Erik, the Dutch guy (who is sitting on the left side of the photo), and it became "a walk to remember." In fact, I learned a year or so ago that Erik considers that day to be their true anniversary date. Some kind of magic happened on that walk. It was meant to be, I suppose. I accept that view.

What made this retreat super special, besides the large group from Portland, was the amazing coincidence I experienced. The guest minister was Christian, who knew some friends of mine at Graceland College in the late 1990s. Because he was the minister for this retreat, a lady he knew from church growing up in Arizona attended the retreat. This lady was the sister of a lady I had dated briefly in 1999 (the one who angered me when she required that I sign a liability waver for our young adult trip to Las Vegas, which I considered a violation of friendship). The lady had joined the Mormon church and attended BYU while I was there. The amazing coincidence was that her husband was in my Comparative Politics class in the summer of 1998! He remembered me and refreshed my memory. It was awesome to reflect back on our experiences at BYU and "compare notes" (like me, he also thought the Comparative Politics instructor was a real pushover).

Finally, 2006 was the first Young Adult Retreat I attended. I was just a few months to Portland and excited to meet other young adults in the church. In fact, when I attended the Portland congregation, I saw flyers on the bulletin board advertising for BOTH the Single Adults retreat and the Young Adult retreat. I almost sent in a registration form for the Single Adult retreat! I'm so glad that I had asked a church member which one was better. Well, one was better while the other was just bitter.

I took the train up to Seattle. Had an awesome lunch at Pike Place Market and caught another train to Everett, where a church member I had never met before had indicated in an email that he would pick me up and take me to the campsite, located near Burlington. This was a leap of faith. But in my church, the level of trust is higher than it normally is because it feels like an extension of family. We share many of the same experiences, no matter what part of the country we grew up. This point was made clear to me during campfire and communion service, when we sang the same songs I grew up on ("Pass it On" and "We Are One in the Spirit", for example).

We had the best communion service I ever participated in! The basement of the main building had hundreds of candles to illuminate the dark, with various stations to stop and meditate or pray. The final room had a table where we ate our meal and shared testimonies. I had never met any of these people before, but with a few of them, I learned that we knew people in common. This retreat really touched me in ways that still affect me today. For several years, I had wanted to be a part of a young adult group with my church. I tried in 2003 to start one in Atlanta, but it failed miserably.

By the end of 2006, I turned 35, the magic age when I'm supposed to "move on." If I was married with children, I most likely would move on, but I still cling to the "ish" in 35ish. This November, a member of the First Presidency of the church will visit Portland for a dialogue about our generations wants, needs, and visions for the church. Next year's retreat already has a guest minister scheduled: the head guy of Outreach International (a church affiliated nonprofit organization that is like a mix of Amnesty International and the Red Cross). At Bend Institute this year, I signed up to contribute monthly to Outreach International's Haiti relief effort (one of the most reputable charities operating in that country, due to our church's established history with Haiti). So, I'm planning to go next year. Then that will be it for me. At the end of next year, I'll reach the big 4-0h!

Hopefully, in the meantime, I will finally land my career. Thanks to this year's theme, I am taking a bold step out of the sinking boat I've been stuck in for four years now. I hope that Operation Voltaire will be just the thing I needed to do to get me out of the hell I've been working in for four years now.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Another Major Milestone

On Tuesday evening, at 9:16 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, my blog received its 150,000th hit since I first added a tracker in May 2008. It took nearly 2 years to reach the first 100,000 hits, but only SIX MONTHS to receive 50,000 more hits. Even more amazing, the 150,000 hit, to my best calculation was someone in Sicily doing a Google search regarding my best friend Nathan's house in Bremerton, Washington. I'm not sure if its Nathan, himself, or someone who works where he works (the info on my tracker indicates that someone at the Naval Hospital at Sigonella was doing a Google search with his name in a sentence). Its strange the stuff you can learn just by looking at the tracking data. One former co-worker thought I was a little too "obsessed" with reading my tracking data for my blog. However, I learn a lot when I read it.

For example, this past weekend, there was a spike in the number of people who accessed my blog. When I checked, most of the hits were for my post about "Octomom", as many people did a Google search about her this past weekend. Odd, I thought. However, I remembered that the Huffington Post actually had an article about an offer that was made for Octomom to do a pornographic film since she has recently fallen on hard times again and is apparently unable to maintain her lifestyle (this is a no-brainer! There's a reason why humans aren't supposed to have more than a child or two at a time). I guess people are interested in that freak show. I've only written about her once, because that's all her story merited. Who cares about her financial problems?! She did it to herself, all because she probably believed that having children would fix whatever was missing in her life. I feel sorry for her children, though.

Here's to the next 100,000 hits! Looking forward to hitting 250,000. I'll predict that the number will be reached by July 2011. Hopefully sooner, though.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Music Video Monday: Celine Dion

Speaking of "schmaltzy", I happen to think Celine Dion falls under this category. While she has a great voice and I do like some of her songs, there is something about her that annoys the crap out of me.

The reason why she gets the honours this week is because of the Young Adult retreat I attended this past weekend at Samish Island in the Puget Sound. The theme was "Walk His Way" and I thought of featuring the Run DMC / Aerosmith classic collaboration: "Walk This Way." However, despite the broad theme, the guest minister, Rob, brilliantly focused on one appropriate example from the Bible: Jesus walking on water. He did such a creative job. Chairs were haphazardly arranged, which I thought was done when people left their chairs and someone had to vacuum the floor or something. The chairs were close together and facing different directions.

"Have a seat," Rob said when the morning class session got underway. He pointed to the chairs. Oh, he was serious about it. We all took a seat in a chair of our choice. Soon, we found out exactly why the chairs were arranged this way. We found this out when he took a wire scrambler out of a bowl of water and shook droplets at us, while asking us to move the chairs as though we were on a boat being rocked by waves in a storm. Fun! He described in an entertaining way that familiar story: the disciples' fear of a ghost on the water, until Peter recognizes that it's Jesus and he gets out of the boat to walk on the water towards Jesus.

That was the repeatable theme of the weekend: getting out of the boat. Taking the risk. I saw this as confirmation to go ahead with my plan (which I'm calling "Operation Voltaire"). Stepping out of the boat, rocking the boat, creating waves. To risk is to live. Or as one friend told me: "The Universe favours bold action!" The other confirmation I received was seeing an article about a BYU student who wrote an editorial criticizing his church (the LDS Church) about its political involvement in California with "Proposition H8." Since my plan involves exposing this conservative church's power over the organization I work for, I see these events as confirmation that I am doing the right thing, that I am the right person to bring this to the media's attention.

Anyhow, back to the retreat. At the Saturday evening communion service, a cool song I have never heard played as we all entered the candle-lit room and sat down. The song had an Irish lilt to it that reminded me of "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion. The song even mentioned a boat. Can't remember the title or the singer, though. This song was so moving that Leah asked if she could do an interpretive dance to it. We were stunned by her perfectly choreographed dance to the song...and it was completely spontaneous!!! By perfectly choreographed, I'm not exaggerating. It was PERFECT! The spirit of God was definitely with her...and with us...that night.

Several people shared about the boats they feel "stuck in" and what they might do to get out of the boat. It was an awesome worship service. In light of the burdens I shared about work, I think the title to this song is appropriate, as well: my heart WILL go on...once I get the hell out of here. To extend the metaphor further, does the organization have to sink, first, before I get out of here?

In the winter of 1998, "My Heart Will Go On" played on the radio and MTV / VH1 constantly. In fact, I had refused to see the film Titanic, mostly for two reasons: 1) Chick flick!; and 2) I did not want to contribute towards it surpassing the box office record set by Star Wars. I was content watching the movie through the short music video and guessing what its about. However, I liked the song more and more, the more times I heard it. The music video made for an excellent trailer. When the film finally made it to the $1 theater, I decided to go see it for myself. It wasn't bad, I thought, though too long. This theme song is actually a perfect movie theme song. The melody is perfect for the mood one feels when they leave the theater.

In thinking about boats and the choice between taking a pro-active step outside the safety of the boat into the water, or waiting until it sinks, which might pull me into the deep watery grave with it...I choose to exit the boat on my own terms. The battle begins October 1st. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Oprah No Longer Does "Schmaltzy"

On Wednesday, I went to Powell's City of Books to attend a book reading and signing by Jonathan Franzen. It was one of the more crowded book signings I've attended, which did not surprise me at all. I went early to ensure that I would have a seat. He is considered to be "the novelist" of the moment.

His latest book is called Freedom, which has gotten critical praise and major publicity. Its his first novel since The Corrections, which won a major literary award in 2001 and is considered to be one of the best novels of the past ten years (I have not read it, though it has been on my reading list for a long time).

During the Q & A portion of the book reading, one lady asked Franzen if Oprah would be selecting his book for her first Book Club selection of the final season of her 25 year long talk show. The audience laughed at that question. Franzen said that he did not think she would, as Nelson Mandela has a book out that is probably much more interesting. He either knows how to keep a secret or he really was kept in the dark, but by Thursday, news reports were speculating that Oprah was indeed planning to reveal on Friday (today's show) that Freedom is her first book club selection of the final season.

For those who are not literary and don't know about the controversy, Oprah had selected The Corrections as one of her book club selections in 2001 or 2002. Her choices pretty much guarantee best seller status for the lucky novelist. She mostly picked unknown novels, which I thought was a good thing because she was using her fame to bring much needed recognition to writers who rarely receive such attention. Franzen's novel was already a best seller without Oprah's endorsement, though. Her choice seemed almost like an afterthought or jumping on the bandwagon of people who praised this work as "a great American novel."

Franzen, displaying the traits of a literary snob (which I admit that I also have such a trait, as I prefer literary novels over commercial fiction; trade paperback instead of mass market paperback), said that he felt embarrassed that his novel would display the Oprah Book Club logo because some of the previous selections tended to be "schmaltzy" (I find that word hilarious). This created an uproar, with hurt feelings and Oprah deciding to end her book club. Even more baffling, Oprah had said that the reason why she was ending her book club was because of the LACK of good books out there. I was stunned! There are more books that I want to read than I am capable of doing because of time. To make a statement like this was disingenuous.

Critics seemed to view Franzen as a curmudgeon and an ingrate who could not appreciate an honour that many authors covet. As one who reads books, however, I was never really impressed by most of Oprah's selections. But that's a matter of taste. Oprah's main audience is predominately middle aged women, the same demographic that make the bulk of novelist Nicholas Sparks' devoted fans. I did want to read Breathe, Eyes, Memory, written by a Haitian writer, but I never got around to it. The other choices, though, seem rather bland (I tried to read The Reader, but found it boring and gave up after the first chapter).

Pictured above is the "infamous" Oprah's Book Club logo that Franzen was so troubled by. This simple logo had the power to move books off the shelves at retail outfits like Target and Walmart (where I heard that most of her books were sold). I have to hand it to Oprah, though, she really revived the idea of a book club. Many have cropped up in the years since she began hers. I've always wanted to participate in one, but have not found one that shares my literary tastes. A co-worker who participated in one said that its more like a woman's group. It would be strange to be the only guy in one. There's even a beer commercial that pokes fun at the female book club.

Despite the fall-out from the Franzen controversy, the book-loving Oprah could not stay away from making book club selections. In 2005, she re-started her book club with a statement that she would pick better quality books. Her first choice in the newly reconfigurated book club was a John Steinbeck classic, East of Eden (which I bought but still have not read). Other choices in the years since included Alan Paton's Cry the Beloved Country, Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Sidney Poitier's spiritual memoirs (I believe its called Measure of a Man) and Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth (which I actually read BEFORE she made it her selection). I liked her new choices. It revealed that she really took Franzen's criticism to heart. It was bad news for unknown authors, though. She selected books that were pretty well known.

Still, she did make one controversial selection that caused her some grief: James Frey's "memoirs" about his drug addiction, A Million Little Pieces. However, despite the grief she got for that selection, one could ask, would his lies have been exposed if he hadn't received such a high profile in the aftermath of her book club selection? The book had been recommended in Barnes and Noble's "Discover Great New Writers" program (several times a year, this bookstore has a booklet highlighting some of the more interesting books by new writers). With Oprah's endorsement, people who knew James Frey came out of the woodwork to refute some of the more outlandish claims he made in his "memoirs." This resulted in a good debate about the rules of the "memoir genre" and how much embellishment is allowed before it becomes "fiction." Apparently, Frey wrote the book as a novel, based on his experiences, but his agent or publisher thought it would sell better as a memoir. Oprah called him on the carpet and had him explain himself on her show.

Franzen's new novel sounds interesting. He read a lengthy passage for 30 minutes, focusing on a character who was a college student raised in a liberal family but interested in Republican ideas. There are references to 9/11 and the genesis of this novel was that Franzen wanted to write on many aspects of freedom, such as, how much freedom is too much freedom?

The booksigning line was too long for me to wait. If I still lived downtown, it would not have been a problem to wait, as I could catch the streetcar or even walk back to my apartment. Now that I live in outer Portland, I have to be conscious of the bus schedule. The later it gets, the less frequent my bus line runs. I really wanted to buy a copy of The Corrections and have him autograph it. I also wanted to tell Franzen that I agree with him that Oprah's selections had a tendency to be "schmaltzy". That's such a great word! Instead, I went to catch the bus so I could return to the townhouse I live in at a decent hour.

Most of the audience questions were on the writing process. I sense quite a few aspiring novelists in the room. Time magazine endorsed him as a "great American novelist". I've read some critiques online that the literary establishment seems to have a preference for white male writers (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tom Wolfe, Jonathan Lenthem, Norman Mailer, etc.). These critiques are pretty valid, I think. I'm interested in what novels get the buzz and often wonder the true motives behind the praise. For example, the latest sensation that's unescapable is the "Millennium Trilogy" by a now-deceased Swedish novelist: The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels. A literary friend of mine asked if I read it. A co-worker is reading it. Will I read it? Well, the subject matter does not appeal to me and the movie versions are out (not that I was interested in the movies either). I have a long list of books that I actually WANT to read and I'm a notoriously slow reader (I'm lucky to read two books a month, usually around 300 pages each, rarely a 500-page novel).

Though I have a novel to sell to an agent and publisher, I don't harbour any delusions that my story appeals to the readers who select the books that Oprah recommends. It's all about personal taste. It will be interesting to see which books Oprah selects over the course of the next 8 months. Hopefully, she'll maintain the high standards that her second version of the Book Club has demonstrated in the past five years.

Speaking of announcements, I have one of my own. In two weeks begins what I call "Operation Voltaire." More on this later. It involves my plans to bring to public awareness what I think about the organization I've worked in for nine years now. I believe the timing is right and its likely to get media attention. My background and experience makes me the best person to do such a thing. For now, though, I'm off to the Puget Sound for yet another young adult retreat with my church. This place has such spiritual meaning for me (as well as being the site of one of the worst decisions I've ever made in life, three years ago) and I hope to have more clarity about my career goals. See you on Monday (no posts this weekend).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Greatest Fucking American Hero

On Friday, I went to see the documentary about Pat Tillman and his family. For some reason, Pat Tillman's story has touched me in a place I can't fully articulate. He is undoubtedly the most famous friendly fire casualty and clearest case of how wasteful war truly is when great human beings like him are sacrificed by the cowards in political office.

I normally prefer to watch documentaries on DVD because it seems silly to pay $10 to see one on the big screen (although I have seen several Michael Moore and Iraq War documentaries in theaters), but I simply cannot wait however many months for this one. I've only read bits and pieces of Pat Tillman's story over the years, so here was a chance to get a more complete picture of the man and his tragic end, from the perspective of his family. In fact, so desirous was I in wanting to see this documentary on opening day that I missed out on an opportunity to attend a spiritual lecture about Law of Attraction type ideas that was being filmed for a documentary at the same church that held the Bruce Springsteen Eucharist and U2charist earlier this year.

I had never heard of Pat Tillman until 2002, when he became the most famous military enlistee. He was a professional football player with the Arizona Cardinals, who had a $3 million offer to play for the St. Louis Rams. He turned it down to enlist in the U.S. Army with his brother Kevin, supposedly inspired by the call to serve in the aftermath of the 9/11 Attacks (though he never gave his reasons publically). That act made him more famous (particularly for people like me who do not follow sports). Rightwing commentator Ann Coulter called him "the ideal Republican man" for doing this, which was absurd, because most Republicans in Congress, the Bush Administration, and on talk radio had avoided military service in Vietnam like the true cowards that they are. A liberal commentator supposedly called Tillman an example of a meatheaded jock.

He was neither. The reason he captivated my interest is because his act of leaving a well paid and dream career to serve in the military in a time of war is simply unheard of. It showed that this guy marched to the beat of his own drummer. The man has integrity. He meets the true definition of "nonconformist." I admire people like that, even though I thought this was a bad idea for him. However, his actions showed that he was not like the celebrities we've grown accustomed to, where materialism, wealth and fame are the point of existence.

Even more than this amazing decision, Tillman refused to speak to reporters about his decision and he requested that the U.S. Army treat him the same as every other soldier, which is to say: treat like shit. He became part of the elite group of Army Rangers and deployed to Iraq. In the documentary, my favourite quote is when he supposedly came back from that war saying, "This war is so fucking illegal." What I learned in the documentary is that his entire family has a fondness for the f-word and use it often. His youngest brother, Richard, even used the word at his funeral, saying something along the lines of: "Pat's not with God. He's an atheist. He's fucking dead." Pat might have been an atheist, but I definitely believe he's with God. How could a true, inspiring, and great human being not be?
The documentary covers the hero worship and media whitewash of Pat Tillman, which bothers his family. The building of a heroic myth was disturbing for the family because much of what was said about him did not reflect reality. People also tried to take "ownership" of him for whatever self-serving agendas (the Bush Administration for propaganda purposes, the Army for recruiting goals, the rightwing radio for bashing war dissenters, the liberals for the tragedy of war, etc). As one who has been in the military myself, I believe that Pat was the kind of person I would have naturally been friends with in the military. According to those who knew him, he liked to discuss history, politics, religion, and economics. He had a passion for heated debate. One found him reading books by Noam Chomsky, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. He kept a journal. And he made it explicitly clear that he did not want his decision or possible death to be used for propaganda purposes.

When I was in the Navy, I always cringed whenever strangers thanked me for my service and praised me without even knowing anything about me. I am still bothered by the civilian worship of the military, particularly by conservative, evangelical types. Whenever I hear their lavish praises to military members, I wonder if they would still think the same if they knew military guys the way I knew military guys. The reason why it was difficult for me to find true friends in the military is because many enlisted guys I served with were alcoholics, vulgar, coarse, and sex obsessed (adultery was prevalent). Conservative evangelicals love to moralize and demonize people who disagree, but when it comes to the military, they seem to think that guys who join the military are pure, ethical, and godly. It makes me want to strap them to a chair and force them to watch a miniseries like Generation Kill, which reflects how guys really behave in company with one another. Some conservatives have found that show to be offensive, which shows how clueless they are about the reality of guy culture in the hypermasculine world of the military. And yes, the enlisted side of the military is far different from the officer side. As an enlisted guy, I had more in common with officers but due to the rules against fraternization, enlisteds and officers could not be friends (the biggest rule I hated, though I understood the reasons why there needs to be such a rule).

If I knew Pat in the military, he and I would have likely been friends because the friendships I did make in the military were generally with guys who could discuss something other than sex and sports. Having heated discussions about politics and religion is my forte, so I think Pat would have appreciated talking about such topics with a person like me. Since I think of the f-word as my favourite word in the English language, I think Pat would have appreciated that view, considering how often he used it. In fact, his last words were: "I'm Pat fucking Tillman!" He screamed that at the guys in his unit who were firing up at the ridge he was on, before getting hit in the legs and then in the head.

Seen above is a photo of Pat (on the left) with his younger brother Kevin. I'm surprised that they served in the same unit together. I thought that was not allowed, due to the policy of avoiding a tragedy where a mother loses more than one son in war. But, they probably wanted to serve together, since they enlisted together. Pat was the oldest of three boys.

After his tragic death, the U.S. Army told the Tillman family that he had died by saving his unit, as he charged up a hill at enemies. He was even given a Silver Star for that act. The family, though, were skeptical of the story they were told because they knew Pat was not the type who would charge the enemy when being fired upon. There were other holes in the story that did not make sense to them. Soon, they learned that he was killed by members of his own unit with some suspicion that it might have even been murder, rather than accidental.

The Army kept changing details of the story, which frustrated the Tillman family. As made clear in the documentary, the Army "messed with the wrong family." The Army probably thought that they would be like most families, being satisfied with the "official story" and the Silver Star award and not asking too many questions or delving too deeply into the written reports. But that's exactly what the Tillman family did. They requested documents and pored through every word, even making educated guesses about who said what in the redacted names that punctured the reports. They wanted to know who was responsible for the cover-up and didn't believe the fall guys that the Army offered.

The documentary points to Donald Rumsfeld as the key person, which I can believe based on everything else we know about the douchebag. He is a rotten piece of shit who I hope will burn in hell for a long time before he reincarnates in a warzone in a future lifetime. I can understand the U.S. Army's predicament when the most famous enlistee is killed by friendly fire. That kind of thing can kill recruiting efforts. Teens being sold on "An Army of One", where they can put their video game skillz to good use, get money for college, and not even serve in a war zone, would think twice. Here's a guy whose fame and relative financial comfort did not save. If someone like Pat Tillman could be killed in war, anyone could be! And friendly fire is probably the worst way to die in war. This scenario was a true nightmare for the Army, the Department of Defense, and the Bush Administration. Like every other uncomfortable bit of news, the Bush team begun spinning their lies until it became "true", no matter who got hurt in the process.

The photo above is of Pat Tillman on his wedding day to Marie. I was stunned to learn that he had known his wife since they were both four years old. In 9th grade, they were in the same school together and Pat was in love with her, but did not ask her out until they were seniors because he was finally taller than her. They remained a couple through college, his professional football career, and his enlistment. I love hearing that about him. That's actually the kind of wife I would like...someone I knew for a long time, where a friendship grew into something more. Its another example of Pat's nonconformity. He simply did not fit into any box that people wanted to put him into. I believe its a sign of his spiritual evolution: he's an "old soul."

Last year, Jon Krakauer released his latest book, which was about the life and death of Pat Tillman. I had wanted to read it, but waited until it was released in paperback. After I left the theater on Friday, I went straight to Powell's City of Books to buy a copy, as well as the memoir tribute written by his mother, Mary "Dannie" Tillman.

I'm currently reading Mary Tillman's book right now, which is probably not a smart thing to do on the bus during my morning and afternoon commute. I have found a few times, my eyes welling with tears. Its great to read about a guy from his mother's perspective, as she gives us insight into his being by writing about how he was as a child. I believe character is developed or formed in childhood. One thing the Tillmans taught their boys is that they needed to speak up and question things when they feel something is not right. I think I would have fit well in this family, because my questioning (as well as my demand for respect when faced with abusive coworkers) has gotten me in trouble at work. People in management or leadership positions generally do not like being questioned, so its not considered good for one's career to be so "disagreeable." But who cares what managers and leaders think? If they treat their underlings wrong, they can deal with the discomfort of questions they don't know the answers to.

Watching this documentary about a true hero of mine is probably not a good thing, considering what I'm planning to do regarding my work environment. In fact, learning more details about Pat Tillman's personality, life, and family only emboldens me to act against the injustice I feel. I know one thing about the managers at my office. They are cowards, cooped up in their office kingdoms and so afraid of being confronted with the truth of their incompetence. Its time to shine the spotlight on them for the lies they try to hide.

Pat Tillman may not have fit into people's comfortable boxes, nor was he a hero in how many people view heroes, but to me, he will always be a nonconformist hero that I admire. I'm glad that his family is not afraid to speak truth to people in power, making them feel uncomfortable as well they should. People who lie deserve no comfort. They must be held accountable for their cowardice. Its truly tragic that our country loses honourable men like Pat Tillman while evil fucks like Dick Cheney keep living despite heart attack after heart attack and evil scheming ways. I have no doubt that Pat Tillman found his way to the spiritual realm, despite his lack of belief in an afterlife. He was an advanced soul, who lived true to his calling no matter what people thought of his decisions.

If I have only one complaint about the documentary, its that they do not name the person who fired the fatal shot. They don't even hint at it or show any indication that the family was interested in knowing who fired the fatal shots that killed him. Perhaps this is to protect the guy(s), who likely feels horrendously awful if the friendly fire incident was accidental. Still, even if they don't name the person who fired the fatal shot, it would have been nice to know how the person felt upon learning that he had killed the most famous enlisted man of our generation, and what this person is doing now (is he in Fort Leavenworth prison, for instance?).

If they make an actual movie about Pat Tillman, there is only one actor who can play him. When watching the documentary, I was stunned by how much he looked like Seann William Scott (pictured at right). However, if this casting coup and movie gets made, I hope Seann will drop his goofy "Stifler" frat-boy antics in favour of a more nuanced performance. Pat Tillman deserves a respectful portrayal on the big screen. His life is a story for the ages. An inspiration about living true to your inner calling and having no fear of questioning leaders who lie to your face. It is up to each one of us to not tolerate those who would lie to us, especially when their jobs depend upon it. If we want to make the world a better place, we should take the advice of Pat's father, Patrick, who signed a letter to military leaders after reading their illogical report on Tillman's death: "Fuck you...and yours!" If the word is offensive to people, too bad. The Tillman family and I love the word. It gets the point across, doesn't it?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Music Video Monday: Ben Harper

For this week's music video selection, I have selected an awesome song by Ben Harper, called "Burn One Down." Yes, this is in response to the crazy pastor in Gainesville, Florida, although to his credit, he did not go through with his earlier intention to burn Qur'ans on Saturday. The song, however, is not about burning Qur'ans or even books. Its about smoking marijuana, which I have actually never done. You won't find me burning one down!

I first heard this song a decade ago, when my favourite roommate and good friend Matt, sang this song while playing his guitar. Since his version is the first one I heard, I always prefer his version over Ben Harper's! Its surprising that such a straight-laced, Temple Recommend card-carrying Mormon would sing such a song like this. I don't think he's ever smoked marijuana, either. However, he's always been a liberal-minded, live and let live kind of guy, so when he sings this song, he's trying to expand people's minds. Including mine. I've long had an intolerance towards drug use. Probably as far back as elementary school, when I had to watch all those scary videos of people on drugs doing crazy things like standing on a balcony railing and falling to their deaths.

As far as Qur'an burning, as I write this I have no idea if Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas made good on his promise to burn some if Pastor Terry Jones did not. I'm sure there were evangelical Christians who did burn Qur'ans on Saturday, but the media did not cover it. Which only makes me wonder why someone like Terry Jones was able to command such attention last week. A dwindling church with around 50 members should not be allowed to garner such worldwide attention. Now that another 9/11 anniversary has come and gone, I hope this crazy pastor crawls back into his hole of irrelevant obscurity. His 15 minutes are over.

If you're gonna burn something...well, take it from me. Might as well "burn one down" (what Ben Harper is singing about). But don't expect me to join you.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Glenn Beck's Historical Revisionism Rally

A couple weeks ago, rightwing radio personality Glenn Beck held his latest scheme. Last year, it was his 9/12 Project. This year, it was a so-called "Restoring Honor" rally to pay tribute to our Founding Fathers and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the exact same day as the historical rally Dr. King held to deliver his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Beck unconvincingly claimed that he had no idea that August 28th was the day of the King speech. He called it an interesting coincidence, and implied that God had a hand in it. Bullshit! Two years ago, Barack Obama gave his historic acceptance speech at the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention at Mile High Stadium on the very same day. And yes, Obama did request that the DNC be held that week so he could accept his nomination on the 45th anniversary of Dr. King's famous speech. Many people consider Obama's presidency to be "the first down payment on Dr. King's Dream." The media discussed all of this, so for Glenn Beck to claim ignorance about this lacks credibility.

Let me say that I am not a fan of Glenn Beck and I do not understand his appeal whatsoever. Its hard for me to take seriously a guy who has no shame in crying all the time. Not that I believe his tears are real. His crying performances are so fake, he'd never win an Academy Award. Yet I know a few women who love Beck and find him to be the ideal man. I guess that's the mentality of a conservative, white Baby Boomer woman for you (part of the reason why this demographic group and I don't generally get along). When I was in school and in the Navy, crying would subject you to ridicule and getting beat up. I wish someone would beat Glenn Beck up whenever he cries. I'd love to see Rush Limbaugh do it. Interesting enough, though, you never hear Rush, Hannity, Beck, Coulter, or Beck criticize each other. They are all part of a corporate scheme to shape ignorant minds around a conservative agenda. Getting ignorant conservatives to vote against their own economic self interest is brilliant. The corporate aristocrats on Wall Street couldn't do it without the likes of Glenn Beck.

I really wanted to read a transcript of Glenn Beck's speech to the crowd of Teabaggers, but could not find one online. I found transcripts of his show in the days leading up to the event, but none on the major speech. I did watch a 15 minute video clip of his speech, but wasn't impressed. Though it wasn't overly political, as he had promised, the talk of God and honour was lacking in credibility. This call for Americans to "get back with God" is ridiculous. Its a conservative argument (not a liberal one) that God punishes the group for the actions of an individual. Conservative religionists use this standard ploy all the time: "God will smite our nation unless we repent and rededicate our lives to God." Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell blamed homosexuals, liberals, abortionists, and feminists for 9/11 because these groups happened to offend God enough that He withdrew His "protection" on that day, thus punishing innocent people. What kind of person believes in a God that is so illogical and psychopathic that it would allow innocent people to suffer for the sins of the guilty?

The Law of Karma makes more sense. What goes around, comes around. You get back what you put out. It may not happen instantaneously, but it will happen at some point. The whole point is not punishment, but to learn the most important lesson of all: "If I hurt you, I ultimately hurt myself because we are all connected in a spiritual sense."

My biggest problem with conservative thought is the obsession with morality, conformity, and the belief that God punishes the group for the sins of the few who are guilty. This tactic is actually a controlling device. It worked well in basic training. The Company Commander would pick on the recruit who had the most discipline problems and make the rest of the company pay for the recruit's mistakes (while the recruit himself is not punished for his mistakes). Even as a 19 year old with little life experience, I knew that the Company Commander was trying to divide the company and make a scapegoat of a recruit by having the whole company hate the problem recruit. What amazed me was how easy it was for Company Commanders to rile up animosity in some guys towards the scapegoat. People are so easy to manipulate. Especially the Teabagger type. Its a sign of a conformist mind, versus a nonconformist one (which I have).

In a history of Political philosophy class I took in college, during a segment on Friedrich Nietzsche, I became impressed by some of the ideas of this infamous political philosopher. Before college, I never would have read Nietzsche on my own because his name was connected to the Nazi Party. That association is rather unjust, though. Nietzsche lived before the Nazi Party existed and was dead when that movement came to power in Germany. Its hard for a dead man to defend himself against misuse of his words and ideas. Some of the ideas that the Nazis stole from Nietzsche include the belief in "supermen" (racial superiority) and "the will to power."

What I like about Nietzsche's philosophy is that he got to the essence of conservative philosophy. In one of the selected writings I had to read for the class, I was struck by the profound insight Nietzsche offered regarding the human tendency to "worship ancestors." According to Nietzsche, humans put the Founding ancestors (whether relatives, national heroes, or religious founders) on a pedestal. Over time, the ancestor's stature becomes higher and the point where a person feels indebted to the sacrifices made by the ancestors. Again, as time continues on, this debt grows to the point where the person feels that there is no way to repay that debt, thus a sacrifice is required. This is what I believe happened with the meaning behind Jesus's life and ministry over the centuries. Conservatives are big on ancestor worship and the attitude of "we're not worthy" and requiring sacrifices to "appease" the ancestor / founder.

This attitude was evident at Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. a couple weekends ago. Beck and the conservative minions look on our Founding Fathers as though they were gods: perfect and honorable in ways that we are not. Now, I love our Founding Fathers as much as the next patriotic American, but let's get real here. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Alexander Hamilton had a sexual relationship with a married woman. John Adams passed the first USA PATRIOT Act with the Alien and Sedition Act during his lame duck period of presidency (after losing his reelection bid to rival Thomas Jefferson). Thomas Paine was considered an atheist agitator. Benjamin Franklin was well known as a ladies man and was particularly popular with the ladies of the salons in Paris. Patrick Henry was more of a talker than a doer (he had no problem saying "Give me liberty or give me death" in a rousing speech, but when faced with confrontation, he preferred to flee).

Today's Teabaggers like to think of themselves as modern Boston Tea Party activists, yet during that famous event, American rebels, such as Samuel Adams, dressed as Native Americans to sneak aboard British ships and dump tea into Boston Harbour. How courageous is that? They wanted the British to think that it was Native Americans who did the deed, thus if retribution happened, the Native American tribes would be scapegoated. Yeah, that's really honourable!

My point is that the Founding Fathers had their flaws. They were not perfect people. To say that they are better than us or more moral and honourable is absurd. Yes, they did a great thing for our country...but let's not forget that they were men of the Enlightenment Era. That's right, the Enlightenment, which many conservative evangelical Christians view with disdain. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine were considered Deists, which means that they believed in a supernatural creator that brought the world into being, but they did not necessarily believe in the God of the Bible or the Christian viewpoint. John Adams, as president, sent a letter regarding the Barbery Pirates that "America is not a Christian nation." There was a reason why James Madison advocated for a wall of separation between Church and State. Every country at the time of USA's founding had an established church, the most absurd being the Church of England (formed when King Henry VIII wanted a divorce that the Catholic Church rightfully refused to give). The foresight of the Forefathers was amazing. America is considered "the most religious country on earth" due to the number of churches and religions. Do you think this is accidental? No, its because of the wall of separation between Church and State that allowed churches to exist and flourish.

Whenever I hear conservatives talk about restoring honour or going back to the "morality" of our Founding Fathers, I have to cringe just a bit. Humanity is the march of progression. We don't own slaves today, so that makes us more moral than our Founding Fathers who owned slaves. Women and minorities have a right to vote. When our nation was born, only white, male property owners were allowed to vote. Do we want to go back to that? Or are we better than our Founding Fathers on this point? The most baffling point to me is how a group of people who pride themselves on being religious and "ignorant" (with intellectualism seen as a negative thing) put on a pedestal men who were not religious and were all about enlightenment and other intellectual ideas. Do they not see the disconnect?

Many, if not all, of these Teabaggers are loyal Bush supporters and if you've ever read Jefferson's writings, you'd know that the third U.S. president had nothing good to say about Europe's system of government through inheritence. Jefferson believed (quite correctly, I might add) that people who lead merely because of their fathers being leaders made for intolerable and incompetent tyrants. None of the Founding Fathers would have supported George W. Bush. Well, maybe Alexander Hamilton might have. He wanted an imperial "president for life." President Barack Obama fulfills the dream of Jefferson's America: a land of meritocracy, where the best and brightest are elected to lead people. I'm sure if Jefferson were to come visit the U.S., he would be surprised by how far we've progressed as a nation, where a black man won the most votes of any president in history. That's remarkable and historic. Something worth celebrating.

But to Beck's minions of Teabaggers, Obama represents a "threat" to the American way of life. Their ignorance is appalling and their motives are transparent. Though political signs were banned from the event (I guess Beck was worried about his followers carrying the embarrassingly racist signs of previous Teabagger rallies), from photos I've seen, there were few minorities present. It looked like the world's largest trailer park community had set up camp on the National Mall. If NASCAR had a race that day, I'm certain the numbers would have been far smaller than the 100,000 to 300,000 people who attended.

The photos of Glenn Beck show that he actually wore a bullet proof vest underneath his shirt! I found this amusing. For a guy who wishes to lead America in a spiritual rebirth, he seems to be fearful of his own followers! This does not surprise me, actually, because a few years ago, I read an interview with Ann Coulter. She claimed to find her fans "disturbing" and expressed fear over their creepy obsessions with her. Well, duh! When you appeal to people's emotions and find ways to rile them up, its not surprising that you'd be subjected to their OCD obsessions! When I interned in D.C., I received so many anti-government phone calls from OCD conservatives. A mentally healthy person lives a well-balanced life and does not obsess over a single issue.

Since Beck trafficks in fear and paranoia, its not shocking to see him wear a bullet proof vest to save him from his crazy legion of fans. I've suspected for sometime that Glenn Beck might be mentally ill, himself, so its befitting that he leads this group of crazies like lemmings over a cliff. To me, a bullet proof vest is a sign that the guy is no spiritual leader. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. received many death threats during his life. On the night before his assassination, Dr. King spoke about being at the mountaintop and seeing "the coming of the glory of the Lord." However, he also warned his followers that he might not get there with them. He had a premonition that he would likely die for his cause of racial unity and Civil Rights. Yet, he faced the threats like a true spiritual being: no fear.

Mohandas Gandhi was also vulnerable to assassination. He met his end through a bullet at close range. I haven't heard of the Dalai Lama wearing a bullet proof vest. I suspect that when you get to that level of spiritual development, you can sense when your life might be in danger and avoid it. Or, being assassinated is not the end of your existence. In fact, martyrdom is in some ways preferrable to dying in old age. People accept death by natural causes, but an assassination has a tendency to inspire followers to carry on your work and dream. They don't want your life to have been in vain.

Above is a picture of Glenn Beck, crying like a baby. I've never met a man who prides himself on crying. Most men I know don't cry in public. If they cry at all, its in private. Its considered to be a "weakness." Thus, my theory that the reason why Beck does it is merely to appeal to women. The corporate establishment that sponsors people like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly probably looked at the statistics and saw that neither men appealled to women, which is a problem. Women, more and more, are the determining demographic in elections. Traditional conservativism is not going to win over women voters. That's why Bush pretended to be a "compassionate conservative" in 2000 and ran on Democratic issues, such as education and vowing to have a humble foreign policy.

Rush is a misogynistic old pig, so there's no way he can overcome that personality deficiency. Despite O'Reilly's obsession with saving white damsels in distress, he also had a sexual harassment lawsuit against him, which he settled out of court rather than face trial. How best could the corporate establishment appeal to women and get them to vote against their economic self interest?

In comes Glenn Beck, out of nowhere. He has a "likable face" and doesn't appear threatening or repulsive (like Rush does). The icing on the cake is that Beck is not afraid to cry in public. Women eat this shit up. They think he's Mr. Sensitive. The phony tears go down like flavoured medicine, disguising the toxicity of his message. As I like to say, Glenn Beck was created in Rupert Murdoch's lab. He's a Frankenstein monster for the modern era. That so many women fall for his tears is pathetic. The clips I've seen of his crybaby ways comes across about as sincere as Bush calling himself a "compassionate conservative" after allowing the execution of a Christian woman that the Pope and evangelical leaders asked lenience for.

There are two ladies I know who are Glenn Beck fans. Both women are low income, white, and Baby Boomers. They both claim that he is sincere and they believe every word he utters. One of the ladies is a friend of my family. I know her personal history. She was once part of the Jeffrey Lundgren cult (but left before it turned deadly). I think she still has a tendency to fall for charismatic leaders. She can't see any flaws in Glenn Beck's rants, probably because he confirms what she believes about the world. Since she has never been out of the country, its no surprise to me. As I've learned in the past few years, the one common denominator in all of my friends and the people I'm drawn to is the foreign experience. There's something to be said about having visited another country and experiencing another culture that affects how you see the world. At a recent discussion group that I attended, the several young ladies present all had extensive foreign experience, which intrigued me. That makes them easier to relate to, as our life experiences are more compatable. None of my female friends like Glenn Beck. In fact, all of my Mormon friends find Glenn Beck to be an embarrassment to their faith. They all see him as a phony and a danger to democracy.

In conclusion, all I can say about Glenn Beck is...don't drink the Kool-Aid! How can you trust a guy who rewrites history to look make conservative philosophy look more favourable? You can't. Writer George Orwell warned against doublethink and historical revision in his brilliant classic novel, 1984. In the novel, the main character's job is the continual editing of history to match the regime's current truth. That's why I worry about paper becoming scarce or books becoming obsolete. If everything we read only existed online, it would be too easy to control information by continually editing history to reflect an ideological agenda.

Beck's rally was an attempt to rewrite history because he claims that conservatives are the true inheritors of Dr. King's legacy. The very people who fought the Civil Rights movement violently are now trying to steal Dr. King's legacy away from the African Americans who benefitted from his crusade for justice. That's obscene to me. I wish that these middle aged white ladies who love Beck could see how dishonest and manipulative he is, but I guess a person who is drawn to charismatic figures and blindly follows them has not learned lessons from her past. The best term I could think of for Beck's agenda is that he is "the Pied Piper of Wall Street." You've been warned.