Sunday, October 31, 2010

Have a Happy Halloween!

Just wanted to wish you a Happy Halloween! This year seems especially meaningful, since we have a candidate for the United States Senate who had admitted on a political talkshow in the late 1990s that she had "dabbled in witchcraft" as a teenager. This imagery stuck to her, as pundits ran wild with it.

As far as witches go, though, Christine O'Donnell would be more of a Sabrina-type or a Samantha-type of witch, rather than the ones that appear in Hansel and Gretle, Snow White, and The Wizard of Oz.

The cartoon above perfectly illustrates just how crazy the Republican Party has gotten in the post-Bush era of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin-led Teabaggery. Its baffling how anyone could seriously want to bring this party back into power. Perhaps its the effect of the spells Christine O'Donnell has been casting on people.

Hope your Halloween is safe, fun, and cavity-friendly!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Is Haiti the Opportunity I've Been Waiting For?

Thursday at 1 a.m. PST, I had a preliminary phone interview for the position in Haiti with a non-profit organization (Outreach International) that is closely affiliated with the church I'm a member of (the Community of Christ). The person who made the call is younger than me and a son of a well-known church figure, who is big on peace and justice issues. The position is a reporter and writer for the organization. As he explained in more detail than the job announcement, the person selected for this 6 months to a year position will be involved in visiting sites all over Haiti (mostly schools that are affiliated with the church) and reporting the status to the organization. This includes getting personal stories and doing write ups for potential media releases. Grant writing is included in this.

I'm not sure I did a great job in the interview, because it was originally scheduled for another day and it was late at night. Though I'm up at the time nearly every night, due to the long distance nature (he was calling from London), I had limited options on phone calls. It was either early morning or late night. I haven't really had time to prepare for the interview. Just earlier that day, I went through a workshop about Interviewing (with the Oregon Employment Department). They covered phone, one-on-one, panel, and group interviews.

Basically, what they are looking for is someone with some journalist experience (I have none) or writing and research (which are my passion) experience, comfortable with being in poverty conditions, able to walk long distances (including up mountains), and not afraid of being in potential dangerous situations. The interviewer actually mentioned that kidnappings have been reported in Haiti, though no one who works for the non-profit has been victimized by crime.

It was an interesting conversation. I pointed out my experience in South Africa (he asked how long I was there, and when I said, "just a week", I actually cringed because he might think a week is not enough time to really test my endurance for being in a country similar to Haiti), and my degree in International Politics with a focus on Human Rights. When he asked me why I was interested in possibly working in Haiti, I explained to him that as a young man, I was stationed in the Mediterranean with the Navy when the conflict erupted in Bosnia-Hercegovina. I thought at the time that here we were, stationed in a safe place and able to do something, but our government did not utilize us. I also mentioned being affected by Rwanda in 1994 and how I wanted to get involved in human rights and international development. I spoke about how seeing the poverty in Soweto shocked me, especially in light of the extreme wealth of Sun City, and it got me interested in economic justice, which is what the final paper for my degree was about. I mentioned that I had presented the paper at the 2000 Peace Colloquy for critical review and questions by the audience.

I did not tell him, though, that Haiti had interested me since I was a teenager and learned that our church had a huge membership population in Haiti. Why Haiti? What is it about our church that many Haitians are attracted to? This has been one of many questions that have lodged itself in my mind for most of my life. Then in college, when I participated in the exit polling, one of the men on my team had served an LDS mission in Haiti and was fluent in Haitian-Creole (a dialect of French). I remember envying him of that ability, because the Clinton Administration was looking for Haitian-Creole speakers to work in the Executive Office of the President. He had no interest in working for the government, while that has been my one constant career goal.

A friend of mine in Atlanta (whom I met in 2001 through a spiritual discussion group) is some kind of doctor and he spoke of a transforming trip he had made to Haiti. He wants to do more about Haiti, though I haven't really talked to him in a few years. He also does amateur photography and took some amazing photos of Haiti.

At my last job, the middle manager who led a group of underlings to a strip club in February has a wife who goes to Haiti every year and her work has put her in Haiti indefinitely since the devastating earthquake in January. I bet she's still there with the recent cholera outbreak (hopefully her husband hasn't gone to any more strip clubs since getting caught by a reporter and almost getting fired for his lapse of judgment).

My uncle, who is a nurse, went to Haiti earlier this year as part of a team and had a great experience. He met a young man who is a political science student at college and admires Obama. He gave me contact info awhile ago, but I never wrote to the Haitian poli sci student like I meant to. Oops.

It seems as though Haiti has been on the periphery of my life, with knowing quite a few people who have been there. The interviewer mentioned that the person hired for this position will be required to walk long distances (up to 10 hours just to reach a village in the mountains) and be okay with sleeping in close quarters with people. A building in Port-au-Prince serves as base camp. The interviewer seemed to like my military experience, as that lends well to adaptability, which is important. The job advertisement indicated a preference for females and Afro-Caribbean candidates, but I don't know who I'm up against.

The things that might hurt my chances are: only two years of college French (though as most people know, being immersed in the language does bring it back, but if a candidate is fluent in both English and French, they'd have an automatic advantage over me); the lack of a journalism degree or experience; and I've worked for the Boy Scouts organization for almost a decade, which is about as far from international politics and international development as one can get. I've been in a cushy office job for nearly a decade, so the interviewer might think I may not hack it in extreme conditions. Certainly, an aide worker would have a huge advantage over me.

The things going for me are: military background, which implies flexibility and adaptability, my easy-going personality (I'm not obsessed with luxury or expecting to stay in places that meet typical western standards of living), my ability to walk long distances, my writing ability, my church membership, my interest in research and human rights, and my extensive travel experiences. I mentioned to him that I was robbed during my second night in South Africa, but wasn't harmed. I wanted him to know that I generally don't panic and tend to remain calm. I also indicated that I believe most people tend to be helpful of foreigners because they want to give the foreigner a positive impression of their country and hospitality is considered a sacred commandment in many developing nations (people tend to treat foreign guests better than their own family members). I told him that I wouldn't fear for my safety, because there are places in American cities that are just as dangerous. I would listen to other people's precautions and not take unnecessary risks.

When he asked about my experience in Washington, D.C., I'm not sure that I knocked the answer out of the park. He had asked a question in a confusing way, so I wasn't certain what he wanted to know. It was something along the lines of "How did you find the pace and work in D.C.?" I gave an example of being surprised when a handful of Clinton Administration officials invaded our office and stressed out over a rider to an amendment of a bankruptcy bill. They were getting stressed out over a few sentences and I thought it was a bit frivolous because it wasn't a life and death situation. It was just language on a piece of paper that they were stressing out over. I did tell him, though, that I loved being sent to Congressional hearings to take notes and write reports for my supervisor. Yep, research and writing are my main interest.

The interview was thirty minutes. Next, he will whittle down the pool of applicants to four or five people for a more extensive interview. I need to send a thank you email, re-emphasizing the points I wished I had made, and once again play my strengths (adaptability, passion for research and writing, interest in personal diplomacy).

All day on Thursday, I couldn't help but think about Haiti and the possibility of working there for a year. When this year began, I made a Vision Board for what I hoped my life would look like. My main goal was a career that includes (1) travel; (2) writing; and (3) spirituality. This opportunity covers ALL THREE!!! If I were selected, I would travel to Haiti and all over Haiti (on foot!), write reports and dispatches and essays and grant proposals, and I would be interacting with church members in Haiti and learn how they view spirituality (I'm especially curious what they think of Santeria / voudou, though it would be a subject that I would be very careful to bring up or not, depending on what people advise). Basically, this would be the greatest adventure of my life...something I desperately need before 40!

I found the picture above in a Google image search. Its a school for girls in Haiti, possibly an example of one that I would visit and report on if I am selected for this job opportunity.

Shown here is an example of a "shanty town" in Haiti (reminiscent of Soweto, South Africa). This is probably the kind of accommodations I could expect to stay in, if I am selected for this job. I have no idea what their timeframe is, but it could be that the person they select will start in early January, though I wouldn't mind going to Haiti after Thanksgiving. I'd be up for spending Christmas, my birthday, and New Year's in Haiti.

One question I asked the interviewer was the likelihood that doing this work for a year might lead to an actual job in the non-profit organization or with another humanitarian aid /development organization. He couldn't make any guarantees, of course. I'd have to network like crazy, but I don't mind. I see this opportunity as a chance to get my foot in the door to the career I have dreamed about for far too long. What job could be more perfect for me than one that includes travel, writing, and meeting new people who have a spiritual view of the world? Its sounds win-win-win to me! This opportunity would put to the test all the spiritual ideas I've read about, thought about, and tried to understand in the past four years.

Last weekend, when I attended the Body, Mind, Spirit Expo at the Oregon Convention Center, during one of the lectures, the lady gave the audience a guided meditation to access our soul's file in the Hall of Records in the spiritual realm. She had us visualize things like an escalator, a large door, a beautiful garden, a quick reunion with passed over family members and friends or animals (I was greeted by a cat, a Golden Retriever, a rabbit, and a raccoon). Then she took us into the Hall of Records (mine looked like the Jedi Library in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones). She had us find our shelf that contained scrolls for each lifetime we lived on earth and grab the one on the top for a quick peek.

When I did, I saw two words quite clearly: Haiti and Denise. I was stunned. Several years ago in a meditation session, I had come across the name Denise. I don't know what this means. I do not currently know anyone named Denise. Perhaps this is the name of the lady I am meant to marry. Perhaps its a future supervisor or someone who might play a role in my life. When I got home, I did a Google search on Haiti and Denise and learned that there is an organization that goes by the name Denise that operates in Haiti. Perhaps this is something I need keep in mind, for whatever might happen in the future.

Denise could also be De Nice (of Nice, France). Who knows, though? If that's the name of the lady I'm meant to marry, its kind of disappointing. I'm partial to marrying a lady named Nicole, just because I think it would be cute (Nicholas and Nicole). Yeah, I can be cheesy that way at times!

Yesterday, I finally made it back to the Unitarian Universalist Church in downtown Portland to participate in the meditation group. One lady there remembered me from last year. I had kept missing it last fall because of work. She asked me what I've been up to and I told her about losing the job I hated to much. She then asked what kind of work I was looking to get into. When I told her about the Haiti possibility, she went all negative. I was annoyed. She realized what she was doing, though, and apologized for "raining on my parade." Later during the discussion portion of the session, one man had mentioned being surprised to learn when he was in India that the people in an impoverished village were more joyful than many Americans he has known. He said you can see the joy on their faces. The negative lady expressed her baffled disbelief about how people in poverty in developing world nations could find joy in their depressing surroundings.

I didn't share my opinion, but I could understand it. Every human on earth only knows their experience. When you grow up in a situation, that is your normal. A kid who grows up in Mormon culture believes that is how life is. Someone who grew up in the Amish community believe that's how life is. A person who grew up in a village in India believes that's how life is. If you have access to images of how other people live, then it can cause problems for people. That is why many Americans are not happy, because if you're living in poverty in the U.S., even though the poverty is considered a high standard of living by developing world standards, people in poverty are miserable in the U.S. because they have bills to pay, only low wage jobs available (if at all) and they see people driving nice cars, living in beautiful homes, having dream careers. The comparison can make one unhappy about his or her circumstance. If, however, you lived all your life in a small village and you have close relationships with your family and other members of the village, and you know nothing or very little about the larger world, you're not going to compare your lack to someone else's abundance. The joy is found through living and appreciating what you have or what nature provides or in the sense of belonging to a tribe or village.

So, this wasn't difficult for me to understand. The negative lady was annoying and was one of the reasons why I kind of did not make a point to attend the group anymore. I could meditate on my own.

In the meditation portion, I finally decided to try communicating with my "inner child" again, for the first time since that session where a psychic medium led a group in a meditation to meet our inner child. As I had written in a previous post, my inner child is me at age 4 who insists on the silly name of "Pooky". During this meditation session, I called for "Pooky" and he appeared right away. In fact, he ran and jumped in my lap and gave me a hug. Its amazing to be hugged by your inner child and being appreciated. He was a hyper little thing, jumping up and down on the couch. Anyhow, I'm trying to get my inner child to allow me the opportunity to find my dream job. I'm tired of the subconscious sabotage, as I wasted the past decade in three crappy jobs that had nothing to do with my interest. But, this session did not amount to much because I didn't meet every other day as originally promised. I was absent for two weeks. So, I need to make a regular routine of this. Five minutes a day, max, is what the psychic told the group.

Lately, I've decided to read for the second time The Passion Test, with the discipline to actually do the exercises. The writers swear that results will appear in your life if you get clear about what you really want in your life and keep your attention on how your dream life makes you feel. This is basic Law of Attraction stuff, with some nifty tips on how to define what you really want and keep the focus on what you want and love, while minimizing the fear. It was hard concentrating reading the book yesterday, though, because my mind is clearly focused on Haiti right now.

Here's what I believe...if I am meant to go to Haiti, then it will happen. If not, something better will appear. As Joseph Campbell once said, when the timing is right, a door will appear for you where a door did not appear for someone else. In the past month, I definitely feel like I'm in a higher spiritual vibration because I wake up grateful and happy, which I haven't felt this deep in a long time (since New Year's Day 2007, as a matter of fact). During the day, I find myself offering thanks to God for the blessings in my life. It is so easy for me to be happy and grateful when I'm not having to be in a negative energy environment 40 hours a week. This is my life lately.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Proof of Our Shallow Media

The favourite cry of conservative-minded folks is that there is a "liberal bias" in the media. I actually took a Media in Politics course at Brigham Young University, which is not known to be among those "liberal, elite universities." In fact, BYU, is quite conservative. However, most of the political science professors were moderate, Independents, or even Democrats. There were a couple of Republican poli sci professors, but they were in the minority. When I asked my journalist-major roommate in D.C. why he thought the poli sci department was more liberal or moderate than the rest of the university, he said that its because when you study a topic or issue in depth, ideology does not generally answer the questions or fit the facts. There's a joke among progressives that "reality has a liberal bias."

What I learned in the Media in Politics class, as well as some other poli sci classes and during my internship in D.C., is that the charge that the media has a "liberal bias" is not so innocent as it seems. Its actually more of a taunt. When a conservative person does not like what's being reported in the news, they'll accuse the media of having a "liberal bias." In an effort to appear "fair and balanced", the media will bend over backwards to accomodate the conservative view. We saw this in 2000, when candidate George W. Bush was handled with kid gloves (remember those deep investigative reports about his DUI, AWOL, and bankruptcies? Neither does anyone else!) while candidate Al Gore's exaggerated boasts were picked to death (remember Love Canal, Love Story, and inventing the Internet? Of course you do!). So, with each taunt, the media bends over backwards (or just bends over, period, to get dicked by Cheney) for conservatives while asking the tough questions of Democratic candidates.

You can see this skewed process during the lead up to the war in Iraq. The media basically reported the script given them by George W. Bush and company. Waving flags were added to the logo at the scroll on the bottom of the screen. Media personalities like Katie Couric gush about how Navy SEALs "rock!" as they talk about their ability to kill the enemy. Guests on pundit talk shows are either highly decorated military officers to argue the pro-war point of view or Hippies who look like they stepped out of a time machine from 1968 to argue the anti-war point of view. What message does that send? Military brass are official looking and serious, while the hippies are to be laughed at for being out of touch with the times.

If the media was really liberal, more American would have heard about Noam Chomsky and know his viewpoints. Does anyone know who Noam Chomsky is? Not likely. Only those who frequent true liberal media websites (such as Common Dreams, Truthout, or Counterpunch) or buy books from independent bookstores are likely to be familiar with him. Anytime our nation goes to war, Noam Chomsky needs to be consulted for his opinion, but the mainstream media won't go near him. Why not? Because his views are considered too dangerous for the corporate media to give exposure to for the average American.

In these poli sci classes I took at BYU, I learned that the point of accusing the media of having a "liberal bias" is to keep them in the conservative framework. As we can see in the Noam Chomsky example, there is a line where the media will not cross regarding ideas that carry the liberal viewpoint. Because of this skewering of our political system to be on the right side of the spectrum, what Teabaggers claim as "radical liberalism" (as in socialism and communism) would not even be considered liberal in most European countries. As I learned from a Brit, President Obama would be considered a Conservative Party member. True liberals, like the late great Ted Kennedy, would be the Labour Party Member of Parliament. So, whenever I hear a Teabagger dismiss some newstory because of what they believe is a "liberal bias", I can't help but think how moronic they are.

To use my aunt as an example, last year during the family reunion centered on my sister's wedding, CNN happened to be on TV. Anderson Cooper had a feature story about a recent rise in murders of black youth in Chicago. As I watched it, my aunt started complaining about the "liberal bias" and just going on and on about it. She was so disgusted that she had to leave the room. Where was the "liberal bias" in a special report about the murder of black teens in Chicago? The Fox Propaganda Network had her trained so well. She is so thoroughly indoctrinated with the belief that non-Fox news channels all have a "liberal bias" and thus can't be relied upon (while Fox lies with regular pathological impunity). It wasn't so much the story Anderson Cooper was talking about than the CNN logo on the screen, which every Fox viewer knows stands for "Communist News Network."

My aunt did make me laugh when she watched Stephen Colbert and found herself agreeing with everything he said! She did not understand that it was satire, making fun of conservatives through exaggerated conservative viewpoints. She thought he was real!

Here's the real truth about the media. It is neither liberal nor conservative (except for Fox, which is really the propaganda arm of the Republican Party). The media is CORPORATE. It's all about what sells newspapers, magazines, and grabs your eyeballs. If the media was liberal, Sarah Palin would have disappeared into obscurity after the 2008 election. The fact that she commands so much attention and is talked about as a serious candidate for president in 2012 (when no other politician who quit mid-term for no convincing reason would ever be taken seriously again) is evidence that the media is corporate and shallow. Does anyone really believe that she would get as much attention as she has for the past two years if she looked like Roseanne Barr?

For much of the past year, and almost obsessively for the past few weeks, the media has focused on the expected Republican take-over of the House of Representatives. Some are calling it a tidal wave, others a tsunami. HELLO! The votes aren't in yet! We will know in a week what the American people decide. Until then, it doesn't make sense to spend so much time on the expected losses the Democrats are expected to have and what Obama will do with a Republican Congress (if such a fate were to happen, I hope that Obama Girl will be no where near the White House!). Obama better just keep it in his pants, because as we learned in the past dozen of years, lying about war gets a president a pass, but lying about a sexual affair gets one impeached.

I'm annoyed by much of the media's obsession with "the horse race" instead of real issues. If America was an enlightened country that our Founding Fathers had hopes it would one day become, there is no way candidates like Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, Jan Brewer, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, or Meg Whitman would even be taken seriously. Their extremist views and pride in being ignorant would never get these people past a job interview. Why are our standards of public office so low? Don't these Teabaggers who like someone who is ignorant just like them realize that they are paying taxes to employ these ignorant politicians to represent them (or more likely, the corporations that fund them)? What about voting for the best, brightest, and most experienced? Being pretty is not a reason to vote for someone. What are we, back in high school? The United States Senate is not student council! If you want to see Palin or O'Donnell, then give 'em a reality show. Oops, Palin did exactly that.

Here's an example of the ludicrous nature of our shallow media. Comedian and former host of ABC's Politically Incorrect, Bill Maher released clips of Christine O'Donnell after she shocked the political system when she received more votes than Congressman Mike Castle, who was expected to walk a promotion to the U.S. Senate (formerly held by current Vice President Joe Biden). Most of America knows about her views that masturbation is adultery, that she had dabbled in witchcraft as a teenager, and that she doesn't believe in evolution because monkeys aren't evolving in front of our eyes. But do they know about the more disturbing, and more relevant, part of her story: she hasn't had a real job in years, her personal finances are a mess, and despite her claims of being a "Constitution expert", she was laughed at by an auditorium full of Law School students at a recent debate when she had to ask what the three Amendments were about that the moderater had asked her to discuss.

The right wing showed its true and consistent distortion when news circulated that Democratic candidate Chris Coons had called himself a "bearded Marxist" as a college student. The truth is that Coons had written an essay that was published in his college's newspaper in the mid-1980s. I read the essay online and my respect for him shot through the roof. I had never heard of this guy before (because I'm not up on my Delaware politics!) and I'm thinking of sending him my resume after election day. In the essay, he wrote that he was a Reagan Republican as a young man. During his college years, he had the opportunity to study abroad in Kenya, which transformed his life (wow--yet another person whose life was transformed in Africa. I had the same transformative experience in South Africa as a young man).

He returned to the U.S. questioning everything he had been taught and struggled to make sense of his experience as it relates to his privileged upbringing in the U.S. He wrote in the essay that his friends wondered about their friend who came back a "bearded Marxist." In the essay, it is obvious to anyone with a reading comprehension that Coons was attributing that quote to his friends. He did not consider himself to be that. I've been called a "Commie" by others since the first grade. People who know me know that I'm not a communist, but I find amusement in the "Commie" moniker and sometimes joke about it. Gosh, if I ever run against a Teabagger for political office, they are going to have so much ammunition to take my words out of context to use against me. I'd love to run against a conservative Republican for political office someday. That is one of my many dreams.

Seen above is Chris Coons with President Obama. When Coons wins the Delaware seat next week, I'm sure we will hear more about him because of the way conservatives (like Glenn Beck) are trying to create a web of conspiracy around Obama's "secret Muslim agenda." They are going to use the Kenya connection between the two men to try and show that Kenya is trying to infiltrate the highest levels of government by having "The Mombassa Candidate" in the White House and in the U.S. Senate.

I definitely want to meet Coons someday. Heck, I'd love to work in his office. I will likely send him a resume and cover letter after he wins. Its a long shot to get hired, but I really like his background, especially how he was transformed by his experience in Kenya. There is something about traveling overseas that changes a person. I learned this at my last job, as the people I got along best with have all traveled overseas while those I did not get along with have never been out of the country, or in some cases, out of the region. The church member I recently de-friended on Facebook is one such person that I believe NEEDS to have a foreign experience. I believe that if he experienced what true tyranny looks like, he will realize how much of a blessing his life has been to be born in the U.S. But he doesn't want to leave the country because he refuses to have a passport and won't likely be allowed back in the country. Whatever.

Pictured above is a scene that has been gaining steam in the news. A MoveOn protestor was pushed to the ground at a Rand Paul event in Kentucky and the foot you see on the lady's back belongs to an overzealous Paul supporter. In video footage, his foot can be seen pressing down on the woman's face. It looked like she had a pillow around her head while he was stepping down, but its still pretty bad.

Jack London wrote about the heel of a boot stepping on the face of a person. This is the perfect image of fascism, which I believe is the underlying danger of the Teabagger movement. The signs are disturbing. Bullying, ignorance, anger, blind ideology, racism, and character assassination. How much more evidence do we need to realize the dangers of fascism that Teabaggers seem to be flirting with?

That a Rand Paul supporter saw nothing wrong with pressing his foot against a woman's head doesn't actually surprise me. The reason is because of an ad in which Democratic candidate Jack Conway mentioned a recent magazine article where a woman had claimed that as a college student, she was abducted by Rand Paul and his frat brothers, tied up, and forced to "worship the Aqua Buddha"! When I heard that, I was stunned. What the hell is an "Aqua Buddha"? It sounds like a sexual euphemism (for oral sex or something?).

Rand Paul cried foul and demanded an apology from Conway during a debate and refused to shake his hand after the debate ended. He waxed indignant about being attacked for his religion just because Conway was asking why Paul was anti-Christian in college. Democrats came down hard on Conway (an example of how Democrats tend to punish their own, while Republicans defend their candidates right or wrong), but I admire Conway's backbone. Though one's religion should not be an issue for a political race, when a candidate uses his religion to win votes among a loyal voting block and tries to present himself as a "family values" candidate, he just made his past actions relevant.

I find a strange irony in someone like Rand Paul crying about having his religion distorted when he has been silent while his supporters misrepresent President Obama's religion being Islam instead of Christianity. Hypocrites don't like it when the shoe is on the other foot. They want the right to use their religion to win votes, but you're not allowed to criticize them if there is an incident in his past or when his followers are misrepresenting the president's religion.

I hope to God that the Aqua Buddha and foot stomping episodes will sink Rand Paul's chances. Paul will likely be the Teabagger darling for President in 2016 (watch out Senator Scott Brown!). The Democratic candidate, Jack Conway is only 41 years old. If he does not win this seat, he'll likely be a governor and based on his telegenic looks and ambition, you can bet that when he looks in the mirror, he sees a President looking back at him.

My wish for the media is to drop the reporting on the horse race and focus on the issues. Based on facts, reason, and rational analysis, there would be no contest in a more sophisticated nation (such as European countries). However, you have to wonder about the media, always wanting to stir up conflict, even when its rather shallow in scope. If America doesn't gain any depth, I fear that we are doomed as a nation. Our Founding Fathers would be shocked by what our country has become: where it is possible for the village idiot to win public office and be talked about as a potential president in a future election cycle. Let's get smart, Americans. There is nothing to fear about being intelligent and educated.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Music Video Monday: MC Yogi

Someone on my Facebook friends list posted this music video to the Facebook wall. I love that aspect of Facebook because I get exposed to news items and music that I might not have ever come across. This rap song is about Mohandas Gandhi. I was shocked to hear such a positive message rap song. I mean, seriously, who would've ever thought that someone like Gandhi could become subject to a rap song?!? Rap is well known for its crass materialism, misogynistic views regarding women, and can get pretty raunchy. The rap songs I prefer have a great beat to it and clever rhyme schemes.

This one, "Be the Change", gives a basic history lesson regarding Mohandas Gandhi in a short four minutes and nineteen seconds. That is a phrase that Gandhi was best known for: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." I love this phrase and while I strive to live it each day, it is frustrating that others don't live by this advice. I know from personal experience that striving to live by the right principles doesn't often get you ahead in life. It seems that our entire economic system is designed to screw other people in your quest to get ahead. Because I don't want to be these people (such as like the managers at my last job), it makes it harder to find a job where I can have power and autonomy over my own work. I long for the day when a true meritocracy will exist, where people who are ethical and kind get promoted over those who backstab and mistreat others. I am being the change, because I do not want to be like those people that I most recently worked for. I feel sorry for them, to be so miserable and unhappy, yet doing nothing to make that office a better place.

So, please listen to this song, find inspiration, and the change you want to see in the world. Our world will change for the better when each do our part to make the changes that are necessary. The days of the old ways of being are coming to an end. Those people chasing after the wrong values will find themselves on the losing end of the forthcoming spiritual age.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Spirit-Filled Day (and "Hereafter" review)

Today was a spirit-filled day, which I really needed after a week that has been a mixed bag. I didn't exactly up my game on the job search by applying to my target of at least 10 jobs. On Monday, at the Oregon Employment office, I had workshop on writing an effective resume. It was awesome and the instructor had a kind of sense of humour and personality that reminded me of Frances McDormand's character in the film Laurel Canyon (one of my favourite films of the past decade). I learned a lot and had to rewrite my resume. I received two referrals from the Employment office and sent in my resume. Both places pay the salary that I'm looking for. Hope I get an interview request with either or both of them in the next week.

Wednesday was the day of the Presidential visit, which took up a better part of my day. That left Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday to focus on applying to jobs, but my friend had a paper due and wasted two of my days, and caused me to change my schedule on Friday just so that his paper could be written. Also on Thursday, I was bothered by my roommate's whiny dog all morning. He keeps the Golden Retriever / Labrador Retriever puppy in a dog crate while he's at work. He said that I could go into his room if the puppy is whining for company. So, I finally did and was hit with the most putrid smell. Yep. The dog went to the bathroom and made his room smell like a cess pool. I wasn't taking that puppy out of his cage. When I got ready to leave the house, I saw that the roommate had left the light on everywhere and the front door unlocked! Since I've moved in, I have never gotten a good vibe from this anti-social roommate. There is just something very strange about him. Once, I asked him if his clothes were in the dryer, because I needed to use it. He said no, so I dumped the clothes on the floor and put my clothes in the dryer. Later, all the clothes on the floor were gone. The homeowner hadn't come by, so obviously, it was this roommate's clothes. Sometimes, I get the impression that he's not entirely there "mentally." He consumes massive quantities of Vodka and last week had two different houseguests stay over (both of his friends are what I call "alternative types"--into black clothing, noserings, tattoos, etc).

On Friday, I learned from the homeowner that a room is available to rent. Turns out, the roommate had smoked marijuana in the house, against the rules of the homeowner. I was relieved by this bit of news. I really hope the next roommate will be more compatable. Its always a risk, because the current one hasn't bothered my stuff (so far as I know). However, I don't want an anti-social roommate who doesn't seem to be able to communicate. He keeps dishes stacked up in the sink. He leaves food out all night. He allowed friends to stay overnight for four nights last week. Yeah, its not my house, but I'm still territorial...especially when its people who aren't those that would naturally be part of my social circle. I'm glad that the homeowner shares my staunch anti-drug mentality. It was difficult to find a roommate living scenario that is not "420-friendly" in the city of Portland! Hopefully, the next roommate will be a guy in his 30s who is politically active and spiritually minded. Someone who would have good philosophical discussions occasionally.

With such a mixed week, I needed to end it on good vibes. The Oregon Convention Center had a Body Mind Spirit Expo. This happens about twice a year, but I've never made it to the other ones before. This time, I felt compelled to go. For $12, I was able to see seven different lectures. That's a pretty good price. I learned a lot and took good notes. Some of the lecture topics I attended were: "Waves of Change Are Upon Us", "Charting Your Life", "Divine Intuition: Raising Your Vibration", "Achieving a State of Being" (the speaker for this one was too philosophical and repetitive that I counted 6 people walking out, out of 16 attendees), "Awakening to Spirit", "Manifest Quickly and Easily", and "Illusion as Reality." It was interesting that most of the attendees were Baby Boomers and women. There were a few young people, though. Other than the lectures, there were booths set up offering all kinds of "New Age" materials / crafts / books, and even psychic tables (for palm readings, Tarot readings, etc). I came for the lectures and enjoyed most of them. I had woken up late and missed the two earliest ones that I wanted to attend. But seven lectures of 50 minutes each went pretty quickly.

In a few of the lectures, the speaker had everyone in the session meditate. I received some interesting information that way. For instance, the name Denise came up again. At least a half decade ago, I had come across the name Denise in a meditation session. I don't know any women named Denise, so I don't know if this is the name of the woman I'm meant to marry or if this will be someone who plays a significant role in my life. Since this name came up in the same meditation session as Haiti, I'm going to freak out if I get offered the Haiti job and a lady named Denise is to be my supervisor. That would indicate a sign that I should take the job, though. We'll see. I'm definitely keeping the name "Denise" in my mind as I go about my life.

After the last session finished at 6:50 p.m., I had enough time to walk to the nearest movie theater at Lloyd Center and finally catch the film I had wanted to see on Friday: Hereafter. This is one of the most anticipated films of the fall season. In fact, after Howl and Hereafter, I can't think of any more films left this year that I want to see. That might be it. I recently learned that Spielberg's Lincoln movie had been postponed, so I have no idea if it has even been filmed yet.

Clint Eastwood, as a director, has been on a roll in the past dozen years. He has made movies based on popular books and novels (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Mystic River, Invictus), a pair of World War II movies (Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima), and odd little pictures such as Changeling, Gran Torino, and Million Dollar Baby. Since he's getting up there in age (80 years young), its not surprising that he would be focusing on spirituality. That's where Hereafter comes in.

In one review for the weekly newspaper, The Portland Mercury, one can see the derision of Portland's young urban hipster's mindset regarding any presence of spirituality in a movie. Here's what the reviewer Ned Lannamann wrote:
"Let's pretend that when you die, you go to a blurry, floaty, black-and-white spirit world, surrounded by your loved ones, who apologize for everything mean they ever did to you. Let's pretend that's true. If that's the case, then Hereafter is actually a pretty good movie. Because that's the central problem with Hereafter. It takes a huuuuuge [SIC] leap of faith to swallow its central premise--the kind of leap of faith that requires you to, I don't know, wear crystals or read Mitch Albom. Once you're on board, though, the movie is surprisingly sober and well told."
Really? That's how he interpreted it?

The film actually does not deal with the afterlife. The "blurry, black-and-white spirit world" was meant to convey how a psychic medium (played by Matt Damon) visualizes the souls that have passed over whenever he touches someone and picks up their energies. Its a flash of insight for him. Those brief scenes was not meant to convey what the afterlife actually looks like. That this film critic could not understand that proves that he's far too secular for his own good.

The movie covers three different storylines. The first focuses on a French couple on vacation in Indonesia when the Christmas 2004 tsunami struck, leaving death and destruction in its wake. The next story centers on a psychic medium in San Francisco who gave up a lucrative career helping grieving people find peace in communication with passed over loved ones to be a warehouse worker. The third storyline features twin boys with an alcoholic and drug-addicted mother.
If you want to see this movie or plan to, I suggest that you read no further, because I WILL REVEAL PLOT POINTS which will lessen the enjoyment of the film for you. While the flaws in the film are its melancholy tone, slow moving story, and underlit scenes, there are plenty of gems sprinkled throughout for those with the patience to stick with the story. Below, I write about why this film is brilliant, despite its flaws. But what I write will SPOIL THE MOVIE for you if you read it before seeing the movie. Read at your own peril.

Of the three storylines, my favourite was the French couple. Cecile de France (who is actually Belgian) plays a broadcast journalist for a French television station, on vacation with her producer boyfriend to Indonesia. He wants to sleep in on the morning after Christmas, while she goes out to buy souvenirs for his children. The scene of the tsunami is frightening (though obviously CGI). There's no way to outrun such an event. She's caught up in it and has a Near Death Experience. When she's back in France, it becomes obvious that she's distracted. Her boyfriend suggests that she take some time off to write a book, which she proposes to a publisher that she intends to write a tell-all biography on French President Francois Mitterand, perhaps the most compelling French political leader since Charles de Gaulle. However, her experience in Indonesia has her seeking out information online. When she asks her boyfriend what he thinks happens when they die, he gives the standard atheist line. Knowing that he's not interested in what she experienced in the tsunami, she goes to a hospice in Switzerland and meets a lady who has extensive documents relating to the afterlife experiences.

When she turns in a partially written book about the afterlife, her publishers are shocked and angry with her "bait and switch." She finds herself blacklisted due to her interest in spiritual topics, which is considered the kind of "woo woo" stuff no rational person dares speak of in public. This is the most profound statement in the entire film: that any person of some level of fame (particularly journalists, whose job it is to investigate compelling stories) can be marginalized from society at large for displaying an interest in spiritual topics. This is very true. In our secular age, people with a spiritual worldview are marginalized or considered "flaky" and often made fun of or dismissed with derision.

She completes her book, though, and finds a publisher in America, a land where books of this kind find an audience or willing publishers. I definitely loved all the scenes with Cecile de France. Of course, I also have a major thing for French (Belgian) women. Women speaking French are so damn sexy to me, and Cecile de France is definitely sexy. J'aime les femmes francaises! Elles sont les plus sexy dames du monde!

The storyline that least interested me was the one involving the twin boys in London. They are low-class chaps with a dysfunctional mother. The older twin (by twelve minutes) is the talker and the responsible one. He runs an errand, finds himself in the middle of some streetwise bullies, and manages to break out of their grip and into the path of an oncoming truck. He ends up dead and his twin is left grieving. One cool scene shows exactly how the spirit world sometimes works in our favour. In the London Underground, the boy's hat is knocked of his head and gets kicked around by all the people rushing through the tunnels of the tube. Once he grabs his hat, puts it back on his head, he misses out on boarding his subway train. Seconds later, the train is blown up in London's version of 9/11 (if I remember correctly, it happened on July 7th, though I can't remember which year). He was saved from boarding the subway of death because of his chasing after his hat, which had belonged to his brother.

Because his mother is emotionally unable to care for the boy after the death of her son, he finds himself in foster care. His foster parents don't understand him. He keeps to himself and runs off to consult with psychics to communicate with his brother, only to be disappointed by the charlatans he meets.

The last major storyline shows the sad, lonely life of a psychic medium. He meets a beautiful young lady (played by Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of director Ron Howard) in an Italian cooking class. They seem to hit it off and go to his apartment to practice their culinary skills. An ill-timed phone call from his brother regarding his special gift piques the young lady's curiosity and against his better judgment, he explains his psychic ability. She begs him for a reading, which he is hesitant to do, explaining that sometimes its not good to learn too much about someone. He knows from personal experience that his talent makes a romantic relationship virtually impossible and he likes this lady too much to lose her. However, she talks him into it and when he hesitates to reveal more, she keeps asking him to share what he saw, saying that she can handle it. When he tells her about the source of her biggest pain, she realizes that it was too much, that he has learned something about her that she did not want anyone to know. She tries to backtrack and make an agreement to pretend that what he learned about her past did not happen, but any intelligent filmgoer can guess what eventually happens: she no longer shows up at the cooking class, where they were partnered up.

Movies with differing storylines usually tie them up in the end (Babel, Playing By Heart, Valentine's Day), and this one is no different. A London Book Expo serves as the catalyst to bring the three individuals into one another's path. What I loved about the resolution is that the psychic medium and the French broadcast journalist and published author find a connection because of the commonality between their experiences. Its a hopeful ending, especially for a guy like me, who still holds out hope that I will find a lady who is deeply interested in metaphysics / spirituality like I am. Granted, its only a movie, but I'm the eternal optimist. I would love to meet a native French speaking lady who loves to discuss spirituality. That is my dream.

Overall, the movie was brilliant in what it conveys. However, if I could make some changes to improve the film, I would have used better lighting. Some parts of the film were visually dark, which might have been intentional, but I didn't think it should've been. I would have also made scenes move quicker. Finally, the overall vibe was melancholy, which will likely prevent this movie from finding the larger audience it deserves. When covering a subject such as death, there should be efforts made to keep it buoyant. Ghost did this brilliantly through the comedic efforts of Whoopi Goldberg. Instead, this carries the same kind of melancholy that The Sixth Sense possessed, but it lacks the kind of cool twist that would make audiences rave about it to friends. I don't see this movie becoming a word-of-mouth sensation. Its probably a forgone conclusion that Paranormal Activity 2 is going to blast Hereafter into the hereafter. What does that say about us? We want our otherworldly movies to give us frightening chills or to make us laugh. Whatever you decide, don't make it sad and depressing. Even if it is profound and worth seeing. We are a country obsessed with bouncy happy, after all, rather than moody melancholy. Give this one a chance, though. Its worth the emotional investment.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The President Visits the People's Republic of Portland

Yesterday, President Obama returned to Portland for a campaign visit on behalf of former Governor John Kitzhaber, who is running for a third term (after an eight year retirement). According to the Oregon Constitution, one can serve as governor for eight years within a twelve year period. I'm not sure why they had this provision, but I assume its to allow talented and popular politicians to run again after they've been away from office. Defeating an incumbent is usually an uphill battle, and if one served more than eight years, the power could get entrenched.

So, after leaving office in January 2003 (and saying that "Oregon is ungovernable" on his way out), Kitzhaber wants his old job back. Oregon has not had a Republican governor since 1982. After eight years of an underwhelming governorship of Ted Kulongoski (whom I voted for in my first Oregon election of 2006), our state truly needs new energy infused into the body politic.

I have been leaning towards Republican candidate Chris Dudley, a former professional basketball player. This is his first campaign for political office. He aimed high! His inexperience is a concern, not to mention his party affiliation. He has a compelling personal narrative, though, and more charisma than Kitzhaber (who is known as a loner cowboy type). I went to the Obama rally as an undecided Democrat. I really wanted to hear a compelling reason why Kitzhaber deserves a third term when his first two terms were not exactly memorable.

The Obama rally was held at the Oregon Convention Center (where I will return on Saturday for the Body Mind Soul exhibition to hear a series of different lectures on all kinds of spiritual / psychological topics). It was scheduled for 6:30 p.m., with doors opening at 4:30 p.m. Why do they schedule this around dinner time? To guarantee that I'll get in, I had to show up around noon, which means eating lunch in line. But we can't bring food or drinks inside, nor did I want to lose my place in line by running to grab something for dinner. My lunch would have to hold my stomach until after it was all over. While I can normally miss meals, when I'm in crowds of people, my energy actually drains faster, so I require a break to eat something.

The first time I attended an Obama rally was in September 2007, when then-Senator held a rally at the Oregon Convention Center as a fundraiser. Weird to see him return to the same facility as President. The next time he came to Portland was in February or March 2008, when a friend of mine was visiting Portland, so I was unable to attend. That rally was held in the Rose Garden Arena, if I'm not mistaken, and featured former Democratic candidate Bill Richardson, who had dropped out of the race and endorsed Obama over Hillary Clinton. Finally, the last time he visited Portland was for the historic waterfront rally just two days before the Oregon primary in May 2008. I have very fond memories of that day because I managed to convince Christine to skip church and spend the day with me, waiting in line during the hottest day of the year (at that point). A record 75,000 people attended that rally.

When I arrived in line, I had planned to read the book I brought with me (Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson). However, it was hard to pay attention to the book when so many interesting things were going on around me. There were several people walking around with slateboards of campaign buttons. It reminded me of a rock concert or a baseball game! People were selling T-shirts, buttons, Obama Beanie Bears, ballcaps, and even programs! I found two political buttons that I liked, already for 2012. I would've bought more, but I figured that two were enough for now. I had on one of my Obama t-shirts and Obama baseball cap. I have at least one political shirt from each election since 1996. I'm a political junkie, what can I say! Politics is my sports.

Besides the souvenir hawkers, there were volunteer campaign staff passing out flyers for various campaigns. The most annoying were the Kitzhaber folks who wanted people in line to spend 20 minutes on their cell phones calling voters to get them to vote for Kitzhaber. Whatever. I don't think many people took them up on this offer. I saw one Teabagger protesting, though the news showed a larger group standing on another street. One man dressed as Jimi Hendrix proved popular as people wanted their photos taken with him. But the most popular figure to appear was:

Sarah Palin!!! Okay, it wasn't her, obviously, but it was shocking how much she actually looks like the Quitter Queen. She posed for photos and tossed out the occasional "you betcha!" My old camera no longer works and I need to buy a digital camera someday (when I land a new job), so I couldn't take any photos. The photos that appear on this entry were all taken from The Oregonian. A guy I knew from Paul's campaign for County Commissioner in the spring found me in the crowd of thousands and we hung out for the remainder of the time. We had a diverse conversation about his recent month-long honeymoon to Europe as well as politics. He's extroverted, tall, with dark hair and blue eyes that definitely attracted women's attention in line. It was kind of annoying that this married guy would get adoring looks of interest from the ladies in line while I was invisible, but that's my life experience usually (particularly when I hang out with best friend Nathan).

Getting into the Convention Center was like going through airport security, and it looked like they had TSA employees doing the screening. We weren't allowed to bring bags, so I left my computer bag at home. I only had the book I was carrying. Once herded inside, we still had over two hours to wait and my legs were getting tired. I was also feeling famished by 5 p.m. In the photo above, I was standing outside of the photo on the rightside. A mix of songs played as we waited, including a few Bruce Springsteen songs (including the greatest road trip song of all time: "Born to Run").

At 6:15 p.m., Jefferson Smith, who founded the Bus Project and is a state representative appeared at the podium to set the festivities in motion. I was stunned when they had us pledge allegiance to the gigantic American flag that was hanging from the ceiling in the corner. I did not recite the pledge. I realize that some people are offended by that, but I have my reasons: namely, I consider it a form of idolatry, as I do not pledge my allegiance to material objects that are made by human hands. I only pledge allegiance to God and my conscience, which I consider to be eternal and unchanging. Next, some lady sang the National Anthem. Apparently, some people are not aware that taking one's hat off for both the pledge and the National Anthem are part of the process. My, how standards have slipped! I might not have recited the pledge like those around me, but I did take off my hat for both the pledge and the anthem. That's the most that I'll do, though.

Next up, some lady spoke on how to get involved in the campaign. Then the two Senators and the two Congressmen who represent the City of Portland came out on stage. That would be: Senator Jeff Merkley (who defeated Republican Senator Gordon Brown two years ago), Senator Ron Wyden (who is up for reelection this year), Congressman David Wu (my former representative when I lived west of the Willamette River), and Congressman Earl Blumenauer (my representative now, as his district covers the city on the east side of the river). Merkley gave a standard political speech. Next came John Kitzhaber, who admitted that he understood that we didn't come to see him. His speech was hardly memorable, as I did not feel that he made the case for why we should elect him. That would be up to President Obama, who finally came on stage at a few minutes after 7 p.m.

The crowd roared its approval. The local news reported later that nearly 10,000 people attended the rally (5,000 people were expected to attend). Yes, there were teleprompters at the podium, but I don't understand the rightwing critique of Obama's use of the teleprompter. Every president since Reagan has used this technology and Baby Bush was the one who couldn't give a speech without one. As I watched Obama, he did not seem to look at the teleprompter at all. He kept making eye contact with the huge crowd, turning his head towards different sections while speaking. Though he did look a little exhausted and he admitted to feeling a little under the weather, he gave a great speech.

His analogy about our current situation was especially dead on. He spoke about how the Republicans drove the car into a ditch. And not just any ditch, but a deep ditch. So he and his fellow Democrats put on some knee high boots, got down into the mud, fighting off the bugs, and started pushing the car out of the muck, slowly at first. While they are sweating with the heavy lifting of trying to push the car out of the ditch, the Republicans are standing at the top of the ditch, looking down on them and not even bothering to help out. Finally, when the car is on level ground and pointed in the right direction, Obama feels a tap on his shoulder. The Republicans are asking for the keys. Obama then asked, "Have you noticed that when you want to go forward, you put the gear in 'D' and if you want to go backwards, you put the car in 'R'?" This got the crowd roaring its approval. I wondered if he would use that, since I've seen people make that comment for months on Facebook. Obama said, "Republicans can come along with us. But they'll have to get in the back seat."

He made his pitch for why we should return Kitzhaber to office and at 7:36 p.m., he exited the stage and shook hands with some of the supporters who had paid the VIP ticket rate to the Kitzhaber campaign (it was free for everyone else, who filled the space outside of the barracaded VIP section). It took awhile to exit the Convention Center and outside were souvenir hawkers, who had tables set up displaying their wares. I was so famished that I parted company with my friend and his brother-in-law, and headed to a nearby Wendy's. I was so hungry that I actually had a salad with meat in it and a baked potato. Crowds always drain my energy and I require food to restore my natural energy level. All in all, it was a great day. Now I can vote in good conscience. Kitzhaber might not be exciting, but at least he has experience. The ultimate question I have to ask myself, though, is how can I trust a Republican after all the damage that has been done to our country? I may like Chris Dudley on a personal level, but I despise his political party. So, I'm voting straight Democratic once again this year.

I'm especially excited to vote for Congressman Earl Blumenauer, ten years after learning about him during my internship in the Office of Vice President Gore. It was an incredible article in a Capitol Hill newspaper about him that made me want to live in his district someday. When I finally moved to Portland in 2006, I did not realize that the district lines were divided by the Willamette River, so I ended up in David Wu's district when I received my ballot. I was disappointed in that, even though I loved living downtown. Finally, though, I get to vote for one of my favourite members of Congress for the past decade. That's something worth celebrating.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I Believe Anita Hill

On the news today was a shocking revelation that the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had called and left a message on Anita Hill's voicemail at her office at Brandeis University, where she is a law professor.

Virginia Thomas claims that she wanted to "extend an olive branch", but her message reveals something else. According to news reports, Mrs. Thomas said this:

"I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation about why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. OK, have a good day."

That doesn't sound like extending an olive branch to me! That sounds like a demand, which she has no right to make. Hill notified her university's public safety office, which in turn informed the FBI. She said that the call was inappropriate and she has no intention recanting her statement because she spoke what she considers to be the truth about her experiences with Clarence Thomas. If Virginia Thomas wants answers, I'd recommend that she read two books: Anita Hill's Speaking Truth to Power and David Brock's Blinded By the Right.

This news story is odd, because why would Virginia Thomas contact Anita Hill nineteen years after one of the most famous Congressional inquiries in television history? In 1991, the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas introduced into the public lexicon: Long Dong Silver, "who put pubic hair on my Coke?", and "high tech lynching." Given Americans natural "amnesiac" memory, the hearings are relegated to the history books, so it is strange that Victoria Thomas would want to refresh our memories about that episode of "he said, she said." Especially when it did not make her husband look good. His confirmation almost got derailed. If it wasn't for Senator Ted Kennedy's own moral lapses at the time (his nephew William Kennedy Smith was facing a famous trial around the same time as the Thomas/Hill hearings in which he was accused of raping a young lady at Uncle Teddy's family mansion in Florida), he might've been "Borked."

Though Thomas was confirmed, the unintended consequences of this hearing resulted in the election of four female Senators in the 1992 elections: Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein in California, Patty Murray in Washington, and Carol Moseley Braun in Illinois (the first African American female elected to the Senate). 1992 was dubbed "the year of the woman" by the media. Part of that was the result of a backlash that there were no female Senators on the panel, grilling Clarence Thomas about his treatment of women while he worked at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In David Brock's confessional book, Blinded By the Right, he writes about how he was tasked with character assassination of Anita Hill, while hiding the truth about Clarence Thomas. Apparently, Thomas had an extensive porn collection, but Senator Orrin Hatch (a Mormon) was part of the cover-up to portray Thomas as a bastion of conservative family values. That's pretty sick. But at BYU, I heard that there's a lot of hush-hush regarding the sexual proclivities of some Mormon leaders. As I know from the Navy, many who claim to be moralistic, "family values" type conservatives are some of the biggest consumers of pornography and other things they consider "immoral."

When I was at BYU, Clarence Thomas happened to come to campus to give a lecture at the Law School. This inspired some protests by students, which impressed me. Though it is an ultra-conservative university, there are some liberal activists who are quite vocal about human rights issues and even a consistent moral standard. Thomas had come to campus in 1998, which was the year of Monica Lewinsky. The school said that they would never invite President Clinton to speak on campus because of his "immorality", yet they turn a blind eye to Clarence Thomas (whose extensive porn collection would get any BYU student expelled from school if they had a similar collection). This double standard is pretty sick. I'm sure, though, that if Clinton was a conservative, BYU leaders would turn a blind eye to his philandering problem. I would not be surprised if Senator Larry "Wide Stance" Craig (R-ID) had spoken at BYU sometime in the decade after I left BYU and before he got disgraced in a Minneapolis Airport men's room.

During the holiday season of 1998, when I returned home to Atlanta for Christmas, I was reading Anita Hill's Speaking Truth to Power. I read her book on the airplane. Somewhere over Texas, while listening to The Preacher's Wife Soundtrack on my discman, I had an odd synchronicity experience when Whitney Houston's song "I Love the Lord" played on my discman, because it started playing on the soundtrack (without my manipulation of fast forwarding songs) just as I read a passage in Hill's book where she mentioned her favourite church hymn being "I Love the Lord." That brief moment of synchronicity made the hair on my arms stand straight up as chills ran through my body. Weird!

During the 1991 Congressional hearings, I was newly stationed at my first assignment in the U.S. Navy in La Maddalena, Sardinia. I bonded with an African American first class petty officer over this hearings, as we laughed over the revelations regarding Clarence Thomas (who seemed to have a strange fascination with porn star Long Dong Silver). The line that Thomas supposedly said to Hill was also deserving of much mockery. He had asked her, "Who put pubic hair on my Coke?" That seems like an odd thing to say. Usually in he said / she said conflicts, it's hard to decide who is telling the truth. It boils down to who's more credible and I simply found Anita Hill to be more credible. There were reasonable criticisms against her, though. Why did she wait to come forward when he was about to be confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice? It felt like an 11th hour act of desperation. She had years to file a complaint, and she even followed him from one job to another. Despite these questions, I thought she was more credible. In the years since, she has shown herself to be a consummate professional. She has never posed nude as I'm certain some skin mags probably offered, and her book was published seven years after the incident. People who "cash in" generally do it when their name is hot (cough, cough, Sarah Palin, cough, cough), not when it has cooled off into "whatever happened to so and so?"

Though Clarence Thomas did get confirmed (as the worst Supreme Court Justice in my lifetime), this highly publicized hearing was not a total loss for women. The hearings brought the subject of sexual harassment into the public sphere. The timing was perfect for such a discussion. In fact, I credit the "Anita Hill Effect" for a scandal that consumed the Navy during my entire enlistment. That's right. I'm talking about the notorious Tailhook.

At a Las Vegas Convention in 1991 of Naval Aviators, known as Tailhook (for the "tail" of a Navy plane used to catch one of the four wires across the flight deck of an aircraft carrier so that it can come to a quick stop on the short runway), drunken aviators formed a gauntlet down the hallway of the Las Vegas Hilton (where the church young adult group spent a couple nights during our roadtrip to Vegas in November 1999). Female aviators and even an admiral's aide were forced to walk this gauntlet (with drunken male aviators lining both sides grabbing or groping at the women). There were other debauchery, such as the infamous "Rhino" that held the grog (an alcoholic brew that was dispensed through the faux rhino's male anatomy).

The admiral's aide complained to her boss, but was ignored. She kept taking it higher until someone took her seriously. The shit hit the fan in the summer of 1992 and in the Navy's effort at damage control, we received training in sexual harassment 6 times in one year! I learned a lot, but in the Navy's overreaction to this scandal, the fear was that an innocent joke could be taken out of context and the guy's career would be ruined. Or, an even bigger concern was that a woman could make a false allegation against a guy and she would be believed over the guy, regardless of her credibility. One thing I loved about being on an all male ship is that one didn't have to worry about being offensive, because the natural sense of humour of most men is vulgar, coarse, and would shock a lot of women. Men generally don't get as offended as women do. Since my second ship had a 3o% female crew, I made sure that I did not do anything that could be misconstrued. I looked forward to the dating opportunities, but my cautious nature was on high alert.

Would the Tailhook Scandal have come to public awareness without Anita Hill's testimony to Congress in 1991? I doubt it. Tailhook was an annual convention and I'm certain that it was as raunchy in 1991 as it was in 1990 or 1980. The only thing that changed was that a woman was emboldened by Anita Hill's testimony that she decided not to remain silent, even if it made her boss (Admiral Kelso) uncomfortable. Because of the Tailhook Scandal, the next Chief of Naval Operations went to Admiral Jeremy "Mike" Boorda, whom I had met when I was stationed in Italy and he was the head Naval officer for Naval Forces in Europe. He was quite popular among enlisted men (because he started out as an E-1, switched over to the officer ranks after an enlistment or two, and rose all the way to Admiral). Very personable, approachable, and less obsessed with rank protocol than most officers. He was making positive changes in the Navy, until he committed suicide in 1996 when a reporter discovered that he was wearing a medal he never earned and was planning a front page story in a news magazine.

Finally, in 2003 when I visited my Washington Seminar roommate Matt when he was attending graduate school at the University of Minnesota with his wife, they took me to their Mormon Ward one Sunday. One elderly man who gave off negative vibes (a kind of creepy vibe that he should not be in charge of any children classes) had a button on the lapel of his dress jacket. The button said "I believe Anita Hill!" I remarked to Matt how odd I thought this was, because it was old news. Why would someone wear that button in 2003, a dozen years after the fact? To this day, whenever I talk to Matt, if I want to make him laugh, all I have to say to him is: "I believe Anita Hill!" Aren't "inside jokes" awesome? I believe at the time, when I attended church with him and his wife, I told him, "Hey, I believe Anita Hill, too, but why would anyone wear that button in 2003?"

Here we are in 2010 and Virginia Thomas wants to bring up the issue once again. So, I'll say it again, like I said in 1991, 1992, 1998, and 2003: "I believe Anita Hill!"

Basic psychology would say that Virginia Thomas is still haunted by the allegations against her husband and needs confirmation from his accuser that it was all a lie. She cannot rest until she gets confirmation that Anita was lying, because she'd rather be blind to her husband's sexual proclivities. She needs to get over herself. And she really needs to read Blinded By the Right. After reading that, she would then need to tear her house apart looking for his porno stash. She'll find her answer there, not in some phony olive branch to Anita Hill two decades later.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Music Video Monday: Jimmy Cliff

"American Plan" by Jimmy Cliff is the first reggae song that I really loved. The song was featured in the 1986 comedy Club Paradise (which I haven't seen in ages). To me, this song perfectly captures the essence of reggae. The beat is just amazing to listen to and lose yourself in. Reggae does have the reputation of sounding the same on all the songs (because of that distinct sound that everyone automatically recognizes as reggae), but I bought a CD of reggae's greatest hits and was disappointed that I did not like most of the songs on there. The best reggae album I've ever heard is Steel Pulse's Victims (from 1991). But the King of Reggae is none other than Bob Marley. Jimmy Cliff would be the Prince of Reggae.

Unfortunately, this song was never released as a single and thus, no video. Someone was kind enough to post the song on YouTube, since I only have the Club Paradise soundtrack on cassette and have not been able to find the compact disc version. What I love about this song is its international consciousness. Jimmy sings about the American Plan being three cups of coffee every day. The European Plan is three cups of tea every day. The African Plan is "no coffee, no tea, no day, no way." When I read Nelson Mandela's autobiography Long Walk to Freedom in 1995 - 1996, I was struck by an experience Mandela wrote about. Apartheid was so ingrained in South African society that even in prison, they followed racial segregation down to the food. White prisoners were able to have white sugar. Coloured prisoners received brown sugar. African prisoners had no sugar.

Right now, I'm reading Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Greg is receiving the 2010 Peace Award from the Community of Christ. I'm really wanting to go to the Peace Colloquy. I have the money saved up from my income tax return. I have wanted to go on a vacation somewhere all year, but due to my uncertainty regarding a new job, I wanted to wait. Now that I'm unemployed, I don't need anyone's permission to go. At my last job, I had broached the subject with my work supervisor (the control freak) about taking vacation at the end of October to attend this event. She said, "No way!" Now, she has no ability to stop me if I want to go. As I read about Mortenson's experience, I really want to meet him. Who knows? I might have the kind of interest and experience that he might be looking for in an assistant. Not that he's looking for an assistant or someone to work for him. However, he is doing the kind of work that I want to be doing. I really want to use my international politics degree. I'm passionate about human rights and need to be in a career where I can bring this passion everyday. So, I'm loving this book.

Another reason why I feel a need to attend the Peace Colloquy is because of the five year interval. In 1995, I saw the church Temple for the first time (it was dedicated in 1993). I also attended World Conference in 1996. In 2000, I was one of the people who was selected to present a paper during the Peace Colloquy. I spoke about the roots of economic injustice in South Africa. During the Question and Answer session, a British guy kept badgering me with questions because he thought my focus on the economics of apartheid minimized the human rights violations committed by the white minority government. When the session was over, he quickly ducked out of the room, obviously afraid to have a one on one conversation with me. The next day, I happened to catch him during the walk to the Stone Church congregation (where my grandmother was baptized as a young girl). When I thanked him for his questions and critique, and agreed with his views regarding the evils of apartheid, I explained that I had written this paper as my senior thesis in my human rights capstone seminar. I was limited in what I could discuss, so I decided to focus on the economics of apartheid, rather than the racism. He couldn't believe what he heard and told his wife, "He's actually thanking me for criticizing him!" We laughed about that and had a great conversation afterwards.

The next time I saw the Temple was for the 2005 Peace Colloquy. The theme was on religious tolerance. I met some members of the CyberCommunity for the first time. It is weird to know people for six years online and then meeting them in person. Many of them, I never saw their photo, so I only knew them by their Internet identities. We ate at a German restaurant in downtown Independence. I signed up for the field trip to the religions of India. The church offered two bus tours: the Abrahamic faiths (which included visits at a Jewish synagogue, a Muslim mosque, and an Orthodox basilica) and the religions of India. I was most interested in the eastern religions. We stopped by a Hindu temple, which offered good food; a Sikh temple (I forget what they called their place of worship); and a Tibetan Buddhist temple. At each of these stops, there was one guy in the group who asked the same question. The rest of us looked in shock the first time he asked. By the third and final stop, we shook our heads when he asked the question. His question was if the Hindus (and then the Sikhs, and the Buddhists) made movies or were involved in the film industry. At the Hindu temple, I thought maybe he was curious about Bollywood movies. But when he asked at the Sikh temple, he was being ridiculous. By the Buddhist temple, he was an outright moron. And an embarrassment.

I loved this field trip to the various houses of worship. I learned a lot, particularly about the Sikh faith, which is often confused for Islam. In fact, when you see a person with a turban, they are not Muslim, but Sikh. In the aftermath of 9/11, there was a Sikh who was murdered in revenge, by some ignorant redneck who thought the victim was a Muslim. Even if he was Muslim, that was still stupid.

Inside the Temple, the church had commissioned art students at some local college to paint beautiful "portals" representing the different faiths. They were so well done that I took pictures of the best ones (I believe they are in one of my photo albums on Facebook). It was a great weekend. I've been wanting to go to another Peace Colloquy, but it depends on the theme. None really interested me until this year's. I recently had a dream that I was there and met Greg Mortenson. The dream makes me wonder if I need to be there. There are Young Adult activities planned, and wouldn't it be awesome to meet a single lady in the church while I'm there? The other motive I have for going is to see about interviewing for the Copy Editor position in which I had sent my application materials during lunch on the day I was let go from work (the irony of ironies: I actually went "postal" on my last day at work. I mailed a resume and application off at the post office to a job I would love to do).

If I can get relatively inexpensive plane tickets, I may be off for a splendid weekend in Independence, Missouri. Each time I see the Temple, I'm just struck with a deep sense of awe. It is a special place for me, even though I was against the building of a temple during my teenage years (because I thought the expense would be better spent helping people). It is one of the most magnificent buildings I've ever been in. The symbolism of the building is highly spiritual. Five years is too long to be away from "the Center Place."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A New Young Adult Group

The photo above is of Andrew Nilsen and his fiancee Emily, who both did an excellent job as campfire leaders at the recent Young Adult Retreat at Samish Island. They are a young couple who graduated from Graceland University (a church affiliated university in Lamoni, Iowa) this past spring, and then spent the summer with the church's WoRLDService Corps. Andrew spent three weeks in Argentina and three weeks in Colombia. Emily's assignment included two weeks each in Hawaii, Fiji, and New Caledonia.

To my stunned amazement, the Community of Christ offers our version of "the Peace Corps" in several places around the world for a bargain price of $700, which pays for airfare and six weeks accommodation and meals at the assigned locations. Basically, volunteers stay with church members and provide some kind of ministry. Its not so much missionary (we go to other countries to convert others) as much as it personally transformative (through our exposure to other cultures, we come back changed and hopefully more aware about how our actions affect the world at large).

Last Sunday, Andrew and Emily had one of the most creative, inspiring church services I have ever seen. If church was like this EVERY SUNDAY, I'd definitely be more excited about going each week. They had chairs arranged in a large circle. The beginning exercise was having people go to one side or the other if they were men / women, white / non-white, employed / not employed, born in the USA / born overseas, raised in the church / converts or non members, etc. It was a lot of back and forth movement. The theme of the week is "Unity in Diversity". Andrew spoke about his experiences in Argentina and Colombia this past summer. Emily shared about her experiences in Hawaii, Fiji, and New Caledonia. She said that her experience was like "Eat, Pray, Love", with Hawaii being the "Eat" portion, Fiji the "Pray" portion, and New Caledonia the "Love" portion, though she admitted to not having seen the movie or read the book. For her, Fiji was the most difficult part of the experience because the church congregations there are too pentacostal for her. I can relate, as that would pose a problem for me as well. I didn't like the pentacostalism that some Southern members of our church do in church services I had attended in Atlanta. Like it or not, our church is a modest, Midwestern church that is not too showy and Southern religious traditions tend to be very showy in their church services.

Andrew had the congregation write a short note on a piece of paper, which he would collect to send to members of the church congregations in Argentina. I drew a cartoon and wrote a mix of Spanish and English, basically thanking them for being a part of this Community of Christ. During the children's moment, Emily had children create bonds through rope that became intertwined. This was a brilliant exercise, because it illustrates how much stronger bonds become when they are interwoven. The final segment had some people walk around touching those of us seated in chairs with our eyes closed, based on prompts, such as: "touch someone who makes you laugh." "Touch someone you want to get to know better." It was a little uncomfortable for me to sit there with my eyes closed, wondering if someone was going to touch me, because I have always been the kind of person who has a need for boundaries. I really do not like being touched by people, because it induces a defensive posture within me. Only those I feel comfortable with, such as family, close friends, and ladies I'm attracted to, can touch me without my instinctual recoil reaction going off. Anyone else, though, was liable to make me jump or pull my arm away. So, this was a little bit uncomfortable...but it was a good kind of uncomfortable, since I was in a safe place that my church community is for me. I think its a good thing to be pushed out of our comfort zone at times.

We went through this exercise a few times, until everyone had a chance to be the anonymous touchers. The closing hymn was a song called "Weave", which fit the theme well. Basically, this service was well thought out from beginning to end, with the various activities, testimonies, and song selections. I know that it takes a lot of thought and planning to create a powerful worship service that is outside the norm and is consistent with the theme at every level. I was impressed.

On Saturday (yesterday), I went to the Daily Cafe in the Pearl District for a new young adult spiritual group being formed by Bob Pranaat, who is a young church member but does not go to church (neither does his wife, though both are members who attended Graceland University). He wanted to form a group that was inclusive and generational (no Baby Boomers!). There were nine of us. Two are friends of Bob who are not members of the church. One of the guys had dredlocks (always cool!) and said that he was a Mormon for a few years until he left the church because of problems he found in that church. We had a good discussion. Though I am sad when young people give up on the church and don't attend, complaining that there are no young people who go, if more people attended, they might start attracting young people. I understand, though, because when I first moved to Portland, I was disappointed by the Portland congregation's lack of young people and the stand-offishness of the pastor. The church service is boring and I haven't gone back since Christine moved to the Netherlands (too many painful memories, as that congregation will always be associated with Christine in my mind. She was the biggest reason why I attended church after I met her). The Tuality congregation is further away, but I like the people and especially the pastor.

When Bob saw me at the Daily Cafe, he said, "Your Facebook posts crack me up!" Aw, that was good to hear. I always worry about crossing the line with some friends, but no one has defriended me lately. Yes, I can be political, which offends my conservative, Beck-loving friends, but oh well. If people don't value differences of opinions, then they aren't worth having as friends. Bob seems open to what this group might become. He basically sees it as a spiritual support group, with good conversations and friendships forming. He's aiming for Saturday evening twice a month. I'm glad he took this on, because I had wanted to start one but never got around to it. My biggest frustration with church is the insistence that it follows the Sunday morning, hymn sandwich format. Its boring and some people actually like sleeping in on Sunday mornings. My secular friends have their Sunday morning rituals (wake up late, breakfast in bed, reading the Sunday newspaper, watch the political talk shows). I envy that. Saturday night church works for me. And earlier this year, I attended both a Bruce Springsteen Eucharist and U2charist at an Episcopal Church on a Saturday evening. People are willing to attend an outside the box church service at a different time than Sunday morning.

One thing I appreciate is knowing that our generation really does seem to have similar ideas on what church service could be and working to transform how we view worship service. Though Bob seems to have in mind a more Christian "on the edge" style of worship service, I'm willing to include other spiritual ideas as well, beyond Christianity. I didn't bring the subject up, but I am interested in possible discussions about ideas like Law of Attraction, reincarnation, Near Death Experiences, etc. I even thought about suggesting a movie outing to see Hereafter, starring Matt Damon as a psychic, which opens on Friday, the 22nd. I can't wait to see it. I'll probably be at the first showing on Friday. Seeing the movie as a group and having a discussion afterwards would appeal to me...but I don't know how open minded the others are to ideas that are beyond the realm of traditional Christianity (the ironies of these "on the edge" Christian cell group ministries! Complaining about being excluded from the traditional services, but not so much open-minded to ideas outside the realm of what is considered "Christian").

I had asked Bob if he invited Rachel and Jarom, but he had not. He said that he did not want to interfere with MAYAs, but MAYAs is practically dead. When Christine moved away, the group pretty much fell apart. Rachel and Jarom did their married thing and I got involved with a hiking group in the Tuality congregation. I think what Bob wants to do would revitalize MAYAs. There is no trademark on the name (Metro Area Young Adults) and as one of the founding members of MAYAs, I would say, let this be the rebirth of MAYAs.

With that, I had one of the most Spiritually significant weeks of my life (Andrew and Emily's awesome church service on Sunday, the Law of Attraction group on Monday, the Nick Bunick lecture and booksigning on Monday, the Don Clarkston lecture on Friday, and this new young adult spiritual group on Saturday). Here's to plenty more!