Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

December has been so incredibly busy that I have not been able to blog as much as I wanted to, so I will have to fill in the gaps eventually as there are many posts that I wanted to write but didn't have time due to things that needed to get done before I went home for Christmas (my first Christmas with my parents and sister since 2005).

I don't think my dad has wi-fi and I'll unlikely use his computer much to get on Facebook or to blog. The point is to spend time with family and have great conversations and just enjoy the week because this is the first time I've been home since my sister's wedding in 2009 and I haven't seen my parents since my grandfather's funeral, also in 2009.

My week at home is going to be packed. Part of this is because I'm also visiting friends in South Carolina and North Carolina (from 28 through 30 December) and on my birthday (the 30th), I'm hoping to visit the Georgia Guidestone. After reading one lady's experience there earlier this year, I want my own mystical experience there on my birthday. So, if higher intelligences out there are reading my blog, you heard me. Meet me at the Georgia Guidestone on Friday afternoon, the 30th of December!

I'll likely catch up posts when I get back to Portland on 2 January. Some posts include an annual newsletter for the year 1991, a book review on American Fascists, the Occupy Portland camp, a special post on my birthday, the movie Astral City, and the Best of 2011.

Have a Merry Christmas and I hope you get to spend it with loved ones.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Well Meaning Gift

Earlier today, the family that gives me a ride to church gave me a few gifts. They didn't have to, though, but I appreciate it. The lady asked me if I open gifts when I get them or wait until Christmas. I have not set policy, but generally prefer to wait until the holiday to open any gifts. However, her daughter kept insisting that I open it, just to satisfy her mom, as she was so excited to see my reaction when I open the gift. I hesitated, though. She told me that I'll want to read this, that it would go straight to the top of my reading list. She even said that I should open it now because I'll want to read it on the plane when I fly home for Christmas. That intrigued me, so I decided to open it.

I laughed when I saw the title. I had never heard of this book before, but the title amused me because its obviously in reference to a conversation we had about the Facebook debate on atheists holding the priesthood in the Community of Christ. I was actually touched that she got such a book for me, even though I never would have bought it had I seen it on bookshelves. As I flipped through it, I noticed that it seems to be more evangelical Christian and thus why they'd have a problem with atheism. But most of all, the forward was written by David Limbaugh, who is a conservative author (I'm not sure if he's related to Rush Limbaugh, but they seem to have similar views). To me, that strikes at the heart of credibility. Of course, I'm going to read it since someone gave it to me as a gift and it does look interesting.

I appreciate her kindness and thoughtfulness in getting me this book. It truly is a touching gesture and I'm grateful for it. And yet, I also feel a need to express here that when it comes to books, I'm probably a bad person to buy for. This is because I have way too many books and have a hard time parting with any of them, even though I only read them once and then put them on a shelf (I'll use them for reference after they get read). When someone gives me a gift like this (a book I've never heard of, thus never would've bought), I'm conflicted because I don't like giving gifts away (I feel it is bad form, even though it isn't), but this is a book that I likely will not keep after I read it.

As I skimmed through it, trying to get a sense of the book, I had to laugh. This lady read me completely wrong. I don't actually have a problem with atheists. There is a real need for atheists in our society, as they help keep religious people intellectually honest and they ask tough but important questions. Their strict rational logic can be frustrating at times, but that's the way they're wired, I suppose. We can learn much from their rational way at looking at the world. This book looks like it rips on atheists, which may not be accurate information.

What I do have a problem with is people who become atheists but refuse to give up their priesthood calling. To not do so is morally and ethically wrong because it violates the trust between a church member seeking a special, sacred ordinance of the church in good faith from what is supposedly safe to assume, a priesthood member who believes in God and a human soul.

Another friend of mine asked me what I wanted for Christmas and mentioned that he might buy me a book. I showed him my book case and asked, "Does it look like I need another book?" I'm flattered that people realize that I love books and want to get me a gift...but unless you know that i really want such and such a book, its probably best not to buy one for me. I'm trying to keep ahead on my reading list and whenever I'm tempted to buy a book, I always ask myself, "Will I read this before the next payday?" If the answer is "no," then I won't buy it.

My reading schedule for 2012 will be politically heavy. I will read a lot of political memoirs and a few biographies on Obama, Hillary Clinton, and about the 2008 campaign. Its to help put me into a political frame of mind, although I also plan to read the books I have about finding a dream career and dating. Those are my main goals for next year, so religious books are going to have to wait until 2013. The book I want to read the most is Condoleezza Rice's memoirs of her time as Secretary of State. If someone gifted me that book, I'll be thrilled so I don't have to buy it early in the new year.

As for reading on the plane, I told this lady that I would not take this book on the plane with me because it would be too provocative and I really don't want to send the wrong impression to people. When I travel, I always pick a book to read that might be a little out of the norm for most people and one that might spark a conversation if someone initiated one with me. For this trip, I already have a couple books picked out for my journey: a biography on Aung San Suu Kyi and Amy Tan's novel Saving Fish From Drowning (which I've wanted to read for several years now). Another friend of mine gave me a book about Alaska that I haven't touched yet, but want to. Too many books, not enough time!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Music Video Monday: Robbie Williams

This week's music video selection is in honour of the failed campaign ad by Rick Perry. The ad's title is "Strong" and features Governor Perry proclaiming himself a Christian before lamenting what's wrong with our country. Though the ad didn't specifically slander homosexuals (apparently, many people took it as such), he tried to connect the openly gay servicemen and women with the prayer in school issue, which doesn't work.

Several people on my Facebook friends list linked this video and expressed their outrage. Some even called for the media to ban Rick Perry or to silence him. Why? Just because she showed his true colours? The man's entitled to his opinion. What I don't like was how people automatically assumed his ad was "anti-gay", when in fact, all he said was that he believed there was something wrong with our country when gay people were allowed to serve openly while children in school had to hide their Christianity and couldn't pray in class. The conflating of the two issues is likely to confound his followers (if he has any). Its a ridiculous comparison. One deals with adult issues, in which adults will behave as they will and are entitled to have consenting sexual relations with whomever they choose. The other deals with children who are supposed to be learning subjects in school that will help them in life, not harassing one another for not belonging to the same religion as them. And besides, if you really want to pray in school, there were many minutes available. A silent prayer can be given at any time and no one will notice. You can say one in the middle of a boring sermon. The problem comes when they enforce conformity on people and if one child doesn't "fit in" because he was raised in a minority religion, then it only serves to make that child even more ostrasized.

I think the most interesting aspect of Perry's campaign ad is how he tries to channel Ronald Reagan, from the hair (colour and style), the wrinkles on his face, and the "cowboy look." Its blatantly obvious that Perry is trying to physical resemble Reagan, as if this were enough to get a few people to vote his way. I think its safe to say that Reagan might have been a moron, but at least he wasn't a complete imbecile like Dubya and Perry.

Not long after Perry's ad made the news, people were already pointing out the similarities between the jackets worn by Heath Ledger (as Ennis) in the gay cowboy film, Brokeback Mountain, and Rick Perry in his "Strong" ad. Was this a subtle signal to someone who knows the truth about Rick Perry (there are supposedly rumours that he had an affair with another man and his wife supposedly caught them in bed together).

The controversy is hilarious, because once again, the Republicans do something that they think will resonate with voters but in reality becomes an Internet sensation. I don't think Republicans understand yet the power of YouTube, blogging, and Facebook. Politicians can no longer speak one thing to one audience and the opposite to another audience. Chances are, recordings are made and then the inconsistencies get aired. We are living in a more open age, which is a bad thing for those nefarious individuals who prefer to hide in the shadows.

The title of Perry's ad made me automatically think of Robbie Williams' brilliant song "Strong." I love the line: "You think I'm strong, you're wrong..." So, there really was no other alternative than this awesome song, in honour of Rick Perry, the gaffe riot who is becoming less and less likely to win the Republican nomination.

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Last Crichton Novel (Sigh)

The last novel by Michael Crichton was released in late November. Shortly after he passed away a few days after Obama was elected president, Crichton's publisher announced that there were two unpublished Crichton novels that would be published. The first was Pirate Latitudes (which I read a few months ago and loved). The second and final one was actually a novel that Crichton was in the process of writing when he died. I was skeptical about this one, since he did not complete it. However, the publisher claims that Crichton had made extensive notes and it was at least halfway written. They hired a writer, Richard Preston (who wrote The Hot Zone, which was a hot bestseller in the 1990s and launched a spawn of killer viruses movies), to work from Crichton's notes to finish this novel. I know there are arguments pro and con about posthumous published works, but one could reasonably argue that Crichton would have wanted this novel to be published and had the misfortune of dying in the middle of writing it. How honourable it is for another writer to see that the work is done and published so fans of Crichton can have one last thrill.

That's certainly my view. Ever since I read Rising Sun in 1993, I was hooked on Michael Crichton. The reason is because before that time, I had a hard time finishing books. I would start them and then get bored (usually around page 100 or so) and set the book down, never to pick it up again. I was curious to read Rising Sun when that novel was mentioned in the 1992 primaries. At the time, anti-Japanese sentiment was running high in America due to our recession and the belief that the Japanese weren't being fair in their trading policies. In the zeitgeist of that time, Crichton's incendiary novel about Japanese business practices was published (Crichton has had the most enviable sense of great timing for his novels. They always seem to be published around the time the issues he explores is in the media spotlight). As I read Rising Sun, I was both hooked and infuriated. Some call this novel "racist" with a negative view of the Japanese, but I was surprised at how many characteristics that the Japanese have that I could understand or relate to. I've only read the novel once and saw the movie once, so I don't remember the details. Perhaps I should watch the movie again for a refresher.

Anyhow, from that novel, I was hooked on Crichton and couldn't wait to get my hands on some more of his books. By fortunate luck, I was sent to Naples, Italy (from Sardinia) to deal with a persistent eye problem and while there, I took advantage of being able to buy books from the American bookstore on the military base. I bought Crichton's Congo and Jurassic Park, which I also read in 1993. My dad mailed me most of Crichton's other novels: The Andromeda Strain and Sphere. I just devoured his books. In 1994, Disclosure was published an a shipmate who had gone back to the U.S. for military training brought back that novel for me to read. It also infuriated me, because its about a man who was sexually harassed by a woman, which many people think is a joke or not possible. As one who had seen the power of a sexually harassing woman in the Navy, I know that it exists.

From then on, each new Crichton novel became a special day for me. I'd rush out and buy it the day of release. This included The Lost World in 1995 and Airframe in 1996. The next few novels were Christmas gifts that my dad gave me: Timeline in 1999, Prey in the early 2000s (I forget which year), and State of Fear in 2004. I bought his Next in 2006. Upon buying or receiving his novel as a gift (Nathan's best man gift to me was a CD version of Timeline), I would immediately sit down to read it and lose myself in Crichton's world. I know that many people criticize his lack of character development. They are essentially there to push the story forward. Its an unfair criticism to make, though, as I learned in literature class that there is more than one kind of genre for writing. Crichton tends to be more action-oriented than character-oriented. If people want character-oriented stories, then buying literary fiction is the way to go. My favourite genre is literary fiction (and I aspire to be a literary novelist) but Crichton is among my favourite writers (he was my favourite, until I discovered Jack Kerouac in 2001). What I love about his books are the way his extensive bibliography gives credence to the idea that his ideas might be closer to reality than we think it might be.

Now with Micro, this is the last hurrah. I had no hesitation to buy it when I saw it in bookstores. I'll never experience the thrill of seeing a new Crichton novel, so I'll take this moment, regardless of how much of the novel was actually written by him. For a week, I could not put this book down. It inspired me and terrified me. And it sent my mind reeling in a hundred different directions. It was classic Crichton all the way!

What is the novel about? Well, it involves technology, of course (Crichton's speciality). An unethical high-tech company based in Hawaii has created the ability to shrink objects such as machines and even humans. The point is to gather information on the tiniest substances on our planet. The shrunken humans get to experience the majesty of our planet at the most dangerous level. This novel will have you looking at nature in an entirely different way!

In classic Crichton style, he has a group of scientists (in this case, science nerds at Harvard) brought out to Hawaii and then shrunken to half an inch. If I were making comparisons, I'd say that this novel is a cross between Jurassic Park, Timeline, and Prey. While most of his novels make it to the big screen, I'm not sure I would want to see this one in theaters. The reason is because as the shrunken humans learn, the insect world (in fact, the animal kingdom) is all about kill or be killed. The endless search for more protein. So, the shrunken university scientists get to be out of the lab with their thesis and experiments, and forced to cope in a harsh, Darwinian world where only the fittest survive. There are moments of sheer terror throughout: giant centipedes, ants, wasps, spiders, birds, raindrops, bats. Being unprotected in the dark is a dangerous prospect, as that's when most of the critters go hunting for food.

I was so enthralled by this novel and I have no idea where the dividing line might be between Crichton's words and Preston's words. It flowed smoothly and the story does represent an authentic Crichton. I bet he would be proud of his work and hopefully his soul is grateful that a fine writer was able to capture his voice and style, completing Crichton's novel for him.

When I finished the book, I was sad because this means no more Crichton. I've read all of his fiction (except for Eaters of the Dead, which I may read next year). Perhaps, the story isn't over. Perhaps, he left a secret cachet of unpublished novels that has not been discovered or disclosed. I really wish that he had written his autobiography, though. His Travels is about as close as we'll ever get to a personal memoir. Its a good one, but I'd love to read more. What led this Med Student towards a writing career that focused on science and technology running amuck?

I truly hope Crichton will reincarnate soon. We need his writing talent. The world just isn't the same without him. Thank you, Mr. Crichton for all the memories. Your novels are awesome!

Here's how I would rank his novels (in terms of personal favourites):

1) Congo
2) Jurassic Park
3) Timeline
4)Pirate Latitudes
5) Disclosure
6) Micro
7) Sphere
8) Andromeda Strain
9) State of Fear
10) Prey
11) Airframe
12) The Lost World
13) The Great Train Robbery
14) Next

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Lack of Imagination

Last night, the bi-weekly discussion group that I attend had the final meeting of the year on the topic of Inequality. The turn out was pretty big (15 people by the end of it) and we weren't in our usual spot. We were crammed in a small corner, which has happened before due to someone dropping the ball on scheduling. We usually have the upper floor of the restaurant (Madison's Grill, which is a great place with a super friendly waitress). I don't mind the coziness of the back corner, but it made discussion a little difficult to hear due to jazz music playing in the background. I knew I wouldn't be able to speak much because it would take a lot of effort to be heard over the music.

The discussion covered the basics of inequality and the Occupy movement and even segued into a debate about whether people of today are smarter or more informed than people of a hundred years ago. There was even talk about those who think that life was better 100 years ago as being afflicted by nostalgia for a mythological past that didn't really exist. What an interesting debate, as this is exactly what Midnight in Paris was all about (nostalgia is fine and dandy, but if you really think about it, life is pretty good right now and we wouldn't want to trade places with people in the past. Life was meant to be lived in the now).

What stunned me the most, however, about the debate is that everyone seemed to be in consensus that capitalism is it. There is nothing better to replace it. I really wanted to jump in at this point, but people are so quick to respond that its difficult to get a word in edgewise sometimes. I'm stunned that so many of my peers have fallen for the "capitalist lie" that as bad as capitalism can be at times, its still the only legitimate economic system to have. I don't buy it. You shouldn't either. Most of the people in the discussion group tend to be liberal / progressive (this is Portland, after all) and I heard many liberal professors in BYU's Political Science department extol on the greatness of capitalism and assigning reading materials such as The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Jihad versus McWorld, and The End of History and the Last Man. That last book is by neo-con writer Francis Fukuyama. I remember when I first heard the title and the premise, I was stunned by the arrogance of Fukuyama's thesis, which is: capitalism won the ideological battle of history. No other system can match it. That may be true, but capitalism is probably better thought of as a parasite. It may be able to defeat ineffective economic systems such as communism and tempt people away from the strict orderly societies under Islamic law and influence, but capitalism also destroys itself as we've seen at the end of Bush's reign of errors.

What I wish that I was able to bring up to the group was this: In college, I was struck by the brilliance of "Hegel's Dialectic." Apparently, so was Karl Marx (that commie!). Essentially, you can boil down Hegel's Dialectic to three important words / concepts: Thesis - Antithesis - Synthesis. That's it. Simple and beautiful. It is a great tool for anything in life. I have used it long before I ever heard of Hegel (a German philosopher). I believe life is cyclical, so a circular or cyclical view of history and progress is probably a smart idea. If we were to use Hegel's Dialectic in developing an economic system, here's how it would be done. The basic framework for capitalism would be written down. This is the thesis. Then, you look at the critic, which would be the antithesis. In capitalism's case, Marx's Communist Manifesto is the perfect antithesis. I've read it a few times and was always impressed by how accurate the critique of capitalism is. However, since we all have an advantage over Marx, we've seen the destruction that communism brought to our planet. It is so toxic and discredited an economic system that in the 20 years since its collapse in Eastern Europe and the USSR, not a single country has gone communist. China has been moving towards a capitalist economy and it appears to be working quite nicely for them (proving that capitalism doesn't necessarily go hand-in-hand with democracy). Of course, the other two "communist" states are the isolated cult of personality prisons known as North Korea and Cuba. Knowing all this, it is amusing that teabaggers still fear communism like its 1955!

So, if you take the pros of capitalism and fix the cons as pointed out in the Communist Manifesto, you'd have an improved upon system. This is synthesis. But it doesn't end there. Its an ongoing process. Self-correcting. Evolving. That's the nature of life on this planet. Stagnation leads to death. And that's the problem with our system. Once people get to the top, they want to hoard all their wealth and they game the system to the point where it collapses on itself because the greed and wholesale looting is unsustainable. Under the reign of George W. Bush, we saw capitalism at its ugliest and greediest. It is my hope that people will stop buying into the lie that we've been fed all our lives about capitalism being this great economic system. Its not. We can and must do better. Our evolution as a species depends upon it.

It was strange to hear all these much smarter than me people agree that capitalism is here to stay. Am I the only one who sees another way? That way is "ETHICONOMY." Ethics needs to be the guiding principle in our economic system. Greed must be rooted out of the system and people who are greedy must be punished or frozen out of the system. Read about "the tragedy of the commons." Greed always ends up destroying what is good for the most number of people. Until more Americans cry out for economic justice and not allow greed to stand, we're going to continue to be suckered into this losing economic scheme. Counting on winning the lottery someday and voting in favour of tax policies advocated by the wealthy class is just plain stupid. America needs "capitalism with a human face." Like Soviet communism, I believe American capitalism is on its way out. History has a way of evening the score, so if we want to be on the winning team, we need to make drastic changes. Realizing that we've been indoctrinated with lies is the first step down the long road to liberation. Will you join me?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The War On Christmas Rages Through Another Year

President Obama may have kept his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq, but there is one war that has been going on for far too long that shows no sign of resolution. The war? Why, none other than the Fox Propaganda Network's war on its own viewers. Keeping them dumb, compliant, and focused on non-issues while ignoring the substantive news that really matter. This agenda is getting old, and the casualties are well-meaning people who aren't wise to manipulation.

Believe me, I know! I've seen a few of my friends on Facebook post comments or article links about the so-called "War on Christmas." It stuns me that so many people can be so easily manipulated into falling for a non-issue that was concocted in a meeting at Fox headquarters. That's where Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter get together to coordinate their propaganda. The best way to manipulate people is for the principles to be "on message" and repeat the same story over and over until their lies "become truth" in the minds of their gullible and unsuspecting followers. I don't say this with any joy, because I like the people on my Facebook friends list, particularly those I know in person. It is sad to seem them fall for such propaganda and repeat the lies to their Facebook friends list.

I wish more people would get into the logic frame of mind. It would force them to ask questions like, "What 'war' on Christmas?" Apparently, the outrage is over store clerks who wish customers "Happy Holidays!" instead of "Merry Christmas!" Think, people. THINK! I know you're capable of it! Seriously. Sit down and empty your mind for a second. Oops, I forgot. It's already empty. Okay, that's a good start. So, think about it. A cashier at a store in a mall gets a lot of customers. Most browse without buying. Those who buy, maybe you make some small talk while ringing up their purchases. In your experience, how often do you engage strangers (or customers) in religious talk? Do you ask someone you just met what religion they are? No? Really? Okay. So, if you don't, then why would a cashier? For one thing, they could probably get fired if they did, or at least get called into the boss' office for a "chat."

A cashier ringing up purchases has no clue what your religion is. You could be a Christian or a Jew. Maybe a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Hindu. Or perhaps an atheist, agnostic, or humanist. Or maybe a Wiccan. What about Jehovah's Witness? They don't observe Christmas. In the time it takes to ring up a customer's purchases, does the cashier have time to accurately guess the customer's correct religion in order to say, "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hanukkah" or "Happy Winter Solstice"? Doesn't "Happy Holidays" catch it all? From Christmas to Hanukkah to Kwanzaa to other religious holidays that fall in the month of December. What is so "insulting" about "Happy Holidays"? Its not exactly a "Fuck you!"

Still don't get it? How about this? If you require an underpaid cashier to validate your religious beliefs, maybe your faith isn't as strong as you think it is.

Having said all that, I am in favour of changing the greeting to a more appropriate one for our country's true religion. So, with that...


C A P I T A L I S T M A S ! ! !

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The 2011 Nonconformist of the Year is: Mohamed Bouazizi

For the 2011 Nonconformist of the Year Award, I decided to honour Mohamed Bouazizi. It is amazing to reflect on how one individual was able to change the course of human history. No other person deserves the honour this year than Mohamed Bouazizi. Here's why...

On 17 December 2010, a young, frustrated Tunisian young man had had enough of being mistreated by the police. He was a college educated Arab facing the same problems that many of his generation face: no jobs available after getting a college education. He had to resort to selling produce at the market place in Tunis, with money earned to help his family, which included younger siblings. The harassment of the police for not having the appropriate paperwork to sell his goods was simply one humiliation too much.

He took his grievances to the Tunisian government that denied a hearing. So, in frustration, on 17 December, he set himself afire in protest. Suicide in the public square. A horrific way to go.

Miraculously, he survived the burning and was hospitalized for a few weeks before dying of his injuries on January 4th. His death became a rallying cry as Tunisians rose up in protest against the government of long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had been in power for 23 years. By mid-January, the leader of the country fled into exile and people all over North Africa and the Middle East rose up against their governments.

Egypt became the next focal point and eventually, Hosni Mubarak had fled the country after promising to hold elections and not run for another term. Mubarak had been in power since Sadat was assassinated in the early 1980s. Another dictator down because of the mass of people rising up to demand justice.

The spirit of Bouazizi next went to Libya, which took a lot longer for the people to oust long-time dictator Muamar Gadhafi. But, eventually, he met a violent end thanks to air cover by NATO forces led by President Barack Obama.

Now, Assad of Syria has been facing down protests in his country (and committing "war crimes"). Will he follow the same fate? The media seems bored with the Arab Spring, so Syria may actually end up like Iran or Burma during those uprisings of the past few years. Other countries faced public outcry: Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Morocco, Qatar, Bahrain, and the other Arab Gulf states.

Amazing that one man's martyrdom resulted in the ouster of three long-time dictators. Would those three men still be in power now if Bouazizi kept allowing himself to be humiliated day after day, week after week, trying to eek out a living on meager sales of fruit? Many religions consider suicide a sin, but what if it took such a drastic action to spark the kindling to set off the powder keg? For far too long, the people of the Middle East and North Africa have lived under oppressive regimes that have been in power for the entire lives of the majority of the population. People can only take so much abuse before they lash back. The questions is never "will they lash back?" but "when?" What does it take to spark a revolution? What outrage must be committed that results in the last straw that broke the camel's back?

The ripple effect of the Arab Spring did not stop in the Middle East and North Africa. In the United States, progressives, liberals, and Democrats came out of their hibernation to protest the anti-union moves made by Koch-funded newly elected governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida. Voters finally saw the horror of electing Republicans to state governments, not just Congress and the White House. The rallies against Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin were large enough to inspire Sarah Palin to come down and rally an opposing tea party protest, defending the governor, who is likely to be recalled as soon as the date arrives when recall petitions can be made.

If that weren't enough, a Canadian anti-consumerist magazine (Adbusters) had an article suggesting people Occupy Wall Street starting on Constitution Day (the day in September marking the anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution). This sparked an American Fall, with Occupy movements forming in many cities and towns across the United States and all over the world, with tent cities and clashes with the police and the emergence of pepper spray as the weapon of choice.

With the European economy collapsing, protests are imminent in Europe. The people in power ought to be running scared, because there are more of us than there are of them. The winds of change are blowing, and with the Mayan 2012 date just around the corner, one has to wonder what's going to happen in the next year. However, when it comes to 2011, it is difficult to imagine the year playing out as it did without Mohamed Bouazizi's death providing the spark that set off the powder keg. As my favourite church campfire song goes, "It only takes a spark, to get a fire going / and soon all those around can warm up to its glowing / that's how it is with God's love, once you've experienced it / you want to sing, you want to pass it on..."

By selecting Mohamed Bouazizi as this year's Nonconformist of the Year, I'm not condoning self-immolation or suicide as something to do. There are other ways to make your point across. Its important to be alive to help build a movement or to participate. However, we never know how desperation can lead people to extreme measures. A nonconformist lives by a principle that doesn't follow the crowd. Its a tragic death, for sure, but worth honouring because of the positive ripple effects. If Mohamed's soul is looking down from heaven, I can imagine that he might be surprised at the public outcry over his death. He cut his life short, but he inspired millions to rise up and take action. The result is amazing: three long-time dictators are gone from the world scene. Let's keep his spirit alive! Long live Mohamed Bouazizi!! May your soul be in the highest degree of glory in the spiritual realm.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Music Video Monday: Ain't No Fun

This past weekend, Republican candidate for president Herman Cain "suspended" his campaign, which allows him to still collect money from donors and use for whatever he wants. This announcement came after speaking to his wife when a lady came forward, claiming to have had a decade-long affair with the married, "family values" conservative.

Of course, Herman Cain still denies that the allegations are true. His denials don't make sense, though. Think about it. If your goal was to attain some job, that this job was your dream, and someone came forward to lie about you, why would you give up your dream? Wouldn't that be letting the liar win? To give up on one's dream so easily means that he really wasn't serious about becoming president. It was all a scheme to become more famous, and it worked. I had never heard of him until he jumped into the Republican race. When I lived in Georgia, he supposedly ran for the Republican nomination of the U.S. Senate seat in 2004 but I don't remember hearing about him at all. If Republicans in Georgia did not want him as a Senator, why would the rest of the country want him as our president? My theory is that Herman Cain was a convenient way for teabaggers to claim that they aren't racist, even after some of the ugliest protest signs in the summer of 2009 that conjured up images of our minstrel show era of the early part of the 20th century.

Herman Cain's claim to fame is being a businessman who saved Burger King and then Godfather's Pizza. However, he helped those companies gain stronger financial footing by closing restaurants, which means he put people out of work. No job creator experience at all. Godfather's Pizza is not in the top three pizza chains and I don't remember seeing one in Georgia. I remember eating at one when my family lived in Omaha and I used to like it, but it has been over 25 years and I'd need to eat there again to see how I like it. I used to like Pizza Hut as a kid, too, but not so much as an adult. Living in Italy changed my taste in regards to pizza. Now, the only pizza places I'll eat are Papa John's and Pizzicato.

When I was in Powell's City of Books recently, I saw a few copies of Herman Cain's book. I was shocked by how thin the book was, yet the price was $25. I think it was less than 200 pages and hardcover. It was mostly his life story and included a section on his policy goals, which had about as much substance as a marshmallow. The guy is an embarrassment (as one can see in the video where he couldn't even answer a question about Obama's Libya policy). That people found him credible is shocking. He was a token candidate at its worst. He was used by the rightwing to bash our first African American President without being accused of racism and now that several white women have come forward regarding his history of sexual harassment and sexual relations, he's disposed of like toilet paper.

The song that comes to mind when I think about the disastrous Herman Cain campaign is Snoop Dogg's "Ain't No Fun." The lyrics are vulgar but somehow, it seems to describe the way Herman Cain views women. One of the cardinal sins in American politics and culture is that a black man better not mess with a white woman. In the past, black slaves and African American males in the Jim Crow era got lynched for daring to have sexual relations with a white woman. We see this prejudice reinforced in classic novels such as To Kill a Mockingbird, in the O.J. Simpson trial, in the negative ads for Harold Ford, Jr.'s Senate campaign in Tennessee in 2006. Had Cain merely harassed African American women or had sexual relations with an African American woman, the outcry might not have been as loud. That's because as Fox News knows well, when a white woman cries rape or sexual harassment against a minority male, the country rallies to her like a knight in shining armour to protect her honour. Its the most racist legacy of our country, even if the woman is lying.

So, good riddance Herman Cain. Count me among those who was not fooled by your fake campaign. I know what you were really after: lucrative speaking engagements, a contract with Fox News to be a conservative commentator, and to sell copies of your poorly written and thin book. That he thought people would part with $25 for such a skimpy book shows just how delusional he truly is. Even Sarah Palin's memoirs offered more substance than Cain's book. I know the campaign "ain't no fun", now you're free to make third-rate pizzas. May we never hear about your pathetic life ever again.

Friday, December 02, 2011

A Historic Meeting of Two Great Ladies

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton becomes the highest level U.S. government official to visit Burma in half a century. After Senator James Webb of Virginia visited Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma a year or two ago, he recommended that the U.S. government adopt a policy of engagement with the military junta rather than continue the devastating isolationist policies that doesn't work. His example was Vietnam. Once we normalized relations with Vietnam in the 1990s, it has become a thriving country and the lives of its people have improved. I was pleased to hear someone else advocating the same view that I've come to believe. Sanctions only seem to work on a country like South Africa, where there is a fairly large middle class who stand to lose money and their livelihoods affected by international boycotts. In countries with totalitarian rule of a tiny elite, sanctions and boycotts only serve to keep the country isolated in a cult of personality. We may not agree with the government, but by engaging the country with open trade, this leads to international contact and information exchange. That can only be good for the people who are only cut off from the rest of the world.

I was thrilled when I heard the Obama Administration announce that Secretary of State Clinton was being sent to Burma to talk with the government and to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi. This is a step in the right direction. Hillary Clinton is so lucky to be the one to meet the famous dissident.

There does seem to be a change blowing through the air, as the military junta has called for new elections and allowed the National League for Democracy to register as a political party and be on the ballot. This is the party that won a landslide in 1990 and had the military junta honoured the election, Aung San Suu Kyi would have been the prime minister. But because they did not honour the election results, Aung San Suu Kyi became a powerful symbol and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Her years of house arrest, during which her husband was dying of cancer and she was not allowed to see him or her sons, has made her into international icon. U2 wrote a song about her ("Walk On") and now French director Luc Besson is showing his film, The Lady, at film festivals around the world in which Michelle Yeoh plays the Burmese dissident.

In 2007, Buddhist monks led a rebellion against the regime that ended in brutality. Had the people kept up the massive demonstrations against the government, they might've won. A typhoon also devastated the country, which exposed the weakness of the government. Perhaps the regime finally came to the realization that they can't run the country on their policies anymore. Maybe they have looked to Thailand as a model. In Thailand, which is a Constitutional Monarchy led by a King, any time the prime minister does something the powerful don't like, the military steps in with a coup to remove him from power. Now Thailand has a female prime minister and it'll be interesting to see how long she lasts before the military steps in. Perhaps Burma is finally at the place where they will allow people to vote in elections and for the opposition party to make cosmetic changes, while monitoring the situation and possibly stepping in if the party does things the military junta doesn't like. It all remains to be seen.

As one guy at the World Affairs discussion group pointed out at the last meeting, he believes that Burma is looking for new allies after China's dam project is affecting Burma in a negative way. This is how international politics gets played. Incredibly nuanced, which is why ideologues who are ignorant about the intrigue and complexities should not be allowed to play.

Before anyone says that this visit is proof that Hillary should be president, let's get real. If she was president, she would not be meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi. The person she selected for Secretary of State would be the one meeting with the dissident. Until relations are normalized, the leader does not meet with foreign governments or political figures. This is why the Secretary of State position is actually the best job in America. I'd much rather be Secretary of State than president. You get to deal with foreigners and build relationships, and you're meeting with interesting and intelligent people around the world. There's no denying that Hillary Clinton's popularity around the world is due to her outspokenness and advocacy for women's rights. If she was our president right now, her approval ratings would be about where Obama's are, because she would be attacked by Republicans for her domestic policies.

Hillary has said that she'll be vacating the position at the end of Obama's first term and that she has no intention of serving in political office after 2012. I'm not sure how serious she is, because I think the best thing Obama can do for his reelection campaign is to ask Vice President Joe Biden to become Secretary of State and ask Hillary Clinton to be his second-term Vice President. This will secure her place in history as the first female Vice President in history and give her a front-runner spot for the 2016 presidential nomination.

But, I suspect that this is Hillary's swansong. Her place in history is already set. If Democrats want the first female president in history, we need to start recruiting and electing into office female candidates for Congress, the Senate, and the governor's offices around the country. The Republicans are doing that because they are desperate for an energizing, historical figure. I hope the first woman president will be a Democrat, not a Republican. And I also hope that Aung San Suu Kyi will become Burma's Prime Minister after the next election. Its time for great women to lead their countries in an era of peace.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

A Feast at the Horn of Africa

Last night, a group of us gathered at the Ethiopian restaurant, Horn of Africa, in north Portland. This is only my third time eating at an Ethiopian restaurant (the first time was in 1995 in Washington, D.C.; the second sometime in the early 2000s in Atlanta) and I keep forgetting how good it is! But of all the three places I've eaten, Horn of Africa has the best decor. The building is loft-style, with a private room upstairs for groups. It looked like we were inside a tent.

The purpose of the gathering was to hear Jeff's presentation on his ten weeks in Cape Town, South Africa this past summer where he measured the air quality in the townships. I learned a lot about South Africa, even though I'm quite knowledgeable about the country already. However, I haven't been to Cape Town, which is one place I hope to see some day. I had no idea that the main part of the city is in a "bowl" between Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean, and that most of the people live on the area on the other side of Table Mountain, away from the ocean.

South Africa still has a lot of problems in the post-apartheid era. One of them being that young, educated white South Africans face unemployment prospects if they stay, and the temptation to emigrate abroad. This is what happens when a country has spent decades building up a system of inequality in which one racial group reaped all the benefits while the other groups were denied a fair chance. Any plan to equalize the employment is controversial, especially since the education system is still unequal.

Jeff told us a funny story about how some African was asking him about his religious beliefs. Jeff considers himself a "hardcore atheist." I had no idea that he was, as the topic of spirituality has never come up in our twice a month discussion group with the World Affairs Council. Anyhow, he said that the African asked if he went to church, what holy book he bases his beliefs on, who he prays to, etc. When he said all this, I was laughing along with everyone else, but probably for different reasons. On the Community of Christ Facebook wall, the debate about atheists in the Priesthood continues. Its amazing that people still have no idea what atheism really means. Based on comments people have made on the Facebook page, they seem to think that atheism is merely the rejection of the God of the Bible, not a "strict scientific materialist" view of the universe. So, it is not surprising that an African would be confused about what atheism means.

The dinner was a feast and I couldn't help but think of the awful joke that a few guys made in 1985 when Ethiopia was suffering devastating famine. The worst was: "How many Ethiopians does it take to fill up a bathtub? I don't know, they keep slipping down the drain." When I mentioned to someone before that I had eaten at an Ethiopian restaurant in D.C., they had asked me in all sincerely, "Did you get enough to eat?" Well, did I? Man, I was stuffed last night. No one walked away hungry.

Most of the people in the group attend the World Affairs Council discussion group, though there was one lady no one had met before. She started her own non-profit organization building schools in Tanzania. When I heard that, I was stunned, because that's exactly what Orphans Africa does, another non-profit organization based in Washington that was started by church members (in the Community of Christ). I asked if she knew about Orphans Africa and she did. She named one person in the organization that she knew. Small world! But she said that the non-profit world was small and interconnected. That's interesting to know. A friend of mine wants to start a non-profit next year, but based on helping underserved youth locally.

It was a great evening among internationally connected friends, enjoying an excellent meal of Ethiopian cuisine while hearing about the challenges facing South Africa. I could use more days like this!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Doesn't Honesty and Integrity Matter Anymore?

After several weeks of no activity (no comments), the discussion about atheists in the priesthood on the Community of Christ's Facebook wall kicked up again. Of course, I got into it because I'm absolutely stunned that there are church members who are absolutely OKAY with members of the priesthood who are not only atheists, but also keeping it a secret from others in the church. I wrote a post on this blog about it (can't remember what day, though). Its outrageous that people think its okay for someone to maintain a sacred office of the church (part of the leadership) if they do not believe that God exists, that an afterlife exists, that we live in a spiritual universe. Its baffling that such a person would go along with something they believe to be a lie. I cannot comprehend this at all. It defies logic. And it infuriates me that there are members in the church who are a-okay with the deceit and the hypocrisy.

Then came the news that another teacher was suspended after a reporter revealed his porn film star past. One guy (who happens to be openly gay) on my Facebook, who is okay with closeted atheist priesthood members, posted an article link on his wall. As expected, he does not believe that anything a teacher has done in the past should affect the teacher's job. He shows a consistency in belief, which is: it is okay for someone to withhold critical information from others because their priesthood office or their teaching career is more important than the needs of the community. This gets to the heart of the integrity issue. I fall on the side of disclosure. If you're in a position of some privilege or leadership in which you have power to make decisions over others, then there does need to be a higher standard that is imposed. If they cannot abide by it, step aside and let those who have no problem take their place.

About the porn star turned English high school teacher and crew coach, the local Fox affiliate station in Boston ambushed Kevin Hogan with their discovery that he had starred in some porn films last year under the cheesy name Hytch Cawke in films with provocative titles like: Fetish World, Just Gone Gay 8, and Ass Fucked By a DILF. When confronted with his alleged past, Hogan said: "I don't know what you're talking about." The overzealous reporter seems confident that Kevin Hogan is Hytch Cawke. Having seen pictures of both, I'm not certain. Hytch Cawke looks a lot skinnier than Kevin Hogan, though a guy could put on weight in a year's time.

Earlier this year, a substitute teacher in Florida was discovered to have been in a few porn films and was dismissed from his teaching duties. When he approached the American Civil Liberties Union for possible legal action for wrongful termination, an ACLU lawyer said that if he had been in most any other job, he'd have a case, but because his job involved being around underaged children, they would not touch his case at all. The great defender of our civil liberties denied representing the fired substitute teacher! What does that tell you?

I've read a few comments people have made on the current porn star turned teacher scandal on various articles. I'm stunned by the cluelessness and lack of moral principles. Many seem to think that this scandal is a violation of the teacher's right to privacy or right to have a sex life. If only it were that simple! Yes, a teacher who is gay or an atheist does have the right to a private life. They shouldn't be fired for what they do in the privacy of their own bedroom (so long as it doesn't involve underage people). But that's not what this teacher is accused of doing. He starred in a few pornographic films. That means he put his sex life out into the public for consumption by others. This means he made public his private activities and therefore, he forfeited his "right to privacy." It simply does not make logical sense for someone who wants to be a teacher to make a porn film. I mean, who makes a porn film anyway? Don't these people understand that anytime you have a job that puts you in close contact with children, you are going to be scrutinized more? Especially if you're a man. The fear of child molestation is very real, as we've all been reminded of again most recently with the Penn State scandal (which I've been meaning to blog about).

Like it or not, teachers are a role model for children. They have a lot of influence on their students. Perhaps an even bigger influence on children than parents once they reach a certain age. It is difficult for a teacher to maintain his or her authority and respect if his or her students were aware of something like this. More than any other profession, the moral standards of teachers has to be held to a high level because children do look up to teachers, whether we want to admit it or not. I know myself and how I was as a teenager, and I certainly did admire a few teachers, including one to an almost hero-worship level. I would have been devastated if I learned that one of my teachers (particularly one I admired) had made a pornographic film (especially a gay one). It would be hard to respect such a teacher. Making a pornographic film is an indication of poor judgement. And in this economy when there are many people with a teaching degree and not enough teaching jobs available, it makes sense that standards would be set high.

I'm not saying that Kevin Hogan is a bad person. There is nothing illegal about making pornography. But let's get real here. Teaching is probably not the best career for Hogan. I wish a reporter would ask him why he wanted to become a teacher and what he was thinking when he decided to make a few pornos. That's just not a logical career trajectory for someone who wants to be a teacher. I can understand someone who volunteers as a tutor or teaches English as a Second Language. But with the various stories of porn stars becoming teachers, it appears to be an indication that maybe these men had an attack of conscience and after their stint in porn, they decided they wanted to redeem themselves by giving back. However, it doesn't work that way. Don't people get it? We live in the Age of the Internet. Everything you put out there is a potential boomerang (yes, my blog counts!). If someone really wanted to keep his or her life private, it would be a wise idea to not put anything out on the Internet or on video. And if you decide to, then take ownership. If someone discovers something and faces you with it, then don't cry about it.

I guess despite the lesson in this story, I'm still baffled that there are people out there who are okay with deceit and hypocrisy. How can we establish trust and relationships based on respect if its considered okay for a person to withhold critical information from others? Information such as not believing in God if they happen to be an atheist Priesthood member or that they had done a pornographic film in the past. Of course people aren't going to be honest if they covet the Priesthood or a teaching position and they have something in their past (or present) that they know would disqualify them. But that's what living an honest life (a life of integrity) is all about. You disclose and let the chips fall where they may.

This brings to mind an Orwell quote that I love: "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." So, enablers, stop defending those who would deceive others. If we value honesty, we have to start by being honest. This means not withholding critical information from others who have a right to know. This is called living with integrity. There's no other way to live.

Public high school teacher starred in porno movies released last year:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No, I haven't Been Raptured

I haven't blogged in a long while and there's a reason for that. Though I did add a few tonight, there are quite a few more posts that I'm planning to add for November, so you're just going to have to read back over them if you're interested (planned posts include: Jim Jones and Jonestown Massacre; Irish dancing; film review of The Descendants; 1991 Christmas Newsletter; book review of Higher Ground; and perhaps a few on the Republicans, or maybe not).

The last post I had on here was the film review of J. Edgar, from November 12th. I fell behind because that was a depressing weekend. It was the weekend when the mayor of Portland ordered the evacuation of the two squares that had been Occupy Portland's camp for over a month. I was enthralled and hooked to the TV and the livestream video on the Internet for the entire weekend. I've been meaning to write a post about the Occupy movement, but I felt like I needed to learn more about it before I could write about it. Then, I got busy with my social life (amazing, huh?). It just became completely overwhelming. Then Thanksgiving was approaching and I had to get my newsletter finalized and printed, and spend time writing the cards to people. There never seems to be enough time! Add to that, the daily hilarity with one Republican presidential candidate after another. If it wasn't Rick Perry's idiocy, it was Herman Cain's or Michele Bachmann's. I had planned to write a post about how making fun of the Republican candidates has become the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. It was just too easy and seems almost cruel.

So, that's where I've been. This post might appear pointless at some future point, once I've filled in the dates for November when a post should have been published on my blog. Instead of writing past posts chronologically and trying to catch up, I will maintain a daily post and if I have time, I'll write an older post to appear in November. I'm striving for 22 posts per month. No particular reason. Just because I love that number. Thanks for sticking by me. I've never gone this long without posting something, since I first started the blog in 2007!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Don't Go Apeshit!

This is just an announcement that the first Christmas cards of the season have been sent out to various people, with yet another creative newsletter. Its turning out to be the case that odd number years have more creative newsletters than even number years. In 2007, I took advantage of the "007" in the year to write a James Bond-themed newsletter (featuring the title of every James Bond movie, except one for obvious reasons, in a sentence somewhere in the newsletter). In 2009, I wrote from Sarah Palin's perspective, which proved to be a huge hit among those who received it. Last year, I had planned to write it up in Restaurant menu style, but I had stupidly saved the document on the work computer and when I was given 10 minutes to clear my desk, I did not have time to have that newsletter sent to my email. I just deleted as much as I could from the computer. It would have been a great newsletter, and maybe I'll do it someday but not this year nor next year (yes, I already have plans for next year's newsletter as well!).

So many newsletter ideas, so few years to try them! Maybe I should go half-year! Ha.

Last year, one of my good friends sent a newsletter for the first time. He said that he was inspired by me (I'm flattered). He's a journalism professor at a university in Kentucky (the same university where George Clooney had attended one semester before he dropped out to pursue acting). His newsletter was appropriate: News headlines. I was stunned how much he was able to convey in just news headlines. He should write for "The Onion"! He was hilarious. When I talked to him about it, I told him that I envied his ability to say so much with so few words. I write a narrative each time and push the two page limit (using a smaller-than-I-really-should font), but I would love to do a newsletter of nothing but news headlines.

My favourite newsletter each year is hands down Jantzen (my other roommate in D.C.). I feel like he and I compete each year for creative newsletters. He has written from the perspective of his unborn son and newspaper articles, and even one where it was like a missing persons bulletin. Most of all, his sense of humour comes through and I always laugh. I look forward to them every year. If you do a Google search about how to write a Christmas newsletter, you'll get quite a few options to click on. Some of the people giving free advice seem to repeat the cliche that people hate receiving newsletters every year, yet its such a tradition for a lot of people. Really? I LOVE newsletters, even if some of them are annoying brag sheets. I love seeing the creative ways people share the events of their year. I've also gotten great feedback on my newsletters, so I'm not stopping. It just encourages me to try different approaches year after year. This year marks Volume XIII. I started in 1999, during my last semester at BYU because I got tired of handwriting the same basic info in card after card. This allowed me to write the events of my year once and then hand write a personal note specific to the person I'm mailing the card to. I wish I had written a newsletter since 1990. Last year on my blog, I wrote a post as though I was writing my 1990 newsletter. I will do the same this year with 1991. That will appear on "Black Friday."

So, check your mailbox for a card coming to you. If you don't get one this week or next, don't go "apeshit." I'm busy and I'll get them out to my mailing list before Christmas. Promise!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Music Video Monday: Gloria Estefan

For this week of Thanksgiving, I selected a song by Gloria Estefan that I "rediscovered" recently and I love the lyrics. I don't think I ever really paid much attention to the lyrics when I first heard it more than 20 years ago (I believe it played on the current radio playlist in 1989). I've always preferred Gloria Estefan / Miami Sound Machine's uptempo songs, but as her career progressed, she sang more and more ballads (I theorized at the time that it was because her ballads charted higher than her dance songs). I love her "Don't Wanna Lose You", "Coming Out of the Dark", and "Reach" (the official theme song of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games), but its her high-energy dance songs ("Conga", "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You", "Get On Your Feet" and others) that really get me moving.

How did I recently "rediscover" this song? Well, every year when I write the newsletter, part of my tradition includes an appropriate song lyric to include at the top of the newsletter (and sometimes also at the signature line). This year, however, I'm doing something really creative and will utilize more than one song. "Get On Your Feet" made the cut for the songs I'm featuring this year. I think they lyrics are quite relevant regarding my year.

One thing I love about "rediscovering" old favourites is that it gives me new appreciation for the song and artist. I don't have Gloria Estefan's greatest hits, so maybe I should go look for a CD to buy. Gloria Estefan was among my favourites as a teenager. She's just an incredibly beautiful woman (a Cuban-American) and a great talent. Her "Miami sound" was a mixture of pop and Latin music, with "Conga" being the classic in terms of capturing that unique sound. I haven't heard anything from her lately, but I hope she hasn't mellowed like other favourite artists from the 1980s.

If you're ever feeling down and need a reason to pick yourself up and face life again, try this song. Its a perfect "pick-me-up". Who needs Prozac when you have music?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Music Video Monday: Stephen Bishop

Today is Stephen Bishop's birthday. Who, you ask? Exactly! He was a singer-songwriter who was big in the late 70s and early 80s. He turns 60 years old today. The song I remember him for is "It Might Be You" from the Dustin Hoffman film Tootsie, in which Hoffman plays an actor who is struggling to get an acting job and when a soap opera is hiring a female role, he decides to cross-dress in order to win that role. This complicates matters when he falls in love with the star actress, who views him (er, her) as a good girl friend to confide in. Even more complications ensue when she invites Hoffman-as-Dorothy home to visit, and her father falls in love! Its been quite a few years since I've seen the movie. I remember my parents taking us to see it when it played in theaters (1982 or 1983). It seems like a strange film for parents to take elementary school age boys to see, but I was amused by it. The gender switching roles were confusing. I also remember seeing Victor / Victoria, which was even more confusing (Julie Andrews played a woman who plays a man pretending to be a woman, or something like that). What I remember most about Tootsie is that I liked Dorothy and it was weird to think of her as being an act by Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman's character). That was also the problem for the female lead, Jessica Lange's character. She felt like Dorothy was a great friend and Michael just didn't cut it. Charming film!

Anyhow, as I looked on Wikipedia for birthdays, I was stunned to learn that "It Might Be You" only made it as high as #25 on the Billboard Top Singles Chart in 1983. I loved this song as a kid and had I been in charge of charting the song, this one would definitely have reached #1! If I'm not mistaken, the song also appeared in the film Waiting to Exhale, when the four African American ladies are in the car and this song comes on and they sing along. Timeless! The song's melody captures the early 1980s sound that I like: soft pop, but not quite elevator muzak.

Also celebrating a birthday today is Condoleezza Rice! None of my friends can understand it, but I will admit to having a crush on my dear sweet Condi. She was the only member of the Bush Administration that I liked and I would not even mind seeing her become the first female president if she's interested in running in 2016. However, I think her political days are over. As her new memoirs point out in the title, there is no higher honour than serving as Secretary of State.

Well, this is a perfect birthday two-fer. Happy Birthday, Condoleezza! Remember, "It Might Be You"! ("Something's telling me it might be you, all of my life...").

Saturday, November 12, 2011

All Work and No Play Makes "J. Edgar" Boring!

Fall movies mean one thing, usually. Oscar showcases! Film studios hoping to impress the voters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences release the most serious films in the fall. This includes biopics, movies adapted from best selling literary novels, period pieces, and some of the best acting performances. Since I'm a big biopic fan, I will go see any major one that gets released. This year's Clint Eastwood film is a biopic on the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, J. Edgar Hoover. He was a legendary figure who was instrumental in nationalizing the crime data (through the use of fingerprints and a centralized database) and ran the Bureau from the early 1920s until his death in 1972. He served under eight presidents and probably most humiliating for him was having Robert F. Kennedy as his boss from 1961 to 1964 (Kennedy was born in 1925, one year after Hoover was promoted to head the Bureau).

I've never liked J. Edgar Hoover since I learned about him. My opinion is based on his testy relations with the Kennedy brothers and his view that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a communist. Hoover had too much power and kept secret files featuring the private peccadillos of various politicians and notable public figures, which he used to leverage power. Since his death, the FBI Director now serves for a period of ten years and the headquarters in Washington, D.C. bears his name. I toured the building in 2000 during my internship program. Not nearly as cool as the CIA headquarters, but it was still an impressive old-style government building with a nice museum inside.

When I was in college, a fellow political science student I knew (he was from British Columbia, Canada and seemed more interested in America than Canada) was a fan of J. Edgar Hoover. He lost credibility with me when he did not even know that J. Edgar Hoover was known to cross-dress and was likely a closeted homosexual. I knew those details back in high school. It was just more reasons to not like Hoover very much. He bended the rules to suit his purposes and he was on the wrong side of history in regards to his surveillance and harassment of the Civil Rights leaders.

As for the film, J. Edgar, Leonardo DiCaprio does an excellent job in the role. He actually does lose himself in the role and you really believe that you are watching J. Edgar Hoover rather than Leonardo DiCaprio. Best Actor nomination worthy for sure. The film, though, jumps around too much. While a straight linear film can be kind of boring, the constant jumping around in time (at least three different timelines seemed to be running) made it difficult to follow. The screenplay was written by the same guy who wrote another biopic, Milk. In one storyline, an older Hoover is dictating his memoirs to a writer, which takes the audience back to 1919 (the year my grandfather was born!) when Hoover as a 24 year old saw the sloppy investigation of a bombing. He was the right man to push for changes in investigation procedures and he was singularly anti-communist and anti-anarchist (if I'm not mistaken, two presidents were assassinated by anarchists: Grover Cleveland and William McKinley).

From the Palmer Raids to busting the mob to investigating the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's baby to wiretapping Dr. King's hotel room, this film covers the wide expanse of Hoover's working life. The presentation, however, is rather dull. Hoover doesn't appear to have much of a life outside of work. And when he does get away, he gets away with his right-hand man, Clyde Tolson. They eat lunch and dinner together, vacation away together, and work together. There is debate on whether the two had a romantic or sexual relationship, or were they more like brothers who spent a lot of time together? What makes things even more compelling is that Tolson inherited Hoover's house, received the flag that was on Hoover's coffin, and eventually was buried near Hoover's grave. The movie implies that the two had a homosexual relationship, though it appears that it may not have involved actual sex. Perhaps they were just two men who enjoyed each other's company?

The actor who played Robert F. Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan) did a great job. He actually kind of resembles RFK, at least moreso than the actor who played Robert F. Kennedy in the recent miniseries The Kennedys. Too bad that he didn't play RFK in the miniseries as well. His role in J. Edgar was rather small. Dame Judi Dench plays J. Edgar's mother and she has a great line that she tells her son when he admits to her that he doesn't like dancing with women: "I'd rather have a dead son than one who is a daffodil." Day-um! That's quite the euphemism! Naomi Watts plays Edgar's secretary, Helen Gandy. At first, Edgar shows romantic interest in her and takes her on a date to the Library of Congress to show her the card catalog system that he supposedly created to make it easier to locate books (I had never heard that attributed to him). He proposes marriage without so much as a romantic spark. Its all based on his cold reading of her being intelligent and virtuous, and thus a good match for him. She declines and becomes his long-serving secretary.

While the film has plenty of interesting moments, overall, the tone is rather dull. This could be the subject matter, though. Hoover may have accomplished a lot and helped make the Federal Bureau of Investigations what it is today, but he appears to be a boring person. Sure, there's the salacious hypocrisy that he's interesting in knowing the details of other people's private, sexual lives while he hides his own homosexuality and cross-dressing tendencies, but ultimately, the movie is boring because J. Edgar Hoover is boring.

When I left the theater, I overheard some other people who saw the movie mention that during the movie, they took a quick nap, they made a mental list of things they needed to do, they counted sheep, etc. So, I'm not the only one who found the movie boring. Let's hope that The Iron Lady (about Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) is not boring. I don't expect it to be, because I find her to be a fascinating icon. My generation grew up in the Reagan-Thatcher-Pope John Paul II era. One can't separate any of those three individuals from the era in which they shared the world stage.

Below is a picture of the real J. Edgar Hoover. He has a face that only his mother could love! He looks like a human bulldog. I bet he makes a really ugly woman. I wonder what it is about some men that makes them interested in dressing as women. He didn't seem like the type. The movie doesn't really get into that (there is only one brief scene, but in the context of what happened right before, his reasons did not appear perverted). If there is a lesson to learn from Hoover's life, I'd say that its probably a good idea to not work all the time. Its okay to relax and enjoy life outside of work. After all, as you've probably heard: "no one on their deathbed wishes that they had spent more time at the office."

Friday, November 11, 2011


Happy 11/11/11 Day! This date has significance, if only because of the repetition of the number 11. In numerology, 11 is considered a spiritual number. I would have loved to have gotten married on this day, but apparently many couples had that idea. Las Vegas Wedding Chapels were fully booked today. I had hoped that something significant would happen on this day (like meeting a lady that I really hit it off with, which leads to a relationship and marriage), but that didn't happen, either. Nothing profound happened. Nothing spiritual. Nothing out of the ordinary. It was just another day for me.

It was also Veteran's Day, which meant that Applebee's was doing their annual free meal to veterans. This is my third or fourth year participating. The previous two years, I invited a fellow Navy vet from church and he said that he would, only to flake out on me both times. I invited him again this year and he said no, so at least that was better than agreeing, then making an excuse not to come (though last year he did attend a funeral on the day, so that's understandable). This year, though, my friend G and his girlfriend joined me and we had a great time. The waitress was also quite cute (and quite married). Just my luck.

I did cause some controversy on Facebook today when I reposted a photo from someone on my Facebook friends' list. Rather than write a critique on her wall and face the hostility of people on her friends list, I decided to share the photo to my wall for my friends to see. The photo was of a horse with an American flag draped around its neck. Based on the comments I read on the friend's wall, I just thought it was ridiculous. People have no clue what patriotism is. Whenever they see the American flag, they get a knee-jerk reaction and call it "patriotism." Ug. To me, based on what I learned in the Boy Scouts, a flag was meant to fly on a flag pole or draped over a coffin of a military member who died or folded into a triangle. It is NOT patriotic to have the flag on shirts, pants, underwear, a cape, placed on animals, used in car dealership lots, as a blanket, etc.

The comment I posted with the picture was:

An example of flag desecration. This is not "respecting the flag" (for those who believe in that sort of thing). It's also disrespectful to the horse, because the horse doesn't give a s$#% about national borders or governments!

I'm not much of a flag worshipper. I just don't get people's devotion to it. I see it as a form of idolatry. To me, its just a piece of cloth flying in the wind. Pretty, perhaps, but honestly...whenever I see people burning it, my heart does not beat faster nor does my blood run with rage throughout my body. I just don't get hyped up on stuff that other Americans do. I know there's room for disagreement, but this is one issue where I will claim to be right because I've studied what "idolatry" means and most Americans who have emotional reactions regarding the flag are engaging in idolatry.

It did not take long before someone commented. This woman hardly ever comments on my Facebook wall. She had in the past over some political post, but considering all the political comments I've made over the years without inspiring her to comment, I was surprised to see her post. But, then again, it wasn't a surprise. She loves horses. She basically commented that she did not agree with my opinion. She didn't want to argue or discuss it, just wanted to let me know that she disagreed. It was important enough for her to comment on my post that she disagreed with me. At least she didn't do her usual thing, which was starting off with: "Nick, I love ya, but..." Now that would have freaking annoyed me because she and I don't know each other well. Her parents and my parents are close friends and I know her parents more than I know her. She and I don't have much in common. She's a stereotypical conservative Southern woman. I'm not a fan of people who throw the "love" word around because they cheapen the word if they don't really mean it (and I know she doesn't mean it because she hardly ever made a point to initiate a conversation with me during the times she was at her parents house the same time I happened to be there).

My response was that I was not surprised that we disagreed on that point. Our life experiences are far too different. I wanted her to realize that. She did seem to agree on that point. Hopefully her parents realize that too. I can imagine that my parents probably don't like my political commentary if people get offended or disagree, but personally, I don't care. I'm very open about my beliefs and no one should be offended. I don't base friendships on agreement with my way of thinking. Besides, I did not Facebook Friend request any church member back in Atlanta because I knew that their political views and mine didn't match and I didn't want them to get mad at my posts and commentary, because I'm not going to censor myself. Those who are my actual friends appreciate reading what I think (they tell me so all the time) so of course I'm going to go with what my true friends enjoy rather than those who aren't really friends. So, if church member friends in Atlanta get offended by my political views, oh well. Maybe now they understand why I had to get the hell out of the South for my own sanity. Nothing personal against them, just that I'm a proud liberal Democrat who loves living in a liberal city.

Speaking of which, one person on my Facebook friends list de-friended me this past week just because I had deleted a comment he had posted on my Facebook wall that included the explicative: "fucking." I had posted some political cartoon or article and he just went off on a rant, using that word. I was shocked and I thought it was out of line. Its just rude to go on a profanity laced rant on someone else's wall. Of course I was going to delete it because I have a lot of church friends and as I learned at Bend Institute, people actually do read what I post. So, I am mindful not to use vulgar language (even though I personally don't have a problem with it). There have been some hilarious cartoons that I wanted to share on my wall, but declined because of the "vulgarity" of the joke.

Well, this guy couldn't understand that. He angrily told me that no one censors him and the reason why he was angry was because religious and conservative people have been abusive towards him all his life. So he's going to de-friend a fellow liberal? He couldn't get over his rant and ego to see that he was wrong to post a profanity-laced rant on my wall without consideration to my group of friends? What a loser. Weird. Its not like I know him personally though. I can't remember how we came about being Facebook "friends." He probably liked my comments on someone else's wall and Friend requested me (I don't friend request people I don't know personally). But that's the shallowness of Facebook "friendship." If people don't like your views or if you delete their comment, you're de-friended. Such shallowness! Obviously, the guy has "issues." He sounded really angry in a lot of his political rants. I just laugh it all off. People need to chill out.

Anyhow, not much to report on 11/11/11. I wish I had a spiritually significant day. There was an interesting news story about a boy who was born on this day at 11:11 a.m. to a two military couple. How about that? I love synchronicities like that. Hopefully the media will follow his life. Hopefully he will have an especially blessed life!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

An Evening Among Nerds

Last night, I skipped my biweekly Young Professionals discussion group (the topic was on the European economic crisis, which doesn't really interest me) in order to attend a lecture and book signing at Powell's City of Books. I generally make a point to attend the lectures / book signings of Hollywood celebrities because I think its cool that they come to Portland to promote their books. The last ones I recall seeing were Alicia Silverstone in 2009 and director Paul Verhoeven in 2010. Last night the celebrity with a book was Chris Hardwick, whom I remember fondly from MTV's dating game show, Singled Out. I had forgotten all about the show and vaguely remember it. What I remember most was what a pair Chris Hardwick and Jenny McCarthy made.

The book Chris wrote and is promoting is called The Nerdist Way, which is a comedic handbook for people who fall under the "nerd category" of high school stereotypes. The book actually got a good review in the snarky Portland Mercury alternative weekly newspaper. I wasn't sure I was going to buy a copy, but it did look interesting.

The lecture was one of the more popular ones I've been to. I figured it would be, as it always tends to be crowded whenever a Hollywood type comes up here. I've probably been to at least 50 book signings / lectures since I moved to Portland in 2006. So I can say without exaggeration that Chris Hardwick's presentation is the absolute BEST ONE EVER! The guy is seriously witty and had us laughing like crazy. He started by taking a picture of the audience (actually, his camera phone has a panorama feature, so he took quite a few shots to cover the entire area). He said that he wanted evidence to show people that he was able to bring out a huge crowd for his book lecture tour. After that, he started reading someone else's children's book, using a strange accent for the girl (claiming that he pictured the girl in the book actually talking that way, which he did in an annoying style). He then allowed the audience to pick what part of the book to read and then read a few sections, though with commentary thrown in.

Before he threw out some profanities, he actually asked the Powell's employee if it was okay to use swear words. When he was told that he could, the actual word he used was "jerked off." As in, he said that when you're telling someone something and you sense that they aren't really paying attention, to end it with: "and then I jerked off." He swears that it will get their attention. Funny!

After he read his selections, he opened the floor for questions and surprisingly, he went well beyond the usual hour that most of these events run. I learned a lot and laughed a lot. I had no idea that he has podcasts or a website or a TV show. He does stand-up comedy, too. His background is interesting, as his father was a professional bowler who ended up owning a bowling alley and Chris pretty much grew up in one. Chris claims to be a nerd and even defined the term for everyone. I never pictured him as a nerd, though. Never would have guessed it. I didn't even think the crowd was all that "nerdy." The people who attended the lecture looked like the typical Portland hipster. I guess we all have our interests. There were a few Dr. Who references thrown around and I didn't get any of those, as I've never been interested in that show (my brother loved the classic show shown on TV back in the 1980s). One much older guy (a Baby Boomer) asked Chris a question about Mozart and Chris played it well. They bantered back and forth, but the guy was strange. He seemed to want to know who Chris thought was the best composer and if Mozart would qualify as a genius. It was great to see how quick on his feet Chris was, able to entertain even the oddest question for the audience to laugh.

Even when Chris shared some personal stories, he mentioned that he was a private person and prefers to keep some things for himself (which is understandable). Here's what he said about his stint on the show Singled Out (I found it online, but it was basically the same as what he shared with us at Powell's):

The whole time I was hosting that show, it was kind of nerd vengeance. It was very "Revenge of the Nerds" in my mind. I feel like I was horrible to people on that show. There were so many screaming people on that set, I realized pretty quickly that if I made horrible comments under my breath into the microphone, people at home watching would hear but no one on the set would hear. My nerd rage forced me to be kind of douchey to people because I finally got to say the things that I never got to say to people's faces. That part of it was really satisfying.

I still find it kind of difficult to think of him as a nerd, though. However, the way he describes "nerd" is a socially awkward person who tends to live in one's head a lot and obsessively focuses on a singular pursuit to be an expert on something. Nerds are good at details on whatever it is they grasp hold of. His motive for writing this "self-help" type of book (a manual for nerds, in other words) is to help those who fall under this category to have more success in life. He claims that "the war is over and nerds won!" As we can see with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the Facebook founder, and other high tech companies founders, where would the jock types be without the nerds?

It was a great lecture and definitely the funniest one I've been to. Before this, David Sirota's lecture at Powell's earlier this year was the best one I had been to (because he had a PowerPoint presentation). But its hard to beat a witty guy who is making it cool to be a nerd. I waited in line (a long, slow moving one). He was cool about it all. I saw a few people ahead of me request getting pictures taken with him (he did the one eyebrow lift for one pose). I thanked him for writing a book like this, even though I don't think of myself as a nerd. I told him that I had been to about 50 book signings / lectures at Powell's and that he was by far the funniest and best one yet. He made me a fan. One thing that he did during his lecture that the audience enjoyed was sing "The Pi song" which is simply all the numbers to the nth decimal. It was an impressive memory, though I can't vouch for any of it being correct. All in all, a great night.

So, what is a "nerd"? To be completely honest, people have categorized me as a "nerd" in high school, but I never felt that way. I did not like science at all and I did not like hanging out with those who were definitely known as "nerds". As Chris pointed out in his lecture, nerds can actually be quite vicious to other nerds. He said that he didn't mind getting insulted by a jock because the insults tended to be lame and ridiculous, but an insult from a nerd tended to get under his skin and just lodge itself in the brain for him to obsess over. He made a plea for nerds to not be mean to other nerds. But he also said that he didn't like being mean (or "douchey").

My social circle in junior high school and high school did tend to be other military "brats" and most of my friends did seem to prefer science and math classes (I was more into history and English). I played Dungeons and Dragons once but never really got into it (one year for Christmas, I got a James Bond role playing game, which was more my style). I was more into art and writing. I didn't fit in with the jocks and the popular kids. But I wasn't like those I considered the "nerds" who seemed to have no friends. I didn't get along with any of the nerd types I knew in school. I always thought of myself as outside the high school social structure. People did have trouble putting me into a convenient box. If anything, though, I think there is a consistent view of me as the writer / artist type. That has never changed. Does that make me a "nerd", though?

Wikipedia describes a "nerd" in part as:

Some nerds show a pronounced interest in subjects which others tend to find dull or boring, too complex and difficult to comprehend, or overly mature for their age, especially topics related to science, mathematics and technology. Conversely, nerds may show an interest in activities that are viewed by their peers as stupid and immature for their age, such as trading cards, comic books, television programs, films, role-playing games, video games, and other things relating to fantasy and science fiction. Nerds are often portrayed as physically unfit, and either obese or very thin. Nerds are also sometimes portrayed as having symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder such as showing extreme interest in rules. Comparisons to Asperger syndrome are common, due to the tendency to engage in intense, specific interests and to experience difficulty in social situations.

Particularly in the case of males, nerds may be perceived as being uninterested in traditionally masculine activities such as sports (either participating in or following) or "locker room talk".

Ah hell. I guess I am a "nerd." I hate that word, though. Geek sounds better to me. Yeah, I'll confess to being a geek. But it is interesting that nerds seem to be into science fiction and fantasy when it comes to movies and books, while I've always been more grounded and prefer reality (especially with regards to history). I don't own any video games, either, because I find them to be a colossal waste of time. I know how addicting they are and I much prefer to use my time learning. If any character from a movie resembles me, I'd say it would be the robot Number 5 from Short Circuit (when he reads books like crazy and demands "more input!"). Yeah, I realize the irony. I just compared myself to a character in a science fiction movie!

Though the Wikipedia article does define me in part (I don't watch or follow sports either, but I do enjoy watching the Winter and Summer Olympics, and the World Cup), I long for the day when we don't need these labels that are the relic of the superficial adolescent world. In fact, as much as I love the concept of reincarnation and plan to keep on reincarnating, the worst part of the life experience is enduring the superficial world of high school. I wish there was a way to end the shallow categories of people. I knew smart kids who were part of the cool and popular crowd. I knew jocks who were intelligent and nice to the outcasts. There is no fine line.

If there is a term that I embrace, though, it would be "Bohemian." I love the vibe of that word and all it implies. Yes, I am a Bohemian (not a nerd). And I don't give a shit what the popular kids think of me. A shallowness of mind is punishment.

Below is a video clip of Chris Hardwick during his Singled Out days in the mid-1990s. Enjoy! And check out his book, The Nerdist Way.