Monday, February 28, 2011

Music Video Monday: Madonna

In honour of last night's Oscar telecast, this week's music video selection is a performance by Madonna of the Oscar-winning Best Song from a Motion Picture, "Sooner or Later", written by Stephen Sondheim for the film Dick Tracy. That's right. This performance is almost 20 years old!!! I was in Basic Training when the 1991 Academy Awards aired on television, so I missed out on this. The Academy Awards nomination used to be announced around Valentine's Day and the actual ceremony was held in April. From my adolescence, I remember the calendar very well: the American Music Awards were in January, the Grammy Awards were held in March, and the Academy Awards were televised in April.

I'm really glad that it was moved up, though, because April is too late in the year to hold an awards show honouring the best in movies from the previous year. I believe that the schedule was changed in 2002 or so, partly because of the over abundance of award shows on television, but mostly because of the sometimes nasty campaigning that went on behind the scenes. I remember that it was particularly nasty against A Beautiful Mind, in which some critics were claiming that it shouldn't win because the film distorted the truth about the Nobel laureate's life. The first installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Rings, seemed to inspire the nastiness, as some really wanted this fantasy film to win that year. The Academy ultimately did award the trilogy after the final one was released in 2003, and Return of the King swept one of the most boring Awards shows ever: it won every single category it was nominated in.

As for Madonna's performance...well, she seems to channel Marilyn Monroe every so often. Its one of the personalities she seems to come back around to every few years or so. Madonna is an icon in her own right, so it makes you wonder why she can't invent her own persona for a performance like this. Its interesting that near the end of the song, she adds her own comments to the lyrics when she coos to General Norman Schwartzkopf to tell her all about it (that would be about how he strategized to "win" the Gulf War in 100 days). Yeah, I'm sure that he really wanted to tell her all about it. However, it is interesting to note that during the 2004 campaign, Madonna was a big endorser of General Wesley Clark for president. She obviously has a thing for generals.

Anyhow, enjoy this throwback to twenty years ago and let's all just feel old, shall we? I can't believe that its been twenty years. I'm not liking this aging thing at all. Time needs to slow down!!! Sooner or later, we're all gonna be OLD!!!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Flashback Friday: The Celestine Prophecy

The Celestine Prophecy began as a self-published novel in the early 1990s that was passed around and received good word-of-mouth recommendation by readers who happened to have found a copy and read it. When Warner Books bought it and published it in hardcover, the spiritual novel became a huge sensation in 1994. The timing of the novel's publication with a major distributor was perfect for me. I consider 1994 to be one of the most spiritually relevant years of my life. It marked my "rebirth." My five-year "atheist era" came to an end in 1994 when I finally had the personal evidence I needed that we live in a spiritual universe rather than a strictly materialistic one. Between 1991 and 1994, I had a series of strange coincidences that struck me as odd at the time, without really thinking much more into them until years later.

When I first heard about this novel, I was living in Sardinia, with the U.S. Navy. I was due to transfer back to the U.S. in October. Books in English were hard to come by for military members stationed in Sardinia. Sure, the barracks complex I lived in had a library with a small, but rather impressive array of books. I did not have the chance to read all the books I had wanted to during my three years on that island. As for The Celestine Prophecy, it was just growing in popularity, so I would have to wait until I returned home before I got a chance to read it. The basic description of the novel intrigued me enough. It was described as an adventure novel surrounding a mysterious manuscript that appeared in Peru that supposedly answers the questions about the meaning of life and why we're here. I thought that it might have some Mormon connection, considering that the LDS Church has a vested interest in South America (in their efforts to match the people in the Book of Mormon to real locations and ancient civilizations).

In October, I finally got to read my dad's copy of the novel and I was intrigued. The basic premise revolves around the nature of coincidences. James Redfield was claiming that coincidences weren't really coincidences. They were actually spiritual signs pointing the way, letting the person know that they are on the right track. If we lived life right, we would experience more and more coincidences. Considering how many I had experienced in the previous three years, this idea resonated very deeply with me.

Though the writing wasn't spectacular, the exposure to a new spiritual idea kept me turning pages and reading for hours. All of the ideas presented in the novel were new for me and I was still in my "impressionable age" (of 22 years old), so this novel might have had a larger impact on me than it would have had it come out several years later. It was during my "ecstatic bliss" period of reading this novel that I met one of my best friends, Nathan, who remembered eating at my family's house after church a decade earlier. Our friendship began by realizing our coincidence. I even got Nathan into the book.

My dad thought it was wise of the writer to create an adventure story surrounding the nine insights, rather than writing a non-fiction spiritual book. This probably increased the chances that Redfield's ideas would find a wider audience. The novel is around 220 pages and is a quick read. A friend of mine who lives in Peru now said that she didn't believe that the author actually travelled to Peru because he got some of the distances or travel times wrong in the novel. Perhaps. However, the writing isn't what you would call memorable. All these years later, what I remember most are the insights, particularly the one about coincidences guiding you towards your destiny. The novel was just short enough that it left me wanting more. I bought the audio version on cassette so I could listen to it whenever I needed a spiritual reminder. I think I only read the book once, though. I highlighted the most important parts I wanted to remember.

In the spring of 1996, the sequel was released. I was out of the Navy by this point, enjoying the follow-up Dave Matthews Band CD that was also just released (that would be Crash, following the excellent Under the Table and Dreaming). I was in my post-Navy optimism (before the car accident that "ruined" my year). The Tenth Insight pushed ideas even further and I must admit that I had difficulty with this one. The reason is because the author talked about reincarnation and birth visions. I was not yet a believer in reincarnation (that would not happen until 1998) but I was still intrigued by the idea. When I talked to a church member about the insights I learned from this book, the lady advised caution because the novel might not be in keeping with Christianity. I did like the concept of having a birth vision (that is, remembering what our souls incarnated in our current bodies for). This sequel was set somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains and was a satisfying sequel. I did not expect to see any more novels, though a trilogy would have been nice.

In the fall of 1997, James Redfield released what was essentially a "non-fiction version" of The Celestine Prophecy, called The Celestine Vision. Of course, I bought it because it offered details about the ten insights without the "adventure story." It definitely made a better reference book. I was in my first semester at BYU, so this book made an excellent diversion from my required reading. I don't remember anything new being offered, though. Some might wisely consider this a money-making gimmick (basically distilling the essence out of the novels).

In 1999, I had finally accepted the spiritual truth about reincarnation after reading Richard Matheson's What Dreams May Come novel in 1998 and experiencing "the burning in my bosom" that Mormons claim that you will feel when you read something that is "the truth." I was not expecting another Celestine Prophecy sequel and was surprised to see it in the book store one day. Of course, I had to buy it and devour it. The Secret of Shambhala takes place in China / Tibet and deals with the power of group prayer as well as a community of people living so spiritually that they create a kind of heaven on earth. There are mythologies about "Shangri-La", which is essentially "Shambhala", a community found in the Himalayas of Tibet. I don't remember much else about the book. Perhaps I had outgrown this series and was looking for something more challenging. Its probably a book I need to read again for a refresher.

In 2006, the movie version of The Celestine Prophecy finally arrived in theaters. I had seen an exclusive showing at a New Age bookstore in Atlanta with a friend of mine, an older lady who had lost her son to suicide the previous fall. The film showing was crowded and it was not in a theater, but in a meeting room at the book store. I couldn't see the screen well and eventually moved to a better location at some point in the film. When it made it to a regular theatrical run, I had thought about going to see it again, but never did. I waited to see it again when it was released on DVD in the fall.

There was talk about a film version in the mid-1990s, with someone like Harrison Ford attached to star. A big Hollywood movie was a risky idea. Sure, the studio might get the story right, but possibly at the expense of the underlying spirituality. I'm sure that's what James Redfield was concerned about when he decided not to sell the film rights to anyone and just make an independent film with the millions he had earned with his Celestine series of books. Though the movie does keep the spiritual ideas in place, I thought there was something "off" about the movie. I've never been able to figure out what, though. The film had good actors, some of whom are familiar faces to filmgoers. The film failed to find box office success, which is a shame, because the ending hinted at a sequel, which hasn't happened so far. This is a film project that George Lucas might be able to find success with, if someone can pry him away from his Star Wars fixation. Lucas' infused his epic saga with spiritual undertones, so he would be a natural to direct and produce any future Celestine Prophecy movies. How about it, eh?

I do like the film, though, and watch it whenever I need a spiritual reminder. It certainly beats reading the poorly written novel again!

Finally, we come to The Twelfth Insight, which was released on February 15th of this year, which also happens to be the birthday of my favourite teacher of all time: Tom Malone, whose outspoken atheism and brutal honesty inspired an impressionable teen like me. Ironically, when I had visited him in 1994 and raved about The Celestine Prophecy, I was dismayed when he mocked the idea of coincidences being relevant. It was the beginning of the end of my atheism fascination, as I learned from several atheists that they were every bit as closed minded to different ideas as fundamentalist / evangelical Christians are. As I like to tell people: hypocrisy led me away from Christianity but coincidences brought me back to God. I've had so many amazing coincidences that I simply cannot agree with an atheist that in a random universe, such coincidences will occur by sheer statistical probabilities. Or has Wayne and Garth loved to say on Saturday Night Live in the 1990s: "Yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt!"

I feel sorry for the atheists who reject any spiritual meaning behind the strange coincidences they have. Coincidences / synchronicities truly make life awesomely wonderful. If something strangely wonderful happens to you, why would you not want to investigate the potential meaning behind it? Why go out of your way to dismiss it as a statistical probability? Following coincidences only lead you down a path of sheer amazement.

As for The Twelfth Insight, I was greately disappointed. It was a major ordeal reading it because I was so put off by Redfield's horrendous writing style. I never noticed this in his previous novels. But then again, I've read several hundred books in the dozen years between his novels. You would think that he would have spent some time learning how to write in the past decade so that he could write a great story. At the very least, he should've had a ghostwriter or an editor go over his work and demand changes. As I said in the previous post, Redfield is far too repetitive in his descriptions. Characters are often "looking around" or "giving a look" or "looking at each other." The writing is lazy and sloppy, and ultimately drags down the novel. It was a painful read. One word he used a lot was "grimaced." A lot of characters were "grimacing" throughout the novel. The word is awkward in most sentences. Who speaks like that? I CRINGE at the thought of reading any more of his works. I would have loved to be an editor on this novel. I would have redlined so many sentences!!

Other than the bad writing, the story was kind of predictable. Essentially, its The Celestine Prophecy in a new dust jacket. Instead of insights that the characters learn throughout the adventure tale, these characters learn "integrations", which coincide with the twelve insights. Interestingly, the setting for this novel is Sedona, Arizona and the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. How timely! Arizona and Egypt have gotten most of the attention of 2011 so far.

The idea I love most about this book is that we are supposedly entering a more spiritually enlightened era where it will be much harder to deceive people and that honesty will prove beneficially as karma supposedly speeds up to the point where people will finally be able to recognize the cause-and-effect relationship between how they treat others and how they get treated. Karma is meant to act as a mirror on your own behaviour. Its not meant to be punishment but more like a corrective device: if you steal from other people, other people will steal from you. I'm certainly hoping that karma speeds up, because I'm tired of being one of the rare honest people I know in the places where I work. I hate seeing dishonest people get ahead with all the financial benefit and promotion, while my honesty keeps me in low wage positions. It is very uncomfortable when I tell someone a lie and I rarely do it. In fact, I only do it as a last resort, when telling the truth would cause harm to myself in an atmosphere where no one is honest. If I won the lottery, I would definitely work for myself, creating my own foundation with staff as I attempt to conduct business by purely spiritual principles, with honesty as a baseline for the way things get done. I so want this this to happen in our world!

As I read the novel, though, I felt several steps ahead of the writer. The basic premise for this one is that religions need to find a common purpose and realize which ones are actually better at which principles. If we can learn from each religion, we will become more spiritual and this era of cooperation will foster a trans-religion sense of brotherhood. I've had for years felt as though I could identify the kernal of truth in every religion I've learned about. I have been practicing what some call a "salad bar religion" where I pick only the best ideas from each religion I've learned about. This ability to see elements of truth in each religion is old news to me and nothing earth-shattering.

The novel culminates with a group of people called the Apocalyptics who conspire to commit a terrorist act that they believe will bring the world to Armaggedon in order to speed up the time for the coming messiah's return (Jesus for the Christians, the Messiah for the Jews, and the Twelfth Imam for the Muslims). A big part of this plan includes the blowing up of the Mosque that sits on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel. This act of terrorism is considered enough of an outrage to unleash a war to end all wars. I've heard this talk at BYU more than a decade ago. According to Christian and Jewish end times mythologies, one of the signs of the coming messiah would be the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple on the ancient site of Solomon's Temple (that was destroyed in 70 a.d. or thereabouts). Since the Muslims built a beautiful Mosque on that very site, though, no Jewish Temple will be able to be built unless the Mosque was removed. There are fanatical Christians who wish to destory the Mosque, which they believe will prompt Jesus' return. Since I don't believe Jesus ever intended to return and I happen to love awesome architecture, I would be very upset if anyone attempted to destroy that beautiful Mosque. Religious fanatics are so freaking silly and immature. Like a perfect, all-knowing God really cares about temples and disagreements over locations.

Though I was disappointed in this latest Celestine Prophecy sequel, I am glad to know more about how we might increase the spiritual awareness of our planet. We may be in for some tough times ahead. Spirituality may be the only thing that saves us from descending into chaos and hell. I know that I will keep the techniques in mind in the hope of increasing my own synchronistic flow. Hope you will make that commitment as well.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why I Haven't Blogged Much Lately

A friend had commented recently that I haven't blogged much lately. I appreciate the interest and understand the observation. Its true. I haven't blogged as much as I wanted to. There are a few reasons for this. For one, ever since the uprising in Egypt, I have been absolutely addicted to the news. Most of the time, I don't watch the news or read the paper. I'll scan the news websites for any major stories to read, but I generally find that most of the news is irrelevant to life in general. With the uprisings in North Africa, though, I can't help but be riveted because this is HUGE for our planet. This is a great thing for humanity: people rising up against despotic rulers who have abused their citizens and stolen the people's money to enrich themselves while the mass of people are forced to endure chronic poverty and high unemployment. I feel a great solidarity with these common folks, many of whom are college-educated young Arabs without a career or opportunities for one.

After Mubarak stepped down, the focus shifted to the next places where people have risen up in protest: Algeria, Syria, Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen, Morocco, and even Saudi Arabia. The focus now is on Libya, which is now the bloodiest of the uprisings and crazy-man Qadafi (or however he spells his name) refusing to relinquish power. So, this latest uprising will have me tuned in to the news for a little while longer as I await to see the outcome (hopefully he will step down by Friday, which is considered the Muslim holy day and also the day that Mubarak officially decided to step down). After Libya, I'm certain that another Middle Eastern / North African country will take center stage on the global media stage. Ideally, I'd love to see a regime fall every few weeks until all of them are gone by the wayside, from Morocco to Burma.

The other preoccupations include the homeowner surprising me by letting me use his car while he was on vacation to Colorado / Wyoming for the week. It was awesome to have wheels again! I learned that work is exactly six miles from the townhouse I live in. The commute was 15 minutes (versus a 3 bus / 1 hour commute). While utilizing the Pontiac Vibe to commute to work and run errands on the weekend, the other housemate told me that he was selling his 1994 Toyota Camry for $1,000 and I got interested in buying it. The problem is that it has 260,000 miles on it and if it needs repairs, I might not have money in the bank to get the repairs. However, I would use it to commute to work and it would allow me to get to church without having to get a ride each Sunday by a nice family who go out of their way to pick me up. I wouldn't use the car to go on a long roadtrip, due to the miles, but it would be much easier to get a part time job if I had a car. So, that's something that may occur in March.

Also in the past couple of weeks is the Portland International Film Festival. I've only seen two films and have one scheduled for Saturday. I wanted to see about 12 films, but narrowed them down to 5. When I went to buy the five tickets, two films were moved to days / times / locations that were incovenient for me, so I end up only with three films this year, which is a shame. One that I really wanted to see was only scheduled twice: both at 9 p.m. in theaters that required two buses to get back to where I live, and because it gets out around 11 p.m., that means I ran the risk of missing the final bus for the night on my transfer. The disadvantages of living so far out from the downtown area. All the more reason to own a car again!

I'll review the films next week, once I see the third and final film on my list. Also during this time, I finally watched The Social Network, which deserves a blog post review of its own, so that is forthcoming as well. Also in the past week or two were the release of two books that I definitely couldn't wait to buy and read: The Tenth Insight by James Redfield and the memoirs by Senator Scott Brown (Against All Odds), who I believe is being groomed by the powers-that-be to be the 45th President of the United States of America. This book is part of a multi-step process to make him viable for 2016. He's such a likable guy, that even I could support him despite his party affiliation (though I believe that Governor Martin O'Malley has an excellent shot at the Democratic nomination and will be the one I intend to support, including starting up a group in Portland if needs be).

With all those distractions, who has time to blog? I honestly wish there were more hours in the day to get all the things I need to get done.

I've been reading The Twelfth Insight for the past week, hoping to finish it so that I can start reading Senator Brown's book. I only learned about The Twelfth Insight a few weeks before publication date. I was stunned that Redfield had written another book in his Celestine Prophecy series. For Flashback Friday, I will be writing about the impact The Celestine Prophecy had on my spiritual development. It came out at the right time in my life (1994) and made a huge impression on me. The Tenth Insight (1996) was an excellent sequel that builds upon the original. In 1997, he released a non-fiction version called The Celestine Visions. Then in 1999 came the third book in his novel series: The Secret of Shambhala. I was not really impressed with this one, though, and don't remember much about it. Now, a dozen years later comes The Twelfth Insight, in the year before the overhyped 2012. I figured that something about 2012 prompted Redfield that another book was "necessary" to cash in on all the books being released about this famous Maya date (the elaborate calendar that the ancient Mayans produced mysteriously ends on December 21, 2012, which has doomsday believers thinking that this will be the end of the world for real this time! I happen to think that maybe they were all slaughtered before they could start to work engraving the calendar for 2013 so we are panicking for stupid reasons, like the whole Y2K hysteria that proved uneventful).

Though I am anxious to read about the latest spiritual insights offered by New Age spiritualist writer James Redfield, the latest novel has me in cringe-inducing groans over the writing style. A dozen years between books has proven that Redfield had not spent those years learning how to write. This latest novel is poorly written. I've never really enjoyed his simplistic, first draft style writing of his previous books but I was so intrigued by the idea he offered within the pages that it didn't matter. I've read a lot of books in the years between, so I've been exposed to a lot of great writers and writing styles that I admire. Perhaps that's why I'm finding it much more difficult to like his latest novel than I might have a decade ago.

One thing I notice in reading his latest is that he mentions characters "looking around", "looking at each other", "giving a look", etc. This brings back bad deja vu. About eight years ago, I had been corresponding via email with a lady in Memphis who responded to a personal ad I had on a website. She was a fellow writer and asked me to critique her short story. When I read it, I couldn't help but notice how often she wrote of her characters "looking around" or "giving looks". This is an indication of a first draft writing. I'm guilty of it too in my own writing. Its why revision is necessary when writing. The first draft is for getting your story out on paper. Once that's done, the real work of editing begins. In the editing process, you can see where you are being repetitive and make changes. The revision is where the art emerges out of your work.

When the lady asked me what I thought of her work, I was brutally honest and it ultimately destroyed our friendship (my honesty often gets me in serious trouble with women, which frustrates me because I hear women all the time claim that they just want an honest man. I now believe that to be a lie. Women want men to agree with them, even if its dishonest and I feel very uncomfortable whenever people expect me to lie, regardless of the reason). When I told the lady that she needed to re-write many of her sentences, particularly the ones where her characters were "looking around", she took it the wrong way. She fired back an email saying that I wasn't qualified to "judge" her work because I was not a fantasy fiction writer. However, I did not critique her story / plot, just the writing style of using repetitive and bland sentences / descriptions. This is the kind of critique I would appreciate someone telling me in my own writing. Anything to help the writing read better.

Because of that experience, I now cringe everytime I read a sentence where a character is "looking around" or "giving looks". Well, guess what?!? James Redfield's latest novel is full of sentences that include the word "look" in various forms. I would have loved to be his editor. I can't believe that this book was allowed to be published as is. It is horrendous writing and it takes me out of the story and into the craft of writing, which is not something I want to do. I want to experience this story, but he makes it so difficult by his elementary writing style. If publishing houses are publishing crap like this, then my novel needs to be published, because I think I'm a much better writer than James Redfield is. I actually enjoy the editing process because you get rid of repetitive sentences and descriptions. To not go through that process is laziness and that's what this novel feels like to me as I read it: a rush job with the looming 2012 deadline hovering over him. The novel mentions his interpretation of what 2012 is all about, so of course he needed to have a hardcover out in 2011 and the paperback in 2012. Cash in, one more time!

Once I finish the book, I will review it on the blog. Perhaps even as part of tomorrow's Flashback Friday on The Celestine Prophecy. Stay tuned!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Music Video Monday: Yannick

Last week, I was listening to my Jersey Boys Broadway Cast CD for the first time in a couple years and was reminded of a French song that I loved a few years ago: "Ces Soirees La" by Yannick. This French language hip hop song utilized the most vital aspect that any hip hop song hoping to capture my fancy does: sampling a popular pop song. In Yannick's case, he used a classic Frankie Valli song: "December 1963 (Oh What a Night!)" and created a fresh new song. I love it when musicians do this! I know some purists who consider it to be a form of creative laziness or outright theft. I much prefer a brand new song from a classic old song than a remake that sticks close to the original (listen to Ace of Base's "Cruel Summer" as compared to Bananarama's original or Savage Garden's "Last Christmas" in comparison to Wham's original. Not very original remakes, as it sounds like they are trying to sing it the same way as the original artist, which is boring!).

Some Friday, I'll have to do a countdown on my favourite "recycled" songs of all time. Probably not this Friday, though.

Hope you enjoy! This song got bounce!!! French rap sounds really smooth, too. Love it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Flashback Friday: The Fall of Mubarak

For this week's installment of Flashback Friday, I am "flashing back"...all the way to...last Friday! That was the day when Egyptian "president-for-life" Hosni Mubarak decided to step down from power, a stunning reversal of his previous statement that he would not step down until September. It was weird to hear the news on the radio in the morning and then see a copy of the day's New York Times with a headline stating that Mubarak refuses to relinquish power. It made for a great day, that was already pretty great to begin with. I've heard other people mention how good they were feeling on Friday. This relatively non-violent revolution in Egypt is truly one for the history books, right up there with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.

Once again, the Egyptian people have shown the world exactly the kind of power common people can have when they rise up against corrupt leaders, inspire the world's sympathy and support, and not back down until their demands are met. Czech dissident playwright Vaclav Havel had written during the Communist era an excellent essay that should be required reading by everyone: "The Power of the Powerless." Basically, even people who don't have political power do have another kind of power: moral. Gandhi, Dr. King, Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Corazon Aquino, and Nelson Mandela have all shown that people can change their country if they truly want it. The question is, why doesn't it happen more often? I've read some essays by social scientists and political scientists who say that such revolution only comes when the breaking point had been reached. The "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" moment. I had such a moment last September in my job from hell and things happened that altered my career trajectory (I'm much more satisfied in my working life. It was a huge blessing to be let go!).

Seeing the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt reminded me how complacent and cowardly we are. When the Supreme Court overruled the Florida Supreme Court regarding the recount of the ballots in the state of Florida during the 2000 presidential election, thereby handing victory to the man who had lost the popular vote by half a million votes, I wanted to protest. I wanted people to rise up and demand justice. Bush has a history of showing cowardice, so he likely would have backed down if Americans had stormed Austin, Tallahassee, Miami, and Washington, D.C. demanding that all the ballots be counted no matter how long it took. Imagine how differently our world would look if Bush never got to bring his lifelong incompetence to the White House. Of course, we might be under a President John McCain or President Hillary Clinton now.

Anyhow, the news regarding Egypt really made me feel great all weekend. I didn't post as often as I had wanted to last week because I was absolutely addicted to the news from the Middle East. I was so fascinated that I even read an article that offered more details about the Tunisian revolution, known as "The Jasmine Revolution." I did not know that the spark for all of this began with a college-educated man in his 20s who was working as a vegetable seller at a market in Tunisia. The problem for much of the Middle East is that these countries have a large population of young people, but not enough jobs to go around. People can only go to school for so many years before its time to do something productive in society. Unemployment rate is anywhere between 50%-70%. This is ripe recruiting ground for terrorist networks like al-Qaeda.

The college-educated vegetable seller was harassed by a police officer, and out of his anger, he went to a government office to address his grievances. He gave a deadline ultimatum, which passed without concern by the government. So the young man set himself afire. This act of suicide sparked an angry response among the young people of Tunisia and they rose up in protest against the government. The Tunisian people utilized Twitter and Facebook to organize, and Wikileaks provided more outrage, as they learned details about how lavishly wealthy the leader and his cronies were. The mobs of angry people probably scared the dictator of Tunisia (Ben Ali, I think his name is) into relinquishing power and going off into exile. It was pretty quick and easy. Thanks to the popularity of Twitter and Facebook, as well as damaging information through Wikileaks and Al-Jazeera, the fire of liberty went to Egypt next. It was 18 days from the first protests to the resignation of Hosni Mubarak. In the period between, many Middle East experts thought Mubarak was too entrenched for the revolution to be successful. However, all dicators throughout history have the same problem: there are more of THEM than there are of YOU. Millions of people rising up to demand justice from their government can get results.

Many pundits have criticized President Obama for straddling the fence on this. However, the fault is not with the President, but with American foreign policy. I personally believe that Obama's heart was with the people of Egypt rather than the corrupt ruling class. In 2009, Obama had given a highly acclaimed speech in Cairo, that some think might have inspired the young people of Egypt to demand changes in their society. People think of the U.S. President as the most powerful person in the world, but the reality is, the President still has to tow the line of the special interests that rule our country. Its no secret to anyone who studied politics that Mubarak was an ally of the United States government. We never heard anything bad about Mubarak in the news. Never! Egypt and Israel are the largest receipients of U.S. foreign aide, which was part of the Camp David Accords when Sadat and Begin made the historic peace agreement. Would that have happened if the U.S. government did not promise a long-term financial benefit for both countries?

Mubarak had been in power for over 30 years. I didn't think he was a bad guy, because the American media never reported the truth about him. Certainly not during the 1991 Gulf War. It was only in the Bush years when I started learning the truth about Mubarak, particularly the disturbing fact that a majority of the 9/11 hijackers were Eyptian citizens (I believe 11 of the 19 were Egyptian, if memory serves). The Bush government also renditioned enemy combatants picked up in Afghanistan and Pakistan to Egypt because they had no such ban on the use of torture. This is typical of Bush's cowardice: outsource the torture so your conscience can be "clean" when you face God. Well, Bush, God's more intelligent than you can possibly fathom, so you're not fooling anyone. It was stunning to me that such things went on in Mubarak's government, yet our media did not report in detail nor did the beat the drum on Mubarak's corruption and human rights violations the way they did for Saddam Hussein.

Americans don't seem to realize that propaganda exists in our country. When the media designates a foreign leader as a bad person, Americans believe it unquestioningly. When the media ignores the human rights violations of an ally (Ferdinand Marcos, Augustin Pinochet, PW Botha, King Fahd, Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega, Hosni Mubarak, and Islam Karamov to name a few), Americans are blissfully ignorant. But if a Republican president wants to go to war, all of the sudden, the traitorous "ally" is "worse than Hitler" and needs to be removed from office! The media whips up a frenzy and ignorant Americans everywhere suddenly become "experts" in international politics. I'm in favour of a more consistent policy. None of this "democracy and oil for us, despots and dictatorships for you" crap. If we want to be consistent and true to our values, every human being who stands up against tyranny will have our support. Period. Even if it makes "allies" like Mubarak uncomfortable.

President Obama did have an impact, though. His administration told the Egyptian government to not use "Made in the USA" tear gas and for the Egyptian military to not fire on the people. I wonder what went on the mind of Mubarak during the last few weeks. A karmic reckoning was coming to him. He promised changes, but these were the promises of a scared despot which lacked credibility. He had 30 years to make positive changes, but used it to consolidate power and amass a multi-billion dollar fortune (I've read that he had amassed around $70 billion from all the kickbacks he received from every business in Egypt).

In the aftermath, there was an article where the CIA was called in to answer questions by Senators, such as Dianne Feinstein. How could the CIA not see this coming, went the line of questioning. However, I'm glad that the CIA completely missed this one because given their history, had they known about such populist uprising reaching a boiling point, I'm sure that they would have warned Mubarak early on and he would might have been able to crush it before it began. Its great that the CIA was completely in the dark about this. They don't have an interest in human rights and democratically elected governments in developing world nations, so screw them. Senators shouldn't even grill them on it, because its ridiculous in the way that conservatives in the Truman era blamed the Democratic president for "losing China." We are so narcissistic in our nationalism that we can't see from the perspective of the average person in Egypt. Its not about American power, really, but the desire to have a government accountable to the people.

In fact, I see these uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt as a generational conflict, so you can bet whose side I'm on. The Baby Boomer generation basically screwed up our world in their desire to squander wealth for their own benefit, robbing future generations of prosperity and a healthy planet. The Greatest Generation that saved the world from fascist tyranny in Europe and Asia, and rebuilt Europe left a prosperous world for their children. What do the Boomers leave members of Generation X and the Millennials? Debt, environmental devastation, and poverty. I'm glad to see the young people of the Middle East rising up against the unfairness of it all. All we want is a decent, affordable life, where it is possible to raise a family on a single income, where we have access to good jobs and a healthy environment.

One amusing news story in the aftermath of Mubarak's resignation was that the King of Bahrain was offering each family in his Kingdom a $3,000 bonus. Didn't seem to work, because Bahrain has seen protests. Algeria, Libya, and Yemen have also seen protests. I hope these young people remain brave and grow in numbers. I would love to see one despotic regime after another fall throughout the late winter and spring. Here are the countries that need to flush out their despotic regimes: Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Yemen, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, and Burma. May they all collapse this year. Power to the people! This could be an exciting year. Stay tuned!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Music Video Valentine's Day: Giant Steps

A few months ago, I was watching a medley of hit songs from the 1980s on YouTube and was reminded of some songs I had completely forgotten about. One of those long-forgotten songs is "Another Lover" by Giant Steps. Who?!? Exactly! This one-hit wonder reflects the quintessential 80s sound (which the parody "Pop! Goes My Heart" from the film Music & Lyrics captures perfectly). The sound puts this song circa 1988-1989.

I like the lyrics: "The world don't need another lover..." Yeah, ain't that the truth! On this Valentine's Day, I can't help but be a tad bit cynical. On the Huffington Post was an article that Valentine's Day is not only known as the holiday for lovers, but also the day that spawns some of the most vicious break-ups in couples. As I read the article, I was stunned. Is it really love if a couple engages in wanting to inflict damage in each other when the relationship nears an end? It is seeing this behaviour that scares me from relationships. I don't believe in being nasty towards one another, especially in regards to the people you love the most. True love, to me, means treating your loved ones right. It seems that egotism is what causes the nastiness to come out, and one has to ask, was it even love to begin with? I think a lot of people (particularly those who have posted ads on the various dating sites I've looked at) have a very selfish / narcissistic view of love. I'm not interested in that. One thing I liked in the article was the line: "divorce is the least logical moment in a couple's life." Its sad when two people who once loved each other enough to get married resort to childish brats in a game of one-upmanship to see who can hurt the other more. I admire couples who approach divorce with diplomacy and love, especially if they realize that divorce lawyers are predatory sharks out for your money and to withdraw blood.

In another article on the Huffington Post, one lady wrote about why a lady might still be single in her 30s. It was an insightful read and I can agree with some of her points. Particularly the dishonesty involved. She had criticized women who claim to want a good man to marry, yet limit their criteria to height, looks, social status, career, and other "superficial" standards. Sometimes, finding someone of character means giving a person a chance, even if they don't fit one's superficial expectations. There's nothing wrong with meeting someone and having a conversation with them. Its hard to judge compatability from an online profile.

On Facebook, one couple I met last year had posted about how their love blossomed from a friendship into a romantic love. I was impressed and loved reading it. Out of all options, I think that is still the best way to go. Of course, it hasn't worked for me yet, but I still retain hope.

This weekend, I met an intriguing young lady. She's cute and adorable, just moved to Portland, is liberal, majoring in English, has the self-conscious awareness to realize that she won't be a writer that she once dreamed she might be, and she was raised in the church, though she wants nothing to do with it now because she thinks all religions are more bad than good. We had a good conversation and she is quite mature for her age. The problem? She was born in 1990!!! Yikes. The age gap between us means that she'll just be a friend to me. I'm still hopeful that I will meet some lady born in the 1970s to fulfil the main goal of my year.

I wanted to write a post on Friday about the successful ouster of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. I was so ecstatic all weekend about this great event. I kept reading article after article and ran out of time to post my thoughts on it. A post on Egypt will appear this week. Friday was a great day for that and another reason. I was checking out a possibility that had presented itself to me in recent weeks. I'm hoping that something really good may come of it. I owe Jennifer and Phil for encouraging me to go through with it, because its a win-win situation, even if nothing does come of it. I should know by the end of the month.

Anyhow, have a Happy Valentine's Day! Remember...most of the roses sold in the USA around this time are imported from Colombia. Think of the energy costs involved just to get your sweetie the cliched flower that our corporate media says that you should buy as a symbol of your love. Don't be mindless consumers! I'm sure that a locally grown / produced item of a more personal nature would work much better than a rose from Colombia. Then again, rose farms in Colombia probably means less land to devote to cocaine!!! Maybe it all works out.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Another Republican Congressman Falls Because of a Midlife Crisis

On Wednesday evening, news spread quickly that Republican Congressman Chris Lee (of Rochester, New York) turned in his resignation (effective immediately!) a mere three hours after an Internet website that trafficks in salacious scandals revealed that the shirtless man posing into the mirror for a self-portrait to send to a would-be Internet girlfriend was none other than an esteemed member of Congress! The shock, the horror!

So the story goes, some 34 year old lady in the Washington, D.C. metro area posted an ad on Craigslist to meet a guy who didn't look like a "toad." One of the responses she received was from a man claiming to be a 39 year old, divorced lobbyist and describing himself as a "fit, fun and classy guy." Classy? Really? Turns out, he used his real name and the same email account he uses to email family, friends, and acquaintances. No discretion. Like that's not a subconscious desire to get caught! The reality is that he is 46 years old (born on April Fool's Day, even!) and very married, with a young son. Oops. Busted!

When I read the screaming headlines, I thought it was something seriously crazy. After all, the Republican Party has given us a great number of sex scandals in the past five years: Congressman Mark Foley sending sexually explicit instant messages to underage Congressional Pages. Senator Larry Craig getting busted in a Minneapolis airport men's room trying to solicit sex with the undercover police officer in the next toilet stall. Senator David Vitter being one of the customers of a prostitute, who revealed that his kinky fantasy was to be put in a diaper and treated like a baby. Then who can forget Senator John Ensign of Nevada, who had a sexual affair with his loyal staffer's wife and when caught, tried to buy forgiveness with a nice house for the couple. And my favourite one of all, Governor Mark Sanford being AWOL from his governing duties while his staff claimed that they were unable to locate him on the Appalachian Trail. A few days later, someone caught him with his Argentine lover at the airport in Atlanta.

So, when we've been subjected to off the charts sex scandals from the party of "family values", you'll have to forgive me for being bored by this latest "scandal." It was an act of utter stupidity, of course, but the Congressman apparently did not meet the lady. After he had sent that picture you see above on the right, she did some online sleuthing and realized that he looked exactly like the Congressman with the same name. She was offended that he was married, so she forwarded her evidence to the Internet gossip site. All this broke on a day that probably began as usual for the Congressman, where he had attended a hearing. I feel bad for the guy. To wake up one morning in one's routine, only to be upended when his indiscretion became public and by day's end, he's unemployed.

I've never heard of him (with 435 members in the House of Representatives, even a political junkie like me can't keep track of them all), so I decided to do some Internet research of my own. There was a debate on one of my friend's Facebook walls. My Democratic / liberal friends were calling Congressman Lee a typical "hypocrite" while the independent iconoclast Aaron was claiming that the Congressman is not on record having said anything about marriage that should cause liberals to get all giddy. So, I looked at a few of his campaign commercials (he won his first term with 55% of the vote in 2008 and reelection last year with 75%). I looked at his campaign website and his official website through the What I read, I liked. He was a moderate conservative, not an ideologue. Even YouTube had some of his campaign commercials and speeches both to voters and on the floor of the House. He seemed a man serious about his duties as a member of Congress. He spoke about substantial issues, from helping out his constituents with the subprime mortages to the need to create jobs, and other issues that would likely bore the cultural conservatives.

Why resign, Congressman Lee? We need moderates in Congress, not the teabaggers and their desires to widen the "cultural wars" into yet another decade when more important issues are at stake. You can count on me as one liberal Democrat who did not want him to resign. Especially when Diaper David Vitter and Sleeps With Loyal Aide's Wife as a Thank You for Sycophantic Service (that would be Senator Ensign) and Don't Cry For Me, Columbia (Governor Sanford) did not resign for their much more serious violations.

The prompt resignation leaves more questions than answers, unfortunately. Perhaps he's afraid that more stuff will come out and he's nipping it in the bud by returning to private life. The Fox Propaganda Network speculated that Speaker Boehner might have demanded his resignation since he is supposedly not tolerating any of the excesses that occurred during the Gingrich / Bush eras. Not sure I believe that. Perhaps he decided that he didn't like being a member of Congress and this scandal was a convenient out for him. Interesting that it comes around the one year anniversary of the other New York Congressman's resignation after he was subjected to a sexual harassment lawsuit by a male staffer. Wonder what he's doing now?

The most amazing thing about this "scandal" is the sheer recklessness of it all. It ticks me off when a married man is not satisfied with his choice of marital partner and is still acting like a single man, interferring with the single man's chances of finding a spouse. I'd tell him, "you made your choice, so live in it! Leave the single ladies alone." However, based on the photo alone, he exhibits all the signs of classic midlife crisis in the male species. Notice, if you will, his shirtless pose. He's flexing his right arm slightly, clearly proud of his physique. The male life crisis is a psychological disorder that most men are clueless about recognizing the true nature of. When some existential angst hits middle-aged men, they revert back to adolescence, thus the sports car convertible and the chasing after women young enough to be their daughters. Men at mid-life still want to feel as virile and desireable to the younger ladies as they did in their 20s. This Congressman fell into the same cliche as all the rest.

The real cause of the mid-life crisis is a spiritual one. You've reached the point where there are more days in the rear view mirror than on the road in front of you. Face it, you're going to die at some point and maybe you've already propagated the species by siring an heir to pass on your legacy. Time to focus on your spiritual beliefs and make preparations for that inevitable journey that we all make at the end of our lives. So, stop pursuing younger ladies or trying to prove that you're just as fit as you were in your 20s.

Still, I feel bad for the guy. I'm sure that he's not having a happy home life at the moment, with more intense conversations with his wife than he's probably ever had before. I hope everything works out for him. Its sad that someone who seemed like a competent, serious member of Congress, as well as not being an ideologue is now out of there, leaving room for a teabagger candidate to rush in. This "scandal" was such a yawner that he could have survived the short and intense media scrutiny before another scandal distracts our attention (one can almost count on Sarah Palin stealing the spotlight from him and putting it back on her beautiful self).

The other thing I wanted to mention about this story is that I find it somewhat amusing that a lady thinks all men on Craigslist are "toads." Does she even know what its like for a guy searching on there for dates? Most of the ads in the Portland personals are "BBW"s (that's Big, Beautiful Woman in Craigslist parlance). So, neither gender is satisfied, it seems. This use of Craigslist to find a fling is what is truly baffling. Craigslist is essentially scraping the bottom of the barrel (though good ones can be found, as my sister and her husband can attest). A member of Congress is surrounded by temptations on Capitol Hill. When I interned there a decade ago, there were so many beautiful, young ladies working in offices all over. Many of them wouldn't even date guys who were in a similar status as them (intern or low wage Congressional staff who have to live in roommate situations far beyond the college years), but a member of Congress seems to hold large sway with their having the most powerful aphrodisiac of all: POWER.

There are also lobbyists crawling all over Capitol Hill from their K Street fortresses of think tanks and corporate-backed firms. Former Congressman Newt Gingrich can tell you all about dumping the faithful wife for the cute, younger lobbyist. Many a married politician have found secret mistresses in the nation's capital. Congressman Lee obviously had an attraction to risk and potential humiliation. Well, he got what he wanted. Hopefully he becomes a better person through this process.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

What Makes a True Friend?

On Saturday, I was surprised to read on the blog of the family friend (the one who believes that my subconscious "attracted" rednecks to throw blocks of ice at me while walking down the road a few weeks back) that she was admitting she had "control issues." Okay, maybe she does, but I never thought that was her "problem." Besides, my last job taught me all about what a person with "major control issues" behaves like and this lady doesn't even come close.

Still, I am touched by her self-appraisal and willingness to admit this quality about herself. She had defriended me on Facebook after I sent her a private email expressing my long history of frustration with her (see my previous blog posts from January to learn more in depth about the "history of our friendship"). Below, I'm posting what appeared on her blog (her blog is in my Blogroll as "Cocoons to Butterflies"). Please read her post before I add my thoughts to what she wrote.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Problem of Control

Control has always been a big issue for me. When I was a small child, I was very bold, popular and friendly. This often led to taking control of the situation, sometimes at the expense of others. When I was around twelve, I learned that I was indeed quite controlling and that others often resented it. Since that time, my desire has been to control myself and let others come to their own conclustions. Still, even with years of practice, there are times when I falter in big ways. The thing is, control is a huge problem. Seeking to control others not only blocks some of their energy, but it also blocks your own.

I recently encountered a situation with a person I consider a really good friend. He pointed out to me there were times he felt I was subtly trying to teach him a lesson, and he resented it as he really didn't see me as a teacher or mentor. As I thought about it, I realized he was right. I value him so much I want him to have the benefit of alternative perspectives. The thing is, his life is not about me anymore than my life is about him. He is learning the things he needs to learn in this lifetime, and these lessons are in no way dependent on me or my help. I decided that I did need to give him his space to learn what he came here to learn, so I let go of that friendship for a while. There was too much tension between us (which should have been an obvious sign to me in the first place). I am not hurt or angry or upset in any way, and I wish him well on his journey.

The interesting part for me has been the result of this action. As I let go of my control, I feel the release of energy and emotions--one of those breathing a sigh of relief sort of moments. As I let go of the tension, better emotions fill me. I've also discovered I have been attracting some really amazing, uplifting friends who are refilling this void. Giving up trying to control this friend has been incredibly transforming for me.

It is said that everyone who comes into your life is a teacher. Lesson learned. Thank you, my friend.

The thing that most stunned me about her post is that she actually claimed to consider me a "really good friend." Really? That's the first I ever heard of it. It was sometime in 2001 or 2002 when I started feeling "used" by her for my empathy. In 1996, shortly after the birth of her fourth and final child (whom I feel a special affinity with because he was born just ten days before I got out of the Navy, so whenever I see him, I have a visual on how long I've been out of the Navy), she was separated from her husband (who had committed adultery) and her dream life of the happy housewife in suburbia with the white picket fence came crashing down. She would call me and talk for hours about her feelings regarding the divorce. I was being the empathetic friend, a role I seem naturally suited for (guys in the Navy would often tell me things they would never say to another man, like I was some kind of priest sitting in those strange little confessionals). I had my own theories about the reasons for the divorce but I kept my mouth shut. Heck, I even came to my own conclusions about her motives for marrying the guy. However, I also think its the shittiest thing for a man to do to a woman: walking away from the commitments made before family, friends, and God to his wife, especially with young children for her to raise alone. I developed a theory at the time that men turn into assholes during midlife crises while women get better with age. She naturally had my empathetic ear, even though there's always at least two sides to the story. That's what being a loyal friend is all about.

Much of our friendship also included going to the movies. Though she lived in really far outer suburbia of Atlanta, I always drove out to her neck of the woods to see a movie. We saw a variety: What Women Want, Kate and Leopold, Serendipity, Planet of the Apes, Artificial Intelligence. I thought of her as an older sister, but our hanging out together did cause some church members and my own parents to wonder if we were an item. When this lady and I had a falling out in 2009, she had asked me a question that truly stunned me: "Did you ever wonder why I never seemed interested in dating you?" I was horrified when she asked me that because I thought I had made myself quite clear in the late 1990s and the early 2000s when I told her that I saw her as an older sister (being in the same church and our parents being close friends kind of made it seem natural to think of her as a sister). I had even told her that I base potential dates on the baseball system: three strikes and they are out. These are all strikes against a lady in my book: divorce, child (each child counts as one strike), and obesity. This was the way I approached dating a decade ago. Now, of course, I have a more nuanced outlook. Divorce and one child wouldn't be a deal-breaker or maybe not even count as two strikes against any lady who had other qualities I valued (kindness and intelligence are the top two criteria I am seeking).

Anyhow, her question to me induced the icky factor, because her potential for liking me in a romantic way was the equivalent of "incest" to me, even though we are not blood relations. One thing people don't understand about me is that I take roles very seriously. Even if I find women who are outside of Generation X to be intellectually, experiencially, and/or physically attractive, I believe that being born in the same generation is a far too important bond in a serious relationship. I also want to have a child or two someday (soon), and due to the biological clock, it does not make sense to end up with a lady older than myself. Time is truly ticking away on women in Generation X, but I think it is important to marry a lady born in the same decade as me, or not too far into the 1980s.

I guess, for this lady, she assumed that my going to the movies with her meant that I had more romantic interests in her when it was not the case at all. I have always been able to maintain friendships with women without wanting to take it to the next level, particularly if they didn't fit what I was looking for. Not every guy wants to jump every woman's bones! Its just nice to have the female perspective on things and I did enjoy our spiritual conversations over the years.

However, it wasn't her self-described "control issues" that frustrated our friendship. It was a complete psychological incompatability. She simply did not understand me at all and misinterpreted too many things about me that only continued to build as the years wore on. One of the things I love most about my friends, the ones I consider to be in "the first tier" is that they truly "get" me. In our conversations or interactions, they will say or do something that they know will cause a desired reaction in me (namely, making me laugh...and my sense of humour can be a bit tough to figure out for many people. My brother is one who tries hard to make me laugh, but our sense of humour don't match). Another way friends show that they truly know me is in their reactions to things I've said or they know exactly the right questions to ask me when I share with them my life or a dilemma I want feedback on.

Here's one example: when I visited best friend Nathan in Hawaii in 1997 and even considered transferring to BYU-Hawaii in 1998, Nathan said quite bluntly that it would be a stupid idea. When I mentioned how much I liked O'ahu, all he had to ask me was: "How many times are you going to drive around this island before you realize how much you hate it?" He had a point. He knew that I needed to live on the mainland, with thousands of miles of roads for my need to travel. Here's another example: In 2001, when I finally received a job offer with That Organization That Shall Not Be Named, I called each of my three best friends to share the news. All three of them asked me the same exact question. I ignored their warnings, and I have a wasted decade to show for it!

The friendship between this family friend and myself started to unravel in 2001 and 2002. I was going through a tough time in late 2000 and most of 2001, but this lady did not offer an empathetic ear to relate to what I was going through. Instead, she did the blame thing and seemed to have a hostile view of me, which is not what a true friend does. I know with my friends, even if I believe that they brought stuff upon themselves, I would still choose to take their side because that's what it means to be a loyal friend. That's why I have strict standards about who I allow into my life, particularly when it comes to close friends. I'm naturally loyal and empathetic, so the last thing I need is a trouble maker friend who is dysfunctional in how he relates to other people and gets into trouble all the time. That's too much drama.

When someone is not loyal or defensive to me, it does cause a rift. One perfect example of a true friend coming to my defense occurred during the Washington Seminar, when my roommate Matt basically sealed his friendship with me for life. He (a Temple-worthy Mormon) actually defended me and my religious devotion to the RLDS Church against the criticisms of several of his fellow Mormons on the program. I was touched by that gesture, and again when he wrote in the Memory Book I put together that he admired me the most because I kept my faith at BYU (that I didn't convert to his church, in other words). Now who can not love and appreciate a friend like that?!? Then of course, there's my oldest friendship, where we even share the same first name, being left-handed, and introverted. On my 30th birthday, he came to visit me for the day in Buckhead and he arrived bearing gifts like one of those Wise Men back in Jesus' day! That's what I'm talking about!

In 2002, when my car broke down, I could no longer make that long journey to far outer suburbia of Atlanta where this lady lived. I was stunned that she didn't want to make the effort to drive down to my part of town to see a movie on occasion. I found that act to be quite selfish, after all the miles I put on my car driving far out of my way to see a movie in her neck of the woods. That told me a lot about how she viewed our "friendship." It was purely one way. The other thing that happened was that her brother-in-law and I went on a roadtrip to Boston and New York in the summer of 2002. We bonded on that trip. Though he and I disagree on religion (he's an evangelical-type Christian, though a priesthood member in our church), I found that he was a true friend to anyone and one of the friendliest people you're likely to meet. He's easy to talk to and I know that I can trust him with anything. Because he is credible, he shared his observations about his sister-in-law (he had married the youngest of three sisters in that family). He actually seemed concerned that I might be falling in love with the lady and tried to warn me out of it. Funny that people seem to think that. The lady isn't even my type, never mind the age gap of about eight years.

Anyhow, I have many examples of people being true friends to me and quite a few of these have even said to me that I have been a great friend to them. Friendship is a two-way street. Its a give and take, like any relationship that's worthwhile. When it gets one-sided, its natural that someone is going to be resentful. The friendship can't survive without the shared fondness for one another. And, after all these years, I never felt that this lady ever viewed me as a friend. I feel like I was nothing more than an empathetic ear for her to talk off her frustrations in life with.

In the past month, after trying to convince me that my subconscious was somehow attracting rednecks to throw blocks of ice at me (this isolated incident), she had mentioned that she was writing a book on spirituality but didn't want me to read it because she felt like I would not accept it coming from her, similar to the way Jesus was not accepted as a miracle worker by those he grew up with. Gee, I wonder why? What she said in her email next was just one more example that she did not "get me" one bit. She had said, "If Neale Donald Walsch had written this book, you'd think it was the best book you ever read!" How's that for arrogant assumptions? Wow. She really thinks that highly of her book? When I finished my novel and gave it to a few friends to read, in my mind, I had no clue if they would like it or not. I hoped that they would, but it would never occur to me to think, "This is the greatest book you'll ever read!" That's just really beyond words at this point. I don't even think in those terms.

When I had emailed my response to her, I mentioned this presumptuous fact. I told her that I had never even bought a single Walsch book (the whole Conversations With God series of books). I've skimmed through a few volumes, but never had an inclination to buy them. I was not all that impressed with those books, to be honest. I felt like, that's HIS "conversation with God." That's not MY "conversation with God." Its just one more evidence that this lady knows nothing of what I'm about, but it doesn't surprise me. She had once seen a Facebook comment I had made about Sarah Palin and emailed me privately to say that she had felt a lot of hatred in my remarks aimed at this woman. Hatred? The Quitter Queen from Alaska amuses me! I honestly feel no hatred for that lady and if she ever decided to include Portland on her booksigning tour, she can count me in as one of those waiting in line to get her autograph and a few seconds of pleasant conversation. Just because I don't like her politics or think she's qualified for any public office does not mean I hate her. And yes, if Palin is going to make herself a public figure, I reserve the right to laugh at her expense. She is the modern day equivalent of a court jester and anyone who makes me laugh will not get any hate vibes from me.

So, what makes a true friend? Well, I think I have been blessed to have quite a few of them in my life. This lady did not have to de-friend me on Facebook (though I did de-friend her in 2009 and then re-friended her last year when she sent in a request). I hold no ill will towards her. I just think that from the time that I've known her, she has the annoying habit of trying to teach me how to interpret my own life experience when she has no right to nor does she have the ability to, based on how often she gets me wrong. She might think her view of me is the correct view, but if everyone who has known me for the past 25 years were all in the same room and had to share with everyone else what they know about me, I think most people would share similar stories about me and this lady's viewpoint of me would describe a person none of the other people would even recognize.

So, you have to wonder about a person who calls you a "really good friend" but prefers to think the worst of you all the time. Whenever I visit my close friends, I can tell you that the one thing I always feel in their presence is "awe." I'm inspired by their lives and relationships, and I'm deeply honoured that they consider me one of their closest friends. I don't feel such awe whenever I was around this lady. I always felt like I was being psychoanalyzed for the worst traits (she did say on more than one occasion that she saw me joining a cult someday). Um, no, lady. Let's not forget that it was YOU who joined a cult. None of my true and close friends would ever think that about me because they understand me at the core of my being.

I guess this post is to get final closure on a tumultuous friendship. There is an expression about friendships that I like but can't remember the exact words. Its something like, some friendships last for a season, others for a lifetime. We have to know which is which and appreciate all for what they bring to our lives. Letting go of those that aren't meant to endure is part of the process. We live, learn and move on. God bless you on your journey. And when I'm back in Atlanta to visit family and friends, its not like I won't talk to you at church. There are quite a few folks in Atlanta North congregation that I don't regularly write letters to, email, call, or have on my Facebook friends list but whom I would have easy converations with after church service when I visit. True friendships, though, takes a lot of work and I can only have a small number of them due to my loyalty gene. What is friendship without the loyalty? Not much of a friendship at all, I'm afraid.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Superbowl XLV Gets a Black Eye

Sunday, the annual over-hyped television event of the year has come and gone with the usual mix of let-down, disappointments, and controversies. Its amazing that so much hype and production goes into a single game, which usually does not live up to the level of expectations people have come to expect. Its become like a bad sequel put out by Hollywood, in which the philosophy is "bigger is better" while the reality is that it was overdone and would've done much better with less.

I watched the game at my church congregation's annual Superbowl Party. Its a good thing that they offered it, because my television cannot pick up Fox or CBS, so I would have had to go to a local bar to watch the game with a bunch of rednecks (or deal with the infrequent bus service on Sunday and watch the game in a pub downtown with a higher level of patrons). Last year, I lived in an apartment complex that had a Superbowl party in the lobby that I attended.

I found it interesting that the Superbowl party at church boiled down to gender stereotypes. All the guys (except me) sat in the chairs close to the big screen. The women held a separate scrapbooking party in the main adult classroom. One lady wanted me to let her know when the commercials were on, but come on! They could've done their scrapbooking thing in the back of the fellowship hall where tables were set up. I was at one of those tables, surfing the Internet the entire time of the game. Didn't really get into the game as much this year. It was fun to catch the conversations of various friends around the country through Facebook.

The first controversy of the Superbowl was the absolute butchering of the national anthem by the trampy Christina Aguilera (I've never been a fan of hers, though I think "Beautiful" is her best single by far). She was awful, awful, awful. For one thing, she tried to put her creative vocalizing spin on the anthem like she's singing some cover version of a song she's trying to make her own. That's inappropriate for the National Anthem. Either sing it right or don't sing it at all. Haven't we gone over this before when Roseanne Barr insulted people nationwide with her irreverent version of the National Anthem in the late 1980s? Secondly, she forgot the words to one line in the anthem and sang something completely different. I understand that our national anthem is actually a difficult song to sing both in the melody and in remembering the words.

This is why I'm in favour of changing our national anthem to "America the Beautiful." I'm glad that the Superbowl does have another singer perform that song as well. I find "America the Beautiful" to be a much better anthem for several reasons: (1) both the lyrics and music are written by an American ("The Star-Spangled Banner" is actually a British pub drinking song with the words of a poem about the War of 1812 by Frances Scott Key attached to it); (2) the song pays tribute to the great natural beauty of our country (versus the glorification of war in our national anthem); and (3) it is simply a beautiful melody and people remember the lyrics of the first verse.

So, Christina Aguilera was an EPIC FAIL as the game got started. The commercials were kind of ho-hum, save for a few, particularly the one that got the most attention for being leaked on the Internet in the days before the game and was viewed by 10 million people already before it officially debuted during the Superbowl. Of course, I'm talking about Volkswagen's brilliant Star Wars commercial, with a pint-sized Darth Vader trying to use the power of the force on various things until his father secretly helps him out with the car. This commercial aims directly at the heart of anyone who grew up on Star Wars and believed in the power of the force (confession: after I saw Empire Strikes Back in 1980, I learned how to ride a bicycle without training wheels by use of "The Force". I used to pretend that I was Luke Skywalker and that my bicycle was my X-Wing fighter). My favourite part of the commercial is the kid's reaction when he believes he had finally successfully used the Force on the VW. Though you can't see his face, his bodily reaction tells the viewer everything. The kid is a natural. I hope an acting career is in his future.

The next major controversy came during the Half-Time show. It looked as though the Black Eyed Peas were trying to rip off Tron (Disney should sue if no one had asked their permission to use the idea of costumes that light up like the Tron outfits). The opinions I read on Facebook and online elsewhere was pretty unanimous, even by fans of the Black Eyed Peas: they were absolutely AWFUL! The singing was off, the music was just discombobulated nonsense, and most of the songs were not memorable (I only like a few Black Eyed Peas songs, but think "Where is the Love?" is far and away their best single ever. This song also has special relevance for the YAPS group I participate with). Fergie was screaming more than singing and when Slash appeared, she badly butchered the awesome Guns 'n Roses classic "Sweet Child o' Mine." Usher even showed up to do his dance sequences, but I've never been an Usher fan.

Why was this show so bad? I thought I was the only one who thought it was bad when I was watching it live. I actually thought I had reached the age of uncool, where I was starting to think about music like my father and grandfather. I loved music in the 1980s and 1990s. Since 2000, I have been disappointed by the lack of good music as each year turns into the next. However, this is a good thing because I spend less of my money on music now than I used to in the 1990s. Still, is it so wrong to want to hear great music during an over hyped half-time show? The Who got criticized and so did Paul McCartney. In the past few years, the NFL brought out the old dinosaurs to perform after 2004's controversial Janet Jackson / Justin Timberlake half-time show offended people with all the nipple exposure in an election year. CBS was fined by the FCC for that moment of indecency, and the NFL or whoever decides the half-time performer has played it safe ever since.

I think U2 did a great job at the Superbowl one year (was it 2002?) as did Bruce Springsteen. I've read one anaylsis online in which the writer claimed that its hard for a group to do a good job during the half time show if their music is slickly produced in the recording studio. Actual bands that play live concerts usually make for a great live performance, while hip hop musicians that depend too much on sampling and technology are poor choices. So, whoever is in charge of the entertainment, how about picking a band like Maroon 5 or Coldplay or even The Dave Matthews Band? A sports fanatic at my work thinks that John Mellencamp will be next year's half time entertainment since the Superbowl will be in Indiana. That makes sense and he would be a great selection. Expect him to sing "R.O.C.K. in the USA" and "Tumblin' Down" (two of his 80s classic).

The Black Eyed Peas? EPIC FAIL!

Superbowl XLV (that's 45 for you non-Roman numeral readers) did break the record in being the most watched television program in Nielsen Ratings history, with 111 million people tuning in. This was partly due to the supposed legendary status of the two teams in the game: Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was rooting for the Packers, though I really couldn't get into the game, even though it did get excitingly close in the fourth quarter, down to the last few seconds of the game. Now that's a worthy bowl game! No blow out this year. I probably would have been more into the game if the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, or Atlanta Falcons were one of the teams. Not that I'm a fan or follower of any of those teams, just that I'd like to see the Seahawks and the Falcons in the Superbowl at some point in my life, and the 49ers have been the closest thing to my favourite pro football team since adolescence (due to Quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young).

With the Superbowl overwith, now its all about the next great annual event in American culture: The Oscars! I definitely pay close attention to this show and have my favourites to root for every year (this year, it's Colin Firth and Natalie Portman). As for the National Anthem, though, future singers need to watch the following clip and take notes. I consider Whitney Houston's Superbowl performance in 1991 to be "the standard" that all other performances are measured by. She sings the anthem flawlessly. I get chills everytime I hear her version of the anthem. In fact, twenty years ago, the Sunday before I left for Basic Training, my church congregation in Atlanta played this version of the national anthem on my behalf during the church service. It was a touching gesture. I can't believe that it has been twenty years ago now. Where does the time go?

Monday, February 07, 2011

Music Video Monday: Simply Red

In honour of the Reagan Centennial anniversary, I wanted to feature the perfect song that captures the essence of Ronald Reagan and the effect of his policies on the less fortunate in our society. The only requirement was that the song had to be from the 1980s, since that was the decade President Reagan dominated our national agenda and culture.

The song that came to my mind first was Simply Red's "Money's Too Tight To Mention." Why not? With mentions about "Reaganomics" and "The old man over the hill...", this song is an ode to the Reagan/Thatcherism of that decade (Simply Red was from the United Kingdom, though the song seems aimed at an American audience).

Its probably dangerous for a group to call themselves "Simply Red" and perform songs that criticize Reagan and Thatcher conservatism. The conservatives in both nations were likely to think the "red" in the group's name has a more sinister political reference, but I think the name was only referring to the lead singer's hair colour.

Simply Red had quite a few catchy songs over the years. Back in the 1980s, I did not really enjoy their single "Holding Back the Years" (I wasn't into ballads much as a teenager), but I appreciate the song now. Still, I think "Stars", "Something Got Me Started", and "If You Don't Know Me By Now" are all excellent songs. I also love the way they use the hook and melody of a Darryl Hall and John Oates classic for the single "Sunrise." I know some people who hate "sampling" but I love it. Why remake a song, especially if you try to replicate the same sound as the original? Why not use a popular melody and create a completely new song? I can't get enough of sampling. Give me more, musicians! Someday, for a Fun Friday post, I might have to do a countdown of my all time favourite songs that incorporate sampling. Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Reagan Centennial: Whitewashing Reality

As the fawning corporate media (which is not at all "liberal" like detractors claim that it is) has proclaimed ad nauseum in the past week and likely in the coming week, 40th president Ronald Reagan was born 100 years ago today. Since I did not have a blog in 2004 when he passed away and we were inundated with historical revisionism about the mythological Reagan, I was not able to offer my take on this president. On this occasion of the centennial of his day of birth, I will do so today. Hopefully, I won't ever have an occasion to write about him again.

The 1980 presidential election was the first election that I was consciously aware about. Though I remember going into the voting booth with my mother in the 1976 election, I did not know what she was doing (I was a couple months shy of turning 5 years old). By 1980, I knew who the president was, that he had a young daughter, that they were from Georgia (a state that seemed far away from me in Utah), and that my parents were voting for him. My Democratic allegiances started early (though I'm way more of a loyalist than my father is). I was in the Cub Scouts at the time of the 1980 election and for the Blue and Gold banquet around election time, we had to bring a patriotic cake for an auction fundraiser. My brother and I got creative with our cake decorating. My brother's idea was to have a boxing ring on top of the cake with cartoon caricatures of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan (cut out from the cover drawing of a national magazine, attached to a drawn body figure and glued to a stick to stand upright on the cake). Since the caricature of Reagan had a barcode or something on his cheek, my dad had the brilliant idea to put a band-aid there. My dad drew a cartoon picture of Uncle Sam to serve as the referee. We loved the cake idea so much that my dad actually bought it back at the auction!

My cake idea was a "race to the White House." My dad made a White House out of Sugar Cubes and white birthday candles for the pillars. I also had cheap-style die-cast metal cars to use for the three candidates (John Anderson was the Independent candidate). Tiny pictures of Carter, Reagan, and Anderson were attached to the cars. I had Carter in the lead car. Someone else bought that cake at the auction. The disappointment was that neither my brother nor I won any prizes (such as "Most Original" or "Most Creative"). None of the other cakes were decorated like ours. What I remember most was that the other cakes were typical red, white, and blue frosting and American flag decorations. In 2000 and 2008, I repeated this style of political cake by using cartoon caricatures of Gore, Bush, and McCain for the 2000 version, and Obama and McCain for the 2008 version. I had caricatures of Bush and Kerry for the 2004 version, but I was in San Francisco for election day that year. I like this idea. I may do one for 2012 and definitely for 2016.

Even though I was young during the 1980 election, I had my first disappointing election night. I actually hated the idea of Reagan as president. He looked ancient to me, like a corpse. I thought he was supposed to be retired and enjoying it, not leading our nation. When I heard that he was shot, my reaction at the time was, "Good! Is he dead?" In retrospect, I don't know why I felt so strongly about that but my opinion has changed. Even though I supported Gary Hart in 1984 and then Walter Mondale when he won the nomination, I'm actually okay with the idea of Reagan as president during the 1980s. That's not to say that I agree with his policies at all (because I don't). However, how can one even think about the 1980s as the decade it was without Reagan looming over it (along with Thatcher, Gorbachev, Kohl, and Mitterand on the global stage)? Our country would have been much better off if we had listened to President Carter's ideas about energy conservation and exploring alternatives. However, in assessing the presidential administrations from our vantage point, I have to admit that Carter's presidency was a failure and Reagan's was a success.

How should Reagan be remembered? Well, if I were a historian who would write the history of the 20th century, and I got to pick the three things each president should be remembered by, for Reagan, I would select: (1) Iran-Contra; (2) his "cut-and-run" when several hundred U.S. Marines were killed in the bombing of their barracks in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983 while launching an invasion of the Caribbean island Grenada; and (3) giving chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein and funding the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan (including CIA training and support to a certain terrorist named Osama Bin Laden). The seeds of our "blowback" (or "karmic retribution" in spiritual terms) were sewn in the Reagan years.

Does anyone else find it strange that the Iranians would release American hostages in the first hour of Reagan's presidency? During Bush's reelection in 1992, the news reported on the Reagan-Bush deal with Iranians to hold the hostages until after the 1980 election. If these allegations are true, that means Reagan and Bush committed treason against the United States of America and plotted against U.S. citizens for their own personal benefit, as well as conspiring with enemies of America to bring down a presidency. Could the deal to sell American weapons to Iran and funnelling the money to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua been part of the "October Surprise" negotiations in 1980? If that were not bad enough, the Reagan Administration also propped up the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein and looked the other way when he gassed his own people in 1988. Funny how conservatives did not raise a peep about that incident UNTIL 2002-2003 when President George W. Bush used that example for why America needed to invade Iraq and take out Saddam's regime. He gassed the Kurds!!! So, the conservatives actually have "an attack of conscience" 14 years after the fact and they still couldn't admit that the weapons came from the United States!

As for the funding of the mujahadeen, even I as a teenager supported that plan. The idea was to turn the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan into their Vietnam: a devastating decade long war that would undermine the popular support of the Russian people for their government. Its hard to say how much of the Afghanistan debacle had an impact on the Soviet Union's ultimate collapse in 1991. I imagine that it had some. However, the problem with funding and training unscrupulous people who have no problem killing people is that they can easily turn on you. Isn't history kind of circular in that our expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have contributed to our own economic collapse in 2008? Like some spiritualists say: "Karmic payback is a bitch!" Thanks, Reagan!

Though I have Reagan's memoirs and a few biographies on him to read, I can understand his appeal. He had a folksy charm and an affable personality. He was known for his great sense of humour. There is a reason why conservatives have latched on to him like an iconic figure and yardstick by which all other candidates are measured against. His presidency is seen as "successful" because the real effect of his policies did not impact our country until other presidents were in office (the recession of 1991-1992, the ongoing problems with Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the exploding deficits that Republicans forced Clinton to reduce). Reagan was able to ride off into the sunset, like the cowboy he pretended to be while his alzheimer's ate away at his memory and he was hidden away for the last dozen years of his life.

Movements to rename an airport in Washington, D.C. in his honour as well as the largest government office building in the District (the ultimate in irony!), to have a memorial on the National Mall, to add his face to Mount Rushmore, to put him on the $10 bill, to name an aircraft carrier after him, and streets and schools around the country are all meant to codify him as "one of the greats." I think Americans need to wait another century before we give him a monument on the Mall or put him on the currency. After all, President Andrew Jackson was considered the first populist president and he left office quite popular, but people in our day don't think so highly of his presidency (a lot of that has to do with the forced removal of Cherokee tribes to land no one wanted in what is known as "The Trail of Tears"). If Reagan's foreign policies sowed the seeds of our economic and costly military fiascos of the last decade, why should Reagan be enshrined among the best? No foreign dictator did as much damage to our country over the long haul as Reagan had done. Iran-Contra, Iraqgate, October Surprise, and the funding of the mujahadeen are enough to indict Reagan as a traitor to the American destiny.

As I explained to a friend, the reason why conservatives have this Reagan fetish is because what other Republican president can they hold up as a hero to their cause? George W. Bush was promised as the second coming of Reagan, but by the end of his disasterous tenure, even hardcore conservatives weren't willing to defend him anymore. Many are now claiming that Bush was never a true conservative (history shows, though, that the Reaganesque "trickle-down economics" scheme that Bush borrowed and used does not work). Father Bush angered conservatives by raising taxes (which historians credit for the economic boom that Clinton enjoyed riding to high approval ratings in the late 1990s). Gerald Ford was "the accidental president" who wasn't too bright. Richard Nixon left office in disgrace. Dwight Eisenhower left office warning about the power of the Military-Industrial Complex. Herbert Hoover did nothing to prevent the Stock Market crash of 1929 nor did he try too hard to restore America from the widespread devastation. Theodore Roosevelt was too much the environmentalist as well as being against corporate monopolies. And Abraham Lincoln, far and away the greatest Republican president, screwed over the Confederacy. That's why conservatives embrace Ronald Reagan as their greatest president. He represented a victory in the "cultural wars" that our country had been under since the unraveling of American society in the Lyndon Johnson years.

So, I'll let the conservatives crow about the one Republican president that they adore and worship like some demi-god. At least the Democrats have several admirable presidents to choose from, men who have inspired people around the world with their visions: Obama, Clinton, Kennedy, Truman, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. During the Republican debates in the 2008 primary season, it was funny to hear the candidates try to out-Reagan each other. Reagan was discussed more in some debates than actual policies of importance. This is just one example of the true nature of conservatives: always looking back to some mythological "Golden Era" that history proves is false. Nostalgia has the amazing effect of erasing away all the bad experiences and leaving only the most cherished memories glowing in bright, translucent colours. The sooner we can forget about Reagan, the better. After all, he forgot about us somewhere in his presidency. No one really knows when he started to get alzheimers, but it was probably during his second term rather than after he left office. If anything, Reagan should be held as an example for why we should not elect presidents who are older than the age of retirement (this would disqualify Hillary Clinton in 2016). 40s and 50s are a good age for a healthy, active president.

Unlike some liberals, though, I'm not going to say that Reagan went to hell when he died, because I don't believe that. What makes more sense to me is that he would have a life review in the spiritual realm and see the impact he had on people around the world for good and bad. He is well loved by many Americans and he seemed like a decent guy following the script that his party operatives handed him. Maybe he knew nothing at all about Iran-Contra, that this subversion went on without his knowledge. Whatever the case may be, true justice served would be the soul of Reagan experiencing the results of his actions in every moment of his life and perhaps learning why some things turned out badly for millions around the world and came back to haunt America in the 2000s. The real tragedy is people who are living now and not understanding that there are karmic consquences when you give enemies of our country, of democracy weapons of mass destruction to use against other people. At some point, the karmic boomerang will always return to sender and as the events of 9/11 proved, we don't like it when foreigners mess with our way of life. DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU. This is the only law of the universe we need to live by for our own salvation and grace.