Monday, June 27, 2011

Music Video Monday: Meredith Brooks

Today, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann announced her candidacy to be the first woman elected as President of the United States. To mark this day, I decided that the only music video that comes to mind is Meredith Brooks' provocative song "Bitch." That should be her campaign song. Seriously.

Bachmann makes my blood run cold. To me, she reminds me of Magda Goebbels. Perhaps she's the reincarnation of Magda Goebbels. If you have no idea who Magda Goebbels was, please watch the excellent and chilling German movie Downfall, about the last days of Adolf Hitler. In the film, Magda Goebbels is the wife of Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels. When the hardcore Hitler supporters knew their Nazi regime was in the last days as the Soviets were closing in on Berlin, Magda gave her children cyanide pills or sleeping pills (can't remember the details) because she did not want them to live in a world where the Nazi ideology did not exist! Now that's a true ideologue! Only a cold-blooded woman could kill her own children that way.

Whenever I see Bachmann on TV, that's the impression I get of her. She's a cold blooded woman. There is no warmth to her at all. She's an "ice princess." People think she's attractive, but I fail to see it. This woman is a frightful terror, an ideologue who seems like she would kill her own children if they ever became liberal or atheist. During her announcement speech, she made a gaffe that I'm inclined to call a "Freudian slip" that reveals the core of her psychosis. She made her announcement in Waterloo, Iowa, where she was born. She pointed out that John Wayne was also from Waterloo, but as the media reported, the iconic John Wayne was from Winterset, Iowa (the center place for the covered bridges of Madison County). The "John Wayne" that hailed from Waterloo is none other than the serial killer named John Wayne Gacy. He's the guy who dressed as a clown to attract children. He is probably the one to blame for many people (of my generation) having a fear of clowns. What kind of Freudian slip could this be? Well...imagine this: beneath the makeup lies the cold, dark heart of a cold-blooded killer. That is Michele Bachmann. She's as ideologue as they come. She's far worse than Sarah Palin, because Palin is such an unserious goofball that hardly anyone takes her seriously. Bachmann seems far more competent than Palin and thus able to do much more intentional damage to our society, were she to have such power.

It is my hope that with Bachmann officially in the race and the likely benefactor of the Teabagger vote (say bye-bye, Rick Santorum. His campaign just took a major hit in supporters, if he ever had such supporters), that Sarah Palin will not stand for being upstaged. Sarah Palin strikes me as wanting to be the Mama Grizzly of the Republican women vying for the presidency. No one can take away her "rightful throne." Go, Sarah, go! Don't let this cold-hearted bitch steal your thunder. Jump into the race and make this a true GOP Circus! Let's see you wrestle for the nomination in a gigantic mud pit!

As for this song, it came out in the era of the female singer-songwriter: 1997, if I'm not mistaken. That was the year when the Lilith Fair hit it big and brought such acts as Paula Cole, Sarah McLaughlin, and others I can't remember now (along with Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morrisette) to chart success. The song itself is an ode to the complexity of women, how they can be all of the above and not just either / or that the public likes to put on women (the virgin mother versus the Madonna whore). Its a good song. Its fitting for Michele Bachmann, who seems to hate the world today and wants to return our country to the dark ages of the 1950s. Ironically, if we were back in the 1950s, she would not have such a successful career. She would have been the adoring wife supporting her husband. As it stands now, I have no idea who her husband is. I don't know what he looks like, I don't even know his name. I feel sorry for the guy, though, to be married to such an icy woman. He better check for frostbite!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Flashback Friday: Nine Months is Not Just a Pregnancy

Today marks the nine-month "anniversary" of that great day in my life, when I was liberated from the job from hell. Throughout my workday, I reflected on how much life can change (for the better). How losing a job was not the end of the world, especially since it freed me to experience the joys of FUNemployment. I was also free to finally go on vacation to San Francisco over Halloween, which I would not have been allowed to do if I had remained in the job.

I can't believe that it has been nine months now. I've lived without the toxic negative energy for nine months now. I should be able to manifest some of my dream items much easier now, now that I no longer have to endure eight hours each day being henpecked by a psychotically crazy control freak. I actually feel happy down to my cellular level. This means that the cells within my body are feeling blissful. It was probably a blessing for my health to get out of there when I did, before I had a health crisis brought on by the stress of being a virtual slave to some crazy lady.

In my current job, I pretty much set my own agenda for the day. My supervisor trusts me to get the job done, to know what needs to get done. I'm still cleaning up the mess left by my predecessor, which constantly surprises me. How can one person mess things up so badly. In the break room, I had mentioned to one guy my amazement that my predecessor was so incompetent. He told me, 'Hey, watch it now. I thought he was a cool guy." Another guy in the break room told him, "But he was not the right person for that job. He wasn't a detail-oriented guy." I am totally the right person for the job. It amazes me how perfectly matched the job is to my personality and experiences. This actually puts me in a strange situation. The job doesn't pay the salary I've been wanting since leaving college (I'm about $15,000 a year off from my ideal salary) nor is the location ideal. So, I will be focusing on those two details for my visualization process for a more ideal career (travel is another aspect that I want). In the meantime, though, its hard to beat a job where the phone hardly rings, where I get a whole warehouse full of new music to discover, where I get to correct someone else's mistakes, where I get to research songwriters on the Internet, and where I get to run reports each quarter, look for inconsistencies or mistakes, and making sure the numbers all add up. Like I said, a job that is perfect for me. For now, anyway. The goal is to leave this one before I get bored with it, which will likely happen after my one year mark. I'll probably stick with this job through the end of the year, since I want to return home for Christmas, my birthday, and New Year's.

In the evening, the friend who ran for County Commissioner last year had a birthday barbecue in his backyard. I did not know most of the people who showed up. But one guy from the campaign recognized me and we spent most of the time talking. He's been unemployed for a few years now, which is a shock. He told me about his frustrations with the job search. I could relate to some of what he was talking about, though I still don't understand the unemployment phenomenon. I told him that many books that deal with the job / career search seem to mention that a lot of the job search deals with the inner process. I tried to explain how the Universal Law of Attraction works, but he is an atheist, so he doesn't really believe in that. He also mentioned that he's not the kind of atheist who puts down anyone with a religious or spiritual view and he is open minded to ideas.

When I think about my job search, my FUNemployment period was shorter than I hoped because I did not get to participate in all of the workshops offered by the employment office that I wanted to, nor did I get to work through several career search books that I had. I was so determined to work through my process for finding the right career for myself, which includes the salary. Why is it so hard to get the salary I've been seeking for over a decade now? I'm not asking for a whole lot, just a reasonable salary for someone with my degree and experience. The job offer came as a surprise and ended my job search after 75 days of unemployment. I have no idea what its like for someone who has been unemployed for over two years. I imagine that one's level of confidence and self esteem might not be in a good place in order to attract opportunities their way.

All I can say, though, is that on this anniversary date, I am grateful for the job that I do have and expect that my career is on its way. I just need to spend some time working through the career search books that I have so I can gain clarity about the kind of long-term career that would fulfill my heart's desires and pay me the wages that I well deserve, after all these years of paying my dues in barely livable wages.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Who Knew Goodwill Could Be So Popular?

Today, at 7 a.m., the newest Goodwill store opened up right where I catch my third bus to work. For months, I've watched this vacant lot turn into a store. I was surprised how quickly it was built, as even our rainy winters did not prevent the construction workers from doing their jobs to get this building done on time. If this was Italy, the process would've taken three years or more!

Of course, I was curious about checking this store out. I have no problem buying clothes second-hand. There are something I will not buy used, though (hats, dishes, eating utensils, shoes, to name a few). But, if anything, often the books sold at Goodwill are even cheaper than the used books at Powell's City of Books. I had wanted to get up early so that I could be there at opening. I usually catch the 8 or 8:15 bus from that stop next to the Goodwill, so I could get to that location by 7, I would've had an hour to spend in there. I was so looking forward to checking it out that I had even dreamed about it! In my dream, the store offered cheesecake for everyone who came in on opening day. Whoa. I don't even like cheesecake and I doubted that the store would offer something like that!

Unfortunately, I woke up at my usual time, which meant that I had no time to spare before the 8:15 bus arrived. The parking lot was overcrowded and people even parked in the bus lane and on the gravel between the sidewalk and the parking lot. There was even a nasty accident where it looks like one guy drove out of the parking lot and tried to make a left turn over two lanes and a center lane of traffic where he got hit. Crazy!

After work, I decided to check out the Goodwill. It was still crowded at 6 p.m. Hardly any room to walk. I checked out the book section and was stunned to find about six books that I had been wanting to buy and read from Powell's. They were far cheaper than Powell's, so I grabbed them. I also looked at the shirts and pants, found a few that I liked and got those. I wanted to spend more time in there, but it was just too crowded and I did not grab a basket, thinking that I wouldn't need one, and my stack of books kept falling out of my hands. I got into line to pay for my items, when I spotted a book on top of the bookcase that I had missed. It was a hardcover copy of Michael Lerner's Spirit Matters, which I had been wanting to get for a friend's birthday on Friday evening. My friend is the one who ran for County Commissioner last year and lost badly. We often talk about how we would like a more ethical process in our city government, so a lot of what we talk about is reflected in the book. So, I got out of the long line to get the book, knowing that I had to return to the end of the line and wait even longer to pay for my purchases. Amazingly, though, the line shrunk when I returned and I didn't have to wait long. The line increased again after I got back in.

I ended up spending more than I intended to, but that's alright. I did not expect Goodwill to have as many things that would appeal to me. I saw a corner bamboo bookcase that I wanted to get, but did not want to have to carry it on two more buses home. I know that there is a stigma against such stores, as quite a few of my friends would not be caught dead in these kind of stores. However, I think when you visit these stores, you are seeing the real salt of the earth type people. The low economic status makes bargain shoppers of us all. Better for unused items at home go to a place like this, to wait for someone to find them. Its like having a garage sale at a convenient location. You don't have to waste your time driving from one garage sale to the next for the slim pickings in hopes of finding something good. For me, its the way a store sets things up. If it looks nice inside, then I'm okay with it. I don't like the grungy second-hand stores that I've seen. This store is brand-spanking new and I wonder how long it will remain that way.

Because of its convenient location (the store was previously in the shopping center on the north side of Halsey Street, but tucked away into a forgotten corner that was not visible from the two major streets), I'll probably be shopping here occasionally. This means no more Deseret Industries for me, because that one is just too far out of the way (it was convenient when I was utilizing the LDS Employment Services during my job search).

One thing I've noticed, though, is that thrift stores and dollar stores are popping up like crazy. This is not a good sign of economic recovery. Call me crazy, but I'd rather shop at Goodwill than at Walmart. When I want something new, I usually buy at Target, my favourite department store. However, I'm supposed to be de-cluttering, so this summer, I will be sorting through stuff and will probably donate to the Goodwill store on my way home from work.

As I waited for the second bus home, one guy at the bus stop saw me with a Goodwill bag. I had seen him in the store just minutes earlier. He got into a friendly conversation with me. He said that he scours thrift stores for possible antiques. He told me that people often donate things they received from other people, not realizing the valuable nature of them. His thing is getting dishes or other items that are made in China. They are worth a lot more than the prices he finds at these kind of stores. He showed me a yellow bowl he found. Apparently, a yellow bowl is a Chinese product that is worth a lot of money. He resells them at a higher price. Interesting. I think its just great that there are people who have no snobby pride in their willingness to shop at thrift stores. The stigma is just absurd. I consider it smart buying, because you're reusing stuff instead of supporting the creation of new products. Its better for our planet's sustainability to (1) reduce consumption; and (2) reuse items. True environmentalists shop at Goodwill (or Deseret Industries or the Salvation Army)!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Welcome to the Summer of Love

Welcome to summer! I'm excited about this summer because for the first time since 2006, I can relax and enjoy myself without the desperation I had in previous summers to find a job by August / September deadline. What a difference nine months makes!

Once I landed my new job, even though it does not pay the salary I've been seeking for a decade now, nor is the location ideal, I actually do love my job and am in no rush to find something else. I can be in this job for awhile, and only apply to jobs where I like the job description. The problem with most admin jobs is that they sound boring as hell and probably are. At least my job is interesting and I get exposed to great music every day. It feels so great to be free of the desperation to escape the job from hell that I had endured for the past four summers. While I had decided to call last summer "The Summer of SynchroNICKity", I decided that this summer will be my "Summer of Love." I finally paid for a three month subscription to, after they had threatened to delete a message I had received six weeks ago. I didn't know who sent me a message, nor could I read it until I paid, so I decided the time is now. Unfortunately, the message was lame. One lady only wrote "hi." It was the lady I was hoping would respond, but that is kind of lame to send someone. I responded back. I call her the Dolphin Lady because she has a couple photos swimming with dolphins. There are probably about 20 ladies who have ads that appeal to me, so I plan to write to one lady per week and hopefully get a good response going and a date or two or few.

Other strategies included buying a CD called "Attract Love", which has subliminal programming that supposedly works on your subconscious to clear out any "self-sabotaging" quirks. I've listened to it a few times and have noticed something has shifted within a good way. I just feel a lot happier and I'm actually loving life...even when I'm off to work in the morning and leaving work. I'm ready to tackle anything. I am so going to be a magnet for women to come into my life. My ideal, of course, remains Audrey Tautou...the most adorable actress ever. I know there are lookalikes out there, so here's hoping that I shall meet a quirky young lady who looks similar to Audrey Tautou and has similar personality traits, and who finds me a fascinating guy that she wants to spend more and more time with. I'm determined to have a Lady Love before September ends.

Last weekend, I met a lady who came by the house to check out the spare bedroom, which the homeowner is renting out to a new tenant. The woman is the same age as me, half-Chinese / half-Caucasian, loves to bake, and is every bit as intolerant about other people's drug habits as I am. That's a relief. The homeowner has had trouble finding someone to rent the third bedroom because so many renters want a marijuana-friendly household. The lady has a dog: a one-eyed pug / pekinese mix that she rescued from the humane society. She has agreed to be our housemate and she will bring with her a weight bench and an exercise bike, which is perfect, because I didn't want to have to join a gym. Now, I can get a fitness routine going again and hopefully be in the best shape of my life before the big FOUR-OHHHHHHHHH hits.

It'll be interesting to have a female housemate again. I can almost hear the old Bishop's wife at BYU who learned from someone that I had moved out of the dorms into a house where a lady was renting the basement rooms. The Bishop's wife had come up to me and said, "I heard that you moved into a house with women living in it." "Yes," I replied. "Nicholas," she said with a concerned look in her eye, "I worry about you sometimes!" She apparently thought that a man cannot live in the same house with a single lady without some sexual activity going on. Well, she needn't have worried. I did not find the female homeowner to be attractive at all.

I hope the new housemate will be cool and easy-going. Apparently, my refusal to pay into getting cable TV did not scare her off. The other housemate and I don't watch TV much, so it seems like a waste of money. It wasn't a sticking point with her, though. I think living in a place that allows dogs (the homeowner fell in love with her dog. He has a pug of his own) as well as being a staunch anti-marijuana household were major selling points. I did have a few questions for her. "Are you a staunch Republican or Evangelical Christian?" She said no, so that's a relief. She said she's not religious, but if she had to pick one, she'd be a Buddhist. Good. She'll like my small collection of Buddhist books, then. She's moving in this weekend.

At the biweekly discussion group I attend, I was the first one there (as usual) and a cute young lady walked up to the table and asked if I was with the young professionals group. I said yes and she sat down in a chair next to me on my left, despite a whole long table full of chairs. I was kind of surprised. She was friendly and I detected an accent, so I asked her where she was from. She said Romania. Cool! The first thing I said after hearing that was, "A friend of mine thinks Romanian is the most romantic language in the world. What do you think?" She said that she thought French probably was, or Italian. But they all belong to the same language family (along with Spanish and Portuguese, which all came directly from Latin). I've never heard Romanian spoken, so I have no idea what it sounds like. For me, French is the most beautiful language in the world (written and spoken) while Italian is the most romantic. Anyhow, this young lady is studying political science at a Quaker-owned college in the Portland area. Awesome! I told her a little bit about the group as we waited for others to arrive.

The discussion went well. It was about Turkish Democracy, which I know very little about, so I mostly listened to other people. I only spoke when the topic switched to Afghanistan. The Romanian lady seemed knowledgeable about Turkey and the ongoing debates over whether it will be accepted as a member of the European Union or should it focus on being a leader in the changing Middle East. All fascinating stuff. Truly the only thing I know about Turkey is that you don't want to go to prison there!

Summer has only begun, but things look promising. Here's to turning on the magnetic switch and attracting my soulmate or Bashert (intended one) in the Summer of Love. I'll be singing "Seasons of Love" all summer long!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Encounter With a Mystery Man

On Monday afternoon, a friend had posted on Facebook that he has taken a liking to train travel. Someone suggest to him that he try an Amtrak journey. He was uncertain about it because he wants constant Wi-Fi access, which Amtrak does offer on its long-distance trains. I was stunned when I read that, because its so opposite of me. Of course, I had to remind him of a controversial Facebook posting I had last year.

In that Facebook dialogue that surprised me by learning who my "true friends" are, I had posted about how an elderly man got angry with me because I did not engage with him in a conversation. I was in the lobby of my old apartment complex downtown, which had Internet access, since I did not have any in my room. I was doing my evening blogging and was in a hurry because I wanted to get back to my apartment to catch the Coast to Coast AM radio program. As I'm blogging, an elderly man walked by and said hello to me. I said hello, but continued typing. He started talking about something, but I didn't really pay attention to him. That's when he became angry with me and said something along the lines of: "That's the problem with you young people today. You'd rather talk with people online than in person!" I was stunned by his presumption, because I wasn't even on Facebook. I was blogging! Which is like journaling. He walked off angry. Whoa. I thought the incident was strange enough to post it on my Facebook status. I had no idea what a controversial discussion it would turn out to be. Even my dad added his opinion. One high school friend of mine would end up de-friending me a few days afterwards, which I'm certain was a result of how I come off as the bad guy.

I'm used to people wanting to make me out to be the bad guy. Go ahead. Whatever you need to do to sleep at night. Take your shots. I believe I am right about this, though. Just because I am sitting in a public place does not mean I want a conversation with strangers. And yes, there are people who are emotionally needy that they require a conversation with everyone. They cannot bear silence at all. Who's right in this regard? I'm an introverted person who actually hates small talk. I'm generally quiet in public and in large groups. I'm more conversational among close friends and colleagues. I do find it rude when people see someone reading or writing and they have to interrupt. I've even noticed at several places where I worked that no one seems to want to talk to me...UNTIL I pull out a book to read or a blank book to write in. All of the sudden, I'm Mr. Popularity! Amazing how that happens! My theory is that people don't realize that they subconsciously need other people's attention, so when they see someone paying attention to a book or writing, they can't stand it, so they have to do whatever they must to get that person's attention. I wish more people would be subconsciously aware of why they do things. The best time to approach me for a conversation is when I happen to be sitting there, open to a conversation. Yes, I've been known to sit without a book or notebook in hand!

However, when I'm on a train (non-commuter) or airplane, I'm open for a conversation. I won't be on a computer during flight or a rail journey. Meeting fellow travelers is one of the joys in life, because this is when coincidences and synchronicities are most likely to happen. My friend, on the other hand, sounds like he's the opposite.

Anyhow, it was interesting to have this refresher on his Facebook wall. After the hits I took for not being social towards the old man, I've actually learned to be more open towards conversations, even if someone is interrupting my reading or writing time. Several had told me that the man could be an angel in disguise, testing me. If that was the case (and I admit to the possibility, since I did not see him before or after that event), then I failed. So, I can be a little more open, though it still requires a great deal of effort on my part.

That's where I found myself on Monday evening. I was waiting for a friend at the Starbucks at Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland. He was late, as usual. I didn't mind, though, because I was re-writing my notes from an old, beat up notebook into a composition notebook. I was lost in the world of writing when I felt a presence stand next to my table. I looked up thinking that my friend had finally showed up. Instead, it was an elderly African American man. He asked me if I was a professor or a teacher. I said, "No" and looked at him with confusion. He then said that he was watching me write and he could understand what I'm writing, even though I did not know how he could read what I was writing from the distance he was standing from me. He said that I should be a professor or teacher. Then he turned and walked out of Starbucks. He didn't ask for money or anything. As far as I know, he came in just to say that comment to me and leave. I saw him outside the Starbucks. Then resumed writing. When I turned to look again, he was gone. Disappeared. Was he an angel? I've read stories of incidents like this. Where people will appear out of the blue to help you or say something to you, then disappear. Other people saw him interrupt me, so I know that he was real. It is a strange occurrence to be approached by a "street person" and not be asked for money or food.

Why is the info he shared with me important? Well, for several years, I've had teachers, friends, co-workers, church people, and even a couple of psychics all tell me that I NEED to be a teacher. In fact, the last psychic I saw said that I had to be a teacher if I ever hoped to find career satisfaction. I just don't see how this is possible. I'm not going back to least not until all my debts are paid off. I also never saw myself as a teacher. Nothing about the profession appeals to me. Well, except for the summers off. Anyhow, was this strange mystery man meant to be a messenger to get me back on the path of my destiny? If that is my destiny, though, I'll need more help or hints than that. I would need a job offer that moves me in that direction, but I don't see that happening anytime soon. I'm not looking for a new job at the moment. I want to spend this summer dating and enjoying myself, because for the previous summers, I was so intense about getting the hell out of my intolerable work environment. This will be the first summer I've enjoyed since moving to Portland in 2006. I'm more interested in meeting my Lady Love this summer than anything else.

I'll just have to keep this mystery encounter in my memory and maintain an open mind and eye for anything else unusual that might happen in the days or weeks ahead.

In other news, The Adjustment Bureau arrives on DVD today and I bought a copy this evening. Can't wait to watch it again. Love, love, love this movie...which I hope will be my favourite film this year. It has a good chance, though there are two films being released this fall that may dislodge it from the top spot: The long-overdue On the Road film adaptation and I just learned, George Clooney is directing a film based on the Howard Dean for America presidential campaign of 2004 (I think its going to be more Primary Colors than W. And I also think the message will be about the shallowness of the media to character assassinate a candidate they don't like). Its a great year for movies, though...especially compared to last year's dismal offerings.

On my data tracking, I've noticed that several people around the world have been Google-searching a question like "Is the Adjustment Bureau real?" Apparently, the film has hit a spiritual nerve with quite a few people. Even someone in the Punjab region of Pakistan was inquiring about the movie's reality. Of course, its a creative story from someone's imagination (such as Philip K. Dick), but I believe that there are spiritual beings assigned to keep us on task. Perhaps that's what this mystery man at the Starbucks was all about. I hope so. I am noting it on my blog, just in case the info he gave me leads me down a new path in life. This could be the start of something big.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Music Video Monday: Color Me Badd

This week's music video is dedicated to disgraced and resigned Congressman Anthony Weiner. Twenty years ago, a ridiculous song was a hit on the airwaves. I first heard it during my last couple weeks of basic training and it was popular with guys in my company. Of course! The song is called "I Wanna Sex You Up." What the hell does that mean, exactly? The band is even more ridiculous, because they misspelled "Badd" and they only had one follow-up hit song, "I Adore Mi Amore." That saved them from "one hit wonder" notoriety.

Someone should do a remake for the current scandal: "I Wanna Sext You Up."

On Facebook, the back and forth debate between myself and Weiner's passionate female defenders continues. I can't believe that ladies are defending him, because I know a few of them and if their husbands or significant others ever did such a thing, he would be confined to sleeping on the couch! For a long time. How difficult is it to understand that serving in Congress is a privilege, not a right? You have to earn the respect and honour of serving in Congress.

On Saturday night on Coast to Coast AM, the first hour guest was Glynnis, the Numbers Lady. She's a frequent guest and I remember her last visit. Just like last time, she said that politicians and athletes or other celebrities who are in a Personal Year Eight better behave, otherwise the energy of an 8 year will reveal the secrets that they want to keep hidden. She did the numbers on various people and people whose sex scandals became subjected to a feeding frenzy include Tiger Woods, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, David Vitter, and Anthony Weiner. All of them were in their Personal 8 year when their scandals broke. So, word to the wise: don't be naughty in your 8 year!

I like the host Ian Punnett, who agreed with me regarding Weiner: the guy was an arrogant ideologue who was brought down by his own failings. There's no need to feel sorry for him because it was completely self-inflicted. Punnett even said on the air, "Somewhere out there, a politician is probably up to no good, thinking it won't happen to him." That's the problem with these politicians. The apathetic voters don't hold them accountable, so they get caught up in the ego's delusion that they will be the ones who gets away with their immoral behaviour. If I had enough free time, I'd do the numbers on major politicians to see when their Personal 8 years will be. I'm particularly interested in the potential scandals of John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and Aaron Schock. C'mon Republicans! Give us another salacious sex scandal!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

How the 80s Affected our Modern Culture

Last Wednesday, I went to Powell's City of Books to attend a book signing / lecture by liberal activist David Sirota, whose latest book is about how the culture of the 1980s has affected the way we view the 1950s and 1960s as well as influenced the future (where we live now). It was an awesome lecture. I had attended Sirota's previous lecture at Powell's for his The Uprising book. He mentioned that he was in vacationing on the Oregon coast with his family but wanted to stop in Portland first at one of his favourite bookstores to give this lecture.

He gave a great Powerpoint presentation that illustrated some of the greatest hits of the 80s decade that have come into reality for our current time. As a child of the 80s, I really appreciated this fresh look at how our cultural images have actually helped create the world we inhabit now.

Sirota said that he was inspired to write this book when he realized how many movies and television shows of the 1980s were coming back in style, such as a new Rambo movie, a film version of The A-Team, a sequel to Wall Street, and strangely, a sequel to Top Gun. Really? I've not heard of such a movie. How did I miss that one? The only problem with this, though, is that all those remakes and sequels BOMBED at the Box Office! However, Sirota showed in his visual presentation that images from 80s movies were used or became reality in the 2000s: Bush acting as Maverick by strutting out on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in that flight suit, the increased dependency on hired mercenaries to do jobs outside of the legal structure (Blackwater as The A Team), the ethos that "greed is good!" uttered by Gordon Gecko, Rambo in Afghanistan in 1988 morphed into U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2001 (in October, it will mark the ten year anniversary of our invasion. The Soviets withdrew after ten years, will we?).

The next portion of his lecture, Sirota spoke about how in the 1980s, there was a re-framing of how the 1950s and 1960s would be viewed. He had a clip from Back to the Future that featured the sequence at the shopping mall with the Libyan terrorists. According to Sirota, one of Americans greatest fears is of foreign terrorists striking at the heart of the American pastime: shopping at the mall. Interesting that it involved Libyans as terrorists, with Libya being our latest military adventure. Sirota asked, when faced with this existential crisis, where does Marty McFly go? Back to the safe and septic 50s, where the worst thing to worry about was some bully. The 50s are portrayed as the ideal age, where men had great jobs and women stayed home, people did what they were supposed to do, conformity ruled. What is ignored, though, is reality. Particularly segregation, lack of freedom for women, conformity.

In contrast, Sirota said that the 60s are viewed with disdain, and he used clips from the show Family Ties, where Alex P. Keaton consistently mocks the hippie ideals of his parents and idolizes Nixon and Reagan and unfettered capitalism. Interesting that both Marty McFly and Alex P. Keaton are played by the same actor: a Canadian named Michael J. Fox. So, Sirota presented the idea that the 60s ideals are marginalized and mocked while the 50s are lionized and held up as the ideal. This particularly true among conservatives, who often talk about the Golden Age of the 1950s ("where black people knew their place!"). Woody Allen covered this topic quite excellently in his current film Midnight In Paris. The message of his movie is that there is no golden age. Each era has their positive and negative aspects, but human tendency towards nostalgia remembers the good and forgets the bad. The solution is to make each moment we live into a golden age of opportunity. Love that movie!

When I was a teenager in the mid-to-late 80s, I remember being influenced by the movies and music that came out of the 1950s and I did not like the 1960s. I still don't have a positive view of hippies, mostly because of the drugs and free love movement. I admit that I think people dressed better in the 1950s and I wish 50s fashion would come back in a big way. As a young man, when looking at photo albums of my Great Uncle Jim and Great Aunt Effie, I was stunned how beautiful and fashionable my Great Aunt Effie was. Recently, I got a special DVD collection of Betty White's shows from the 1950s (Date With the Angels and Life With Elizabeth). She's well dressed for a stay at home wife. Mad Men shows just how well dressed people were in the early 1960s. According to Sirota, the myths of each decade is not a neat line. So when he talks about the 1950s, he means the culture that was common from the post World War II era to the mid-1960s, and the culture of the 1960s that we think of actually covers 1966 through the mid-1970s.

Sirota compared the presidential candidates (1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004) to the 50s versus 60s values, with the Republican candidate standing for 50s values and the Democratic candidates representing 60s values. Even the election issues seem to boil down to the cultural war between the 1950s versus the 1960s. Its interesting that for me, a child of the 1980s (even though I was born in the early 1970s, I was more aware of popular culture in the 1980s and identify with that decade more than any other. Interestingly enough, my sister was born in the early 1980s but identifies with the 1990s more than the decade she was born in), I was more interested in the 1950s than the 1960s, but as an adult, I value the ideals of what came out of the 1960s (except for the drugs and free love movement). I don't find the 1950s era of conformity appealing at all. When teabaggers talk about returning to that era, I just have to laugh because you can never go back to the way things were. Progression is the natural order of human evolution. Personally, I'd love to see a more spiritual culture emerge. Something never seen before that embodies the best ideals of every era while maintaining openness to change and appreciation of diversity.

The most interesting aspect of Sirota's lecture is the growth of the "cult of personality" or "cult of narcissism", embodied by the likes of Michael Jordan and his branding as someone to emulate. This individualism and focus on selfishness has the most potential to do harm because it promotes valuing "super humans" over the team or the community. You can see it in the messages promoted by the right wing. If you're not successful, its your fault because you're lazy or unambitious. If you're a self-made success, you deserve it all (low taxes, privileges, adulation, a reality show!). This view is hurting our culture and society, because success is getting harder and harder to find for many people. It has little to do with one's abilities or ambitions, and more to do with how the laws are written. Do those corporate CEOs who looted their companies and accepted bailouts "deserve" such wealth?

The final aspect of Sirota's lecture focused on the message that government is incompetent and evil (he played a clip from E.T. where government agents in space suits invade a suburban home. I remember being terrified by this scene as a child). He gave examples from The A Team, where a group of private mercenaries are available for hire if the police department is unable to solve a crime for you. What's laughable is that government is unable to locate members of The A Team but various people are able to (such as pop singer Boy George in one episode). Other private investigators for hire include Magnum P.I., The Blue Moon Detective Agency (Moonlighting, my favourite show of all time), and Knight Rider. Sirota also included the example of the Dukes of Hazzard for their constant rebelling against and outwitting the authority of Boss Hogg.

The lecture was great. I didn't go up and meet the author afterwards, even though I wanted to and the line was short. I plan to get the book when its in paperback. I look forward to reading it. Sirota (also born in the 70s and a child of the 80s) is definitely on to something. There was little mention of the music, though. No decade perfected pop music like the 80s did. The enduring popularity of 80s pop can be heard on Adult contemporary radio stations or in any store that plays music. You don't hear songs from the 60s or 70s as much as the 80s in the public sphere. Long live the 80s! Well, maybe as far as the music goes. This book gives a reader plenty to think about (such as how much pop culture has influenced our thinking in regards to political issues).

Friday, June 17, 2011

Patience Required for "Tree of Life"

On Thursday evening, I went to see Terrence Malick's film Tree of Life, which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May even though it was booed after it was shown to audiences during the festival. This illustrates the "you either love it or hate it" nature of the film. I became a fan of Terrence Malick after I had seen The Thin Red Line, The New World, and Days of Heaven (in that order). I was stunned by his ability to capture beauty on film. This is most obvious in the World War II film, The Thin Red Line. It is quite simply, "the most beautiful war movie ever made"! I regret not seeing it in theaters, but it had the misfortune of being released the same year as Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. It took me a long time to work up my desire to see a war movie (the most heaviest film genre out there. They take a toll on me, so I always have to work up my mood to see such a film). After I nearly passed out watching Saving Private Ryan, I decided not to see The Thin Red Line, even though a friend of mine raved about it. When I finally saw it on DVD in the early part of last decade, I was absolutely stunned by the cinematic beauty. The message of the film seems to be a contrast between the beauty of the natural world and the ugliness of war, and how even in the midst of such destruction, one soldier is able to appreciate the beauty around him.

When I learned a little bit about Terrence Malick, I was impressed. His current film The Tree of Life is only his 5th film in about 35 years. There was a twenty year gap between his second and third film. He's known to take his time. I was excited to see his latest offering, which comes six years after his last film about the Pocahontas legend, which did not do well at the box office but I loved because of the actress who played the famous Native American. One thing I noticed with that film was how often the focus was on her hands and she was quite graceful in how she moved them. There was a spiritual element to the way she used her hands. Its details like that which make watching a Malick film a pure pleasure. His movies are the equivalent of viewing a masterpiece painting in a museum. So many details to look at. His latest was no different in that regard. Many critics have raved about this film.

After I watched Tree of Life, I did not know what to think. It was different from his other films. He alternates between the cosmos and the dramas of a 1950s family. Never before I had ever seen the creation of the universe on film! It was like a documentary. That part of the film truly fascinated me. Interspersed with that, though, was a confusing story that jumped between a family in the 1950s and a man in the modern day. A lot of the family scenes were unspoken. The film really tries one's patience in this slow moving story line, with emphasis on the mundane aspects of life. This is why I view the movie similar to viewing a big canvas masterpiece painting. You're looking at the details and taken in. You need patience, but you definitely feel something as you watch.

In the human drama part of the film, Brad Pitt plays a man in the 1950s with a beautiful wife and three sons. These scenes require patience, because in many of them, there isn't much dialogue. We, the audience, are like voyeurs into the life of this family. As I learned in the discussion group afterwards (many of the people in the group are old enough to have experienced the 1950s), this was an accurate portrayal of their childhood. The man was the head of the household and when he wanted silence at the dinner table, he got it, dammit! When he brutally threatened his sons, his wife sat silently. Uncomfortable, perhaps, but knowing her place in 1950s society. I'm so glad that I was a child of the 80s and too young to really remember the 70s. I could never be in a marriage where the wife was silent and didn't challenge me. A couple is supposed to push each other to be the best that they can be. The idea of the man demanding complete silence and compliance during dinner is just too oppressively depressing!

After the film finished and the group walked out of the theater, some in the group asked me what I thought of it. I replied, "I have no idea what to think." My first impression is that I do not like this film very much. Sure, there are quite a few scenes that are just gorgeously shot. It is another beautiful film made by the visual master Malick. However, he did not hit what I call a home run with me, which can be good news since I really hope that The Adjustment Bureau will remain as my favourite film in the year 2011 (its out on DVD on Tuesday!). Malick's film was the only possible threat to that status, but since it did not hit a home-run with me, it won't place in the Top 5 films of the year (meaning, I already like five films I've seen this year more than this one).

The group went across the street to an Asian restaurant in the Paramount Hotel. I haven't eaten here in several years, when I had happy hour with a few co-workers at That Awful Place That Shall Not Be Named. This time, I decided to try a Thai curry dish and it was truly fantastic. The group of us (11 people, with me being the youngest!) took turns giving our impression of the film, before a dialogue emerged about various aspects of the film. I really loved hearing other people's perspectives, because they caught things that I did not and their impressions or interpretations of what they saw added appreciation to the movie. If I had seen this film alone, I would have walked out of the theater disappointed. Hearing other people's opinions actually made me interested in seeing it again, though I probably won't. This is one film I will not be owning on DVD.

The final message mentioned in the film is about how love is the only thing worth pursuing in this world. I wish the delivery of such message would have been better. Tree of Life is worth viewing once and mulling over, but its going to require a lot of patience. Just think of it as a "meditation of life." During the scenes of the creation of the universe, it brought me back to my childhood obsession: who created God? and What if the universe never existed? These thoughts can get kind of scary, though. All that matters is that we are here and what will we do with ourselves in the time that we are given?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Presumptuous Pricks as Weiner Pulls Out

News of Congressman Anthony Weiner's resignation earlier today prompted one of the most lively debates on my Facebook wall. Before I get to that, though, the nasty back and forth between the presumptuous gay guy and myself on a mutual friend's Facebook wall continued when the gay guy said this about me (misspellings left intact):

I bet you never once looked up his accomplishments...but yes, you Repuglicans accomplised your goals the usual way..dirty and with your high handed sense of perverted morality and piety. Nice to see your true Christian colors of forgiveness and let him without sin cast the first stone...I'll say it again, "Hypocrite."

I love starting the day with a good laugh! His comments show me what a judgmental moron he truly is, not to mention an ideologue. Its no surprise that ideologues tend to have an irrational reaction towards me. I've gotten flack from teabaggers, militant homosexuals, feminists, fundamentalist Christians, Palin cultists, and Kucinich worshippers. I'm sure my friends would all have a laugh at the moron if they read what he wrote. No one who really knows me would ever mistake me for a Republican or even a "typical" Christian. The fact that he believes such things about me, simply because he is having a personal reaction against my viewpoints regarding the Sexting Congressman, shows that he's not interested in having a real discussion or understanding why I have the views that I do. As I'm reading in one of my Jerry and Esther Hicks books about the Universal Law of Attraction, his view of me reflects himself more than it has anything to do with me. The way he called morality a "perversion" (rather than a sexual immorality or misconduct a "perversion") shows just how warped his views are.

Since he is proudly an in-your-face homo, I suspect that he probably faced a lot of angry, pious, religious peoples hateful and ignorant comments. But just because you've faced such hate groups before does not make me your enemy. It always amazes me when people go out of their way in an attempt to make me their enemy. This usually does not happen in person, though. Its always based on some internal projection they have based on what they read through a website. The problem with social media is that tone and the demeanor of the person does not come through. A reader's emotional baggage has more to do with whatever offense they suffer, than what the other person wrote.

The debate on my own wall was an example of how to do a controversial debate. No one got personal, made presumptions about others, or just started attacking. True, the debate went in circles, with no one seeming to understand the points made. Everyone was entrenched in the rightness of their views. At one point, I appreciated the irony of a fellow military veteran arguing alongside me about why public officials should be held to a higher standard while a woman was defending the Congressman! What kind of upside down world is this? Men harshly criticizing a male cad and a woman defending him! I have to wonder, though. She said that she didn't think sexting was a big deal nor was it adultery. Would she feel the same if it was her husband sexting other women and sending photos of his privates? I highly doubt that. Its amazing that people are so generous in their views towards Weiner's wife being an understanding mate who has no problems with his sexting with other women. Newsflash: Weiner's wife was no where to be seen in the two press conferences the Congressman gave recently (when he finally admitted to having sent out the Tweets and today's resignation). She was also conveniently traveling with her boss, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Africa during the most intense part of this sordid saga. No standing by her man during his most humiliating moment!

In the discussion, I was stunned that the defenders couldn't seem to understand WHY a public office holder should be held to a higher moral standard. Its not about doing private investigations into every elected official's private life and chasing them out of office. Its about the kind of character flaw that renders a public official incapable of controlling his impulses and carrying on with reckless abandon without regard for how his private life might be exposed. Congressman Weiner is a very outspoken champion of liberal causes. This means he had a target on his back by conservative groups who likely wanted to take him down by any means necessary. All Weiner did was give his enemies ammunition in which to take him down, which is exactly what they did. According to the news, Congressman Weiner is the first politician to have his career ended because of Twitter. As some might recall, Governor George Allen of Virginia was the first politician to be defeated because of YouTube (in 2006 he was caught on camera calling an American of South Asian heritage "macaca").

As my fellow military veteran pointed out in our debates with the Weiner lovers, such conduct would not be tolerated in the military. The military understands how one's conduct (misconduct, actually) can undermine one's leadership authority. Officers are expected to behave in ways that inspire and set the example for the enlisted ranks. Those who have failed to live up to the standard and find themselves at Captain's Mast could possibly be faced with one of the worst things you could say about an officer: "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman." If our military is expected to live up to a high moral standard, why not a member of Congress? They have a salary over $100,000 a year, with great medical care and a travel budget. They have one of the most prestigious jobs a person can have in this country. Each district has about 700,000 constituents and they get to represent those citizens in Washington, D.C. They are tasked with making laws and passing them, which the rest of us have to live by. So, because of the prestige of their jobs, why would anyone say that morality or integrity or personal restraint are not important enough qualities to uphold? To me, its like they are knee-jerking in their defense of the indefensible. They aren't really thinking through what they claim to believe.

As one who has seen moral lapses in leaders as well as leaders who lead by example, I can tell you that there is a difference. A moral leader inspires trust and confidence. A leader with moral lapses does not create trust and their own conduct will actually undermine them over the long haul. I know for myself personally, I have a strong rebellious streak and each time (in my personal life experience) I have witnessed the personal moral failings of someone in a leadership position over me, my subversive side clicks in and I become rebellious in refusing to comply, obey, or even mocking them. I've undermined two section leaders in Basic Training this way (one because he was being a tyrannical ass, the other because he wouldn't stop touching me after I told him repeatedly not to touch me). I don't like undermining someone's leadership authority, but whenever someone is given power over me, I can't help it. That person better have a higher moral standard than the one I maintain for myself, or else my rebellious side will come out.
Its sad to me that moral standards is no longer seen as important in our leaders. Its all about how they vote. If a person likes their voting record, then nothing else matters. If a person does not like their voting record, they go after them with a vengeance. I'd rather live by the principles of a meritocracy. If you've been given an honourable and prestigious job, you better live up to it or else it will be given to the next worthy person. Holding people to a high standard is the only way our country will evolve for the better, rather than the devolution that has been going on in the past forty years.

The above timeline is a reminder of the lies and stalling techniques that the Congressman engaged in for the past three weeks. His loss of credibility is due in large part because of a ridiculous lie he tried to maintain for a week or so until it became so obviously ridiculous that he could no longer sustain it.

As I watched his press conference, I was shocked by the hecklers. I thought their comments were unnecessary and disrespectful. It was obvious that Weiner is defeated, resigned, embarrassed, saddened, and depressed. It is a sad day. I felt badly for him and even I was sad. He's hurting and the worst thing people can do is heckle him with their juvenile comments (one man is overheard asking if Weiner has an erection and if it was over seven inches). There was little option left for him but to resign. The Democratic leadership was pressuring him and even President Obama was quoted as saying, "If it were me, I would resign." Of course, that's easy to say when its not him. There was talk that the Congressman would be stripped of his committee assignments. Had he remained, he definitely would have been marginalized and isolated. Shunning techniques are still used in some aspects of our country, and it can be brutal. I've seen it done in the Navy and I've always had sympathy for the shunned person (a big reason why I'm often the "friend of last resort"...I'll befriend an isolated / marginalized person, even if I thought him a jerk before others started treating him as though he doesn't exist).

Congressman Weiner should have read Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities. Its all right there: a media frenzy over a sensational scandal just because one man made a simple mistake that snowballed into other little mistakes. That novel is my favourite one of all time because of how perfectly it portrays human nature, society, and what happens when someone allows their morals to slip a little, thinking they can get away with it. There's an idea I've read in psychology / self-help books that a person who engages in high risk behaviours (especially with reckless abandon) is subconsciously hoping to get caught and shamed because their soul wants to be exposed and held accountable. Its a dysfunctional way to live, but whatever works. Hopefully Weiner will grow from this and become a better husband, father, and human being. America loves nothing more than a comeback redemption story. If Rob Lowe can find greater success after his sex scandal, anyone can with time.

As for those who think I'm a conservative Republican, evangelical Christian, morality-obsessed American Taliban...whatever! Don't presume to know people based on what they write on Facebook or other social media. Meet face to face, have a genuine conversation. You might just learn that the person you try to demonize is not a bad person after all. The Weiner controversy obviously struck a nerve with people. If anyone cares to know why I'm a bit of a moralist, its because I've seen first hand what happens when there are no moral standards upheld. It sets a bad precedence. More to the point, though. How did America go from selecting a morally upstanding person as our first president, George Washington, to not caring that a married Congressman was acting like a raging hormonal adolescent frat boy? Whose leadership inspires you more? For me, the only thing Weiner inspired was cynicism and some rather tasteless jokes. That's not any kind of leader I want to follow.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

When Sexual Immorality Undermines Credibility

A debate on Facebook has turned nasty between some gay guy and myself on a mutual friend's wall. The gay guy accused me of being a hypocrite just because I want Congressman Anthony Weiner to resign and because I believe that elected politicians should be held to a high moral standard. The gay guy disagrees. Not only does he disagree, but his view of men is warped. Basically, he seems to believe that ALL MEN are sexually obsessed deviants like Anthony Weiner. Maybe this is a delusion of a homosexual mind. After all, homosexuality is all about sexuality. So maybe its not surprising that some gay guy thinks that all men send pictures of their manhood to people. I think it says more about him than anything else.

No matter how many times I've tried to explain it to him, he can't seem to get it through his ignorant head that there is a difference between an elected official doing something like what Congressman Weiner was doing versus some private citizen who works in some corporate office. In one situation, the perve sending dick shots to women who place online ads generally does so under the cloak of anonymity, in the other situation, the perve has a high profile so anonymity is not possible, especially when he's bragging about being a Congressman and the next mayor of New York City! Anyhow, I had no idea that men actually do this, but based on reading ads on Craiglist from women seeking men, I'm astounded how many women state in their ads for men not to send pictures of their pride and joy. I really don't understand the mindset of a man who would do such a thing. Does this make me a prude? According to the gay antagonist, ALL MEN do this stuff and to claim that I don't do it makes me a hypocrite and a liar in his eyes. What an asshole! Someone is projecting big time.

This gay guy also claimed that the Navy was overrun by homosexuals or repressed homosexuals. He admitted that he didn't serve, but he "spoke to plenty of people" who were in the Navy. Yeah, right. I was in the Navy for five years and I saw no such activity going on. Guys were homophobic, that is true, but this homophobia doesn't automatically mean that they are closeted homosexuals. Some people are just uncomfortable with it. When I joined the Navy as a young 18 year old, I was homophobic to a degree. I admit to cracking a gay joke or two, or even using the word as a stand-in for "stupid." I've been solicited by two gay guys in the Navy and it was very uncomfortable. One was particularly scary because I was drunk and alone in my barracks room with the guy, who was much bigger than me. Thankfully, he didn't attempt anything, but I learned to be more careful about who I let into my barracks room.

A few years ago, when I went to pay my phone bill downtown, I got stuck in the Gay Pride parade. I had no idea that it was going on and I felt very uncomfortable. Some may think of me as a prude or even puritan, and maybe in some ways I am, but I am very uncomfortable with any form of in-your-face-blatant-sexuality. The Pride parade leaves little to the imagination and I keep wondering each year, "What is there to be 'proud' about?"

The novel I wrote based on my Navy experiences is probably the most sexually explicit story that I will ever write. When I got out of the Navy, I wanted to make sense of the organization because I served during a controversial time: the Tailhook Scandal and the Gays in the Military debate during the Clinton years. I found irony in the fact that the Navy held cross-dressing beauty pageants on the Equator during the most famous ritual (the Crossing of the Line ceremony), while at the same time, the Navy would discharge sailors who cross-dressed in private (during their off-duty and away from the ship time). Why endorse and encourage one but not tolerate the other kind? Also, the sexual harassment of women was seen as part of male culture while at the same time, the argument against allowing gays to serve openly is the fear of some guy crawling into one's rack at night to get it on. Its the mindset that I didn't get.

I once made a person laugh when I told him that all the guys were staring at some woman's body and all I kept wondering about was her intelligence, what she was interested in or thought about. I've always been attracted to women who stimulate my mind. Intelligence is sexy to me. Sexuality is a private thing and should be a private thing. That's what this gay guy doesn't seem to understand. Congressman Weiner did not keep it private. He was indiscreet and he was married. None of that matters to the gay guy, because I suspect that in gay culture, sexuality is the currency. Its a given. Its out in the open, in your face, just like a typical Gay Pride parade.

How difficult is it, though, to understand that a scandal of this magnitude has resulted in a loss of esteem for the Congressman? How can he be effective when millions of people know what his dick looks like? Or those silly poses of him in the House gym locker room? We are going to excuse this behaviour? Why? Because we like the way he votes? That's a bullshit answer. If I'm in favour of Republican politicians caught in sex scandals to resign, then for the sake of consistency, I'm also in favour of Democrats caught in sex scandals to resign. In 1998, I wanted President Clinton to resign after he admitted that he did have sexual relations with THAT woman, Miss Lewinsky. In retrospect, though, I'm glad that he didn't resign, though that does not excuse his behaviour. I'm all for holding politicians to a high ethical and moral standard. To not do so means that other politicians will test the limits of what they can get away with. Our permissive culture will lead to a degradation of morality.

I suppose the disagreements I've had with fellow progressives and liberals is bothersome for them to hear a liberal Democrat arguing from a moral standard. However, when a person is elected to represent a district of about 700,000 citizens and make laws that we have to live under, the least they can do is abide by a moral code. If they cannot do so, they have no business running for office. It is clear that Congressman Weiner has a developmental problem. It cannot be a normal thing for him to be doing what he's doing. If any of my male friends do this in private, then I seriously do not want to know about it, otherwise I will lose respect for you.

That's what the gay guy can't seem to understand, no matter how many ways I've tried to explain it. I have no aspirations to be a leader, nor do I consider myself a follower. I am content to defer to someone else's leadership, though. However, because I live by a pretty high standard and moral code, whenever someone in a leadership position (or position of authority / power / prestige) above me has a moral lapse, I lose all respect for them and become very defiant. I generally hold people to the moral level that they claim to have, so if they violate it, the deal is off.

But in another example, when I was in the Navy, a buddy and me decided to splurge on a hotel room in Corfu, Greece rather than return to the ship that was anchored out. When I saw my buddy standing on the balcony in nothing but his underwear, calling out to the Greek women and female British tourists, I was horrified and lost a great deal of respect for him. Especially since he was getting married a few months later. Our "friendship" cooled off after that episode. I just don't like seeing people act that way. I don't know where my intolerance of it comes from. Perhaps because I've seen the way some men have treated my mother. When we lived in Omaha, Nebraska, one male neighbour used to stand in his living room naked when my mom walked past his house. In Germany, a guy who worked for my dad would call our house drunk making sexual comments. I've also heard derogatory comments directed at Asian women, as many American males seem to think they are nothing more than cute, girlish, sexual playthings to have fun with (but not marry). Or maybe its because I consider sex to be an extremely private matter between two people that should be held sacred. I don't get the sexual aggression some men display. Its psychological for something else that the perpetrator is avoiding.

One episode in the Navy that still burns in my memory was when a Chief Petty Officer told me to my face that the reason why liberals don't make good sailors is because they (we) are incapable of following rules / orders. A year or so later, this Chief Petty Officer faced a Captain's Mast (a legal procedure where the Captain of the ship acts as the judge, jury, and executioner) for having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a female shipmate of a lower rank (called "fraternization" in Navy parlance). He was a conservative (reminiscent of Rush Limbaugh) who could not follow the Navy rules against fraternization. Of course I lost the little respect I ever had for him. I never went to Captain's Mast during my enlistment. For a liberal, I've always been good about following orders / commands.

In another episode, when I was new on my first ship, I had received a letter and photo from one of my female penpals I had been writing to since the eighth grade. A Chief Petty Officer looked at the photo and the first thing he asked me was "Does she take it up the ass?" I was stunned by such a question that I didn't know how to respond. I've never had that kind of conversation with my penpal, nor did I even know that people had sex that way. So, I responded, "No, she's not that kind of girl." The Chief got offended and shot back, "So you're calling my wife a slut?" I was stunned. I wasn't even thinking about his wife. It was a case of Too Much Information. Unfortunately, whenever I saw his wife at special functions, only one thought floated in my mind: "So, she likes to take it up the ass!" The Chief totally disrespected his wife when he said that remark.

Is this the kind of world I want to live in? The answer is no. Hell no. Serving in Congress (or the Governor's office, or the Presidency, or the high profile Ambassadorships) is an incredible honour and privilege. If a politician cannot conduct himself (or herself) like a mature adult who respects the sanctity of his marriage, then he needs to go. He has no right to make laws that affect the rest of us. He has no right to draw a salary that is funded by our taxes. Not to mention the awesome health care benefits, travel expenses, staff salaries, and free postage. And plenty of holidays and recesses. Why should an overgrown adolescent be given all of that? Its not right. Character is what you are when no one's looking. Integrity matters. Accountability is absolutely vital. If we want a better government with high standards of conduct, then we must demand the removal of any member of Congress when they fail to live up to those values. By enacting such a moral standard, it serves notice to others who think scandal won't come to them. A culture of permissiveness only guarantees that more scandals of this kind will continue to happen. We can't afford to tolerate this kind of behaviour anymore. Its time for people to grow up.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sacrifice and Bliss

My Tuesday evening at the Presbyterian Church attending their six-week "The Power of Myth" series continued this week. Its become the highlight of my week. Only two more sessions to go, then I'll have my Tuesday evenings free. Tonight's segment was on "Sacrifice and Bliss." For an hour, we watch the DVD of Bill Moyer's interview with Joseph Campbell, the famous mythologist who had these interviews just a few years before he passed on to the spiritual realm. Joseph Campbell's most famous quote is: "Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls." Nice sentiment, but I'm not sure if its true. I think (key word: "think") I have been following my bliss, but I haven't found my satisfying career yet. Just a serious of low wage jobs with dead end futures. I'm not getting any younger. We'll see, though. I realize that life is a long haul and sometimes the struggle is necessary before you receive your just reward (the dream career that pays the living wage I have sought for eleven years now).

After watching the hour-long segment, we break up into two groups for discussion. The pastor of the Presbyterian Church mentioned something interesting during the discussion. A lot of people liked what Chief Seattle said about there being only one God and that we belong to the land, rather than the land belonging to humans. The pastor wants to preach environmental responsibility to his congregation, but finds so few references within the Bible to use. This caused an interesting discussion that I almost contributed to. Almost! I tend to be the quiet listener. Sometimes I want to speak, but others beat me to it and the moment is lost. As I listened, though, I was stunned by some of the questions. Someone had asked if God speaks to us today and why there wasn't an ongoing canon of scripture that reflects modern life. The pastor acknowledged that the Bible was geared towards ancient man's worldview, rather than modern day life. For example: taming the environment was necessary back then, but now we have well tamed our the point where animals are becoming extinct. How can the Bible speak to pollution, nuclear power, over-population, our food industry, etc?

I'm amazed whenever I hear someone ask the question, "Why aren't there scriptures for today?" The question revealed to me just how spoiled I am to be born and raised in the Community of Christ (RLDS), where we do have a book of scriptures in which modern-day revelation is added from time to time. The Doctrine & Covenants. I guess I just took it for granted. However, a lot of the sections within this scripture seem too business oriented (minutes of a meeting type of deal, with appointments and retirements). The last few sections, though, have been provocative and worthy of fostering discussion about what it means to be a Christian in the modern era, when faced with issues such as equality for homosexuals in priesthood ordination and marriages (still a divisive issue within the church).

As the discussion continued about the appropriateness of using outside sources to convey a message in a sermon at a Presbyterian Church, I was struck by the attachment other Christian denominations still had to the Bible. This is the kind of "inside the box" thinking that is not going to attract Generation X or the Millennials back to the pews. There's a reason why the Bible is incapable of addressing modern issues! It was written by ancient man who did not have the foresight to envision overpopulation, steel and glass skyscrapers that would make the Tower of Babel look like an anthill, submarines under the ocean, airplanes that can fly someone around the world in less than 24 hours, a space station hovering the planet, cars that can travel the North American continent in a week's time, instant communication via the Internet and Skype, politicians sending x-rated photos to complete strangers through his cell phone, etc. Why be a slave to the Bible? The Bible is merely a tool. Its not meant to be the final word. If a pastor can't find the right scripture verse to illustrate his point on caring for our environment, there shouldn't be anything stopping him from using other sources of information.

When I took a New Testament class in college, I learned that the reason why Jesus spoke in parables (metaphors) is because he knew that the authentically spiritual among his listeners would get the meaning he was wanting to convey. The literal-minded would take everything to be the truth and miss the larger meaning. Time and time again, in verse after verse, a reader can see that the literal-minded were often confounded by Jesus' ministry. The pious Jewish people of Jesus' day were obsessed with following the Letter of the Law, which meant that they would leave a man for dead on the road to Jericho because it was against Jewish law to dirty one's hands on the Sabbath. There were laws against men speaking to single women, for touching people with leprosy, for being touched by an unclean person, etc. Jesus violated all those laws, which angered the Pharisees, who were tasked with maintaining the law. Jesus came to show that it was the following of the Letter of the Law at the expense of the Spirit of the Law that was a problem with Judaism. People became obsessed with rules and obedience, while ignoring the genuine human needs around them.

So, if Jesus was here to visit Christian churches, I'm certain that he would offend many of them because of their rigid structure and obsession with following the "literal truth" of the Bible, rather than the metaphors and parables. If a pastor wanted to speak about the Christian responsibility to be a caretaker of the environment but couldn't find passages in the Bible to support his or her sermon, then go to another source! The Bible shouldn't be the be-all and end-all of spirituality!

The most controversial aspect of the segment on "Sacrifice and Bliss" is Joseph Campbell's view that cannibalistic ritual was not much different than the Catholic view of "transubstantiation" -- the belief that when one partakes of the wafer in holy communion, it literally becomes the body of Christ, and the partaking of the wine becomes the actual blood of Christ in the parishioner's mouth. Ew! I never knew Catholics believed this until I read one of the Tales of the City novels several years ago that featured such a plot. I admit that I have a problem with the symbology of communion (Jesus did tell his disciples to eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of him). It is a ritual that many don't question, a church tradition that I've heard many admit was their primary reason for wanting to get baptized at 8 years old (to partake of communion for the first time).

Though Campbell does connect the Christian ritual with the practices of cannibalistic tribes, the difference is that one is a symbolic ritual while the other was an actual deed. Innocents were sacrificed to become dinner for their tribe. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross was supposed to end the practice of human sacrifice.

Last week, during the discussion, a few people brought up the tragedy of losing tribal culture and what the European settlers did to the native populations during the expansion of "civilized" culture on this continent. Though it is tragic for the native populations, I believe that life is about evolution and those that can't adapt die off. It sounds harsh, but its the way things happen. Civilizations constantly rise and fall. When I lived in Italy, I was shocked that the ancestors of people I met were capable of building the greatest empire our planet had ever seen. Modern Italians had pretty lax living and working styles. They preferred to live to the fullest than to work too hard, and the Italian military is a joke. How did a people change so much over the centuries?

My point is that the march of progress is never ending. I'm one who does not believe that there is anything appealing about tribal culture. Sure, some of the spiritual beliefs, customs, and medicine information should be preserved for history's sake as well as our own sake. We can learn much from tribal traditions, but that does not mean that I want to run around in nothing but a loin cloth hunting for bison all day. I like modern life just fine. Sure, it could be a little more spiritual (I'd love to be part of an organization devoted towards building a spiritual culture), but I don't think giving up our Internet access, our ability to travel the globe, our billions of books, our music and movies, or our homes is necessary to live an authentic spiritual life. We have to find what works for us, what resonates for us. The ancient native cultures are not able to keep up with the flow of human history. I suppose the idea of living in huts or teepees and wearing loin cloth from animals that you just killed is not a big selling point for most people raised on suburban life.

This series has proven to be insightful for the past month. Not only do I finally get to see this excellent interview series, but I also get to learn about the similarities and differences between the Presbyterian Church and my own faith tradition. I often don't appreciate the Community of Christ as much as I should, but every now and again, I get a fresh reminder why I feel so blessed to be raised in this church. People in another Christian denomination are asking questions I've never had to ask. God does speak to modern people and there are other scriptures that testify to the ever-evolving work of God.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Music Video Monday: Susan Werner

The song "May I Suggest" by Susan Werner was the song that the Groomsmen, Bridesmaids, Groomswomen, and Brideboys sang at the wedding of Andrew and Emily on Sunday. As I was leaving the wedding, I happened to catch the groom alone and I told him how phenomenal that I found his wedding. He told me that the singing of the wedding party in their ceremony was a complete surprise to him that his bride had kept a secret. Wow...he had no idea! That's a nice surprise. Andrew comes from a musical family (they are Tuality Congregation's very own "Von Trapp Family Singers"!), so his wedding and reception was filled with great music.

During the ceremony, after the wedding party walked down the aisle to "Seasons of Love" from the Rent musical and he was waiting for his bride to walk down the aisle, his best man started singing the first few lines of "May I Suggest", then a Bridesmaid sang a couple lines, then another one did, then another, until they all joined in. It was a nice touch, and the bride walked down the aisle to this song (instead of the standard Wedding March). As I wrote in yesterday's post, this wedding is truly the most unique of the six weddings I've attended since 2000. I will remember theirs for a long time.

After attending six weddings, though, I hope the seventh wedding I attend will be my own. I made a suggestion to the universe. I want to get married on October 20, 2012. I set the date. Now, the lady love of my life should appear before this year ends (or by September, if the "common sense psychic" is to be believed). Save the date! I'm creating a file of all kinds of ideas I want to incorporate in my wedding.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Best Wedding Ever!

Sunday afternoon, I went to my sixth wedding. A young couple that I had met at the Young Adult retreat on Samish Island last year held their wedding today. They are a dynamic young couple with an amazing story. The groom, Andrew, was born and raised in the Community of Christ. His entire family attends the same congregation that I do and they are a musical family, who trace their roots to Norway. The father is a professor of psychology at Lewis and Clark College. Andrew attended Graceland University (owned by the Community of Christ) in Lamoni, Iowa. After graduating last year, he spent the summer on the church's WoRLDService Corps (a kind of Peace Corps experience for our church) in Argentina and Colombia.

The bride, Emily, is from Southern Illinois. She was raised in an evangelical Christian church. As a teenager, a friend of hers invited her to Spectacular, a week long Sporting event at Graceland University that is popular among teens in the church (I never went to it when I was age eligible, because my brother went and I was tired of being thought of as his twin by everyone. I decided to vacation with my parents in Florida instead and I was glad for it). Her experience at Spectacular made her decide to attend school at Graceland. She loved our church so much that she got baptized and eventually received a priesthood calling. She and Andrew met at Graceland and fell in love. After graduating last year, as well, she participated in the WoRLDService Corps. The church sent her to Hawaii, Fiji, and New Caledonia. When she shared her experience with the congregation, she called it her "Eat, Pray, Love" experience, because on each island, she experienced one aspect of those three elements. Most interesting is that she felt uncomfortable with the church in Fiji because members there tend to be more evangelical than members in the U.S. It was a culture shock for her, particularly when she heard the preacher tell the congregation that they needed to use the scriptures "as a weapon"! I would freak out as well.

At last year's retreat, when I met the couple, I was stunned to learn that this beauty did not know anything about celebrities. When picking a famous person one team didn't think the selected person would be able to guess, Andrew assured us that his girlfriend would not be able to guess any famous celebrity that our team thought up for her. The selected person had to listen to the questions we ask of them and guess who they might be. It was true, Emily did not know any celebrity name, even though I thought anyone would be able to guess. I forget who she was, but when it was my turn, people were shocked that I was able to guess mine within three questions. The other team had selected "Dora the Explorer" for me. From that intro mixer, I was impressed with Emily at the start. It was refreshing to see a beautiful, young lady who isn't the least bit interested in our over-obsessed celebrity culture. She's pure and quite a spiritual lady. Andrew definitely snagged a catch!

Their wedding was held at the Community of Christ, Lewis River Campgrounds. I've been there a few times (but I much prefer Samish Island). The wedding started at 4 p.m. and was outside. There was a misty kind of rain. I had forgotten to wear a hat. Saturday was sunny, so it was unfortunate that there was an overcast today. However, when the ceremony began, the sprinkling stopped. As the father of the groom mentioned to me later on, the sprinkling picked up again after the ceremony concluded. I didn't even think about that. Wow...that is amazing. A sprinkle-free wedding ceremony! Was this a divine occurrence? I like to think so!

The groom's younger brothers (and two boys I'm not sure what their relations to the groom is) served as ushers. They had cool T-shirts on that had a tuxedo print on the front. Very clever! Once the main VIPs were escorted to their seats, the ceremony began with the song, "Seasons of Love" from the Rent musical playing. When I first heard the opening chords, I perked up and knew that I was in for a treat. I was pleasantly surprised that they used this song in their wedding ceremony. After all, this is the song that I had selected as my theme song for this year as I begin dating again and search for the lady I am meant to marry. The wedding party walked down the aisle during this song. There were seven on each side. There were five bridesmaids and two "bridesboys" on the bride's side and five groomsmen and two "groomswomen" on the groom's side. Andrew's oldest friend served as the Best Man. Not sure who the Maid of Honour was. I thought that was an interesting set-up.

Once the wedding party took their places at the front, the ushers unfurled a long, silk cloth to serve as the path for the bride to walk on. The flower girl and ring bearer (also a girl) walked ahead of the bride. The groomsmen and bridesmaids suddenly broke out into song. The bride walked down the aisle to this song instead of the standard Wedding March. The minister (the father of the groom) told us not to stand when the bride appeared, so that everyone could have the opportunity to see her as she walked down the aisle. Another unique "break from tradition."

The minister mentioned that the couple wanted their rings to be passed around to each person in attendance, for us to give a blessing on it and passing it to the person sitting next to us. Another unique aspect of their wedding! When it made it around to where I was sitting, the rings were in a tiny mesh bag. The ring bearer served as the usher, passing it from one row to the next one. They made the ring bearer work at this wedding! By the time the rings made it around to every guest and to the groomsmen, the presentation of the rings part of the ceremony began. In the meantime, there were a few songs, poetry reading, and further instructions that the audience would be the one to pronounce Andrew and Emily as married. We also had to learn a song to sing in conclusion to the ceremony.

The couple shared their sentiments to one another, what they loved most about the other. With the exchange of the rings and the pronouncement of their married status, the minister granted them permission to give each other their first "married kiss." Earlier in the ceremony, when the minister spoke, he mentioned how much trees became a theme of their marriage. Emily teaches at an outdoor school, where she earned the nickname "Willow." I was pleased when I heard the tree theme, because one of the gifts I bought for the couple was a picture frame that had a tree design with the word "Family" on a branch. The frame can hold three 4 X 6 photos. Hope they like it. I was not able to find out where they were registered for wedding gifts.

The couple waited by the nearby lodge to greet each guest as we made our way to the dining hall to get our meal. The food was barbecue pork, a variety of salads, and cornbread. We had to get them at the dining hall, then walk back to the recreation center, where the tables were set up. The decor was consistent with an outdoor theme. There was a place to take photos for the couple that will be put in their scrapbook. The wedding party sat on the stage at special tables. The best man, another groomsman, the maid of honour, and the father of the bride all spoke at length before offering toasts. During their first dance, which I think was another song from Rent that utilized some verses from "Seasons of Love", Andrew and Emily really gave a good show. They obviously had it choreographed and their dance was popular with the crowd. At every other wedding I've attended, the bride and groom did the most basic dance (swaying back and forth, for the most part) I was pleased to see that Andrew and Emily have more of my style (if you're going to do the first dance as a married couple, the guests expect a little something special!). The groom also sang a song to his bride, about how he would never leave her during summer, autumn, winter, or spring for this reason or that. It was pretty funny and touching at once.

For dessert, there was chocolate fondu to hold the guests over until the cake cutting. I couldn't see the cake cutting from where I sat, but I heard cheers erupt, so I don't know how the bride and groom played that.

All in all, a spectacular wedding. The couple showed how a stylish wedding can be done on a limited budget. I enjoy seeing the personal touches of each wedding I've attended. I'm a collector of ideas, because someday, if I should find the love of my life, I want a classy, but affordable wedding. For me, music is a big part of it. I like the idea that I saw at a wedding reception last year (the couple's wedding was in Mexico months earlier): a Powerpoint presentation of the couple from childhood through courtship. Mine would be set to music, though, and in the actual wedding ceremony. I also like Prince William and Princess Catherine's reception idea of having each table represent a country or location of importance to them. I would use this idea, as well, with tables representing Thailand, Italy, France, South Africa, Utah, Washington DC, Stone Mountain, Portland, and areas of importance to the bride. Another idea I like is a cardboard tree as a table centerpiece in which people write well wishes on paper leaves to hang on the tree.

The family that gave me a ride to the wedding asked if I would marry in the church. I told them that I preferred an indoor church wedding, but I would not pick any Community of Christ congregation because none pass my "architectural standard." I have to like the way the building looks on the outside and the inside. There are at least three different churches in Portland that I really think would make awesome Wedding locations. All three have the half-timbered look that I love. It doesn't have to be a church, though. A nice looking mansion or even a faux-castle type would work as well. But, of all depends on the lady I marry and I obviously need to work on finding a meaningful relationship before any marriage talk will be reality.

In the meantime, Andrew and Emily's wedding was truly an inspiration. Best wishes to the great couple on their new life together. They got off to a great start!