Saturday, July 30, 2011

Narcissistic Masturbation

Please excuse the rather "vulgar" blog post title, but that was the phrase that came to mind when I thought about Portland Mayor Sam Adams' tenure in office. On Friday, during the mid-afternoon, the news broke that Mayor Adams had decided not to run for reelection next year. After what he called his "staycation" (spending a week at his home in north Portland), he decided not to run for a second term because campaigning would take away a lot of his time and energy from his duties as mayor. Really?!? Amazing...he's still spinning reality in his favour. His reasons sound about as credible as Sarah Palin's when she made her announcement that she wasn't running for reelection as Governor. But unlike Palin, Adams isn't deciding to vacate the mayoral office before the term is up.

I especially love this self-delusional quote by Portland's scandalous mayor: "I'm not worried about being a lame duck. I intend to be a very active and vibrant duck." Where the hell has he been for the past two and a half years?!? He became a lame duck in the third week of his administration when the Willamette Week ran a cover story exposing the lie Adams had told in the fall of 2007 when his campaign was just getting started. From that moment forward, Adams was the lamest of lame ducks. Cooked goose is more like it. Though he decided not to resign and two attempts to gather enough signatures for a recall election failed, the scandal had made the mayor so toxic that he was not invited to the big political rally that President Obama held for the election campaign of Governor Kitzhaber. All of the major Democratic politicians were up there on the stage with the president and gubernatorial candidate, including the hapless Congressman David Wu, who announced his resignation this past Tuesday. There is simply no way that a President visits a city and the mayor does not get to meet him. Its simply not done. The fact that it was obvious that Adams would be no where near the Oregon Convention Center when the president was in town indicates the level of toxicity regarding his scandal.

For my readers who are not familiar with the local politics, I will offer a brief recap. I had written several blogposts about the scandal in January 2009 and I know that quite a few people in City Hall had read them. This whole sordid saga is actually an excellent case study in how the Law of Karma works, and yes...everything you've heard about Karma is true! She really is a bitch!

In the fall of 2007 when candidates were gearing up a run for the mayor's office, City Commissioner Sam Adams was considered to be the one to watch out for. He was smart, ambitious, and worked his entire adult life in politics (from being a staffer in the Oregon legislature, to being Chief of Staff to Mayor Vera Katz, to his first elected office as City Commissioner in 2004). He is a wonky poli sci nerd straight out of a West Wing television cast. He was also open about his homosexuality.

A potential rival named Bob Ball, who is also openly gay, began a whispering campaign. He had heard that Adams had a sexual relationship with an underage teenager. Many who heard this rumour thought it was particularly nasty and unfounded. The kind of trick that someone like Karl Rove would pull, not some liberal, politically aware Portlander. This whispering campaign backfired and effectively ended any political aspirations that Bob Ball might've had. However, the rumour was so salacious that Sam Adams had made the most spectacular of denials. He waxed indignant, claiming that he merely served as a mentor for a teenage boy who had approached him and asked how he might navigate a political career of his own someday as an openly gay man. Adams said that the kind of rumours and insinuations that Ball engaged in was one of the worst accusations a person could make against a gay man: that they were sexual predators going after borderline legal young boys. Such insinuations encourage cynicism in people regarding gay men mentoring younger men. His denial was so spectacular (the right amount of indignation to shame every heterosexual who might wonder about his interest in young men) that one couldn't help but side with Sam Adams for being victim to a sinister smear campaign.

During the campaign, the issue never came up. I had volunteered on a regular basis during the first half of 2008. I had sent my resume and cover letter to a few campaigns and the Adams campaign was the first one to respond. I had seen Adams at a few neighbourhood meetings and I was impressed by his wonky knowledge and charisma. His liberal views and ambitions for Portland all sounded great. It didn't take much to convince me that he was a winner. Our first task was to create signs for each neighbourhood in Portland. These signs were long rectangles, like viewers see on TV during the political conventions, with the names of the states on them. Creativity was encouraged. The best sign I created was for Downtown Portland. I wanted to keep it as a souvenir after Adams was done using them for an event, but apparently, he wanted to keep all the signs.

The biggest controversy during the actual campaign involved a poll that candidate Sho Dozono was privy to, which he had failed to count as an in-kind contribution. This presented a dilemma for the Adams campaign. Dozono had violated campaign finance law by failing to disclose the contribution. The question Adams' campaign manager asked some of us volunteers was: should Adams file an official complaint? Someone else had already filed a complaint with the election's office. The consensus was that Adams should remain above the fray and let it slide. He would look petty if he filed a complaint. The campaign manager, Jennifer, said that after talking to Sam about it, he had decided not to file an official complaint. Then, a day or two later, Adams reversed course and decided to file an official complaint. He said that he was doing it out of principle. I remember being impressed at the time, but now find it ironic. Sam Adams had decided to file an official complaint against Sho Dozono not reporting an in-kind contribution because Adams believed in full disclosure. All the while, he was hiding the deepest, darkest secret: that he wasn't truthful about his relationship with a borderline legal teenage boy.

Adams won a decisive victory over Dozono in the May 2008 primary that had more than a dozen candidates. This allowed him to shut down his campaign, avoiding a run-off in November. Adams had said that elections make him nervous because you don't know how people will vote. I had no doubt that Adams would win. Dozono ran a lousy campaign and during a debate at Portland State University, Dozono seemed distracted and his cell phone actually went off twice during the debate (once when Adams was talking, another time when Dozono was talking). My sense about Dozono was that he was recruited to run by the anti-Sam faction who did not want Adams to cakewalk a promotion from his City Commissioner office to the Mayor's office. Adams needed a strong competitor and he simply did not get one.

The victory did make national news because Adams became the first openly gay politician to win the mayor's office in a top 40 U.S. city. Portland became the biggest city to have an openly gay mayor. It was a sign of how liberal Portland is. Adams' homosexuality was not really an issue in the race, like it would be in, say, Birmingham, Alabama or Nashville, Tennessee.

Everyone thought Adams effectively put his past behind him. Little did anyone know that Willamette Week had continued investigating the rumour and decided they had enough evidence to drop the bombshell on Adams and the city of Portland during the weekend before President Obama's historic inauguration. In fact, Mayor Adams (who was sworn in at midnight on the first of January) was in Washington, D.C. during the Inauguration weekend events for a meeting of all the mayors of the major American cities. Why Willamette Week decided to unleash the bombshell on Inauguration weekend appears to be vindictive. What a way to embarrass the mayor, while he was meeting with the other mayors. Also, it ruined his boondoggle trip to witness history being made with our first African-American president. The bombshell was big enough that Adams cut short his Washington, D.C. trip to give a press conference. He weathered the storm of calls for him to resign. Defenders like Dan Savage, the sex columnist, and Storm Large, the mistress of ceremonies and hard rocker, held a rally at City Hall on Adams behalf while he was holed up at home during that most intense first week.

Adams ultimately chose not to resign, the two recall petitions failed to gather enough signatures by the deadlines, and an investigation into the scandal and potential payoffs for silence did not turn up any conclusive evidence that proves Adams broke the law regarding statutory rape. Both Adams and his beau, Beau Breedlove claimed a sexual relationship did not begin until Breedlove had turned 18. All of this should have cleared Sam Adams, but the scandal was just so salaciously unsavory that the mayor was unable to regain the public's trust. Ironically, before the scandal broke, Adams was scheduled to give a speech at Portland State University about ethics in government. County Commissioner Jeff Cogen went in Adams' place and no one doubts Cogen's ethical standards.

One of Adams' campaign promises was lessening the drop out rate of high school students, but after the scandal, no one wanted Adams to visit the schools. No one wanted their picture taken with the mayor at social events or even official photos (the kinds people love to display on their walls). The unspoken fear was that no one really knows what other skeletons might be hiding in Adams' closet. The scandal essentially turned him into a political leper. How effective can a mayor be if no one wants him to visit their schools, no one wants to be caught in a photograph with him, and perhaps the biggest humiliation of all: the President of the United States of America comes to Portland (the first since Clinton, as George W. Bush didn't dare set foot in this town) and the mayor is not invited to the big political rally.

What can we learn from the short elected political life of Sam Adams? Easy. One simple lie told in the fall of 2007 effectively destroyed his credibility and term of office. Adams had said in an interview that the reason why he did not tell the truth about his relationship with Breedlove at that time was because he thought people might actually believe that they had a sexual relationship before the boy had turned 18. That's probably true, but in a liberal city where there are people in polyamory relationships, it might not have been an issue that kept him out of office. Adams wanted to be mayor in the worst possible way and he got his wish. But because of his lie, he wasn't allowed to escape the consequences of the lie. He had to live with it every day. When people ask him not to appear at certain events, when people don't want their picture taken with him, when he's not wanted in high schools, it all drives home the point that he is forced to live with the consequences of his lie. That's a heavy price to pay for ambition.

During the campaign, another volunteer and I speculated on Adams' career ambitions. The other guy, who is a political savvy and active volunteer on numerous campaigns, thought Adams' trajectory included two or three terms as mayor, followed by a long career as a Congressman (after Congressman Blumenauer retired). Now, of course, that's not going to happen. By stepping down after his term ends, its probably safe to say that his political life is over. Was it all worth it? That's the question that keeps coming to mind. He simply could not balance his career ambitions with his personal transgressions. When will these narcissistic politicians ever learn the recurring lesson we keep reading about? Ethics, integrity, self-discipline, and restraint all matter. As New Age spiritualist like to point out, we are in a period called "the Apocalypse", which means a revealing. Things once hidden will become known. For the past decade, we've seen so many institutions, companies, systems, and people unravel before our eyes. It is getting progressively more difficult to engage in deceit or traffic in lies. The sooner politicians and aspiring politicians realize this, the better off we'll become. Living life by an inner moral code may have gone out of style, but living recklessly is nothing more than an awaiting timebomb that could destroy a person's legacy.

What are we to make of the mayoral administration of Sam Adams? Like the blogpost title suggests, his tenure is nothing more than narcissistic masturbation. He was blind to his moral lapses, thinking he could get away with whatever his dark side indulged in. While he may have gotten off, his administration has been disappointing. Underwhelming. Lackluster. In the end, his unremarkable tenure will be forgotten soon after the next mayor is sworn in on New Year's Day in 2013. Anyone who aspires to lead must first conquer themselves. Holding oneself to the highest possible standard shouldn't be too much to expect in a politician who wants to lead our fair city into a more progressive and sustainable future. Let's hope his exit will result in more people jumping into the race. We need a true race, rather than a cakewalk.

As for Sam Adams, a part of me feels sad for the incredible waste his life has come to represent. All that talent, ambition, intellect, charisma, and experience flushed down the toilet for the sake of sex with a much younger and impressionable guy. If Sam was a spiritual person at all, he might have been familiar with one of the most important questions ever asked: "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?" Perhaps when he leaves office at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve in 2013, he can venture forth in search of the soul he lost somewhere on the way to political power. Hopefully we will never have to hear his name ever again, unless its a waiter bringing us a beer. Good riddance, Mayor Adams! And thank you for making this one of the best weeks Portland has ever experienced. First Congressman Wu's announcement of his resignation, now your announcement that you're not going to seek reelection. The synchronicity of two Portland politicians losing credibility because of their sexual relationships with borderline legal teenagers truly is remarkable in the sheer audacity of it all. Do any politicians ever learn from other politicians who have fallen because of moral lapses? Maybe its time they start.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Flashback Friday: Indiana Jones

This week's Flashback Friday coincides with Portland's Flicks on the Bricks film selection for today: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I guess I've been in Portland long enough (my fifth full summer) to see movies get repeated for this summer program. They had already played The Last Crusade within the past six years. Why again so soon? They haven't shown Star Wars, which I wish they would. They haven't even shown the other three Indiana Jones films, either. I can understand why, though. Raiders of the Lost Ark has the terrifying face melting scene and Temple of Doom has the equally horrifying heart-ripping scene. Those brief scenes have made those films virtually unplayable in public. So, The Last Crusade is the safe alternative. There's really nothing terrifying in the film. A man turns old and into a corpse, but that's different than faces melting! However, I wish that they would show the last Indiana Jones film, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for the Flicks on the Bricks. Perhaps the reason why they don't is because its not well liked by fans.

Without further delay, here is a look back at all the films in the series and what I think of them.

Raiders of the Lost Ark came out in 1981. My parents took my brother and I to the theater to see this film. While I enjoyed it, the face melting scene gave me nightmares for many months. It was horrifying. The last time I saw it, I laughed at how fake the face melting looks. But, man, its not a cool scene to put in a movie that children would go see. I was 9 years old, living in Utah. The film was so popular that the soccer team I was on picked the name "Raiders" because of it (the name I submitted for the team to vote on was "Sidewinders", as I thought this snake was cool at the time). The movie played in the same Ogden movie theater for a full year. We would see it listed on the marquee each week we drove by on our way to and from church.

The movie was a collaboration between two of the most successful film directors of that time. George "Star Wars" Lucas and Steven "Jaws" Spielberg essentially created the summer blockbuster with their hit summer movies. Before Jaws came out in the summer of 1975, there was no such thing as a "summer movie." Movies were released year round and on a few screens. They played in a theater for a few days or weeks before moving on to the next theater. Lucas and Spielberg were friends, not rivals, and they wanted to make a modern update of the adventure serials they loved as children. Lucas also wanted to create an American version of the James Bond character. Thus, adventure archaeologist Indiana Jones was born.

Setting the character in the 1930s was a brilliant idea, because Nazis make the greatest villains in film history. The Nazis were known for collecting mythological artifacts around the world. It was an occult movement, obsessed with creating a new mythology that would hold sway over a mass of people. The first film deals with the Jewish Ark of the Covenant, which was kept in the Temple in Jerusalem and no one knows what happened to it after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. If such a relic were ever found, I'm certain that no face melting will occur if the lid is lifted.

Besides nightmares, this movie also inspired in me an interest in Egypt and the clothes that Arabs wear (the robes and headdresses). My father also participated in an exercise in Egypt around this time with his military unit. I'm certain that I probably pretended to be Indiana Jones during my play periods. The film was good, with some classic scenes, but overall, I like the third one the best.

In 1984, the sequel came out. The story actually takes place a year before the events in Raiders of the Lost Ark, though. The title of this one was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The dark intensity of the movie inspired a new rating for the American film rating system. The ratings board wanted to give this film an "R", which prohibits anyone under 17 from seeing it without a parent or guardian. This was unacceptable for kid friendly Lucas and Spielberg, so the compromise was a PG-13.

Though my parents were fans of the first film, we did not see the sequel (or "prequel"?) in theaters. I heard from other kids all about the heart-ripping scene, as well as the bugs and the dinner scene ("chilled monkey brains!"). I'm not sure when I eventually saw the film, but the heart-ripping scene also gave me nightmares, and I was a teenager by this point.

Despite the darkness of this film, I actually loved it because of the Willie character (played by Kate Capshaw, who became Mrs. Steven Spielberg after this movie). The opening sequence where she sings "Anything Goes" in Club Obi-Wan (a not-so-subtle nod to Lucas' other film series) in Shanghai is truly fantastic. I love the song and the choreography. I also loved how Willie screams at everything. She's clearly the most "stereotypical woman" in all the Jones films. Or at least, an older stereotype of a woman being afraid of everything and needing a man to protect her from all kinds of danger.

The most welcome addition to the film, though, is the Asian kid, Short Round, who adds much humour with his accented comments ("Holy smoke, crash landing!"). As a biracial kid myself, it was nice to see an Asian kid in a major film like this. I believe its the same actor who was in The Goonies. Wonder whatever happened to him. We're probably the same age.

The story of this film takes place in India, where Indiana Jones is tasked with retrieving the sacred Sankara (sp?) stones for a village. Much of the film takes place indoors and deep in the earth. A blood-thirsty cult engages in brainwashing and human sacrifice (which involves the ripping out of a heart). For a time, even Indiana Jones finds himself under the spell of the cult. The film is thrill a minute, with a major action sequence involving a roller coaster type mining car through the underground mine that Dr. Jones, Willie, and Short Round find themselves in.

In 1989, the third film is released to much fanfare in one of the greatest years in movies. The story brings back the Nazis as the bad guys and adds more drama in the form of Indiana Jones' father, played by the popular Sean Connery. This was the greatest casting coup ever! What a pair they made: James Bond and Han Solo, playing father and son "Dr. Henry Jones."

The Last Crusade is about the quest for the Holy Grail. Much was made of the fact that the word "Last" was in the title. Also this same year, the fifth Star Trek film was entitled The Final Frontier, hinting that it was to be the last one (until fans hated it and demanded a better concluding film). My favourite scene in this film is when Indiana Jones goes to a Nazi book burning rally and comes face to face with Adolf Hitler, who proceeds to autograph Indiana's father's journal.

In this film, the Holy Grail can be found deep inside the cave where the Petra building in Jordan stands guard (my parents are going on a vacation to Israel and Jordan this October and Petra is one of the stops on their tour). It is a chalice that Jesus supposedly drank out of during the Last Supper. There have been quite a few books and movies about the quest for the Holy Grail. This was the obsession of the Crusades. After reading The Da Vinci Code, though, I have not thought of the Holy Grail in the same way again (according to some clever word play, "San Greal" is the word for it in French, which can be slightly changed to "Sang Real", or "Holy Blood"). Who really knows for sure what the Holy Grail really was, though. Makes for excellent stories.

In 2008, after 19 years since the last one played in theaters, a new Indiana Jones adventure hit the big screens: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Despite fan hype before the film came out, the movie was rather inconsequential as a cultural landmark. People weren't talking about it much in the months after it was released. It was a bit of a disappointment at the time. Its the only Indiana Jones film that I own on DVD (been meaning to get the trilogy box set for years now). I saw it once in the theater and a few times at home. It grows on me. I didn't like the conclusion, but I understand it. The whole film is meant to be a take off on the types of film that were popular in the 1950s: alien movies, which was a stand-in for paranoia about government.

What I liked about the movie is that Lucas and Spielberg decided to set this film 19 years after Indiana's adventures in The Last Crusade. That brought him into a new era, when the Nazis were long defeated and a new menace was on the world stage: The Soviet Communists. I also liked the story focusing on ESP, telepathy, and the paranormal, because it is true. The Soviets were open to such phenomenon, based on the information they learned when they defeated the Nazis in Berlin. The Nazis were into the occult and had all kinds of experiments. I find it amusing that many Americans are closed minded to such paranormal topics, while the atheistic communists were open to it. Why is that the case? I blame the narrow-mindedness on evangelical Christianity, which attributes everything they don't understand to Satan. Better to be open minded to information and test the accuracy of the information. The more you know, the more powerful you are over others (knowledge is power). This is what the Soviets hoped to achieve with their quest for extra-sensory intelligence and telepathy.

Cate Blanchette made a sexy Soviet villain and Shia LaBoeuf as Indiana's son makes a good foil. It brings Indiana full circle. In the last film, he was having arguments with his aloof father and in this film, he's trying to catch up on fatherhood to a young man he just met and later learns is his son with the lady he loved in the Himalayas from the Raiders film. For me, the only flaw in this movie is the resolution regarding the Crystal Skull being alien in orientation and having a hive mind, so that when all of the Crystal Skulls are brought out! I've read that some fans want a fifth Indiana Jones film to be made, to erase their memories of this one. Fanboys can be a tough audience. The movie was fun and was meant to be fun. If people want to say that this movie "ruined" the trilogy for them, they really need to get a life. This film was how Lucas and Spielberg envisioned it and if one doesn't like it, then don't watch it! I thought the ending wrapped things up nicely, so there is no need for a fifth one. Unless they want to go with a "Son of Indiana Jones" movie. But even that wouldn't be the same.

Its great to see what an update of an old movie serial adventure series can do in the world of entertainment. Indiana Jones is definitely one of the most interesting film characters around. Directors need to be creative and think up of new characters to make films about, though. Searching old movie serials and letting one's imagination run wild should turn up something good for someone. Let Indiana Jones enjoy his marriage and retirement.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Your Spirit Guides Are Frustrated With You!

On Sunday, I had my first "complementary" session with a "psychic counselor". It was kind of brutal! But that's to be expected. First, though, a background. Last month, I received an email from a lady who had read a couple of my book reviews on She wanted to know if I would read and review her e-book about how to contact your spirit guide. As one who can't pass up any opportunity to read a spiritual book, I said yes, but informed her that I would not be able to do that until I finished my obligation with my ghostwriting duties. Once that was out of the way, I read the e-book and posted a review. Apparently, she was impressed with the review and wanted to offer me a complementary counseling session or two. Of course, I can't pass up any kind of spiritual information that other people provide. I'm open minded to whatever people want to share, but I can take things with a grain of salt. I may or may not believe her, but I'm curious what she had to say. Especially when her email to me indicated that her spirit guides were in contact with my spirit guides and they wanted to pass on a message to me.

So, this past Sunday, I gave her a call at the appointed time and had an interesting session. She told me that I'm supposed to be a leader, which surprised me because I simply don't see myself as one. Even if I wanted to be one, I think I have a healthy dose of reality to know that other people tend to "ignore me" or tune out when I talk, so its not like I have the kind of presence that a true leader needs. I know myself pretty well and for better or for worse, I'm essentially an introvert and comfortable with that. I think I'm best in one-on-one conversations, but when it comes to groups, I become invisible, even when I don't want to be. Its just the nature of things.

We got to talking about my jobs and she was stunned. She said, "You weren't meant to be someone's assistant for the rest of your life!" This came in response to what I had shared about my dream job being a political aide. She seems to indicate that I'm meant to be more than I'm currently aiming for. After we got to talking a little bit, I did admit that one of my ongoing frustrations in life was the level of incompetent leadership I've seen in the Navy and the Boy Scouts of America. I can be a far better leader than many of the people I've worked for. After all, I never would have led a group of Boy Scout employees to a strip club like one guy did last year. My problem is that I don't like telling people what to do, nor do I like being told what to do. I prefer the network / colleague model: each person in a group working relationship bring their interest, experience, and skills to the project or group. Everyone holds one another accountable. Decisions get discussed and made democratically. Ego and power plays are discouraged. Consensus is the name of the game. Cooperation, not competition. I just don't see that reality coming true any time soon. I was born in the wrong country! But I realize that, because I have no intention of being born in America in future lifetimes. I'm done with this country if we keep lurching to the right (America has been on a rightward march for as long as I've been alive).

This lady said that my spirit guides were actually "frustrated" with me!!! Really? Well, I'm frustrated too! Where the hell were they when I prayed for guidance during the worst years of my life (2007-2010) when I was stuck in the worst job I've ever had to endure? I was open to guidance and they were silent. So, the frustration would be a two way street. If my spirit guide really wants me to be a leader, they need to do a better job showing me the path towards that eventuality. Instead, I got that trickster synchronicity that fooled me into accepting the job offer with That Awful Place That Shall Not Be Named and I was stuck for four years of my life. That pushed me to the darkest, deepest despair. Its a miracle that I did not end my life in those years. That ought to count for something, right?

She had told me that I was a great writer and very intelligent. She seemed taken aback when I didn't automatically agree with her assessment on being "very intelligent." I told her that I thought of myself as "adequately intelligent." She wanted to know why I thought so. I told her that one of the most common perceptions people have had of me since elementary school is that they think I'm a lot more intelligent than I really am. She thought I was putting myself down, but I didn't think so. I told her that I believed myself to be spiritually smart and able to process information and make sense of them, but when it came to book smarts that would help me to test well, I wasn't that great. If I think I'm smarter than most people, its only because I tend to think about things at a deeper level than most people I know. But what's the point in being my kind of smart when it hasn't helped me work my way up some company ladder into positions of respect and authority? What's the point of being my kind of smart if I find most managers and leaders to be complete morons in a moral and ethical way? I really need to be my own boss. Really. If she can help me achieve that, I will be very grateful! I told her that I wanted my own company or non-profit organization to put into practice my ethical and spiritual principles. I'd like to try my hand at something like that.

In the hour conversation, I learned a little visual sequence I can use each day to get me into the flow of life. The problem is making such a thing a habit. Also, I should meditate each day. I can find 20 minutes to do that. My meditation moments are irregular, but I always feel good afterwards. I just need to make it a habit. The counselor said that the reason why my life feels blocked is because my heart area is "closed." She said that I need to open it up. I admitted to being reserved, but its understandable in my case. I've just had the worst decade of my life where I experienced every kind of loss (death of loved ones, loss of a car, loss of a job, loss of income, loss of my dignity, loss of my dream job, loss of two women that I found "marriage material"). After experiencing so much rejection, I just don't think my heart can take anymore. I've lost faith in anything good happening in my life because I had a decade where not a single thing went right for me. It is very difficult to reverse my mental process after a decade of loss that I've experienced. I'm taking baby steps at the moment, but its a lot of work. Interesting enough, people have mentioned my demeanor changing when I'm around a dog. On Tuesday, I had carried the homeowner's cute little pug in my arms and the female housemate commented on how different I looked. The homeowner even said that I should have my picture taken with his pug and put it on my ad. He said that I'll definitely get responses if I do that.

The session lasted almost ninety minutes and we made another appointment for Sunday afternoon. I'm expecting it to be just as brutal, but she gave me homework to accomplish before then, so we'll see if some headway can be made. She did say that I should've gotten counseling years ago, but I disagree. I've read so many different self-help psychology books in the past decade. Perhaps I should have been much improved by now, but I think the four years that I worked at that awful place really did a lot of damage to my psyche. I'm still in recovery mode! When I told her that the reason why I've never done counseling was because I could not afford it, she said that I had a "poverty consciousness." Or maybe I just don't believe in paying exorbitant hourly rates to someone else when I have bills to pay.

Yesterday, I had received an email from the psychic that I had went to see in August 2007. He was the one who said that I should focus on dating a lady in the spiritual group I was a part of instead of looking for a job. I took it to mean that he was trying to get me to focus on Christine, whom I was just getting to know at the time, rather than a job and had I listened, my life could have been radically different. Anyhow, I'm on his mailing list and in his latest email, he featured an interesting story that put a lump in my throat when I read it. I seriously need to remember this one. It shows how quickly life can change once you make a change in favour of your destiny. The toughest part of life is finding one's destiny. I'm determined to find out the proper career path for me this year. Not that I'm in a rush to leave my job. There's still much work to be done and if I start a new job, I won't be able to take a vacation for another year, and I really want to go home for Christmas, 40th birthday, and New Year's this year.

Here is that inspiring story from the psychic I believe is very legitimate:

When a woman in her thirties came to me for a psychic reading, the first thing I noticed was her modest, almost drab appearance. She wore practical shoes and wire-rim glasses. Her lifeless, gray hair was tied back in a bun. Her face, pockmarked from adolescent acne, exhibited no energy or enthusiasm toward me, the psychic process or anything in life. How she got the gumption to even come for a psychic reading has always been a mystery to me.

But she did come, for advice on her career. She worked in the bowels of city hall, where she was employed in the accounting department as a computer analyst. She spent most of her time working. Like a human mole, she lived most of her days underground, only rarely experiencing the city or the sun.

This was the only information I had when I went into my mental "workshop" to watch the movies about her. I closed my eyes, went into my imaginary room, invited her in, and had her sit in a chair in front of me. Suddenly, I had the oddest sense that I was looking at Einstein! The overwhelming impression I had of her was that she was not just intelligent, but a true genius.

When I told her this, she tried to discount it but finally admitted she had an unusually high IQ. In fact, she had graduated first in her college class and not only worked with computers, but was in great demand as an analyst for the federal government. When it came to computers, she had the ability to do most anything, but it was clear that her present job was not bringing her happiness.

I returned to the "workshop" and waited for another picture to appear, but when one did, it was so amazing I thought it must be a mistake. Instead of a mousy woman, I watched as a vibrant, glowing girl bounded about the "workshop", dressed for the beach in shorts and a sleeveless top.

I had a difficult time calming the young woman down so I could watch the scenes unfold. Slowly, however, the images came. I saw her on a South Pacific island working with a group of very excited people. As I walked closer to the group, I could see they were digging in the sand and uncovering a portion of a very old foundation. It became clear that this was a group of archaeologists working on a dig. And she was part of the group!

I opened my eyes and watched the real her looking at me with great curiosity. She was obviously anxious to hear what I had to say, but I hesitated. What could the "workshop" scene have to do with this quiet woman? I returned to the "workshop," but the same scenes reappeared, this time in vivid color. The young woman in the scenes was ecstatic. The group loved her. The beach scenes were glorious, romantic, exciting.

I finally told her that I saw her working in the South Pacific on an archaeological dig. I told her all this with the very real fear that she would think I was crazy. Which is just what she did think!

"What in the world are you talking about!?" she demanded. "Are you from the moon or something? I came to you for advice on how to make the best use of my computer abilities and you're telling me you see me on an island?" She looked annoyed and perplexed.

I quickly dropped the subject and went on to other issues that I could see were troubling her, including her difficult relationship with her domineering mother. She seemed pleased with my suggestions, but before she left, I felt I had to return to what I saw as the most important topic.

"The images of the island were so clear and strong," I told her, "I would be very surprised if they were wrong."

She agreed to consider them, thanked me, and left.

During the next several days I often thought of her. There was something very compelling about her and the island pictures. I wondered what happened to her. Did she still think I was from the moon? Was she still buried in the basement of city hall? A month passed. Then one day I got a call from her.

"I just had to call and thank you," she said. "Your reading has had a tremendous impact on my life."

She admitted that the day she left me she had been very confused, even angry. Everything I told her made sense, except for the strange idea of her being on an island, which she couldn't stop thinking about. She was so distracted and upset that she decided to drive to the Oregon coast to sort things out.

There she found a large boulder overlooking the beach and she sat down. Most of the day she just sat there, crying. She was angry with me for exposing this picture, and with herself for having denied something she had always been interested in. Since she was a child, she had been fascinated with archeology, but had not even allowed herself to think about it.

Somehow, the reading had broken through her shell and brought all those memories back.

With a tremendous sense of excitement and enthusiasm, she left the beach and returned home to talk with friends about her rediscovered interest. She told them about the reading and the day at the beach. They, in turn, told her of some friends who were looking for assistants in an archeological dig in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. When she told me this, a chill went up and down my spine and I felt her excitement through the phone. She began to cry and had a difficult time thanking me and telling me that she was, in fact, leaving to work on the Cook Island.

"When will you be leaving?" I asked.

"In about ten minutes!" she cried. She had packed her belongings and put everything in storage. At that very moment, she was sitting on her suitcase in her empty apartment, waiting for her friends to drive her to the airport. She had called to thank me and tell me what had happened.

Several months passed before I heard from her again. I was doing mini-readings in a bookstore when she suddenly appeared in the doorway. I'll never forget how she looked. A radiant, vibrant woman, she stood above me, her arms outstretched to give me a hug.

She was in town for only a few days, she said, to get rid of her furniture and see her mother. She would soon be flying back to Australia to be with a wonderful man she had met while working on the Cook Islands. He had asked her to move home with him and work with him developing new computer programs that could be used in archeology.

We only had a few minutes to talk, but the changes in her were obvious. She thanked me for my help, and I thanked her for having the courage to believe in the "workshop" and make the images come real. We were both teary eyed when she left, knowing she would not be coming back, that we would not see each other again, but we were also happy that she had discovered what it means to come to life and I discovered...or rediscovered yet again...the need to trust in my visions that are such a gift from the "workshop."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Good Riddance, Congressman Wu!

This past weekend, the news broke that Congressman David Wu, who represents Oregon's 1st Congressional District (I lived in his district from 2006 to 2010), was facing another scandal that stems from events last year. This one involved an 18 year old daughter of a campaign contributor. She claimed that he made unwanted sexual advances on her. He had told someone on his staff that it was "consensual." The incident supposedly happened over Thanksgiving last year.

I had written a blog post about him earlier this year, back in March. In that post (worth reading if you want to get details on his scandal), I called on him to resign for the good of the party. Apparently, he had met with Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi to discuss his latest scandal. Though we will never know what was said, we can probably be fairly certain that he was asked to leave the hallowed halls of Congress. After all, there was pressure on Congressman Anthony Weiner to resign for his sexting scandal. As bad and embarrassing as that ordeal was, what Wu is accused of doing is far worse. There was no question that he had to go. On Monday, Wu had announced that he would not seek reelection next year. He already has two Democratic challengers for the nomination. After the meeting with Pelosi, the news broke that Wu was resigning after the vote on the debt ceiling. Some might not think its soon enough, but I'm just glad that pressure for him to resign has finally forced his hand. He has been an embarrassment for far too long.

For those who don't know the details, the scandals started early in the new year when six of his long-term staffers abruptly resigned. Some didn't even have a job lined up! This mass resignation was probably necessary, though, to get the attention of the media, which rarely hears about such defection. And these weren't silent resignations where everyone makes nice and pretends that there is nothing negative about the resignation. The media reported on several incidents that occurred during the campaign last fall. Staffers were concerned with Wu's erratic behaviour and temper. Some of these events that troubled his staff include: Wu convincing a TSA agent to let him pass security to meet his son on a disembarking plane, where he proceeded to ask every passenger for their vote; accepting a pill from a supporter which he claimed was Ibuprofen but in reality was Oxycodon; having his photo taken in a Tiger costume over Halloween (including one where his son is "choking" him while he lies facedown on the bed) and emailing them to staff at 1 in the morning with strange comments where he pretended to be his kids defending their dad; and for being faced with an intervention by staff the weekend before election day where he was told to seek psychiatric help in a mental hospital. The campaign was suspended for the final weekend of the campaign. He won reelection.

The new scandal has him forcing himself on an 18 year old daughter of one of his financial contributors. How sick is that? He claims it was "consensual", but who would believe him? He's in his 50s and in a position of power. Does he not think that an 18 year old girl might be intimidated by him? Also, there is on his record the allegation of rape while he was a student at Stanford as a young man. The guy has problems. I hated that I had voted for him in 2006 and 2008. In 2010, I voted for David Robinson, his challenger in the Democratic Primary. The vote was devastating (Wu won 75% of the vote). In the fall, I decided to move east of the river into Congressman Earl Blumenauer's district, in part so I wouldn't have to vote for the Republican opponent (which I most certainly would have done).

I know my liberal friends are stunned that I could be so harsh in my view of a fellow Democrat, but I'm very much of the belief that politicians serve at the privilege of the people and of the party. Its up to party members to uphold the standards and if an elected official brings shame upon the party for whatever misconduct, the party has every right to tell the member to resign. Its much more difficult for a recall election to be held and its also difficult for an incumbent to be voted out of office. So, I'm glad that circumstances have finally come to public knowledge that forced Wu to give up the seat he was desperately clinging to. I hope he has a lot of difficulty finding a job in this economy. There should be a black mark on his resume. I consider this karmic payback. He got what he deserved. His personal life was a mess (his wife left him last year) and he has a history of sexual aggression towards women. He is a disgrace and I hope we never hear anything about his insignificant life ever again. If he ends up in jail, that might be a good place for him to spend the rest of his days.

As for the district, I'm thrilled that the number of candidates seeking office might increase beyond the two declared candidates. I'm hoping someone interesting will jump in so I can volunteer on their campaign. An open seat for Congress is one of the most exciting opportunities in politics. 2012 just got a hell of a lot more exciting. Unfortunately for the mayor's race, there's still only two viable candidates, though one of them lost a great deal of credibility when the news reported that he had lived in Washington state for a number of years recently, which is a sign that someone wants to avoid paying Oregon's hefty income tax (one of the highest in the nation, if not THE HIGHEST). The current mayor, who has been under a dark cloud for his entire administration due to news about his sex scandal with a borderline legal young man, has not yet declared an intention to run for reelection. That's the other race worth watching, since two efforts to get a recall election had failed. 2012 will be the voters chance to finally weigh in on the scandal.

If we want to improve our country, we truly need to enforce an ethical and moral standard upon all office seekers and holders. These elected positions are a privilege, not a right. With power comes responsibility, and if someone's personal conduct is sleazy or exploitative or abusive, then no matter how smart and talented they are, they should not be granted the honour and privilege of serving the rest of us. So, with that, Good Riddance Congressman Wu. Don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Music Video Monday: Amy Winehouse

In memoriam to British singer Amy Winehouse, this week's music video is dedicated to her. She died this past weekend, joining the "27 Club", which is a strange age coincidence (there is supposedly a higher percentage of musicians who have died at age 27). This club includes Jim Morrison of The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. There are plenty more (check out "27 Club" on Wikipedia for more info).

I never heard Amy Winehouse's music before. Actually, I heard "Rehab", but I didn't know who sang that song. I only vaguely paid attention to her, as she seemed to be in the news more for her drug and alcohol problems than her music. When she's more famous for her personal flaws than for her talents, I tend to tune out. So, upon news of her death, I had to take to YouTube to hear her songs. I'm actually impressed. Her music sounds pretty fresh. Its easy to get into her groove. I like, very much! Some of her lyrics are dark, though. Its like she was telling her fans that she's messed up and could go at any time. "Rehab" and this one, "You Know I'm No Good" seem to be indicative of her troubled personal life.

Whenever I hear of a celebrity death at such a young age, I think: "what an incredible waste!" All that talent, all that success, and she couldn't find happiness. Fame is a hard thing, though. There's no training for it. A person could spend years developing their talent and making their album (or movie or novel) as good as they feel it can be, then put it out there. With so much already out there, most people don't find success. You never really know what catches fire with audiences. For the person who finds success and fortune and fame, the demands increase. Whatever was not developed becomes magnified. A person with "issues" is going to have even more "issues", since fans tend to put expectations on their idols and create their own images of what their superstar is supposed to represent. It can be a lot to deal with for a person suffering with insecurities, doubts, and feelings that they weren't worthy of the fame, fortune, or fans.

Its sad to see another young star fall prey to the beast of the entertainment industry. However, there is a joke that I'm sure most people have heard spoken: "Death is a great career move." Her next album could have been a dud. Her fame could've been on the wane. At least with death, especially at age 27, she becomes a legend. Sales of her music may even increase. We saw this with Michael Jackson two summers ago. In the year after his death, he had sold A BILLION DOLLARS worth of music, DVD, and other souvenir merchandise (about $100 was my contribution). And for people like me who never discovered her music when she was alive, she now has our attention and I'm always on the lookout for great new music. So, yeah, I may be buying her album soon.

If you're an aspiring performer, do us all a favour. Deal with your insecurity issues BEFORE fame finds you! It'll only get worse from then on. Yeah, Lindsay Lohan. I'm talking directly to you, too.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Shocking Death

On Friday, I received an email from my best friend Nicholas, who has just arrived in Iraq in the past week for a year long deployment. He had received word that his best friend from high school, Charles, had died in a motorcycle accident on Thursday. Though he hadn't had contact with Charles for several years, the news certainly is upsetting. Especially since he is in Iraq and won't be able to attend the funeral.

I only had the chance to meet Charles once, when I had visited Nick in January 1991. Nick and I have known each other since 1984, when I lived in Bellevue, Nebraska. He is my oldest friendship, not to mention my best friend. Besides our first name in common and having an American father who served in the U.S. Air Force who married foreign women (his mother is from French-speaking Switzerland, my mother is from Thailand), our both being left-handed, we are also introverts, though I think he is even more introverted than I am. Anyhow, when I made the visit back to Omaha before I went to Basic Training, I got the chance to meet his best friend Charles, who I think is extroverted, if I remember correctly. The guy had long hair, was into hard rock / heavy metal music, but he had impeccable manners. One couldn't look at him and judge him correctly, because he defied stereotypes. We had gone to see Home Alone, which was a lot of fun, and I even got to meet Charles' family.

In the years since, Nick has told me a little bit about what Charles was up to and if memory serves, I believe Nick was the Best Man at Charles' wedding and was the godfather to Charles' daughter. The way Nick talked about Charles reminded me a bit of my other best friend, Nathan, whom I met in 1994. Nathan and I are about as opposite as two friends can be and still remain friends. What bonds our friendship, though, is the fact that we belong to the same church and our families had met ten years earlier than when Nathan and I happened to meet at church one Sunday in 1994. Nathan is extroverted and a lot of fun to be around. While I place a high value on my friendship with Nicholas, I think it is also important for an introvert to have at least one good extroverted friend. It makes for a great dynamic. Like Charles, Nathan is a real go-getter and risk-taker. Nathan loves riding motorcycles, though his wife doesn't want him to. When I first got to know Nathan in 1994 and 1995, my impression is that he is likely to die in a motorcycle accident. Because of that, I've spoken against him riding one. When I visited him in San Diego in May 2008, he had mentioned wanting to buy and ride a motorcycle again. I told him why he shouldn't (he's far too reckless and he has a family to think about now), he kind of got mad while his wife actually told him he should listen to me! I was stunned.

There's no doubt that motorcycles are dangerous. But the increase also comes when a certain personality type that loves thrill seeking and making high risk maneuvers gets on a motorcycle. I've seen the way Nathan has driven a car in the past (he loves to take corners without slowing down) and if he rides a motorcycle the way he drives a car, his time on earth is marked. So, when I heard about Nick's best friend Charles' motorcycle accident death, a part of me understood the depth of tragedy and sadness this is. Charles would have turned 40 in August. This was the death that I feared of Nathan. Unfortunately, though, extroverted guys who love to live fast and take all kinds of risk seem to lack the caution gene that both Nick and myself are embedded with. I don't know if its an introversion thing or what, but we're both kind of "risk averse" and tend to look at every possible outcome before we make any number of decisions. Nathan once mocked me for that when he said, "Good luck in the slow lane, careful guy!" I read an article awhile back that indicated that adventurous people don't tend to live as long as cautious people. Gee, I wonder why that's the case?!? If I were to tell Nathan about Charles' death, he would be dismissive of it because that will "never happen to him"! However, that's what his strong ego likes to say to him.

One of the things I did not understand about Charles, though, was that he did not keep in touch with Nick. I had wanted to see him at Nick's wedding and talk with him a little, but he wasn't there. I guess I'm clueless about what goes on in most men's minds, because men don't generally seem to be good at keeping in touch with friends the way women are (one of the things I most admire about women!). There have been articles written that seem to indicate that part of the reason why men have "mid-life crisis" is because they don't maintain friendships with other men. When men get married, they devote everything to their marital relationship while the wife continues to maintain her group of friends throughout the marriage. If the marriage doesn't work out, the men are alone and lack a network of good friends to lean on. Sure, there might be buddies men get along with and play sports with, but in terms of having real conversations and being authentic friends, it is difficult to find and foster such friendships in adulthood. Maintaining friendships with other men that you knew in high school, the military, and college is vital in the long run.

Like Nick's friendship with Charles, I can see the friendship with Nathan slipping away. Nathan has kept in touch less and less frequently over the years. I have no idea what's going on with him, but its like ever since he put on the khaki uniform of a Chief Petty Officer, it's like he's in some special class of people who don't deal with the likes of me. I'm sure that's not the case, but is difficult to see a friend you were once close to drift away like you no longer matter in their lives. I will never understand that at all. I've always valued all of my friendships (with males and with females) since elementary school. But I also understand that life does take its course and sometimes people drift away whether you want them to or not. My hope is that the soul of Charles will realize what a true and great friend he had in Nicholas. He needed a friend like Nicholas in life, but now its too late to change things. I'm not sure how Nicholas feels about the shocking death, but I'm sure that it is a difficult one to process. I would feel the same way about the death of my three closest friends: Nicholas, Nathan, and Matthew (my D.C. roommate). Especially if I was not able to attend their funeral and share with others what their friendship meant to me.

The guy whose house I rent a room from recently bought a motorcycle. He keeps trying to get me to learn how to ride it so I can buy one. However, I won't ride a motorcycle because of how dangerous it is. Riding a bicycle on streets is scary enough, but anytime you add speed to being exposed, that makes it especially dangerous. Besides, my father almost died in a motorcycle accident. Before he joined the Air Force, he had ridden a motorcycle without a helmet and crashed. He could have easily died and I would not be in the life situation I've had if he had died. My dad never rode a motorcycle again and growing up, when he would tell that story, it ingrained in me the dangers of motorcycle riding. I know some say that to live is to risk, that one could slip down the stairs and break their necks. However, I know for myself that a motorcycle is a heavy piece of equipment that requires good balance and coordination, that it is very easy to make a mistake...which is a mistake that could very well cost you your life. I'm simply not a risk taker. I understand the appeal of a motorcycle and especially the coolness factor (for example, a lot of women seem to think it is a very manly thing for a guy to ride a motorcycle, thus very attractive for them), but its not for me. Of course, we can't control (nor should we) what our friends decide for themselves, but it still doesn't erase the fact that I would feel a lot of grief if my best friend Nathan died in a motorcycle accident.

All I can say is, may God bless Charles, for the joy and friendship he brought to people's lives, including my best friend Nicholas. A true friend can never be replaced nor forgotten, only cherished for all the days of our lives. Rest in peace, good man!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Debate About Space

On Friday, I had an interesting Facebook debate on a mutual friend's wall about the view that humans need to search the universe for a habitable planet to colonize before our species becomes extinct on planet Earth. I did not expect the debate to go the way it did. I thought I was being rational, but the person who took offense to my views started launching personal insults about my intelligence and views, calling me a "Luddite" and a "curmudgeon" of all things! He used other names, too, as well as profanity just to prove how intelligent he is. All because I disagreed with him!

The following has been lifted from the Facebook wall so you can read for yourself how the discussion deteriorated. I left everything intact, including comments other people made in the debate. There were comments made before and after this debate occurred, which I did not include because it is not relevant to the discussion between this guy and myself. After the debate, I will further comment about his ideas and about what I think of him.

Jim Davidson
"Earth is the cradle of mankind, but one cannot live in the cradle forever." ~ Konstantin Tsiolkovsky
Friday at 09:45 ·

There's no where else to go. We're stuck with this planet for better or for worse.
Friday at 10:01

Jim Davidson
On the contrary, there is an entire universe out there, over ten billion lightyears across. There are hundreds of known extra-Solar planets, and there are dozens of inhabitable bodies in our Solar system. To imagine that we're stuck here is ignorant.
Friday at 10:19

Ani DeGroot
I second Jim's comment. The discoveries have hardly begun.
Friday at 10:20

So...other planets have the exact oxygen / atmosphere requirements and gravity that we do that would allow us to live there, which is easy to get to so we won't spend centuries traveling there?!?

In our solar system, Venus's atmosphere is no good for humans, and Mars is too far from the sun, not to mention we couldn't be able to breath there.

Call me a realist, not an escapist. We need to take better care of our planet rather than fantasize about running away when things get bad. We're here to stay.
Friday at 10:26

Jim Davidson
In 1969, Gerard K. O'Neill, a Princeton physicist, posed an interesting question to his students. "Is the surface of a planet the best place for a technological civilisation?" His students concluded that the answer is "no" and a little later, O'Neill wrote "The High Frontier." Many of the designs for space habitats in that book were also found in the Stanford Summer study on the topic.

In 1993, Robert Zubrin, a Ph.D. nuclear engineer, wrote "The Case for Mars" which includes extensive information not only on travelling to Mars, but also terraforming its atmosphere. Within about 40 years, the pressure would be high enough that humans could walk around without pressure suits, and within not more than 400 years, the partial pressure of oxygen would be high enough to breathe normally outside.

Since the early 1970s scientists have been working on suspended animation techniques. Some of these technologies may contribute to star travel. Though, of course, if one uses gravity sling trajectories around the Sun, one can reach speeds above 10% of the speed of light. If the limit were 10% of the speed of light, Alpha Centauri is only 40 years away. The other side of the galaxy is only a million years away, at that speed.

I won't call you a realist. I'll call you a curmudgeon. You have no spirit of adventure. The dream of space flight does not live for you. Too bad.

Things are already bad. But they aren't bad for the planet. The planet does not care whether humans live here or not. It is not concerns about the Earth that motivate me, it is irritation at tyranny.

However, I would like to ask you whether you would rather I mined the Moon and the lifeless asteroids for minerals instead of the Earth. How about if I refine metals in space rather than in Earth's atmosphere - look into copper refineries if you want to talk pollution. Maybe your Earth would be better off if more industry were moved off planet. Realist. Ha. You walk outside at night and see infinite vistas in every direction, and you talk to me of realism. Open your eyes, please.
Friday at 10:37

I'm definitely not a curmudgeon. The point is that a planet that is habitable out there in the cosmos probably already has species living on it, and perhaps intelligent species as well. Would they take very well an invasion force from earth? Are we to be galactic refugees? Would we take too kindly a bunch of aliens landing on our planet who destroyed their own? the classic miniseries "V"! We are on this planet and for all the expense we're willing to commit to search the galaxy for a habitable planet, we could use to solve the energy crisis on earth!

Oh...and I do support a manned mission to Mars, no matter the cost. The only thing I agree with Bush on when he proposed it in one State of the Union speech. But if I recall correctly, our Biosphere project failed and that was to be a prototype for living on the moon or on Mars.
Friday at 10:45

Dan McCall
‎"Adventure is worthwhile." -Aristotle
Friday at 10:45

Dan McCall
I'd love to see exploration outside of our solar system within my lifetime. The only way that will happen will be if its left to the market system. If I'm lucky I have a few decades left, and at the rate of innovation of NASA, I'd need at least 150 years.
Friday at 10:47

Jim Davidson
So, have you visited all of these planets? Or how do you arrive at this probability claim? It sounds like nonsense to me, Nicholas. There are no spotted owls on Mars. There are no whales on the Moon.

I oppose all government boondoggles, especially flags and footprints on Mars. On the other hand, I have no desire to live on the same planet as a narrow-minded and ill-informed twit like yourself, Nick. You can all go to hell, I'm going to Mars.
Friday at 10:48

Jim Davidson
You say "our biosphere project" as though you owned it. Which sounds like horse shit to me. There have been many closed loop life support system experiments, many of which have been very successful. But if you get all your information by watching 1980-era science fiction miniseries on television, you'll remain as clueless and inept as you seem.
Friday at 10:50

Gosh, you're really getting defensive and angry. Why is this issue so emotionally important to you?

Most of the people I know who talk about moving human civilization to another planet because we screwed up our own world so badly happen to be atheists, which I find amusing.

Its not ignorant to be a realist and look at the costs involved, and the understanding of basic science. I think science-fiction stories do a fantastic job of firing the imagination and provoking deep thoughts about ideas that most don't want to consider. It is rather simple-minded to think that we can just rescue ourselves with a new planet somewhere, and for such a habitable planet to be free of life forms that would offer resistance to invaders, especially ones who wrecked their own planet's environment. Its a pipe dream.

Suppose we have such technology to accomplish a mass exodus. Would it happen in our lifetime or will we likely be dead before then? Would only the superwealthy be able to afford passage between the planets? Would we do to alien species what we did to native populations on earth? Are we going to be like the humans in the film "Avatar"?

I personally think people should come to terms with their own mortality rather believe that some other planet out there will save us from ourselves and continue the human species for another millennia.

Friday at 11:00

Karen Rambat
Maybe we can start using that money to feed people.
Friday at 11:43

Robert Mayer
Governments using money to feed people?!? PREPOSTEROUS!
Friday at 11:49

Jim Davidson
Gosh, you're sounding really narrow-minded and Luddite. Why are you such an ass hat, Nick?
Friday at 11:50

Why are you so personally insulting just because someone disagrees with you?

Honestly, if you really want to leave planet Earth, I'm not stopping you.
Friday at 11:53

Jim Davidson
Why are you? "Gosh, you're really getting defensive and angry" - Either you are being deliberately provocative, in which case you are a filthy fucking fool and deserving of a perfect mirror of your comments, or you are projecting your own emotional state onto me. In either case, I see no reason to have a conversation with someone whose knowledge of science and technology is entirely derived from watching the occasional film or television show, whose arguments are egregious idiocy, and whose courtesy is non-existent. I'm eager to get away from worthless fucks like you.
Friday at 12:07

I don't understand your comments. Have I personally insulted your intelligence, used profanity, and called you ignorant or worthless? No, you're the one who's doing that towards me, which tells me that you are the one being emotional about a reasonable disagreement and that you are obviously passionate about your views to the point where you don't care what level of personal insults you level at a person you don't know who does not share your viewpoints. You are out of line. Really. We disagree on this. Its not the end of the world and it doesn't make either one of us ignorant. Just that we view things differently. I'm a believer in committing our limited resources towards preserving life on planet earth. You're all for colonizing new planets. One is simply more realistic than the other view.
Friday at 12:16

So, that was the extent of that dialogue. He gave up after that. Based on what he wrote, the impression I got from him was that he is obviously one of those highly intelligent space geeks, a science nerd who feels more comfortable in a lab doing experiments than in a social setting where you have to have a real conversation with people. He's intelligent and proud of his intelligence, so anyone who does not share the same views as him is ignorant and not worth talking to. I thought it was interesting that he berated me for using the word "our" when I mentioned the Biosphere project that was done in Arizona, yet he was dismissive when he referred to Earth with a "your" (as though he disowns it). To me, that indicates he's already mentally out of orbit. He lives in space. Earth is for "morons" like me.

That I made a few sci-fi references (the miniseries V and the movie Avatar) really seemed to annoy him, which again tells me that he is truly into his own intellect because he reads Scientific articles and journals about space. He probably doesn't have time to "waste" on such popular culture stuff. Yet, as one who is a creative writer and thinker, I love the way movies, television, and literature can explore ideas in far easier to understand concepts than intellectual journals that only get read by academia. Popular sci-fi films and movies do a great job of provoking thought in people who aren't exposed to or even interested in serious academic work about space. My point in mentioning the miniseries V is that the original miniseries and its sequel that aired on TV in the mid-1980s raised a good point. The reason for the alien visitors is because they were searching the galaxy for a planet with resources they needed, which their home planet no longer had. True, its a cheesy sci-fi show with dated special effects, but essentially, that is what we would be doing to another planet if we had the means to do so. Do we want to be that way? The film Avatar also explores this idea...with humans from Earth acting as the lizard aliens. It is us going to another planet to extract their precious resource and destroying the life of the native species that lives there.

I know that using pop culture references to talk about another planet is probably not a credible thing with intellectual types, but that's their problem. He accuses me of being unrealistic in my views, but what is more realistic? The way he carried on, it sounds like he was influenced by Star Wars, where humans can travel from planet to planet and step off their spacecraft without concern for atmospheric differences, lack of oxygen, differences in gravitational pull, etc. Within our own solar system, which we know fairly well, the next planet over that's closet to the sun (Venus) is a lot hotter than Earth and has a lot of toxic gases. We could not live on such a planet. The planet in the other direction from the sun, Mars, is a lot colder and does not have the oxygen we would require to live on there. In our solar system, Earth is the only inhabitable planet and there's a reason for it. We are the right distance from the sun and we have water and an ozone layer. On our moon, one would burn up in the daytime or freeze at night. There's no moderation at all and no atmosphere in which to breathe, thus why our astronauts had to wear protective suits.

My mention of funding a manned mission to Mars seemed to make this guy incensed, though he did say that he'd rather go to Mars than deal with "fucks" like me! His objection to a government program is a belief that all we would do is plant a flag and walk on the surface. But the point of a manned mission to Mars is to prove that we can do it. After all, how could we travel to another galaxy in search of a habitable planet if we can't even get to Mars?

The only people I've heard talk about the need for human civilization to search for another planet to live on tend to be atheists. I was surprised a few years ago when my dad mentioned that humans needed to find a new planet. My dad isn't an atheist, though I did find his conflicting view between his doubting nature and his Judeo-Christian views (my father has an unexplainable fascination with the Jewish religion, which I believe is a strong indication of his past life, since no one else in his family--parents, brothers, children--is interested in Judaism as he is) to be a little confusing. I would go so far as to say that anyone who believes that the ultimate goal of humankind is to live on some other planet is not a spiritually minded person. In fact, I think there might be a real fear of extinction / annihilation behind this viewpoint. That was my ultimate impression of this guy on Facebook. I even checked his profile and saw that he has a website, in which he reveals his personal info.

Its even worse than I thought. He calls himself a "sovereign citizen" (the same thing that the troubled young church member that I've had many debates with calls himself). No wonder why we don't see eye-to-eye. The guy has a problem with authority (he describes being arrested and beaten by cops, which is also an obsession that the young, argumentative church member shares). What I found most interesting in his write-up is that he seems obsessed with making his life longer. I couldn't find anything where he mentions his spiritual or atheist beliefs, but I suspect that he's likely an atheist who has a real fear of death, which is why he reacted so strongly to my comments about focusing on improving the quality of life on this planet rather than wasting resources and money in some centuries long quest for a new planet to inhabit. How much better for him if he would just come to terms with his mortality! I have known quite a few atheists who are highly intelligent with a strong ego and a hostility towards anyone with a spiritual view. It doesn't surprise me, really. The highly intelligent atheist is far too egotistical to view God and religion as anything more than a delusion and a controlling device. Its a toxic combination, but the reality is, they've made their own intelligence into their gods. To admit that there is a being far superior to them is something they are unable to do. Thus the arrogance and disregard for others who don't share their MENSA IQ. I actually feel sorry for people like that.

In this debate, he claimed to be the realistic one while saying that I was being an ignorant idiot for not believing in this future outcome. But really, what makes more sense to an average person? That we can find a habitable planet in which to send colonies of human beings to ensure the survivability of our species for a far foreseeable future? That we could find a planet which has the same oxygen content, the right soil qualities, the cultivating of plants, an abundance of animals for food? That this planet will have the right gravitational pull (we already know that the gravitational pull of Jupiter would make us flatter than a pancake, and that the gravitational pull on the moon can make us leap like Superman)? That such a planet will not have hostile life forms that would view our invasion the same way we on planet Earth would view an invasion of space aliens? And once we found such a planet, we would have the means to transport hundreds and eventually thousands and ultimately millions of humans across the expanse of space, which would take decades at a minimum to travel? That we could afford such travel and that we would have enough food to last on a spacecraft for such a long journey, since it would be virtually impossible to grow plants or raise animals for food on spacecraft?

In the fall of 2009, when Al Gore last came to Portland to speak, he mentioned that we needed to take better care of our planet and that people who say that we can just find a new planet to inhabit are being unrealistic. I agree with what he said about that. He's a fairly scientifically minded person and well versed in technology. He is absolutely right that instead of looking to the heavens to save us from ourselves, we need to take an active role in moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle. The view of those who advocate finding another planet for humans to inhabit is unrealistic escapism of the worst sort. So, let's get real.

Finally, I wanted to say that my spiritual views have a big influence on how I think about such matters. I believe that we are on Earth for a purpose and its not an accident. If we mess up this planet, it is our responsibility. The whole purpose of human existence is to participate in the evolutionary process. Its how we grow as spiritual beings from a life of complete selfish self-preservation towards selfless and unconditional love. Our world is our training ground, a school, and a project. We are tasked with evolving Earth to the point where heaven and Earth shall be one, a perfect place where one day, we will be able to transfigure our human bodies of flesh and bone into a spiritual body of light and love. We keep on incarnating on Earth because that's how we get to know it, and the culture so well. I'm certain that there are other planets in our universe that have other intelligent life forms. Perhaps we will be able to meet these other beings someday or in the afterlife existence. But I believe that one of the reasons why God created planets to be so far from one another is so that civilizations would have to develop to a certain point before contact can occur. And frankly, humanity simply is not there yet. Perhaps when we stop killing each other, we will be able to achieve the level of enlightenment in which to visit another world. Until then, this world is all we have. Let's use our resources wisely for the sustainability of this planet and save the space colony fantasies for Hollywood.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Flashback Friday: True Blue

25 summers ago, I started working for the first time. I was 14 years old and living in Fulda, West Germany. My family had moved there the previous summer when my Air Force officer father was stationed at the weather station. The Army base we lived on had a summer work program for teenagers called "Summer Hire." I was assigned to work in the Civilian Personnel Office, which was in a building in the town of Fulda, far from the base (at least far in terms of walking, but I biked it to work in about 30 to 45 minutes, if memory serves). I worked with women and loved it. These women were a mix of Army wives and German nationals. I particularly enjoyed working with the German ladies. I made $2.90 an hour.

This was the summer that Madonna released her third album, True Blue, which single handedly changed my impression of her. To this day, this album remains as my favourite Madonna album. It is probably the most perfect pop album ever made. In the summer of 1986, I remember being very excited about her new album and couldn't wait to buy it as soon as it appeared in the PX (the Army's version of Target). Madonna arrived on the music scene in 1983 with her trio of hit singles: "Borderline", "Lucky Star", and "Holiday." I liked those songs well enough. Her follow-up was the provocatively titled album Like a Virgin, with a title song that I did not care for too much. I did like "Material Girl" and "Angel", though. Those songs, along with "Crazy For You" and "Into the Groove" make me think of my seventh grade year, which was one of the best school years of my life (second only to my senior year: 1989-1990).

I wasn't a fan of Madonna, though, despite liking those songs. When I was in the 7th grade (the fall of 1984), I did not even know what Madonna looked like (my parents did not have cable TV, so no MTV for me). On the first day of German class, one of my friends said that the teacher looked like Madonna. He was only joking, though, but the joke was on him. When a beautiful young lady walked in the classroom, the first thing I asked him was, "That's what Madonna looks like?" His jaw was so far open that he couldn't respond. It turned out that we only had a substitute and practically every boy in class was drooling over her. The actual German teacher looked more like a typical teacher.

During my seventh grade year, there were quite a few girls who dressed like Madonna and all of my friends and myself had crushes on them. These Madonna "wannabes" wore fingerless gloves, mix-matched outfits with undergarments on the outside, and neon coloured clothing (basically the look that Madonna had in her "Borderline" video). My impression of Madonna was that she was a bit slutty. So, I liked her some of her songs but not really her. Until the summer of 1986 when she released the single "Live to Tell." I was completely blown away! I have never been a huge fan of ballads, but this one was absolutely perfect. I don't know what it is about this song, but even today when I hear it, I just feel it at a deep level. The song is profound and musically perfect. This one song turned me into a fan of Madonna instantly. It was so unlike her previous songs. Based on this one song, I was excited to buy her third album with money from my first job.

When the album was released and I bought it, I was stunned by the fact that I actually liked every song on there. I only felt that way about two other albums: Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA and Blondie's Autoamerican. Most albums I heard, I only liked a few songs and saw the rest as "throwaways." Not True Blue! It was perfect pop at its very best. This album even impressed the leader of the Protestant Youth Group that my dad made me participate in. In the summer of 1986, we had made a trip to visit an amusement park (our bus broke down, though, so we ended up spending it on another U.S. military base). The girls in the group were thrilled that I had Madonna's True Blue with me and asked the youth group leader if he would play it. He objected at first, because he did not like Madonna's values. The girls told him that this was a very different Madonna and there was nothing objectionable about it. He relented and played the cassette. When the tape got around to "La Isla Bonita", the youth group leader (who was also driving the bus) was moving to the rhythms of the song and admitted that he liked that one. So, it wasn't just me whose opinion of Madonna changed because of this album.

The lead-off single was "Live to Tell", which I thought was from the Madonna - Sean Penn film Shanghai Surprise for the longest time. Its actually from Sean Penn's film At Close Range. The song and video showcases a more mature Madonna. She had been married for a year and seemed to have put behind her outrageous sexually forward persona (though we know now that it was just a brief respite as far more outrage was in her future). This song is simply beautiful, lyrically and musically. To this day, it still ranks as my all-time favourite Madonna song.

The second single, "Papa Don't Preach" was considered a "sequel" of sorts to her "Like a Virgin" song, in which she was "touched for the very first time." This "sequel" is about a pregnant teen who decides to keep her baby instead of getting an abortion. Were Evangelical Christians pleased by such a pro-life song? Uh, not really. The criticism on this song was that she was telling her father to basically shut up. That his opinions did not matter. Her mind was made up. This would be considered "disobedience" and maybe even "insubordination." After all, evangelicals tend to be authoritarian in their leadership style.

The song is catchy and in the video, Madonna does look really good in her super short hairstyle. She also wears a T-shirt extolling the virtues of Italians in bed. Madonna's ethnic heritage comes from Italy (her last name is Ciccone, which is probably why she was destined to be a one named superstar). Is the song realistic? Probably not. She sings about making her decision to keep the baby, that her boyfriend plans to marry her and they will raise a little family. In real life, this often causes guys to drop out of school so they can start to work in order to provide for the child and its mother. This obviously did not work with Bristol Palin and Tripp's father Levi Johnston.

The third single is the retro-girl pop of the 1950-1960s, "True Blue." In the video, Madonna is bopping around with her girlfriends, including Debi Mazar who is best known for her role on the HBO series Entourage. Its a fun song and as pure pop as a song can get. I love the knowing wink that Madonna gives at the end of the song.

"Open Your Heart" was the fourth single released from the album. The video was a bit controversial, as Madonna stars as a stripper at a peep show, where we get glimpses of the pathetic guys who pay money to lift the curtain for a look at Madonna in her routine. Perhaps this video proves Madonna's foresight and vision. Two of the men happen to be in the same viewing booth and wearing the uniform of a Naval officer. Back in 1986, Madonna promoted gays in the military.

Perhaps worse than all that is Madonna having a very inappropriate relationship with a boy. I can't believe that was allowed to stand without being edited out. In the end, Madonna runs away with the boy, leaving behind her sleazy boss and the peeping Toms.

The fifth single was "La Isla Bonita", with its calypso Caribbean rhythms. The song was released in the spring of 1987, which was when my family went on a vacation to Lloret de Mar, Spain. This song always makes me think of that trip as well as Puerto Rico. In the video, Madonna is wearing a dress that is often worn by flamenco dancers. During that family vacation to Spain, we did get to watch a flamenco dance show at the hotel and it was impressive.

After that song had its run on radio and the charts, I thought for certain that "Love Makes the World Go Round" would be the next single. That's a great closing song on the album and deserved to be a single. However, Madonna had a brand new single that was not from the album. In the summer of 1987, she had a new movie coming out, which was originally called Slammer but was changed to Who's That Girl?

The lead single was none other than:

I really loved this song (and still do). Like her "La Isla Bonita" song, Madonna had cool phrases in Spanish for "Who's That Girl?" It was a good follow up to "La Isla Bonita." I heard the song a lot during a family vacation through the United Kingdom, so this song always makes me think of that vacation and country. I remember seeing an ad in 1987 for Madonna's "forthcoming album." However, when the album was released, Madonna's name is attached like its an official studio release, even though she only had four songs on that soundtrack.

In the summer of 1986, I listened a lot to Madonna. It was such a milestone achievement. According to a Wikipedia entry about this album, True Blue had put Madonna's ascending star into a superstar / supernova status. The album received plenty of good reviews. There's no doubt that this record stands as an outstanding achievement in pop music perfection. Interestingly enough, there were at least two other albums released that year which featured the word "True" in the title: rival Cyndi Lauper with True Colors (which did not live up to Lauper's surprising debut album: She's So Unusual) and the Brit-pop group Bananarama, True Confessions. Though I rarely listen to Lauper's or Bananarama's albums, Madonna's True Blue is a classic and a masterpiece. I can't believe it is now 25 years old. That's a quarter of a century worth of awesome pop melodies.