Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Check out this awesome light show set to Michael Jackson's classic "Thriller." I guess Christmas isn't the only holiday where people decorate their homes with lights for passerbys to enjoy. I've never seen anything like this before. They get points for clever creativity!

Hope you have a Happy Halloween! I'll be watching Devil instead of passing out candy. I'll post a review of this year old film from the mind of director M. Night Shyamalan. Stay tuned and stay safe!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Finding Meaning in "Finding Joe"

On Friday after work, I headed downtown to see the documentary film Finding Joe, which was supposed to be the Movies and Meaning selection this month, but due to conflicting schedules, no one could make it and I ended up going by myself. I could have waited, but this screening had a Q & A with the director afterwards, so how cool is that? The director, Patrick Takaya Soloman, was only there for two showings on Friday, so I decided that I could not wait.

First, though, I ate dinner at Chipotle's and then decided to check out the Occupy Portland camp, which I have been meaning to do for a couple weeks now. I will write more about this movement and my impressions in another post. It was great to see and my vibe was definitely in a near blissful stage. If I lived downtown still, I'd probably spend nearly every evening at the camp, hanging out with people and having meaningful conversations and perhaps even attend strategy sessions. Because I live so far out (a 45 minute bus ride one way), I have to be mindful of not missing the last bus if I were to hang out for hours. But that's another post for another day.

The showing I attended was practically sold out. I wasn't expecting much, as I've seen enough "documentaries" of a New Agey / New Though spiritual bent and they are pretty much all the same: take a spiritual topic, interview a bunch of well-known practitioners from a diverse field, have a minimal acting sequence, throw into blender and presto! Instant New Agey documentary! Just this year, I've seen I Am and Happy.

Finding Joe is about the ideas explored and developed by Joseph Campbell, a mythologist who was best known for coining the phrase "Follow your bliss." The film is less about him than it is about The Hero's Journey. The film even illustrates the Hero's Journey through a group of kids acting out some interesting stories from mythology (such as the Golden Buddha of Thailand, and others). While it was kind of charming, it was also "low frills" (and likely, very inexpensive) entertainment.

The use of children to act out the mythological tales and the principles of the Hero's Journey, I guessed that the director is aiming his documentary towards the younger generation, which truly needs to learn about this way of looking at their lives. I wish I knew about the Hero's Journey in elementary school. It might have helped me deal with some grief better (particularly bullying and racist xenophobia). But on the other hand, I experienced life and gained an understanding before I knew what I needed to look for. Once I discovered Joseph Campbell in the late 1990s, I could relate.

There's an actual circular chart that illustrates The Hero's Journey. I don't have it handy at the moment, but the main stages includes: The Call to Adventure, the facing of one's dragons, the belly of the whale, apotheosis, and the return. There are quite a few more stages in between those ones. What is important to understand is that our lives are a constant circle of experiences. Forget linear time and think circular. Each cycle we endure brings us a new understanding and contributes to our own evolutionary growth.

While I did find the film to be inspiring and I enjoyed hearing from Deepak Chopra, skateboarding legend Tony Hawks, surfing legend Laird Hamilton, and a few other people I've never heard of. Their comments are peppered throughout the documentary. There was so much good stuff, I wish I had taken notes on what they said so I can refer back to it later. Unfortunately, though, I thought the documentary stuck to the surface of things for the most part. It was not incredibly detailed or thought provoking enough. It was basically made for those who have not been exposed to Joseph Campbell and wanted to get the Cliff Notes version, which is pretty watered down.

During the Q & A, the director explained that he wanted to make a film where someone without a high school education could understand it and it is his hope that schools will play the film for children. He has been met with resistance in California, which is kind of surprising in one way and not in another way. The feel good, inspirational qualities might be an easy sell, if not for the fear of many school boards of pissing off the evangelical parent, who would likely consider this film to be "evil".

I think it would be a great idea for children to see this documentary and let it fire their imaginations. However, adults might find themselves wanting more depth. I certainly did. If this were a college course on Joseph Campbell, this documentary would be a basic primer, "The Hero's Journey 101." Hopefully the Movies and Meaning group will see this film. I'll skip it and attend the discussion group just to hear what the others have to say about it. I'm betting that they will likely find this film a little too much on the shallow end of spirituality. That's the trouble when you dumb down a movie so that people with low IQs will watch the film and possibly learn something new.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Flashback Friday: Eros Ramazzotti

Today, Italy's most popular and successful singer Eros Ramazzotti turns 48 years old. I first heard about him in 1988 in my last year in Germany (as an Air Force dependent) but I did not hear his music until 1991, when I was stationed in La Maddalena, Sardinia. I bought the cassette tape of his album In Ogni Senso in the fall of 1991 (twenty years ago, now!) and listened to it a lot in the last two months of the year. In fact, even today, whenever I hear the album, I'm transported back to my first Christmas alone, my first Christmas in Italy. Its not a Christmas album, but in my memory, it certainly evokes Christmas images for me.

I learned from the beautiful Italian front desk ladies at Calabro Hall barracks that the album title In Ogni Senso means "In Every Sense." This phrase is used in every single song on the album, which I thought was brilliant. In fact, this album is probably in my Top Five foreign language albums (behind Indochine's Le Baiser, France Gall's Babacar, and Monte Negro's Bailando Con El Presidente and ahead of Falco's 3). Its truly a great album and one that I have used as background mood music as I eat a special dinner. Would love to try this on a lady when I cook her a meal. The melodies and the Italian language just exudes romantic vibrations. Who wouldn't fall in love with this album playing in the background?

Eros has one of the most unique singing voices I've ever heard (very distinct, like Youssou N'Dour's, who has the most unique singing voice, I think). I don't know much else about him, but he definitely looks Italian. In 1998, his greatest hits CD was released in the U.S., which surprised me. On the disc was a duet with Tina Turner, "Cosas della Vita," which reminded me of the bilingual duet between Youssou N'Dour and Neneh Cherry, "7 Seconds" (in French and English, which was a huge hit with me in 1994). I love the concept of bilingual duets (Eros singing in Italian and Tina Turner singing in English). I wish more international singers would do this! This particular song sounds like it should've been a James Bond theme song and is worlds better than Tina Turner's own "Goldeneye."

While I pretty much like every song on In Ogni Senso, these in particular are my personal favourites: "Dammi la Luna" (I believe it means "Gimme the Moon"), "Canzoni Lontane", and "Cara Prof" ("Dear Professor"). The music video is of his song, "Se Bastasse una Canzone" which is a beautiful ballad.

I wish Eros Ramazzotti had found chart and radio success in the United States. Its one of the worst flaws of our xenophobic culture. When I was in the Navy, so many sailors absolutely REFUSED to listen to any music that was not sung in English because they were afraid that the singer was singing anti-American songs! How's that for brainwashed? It always baffled me, if not angered me. How ignorant to think that foreigners only sing in their native languages because they are singing about anti-American / subversive stuff knowing full well that we won't understand what they are singing about! The reality is that people sing in their native languages and its usually about the same kind of themes and ideas as any song in English. I don't know much Italiano, but I can guarantee that Eros Ramazzotti's songs are mostly about love. You can hear the emotions in his voice. That's what's so brilliant about his music: the somewhat somber melody and his unique vocals add up to incredibly romantic music. This is the CD that I would play the next time I have a romantic dinner with a lady (well, either this or another favourite Italian singer Antonio Venditti).

In case you need an equivalent comparison to a musician you know, I would say that Eros Ramazzotti is Italy's Bryan Adams and Antonio Venditti is Italy's Phil Collins. If you like either of those singers, you should check out the Italian versions. Nothing sounds more beautiful than Italian being sung. It is the most romantic language in the world (yes, even more than French and I say this as a big time Francophile).

Hope you enjoy the taste of Eros' music in the video above. Enjoy it in every sense of your being. This is beautiful pop at its best. Buon compleanno, Signor Ramazzotti!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Remembering Allen Schindler

Nineteen years ago on this day, U.S. sailor Allen Schindler was brutally murdered in a public restroom at a park just outside the U.S. Naval base in Sasebo, Japan. His death sent shockwaves throughout the Navy. He was murdered for being gay. I don't remember if the news of his murder played into the 1992 election, but one of the issues in that election was then Governor Bill Clinton's promise to end the ban on homosexuals serving in the United States Military. This made Clinton very unpopular with the military (along with his being a Democrat and avoiding the draft during the Vietnam War). I was in the Navy, stationed in La Maddalena, Sardinia. At the time, I supported the military's ban on homosexuals because I believed what the government stated was the reason for the ban: homosexuals were a blackmail / security risk and they affected unit cohesion.

However, news of Schindler's brutal murder was one of two incidents that caused me to question the ban. I did not really know any homosexuals, so it was easy to fear and even demonize them. Guys often made jokes about gay people or situations that might appear gay. It was all in good fun. Basic Training was full of sexual innuendos and insinuations. For example, the Company Commanders told us that the front flap on our Crackerjack uniform pants was called a "Marine dinner plate." This got a lot of laughs from everyone in the company. Also in Basic Training, when we were told to drop and do pushups or just to hold the up pushup position, guys would arch their backs so that the derriere is the highest point, which seemed to put less pressure on our arms than maintaining a flat posture. Whenever the Company Commander saw this arched position (in Yoga, I believe its called "Downward Dog"), they would ask the sailor if he was "advertising." During our evening shower when 40 guys were huddled around two shower trees, there were nervous jokes about dropping the soap. So, in such an atmosphere, its easy to understand why most guys would have an intolerant view of homosexuals in the ranks.

I did not know any gay people at the time (well, except for one sailor who propositioned me when I was drunk, which scared the crap out of me because I was in a vulnerable position of being smaller and alone in my barracks room) and I did not care to know any. I even had the view that I would end a friendship if I learned that any of my friends were gay. Though I was of the view that I did not want any gay people in my life (mostly it was based on the fear that they were obsessed with sex and would rape me if they had the opportunity), I was more of the live and let live variety. Thus, I was shocked to hear some guys views of wanting to commit acts of violence on any gay person. I did not understand this mentality, either.

The murder of Allen Schindler put a human face on the issue. Though I did not know him, the location of his death helped me to find a "connection" with him. In Yeoman "A" School, I had scored high enough on the first two tests to get second choice in a class of about 23 sailors for our duty stations. The way the Navy gave us duty stations was determined by a billet sheet in our "A" School class. If we had 23 students in class, the billet sheet had 23 duty stations. The person with the highest GPA got to pick first and it went down from there. So basically, I had my choice of duty stations. The person with the lowest GPA got what was left over. I studied my ass off to make sure that I got to pick first. My score was actually tied with another sailor and the tie-breaker was the date we entered the Navy. The other guy was in an earlier Boot Camp company than I was, so he got first choice. He picked a stateside shore duty billet. On the list were four overseas assignments. When I joined the Navy, I wanted duty in Hawaii or Japan. However, Hawaii was not on the billet sheet, but Sasebo, Japan was. I would have picked it if there was a better ship. I did not want to serve on a "Gator freighter" (the derogatory term for any Navy ship that has a large population of Marines on it, such as a Tank Landing Ship, which is what the duty station in Japan was). There were three duty stations in Italy (Naples, La Maddalena Sardinia, and Sigonella Sicily) and I leaned heavily towards Naples, but another guy who had a GPA below mine really wanted it and my parents emphasized that I should pick Sardinia because people actually vacation there and they heard good things about it.

Had there been a better ship in Sasebo (like a Guided Missile Cruiser or Frigate), I would've likely went to Japan instead of Sardinia. I'm so glad I did not have that choice, because I met so many great people in Italy and can't imagine my life without them in my life (especially the friends I made in France). However, had I went to Sasebo, I might have crossed paths with Allen Schindler. Would we have been friends? He was a Radioman, which meant he was fairly intelligent (I learned in the Navy that the AFQT score on the ASVAB test is a good measure of intelligence and who I would get along with. Certain rates require a high score and Yeoman and Radioman were among those). Schindler did some dumb things, though, such as broadcasting an unauthorized radio signal throughout the Pacific Fleet announcing that he was gay (remember, this was during the outright ban, which automatically got you processed out).

In 1994, Esquire Magazine had an in depth article about the murder and the guys who committed the murder. It was a gruesome read, especially the abuse suffered by the murderers when they were children (I remember reading that one of them was locked in the closet by his dad and if he soiled himself, he would be beat up by his abusive father). The abuse suffered by the murderers is no excuse for the brutal murder they committed on Schindler, but it does make you think about the ripple effect. We never know how people will act to others and what responsibility we might share in pushing them one way or another. You can read more about the incident on Wikipedia's entry.

What the murder of Schindler did for me was show me the ugliness of homophobia. As I wrote above, at the time (I was 20 in 1992) I wanted nothing to do with homosexuals. I didn't want them as friends or to know any, but I also did not the kind of hatred that other guys had for homosexuals. I was more neutral. What was it about gay people that made some men go violent? As I learned psychology years later, there are concepts such as projection, or where the thing that most annoys us in another person is something that we are neglecting to deal with in our own actions or beliefs. If someone can trigger a passionate reaction in you, that means its an obvious issue for you. Perhaps its no surprise, then, that the Navy portrayed the murderers of Allen Schindler as repressed homosexuals themselves. Who knows if they are or not, but you do have to wonder about the intensity of their hatred to do what they did to Allen Schindler. Its sad to contemplate that his life ended at 22 years. He barely begun to live life. His murderers deprived him of a full life.

The murder of Allen Schindler was enough to inspire the direction of my novel (which I am hoping will find a publisher soon since the zeitgeist seems to be manifesting the ideas I present in my novel), which deals with the questions of what it means to be a man in a world where women expect equality and homosexuals challenge the notion of masculinity / femininity. For centuries, homosexuals were thought to be effeminate and any man who was less than masculine was often suspected of being gay, even if they might not be. Did the murderers of Allen Schindler feel more "manly" after they ended the life of the detested homosexual in their ranks?

The second incident that influenced a change in my views regarding the ban on homosexuals serving in the military happened on a luxury bus waiting at the pier in Naples, Italy. In front of me sat two guys and I overheard their conversation. One of them mentioned that some of the streetwalkers in Naples were really transsexuals or transvestites. The other offered the suggestion that they should go looking for them so they can beat them up. I was stunned to hear that comment because here we were in Naples, with opportunities to see many different tourist sites (Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii, Capri, Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, outdoor markets in Naples or even day trips to Rome by train), and these sailors wanted to go out of their way in search of some person they don't even know minding his own business and "teach him a lesson!" I did not understand this mindset at all. One thing that has also been true in my life, when I see someone acting ugly, I run the other way. If this was what homophobia looked like, I did not want to be like them. I guess I just never saw the point in targeting a hated minority group to deal with one's anger issues. Thus began the long process towards tolerance and acceptance of homosexuals as human beings who don't need to change their behaviour.

So, thank you Allen Schindler for being one of my teachers from afar. Its heartbreaking to read about your last night on earth and how brutally violent it came to an end. I hope your passage to the spiritual realm was swift and painless. When my novel finds a publisher and appears in bookstores, I plan to mention how your story influenced me in a good way, how I saw the ugliness of others and did not want to be like them. We never got to meet and be friends, but the memory of your existence will never be forgotten. Nineteen years after your death, the military no longer has a ban on homosexuals. It was a long process, but a sign of progress. As people feel more secure about their own sexuality and not threatened by those who are different, there will be less controversy and resistance. The world is getting better, inch by inch. Rest in peace, good sailor.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Birthday Wishes to Natalie Merchant

Today is the 48th birthday of singer Natalie Merchant. Since yesterday's post was about a rude lady who had no attitude of gratitude in my dealings with her (when I tried to explain our process, she interrupted many times and was quite rude about it), I couldn't help but think of this beautiful song by Natalie Merchant, the former lead singer of the alternative 80s band 10,000 Maniacs.

In my final sermon at the Orem congregation in 1999, I had this song played as a thank you to the congregation for being there in Provo, as a beacon on the hill (with the three visible crosses that annoyed Mormons who drove past it). I don't think I would've survived BYU without their support and generosity. One young lady who had attended our church's college in Iowa, Graceland, told me afterwards that she did not know that you could play a secular pop song in a worship service and this supposedly inspired her. I had given a sermon that Sunday, as well. It was about what I learned at BYU. Some Mormon visitors had even attended the service (I did not know them, though).

This song is just beautiful and was released during my college years. She had scored a few solo hits earlier in the 1990s with "Carnival", "Jealousy" and "Wonder". I first fell in love with her voice in the fall of 1988 when I heard the 10,000 Maniacs song "What's the Matter Here?" In 1996, Chelsea Clinton had suggested to her dad that he select the 10,000 Maniacs song "These Are Days" for his reelection campaign theme song. Because of that, every time I hear that song, I think of Clinton's second term, when the economy was booming, when the music on the radio was still worth listening to, when gasoline was around $1 a gallon, and when the future looked so promising. Yeah, it was easy to be optimistic in those days. Such a great song. Perfect for a campaign.

I don't know much about Natalie Merchant, but she has a similar look to actresses Barbara Hershey, Frances O'Connor, Janeane Garofalo, and perhaps even Parker Posey. Interestingly enough, this happens to be "the look" that I find most attractive. I would love to meet a single lady in Portland who has a similar look (or a similar look to Audrey Tautou). I don't know why I find this look to be the most attractive, but recently, a friend on Facebook had posted a video of some Aussie ladies swimsuit competition. He thought I would appreciate it. I watched and it didn't really do much for me. Yeah, they look nice and have hot bodies, but what I find attractive is much deeper. In the case of someone like Natalie Merchant, I just love her look and her "vibe." There's something about her that I can't explain, but she is an attractive woman. She seems like a "Bohemian"-type, as well. I even noticed in the "These Are Days" video that she's wearing an ankle-length skirt. Yeah, for a couple decades now, I think a woman in an ankle length skirt is truly attractive. The style just denotes "class" to me. Sure, the mini skirt might get me to steal some quick looks, but it is the ankle-length skirt that denotes a classy style to me. This is the woman worth knowing!

In honour of Natalie Merchant's birthday, I'm dedicating this song to the difficult and greedy woman I recently dealt with via phone at work over royalties that she is due. Hopefully, she will learn the lesson of gratitude someday. The kind of gratitude that Natalie displays in the lyrics of this beautiful song. Now that is a beautiful woman!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Greed or Gratitude?

Last week, I finally dealt with my first difficult person in the performance of my job duties. Since hired on last December, I have been correcting the mistakes made by my predecessor. For the first six months on the job, it was pretty much cleaning up his mess. Once I finished and got up to speed, I really thought I had everything fixed. Yet, occasionally, when I least expect it, I come across yet another mistake made by him. I'm always stunned by it. How can he have made so many errors? These are little mistakes that are a pain to fix. Mistakes like wrong codes, which affect the accuracy of the reports I have to print each quarter. It's obvious that the guy was not a detail-oriented person or had pride in his work. He was essentially sloppy and careless. He should have never been in that position. Nor should about four or five people before him. In fact, I think about how much better off the company would be and I would've been had we found each other in my first couple weeks in Portland in 2006, when I was looking for a job. We would have saved each other FOUR YEARS of grief!!

Anyhow, one of my clean-ups of my predecessor's mess is that many royalty payments were not made to songwriters because the guy was too lazy to send out an independent contract. In my job, I'd say that about 75% of the songs I have to license are done through an independent agency that sends us the contracts. Its all quick clicks of the button on the screen. For songs that aren't done through that particular website, I have to print up a two-page contract. This involves searching for the publisher online and typing over the template with the appropriate information and mailing (or emailing) the contract. A little more work, but nothing difficult. However, while I have never met my predecessor, I can tell that he was probably a lazy guy who had no pride in work. He simply did not care and songwriters did not get paid.

One of my joys in the job is contacting a songwriter who has no idea that he or she has money owed to them. They are generally thrilled to learn that they will be getting some money. Most of the time, its a small amount. But one guy got a nice three digit amount and was very happy and grateful for it, even though I wish his songs had sold even more so he could get a four figure check. But, when the songwriter is happy to get anything from us, it does make me feel good in my job. As I told people who've asked what I do, I usually say: "It's a good karma job."

Last week, though, I finally had my first difficult person. Instead of being happy to know that she has money coming to her, she was very demanding and rude. She wanted to know why she hadn't been paid sooner if the album had been out for a year. Because I had only discovered my predecessor's error during this month, it was too late to include what we owe her on the third quarter reports, which have already been run, printed, and tabulated. This woman wanted to be paid and she wanted to be paid NOW!!!

To make matters worse, my supervisor asked me to run a report on that particular song to see if there were other albums that it appeared on and did not have a agreement for. When I did that, I learned that there were five more albums that my predecessor neglected to do. So, that's five more agreements I had to send to this lady. As expected, her response was even more livid when she learned that we had five more albums in which we did not pay her royalties. Great, my predecessor has really made the company look bad because of his lazy ass. This pisses me off, especially when I was the one who discovered the discrepancy and brought it to the copyright holder's attention. Instead of being greeted by a thrilled and grateful person, I get chewed out for my predecessor's errors.

It's obvious that this woman has no sense of gratitude. She's all "gimme gimme gimme" like that ABBA song and "now now now!" This is nothing more than GREED, not gratitude. I actually feel sorry for her. In fact, she so ticked me off, and my supervisor off, and even the guy who worked in my job five years ago and is in a different job now. According to the files, he had requested several times an agreement from this lady for the same song on a different album. She never bothered to respond! Now, she wants her money NOW when five years ago, she didn't even bother? Wow. It's probably the result of the economy. She wants money wherever she can get it. What she doesn't realize, though, is that we don't have to use her song on any of the mixed CDs we produce. In fact, after dealing with her for three days and her rude, demanding tone, I have recommended to the company that we no longer use her song on any future release. Why should we help her earn money if she's going to behave this way? There is a reason why people should express gratitude. People will want to help you more and be on your side, rather than alienating people.

I take this experience as an important lesson, because when it comes to the principles of the Universal Law of Attraction, the one advice everyone gives is to show gratitude every day, in every thought and action. As the novelist Paulo Coehlo wrote: "the entire universe will conspire to make things happen" once you do. Oprah Winfrey had recommended people keep a gratitude journal every day. Counting blessings and thanking people for their kindness, thoughtfulness, and good actions is the way to get results. Not that you should expect anything in return, though. Its simply that having a grateful heart when others help you or do something for you, there is an energy boost or connection that makes this world a little bit better place for everyone around. Too bad that this greedy, ungrateful lady doesn't understand the principle of gratitude. Because of her attitude, she's losing out on future royalties. The company has thousands of songs to choose from in making CD compilations, so we can easily do without her only song.

Something to think about when you're dealing with others. Don't piss them off when they are trying to help you or to give you something!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Music Video Monday: Snoop Dogg

Last week, Calvin Broadus reached the milestone age of 40. He's better known as rap star Snoop Dogg. I had no idea that we were born in the same year. Dang, if we went to high school together, we would've been in the same graduating class. That's hard to imagine. I often think about stuff like that when I meet people and find out that we are the same age or graduated in the same year. Would we have been friends in high school?

Snoop Dogg hit the big time in 1993 / 1994. His first single, "Who Am I? (What's My Name?)" played a lot on European MTV (I was living in Sardinia, Italy at the time with the U.S. Navy and watched MTV a lot in 1993 and 1994 when the barracks got satellite TV piped into individual rooms). This music video amused me because of the use of dogs and making them move to the beat of the song when they are in the bar, trying to look hip and cool. I'm a sucker for the personification of animals. I also loved how they morphed a cocker spaniel into a lady, and Snoop Dogg as a Doberman? Awesome! When I was in Italy, an African American girl I was smitten with laughed at the part of the video when an obese lady ran off with a plate of food when the dogg pound invaded the picnic. She said of that particular image, "Oh no she didn't!" It was funny how she said it in response to that scene.

The song has a great rhythm and sound to it. It got bounce and hip hop rarely gets better than this. Snoop Dogg was a protege of Dr. Dre, best known for popularizing (if not coining) the term "Chronic" as a euphemism for marijuana. Though I did not agree with Snoop's promotion of drug usage and the exploitative / kind of vulgar rap lyrics, I have to admit that I can't help but laugh because he has a great, mischievous sense of humour. Anyone who makes me laugh basically earns my loyalty and admiration for life. This presented a problem when around the time this song was tearing up the airwaves, Snoop was arrested for being an accessory to murder, which is a serious charge. It seems to be a part of rap culture, though. The only way to gain legitimacy among the urban fans. Though I'm bothered by it, I can't say that it stopped me from listening to his music.

His debut album, Doggystyle, had an ugly cover drawing, but the songs are pretty fresh. Its a definite musical feast for the ears and irresistible. Too bad there's not an instrumental version of the album, because that's enough to love this album. The lyrics, though funny, makes it difficult to play the album in public without someone likely to get offended. I particularly like "Ain't No Fun". Mostly for the melody, but the lyrics are also amusing (many blatant references to fellatio).

The reason why I put Snoop Dogg in the "cool" category is because the guy's an undeniable talent. He's one of few rap artists that I actually like, and that's because he's a musical genius. He managed to create a unique sound that my ears are addicted to. I also like that he has a serious look, like he's going to fuck you up if you mess with him, but beneath that exterior lies someone with a wicked sense of humour. It's great to see someone who can be funny while keeping a deadly serious face. It plays with your expectations. No where is this more obvious than his appearance in Katy Perry's California Gurls video.

So, in honour of Snoop Dogg's 40th birthday, enjoy his debut video that brought him success and fame in 1994. I can't remember if it was accurate or not, but when I first heard about him, I called him "Snoop Doggy Dogg." I wonder what Charles Schultz would've thought of the idea of a rap artist taking a name from the most famous dog cartoon character in the world.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The World Doesn't End...Again

Friday, the 21st of October was supposed to be the real "last day of earth" according to the crazy fundamentalist preacher Harold Camping. However, we did not hear much about him like we did during the week leading up to his May 21st "rapture date". Perhaps that was a slow news week while this past week has been a busy news week, with the Republican debate and the killing of Muamar Gadhafi in Libya.

Since that May rapture date, Camping has not been seen and the news reports that he had suffered a stroke. Not to sound like a cold fish, but "GOOD!" Charlatans make me sick and when I hear about people quitting their jobs and spending their entire savings to help spread Camping's fear-based doomsday messages, I get angry. A lot of this might have to do with having a gullible brother who has fallen time and again for charlatans and swindled out of his money on get rich quick schemes and going to churches that preach doomsday scenarios. There are naive people out there, looking for something to believe in and they have no ability to gauge deceit. As my brother had once asked me, "How do you know when someone's lying?" For me, its just a gut level feeling / instinct. Its like my mind can gauge deceit based on a person's body language, what they say, and what I know. Knowledge really is power. Because I know the basic beliefs and practices of various religious groups, I'm able to use this information against potential missionaries and proselytizers.

A part of me can't help think that maybe there is a spiritual reason for Camping's stroke. I'm not saying that all people who have a stroke are being punished, just that I find it curious that Camping had one in the aftermath of nothing happening on May 21st like he swore it would. He was absolutely certain that it would happen. Guaranteed it. There is a price to pay for deception, especially on a scale as this one was. I wonder how it felt for him to know that one man had quit his job and cashed out his entire retirement savings to buy billboard ads telling people to get right with God before the day of reckoning came. This is money he cannot get back. Will this foolish man live in poverty during his retirement years?

I'm glad that there weren't any reports of people going into hysterics about the potential for the end of the world. I can't help but wonder if its because Camping lost such credibility that he has no supporters / followers left. He is like the boy who cried wolf. The preacher who cried Armageddon! I also hope that there won't be a mass hysteria in the week leading up to December 21, 2012 (the last day of the final Mayan calendar that has inspired dozens of books in the past few years). The world is not going to end. The predictions of Nostradamus extends way into the 3000s. So relax!

I saw the above picture in a Google search and just had to "steal" it for this occasion. I love it!

What I do find interesting, though, is that May (the date of the rapture, according to Camping) saw the death of Osama bin Laden. So, the world did end for him in May.

Now we come to October, the date of the actual end of the world according to Camping, and we see the death of another Middle Eastern supporter of terrorism, Muamar Gadhafi. I wonder if these things are related / connected. You think? Quick, we need a new doomsday date so we can go after Assad of Syria!

The big news of the week, of course, is the death of Muamar Gadhafi on Thursday. Though his government had fallen to the rebel forces weeks ago, it was only a matter of time before the coward was found. Like his fellow dictatorial brother (metaphorically speaking, of course) Saddam Hussein, who was found in a spider hole, Gadhafi was found in a sewage pipe. What is up with these cowards? There was video footage of his capture. I watched it and felt nauseous. Not that I have sympathy for a brutal dictator, but I was shocked to see a man with blood all over his face and looking like he was on drugs or something, unaware of where he was. The video did not actually show the shooting, but his golden gun was seized (who knew that he fancied himself a Bond villain?) and his last words were supposedly: "What did I ever do to you?"

What an amazing last question to ask before bullets rip through your brain! Was he not aware of how his brutal grip on power for over 40 years affected all the Libyans who lived under his rule? The people he massacred over the years were somebody's father, brother, son, mother, sister, daughter, cousin, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, friend, lover, spouse. The end that came for Gadhafi was karmic. Not that I agree with his immediate killing. Like the announcement that Osama Bin Laden had been located and killed by special forces, I was unsettled to hear about these deaths because both men needed to face a war crimes tribunal. They needed to be charged for their crimes and have the case made against them in a court of law for the entire world to watch. Only after the trial concludes and a guilty verdict rendered would a death penalty be justified. I know that some prefer no death penalty and I believe that God probably does not want humans to kill other humans, no matter how evil they are, but on a personal level, I do think the death penalty is appropriate for people who have committed mass murder, such as Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Muamar Gadhafi. It would be interesting if the three of them are in a hellish spiritual realm, being tormented by the demons that have attached themselves to these three individuals, who helped create hell on earth.

In the mid-1990s, I wrote an essay about karma in the real world. I was inspired to write it when I had read that Saddam had slept in a different place each night because he feared getting assassinated. What was the point of power if you live in fear? Both Saddam and Gadhafi came to power in a coup, killing the previous leader. For Gadhafi, it was in 1969, for Saddam, it was 1979. They both wore military uniforms and ruled with an iron fist, creating a cult of personality with their picture on the currencies and their face everyone you look in Iraq and Libya. There was no escape from the eyes of these two brutal dictators.

Between the two brutal men, Saddam was probably the scarier menace. Gadhafi was crazy and had some interesting personality quirks. He had called Condoleezza Rice his "African Princess" and wrote her love letters and made a scrapbook about her. In one of the articles I read, Gadhafi said that he loved seeing Condoleeza tell Arab leaders what to do. Apparently, that gave him a hard on. Creepy. Gadhafi also tried to be buddies with President Barack Obama, because of his African roots. The man was kooky, what can you say? Though he was probably the best dressed leader on the world stage, it is a good thing that he is gone. One less evil in the world. That it came the day before Camping's "end of the world" prediction just made it all the more sweeter. Yes, the end of the world did come. For Gadhafi! Good riddance, crazy one. Hope you burn in hell until your karmic debt is burned away (however long that will take). I hope those who will form a new government in Libya will embrace a democracy rather than another autocratic dictator. It seems like the Arab world prefers strong, authoritarian leaders than democracies with term limits on power. For the Arab spring to be successful, they have to transition to more democratic governments.

It was interesting to read the reaction of Republicans to this latest foreign policy success for our President Barack Obama. Some have gone so far as to praise FRANCE for this operation!!! FRANCE!!! Remember, Republicans were so hateful of the French in 1986 for not allowing American bombers to fly over their airspace from the United Kingdom on their way to bomb Gadhafi in retaliation for the Berlin disco bombings that were traced back to him. Also, in 2003 when France and Germany refused to support the Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq, the Republicans called the French "cheese eating surrender monkeys" and had the french fries that were served in the cafeterias in the U.S. Capitol building renamed "Freedom Fries" (never mind that French fries are Belgian in origin). I heard a lot of hatred of France from conservatives over the years and now, they are going to praise the French for the demise of Gadhafi?!? Really??? Well, I'm not buying it. They are only doing so because they hate Obama even more than they hate the French. They cannot bring themselves to admit that Obama's policy of leading from behind was the right call. They cannot admit that Obama has been more successful in foreign policy in just three years than Bush had been in eight. Sucks to be Republican right now! Their worldview is collapsing.

When my Young Professionals discussion group had the Libya military operation as a topic, I was one of few people who were in complete support of it. Among liberals, I felt like a minority on this issue, but I believed it was the right thing to do to prevent genocide. Had we not intervened, Gadhafi would have massacred the people who dared to rise up against him, being inspired by the way Tunisians and Egyptians were able to oust their leaders. We had seen this abandonment before: Kennedy's disastrous Bay of Pigs and Papa Bush's cutting short the Gulf War to a mere 100 hours of ground combat, which left the Shia rebellion around Basra vulnerable to Saddam's elite "Republican Guards." Also, after we helped the Mujahadeen defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan, we abandoned them which led to a power vacuum in which the Taliban came to power, a regime far worse than the Islamic radicals that rule Iran. It is simply bad karma to abandon people in their hour of need, leaving them to be slaughtered. So, I supported Obama's actions and am happy that it turned out well. The operation cost our country $1 billion and there was no American casualties. I believe when historians look back and compare the policies of Obama versus Bush, they will compare how we acted in Iraq versus how we acted in Libya. Iraq is our trillion dollar, almost decade long war, in which at least 5,000 troops have committed the ultimate sacrifice. Libya was mostly a backup support while allowing the Libyans to direct their own revolution.

Special message to Republicans: you look really desperate and hateful when you are unable to praise Obama's leadership on the Libya operation. We know that you really hate the French, so such praise to them is not fooling anyone. Yes, France and Britain did a great job, it's great to have allies on board and not alienate them the way Bush did with Iraq. But let's get real here. Obama did what needed to be done. If you can't admit that he's more successful than Bush, then you can do something for yourself. Pick a competent, non-ideological, pragmatic candidate to be your nominee. In case you are so blind that you can't determine who that might be, I'll give you one hint. He's the one who skipped the debate in Las Vegas and called it an embarrassment.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I Wish What Happened in Vegas, Stayed in Vegas

On Tuesday night, the country was subjected yet again to another Republican presidential debate. In Oregon, we had a Democratic debate for the three candidates running to replace disgraced Congressman David Wu. So I went to the campaign headquarters of my chosen candidate, the only female in the race and the one who is expected to win. The debate was low key, but I saw the full staff of her campaign. All I can say is that I have never seen so many people on a non-presidential campaign before. This is the most professional and organized campaign I have ever seen, which has good points and bad points. It seems more like a Senate campaign than a Congressional campaign.

Anyhow, I did not get to see the Republican debate yet. In fact, I've missed the past several. I don't know why they are having weekly debates. What more could they discuss that they haven't already? I don't remember this many debates in 2004. In 2008, there were a lot on both sides, but I figured that the interest in the presidential campaign was higher in 2007-2008 because of the desire of the country to move on from the Bush disaster, as well as the historic nature of the real prospect of having our first black or first female president.

In the post-debate analysis, it appears that once again, Mitt Romney was the winner. Herman Cain was the center of controversy this time as the moderator Anderson Cooper and the other candidates just harped on his 9-9-9 plan. Things got really testy between Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, which led to Romney at one point putting his hand on Perry's shoulder. Wow, you don't see that very often!

What these debates are good for, though, is seeing the audience reaction. Its become a gladiatorial battle of sorts, with the conservative audience screaming out for blood. In previous debates, the audience showed a preference for killing prisoners, for letting someone without health insurance to die, for disrespecting an active duty soldier serving in Iraq just because he happens to be gay. In this debate, the idea being promoted is a fence along our 2,000 mile border with Mexico. Cain said that it should be electrified so it could kill Mexicans who dare to climb it. Wow. Really? Bachmann was in favour of a double fence. How strange this party has become! From Reagan's famous declaration in Berlin: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" to now advocating an ugly wall to seal our border with Mexico. Even Perry had some sense about the futility and expense of this. He said that it would take a decade to a decade and a half, and tens of millions of dollars. Who's going to pay for it? Its doubtful that corporations care about illegals coming into the country, so that leaves cash-strapped state governments or our federal government to pick up the bill, which teabaggers don't want to pay for. What a freaking party! It is baffling that anyone in 2011 could still consider themselves a Republican. This party is such an embarrassment that I wish they would just stay in Vegas and shut the fuck up.

For me, one of the most telling things about the debate is the line-up, which is based on the candidate's popularity in the polls. Notice how Michele Bachmann is now on furthest edge (the far right for those watching them). A few debates ago, she was in between Romney and Perry. Now, she's practically marginalized. Herman Cain has moved into the top three positions occupied in the center. Huntsman opted to campaign in New Hampshire rather than participate in another debate. That's probably a smart choice.

Let's hope that this is the last debate for awhile. I wish moderators or pundits would read the Miranda rights before the debate. They should tell the candidates: "Everything you say can and WILL be used against you in the general election next year!" So, pandering to the ignorance and prejudice of the conservative evangelical Christian base might help win the primary, but it will not win the independent voter. A famous Abraham Lincoln quote comes to mind about remaining silent so people can think you are wise, rather than risking it by speaking your mind and removing all doubt. This is good advice for the Republican candidates to follow (though it's too late now).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

When Atheism Just Doesn't Go Far Enough...

It should come as no surprise to those who know me, but I got into it with yet another atheist on Facebook. A mutual "friend" on Facebook had posted a photo of a church sign which stated that the fundamentalist Christian church took on the atheist's challenge to really read the Bible and realized that the atheist was right about religion. I can't remember the exact wording on the sign, but I thought it was funny.

This post by the Facebook friend had a few comments, which then got nasty between two particular people. One guy who goes by "Om" wrote a nice comment about how he used to be one of those who demanded proof of God's existence before he believed and who had trouble with religion, until he had a personal experience that confirmed for him that God / spirituality is real. Nothing in his comment or subsequent ones were "preachy" or condemning of other people with different views.

Thus, I was shocked that a self-described "anti-theist" started attacking Om for "ramming religion down his throat" and being intolerant and other nonsensical accusations. I couldn't believe it. What was he reading into that I wasn't? So, I felt a need to respond on Om's behalf. I don't know either of these two men, but Om's comments were very calm, personal, and positive. It was stunning to see how anyone could be offended by what he said. In contrast, the anti-atheist was belligerent, insulting, and full of anger. He used ALL CAPS in some of his personal insults and rants. He just went off on Om and then me.

Clearly the guy has issues. I tried to dialogue with him, saying that just because someone shares their personal experiences with spirituality does not mean they are "preaching" or condemning others who disagree. People read into other people's comments with all kinds of trigger points and imagine attacks where none exist. I see this trait a lot among people who are ideological, no matter if its religious fundamentalism, political, or even anti-religious. If someone disagrees with their view, then the other person becomes an enemy and a threat. It is very difficult to communicate with a person who has this kind of personality trait because you have to go far out of your way to reassure them and stroke their egos so they won't feel so threatened. I just don't have the patience for it, though, because my view is: "you're an adult. Get over yourself!"

The debate kept getting nastier and nastier and I think I actually caused the person whose wall we were having the debate on to delete the entire discussion. The level of hostility that this atheist showed towards religion just seemed delusional and angry. To my understanding, people generally aren't passionate about something unless something personal happened to them. I know atheists who don't have angry tirades at spiritual or religious people. They just aren't interested in religion or spirituality. To have the kind of anger that this atheist showed, though, I wondered if some priest had done him wrong. Let's be real, here. There are a lot of religious hypocrites out there and their behaviour or abuse of others causes a lot of damage. In fact, I believe that they are held partially accountable if their abuse of others contributed to the abused victim turning away from God and spirituality or religion. I know its kind of a cop-out, but some people's exposure to God and religion might only be through the negative experience so its understandable that they would spend the rest of their lives angry and hateful about what the religious person did to them. Because I was raised in a loving faith community and only experienced intolerance and other people's hypocrisy and judgmental attitudes in other denominations within Christianity, I am able to understand that you cannot clump all Christians or all Christian churches into the hypocritical or bad or even "evil" category. Christian denominations are as diverse as the human species. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, as the saying goes.

This ranting "anti-theist" claims to have spent 3 years in a seminary with the goal of becoming a minister, but at some point in his journey, he lost his faith and believed that everything he was taught was a lie. I can't vouch for his story, but I imagine that learning "the truth" about Christian history might be disconcerting to people who grew up under the spell of the basic mythology. I went through my own "deconstruction process" in my late teens and early 20s. When I achieved "reconciliation with God" as a young 22 year old, it was the end result of several coincidences that I could not deny as being the evidence I needed that we live in a spiritual universe rather than a strictly materialist one. My personal "covenant" with God was that I would not have to believe the lies we're taught in Christian dogma and that my own personal spiritual experiences were enough to live in communion with God.

I imagine that for some people, particularly ideologues who believe in "absolute truth", if the truth they once believed was proven false, then they can't accept other explanations or other ways at looking at the stories they were taught was true. I've heard and read that many Mormons who end up leaving the LDS church actually become atheists, which surprised me. But as one ex-Mormon / current atheist told me, it's because they were taught that their church was "THE ONE TRUE CHURCH" of God and since they have come to view it as all one big lie, they can't find other churches to be credible, either. Atheism is the only place they can go.

That's sad, to me. There's a whole spiritual world out there, full of personal experiences that defy the strict scientific view of the world. These experiences transcend religious dogmas. Find what works for you and experiment with it. I love what the Buddhist monks say about how to achieve enlightenment. They will tell you how to go about achieving it and then say, "But don't take our word for it. Try it for yourself!"

The anti-theist ranted so much about being "preached at" (which was not true) that I was curious to see who this guy was, so I looked at his info page on Facebook. I can't say that I was all that surprised. He fits what I know about most hardcore atheists I've met. They are so enamoured of their own intelligence that they cannot allow themselves to be interested in any spiritual idea because they don't want to be duped. Being duped is the worst thing for any self-respecting intelligent person. I share this trait, because I do value intelligence and I hate being duped, so I scrutinize every idea. However, what makes me different from the hardcore atheist is that I don't reject everything just because I had a negative experience. I look at what the negative experience was teaching me. Plus, I think I just have a mind / personality that naturally gravitates to the spiritual view of things. I've seen too many unexplained events happen to myself and others to deny it. Also, it seems kind of lonely to be so in love with one's own intelligence that they reject others who don't share their beliefs.

Here's what Mr. Anti-Theist wrote on his Facebook info page:

Do not, under any circumstances, send me a friend request that isn't accompanied by, at the very least, a message explaining why you think we should be friends. It's rude and I will ignore you.

I am intelligent and like to surround myself with others who are, as well. I have little to no tolerance for deliberate stupidity or ignorance. I would rather be stung, momentarily, by an ugly truth than to believe a pretty lie only to discover it's deceipt later. Inasmuch, I won't sugar-coat, lie, placate or 'dumb down.' Catch up or be left behind.

Arrogant? Yes, and I won't apologize for it.

When I read that, I understood a lot about him. Wow. He actually thinks an unsolicited "Friend request" is "rude"?!? For me, I'm flattered when people send me a Facebook request. I generally accept most requests without requiring a reason. It reminds me of one former co-worker (in my current job) who had accepted my Facebook friend request and later on, I read a comment he posted on his wall that he would de-friend anyone who makes a stupid comment. He told me not to worry, that I was in no danger of being de-friended, but ultimately, he did de-friend me (I suspect that it happened around the time that I had posted comments doubting that Osama Bin Laden had been killed the way our government claimed). I suspect that the anti-theist is like that. He has little tolerance for diversity and expects people in his social circle to conform to his view of the world.

Well, Mr. Anti-Theist might hate religions and view them as a cult, but he's also in a cult devoted to his own mind. I consider it ironic, though, that the person I admired the most and who was instrumental in helping me break out of the mold of religious dogmas, was an atheist, yet the atheists I've met since him twenty years ago have been rather arrogant, angry, and ideological.

In the Dream, Think, Do, Be series that I've been attending at the Presbyterian Church on my route to and from work, I was stunned last week that these fellow Christians also share the same views as me regarding the dogmas we've been taught. One lady even mentioned that if she learned that Jesus did not even exist but was entirely made up, she would be okay with it because just the idea about him was powerful enough. Whoa. Not sure I'd go that far, though. However, on the drive home from the retreat on Sunday, I was stunned to hear Sheyne say the same thing. Its strange to go nearly 40 years in life not hearing people make that comment, then in a few days time, I hear two people who don't even know one another basically state the same thing. Yikes. For me, I long ago made peace with the fact that I don't believe in the Virgin Birth or that Jesus was born on December 25th. However, not believing in those things has not made Christmas any less special for me. It still remains as the most beautiful of holidays, with the music, the decorations, the feelings evoked, the reminder of what's important.

What I love about this series I'm attending with the Presbyterian Church is that we need to look at our Christian beliefs from a mythological or metaphorical perspective in order to find the deeper meaning that being literally minded cannot find. We have to be active seekers of the miraculous, but faith and belief are the required building blocks. It is sad that so many people want to throw away all religious ideas just because the church they were a part of disappointed them or deceived them or perhaps even abused them. There are thousands of churches out there and hundreds of religions. There are even atheist groups. Despite our diversity of beliefs, we can still find common ground.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Unity in Diversity and the Worth of All Persons

This past weekend, I spent up at Samish Island near Bow, Washington at my 6th consecutive Young Adult Retreat. I think only Sean, Chris, and I have been the only ones who attended each year since 2006. I love that there is a mix of people every year, as I get to meet new people and expand my personal network within the church. Basically, you meet a person once and you're friends for life.

I carpooled up with two ladies from Eugene and one young man from Roseburg (of all the people at the retreat, he traveled the furthest). They were an hour late, and I panicked because they did not call me nor answer their cell phone when I called. So I ended up having thoughts that they were flaking out on me and would have been bummed all weekend. But, they did arrive, and I only ended up missing 45 minutes of work on Friday afternoon.

Because of the distance we traveled and our late start, we did not make the evening dinner at a restaurant before the retreat (I believe this is the first time I missed out on that). We had our own dinner stop somewhere in Southern Washington (Burgerville). We missed the mixers, which no one in our carpool minded very much. We walked in while the others were in the middle of playing the Mafia game. So glad that I missed out on that one, too. We made it for campfire, introductions, and snack. And then we played the popular game, Catch-phrase. I love that game! I may have to buy that for my sister for Christmas.

I got my cabin assignment and almost wished I could switch to the motel-like cabins, but I stuck out the more traditional cabin to get a feel of what camp has always been about. Only three of us opted for the old cabins, and we each had our own.

Saturday was a full day with worship service and two productive class sessions. We also made our own pizzas (a popular feature of the Young Adult retreats, and each year, my pizza gets better and better. I bet I can even make a better pizza than Herman Cain!). The theme of the retreat was taken from our church's "Enduring Principles" that is getting a heavy promotion, it appears. The two Enduring Principles that were featured for this retreat was "Unity in Diversity" and "Worth of All Persons."

For our morning exercise, we sat at tables where an envelope was filled with small square cut-outs of 50 values and we had to put them into five different categories ranging from "Always Value" to "Seldom Value." This took awhile and if we did not find one that represented one of our values, there were a few "wild cards" in which to write our values. I did this for one: Loyalty. I pretty much knew that loyalty is my strongest value when I was offered a job in Alaska in 2007 but hesitated taking it because they wanted me to start right away and not wait two weeks. That I was still willing to give my employers when I hated my job a two week notice for a job that I had only dreamed about, well, what can you say? Even best friend Nathan knew this trait about me years earlier when he told another friend about me: "He has the kind of loyalty you can't even find in a dog."

After our values were separated into the five categories, our next task was to pick our top ten values and put the rest away. Then, once this happened, we had to whittle it down to five. Here are the Top Five Values that I selected: Loyalty, Honesty, Integrity, Knowledge, and Friendship. Some of the ones in my Top Ten included Spiritual Growth, Personal Growth, and Fairness. I figured that to me, knowledge, spiritual growth, and personal growth are all the same. Honesty and integrity are kind of the same and I did not really think about it at the time (choosing one and allowing the value of Fairness to be included in my Top Five). But we did not have much time at that point to really weigh each Value for our Top Five. Our next activity was to go around the tables and see everyone else's Top Five and then having a conversation with them about our shared values. I saw quite a few where I had two values in common, but no one in which I had three or more values in common. After this exercise, we had to once again go around the table to find someone in which we had no values in common. There was one guy who had no values in common with me so we talked. It was interesting because for him, Competition is his top value. He said that his natural state is viewing everyone else as competition, so he never likes to lose. Its something that he feels intuitively. He said that he tries to control it, because sometimes its over things that really don't matter, but that's his nature: a true competitor.

Wow, I'm the complete opposite. I never really cared about winning in team sports. I honestly don't care if people beat me at various sporting events because I never based my self-esteem or value on beating someone else. But I did understand this guy's natural inclination, because just as he feels discomfort when others are beating him, I feel discomfort whenever an action I might take could be disloyal. My bonds of loyalty last a long time, even if the person is no longer in my life. I don't know where the loyalty gene came from, but it is definitely much stronger influence on my behaviour than in most people I've met.

So, in talking with someone I shared no values in common with, I was able to find something in common: the feeling of discomfort we both have when something violates our primary value. After this exercise, I had a thought that more businesses and corporations should do this kind of training so that employees can understand one another better. However, I can also understand why this might not work. People in a workplace environment might not want to be exposed and vulnerable, because if people knew what you were really about, they might use that info against you. It does require some level of trust.

The next exercise was taking a short and very basic personality / behaviour test in order to determine our personality / behaviour type. The categories kind of reminded me of the basic categories proposed by James Redfield in The Celestine Prophecy. But the categories in this exercise were: Controlling, Supporting, Promoting, and Analyzing. I fell along the borderline between Supporting and Analyzing, though I leaned more towards Supporting. According to the description, Controlling personality / behaviour types value time more than anything else and hate it when people or situations waste their time. In contrast, the Supporting type values friendship / relationships the most. That is certainly true in my case. An example of this was when the guy I had ghostwrote for had asked me if I felt angry for "wasting my time" on a losing campaign last year. He's obviously a Controlling personality type. My response surprised him because I said no. I felt like I gained a good friend out of the deal, since the candidate realized that I am one of the few reliable, dependable, and loyal people he's probably ever met. Certainly on the campaign, I was probably the most loyal, even when he lost his temper a few times (normally, I lose respect for people who lose their temper, but in his case, I understood his frustrations with the local political scene so it wasn't upsetting or shocking).

Once we learned which of the four categories we fell under, we had to go to our respective poster board with our group and brainstorm on how to get our opposite to be involved in planning a party. Each type has positive and negative traits. For example, Promoters are exciting people who know how to sell and they get bored with the details. Analyzers are better at the details and not so good at selling their ideas. Controllers want to lead (or dictate), which includes delegating tasks. Supporters aren't willing to lead and prefer to do the ground work to make things happen, getting the details right. So in our pitch to the Controllers, we had to ask them if they were willing to take the leadership role in planning a party.

The Controllers weren't so good in selling to us, though. Sheyne (the lady who drove the Oregon carpool to the retreat) made the pitch, which was a simple, "We would like you to come up with a theme for the party." The facilitator of the exercise said that Controllers were the most difficult of the four personality types, because it was hard for them to not want to control the situation. She asked if they did a good job selling their plan. I said no and offered suggestions. Basically, what works for me is when a person who wants me to do something shows that they know me well and plays to that. Best friend Nathan, who I suspect would be borderline Controlling and Promoting, knows exactly what to say to me to get me to laugh, as well as to do something he wants. Basically, he plays to my talents, such as writing. If a Controller thinks I'm a great writer and wants me to write a flyer or invite to a party, then saying to me that they believe that I'm a great writer and can do a great job at the task they want to assign me, then of course that's going to go over much better than just ordering me to do something, especially if its something that does not utilize my aptitude or talents. And as I learned in my Job from Hell, the more a control freak tries to control me, the more rebellious I become. Not just rebellious, but belligerent, disobedient, snarky, and even downright insulting. It should not shock anyone that Controlling types and me don't get along very well. I don't like to lead, but I'm not much of a follower, either. I've undermined at least three leaders' credibility in Basic Training as a young man because they abused their authority.

As I learned later from Sheyne when we talked about this exercise, her group couldn't even decide how to get us Supporters on board. They couldn't agree among themselves and the others in her group even schemed on ways to manipulate us into doing their bidding. See? This is why I don't like Controlling types very much. I love undermining their authority just to teach them a lesson in humility. People with "control issues" really need to look within and try to understand their compulsion to control other people. If God does not even control people, why should they think they have the right?

It was a thought-provoking exercise for sure.

For the afternoon session, we learned about Robert's Rules (the standard for Parliamentary Procedures, which I've never really liked). This is how World Conference resolutions get introduced and voted on. Strict majority vote. The church is considering switching to Common Consent, which I prefer. This allows for more in depth voting because its on a five point scale, using the colours of the traffic light (and two more). Basically, the vote would be colour-coded: Green means Full Support, Blue means Some Support with reservations, Yellow means Generally Support with a lot of reservations, Orange means Cannot Support because of the reservations, and Red means No Support. For a resolution to pass, 80% have to vote Green through Yellow. If less than that number, then the dialogue continues as people's reservations are brought up and addressed.

The sample topic to practice this procedure was the death penalty. We were given a resolution which contained absolute language, along the lines of "The Community of Christ values the worth of all persons and therefore resolves that the death penalty shall be banned everywhere and under all circumstances. My vote was borderline Orange / Yellow. Under the church's Common Consent was another definition for the colour codes, in which Yellow indicates "Probably God's will" and Orange indicates "Probably not God's will." I raised my objection to the outright ban on the death penalty because of serial and mass murder / war crimes. I personally cannot support an outright ban on the death penalty for that reason (a person who abuses power and has caused untold number of death should get the ultimate punishment). I was in favour of a ban on what I called "crimes of passion" where people had committed murder in the heat of the moment. I brought up the example of Otis, a minister in our church in the Southeastern Mission Center. He had killed someone and served in prison. Because of our church's outreach, he fell into our community and when he was paroled, he became baptized and ordained a minister. He's a great guy with a powerful testimony, proof that one can be redeemed even after doing the ultimate crime that took away another person's life. My question is, can a mass murderer / war criminal be redeemed? Was anyone really upset that Saddam Hussein was given the death penalty? Or the Nazis after the Nuremberg Trials?

It was an emotional exercise for a few people. It was nice to know that we are for the most part a peace church and against the death penalty. I did explain that my vote was changed from Orange to Yellow because of the language in which we have "Probably God's Will" or "Probably not God's Will." I explained that I don't believe God wants us to kill anyone so the resolution was likely to reflect the will of God, but I mentioned that we don't live in a perfect world and I believe that it is up to us to determine the best way to deal with the rare individuals who have contributed to mass murder or war crimes.

After that intensive exercise, we had a two hour free period. I went walking the grounds, down to the Puget Sound, and then walked the Labyrinth. I wanted to meditate in the center of the Labyrinth for a half hour, but after ten minutes or so, I felt cold so I decided to go back to my cabin to read a book. At 6:30, our harvest party began, where we had to wear our costumes. I dressed in my coolest looking jacket (the Austrian one), a gray fedora, black slacks, white shirt and black tie. In my hand is a cool looking blank book that has on the cover sparkly material to reflect light everywhere (it looks ethereal! I plan to start writing in that journal in December). Some people guessed my costume but most did not. I was a Case Officer with the Adjustment Bureau, which is just as well because that is my favourite movie of the year. And dressing as such allowed me to recommend the movie to people who hadn't seen it or heard about it and to discuss it with those who did see it.

Other costumes included: Robin from the Batman comics, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, a lady in a 1950s outfit (poodle skirt), Sarah Palin (Karolyn kept saying to people, "Aren't I the scariest one here?"), a shark, a diver, a matador and his flamenco dancer fiancee, a flapper, Clark Kent in the process of ripping off his shirt to reveal his Superman suit beneath, a guy with a creepy clown doll, and the best costume winner: a newlywed couple dressed as halves of an Oreo cookie. The judges said that they liked the Sarah Palin costume, but they don't vote Republican so she lost! The picture above was taken before people took their costumes off. I'm guessing that the photo will appear in the church's magazine at some point.

Sheyne (the Oregon carpool driver) was the one who dressed as a shark. She asked me what her destiny was. I opened the book and said, "Shark fin soup!" She did not like that response!

The fun activity of Saturday night was playing Bunco, which I had never played before. It was seriously fun! Basically, it involves throwing dice, moving seats, and switching partners. Think of it as a dice game version of square dancing! You have to throw three of the same number to get Bunco, or you get a point each time you threw a dice of the same number as the round you were on. I sucked for the most part, but at one point, when we were on round three, I threw a lot of threes. Never had three of the same number that matched the number of the round, though. But I enjoyed the moving around (if you win, your team moves up and the losing team stays behind to switch partners with the team that moved up).

For the Saturday evening communion worship service, we had the most awesome communion ever! We walked out to the Labyrinth (it was dark and cold, though). A few tiki torches lit the path. The communion servers headed into the Labyrinth first, then we each followed, slowly at regular intervals. When we all walked on the winding path, it actually looked cool. Everyone was a different part of the Labyrinth circle. At the center, we partook of communion, then stood in a circle and sang "We Are One in the Spirit." I had worried about being cold since I had gotten cold earlier, but amazing enough, the fellowship with others seemed to warm the atmosphere around us. This is the most unique communion service I've ever participated in. Awesome, simply awesome.

After that, we played the late-night "What If?" game, which had some pretty cool laughs, as usual. Some were truly bad and we all felt awful that we found them funny, but such is the nature of the game.

The Sunday afternoon drive back home did not seem to take long. It was a fast weekend and another awesome retreat. Why do they seem to happen so quickly? At this retreat, I made a couple new friends, including a guy who knows three of my best friend Nathan's brothers. That's the nature of our church. We are small enough to feel like one big family. I love it!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Music Video Monday: Bollywood

Last week, I was watching quite a few Bollywood musical songs on YouTube and came across this medley of Bollywood songs. What stands out for me, besides the high energy dance rhythms is the explosion of colours and the way they dance. The women are gorgeous, especially in their saris. In fact, I'm a sucker for any woman who wears a sari, including cultured white ladies who love wearing foreign style clothing.

This medley really energized me. The songs are addictive and mesmerizing. Can't take my eyes off of it. I don't know what it is about Bollywood / Bhangra music, but I simply cannot get enough. In Portland, one Saturday each month is a Jai Ho / Bollywood dance party. I've been meaning to go for a year or two now. The problem is that it ends after the public transit stops for the night, and the dance doesn't begin until 10 p.m. I can't find anyone (with a car) who might be interested in going. My taste in things seem to be so rare, as it has always been difficult finding people who are interested in the kinds of things I'm interested in. Especially when it comes to music!

In fact, two people I recently gave CDs I burned for them of a diverse range of music had both told me that they only listened to half of it. One told me that he was only able to listen to half of it because the music was just too "strange" for his taste. Really? In the Navy and college, while there were people who thought my music was strange, there were a few who got hooked on it. I guess that's when you learn who you really connect with. I read an article a couple months ago in which the writer claimed that the strongest friendship bonds were found in people who shared similar taste in music. About a decade ago, on a date with a lady, I was stunned to see how cagey she was when I asked her what kind of music she liked. I did not understand why that question would cause someone to clam up and hesitate revealing what bands or CDs she liked. What's the big deal?

I know this, though, among everyone I've ever met and gotten to know, I have not found anyone who liked as broad a range of music as me. This isn't a brag or an indication that I think I'm better than anyone. Just that it surprises me that I could like such a broad range of music and relate to other people that way, but the response I get from most people is that my taste in music is "weird." I'll tell you what, though. I bet there are more people on earth who love Bollywood / Bhangra music more than who love country music.

This medley of Bollywood songs appeals to the internationalist in me. I wish more people would share my sense of adventure when it comes to music. Maybe its just me, but music has always been my "drug" of choice. I really do get energized by music. Perhaps music gets me to that feeling place, where I don't have to think. I just absorb the energy of the music and allow myself to glide along to wherever the rhythms take me. Though I like a wide range, I still draw the line at heavy metal or what I consider "angry rock" (not just white supremacist bands, which interestingly enough, tends to be hardcore screeching and yelling). Music all have energies attached to them and even though I have no idea what they are singing, the Bollywood songs in this medley definitely put me in a very happy place. It can't be bad, can it? The music is just too positively energizing to be bad for you.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Back to Samish

Today, I'm leaving work early to make the trek up to Samish Island (near Bow) for the highlight of my year! Ever since I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2006, I have attended the Young Adult Retreat, even though I aged out in 2007 and even though I have said in the past couple years that I would not attend that year's. As the date gets closer, though, I feel a pull. There's simply something magical about that place. I feel it the moment I arrive. I love it. So beautiful and serene. I've probably seen about a dozen church campgrounds and there is no comparison. Samish Island is far and away the best one I've been to. As for the magical qualities...well, at the 2007 Young Adult Retreat, Christine went walking in the woods with Erik and something happened, because as I learned two years later, its the date of that retreat that Erik considers their official anniversary. Of course, things might have been different had I went on the walk with Christine like she asked me to. But I'm not going to lament that decision this year. I already did that mourning process last year. I walked the path where the magic happened, and all I felt was loneliness.

This year, I'm in a much better place. I'm a lot happier because I'm in a job that I love and I'm generally satisfied with my life. Sure, life could be a whole lot better with a Lady Love (which I expected to have by now), but I'm not complaining. I'm feeling nothing but love and gratitude, so this retreat, I'm just going to enjoy myself. What made this one a must attend is a new thing that hasn't been done in any of the previous retreats I've attended. We're having a costume party on Saturday night. I can't wait. It has been a few years since I've worn a costume for anything.

Last year, the retreat was in September and I had called in sick on Friday morning so that I could catch the train to Tacoma to meet Sean, the YAPS leader who organizes the retreat. I felt guilty as I rode the train, because it left the station at the same time as I was supposed to be at work. A week later, on the following Friday, I was let go from work and the rest is history. Anyhow, last year, I met a young church member, James who had battled brain cancer and had an amazing testimony. Well, sadly, the cancer had returned and he passed away this past spring or summer. He was an amazing kid and loved to play drums (or just practice his drumsticks in the air).

Interestingly, the message of last year's retreat was about "getting out of the boat." The guest minister asked us what it would take to get us completely out of the boat. Apparently, I needed to be pushed, and I was a week later. Its amazing how much one's reality can change in a year's time or less. So, I look forward to new memories to add to the Young Adult Retreat. This is my 6th one and likely my final one, because I turn 40 at the end of the year. As our church president had said a few years ago, at some point I have to face the facts that I'm MIDDLE AGED and not a young adult anymore! But these retreats are so much fun for me. I look forward to spending some time alone, too, in contemplation.
I'll be staying in the old cabins again. They have new cabins, which I've used the past couple of years, but they are TOO nice. I keep thinking I'm in a motel, so I will be reverting to the old cabin again. I like them. Its a reminder of simplicity.

Last year, the Labyrinth was a new edition to the campground. I walked it in contemplation about getting out of my nightmare work scenario and into a job that suits me better. Well, mission accomplished! This year, if its not raining, I will be walking the Labyrinth in contemplation of my search for a Lady to share the rest of my life with. That's a noble goal to focus on.

See you on Monday (no posts until then)!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Religion in Republican Politics

On Tuesday night was yet another debate among the eight Republican candidates for president. This one took place at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. I can't keep track of how many debates they've had now, but each one brings more irony and satire into this race. I didn't watch the debates, because I did not know about it until after the fact. I haven't tried to see if clips are available on YouTube. It just seems like more of the same crazy shit we've seen in the previous debates.

Herman Cain seems like the center of focus for this debate, based on post-debate analysis that I've read. He's still toting his 9-9-9 plan, which caused Mitt Romney to quip, "I thought it was a pizza deal at first." Michele Bachmann did one better: "If you turn 9-9-9 upside down, the devil is in the details." For once, I agree with her! I wondered how long it would take before an evangelical Christian would point out the upside down 666 (supposedly the number of Satan or "the mark of the beast"). This brings up an interesting point regarding Mormon theology. When I was a young man, I was stunned when I heard a Mormon lady's answer to her young daughter's question about why some people had black skin. She asked her daughter, "Do you want the scientific view or God's view?" When she explained God's view, I was shocked because I had never heard that "theory" before. According to Mormon theology, people who are black bear "the mark of Cain", because after Cain had killed Abel, God turned his skin black. Okay, so if they believe this literally happen, then how do you explain the Mormon view that God had committed mass genocide with the Great Flood, saving only Noah and his family, who were white? Wouldn't this event have killed off every black person on the planet?

Not that I believe in the Bible stories, but when a religion promotes a ridiculous (and racist) viewpoint, you have to ask these kinds of questions. So, here we have a political party that has a long history of suppressing the black vote in the United States with a large faction made up of conservative evangelical Christians who consider the Mormon Church to be a "cult." The top two candidates according to current polling is Mitt Romney, the Mormon and Herman Cain, the African American. Mormons believe in "the mark of Cain" and Cain believes in his 9-9-9 tax plan (9% income tax, 9% corporate tax, 9% national sales tax). Is this a subconscious reveal about who really leads the Republican Party? Hint, hint, it sure as HELL ain't Jesus! You think Jesus would side with the corporate capitalist and the military industrialists and the bigoted and hateful sanctimonious religious nuts?

This is sit back with a bowl of popcorn and watch the Republican Party self-destruct as the various factions pick apart the other. The "Operation Chaos" that Rush Limbaugh had hoped to cause in the Democratic Party in 2008 between the Hillary and Barack factions failed to come to fruition. Be careful what you wish for, because you just may get it! The Republicans are having their own chaos as no new candidate has jumped into the race and Tim Pawlenty is now regretting that he bowed out too soon (I did not understand why he dropped out after the Iowa straw poll. The results were inconsequential, as Bachmann's polling numbers have consistently dropped ever since her win).

In an article I read online about Romney's Mormonism becoming an issue in the Republican Party (in the aftermath of an evangelical preacher who introduced Governor Rick Perry at a Value Voters Summit, in which he called the man who has executed 235 people as the most "pro-life" candidate in the primary, with no sense of irony). Even more interesting than the article are the comments that readers leave. I was stunned to see an argument emerge among an Orthodox, a Catholic, and a Mormon. The argument goes something like this: each one makes a point why their religion is the most authentic one. The Orthodox believe that Catholicism split off from them in the first big break in Christendom. The Catholics believe that they have a direct line to Jesus (uninterrupted). The Mormons believe that Joseph Smith, Jr. restored the one true church after it fell into apostasy sometime in the 300s A.D. All three of them, despite their disagreements with one another about which one is the most authentic / "One True Church of God", seem to agree that the protestant churches that broke away from the Catholic Church have no legitimate claim to being authentic or true.

Well, I have news for all three of y'all: the Orthodox, the Catholic, and the Mormon. None of y'all are "the one true church" because there is no one true church! The argument they want to make is ludicrous. I know very little about the Orthodox Church, but it seems to be every bit as ritualistic and materialistic as the Catholic Church. Plus, they are into iconography, which is beautiful as artwork goes, but was Jesus about that kind of thing?

The Catholic Church has the problem about wealth and materialism, but even more than that, there's the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, colonialism, collaboration with the Nazi regime, and perhaps the most damaging: the Catholic Church demanded that Galileo recant his belief that the earth revolves around the sun. Nearly 400 years later, Pope John Paul II apologized on behalf of the Catholic Church for what it did to Galileo (torture and imprisonment). The Catholic Church lost its moral authority in the medieval era. There's a reason why there was a protestant reformation...because the Catholic Church abused its power. Where does one see the actions of Christ in this church? More recently, the Catholic Church ran into trouble with their ignoring of the sexual abuse by its priests. So, if the Catholic Church is God's one and only true church, our world is seriously in trouble!!

Then there is the Mormon Church. In the Book of Mormon, there are passages that speak out against "secret combinations" and polygamy. Yet, the Mormon Church incorporated Masonic rituals in their Temple ceremonies and introduced the practice of polygamy during the Nauvoo period. There are other bizarre ideas and eventually, because Utah wanted to become a state in the growing United States of America, the Republican Party demanded the Mormons had to give up polygamy first before Utah would be granted statehood. The Mormon prophet at the time received a convenient revelation that polygamy would no longer be practiced. This went against the proclamation made by a previous prophet (either Joseph Smith or Brigham Young), which was: "Polygamy is the new and everlasting covenant. If the church ever does away with this doctrine, it is a sure sign that the church is in apostasy."

How can a Church be considered God's "One True Church" if they violate everything Jesus was about? Or if they have convoluted doctrines? Or if they seem more interested in wealth attainment and acquiring properties? Notice how all three of those churches claiming to be the only legitimate church all have lavish cathedrals, temples, or basilicas?

I always found it interesting that people who are obsessed with their church being "the one true church" generally focus on legitimacy, which they trace back to Jesus. If they did not have that tie to Jesus and the belief that he established "the one true church", then they supposedly can't claim legitimacy. But that seems to be childish mental games to me. I look at all history and every religion has its ugly moments that they'd rather bury under the rug and not acknowledge.

Instead of worrying about if one's church is the "one true church" or not, why not focus on an entirely different criteria? Who consistently embodies the values preached by Jesus? Who promotes the philosophy that Jesus practiced and taught his followers? Why claim legitimacy by some unbroken (or restored) timeline? That means very little in the grand scheme of things. Legitimacy only comes when you live the principles Jesus taught. This means someone like the Hindu Gandhi or the Buddhist Dalai Lama embodies Jesus' ministry more accurately than the Christians Pat Robertson or Rick Perry.

Some day, in the spiritual realm, we humans are going to feel pretty stupid that we every argued about which church is true. Joseph Smith, Jr. had the right answer: "None of them!" He created his own (which the church I belong to, the Community of Christ, traces its heritage back to) and then betrayed it. Perhaps we should all create our own unique religion that is personal to us and strive to live the best lives we are capable of living, and having faith that an all-knowing God will love and accept us at the end of our human lives. Too much energy and blood has been wasted on such irrelevant arguments regarding legitimacy. It's sad to see people still arguing those points today online.

While I can admire aspects of Orthodox, Catholic, and Mormon churches, taken as a whole, though, none of them resonate with me as being the absolute truth of God or the universe. I must go on my own way. The legitimacy is in living a spiritually-minded life. We have nothing to worry about if we live the principles taught by Jesus (or Buddha or the best ideals of each religion).