Sunday, January 29, 2012

Martin O'Malley's Polar Plunge

Check out this video of Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley taking part in the annual Polar Plunge, which is in support of the Special Olympics. The guy is a natural and seems quite comfortable around people with disabilities / Downs Syndrome. Recently, he is also making a push for gay marriages to be legal in Maryland. It sounds to me like he is already prepping his resume for 2016, which is a good thing. Since I first learned about him in 2010, I'm throwing my support for his presidential bid in 2016. A big part of his appeal for me is that he served 8 years as Mayor of Baltimore and will serve 8 years as Governor of Maryland when his term expires in 2015. That'll leave him two years in which to run for president without being tied down to official duties. That also means he will have 16 years of executive experience when he runs for president, so Republicans who love to say that Obama is "too inexperienced" won't have anything to say about O'Malley being "too inexperienced" to be president. What Republican out there has 16 years of executive experience in government?

If there are any O'Malley staff aides reading this, please contact me about how I can help Governor O'Malley be elected president in 2016. I'd love to help ghostwrite his campaign biography and speeches. I'm a naturally loyal person and know how to keep confidences. I was born to be a political aide to a politician I admire, and from what I've seen and read, I like O'Malley. He's definitely presidential material and I would love to see how fearful the Republicans will be of this strong candidate.

Sometimes, I think of how foolish I was to leave D.C. in 2000. I knew that Kathleen Kennedy Townsend would run for Governor in 2002 and I wanted to be a part of her campaign (even though she ended up losing). I could've volunteered on O'Malley's reelection campaign for Baltimore mayor and then participated in his gubernatorial campaigns. The best way to a career as a political aide is to get on board with a candidate when he or she is not well known and remain loyal throughout their career. Are there any politicians in Oregon who might run for president someday? I don't see any up-and-comers, unfortunately. I do for the governor's race in 2014, but I'm sure that the one I'll be supporting has a lot of supporters, which leaves little room for the candidate to get to know me and what my specific skills are. That's the problem with living in a liberal, politically active state. There are way more volunteers on Democratic campaigns than are needed. Kind of makes it hard to get noticed by the candidate.

If you're not familiar with Governor Martin O'Malley, start searching for articles about him and read. He's likely to be one of the stronger Democratic candidates for president in 2016 (Governor Andrew Cuomo is also being talked about). Like I said, what Republican candidate can brag about 16 years of executive experience? I can't think of a single one (Governor Rick Perry has 11 years). Can't wait until 2016!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

"Larry Crowne" is Flawed, But Likable

Last summer, when I saw trailers of the Tom Hanks-written and directed film Larry Crowne, I had absolutely no interest in seeing it. The film looked lame, which was a shame, because Tom Hanks has been my favourite actor since 1985 (he's been eclipsed in recent years, though, to George Clooney, who represents the ultimate in coolness). From the trailer, Larry Crowne looked like it aspired to be a comedy, but I didn't find any of the sight gags to be especially funny (the one with Tom Hanks in his underwear with a young lady telling him to put his pants back on while her boyfriend stares at him with glaring eyes; Julia Roberts relenting about riding his scooter with the caveat that she would not "wear that bucket on my head" only to look miserable when she does exactly that). I had no intention of watching this movie.

A friend of mine saw it with his girlfriend in theaters and said that I needed to see it because he thought I would relate to Tom Hanks character. As a young man, I was flattered if anyone compared me to Tom Hanks. He was my favourite actor and seemed like an all around nice guy (and I did enjoy his comedies as a teenager). It used to be the case that I would see a Tom Hanks movie in theaters, no question. But sometime in the late 1990s, I became more hesitant. I still have not seen The Green Mile nor The Ladykillers. I did see Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal, which were merely okay. To me, his heyday as an actor goes from Big in 1988 to Saving Private Ryan in 1998. I was glad to see him in The Da Vinci Code, but he hasn't really made a great film like Forrest Gump since...well, since Forrest Gump!

When I saw the credits of Larry Crowne, it appeared like a vanity project. He writes it (actually, co-writes it with Nia Vardalos, who is good friends with his wife Rita Wilson, and found success a decade ago with that overrated comedy hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding), produces it, directs it, and stars in it. This is his second directing duties. The first one was the forgettable That Thing You Do! from the mid-1990s. I thought even the name was strange. Was he trying to allude to that other film of his with the character name as the title? I personally think its lazy of a writer to title a film or novel after a character in the novel (usually, the protagonist). Case in point: J. Edgar? Boring! So, is Larry Crowne the new Forrest Gump? Hardly.

This film does have plenty of flaws. From the premise to the character played by Julia Roberts to the strange relationship with the much younger college student he meets who sees him as her personal improvement project to the marriage life of Julia Roberts' character to the college student's cool-yet-jealous boyfriend to the preposterous idea that there is actually a gang of too-cool-for-you Scooter riders who welcome Larry Crown into the group. And yet, despite all of these flaws (and then some), I found the movie to be quite likable, and yes...I could even relate to parts of it as my friend predicted.

Here are the surprises that charmed me about the film:

Actually, before I get to that, let me just say that I can actually see this film becoming one of the recommended movies to see at the employment office. When I was unemployed in the fall of 2010 and taking workshops offered by the Worksource Oregon, in one session about how to keep one's morale during the job search phase, the instructor showed a clip from a Tom Hanks film, Castaway. It was a lengthy scene, where Hanks' character finds innovative ways to use items in the Fed-Ex boxes that he failed to deliver because his plane crashed in the Pacific somewhere and he ended up on a deserted island. The point of the clip was to inspire us job seekers not to give up. To find creative ways to keep our spirit going until we have our own triumphal, chest-beating moment ("I created fire!" scene). After the clip, the instructor recommended that we watch the entire film if we could. I had seen it in theaters a decade ago and I didn't like it very much. Hopefully, the instructor has seen Larry Crowne, so she can show clips from this movie and recommend job seekers to watch this movie. Its much better than Castaway.

Here's the ridiculous premise: Larry Crowne is a retired veteran of the U.S. Navy who works at a Walmart-type discount mega-store of ultra-cheap goods. We see scenes of him being cheerful in all of his job duties, whether it is stocking shelves, gathering stray shopping carts in the parking lot, retrieving big boxes, hanging clothes on racks, etc. He seems to love his job (a viewer can forgive themselves if they think Larry Crowne is Forrest Gump's twin brother), like he has no ambition in life other than to be the low wage slave with co-workers young enough to be his children. A garbled intercom message calls him back to the breakroom in the warehouse. He thinks management are going to name him as the employee of the month for the 10th time. Instead, they give him a reality check. He's fired because he does not have a college degree. By some strange logic that probably only makes sense in corporate America, the decision to cut him loose has to do with his inability to be promoted into management positions because he lacks a degree, so they can't have him around if he's unable to move up in the organization.

He doesn't take the job loss with the kind of fury that can be seen in George Clooney's excellent film about downsizing (Up In The Air). He has a kind of resigned acceptance. However, I felt that this part was true for a certain personality type. When I lost my job, I was stunned by the news at first, but it did not take long for me to be happy about it, since it was the worst place I've ever worked and I was freed from my misery. After a short analysis of what he might do, Crowne decides to go back to school, so he enrolls in a community college, taking a writing class, an economics class, and a public speaking class.

George Takei ("Sulu" in the Original Star Trek series and films) had an excellent extended cameo role as the Econ professor with a dry sense of humour. I laughed my ass off during his scenes because he is so hilarious. Man, I wish I had an Econ professor like Sulu!!! I might've gotten a B instead of a D! He makes jokes with typical deadpan humour, and he's not above confiscating a student's cell phones during class.

Julia Roberts plays the public speaking instructor, who hates teaching and appears pleased when only 9 students show up on the first day of class. She proudly announces that the law requires a minimum of 10 students per class, otherwise its cancelled because it's not considered cost effective. In walks Larry Crowne to ruin her life. So, the class begins.

Roberts pretty much "phones it in". I just didn't see any real possibility that Crowne and the teacher would end up together. Roberts' community college instructor is married to a guy who blurted out in an argument that he looks at porn because the women have something his wife does not: breasts. I guess a remark like that is meant to make him look like an asshole, but throughout the film, Roberts just seems miscast. I got the sense that Tom Hanks asked Roberts to play in his movie, since they apparently got along well enough in Charlie Wilson's War. However, Roberts was great in that role as a Southern Republican woman who enlists a Congressman to support the mujahadeen in Afghanistan against the USSR in the 1980s.

Some of the speeches given in class are hilarious. Crowne gets a make-over by his much younger female pal, including a feng shui rearrangement of his house. He takes a part-time job as a cook, which is what he was in the Navy. Now, let me tell you something about Navy cooks. When I was in the Navy, I heard that people who scored within a certain range (at the lower end of the scale) on the AFQT (Armed Forces Quotient Test, which is a pretty accurate skills assessment test that all applicants for the military must take) were given the job specialty rating of "Mess Specialist." They weren't the smartest guys in the Navy and its not a glamorous job. Its understandable that Crowne doesn't want to be a chef at a restaurant when a college dean recommends the hospitality industry as a course of study.

As I watched the film, I found myself smiling a lot and even laughing out loud at a few scenes (especially any scene with Sulu as Econ professor). The thought also occurred to me that this film came out last summer, which was my 20th anniversary of entering the Navy. Its like my favourite actor was gifting me a movie to answer a "what if?" question I sometimes indulge too much in. There have been times in the past few years that I wondered how different my life would have been had I made the Navy a career instead of getting out in 1996. My goals to accomplish were: college degree, career, marriage, family, and published novel...ALL BEFORE the 20th anniversary date of my Navy enlistment. I only accomplished one of those goals. Had I made the Navy a career, I would have been much better off financially. In fact, my retired salary would be the same as my current salary, and retirement is half of what you made in your final year in the military (though I heard that its not that much now). Imagine making my current salary without having to work for it! I could attend school full time on a salary and use my GI Bill and even get a part-time job.

However, I would've been a student among people young enough to be my children if I had them as young as my father did. I would not want to be a full time student now. It was hard enough being a student in the late 1990s, when I was 5-8 years older than the other students. I don't really think much about the what if aspect, because when I went to college, I meet people I would not have met otherwise and I'm so grateful for that. Though I haven't found career success, marriage, and publication as I had dreamed my post-Navy life would entail, I do have friends that I value and life experience, with only a few regrets (I know people recommend not having regrets and I never had them before, until I made three costly choices: leaving D.C. in 2000, accepting the first job offer in Portland in 2006, and not going for a walk on Samish Island when Christine asked me to).

Larry Crowne appears to be a character who doesn't seem to worry about status much. He takes life as it comes. Everything is an experience, with little to get upset about. You just live with no expectations. The irony is that I probably enjoyed this film more because I had LOW expectations for this movie. I don't feel so bad that my life seems to not have amounted to much in the years since my White House internship (the high point of my life thus far). So, I agree with my friend. Larry Crowne does seem partially like me, in that I may be a little to laid back / zen in my approach to a career and to life's disappointments. Maybe its time I up the ante on my life. I don't want my 40s to look like my 30s (the worst decade of my life). I want a repeat of my 20s, and a lot of that had to do with my natural optimism and enthusiasm for being free from the cliquish culture of high school and the stunted growth of being thought of as my brother's twin.

So, despite its obvious flaws, Larry Crowne is a likable film with a positive underlying message. Live life being open to all that comes your way. Its the only way to navigate these uncertain times.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Best of 2011

The annual "Best of the Year" list was delayed due to movies that I wanted to see before I made my selections known. A few years ago, I had named Up in the Air as the best film of the year, and then I saw Avatar, which blew me away, so I had to change my list. In 2011, I kept hearing that The Lady (about Burmese Dissident Aung San Suu Kyi) was going to be released, but I saw no evidence of that and once the Oscar nominations were revealed this past Tuesday, the film (if it was released for Oscar consideration) did not garner a single nomination. Perhaps Luc Besson is waiting for 2012? The film is supposed to be released in February (in time for the Portland International Film Festival!). Michelle Yeoh is likely to be my "Best Actress" choice for her portrayal of Aung San Suu Kyi. Since that film will be released in 2012 instead of 2011, I could go ahead and make my selections for 2011 known, once I saw The Iron Lady and A Dangerous Method. So, without further delay, here are my choices for Best of 2011 in the world of entertainment and pop culture:

Best Catchphrase

No statement was as hilarious to me as "Honey badger don't care. Honey badger don't give a shit. He takes what he wants." It was uttered in the Internet sensation of 2011 where a guy named Randall gave his hilariously witty commentary about the daily routines of the world's most tenacious animal, the honey badger. If you ask me, though, the Honey badger sounds kind of Republican.

Best Book

Micro - Michael Crichton (with Richard Preston)

No other book was as highly anticipated this year as the final novel by Michael Crichton, who was working on it when he died in 2008. The novel is so smooth and classically Crichton, that it was difficult for a Crichton fan as myself to know what Crichton actually wrote and what the hired writer, Richard Preston, wrote. Also, this novel has me looking at nature in an entirely new light. Micro is a gripping read, with the kind of gross-out imagery that will likely make me not want to see the inevitable movie when it comes out.

Best Television Show

The Republican Debates

I didn't watch a lot of TV in 2011. Just TV shows that are on DVD (Big Love season 4, Mad Men season 4, Entourage, and Eureka). However, what did capture my interest were the Republican debates. There seemed to be a debate each week, with each debate adding hilarious, "what the fuck?" moments. No other television programming captured my interest or made me laugh as much as these Republican debates. It is fun to watch this hateful political party self-destruct, after bringing so much destruction to America, the world, and people's lives. Hopefully, when Americans head to their polling places this November, they won't forget any of the wackiness of these debates. Based on what was said, not a single one of these candidates are "presidential material." Not a single one of them. This is one television show that I can't wait to see get the ax (hopefully after Florida's primary on Tuesday, last night's debate was the last one).

Best Song:

"Hidden Away Down" by Johnny Clegg

This song is from Johnny Clegg's 2010 release, Human. This song, more than any other in 2011 really held my interest because of the awesome melody and lyrics. Also, I had seen Johnny Clegg in concert in April and he gave a great explanation for this song, which was inspired by the life of Senator Ted Kennedy. The song is about the human tendency to push one's dark side way down and denying it, until it inconveniently emerges to wreak havoc on the person when they least expect it. I consider it to be among Johnny Clegg's best songs. I don't keep a weekly singles chart like I used to (from 1985 through 1995), but if I did, this song would have been #1 on my singles chart for about 12 weeks, which is a rare occurrence. I love it that much.

Best Concert:

Johnny Clegg Human Tour
Aladdin Theater, Portland OR

Best Album / Best Album Cover

Love to Beg by Dana Fuchs

I had the opportunity to hear this album because of my job. Since sometime in the early part of last decade, I stopped keeping track of music like I used to. I actually liked music less and less the further away from the 1990s that we got. Something about music in the past decade is not as good as what I grew up with in the 1980s and 1990s. Since I started working for a music company, I have not listened to a radio station in over a year. When I did listen to a radio station, I was frustrated by the small playlist, where you'd hear the same songs every single day, often in the same order. There is so much great music out there, but how do you discover them if radio stations don't play them? This is where working for a music company comes into play. Since I started working where I work, I've been exposed to a lot of great blues artists. I still don't care for jazz very much, but blues are pretty good, especially this one by Dana Fuchs. She was also the featured entertainer at last year's label conference, with a great concert promoting this album. She has a lot of soul and is often compared to Janis Joplin. My favourite single on this album is "Summersong." It was a great anthem for summer. I'm surprised that this album did not find greater commercial success in the U.S. Dana Fuchs has a higher profile than most blues artists. She played Sadie in the Beatles-tribute film Across the Universe.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Shailene Woodley - The Descendants

Last year, I had a free movie pass to see The Descendants, which I would not have seen otherwise. It didn't sound all that great, and it wasn't. Though George Clooney is likely to win the Best Actor Oscar for his role in this film, for me the stand out performance was Shailene Woodley, who played the oldest daughter and helps guide her clueless father towards the truth and to redemption. She's quite mature for her age, and also, quite attractive (jail bait!). But her emotional performance is amazing. She is an actress to watch. I mean, we're talking Natalie Portman territory!

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Anthony Mackie - The Adjustment Bureau

Mackie was the soul of this film about a mysterious bureau that keeps intervening in the lifepath of a certain, ambitious New York politician. While other members of the bureau just want obedience without question, Mackie's character breaks a few rules to help out his assigned human. He plays it with such cool and with heart, that you can't help but be in awe of him, especially when the film's resolution happens. I served with a guy in the Navy like Mackie. Definitely someone you want on your side. He also played in The Hurt Locker and I hope this is an indication of a promising future for this actor.

Best Actress

Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady

In my list of Best Actress performances (since the early 1980s), this is Meryl Streep's first win (she was named Best Actress of the 2000s, though). She came really close in 2006 with her role as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, but with this iconic role as Britain's first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, the only one who could've denied her this honour was Michelle Yeoh as Aung San Suu Kyi (but she's in the running for this slot in 2012). Meryl Streep is definitely the most versatile actress of the Baby Boomer generation (she's the same age as my father). I wasn't a fan of hers until The Devil Wears Prada. Since then, I've come to appreciate her choices and the roles she plays, including the Diane Sawyer-type journalist in Robert Redford's Lions Before Lambs. In The Iron Lady, Streep humanizes the iconic, and conservative Thatcher, who often faced protests and even IRA bombs that tried to assassinate her. She's also up for yet another Oscar (she's the most nominated actress in history. I have a feeling, though, that she's going to lose again this year, this time to Viola Davis who will likely become only the second African American to win Best Actress).

Best Actor

Michael Fassbender - A Dangerous Method

Who is Michael Fassbender? He has come out of nowhere to have an extraordinary year with a critically acclaimed and daring role as a sex addict in Shame and a role as the famous psychotherapist Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method. He's made quite a few films, none of which I've seen, yet he does such a phenomenal job as Carl Jung that I'm taking notice. The scenes with Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud are simply electric and it is extraordinary to watch him as he struggles between his professionalism and his suppressed attraction to a troubled patient, as well as arguing with Freud about why the field of psychiatry / psychology should consider metaphysical ideas. The movie shows the differences between the two men and the woman who comes between them. I hope that Fassbender will be able to catapult himself into more meaningful roles in the future. 2011 was his breakthrough year, and it is always a joy to discover a new actor or actress when a role or a few roles at the same time brings them to greater public awareness.

Best Director

Woody Allen - Midnight In Paris

I've never been a fan of Woody Allen. The few movies I've seen by him were either disappointing or merely okay, but I have to admit that I have not seen many of his films (for example, I have still not seen his best known one, Annie Hall). I have thought of having my own Woody Allen Film Festival and watching them all, but I haven't had a lot of time in the past several months and when I see a movie, his are generally not on my list of really wanting to see. What was different about Midnight In Paris, though, is that he just had to make a movie set in Paris, that was a love letter to the most beautiful city in the world. Then, he had to feature the Lost Generation, which is another interest of mine. All of this made the film an absolute must see for me last summer. It became one of his biggest hits (supposedly his highest grossing film, as well). Great news of all, he's not in this film at all, as Owen Wilson did a fantastic job as fill-in on the neurotic Allen. What truly impressed me about this film, though, is that Woody Allen managed to create a perfect film with a timely message. In fact, you could almost argue that it is less about the Lost Generation in Paris and more about the Tea Party movement in the United States. For those who did not "get" the movie, the take-home message is that the past was never as great as we think it was. Nostalgia is a tricky mental construct. All we have is now and we should enjoy it because someday in the distance future, someone will think that this age or time period was better. After I saw this film, I understood (finally) what makes Woody Allen a great director.

Best Motion Picture

The Adjustment Bureau

2011 goes down as one of the best years in movies that I can ever recall (1989 still remains as the best year in movies during my lifetime). There were so many good releases last year, which was the opposite of 2010. On my blog's left side, you can see the list of my fave films in 2011. No one beats The Adjustment Bureau, though. This film completely wow'd me beyond belief and made me look at my own life in a different way. This was actually the best film I had seen since Forrest Gump in 1994. I've written a review of it last year, so I won't go on too much about this film. Ironically, this movie led me to the Movies and Meaning group that I am a part of (along with the Thursday evening courses offered by the Eastminister Presbyterian Church). When I saw this movie in the theaters last March, I wanted to go somewhere and just think about it, especially in the context of my own life. I also wished that there was a discussion group to see the film with so that we could discuss the ideas in this film. That's when I went online in search of such a group and found it in Meet-Up and signed up. It has been a dream! Now, to find a Lady Love who is similar to Emily Blunt (she's quickly becoming one of my favourite actresses, ever since The Devil Wears Prada). I hope 2012 will have plenty of great films as well. There are at least three that I'm looking forward to: The Lady, On The Road, and another one about young Jack Kerouac (before he became famous). Oh, and hopefully this is the year that Spielberg's Abraham Lincoln film will be released. I've waited for that movie for several years now.

Best Music Video:

"Alane" by Wes

Granted, this song was released in Europe in 1996. However, I did not hear it until 2011 and it became an instant hit to my listening ears. I absolutely love it and when I looked for a music video on YouTube, I was stunned that Wes, the lead singer, looks like my "spirit guide" Shimba (whom I met in a hypnotherapy session in 2003). I think it was his cheerful countenance and his dreadlocks and his African dashiki. The song is irresistible and so is the video (I love the way those ladies dance! And the one with her hair done up like Princess Leia certainly has some mesmerizing moves). Enjoy!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Happy Australia Day, Mates!

Today on Facebook, I had posted several video clips from a few Australian bands in honour of Australia Day (commemorating the day in 1788 when the first English explorer sailed into what is now known as Sydney Harbour). These include the best rock anthem tribute to the world's largest island: "Great Southern Land" by Icehouse, a video by Aboriginal band Yothu Yindi, and several by Midnight Oil. I went so far as to call Midnight Oil "Australia's greatest band."

A former co-worker (from That Place That Shall Not Be Named) refuted that by pronouncing AC/DC as Australia's greatest band by sheer fact of the number of albums sold and critical acclaim. He ranks INXS at a distant second place. As we debated it, he even had the nerve to put Men At Work ahead of Midnight Oil, simply because Men At Work had a few hit songs in the U.S. and he had never heard of any Midnight Oil songs. The discussion was enlightening, which revealed this guy's judging qualities to be based on numbers and popularity, rather than quality of the music and message of the music.

He didn't like my diss of AC/DC. Well, the point I tried to make is that if you listen to Midnight Oil's music, you learn a lot about Australia and some of the issues that people of that country are facing. Midnight Oil is unmistakably Australian. The reason why I love them so much is that they have managed to create many songs with meaningful and memorable lyrics with a catchy melody. They found international success in 1988 with their Diesel and Dust album, which featured two songs about land rights, which is a controversial issue in Australia (acknowledging that white Australians are encroaching on sacred Aboriginal lands). Those songs are "Beds Are Burning" and "The Dead Heart", of course.

If you listen to AC/DC or INXS, they could be from anywhere. There's nothing uniquely Australian about them. They are international bands, much like U2. AC/DC is merely a hard rock band that's from Australia. When I first heard about AC/DC in the early 80s, I actually thought they were an American band! The first Australian band that captured my attention was Men At Work, with their huge hit, "Down Under." And yes, I did like Men At Work as a kid. They were the second band I was crazy about (Blondie was the first, in 1979). But when I heard the two Midnight Oil songs in 1988, and then bought their Blue Sky Mining CD in 1990 (still the best environmental-themed album of all time), I was hooked. They ranked up there with Johnny Clegg and Savuka in terms of making music meaningful, by matching lyrics of profound depth and issue-raising awareness to irresistible melodies. If they haven't found greater success in America, it has more to do with American shallowness than anything else. Its just amazing to me that people are willing to argue sales and radio airplay and popularity among listeners as qualifications for "great art." If that were the case, Britney Spears would be considered "great", which she is most certainly not.

My love for Midnight Oil skyrocketed with their 1993 release of Earth and Sun and Moon, which is their most spiritual album and was such a huge hit for me that it spent over a year at #1 on my album chart that I kept from 1985 to 1995. The album still ranks at #2 on my Favourite Albums of All Time list. Its an amazing and profound album. There's no comparison, at all. Men At Work, Icehouse, Crowded House, and yes, even AC/DC simply do not come anywhere near the level of artistry and depth as Midnight Oil. Unfortunately, my interest in them started waning with their Breathe album from 1996, which was their "grunge" album and with Redneck Wonderland a few years later. Capricornica was their final album, which I never bought. They returned to their harder rock sound of the late 70s and early 80s and away from the pop sensibilities of the late 80s and early 90s. I was able to see their concert in 2001, which was awesome, and then the band broke up in 2002. I wish they'd get back together to see if they can create another album like Earth and Sun and Moon.

One more thing that I wanted to say about Midnight Oil being the best band from Australia: when I was in Prague in 1993, I stayed at a youth hostel and met an Australian guy who was traveling Europe for a year. When he found out that I was an American, he started ripping on America...mostly for our military involvement in the world and for our narrow-mindedness and disinterest in other countries. When I mentioned that one of my favourite bands was Australian, he wanted to know which one. When I said, "Midnight Oil", his attitude changed. He said that he thought I was going to say INXS and I laughed. He was stunned that an American had not only heard of Midnight Oil, but liked them more than any other Australian band. And if one likes Midnight Oil, its safe to assume that they are probably a politically aware person and not the stereotype of a typical ignorant American who is clueless about the world outside of our borders. This Aussie became cool with me and we had a friendlier conversation once I passed his "cool test."

If Bryan (the guy who argued with me about Australia's "greatest band") had traveled Europe, I wouldn't be surprised if he ticked off foreigners with his lack of cultural knowledge. My first impression of him was that he's a typical redneck / good ole boy, although he has surprised me over the years in that he considers himself a Democrat. Its interesting to note that he was hired in the position that I had applied for in 2007 that some had hinted that I might get if I put in my application. He lost his job a year before me and he's still unemployed more than two years later! It only took me 75 days to find a job. If I'm not mistaken, he served in the Army and when I had a debate on Facebook about Congressman Anthony Weiner's sexting scandal, I found it ironic that Weiner was being defended by a few females on my FB friends list while Bryan and I (two former military guys) believed that Weiner needed to resign from office.

The strange debates that I seem to inspire in people! Regardless of one's musical preference, when I think about Australia, Midnight Oil always comes to mind because a lot of what I've learned about that country I still long to visit comes from the songs and videos of Midnight Oil. Compared to the Oils, "Down Under" is merely a silly song. Have a happy Australia Day!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Honey Badger Don't Care!

Sometime in 2011, the guy who owns the townhouse that I rent a room in showed me a video clip on YouTube that I might not have discovered on my own. I laughed my ass off listening to the narration by some guy most people would identify as stereotypically gay. His way of expressing himself is hilarious, to the point where you don't know if its what he says that is as funny as the way he says it. If you've never seen the video clip, I have attached a video link at the end of this post for your convenience.

On Tuesday, the narrator of this famous Internet sensation came to Powell's City of Books, which means he actually has a book out (geez, everyone is getting a book published while my novel is still failing to find an interested agent). This was one of those events that I had to attend, just to see if this guy is for real. His name is Randall. This event was one of the larger ones I've attended (not surprised, actually). Its interesting to see who turns out for the various lectures. In this one, I noticed a larger percentage of teenage or twentysomething girls. That doesn't really surprise me, either, because Randall's manner of speaking is exactly how teenage girls talk. I guess that's part of the humour, its a man who speaks like a teenage girl.

This being Portland, a grown man showed up in a honey badger costume. No, it was not former Congressman David Wu! I had no idea that there are even honey badger costumes to be had. The rest of the crowd was the usual "Portland hipster" crowd. I had no idea what Randall looked like. When he came to the podium, he wore sunglasses, the only lecturer / author I've seen to do so. To me, this told me that Randall is a character and the sunglasses (inside a building) is his way of maintaining his real identity (keeping it from the public). He gave a Powerpoint presentation, featuring photos of animals that are in his book (not just the honey badger). He was hilarious in his presentation, as well. Every few screen images were a photo he claimed to be "embarrassed" by (part of his schtick, I think). These included a group of shirtless firemen, Erik Estrada, an old looking librarian-type lady, a chef with a large hat, and the final photo in his presentation was of a shirtless President Obama running in the ocean surf on his Hawaiian vacation (that the whole world has seen).

For the Q & A section of the lecture, Randall did something that no other lecturer had done in all the ones I've attended for the past 5 years. He said that he would answer any questions we might have, but the condition was that he would ask the person a question of his own. I thought that was an awesome idea.

What I learned in this segment is that he loves animals and nature, though he's afraid of it and hates the brutality of animals eating other animals. His father was a film photographer for Mutual of Omaha, so he had been narrating these video shots for his family and friends amusement since childhood. Which means he's probably in my age group. Mutual of Omaha wildlife series is something I remember watching when I was really young. Most of the crowd at the lecture seem like they never heard of that show before.

Randall did get a little political, saying that he doesn't think the animals will be safe after November. He recommended forming a honey badger party to run in the general election. However, the way he describes the honey badger, I think there already is a candidate who resembles this fearless creature. That honey badger is Newt Gingrich. He just doesn't give a shit.

The guy in the honey badger costume asked Randall a question, which I don't remember what it was, but Randall's question to him was "Why do you run backwards? I can never figure that out." One question he asked the person who asked him questions was: "What celebrity would you want to be stuck in an elevator with?" The guy responded with, "Not Kim Kardashian!" which drew a lot of laughs. Its weird that this woman's name comes up a lot. I have no idea who she is or why she's famous. I know her name but I don't know what she looks like. If I had been asked that question, I would've said "Natalie Portman", though my real answer would have been Audrey Tautou. But if I was aiming for funny, I would've said, "Sarah Palin."

He said that his motive for doing the book and a few phone apps, and supposedly even a limited edition stuffed talking honey badger toy, was so he can devote as much money to saving the animals. No one asked if he was a vegetarian, which would've been my question, if I dared to ask. All in all, it was an entertaining evening. He is definitely witty in person and talks as he does in the video, although there were times when he spoke with sincere seriousness, which leads me to believe that this "Randall" narrator is an act and not how he really is to family and friends. He did say that he was a theater major. So, I guess this was his creation. It is cool that he found fame through YouTube. If I'm not mistaken, he had only uploaded his video narration of the honey badger a year ago and it now has more than 35 million views. He has other videos, but I don't find them nearly as funny as the one that started them all.

I managed to find a photo of him in a Google search. He looks like he's trying to be a 70s porn star with the hairstyle and the mutton chops and 'stache. Notice the sunglasses. He really doesn't want anyone to see his unobstructed face. Its a way of maintaining his privacy, I suppose. It'll be interesting to see if he will be able to stretch out his Andy Warhol-mandated 15 minutes of fame. For every Randall, though, I'm sure there are thousands who are posting things on YouTube in the hopes that their time in the public spotlight will come soon.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Defeating the Troll

The past couple of weeks, there was a war of words on a Facebook page for members of the Community of Christ. A disgruntled "Restorationist" woman reemerged on the site after a two month absence and immediately got to work stirring the pot with accusations against anyone who dared to disagree with her views. In one thread, a young lady posted some of her conservative views regarding abortion, homosexuality, and religion. The more liberal members of the board engaged in a discussion with this young lady. There was no name calling or personal attacks. But our troll, Cyndi, kept posting comments that people were "attacking" this young lady and she even warned the lady to be prepared for personal attacks. Attacks that never came.

The dialogue went on like that, back and forth, for many rounds. It was interesting to read and while I did not agree with the young lady's views, I did understand why she believed what she believed. Our troll took it upon herself to get offended on the young lady's behalf. As I've said in a previous post from this month, Cyndi has a persecution complex and perhaps even paranoia. She sees any disagreement with her opinions as a personal attack on her. She claims victimhood all the time. She's always a victim of everyone, who are just mean towards her. She also likes to claim innocence. In addition to all that, she actually does attack people and has claimed that a few of us "hate God" or are "angry with God" and are either "deceived by Satan" or "in cahoots with Satan." She has made these claims not only on the Community of Christ discussion board, but also a Restorationist site, which I am not a member of.

This past weekend, I was so fed up with her that I decided to copy her words from the Restorationist site and pasted them on the Community of Christ page. Not just hers, but a few people who made disparaging remarks about individuals on the discussion board. I was one of four people she and others have targeted for abuse. In fact, she seems to view me as one of the "ring leaders" on the church board. Ha! I laugh at her presumption. Me, a leader?

I was a little leary about posting their words on the discussion page (or "wall" in Facebook parlance), because some might say that it wasn't "Christian." But I used a favourite Sinead O'Connor song ("Emperor's New Clothes") as my guide. Particularly the line: "Through their own words, they will be exposed." And it didn't take long for me to see that my decision worked. The moderator of the Restorationist board posted later that she would crack down on any negative comments about people on the church board. She wrote that some of their words were being re-posted on the church site "as an example about how mean and nasty we are." So, she laid down the law. I was thrilled. My plan worked. Hypocrites do not like being exposed. They think they can type out words on the Internet and not be faced with them? I'm all for ownership of words.

Cyndi's battles didn't end there, though. In another discussion, he hated that her brother was more well received than she has been, because he's an atheist and she's not. It apparently bothered her so much that she did something that I consider to be the dirtiest, most disgusting thing someone can do to another person (friend or family member). In order to discredit her brother in an intense discussion thread, she revealed dirty family secrets from their past. I was so appalled by what she wrote that I responded with a scathing rebuke, calling her despicable. Of course, I got criticized by her defenders. They called me "judgmental" and did the usual quotes ("Judge not, lest ye be judged") that conservatives like to cite, even though Cyndi has done a lot of judging in the two weeks she's been on there. But, the dirty, low road trashing of her brother on a public discussion board pretty much killed her credibility. In fact, one lady who once defended her against some of my comments about her, turned against her and sided with me. Cyndi made a lot of enemies.

She enlisted her 19 year old son to defend her on the board, and he started going after me. She said of him, "he has more wisdom and maturity than all the rest of you combined!" Yeah, whatever. I seriously doubt that. She also claimed that he was more moral than anyone else on the site, so I suggested: join a fraternity or the military and we'll see how long you maintain your morals without mommy around. That didn't go over well with either of them.

All through these various debates, the more reasonable members of the board kept saying, "Don't feed the trolls!" I understand that view. Its based on the idea that Cyndi was seeking attention by getting people into debates with her. However, I disagreed. I believe in engagement. I actually enjoyed calling her out on her bullshit. I can play hardball. I was willing to push back as far as I could go. She was playing with fire with me. She had no clue who she was dealing with (I'm the guy people underestimate and for those who thought they could pick a fight with me, they ended up losing because I'm not someone to mess with. I don't just fight back. I make it a point that the person who picks a fight with me will end up regretting it). Of course, some people who don't have the stomach for conflict commented about how its all around nasty and how bad that looks for the page. Some even posted that they were leaving the site because of the nastiness.

I'm not sure what happened, but Cyndi and her son were deleted from the membership of that board. Someone told me that they had sent threatening emails to a couple people (I did not get such an email). It should have been obvious to anyone who the problem folks were. One Restorationist did post a critique of me for not acting very Christ-like. He complimented me on my intelligence but said that my posts, even if right, only alienated people. I didn't find that to be the case, though. A few people sent me private emails complimenting me for being so bold to speak out against Cyndi and her son. I realize that some people don't want to come out looking like the bad guy by telling Cyndi what she's doing. I don't mind looking like the asshole, because I don't care if people like me or not. I know that the people who like me, like me for my honesty and passion and sense of fairness / justice. People who don't like me tend to be ideologues.

One day after being evicted from the site, a new person by the name of "Reu Smith" joined and started posting. It didn't take long for people to figure out that Reu was Cyndi. The ruse was lame. Reu claimed to be a Baptist in Tennessee who recently discovered the Book of Mormon and was interested in the church, so she came on to the page when a co-worker told her that "you can find everything on Facebook!" Her profile revealed no friends and only minimal information. What made me suspicious, though, was that Reu had posted comments stating that she was shocked by the nastiness of people towards Cyndi and her son, who did not provoke such a response. A few people told her to keep reading the posts. She also attacked Cyndi's brother for being an atheist and wondered why an atheist would be on a church site.

I read enough of Reu Smith's posts to decide posting: "Clark Kent is Superman!" I even found it amusing that the Restorationist site had recently posted that several people were plotting to infiltrate their page to cause trouble. No one did such a thing, but a member of their page did that on ours. When I got more provocative and called Reu out on her lies and deception, even mentioning how hilarious I found that the other site did not even have a clue that Reu was Cyndi, that's when things really came to a head. Reu was evicted from the church site and a day later, was deleted from the Restorationist site after someone questioned her identity (thanks to my posts).

This was not the outcome that Cyndi probably foresaw for herself when she started stirring the pot a few weeks ago with accusations against others. She might have gotten her kicks to cause trouble, or else she grossly underestimated how she would be received. The end result of her games is that she was evicted from the church site, she lost her brother (who not only de-friended her, but blocked her), and on the Restorationist site, the moderator is deadly serious about deleting not just negative comments, but also any member who violated her stricter rules. Cyndi loved trashing church members on that site, but now she'll have to be civil or else get kicked off that site. I can't imagine that she'll "behave for long." She has serious psychological problems.

By Sunday, all was peaceful back on the church board. Amazing how things turned out. As I told a few people, I'm not one who can just "ignore the troll." Their nastiness doesn't bother me the way it does other people. I realize that a lot of people have different sensibilities and don't want the negative comments in their view. For me, I've been able to spar with different people over all kinds of ideas. I like the battles and the fireworks. I know how to win the battle against bullies of all kinds. In my experience, bullies pick on weaker people because they believe they can get away with it. And they count on the fact that most people will just stand by in silence, watching it happen. Bullies don't respect weakness. Thus, the advice of "don't feed the trolls" does not really put an end to their abuse. It only encourages them to get more outrageous until we respond.

I prefer engagement. I love putting a mirror to their face and showing them some of their own treatment of others. Whatever it takes to force an awareness. In my experience, only standing up to bullies works. Not just standing up to them, but also telling them what you really think of them is a powerful rebuke to a bully. So, if you don't have the stomach for confrontation, give me a call. I will stand up to bullies and tell them exactly what I think of them. As Tom Petty sang in one of his best songs: "I won't back down." I'm tenacious that way. I do not like bullies and I do not like that most people seem to think that the best way of dealing with them is to ignore them. They don't understand the psychology of the bully. Bullies respect strength and hate weakness. If you stand up to a bully, they probably won't admit it to anyone, but they respect anyone who dares to stand up to them without flinching.

As for Cyndi, I don't hate her or anything. I feel sorry that she has to stir the pot in order to feel important. She really should consider getting professional help. I admit that a part of me is amused that she went through the trouble to create a fake Facebook account just to get back into our board to continue her lies and deception. She just doesn't know how to quit. With her banned from the church board, the rest of us can post in peace, without fear of being accused of attacking someone. We can actually have meaningful discussions with one another. Its a shame that Cyndi will never know what its like to have a meaningful disagreement. She is a woman in complete subversion to her ego. That is a tragedy.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Irony of Newt Versus Mitt

Republican primary voters in South Carolina have upturned the punditry by giving the amoral adulterer and sanctimonious hypocrite a primary win over the monogamous Mormon. As political analysts have said over and over, for the past 30 years, the winner of the Republican primary in South Carolina has gone on to get the Republican nomination. I have a feeling that it won't happen this time, though. Newt has more baggage than a luggage carousel at a busy airport terminal. But a win is a win and what this tells us is that South Carolina evangelicals do not like the Mormon church. This is obviously religious bigotry at its worst (when evangelical Christians would rather vote for a lying, hypocritical, adulterer who joined the Catholic Church when he married a third time than a monogamous family man who shares their same conservative values).

I actually laughed at the results of this primary because it is proof that karma is a real principle. One of the aspects of karma that I read about is that you eventually become the thing that you hate. In the case of the Republican Party, they made "family values" a campaign issue in 1992 when Governor Bill Clinton became the nominee, because he had a infidelity problems. It was such a shallow premise, though, because President G.H.W. Bush never spoke about "family values" prior to 1992. He didn't want to talk about the economy because the country was in a recession at the time, but they thought character was a winning issue. Clinton did have character, though. When the going got tough and the slings and arrows started aiming his way, he never quit and he never backed down. He was tenacious and though adultery was a problem, Clinton also never made himself out to be "holier-than-thou" or the bastion of morality. He simply focused on the issues that mattered ("It's the economy, stupid!"). Republicans continued the "family values" issue in 1994 mid-terms, 1996, 1998 mid-terms, and the 2000 elections.

How did the karma boomerang come back to the Republicans? Well, Newt Gingrich is that immoral candidate with no family values that "values voters" claimed not to want in a president. But in 2012, these voters will have to choose between a man who makes Clinton look like a Boy Scout and a flip-flopping, wealthy elite politician from Massachusetts whom no one seems to like. Doesn't that sound familiar? In 2004, the Republicans painted John Kerry as a "flip flopper". He was also wealthy / elite, and Republicans even made snarky comments in 2004 that he "looks French." Romney actually served a Mormon mission in France (when guys his age were fighting in Vietnam, a war that he supported but couldn't bother to participate in). It is amazing that in 2012, twenty years after the rise of Bill Clinton, the Republican Party is going to throw out family values and consistency as virtues to promote. In 2012, Gingrich is the Republican version of Clinton and Romney is their version of Kerry. Karma is a bitch.

Of course I laughed at the South Carolina primary results. The Democrats have become the Republicans and the Republicans have become the Democrats. For my entire life, the Republican Party claimed to be the party of foreign policy. They are the ones that will keep the country safe. You can bank on it. Since 1992, they claimed to be the party of "family values." Now, we have a president with incredible family values and a successful foreign policy we haven't seen since George Herbert Walker Bush was president. And Obama has a Nobel Peace Prize to boot, which no sitting U.S. president has won since Theodore Roosevelt over a century ago.

So Republicans, I hope you love your choices. Remember: stop hating because you will become what you hate. Now you have to choose between the Newt and the Mitt. Maybe in 2016, you won't be so ideologically rigid and actually choose a moderate (hint, hint: Scott Brown!). But, you have to get through 2012 first.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Psychological Intrigue

Earlier today, I finally made it to see A Dangerous Method, about Carl Jung and the patient he treats through an innovative new process known as "the talking cure", that was created by famous psychiatrist Sigmund Freud. As a huge fan of biopics and with a growing interest in psychology, this film was absolutely must-see for me. The reviews I had read played up the "love triangle" aspect, but after the film concluded, I can gladly say that it was not. Though I learned a lot more about Carl Jung than I currently know about him, I did not realize that he was unfaithful to his wife (or had an "open marriage").

The film opens with Sabina Spielrein (played by Keira Knightley) screaming in a carriage as she is taken to the institute where Carl Jung (played by Michael Fassbender) works to be put under his care. She's deeply troubled and when he suggests that she start talking while he sits behind her to listen, she can barely get words out (I actually hated these scenes because the way Knightley speaks--with the bottom part of her mouth extended out like a fish--is not particularly enjoyable to watch. She's a beautiful lady, but her facial expression are truly ugly to watch). She's traumatized by events in her past and acts with wild abandon (including swimming around a muddy pond in her white dress).

Early on, Jung remarks to his wife about the amazing timing between two events and then says, "I don't believe in coincidence." Jung, of course, is known for coining the expression "synchronicity" (as well as "archetypes" and the personality traits of introversion and extroversion). He decides to pay a visit to Sigmund Freud's place in Vienna. Viggo Mortensen plays Freud. He does such a great job, that I really did forget that it was Viggo as he disappeared into the role. Freud is a supporting character in this film, but in every scene, there's a cigar in his mouth (Freud is known for saying: "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar"). Their first meeting sparks a conversation that lasts 13 hours. Its like a meeting of two souls who finally got to meet on the earthly plane and played catch-up without realizing that time flew by during their conversation.

Their friendship begins and they write letters to one another, and meet occasionally. Freud sees Jung as his protege and the one who will carry on his work in making psychoanalysis / psychiatry a respected science. In one of the most electrifying scenes I've ever seen, Freud and Jung argue about their different approaches to the field. Freud wants to follow strict protocol in order to be considered legitimate among the academic elite of that era. Jung is interested in metaphysical aspects and wants the freedom to explore subjects that Jung believes will bring ill repute to their profession. When a loud crack is heard, Freud is dismissive of it while Jung claims that it coincided with a feeling he had in his gut and he swore it would happen again.

Freud sends a former protege to be under Jung's care, but this turns out to be disastrous. Jung ends up disagreeing with the troubled psychologist, who has a tendency to sleep with his patients, which Jung finds unprofessional. Yet, that patient's advice ends up influencing Jung to have a physical relationship with his former patient Spielrein. When word gets around that Jung has a mistress, even Freud was able to hear those rumours and asks his protege about it. Jung denies the rumours and tells Spielrein that they can't carry on any more. Of course, she can't handle the rejection so she demands that Jung ask his mentor to take her on as a patient. Freud refuses to intervene in a personality clash until Jung is forced to admit his deception regarding his relationship. It was difficult to see that Freud was the more professional one, while the psychiatrist I prefer comes off as reckless.

Jung and Freud travel to America together, but all we get to see is the ship (and the Statue of Liberty). During the voyage, the two men talk about dreams, though Jung is stunned that Freud won't reveal his dreams for Jung to analyze. The two men eventually have a break and their friendship (mentorship / protege relationship) ends after a decade. I was stunned that it lasted only a decade, for I thought it was a lifetime. I knew about the differences that caused the break, though. I agree with Jung's analysis. In the film, Jung complains that Freud is too obsessed with the idea that all problems can be boiled down to sex. He doesn't believe anything is as simple as that.

This movie is a fascinating look at the friendship between two famous men in the early part of last century. Michael Fassbender is phenomenal in his role as Carl Jung. I'd give him the Best Actor Oscar for his performance. I also had no idea that Jung was such a snazzy dresser. His suits looked sharp (I want to dress like him!). Viggo Mortensen also did a great job as Freud. Any scene with the two of them were just electric. I loved hearing them talk back and forth about various ideas in the realm of psychology. This film made me think that maybe I picked the wrong major in college. But, I actually only became interested in psychology AFTER my college experience.

In period films, its always interesting to me that the women always seem to have elaborate and memorable hats. Perhaps the costume designers think that this is "Oscar bait." I certainly hope that the Oscars will give this movie major nominations (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay), but I'm not sure if it made any critics' best of 2011 lists. It was shut out of the Golden Globes, which is considered the bellwether for Oscar. Regardless of what the Academy decides, this is a great film worth seeing, just to get an idea of what a friendship and conversations were like between two famous men of the early 20th Century. In one telling scene, Freud advises Spielrein not to fall in love with Jung, because they are both Jews and Jung is an Aryan. Freud seemed to have a keen understanding of where anti-semitism was heading in that century. But he had no idea that more people would be influenced by Jung's ideas than his. I don't think that's a coincidence.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Foreboding Sense of Doom

On Friday evening, I went to Powell's City of Books again to attend my FOURTH lecture / booksigning of the year. I know, I know...excessive, right? Well, Powell's City of Books usually schedules one event per night every month, so there's a huge potential that they will get an author of interest to me. This time, it was Thomas Frank, who I saw at Powell's the last time he was here, promoting his last book, The Wrecking Crew. I first heard about him when his book, What's the Matter With Kansas?, was released several years ago. It was his attempt to answer the question that has baffled liberal political thinkers for the past couple of decades: why do Americans vote against their own economic self-interest? Its a phenomenon unique to America. People voting in favour of what the wealthy class want because of the belief that one day, they will be rich too (through the miracle of a winning lottery ticket) and they'll want to benefit from the low taxes on the rich. Now, Frank is back with Pity The Billionaire, which could be considered a sequel of sorts to that previous book.

But first, I wanted to point out that the universe is definitely playing with me. When I went to the Amy Chua booksigning, I was on the Portland Streetcar when a cute Bohemian Bicyclist lady got on board. I liked her look and style and hoped that our paths would cross again. I wanted to talk with her then, but the Streetcar was too crowded and I don't like private conversations in small, public spaces. So, I simply made a request to the universe that our paths would cross again soon. Having lived in Portland for five years now, I know that request is not too difficult to accomplish. Well, after work today, I disembarked the bus at the 82nd Street MAX station. On the platform guessed it! The Bohemian Bicyclist lady!! Wow. I was stunned. Ten days later, the universe honoured my request. But the platform was crowded, so I didn't say anything. When the MAX arrived, I boarded it and saw her making her way into the train. The door started closing, so I held out my hand to prevent the doors from crushing the rear wheel of her bicycle tire.

She struggled to hang the bicycle vertically on the hook, so I volunteered to help her. In my mind, I kept thinking how brilliant it was for the universe to set things up so that I could play "the hero" for this lady who captivated my interest. She said that she wasn't strong enough to lift the bicycle up to the hook and thanked me for doing that for her. I heard a faint trace of an accent. I told her that she was brave to ride her bicycle in such rainy weather. When she said something and I was about to ask where she was from, she walked to the far side of the MAX train to look at the route map.

When she returned, she sat in a seat . The distance was too far to engage in a conversation. I felt a lost opportunity. Then she started talking with some guy in a wheelchair who sat in the space next to her. I'm not sure if this means anything, but I was a little miffed that she had walked off when I said to her, "I like your accent. Where--" She probably did not hear me, but it felt kind of rude. I saved her bicycle tire from being crushed by the MAX door (twice!) and I help hang her bicycle on the hook, and I can't even manage to engage her in a longer conversation? I know two people who met their spouses on MAX and I want a story like that! So, universe, I'm asking you. Please have our paths cross again and let her remember me. I would like a longer conversation. She's adorable. Lean, short, a uniquely Bohemian manner of dress, short dark hair (like a flapper), and an accent (I kept thinking in my mind that she's Portuguese or something, but I have no real idea). She is what I'm looking for in a Lady Love. So, universe...please make it happen!

Now, about that lecture. As is usually the case, anytime there is a political lecture, the space fills up quickly to standing room only after all the seats are taken. I wish our church could inspire this many people in attendance! Thomas Frank spoke about the latest agenda of the Republican Party and their billionaire backers. He said what I believe from all the stuff I've read. The goal of the Republican Party is the complete destruction of the New Deal. They want to turn back the clock to the Herbert Hoover era. You can see it in each Republican president. They manage to undo some things (financial regulations, union busting, budget cuts, etc.), and each president pushes a little bit further towards the right. In Bush's second term, he had wanted to privatize social security but was not able to do so, probably because he squandered his "capital" on the Iraq war and then after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, his presidency was effectively over. His popularity never reached the 50% mark again. When the economy crashed in 2008, people were relieved that social security was still safe and not moved into privatized accounts, otherwise there would've been a lot of hurting seniors. But, Americans also have a short term memory, as witnessed in 2010 when voters returned to power a mere two years after a stunning defeat the political party that had brought so much ruin to our country.

Why are Americans so much like Charlie Brown and the Republican Party is Lucy holding the football? The Republicans have proved time and again that they cannot be trusted with power. They are grossly incompetent when it comes to government (not that they are all that great at business. Look at Enron for a case example). As Frank said, the current crop of Republican candidates for president is amazing in terms of ideology. Our country will not survive another Republican presidency because they intend to privatize social security and medicare (remember Congressman Paul Ryan's voucher plan?).

Frank had things to say about Democrats, as well. He explained how Washington works because that is where he lives and he talks with major Democratic Party personalities all the time. His frustration is that Democrats never argue in favour of government, but they need to because the other party is trash talking government, which means the message that voters pick up is that government is bad. People did not think so in the FDR through LBJ years. It was the Vietnam War and Watergate that broke Americans trust in government. We've been cynical ever since. But maybe not cynical enough. Seriously...why would anyone vote for a person who says that they hate government? Would a corporation hire a person who said that they hate business? It doesn't make sense. Government is only as good as the people who serve in it, and obviously Republicans love government if they are willing to spend millions of dollars for an office that pays between $100,000 and $400,000 a year.

According to Frank, the Democrats base things on the "experts." When they debate, when they make a case for an idea, they always quote "the experts." Who are "the experts"? Frank said that Washington, D.C. has the largest concentration of people with PhDs. With all the colleges, think tanks, military bases, media stations, and government agencies, there are plenty of experts to choose from. But this creates a bubble in which "thinking outside of the box" does not exist. As we've seen with the way the Iraq War was sold, "the experts" were wrong. They all supported the war and the execution of it. Experts being wrong is like a meteorologist on the local news. You don't have to worry about losing your job for being wrong most of the time.

Frank said that the reason why Democrats refer to the experts' opinions and are all about "consensus building" and bipartisanship is because they don't want to be frozen out of the lucrative employment opportunities after they retire or lose an election. Frank said something completely stunning. He said that a Democrat will maintain the experts' opinion or strategy, even if it means losing an election because they are seen as out of touch. They won't fight for the common person and vote on what's best for the country as a whole. They want the exclusive and high paying jobs, too. While the corporate monies that are buying members of Congress wholesale prefer Republicans in office, they know that they have Democrats where they want them. Frank even said that the Republicans who aren't off the deep end (the non-ideological ones who actually value logical thinking and facts) admit that Obama is essentially an effective Republican president.

Another thing Frank mentioned is that one of the things Republicans like to say is that "real conservativism hasn't been tried." He said that the only reason why Bush is ignored in the GOP is because he was unpopular. Had he left office popular, they would be touting his presidency the way they still do with Reagan. Well, at least we can give them some points for honesty. Its refreshing that they aren't trying to spin history regarding Bush, but I imagine at some point in the future, the propaganda machine will kick up to rehabilitate Bush as a successful presidency. They are counting on the American habit of forgetting the past.

During the Q & A session, someone in the front row asked Frank this question: "Why did no Democrat primary challenge Obama?" Frank said that he did not know the answer to that question and asked the audience if anyone knew. No one offered an explanation. I was stunned. Really?!? No one knows why Obama did not get a primary challenge? If my voice could carry in a large room, I would've answered the question, but I kept quiet. I'm amazed that no one knows why Obama did not get a primary challenge. It is so obvious! Really.

Here's why Obama did not get a primary challenger. No Democrat wants to be the one that made our first African American president a one term president. During the Clinton years, I learned one of Clinton's worries was that a Democrat would challenge him in the primary. This is considered a curse. If a president is challenged for his party's nomination, then his presidency is doomed, even if the challenger doesn't win a single primary. Pat Buchanan challenged Bush in 1992. Ted Kennedy challenged Carter in 1980. Ronald Reagan challenged Ford in 1976. Eugene McCarthy challenged LBJ in 1968. Its a curse. Any Democrat who did that to President Obama would face the wrath of African Americans all over the country, 90% of whom voted for Obama in 2008. This is the most loyal and one of the largest voting blocks within the Democratic Party. Why do that to our historical president? Despite disappointment about the centrist nature of his presidency (and capitulation to Republican demands), his victory in 2008 is still worth remembering. There was so much happiness and hope, and we were a witness to history. Obama has been far better than Bush, and if someone like Bush could win a second term, then of course Obama deserves a second term. If Obama was a white man, he likely would have faced a Democratic challenger. If Hillary was president, she would not have faced a primary challenger, because her presidency would've been seen as historical as well, and no Democrat would want to raise the ire of female voters. It would be the kiss of death for their political career.

Frank's lecture was interesting, but far from optimistic. It appears that he believes America is heading in an unstoppable direction. We only have one way to go: down. The viciousness of the current crop of Republicans for president, the amnesia-quality of American voters, and historical trends all seem to be pointing in the same direction. America is on the path of self-destruction. I left the lecture feeling icky. It makes me want to meet a foreign woman so I can marry her and move to her country. I wish I could be optimistic about our future, but when Americans keep thinking that Republicans can be trusted, like Lucy with the football, then I don't have any hope for our country. After what the Republicans did in the Bush years, this political party should be completely shut out of government for the next generation. They are and deserve to be the permanent minority party. I swear, if America returns Republicans to the White House this fall, I'm done with this country. I just don't have a heart big or strong enough to watch as my fellow citizens, in a masochistic display of ignorance, vote for a party that keeps wrecking our economy and laughing all the way to the bank. You won't find me pitying any billionaire. They can all go straight to hell for what they are doing to our country.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Spiritual Response to the Tiger Mother

Last night, I finished reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which I started reading on Sunday. It was a quick read and interesting. Definitely "book club worthy" for those who are in book clubs looking for the next book to read (I'm sure the discussions about it will be interesting). I don't belong to a book club mostly because I don't trust other people's choices for books and I like reading what I like reading. When I decide on which books to read at any given time, I usually go by intuitive guidance. I have a huge backlog on the books I want to read (some have been sitting on my bookcases for YEARS).

Last week, I had attended Amy Chua's lecture and booksigning at Powell's City of Books in Portland. She made her case about why she's not as bad as the media made her out to be. After the lecture, I read my blog post about her last year when she was in the eye of the storm. Interesting, I thought, especially once I've read her book. My initial impression has been confirmed. Basically, the biggest problem with Amy Chua is that she exhibits all of the stereotypes of "Ivy League Elitist." In fact, in her book, she mentioned something that I had never heard before but it kind of makes sense. She said that she is a Chinese American who is married to a white Jewish man, which she claimed sounds "exotic" but was actually the majority in certain circles. Well, gee, what circle could that be? Maury Povich is married to Connie Chung. Les Moonves is married to Julie Chen (host of CBS' Big Brother reality show). Former Senator Phil Gramm is married to a lady of Asian heritage (Wendy Lee Gramm). Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is married (!) to the Secretary of Labor in the Baby Bush Administration (Elaine Chao). Though Gramm and McConnell aren't Jewish, they did marry Asian.

Another thing that irked me about Amy Chua's parenting style is that she wanted her daughters to play either the piano or the violin. Not the drums, because it supposedly leads to drugs and sex. But let's get real. The piano and violin are considered the instruments of the upper class. How many concertos, cantatas, recitals, and such are written for the piano and violin? In some telling episodes from the book, Amy made her daughters practice their chosen instruments for four to six hours each day. Even when the family went on European vacations, she would find music stores or hotel bars that allowed her to rent for a few hours so her daughters could practice every single day, sometimes early in the morning before they went out sightseeing AND upon returning to the hotel for the evening. When her eldest daughter won an opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall, she invited everyone she knew to attend, and then felt disappointed that her daughter had to perform in a lesser hall and not the main one. She pushed her second daughter into applying for the Juilliard and bragged about it to others. When her daughter did not get accepted, she felt humiliated, while her daughter had to face questions of people if she ever heard back from the famous music / performing arts school.

If this was not crazy behaviour enough, how about this episode from her book? She had secured a meeting with a well known violin instructor, who lived on the other side of New York from them (they lived in Connecticut). She had borrowed five violins from a store to see which one to buy for her daughter, and took all five violins with them to meet with the instructor. Not only that, she also told her daughter's violin tutor to come along, offering to pay by the hour as well as the gasoline for the tutor (who had to drive her own car) for the three days. Her husband balked at such an expense, saying that it would mean cancelling their summer vacation.

Not only was the obsession over playing instruments, but also grades. When her daughter did not do well in math, she would drill her daughter in timed tests for hours on end until her daughter would be fast enough to be #1 in class. She expected her daughters to be ranked #1 in all subjects (except gym and drama). Only straight A's were acceptable. An A- doesn't count. She ended the idea of sleepovers when her older daughter came home from one unhappy because of the way the other girls acted (talking bad about a girl when she wasn't in the room, discussions about sex, gossiping about people, etc.).

Amy has her reasons to be strict on her daughters. In her belief system, she wants to drill discipline into her daughters so that they will be well-functioning adults. She writes much about Chinese parenting versus Western parenting, even though she had written a disclaimer in the beginning about stereotypes, acknowledging that there are many different parenting styles among "Western parents." Ultimately, though, her younger daughter Lulu rebels and the fights culminate in a public showdown at a restaurant in Moscow's Red Square when Lulu screams at her mother that she hates her, hates the violin, and hates that she was born into that family. The other diners were uncomfortable witnesses to the public breakdown of an American family. Amy wrote that she bolted out of the restaurant in tears, only to return later, having calmed down and willing to let her daughter give up the violin.

Amy admitted in her book that her husband and even her Chinese immigrant parents (who were just as strict on her as she was on her daughters) told her that she was being too restrictive on her daughters. Her mother told her that there was something wrong with Lulu's eyes. Its amazing that you can see in another person's eyes when they are not fully present. A change in demeanor. Lulu decided to play tennis and wanted her mother to stay out of it after catching her mother trying to find the right coaches for her.

As I read the book, one thing was clear throughout. Though Amy did not admit it within her pages, its quite obvious to any reader. Amy is a status seeker. She's the epitome of an "elitist." Though that word gets tossed around a bit, what it signifies is that special privileged class of people who go to the Ivy League schools and get the choice first jobs with big salaries, which allows them to afford homes in pricey Connecticut or apartments in Manhattan, to pay for tutors and private schools, to have enough free time to drive her daughters to recitals and rehearsals and tutors, and to travel the capital cities of Europe for vacations. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with this, but her story reads like a cliche about fitting in with high society through doing all the things that impresses the right people. In the end, what did it accomplish but make her daughter resentful?

She did not mention anything about her spiritual beliefs. Yes, she did mention joining her husband's Jewish faith and having a bat mitzvah for each daughter, but I got the sense that they are more secular Jews than anything else. The true religion was status. It was important for Amy to fit in among the elite. This soulless pursuit obviously led to a breakdown in Russia, when she realized she was in danger of losing her daughter for good. I've read that the suicide rate among teens in Japan and Korea are pretty high. The emphasis on grades and being #1 are creating monsters. Only one person can be #1, so the highly competitive view of life is just ridiculous. Not everything in life is meant to be a competition. What's more important is being authentic and doing things because you feel a passion for it. The worst thing is to pursue things that will increase your stature in the eyes of the elite you're trying to impress. You might fit in for awhile, but those people are not really your friends. Will they be there when you are struggling or facing some adversity?

Amy Chua seems to believe that through her sheer willpower, she can force her children into certain identities. She does not seem to believe that her daughters have souls of their own, with interests that they brought with them from the spiritual realm that might have nothing to do with her at all. For example, Lulu is passionate about tennis. At first, Amy did not want her daughters to pursue sports, but it wasn't surprising that she allowed Lulu to trade in a violin for a tennis racket. Tennis is the sport of the elite class. The wealthy academia literati that Amy is hoping to impress will be more interested in her tennis-playing daughter than they would be if she took up basketball. In her book, Amy did mention that she was glad that her daughter chose tennis instead of bowling. In her mind, bowling would be undignified. Its the "sport" of middle America: those people with overhanging stomachs and ugly clothing probably bought at K-Mart.

What would be my advice for the Tiger Mother? Get some spiritual depth! Get to know who your daughters are at their soul level of being. What did their souls come to earth for? What do they hope to accomplish? Stop perpetuating the stereotype of Asians being classical music and math / science nerds who get straight A's all the time and fight for first place in the class rankings. There is more to life than that. Yes, its important to have discipline and structure and goals in life. But sometimes, you can go a little too far for that and your soul ends up suffering.