Wednesday, February 29, 2012

De Klerk Visits Portland

Today on the extra day we get once every four years was made memorable by the visit of F. W. de Klerk to Portland, Oregon. This is a big visit by an international public figure / statesman. In fact, Mayor Sam Adams of Portland signed a proclamation making today "F W de Klerk Day" in Portland. De Klerk was the last white president of South Africa. He was the National Party leader who released Nelson Mandela from prison in February 1990 and oversaw the handing over of power to the African National Congress in the historic 1994 elections that made Nelson Mandela the most famous "prisoner-to-president" in history.

In the 1990s, I often thought of de Klerk as the political brother of Mikhail Gorbachev. Not only do they look similar, as though they really could be brothers from the same mother, but also, both men saw the transformation of their countries based upon reform measures they introduced, which swept both men out of power. Interesting enough, the collapse of communism as a viable political and economic system made it much easier for the apartheid government of South Africa to dismantle their system of racial discrimination and allow Africans to have a say in the politics of their nation. Previous presidents in South Africa (notably P W Botha) have used the spectre of communism to maintain the National Party's dominance of politics during the apartheid era.

De Klerk's visit to Portland is a rare treat and he had a full day scheduled, from speaking at a school, to facing a panel for a discussion at a college, to a lecture at a Congregational Church downtown, to an expensive fundraising dinner at a hotel. When someone of this stature comes to Portland, I have to go...even if it costs me $20 for the privilege. So, to the Congregational Church I went. There were security around, including a Portland Police presence, as well as de Klerk's own security team. I had no idea that he needed protection. Most Americans probably have no idea who he is and those who do are interested in politics.

What I noticed during his speech is that his speaking style isn't charismatic. He's kind of dry. Mandela has the same problem. De Klerk spoke about the decision to work with Mandela and the ANC at the tail end of the 1980s and early 1990s because the Afrikaners realized that the country was sitting on a huge timebomb. The biggest fear was an armed revolution and by meeting with Mandela for talks, the National Party realized that they would never have a better deal if they waited any longer. Though de Klerk did not speak about Mandela much (there is no love between the two men, even though they were both awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994), it was interesting that he acknowledged the collapse of communism as a sign that it was time to negotiate the future of their country with the banned political party that was often accused of being communist-led.

De Klerk grabbed my attention when he spoke against "isms", which I've never heard any politician say. I was pleasantly surprised by that, because a character in my unpublished novel has a riff where he makes fun of "isms." I agree that any "ism" is a problem. As de Klerk mentioned, "ism" means that ideology becomes more important than people. Once you accept an ideology, it is hard to change. And de Klerk included capitalism in his condemnation of "isms." Good for him to speak so honestly! He is definitely among the statesmen of the world and like Gorbachev, a man beyond nationality.

After his lecture was a Q & A segment in which he answered some written questions by people in the audience. I did not submit a question because I couldn't think of any. In some of his answers, he showed himself to be a true politician: optimistic in the face of serious problems. For example, he denied that South Africa continues to be dangerous to the point where young white people are considering emigrating. He seems to believe that the country is getting safer for ex-patriot South Africans to return and for those growing up in the country to stay. He also, somewhat surprisingly, did not condemn Robert Mugabe, the dictator of Zimbabwe. He said that Mugabe still has some "good will" in the world because of his leadership in leading Zimbabwe out of its white minority government during the days when the country was known as Rhodesia. It sounds like the world is simply waiting for Mugabe to conveniently die so that Zimbabwe can return to the good graces of the international community.

The best question someone asked was about the accuracy of the film Invictus. De Klerk verified that the film was close to the truth and he used that question to offer a rare praise of Mandela for having the foresight to use the World Cup Rugby to unite the country in pride around the home team (black South Africans cheered against the Springboks during the apartheid era because Rugby was considered the sport of the Afrikaners while soccer / football was the sport of the Africans).

All in all, it was a good lecture and great to finally see an international statesman in person. So glad that he came to Portland for a visit. Interesting enough, I knew exactly what he was going to say at the beginning of his speech. I have no idea how I knew what he was going to say, but when he did, I got chills all over my body. He said: "Thank you for the warm reception on such a cold and rainy day."

On this extra day of the year, I hope you had a Happy F W de Klerk Day! May it be a day of forgiveness and building trust for the good of the future.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Anti-Government Ranter Finally Blocked Me

I learned today that the ranting, anti-government church member has blocked me on Facebook. I had considered blocking him for the past few weeks, but decided against it because I consider blocking to be the equivalent of "excommunication", which I'm vehemently against. I only blocked one person on Facebook and it was purely by accident. I had meant to keep the person on my Facebook friend's list but blocking access to reading my wall for a temporary period of time. I did not understand the terminology used and did not realize that blocking someone on Facebook was worse than de-friending someone. When you block someone, they don't exist. You don't see their posts and they don't see yours. If you search for them by name, nothing appears. And its virtually impossible to refriend someone that you've blocked. Facebook sucks that way. Because of that experience in accidentally blocking someone I did not want to delete from my friends list, I have been unwilling to use that feature on even those who deserve it. I did not block that spiteful woman who stirred up trouble on the church's Facebook page with her accusations and claims of victimhood when people disagreed with her ultra-conservative, teabagging, fundamentalist brand of Republican Christianity.

Mr. Anti-government Ranter, on the other hand, has been relentless in the past few weeks. He keeps up with his illogical views, claiming to be logical. For example, he recently said that: America is an anarchist country (he bases this claim on the fact that the majority of Americans don't vote); voting is a form of violence (because you are imposing your candidates on those who voted for another candidate or didn't vote at all); and the federal government is a religion. He loves to twist definitions of common words and concepts to fit his anti-government worldview. This has alarmed me in the past, particularly when the news reported on the shooter of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last year. The shooter was obsessed with language and redefining words to fit his worldview. To some, this tendency could be seen as a form of mental illness, or at least of someone who falls outside the norms of society. When I read some of the writings that were online of the shooter, I was shocked by how much they sounded like Mr. Anti-government's rants over the years. Since I know him personally, through various retreats sponsored by the church, he appears to be a non-violent guy. A nonconformist who lives according to his vision of life, no matter how extreme it might be. I don't actually believe that he would commit an act of violence, but his anti-government views are troubling.

Last year, when an FBI agent I know through a discussion group I participate in asked me to name the "sovereign citizen" that I had mentioned knowing, I refused because it seemed like an East German thing to do. I didn't believe that he would do anything harmful to others (to himself, yes). The FBI agent then wondered why I wasn't willing to give a name and tried to make me feel like an accomplice. He claims that all they'd do is monitor him, in case he does become radicalized. The FBI agent's job is to keep track of various anti-government, neo-Nazi, and white supremacist groups in the Pacific Northwest. This includes people who identify themselves as "sovereign citizens" (one thing they do is create their own identity cards to use in place of driver's licenses, passports, and other legal identifying documents) or "voluntaryist." He did call himself a "sovereign citizen" in the past (and created his own identity card to show police when they pull him over) and most recently referenced a Voluntaryist website in making his claim that America is an anarchist nation.

To me, knowing this anti-government ranter has been a fascinating case study in how mental illness possibly develops. There is no ability to reason with the person or come to some basic agreement on definitions. In his mind, he really believes that he is oppressed and that America is both an intrusive, overtaxed, large government oppressing the masses AND an "anarchist state"! Uh, no. If you want to experience true anarchy, there is one country on earth where that is currently possible: Somalia. It is a failed state with no functioning government and has been ruled by various warlords through guns, fear, and drugged-out child soldiers. If anarchy is so great, why aren't these spoiled middle-class white kids from American suburbia running off to live in the anarchist paradise of Mogadishu or Baidoa? And if you look at real factual data rather than invented propaganda crap from uneducated anti-government radicals, you'll see that the most affluent countries on earth have high taxes and big government (these include the Scandinavian countries, Netherlands, Germany, France, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand). The least affluent countries have little to no government and virtually no taxes. What does the data tell anyone with a rational reasoning ability?

Since this guy has blocked me on Facebook, all bets are off now. If the FBI agent presses me to name the "voluntaryist" / "sovereign citizen" that I know, I will no longer hold off. Not to be spiteful. Just that I have no idea if he might go further off the deep end. I have no idea what pushes someone over the edge from being an anti-government teabagger type towards being a full-on, "let's take matters into our own hands" kind of radical. I've thought for several years now that the guy was mentally ill, at least in the early stages. He told some people at a retreat a few years ago that he "self-medicates." He gets upset if you bring up marijuana usage on Facebook, as he'll deny using it, but in person, he'll share openly with people that he does. I guess he doesn't want a track record online attaching his name to substances, even though he's a passionate defender of it.

From all that I learned about him in the past five years, I think he will make an excellent character in a novel and I have no reservations about doing so. I know of no other person whose views are as radical as his are. My circle of friends tends to be moderate, well traveled, rational, and view the government as a necessity to keep the peace. As one who has experienced being bullied as a kid, I know full well that a complete collapse of our government would not lead to some enlightened self-governing anarchist utopia. Our country would collapse into violence and chaos, with criminal gangs and the mafia coming in to fill the void. At least our government follows the law and respects it (for the most part). Criminal gangs couldn't care less about legal procedures. The gun would be the law.

I'm not sure what caused him to block me on Facebook (he had defriended me sometime last year when I refused to answer his (mis)leading question: "Do you think the government has the right to put a gun to your head and make you pay taxes?" My response was: "I cannot answer your question because of the way you asked it"). I'm pretty sure that it was because he doesn't like his views challenged on Facebook, as he's pushing an agenda on people. He has been banned from so many webboards and has a reputation among various people as an intense extremist. There appears to be no moderation with him. He accuses me of making ad hominem attacks on him, but all I do is bring up the idea that whatever we are most passionate about likely stems from something much closer to us and our life experience. He won't listen, though, so he behaves more like Don Quixote chasing after Windmills. It is my strongest impression that his entire hatred of paying taxes is much more simpler than his view that the government has no right to take what he rightfully earns. His brother has a career as an IRS agent and they didn't get along very well growing up. His older brother doesn't seem to respect him very much (who would?). So, it makes some sense that his hatred of paying taxes could very well be rooted in sibling rivalry and the insult he feels that part of his tax monies pay his brother's salary.

It's also possible that he did not like the fact that I mentioned the Universal Law of Attraction in regards to his amazing ability to attract police officers into his experience. He doesn't believe in the Law of Attraction, as he is purely of the scientific-materialist mindset and an atheist who believes that he is purely logical (even though his rants are illogical since they require him to redefine terms to fit his ideology). I find it fascinating that someone who does not want government intrusion into his life actually seems to have lots of it by way of cops and his various run-ins with them, whereas I want more government in my life (particularly, a government job) and hardly have any contact with government. Your focus determines your reality. As I learn from reading various Law of Attraction books, its not merely having the thought of something that manifests into reality. Its a deep-rooted feeling that is consistent over time. Because its subconscious, a lot of people aren't aware of it and will deny that an undesired outcome might have been subconsciously attracted by them. Based on this idea, it actually does not surprise me that someone who spends a lot of time thinking about the government in negative ways, viewing cops as armed thugs carrying out the government's policies, ends up having his views validated when cops show some aggression at his semantic word games that he loves to play with people.

This anti-government church member probably needs to undergo an intervention of some kind, because I don't think he is able to see just how radical other people think of him. When he was on my Facebook friends list and having discussions with some of my friends whom he does not know, his views alienated so many of my friends, including some conservative ones who share his distrust of big government. More than a few had sent me private emails asking what his deal was. I've never seen anyone else in my friend's list prompt such emails. Along with this, his being asked to leave a few online community webboards tell me that he rubs people the wrong way with his intensity. He strikes me as someone in the grip of ego and unable to recognize it. This makes him a tragic figure, because I don't foresee a good end for him. He appears to have no moderating gene and if no one can force him into an intervention as a way to help him see how he is perceived by others, I believe he will continue to get more radicalized.

It is probably a good thing that he blocked me, though. I got tired of hearing his same old rants on the Church's Facebook page. I've told him numerous times: he really needs to experience a developing country for a few months. If that doesn't moderate his extremist views, nothing will. I don't think he's been out of the U.S. / Canada, so he has no real idea what a truly corrupt government (Burma, Zimbabwe, Sudan) looks like. It is sad whenever someone is unable to have a clear sense of perspective about justice. I hope he will find peace in his mind someday, to know liberation from paranoia, extremism, unchecked ego. Also hope that he will experience the miracle of God someday, as well.

Below is the symbol for "Voluntaryist." I know very little about this group, but from the little I read on the website that Mr. Anti-government Ranter recommended, it sounds radical and dangerous. Our government may not be perfect, but I have seen what a world without government looks like and that is not any kind of place that I care to live in. I don't understand why so many anarchists think that no government = enlightened utopia. The reality based on past history is that no government = hell on earth. The strong will prey on the weak and there is no rule of law to address grievances or to enforce a peace / respect. No thanks. I'll stick with flawed government over no government any day.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Music Video Monday: TLC

In honour of Rozonda "Chili" Thomas' (of the girl group TLC) 41st birthday today, the music video selection for the week is one of my favourite TLC videos: "Digging On You." What I like about this video is that it shows concert footage, intercut with various clips of TLC members acting goofy backstage. The video represents the excitement of TLC and is quite compelling. They put on a good show and this song is also catchy in its unique rhythm. The energy of the song is positive and builds excitement, particularly in the beginning.

Back in 1995 and 1996, I was really into TLC and found all three of them attractive, though T-Boz is the one I find the most attractive (love her vibe). Chili seems to be the sweetest one of the three, or the "Cool" in the title of their sophomore smash hit CD: CrazySexyCool. Since I did a post on TLC last August for Girl Group week, I have nothing new to add, other than to say: "Happy Birthday, Chili!" Hope you're digging on your birthday cake!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

L'Academie Aimes les Francais

On the 84th Academy Awards this evening, there were a few surprises, but it was mostly predictable. Nine films were up for Best Motion Picture this year and the momentum was on the tribute to silent (and black & white) films, The Artist. The only film that I saw and liked on the list was Midnight In Paris, but I knew it wouldn't win because it did not win the other awards (Screen Actors Guild, Director's Guild, Golden Globes, BAFTA). It rightfully won Best Original Screenplay for Woody Allen.

Prior to the Awards, I guessed that Christopher Plummer would win his first Oscar (at the age of 82) for Best Supporting Actor, playing Ewan MacGregor's father in Beginners. The Academy loves giving I.O.U. Oscars to veterans who've been passed over for more notable roles. Also, the Academy loves it when actors take a risk, such as playing someone with a disability of some kind or playing gay, which Plummer did for this role. He was a shoo-in. So, no surprise.

For Best Supporting Actress, two actresses from The Help were nominated, but I figured that the Academy would go for the African American actress, Octavia. In the history of Oscar, African American actresses have a good chance winning in the Supporting Actress category, but to date, Halle Berry remains the only African American actress to win Best Actress (the role was for Monster's Ball, which was an awful, awful movie and not Halle Berry's best role. However, she has a habit of picking crappy movies, just like she chooses her men: no sense for what's quality). I thought for sure that this might be the year where Viola Davis would win Best Actress for her role in The Help. This was one of Oscar's two true horse races this year. Meryl Streep is the most nominated actress in history (something like her 17th nomination) and if there's anything the Academy loves, it's playing a real person, particularly an English person. Helen Mirren won in 2007 for playing Queen Elizabeth II. Last year, Colin Firth won Best Actor for his portrayal of the stuttering King George VI. So, Meryl Streep was the shoo-in for her version of Margaret Thatcher. The Academy seems to prefer actors who play real historical figures rather than fictional characters. However, there was a possibility that Viola Davis might win, simply because if you can count on anything, it's that Meryl Streep will be nominated again. In her speech, Streep said that she was certain that this would be her last Oscar (it's her third. Katherine Hepburn has four and it's a record that I doubt the Academy will be willing to break).

For Best Actor, I thought this was the category that would likely have a surprise. The "moneyball" was on George Clooney to win for his role in The Descendants. However, I believed that Oscar voters might go for French actor Jean Dujardin over Clooney because Clooney has been nominated several times before (and won Best Supporting Actor for Syriana) and will likely continue to be nominated in the future, whereas this may be Dujardin's only chance to win, so why not give this award to him? This is what happened in 1999, when Italian Roberto Benigni shocked the audience when he won Best Actor for his comedic performance in the Holocaust film Life is Beautiful. Have we heard of him since?

The Artist won 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. It was a big night for France as Dujardin became the first French actor to win Best Actor. He gave a great speech and I was glad to see France rule these Awards. Dujardin appears to have a fun personality and he looked familiar to me, so I looked him up on and saw that I have seen one of his movies before. He played the Bondesque star in the French spy film OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (which was a popular film at the PIFF several years ago). I loved that movie and did not realize that a sequel was made, featuring Rio de Janeiro. I'll have to check it out. Dujardin is definitely an actor to watch out for in the future. I was also stunned to learn that he's 6 months younger than me. It always freaks me out when I discover someone famous to be around the same age as me, because I thought he was older than me. Had we gone to school together, we would've been in the same grade level. Weird. At any rate, it was good to see him honoured this year. Hopefully, it will expand his career. I had no intention of seeing The Artist, but now I probably will when it makes it to second run theaters in Portland.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Wrapping Up PIFF 2012

This year's Portland International Film Festival came and went in a blink of an eye. It covers three weekends with movies every single night at various theaters in downtown Portland. This year, they had more theater locations. When I lived downtown, it was so easy to get to more movies, because they start at 6 p.m. during the weeknight. Where I live and work now, it takes at least 45 minutes by bus to get downtown and that left little time to get dinner. So, the past couple of years, I haven't seen as many as I did a few years ago.

In January, I eagerly await the release of the program booklet, which gives a short description of the approximately 135 films that will be shown during the Film Festival. The films are organized by country. I read through the descriptions and make a list of about 10 to 12 films that I would like to see. My preferences are weighted by country (France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Thailand get top consideration) and by subject matter (anything dealing with life in a communist country, anything dealing with a road trip or a journey, anything with spiritual content). The agony comes when I have to narrow down my list to about five. The tickets are $10 per film, so even $50 is a splurge.

This year, out of the five I wanted to see the most, one film (a road trip movie out of Argentina) had not been received by the festival at the time I bought tickets, so I only bought tickets to see 4 films. I could've picked another film that was on my list of 10, but I decided to buy a T-shirt since I love this year's logo (see above). It's the 35th anniversary of the Portland International Film Festival. When I make my selection, I hope that I made the right choice. I've gotten better at selecting at my third and fourth year attending (2009 and 2010). Last year, I did not make such great selections. Here were my choices this year:

The first film I saw was from Brazil, called Por el Camino or Beyond The Road (the actual title for the English release). A Brazilian boy gives a Belgian girl a ride in Uruguay and takes her up the coast. They stop in small towns and get to know each other in bits and pieces. There are adorable scenes (such as a dog being so thirsty that it tries to drink water out of an abandoned swimming pool and falls in and swims around until the young man pulls the dog out of the pool), interesting people (supermodel Naomi Campbell appears in a scene and talks about a fashion designer she refuses to model for because of his not using black models to wear his clothes on the runways of the industry shows. She actually names him, but I don't remember who it was), beautiful scenery, and incredibly soulful music. I want the soundtrack! My favourite moments of the movie are when people gather round to sing songs. There's just something universal and appealing about those moments in life.

The movie is mostly about watching two people get to know each other on a journey, though they don't seem to have much in common. The girl is looking for a man she had a crush on, who lives on a "hippy commune" somewhere. The boy is looking for a new career. Two people searching for a missing part of life and the audience gets to watch it, as though we are watching two people. It is an interesting film, though not a great one. I enjoyed the scenery (I'm a sucker for a road trip), but I loved the music the most. On my ballot, I gave the film 4 out of 5 stars.

The second film was from the Czech Republic, called Identity Card. It reminded me of a Polish film I saw last year. Basically, a coming-of-age story about a young man who dreams of being in a rock band with his buddies. In this one, a group of four boys receive their Identity Card on their 15th birthday, which is symbolic of their becoming members of Czechoslovakian society. In the ceremony, they are called up on stage to receive their passport-like documents, much like a high school graduation ceremony. The boys pull a prank on the Communist official who congratulates everyone with a handshake and later on, their school teacher defends them when questioned about their conduct. The boys hang out on a hillside overlooking Prague, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. They proceed to tear a page out of their Identity Card booklet (I believe it was the oath to the communist party or something of that nature).

This was a long film, but contained so many impressions that I did not want to leave this world. The beautiful, young teacher shows the humanity in spite of the dehumanization of the communist system. When an outraged father interrupts a parent-teacher conference to deliver a notebook of "obscene poetry" that he caught his daughter reading that was given by a boy, he demands that she find out who the guy was and severely punishes him. She tries to be diplomatic and assure him that the culprit will be punished, but in reality, she keeps the notebook for herself and shares some of the passages with her co-worker for laughs. She was truly the coolest character in the film. I love movies that feature unconventional teachers. You know how it'll end, though. No matter what film it is, teachers that inspire the students the most seem to end up losing their jobs because they are a threat to the bureaucratic system, which can't have students being inspired to things greater than being a cog in the wheel. When a little girl witnesses a teacher and a gym teacher having sex on gymnastic mats in the gymnasium and reports it to this teacher, she advises her (and the other girls with her) to not say anything because it will cause problems for everyone. But, the secret got out and she faced a disciplinary hearing, where the two guilty teachers pretend that nothing happened.

Another storyline was about a family where the teenage boy does not respect his father's choices. He believes his father lacks courage to stand up to injustice. The parents excitedly report that they have received exit visas to go on vacation to Yugoslavia's Adriatic coast. The teenager doesn't want to go, but does so and sulks all the way to the border. The scene at the border crossing is fascinating, as every part of their luggage and car is scrutinized and we learn that this family wasn't just planning a vacation. They were hoping to defect and they were busted when extra money was found, along with copies of a resume and letter of a job offer in America were discovered by the border guards. They return to their home humiliated, because such an attempt to defect has devastating effects on the father's career. At a hearing, he faints and becomes a shell of himself. A zombie going through the motions and rarely speaking. It is such a heartbreaking trajectory, especially when the teenage son realizes that his father was trying to get his family out of the life they had to live. The problem with totalitarian countries is that people have to keep secrets and not be honest with one another for fear of being reported by snitches. The snitch in the movie is not trusted.

The movie also covers the various attempts by the boys in getting out of the conscripted military service. Some of it is hilarious, others are sad. By movie's end, the viewer does understand what life was like in communist-era Czechoslovakia. I've always had a positive impression of Czechoslovakia, so I had no idea that it was pretty hardcore communist. Maybe not quite as severe as East Germany (considered to be the most oppressive of the Soviet satellite countries), but still pretty bad. This movie takes place in the 1970s and the boys wear their hair long, like counterparts in the United States. This is my favourite film that I've seen at the Film Festival this year.

The Silver Cliff is the third film that I saw. It is from Brazil and set in Rio de Janeiro. I decided to see this mostly because it was in Rio de Janeiro. However, the way it was filmed, it could have been in any city. There were no familiar landmarks, except for the beach at night. It's about a woman who copes in the aftermath of her husband deserting her. The movie doesn't make sense, though, because in the early scenes, they have some graphic sex. The following morning, they kiss each other with a shower screen door between their lips. The lady goes to work (a dentist) and the husband walks around the apartment naked, gets a drink out of the fridge, and leaves. The lady keeps calling her husband's phone number and getting his voicemail. She grows more and more frantic, to the point where she can't even do her job cleaning someone's teeth and just walks away (how unprofessional).

She cries a lot, then decides to leave her teenage son alone with a teenage cousin and go to a city in northern Brazil where her husband supposedly is. She rushes to the airport and learns that she missed the last flight of the evening. So, she spends an all-nighter hanging out: a discotheque, a beach (where she meets a man through his very friendly young daughter), and the airport. The movie is slow and focuses too much on details of daily life that doesn't make for exciting storytelling. The only thing I liked about the movie was the scene in the discotheque. The scene had a song that I had not heard in a long time: "Maniac" by Michael Sembello. In the movie, the lady dances to strobe lighting to this song and it automatically made me think of the film Flashdance (where the song was originally from). This was likely an obvious nod to that American film from the early 1980s. The movie was boring!!! This was the film that I liked the least and wished I got my money back. I'm sure at least two of the films that didn't make the cut would have been much better than this one. The grieving woman only made me wonder what is wrong with women to be so distraught and attached to such assholes. I wanted someone to slap her and say, "Get over it, bitch!" The movie does not explain why the husband leaves. All we see is the aftermath. The woman is attractive, though. She should hook up with me. I wouldn't leave her like that. The husband seemed like a dick. She definitely could do better.

The fourth and final film I saw earlier today. It is from Thailand and called Eternity. That turned out to be a good title, because it does require your patience. Scenes stretched out for what seemed like eternity. Without dialogue. I feared that it would be just as bad as last year's Thai movie at PIFF: Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives. For the first ten or fifteen minutes, all we see is a wide shot of a field with a hill in the background. Slowly, a man on a motorcycle comes closer and closer towards us, then disappears behind the camera. Then turns around and goes the other direction and audiences watch until he disappears. Then it's repeated sideways (from one side of the screen to the other, and back again). BORING!!!

This is another artsy-style film that believes audiences will be impressed by watching what feels like real life conversations that people have, or real things that people do. Nah, not really. I wish directors would realize this. People have mundane conversations of no consequence. It does feel like we're voyeurs looking in on the lives of ordinary folk. Yet, despite this flaw in presentation, I was still captivated once we got past the motorcycle scene at the beginning of the film. The movie is about a man who has died and his spirit has returned to his family home. Then we see a young man who brought his girlfriend back to his village to meet the family. This part of the film interested me the most, because it brought up memories of my experience in Thailand (granted, I was 3 years old, but my earliest childhood memories are of Thailand). Particularly: a house on stilts that is open to the elements; people eating on the floor; and sitting on a hammock (there's a picture of 3 year old me sitting on a hammock with my mom's youngest brother who was probably 7 years old at the time. His name is Boonme, which was the reason why I saw the Thai film last year).

The film has a slow pace to it, but I wasn't bored like I was for The Silver Cliff. I found it quite meditative, actually. There was true beauty in places and it made me think of some of the best moments in my own life, when I'm not doing anything in particular other than relaxing and taking in the scenery (as I do on vacation sometimes). It wasn't a bad film, but I was hoping for more.

Hopefully, the films that did not make my cut will appear on DVD through Netflix so I can see them eventually. All in all, it was a mixed bag for me this year. I'm definitely going to have to make better choices for next year's PIFF. The best film I've seen at any PIFF between 2007 and 2012 still remains Hipsters, from Russia, which is not on DVD (at least for North America). I want this movie on DVD so much. It represents all that is great about PIFF...a truly surprising and charming film with great music, quirky characters, a glimpse into life in 1950s USSR, and a theme of being true to one's inner desires no matter how conforming the culture. Can't get better than that!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Another Milestone Reached!

At 1:55 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, someone in London, England did a Google search on Oprah Winfrey and became the 300,000 hit on my blog. Another milestone reached on my way to a million hits. I predict that I'll pass 400,000 hits before 2012 is over. Not to worry, I will continue to post on a number of topics in the realm of politics, spirituality, literature, and the occasional personal post. Thank you for reading my blog, especially my regular readers. I'm honoured to have your loyalty and I hope I continue to find ideas to fascinate you or maybe "outrage" you. Feel free to leave comments.

Because of this milestone, the "Flashback Friday" for today has been postponed for next Friday. It'll be on that amazing year 1987. So, get ready to blast back twenty-five years to find out what is so remarkable about that year.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why I'm a New Age Spiritualist (Grounded in Christianity)

Wednesday night, on Facebook, a young lady posted an alarming rambling statement on the page for ex-Mormons. The following was lifted from that site:
Hey peeps! I am drunk right now and need your input... lol... why can't I be a happy drunk when I am normally depressed lol? Isn't that how it's supposed to be ???? Opposite of how youy nreally are?? Anyway my drunk question tonight is.... of those who grew up in mormonism.... how do you move on to your own views of life... reallyu what is the poiunt of us being here?? Even if there is a god, what seriously is the fuckin point? as mnormons believe, we are here to "learn"... learn whAT???? Life is nothing but buyllshit. What happens if I kill jmyself? Is that selfish or not? Realigious peeps thionk so but is it really? i think it would be better for others if I did so. Why are we here??? Shittt... whats up with this... It sucks how my life is right now... but doesnt it suck how others live too??? Go to work mon to fri then weekend off.. what is the point??????????????????????????
When I saw it, I was alarmed enough to respond. This seemed the Facebook equivalent of "drunk dialing", but I wasn't sure how serious she was about ending her life so I answered her questions and hoped she didn't think I was crazy. I know that scientific-materialists like to mock me as the crazy one for all my spiritual talk, but the joke is on them. We live in a spiritually-directed universe. It's a shame that abusive religion has caused so many to reject ALL spiritual ideas. Most people don't seem to be open minded enough to explore all the spiritual ideas out there. They just close themselves off to the one that hurt them the most and think that all spiritual groups are that way.

In response to her question about what happens if you commit suicide, I did mention what I've read in quite a few books, not to mention people's Near Death Experience accounts. I didn't mention "hell" though because I didn't want to scare her. I just mentioned the theory that killing yourself means that you have to be reborn into similar circumstances facing the same adversities / challenges, though slightly worse because our point of life is to work through our challenges, not escape them. I also mentioned, "who wants to experience childhood / adolescence again?" That's truly the suckiest part of reincarnation. I think that's the reason why we are given a veil on our past lives so we can feel like we're going through this awkward stage for the first time.

Other people offered their sympathy and comments to the post and she actually seemed interested in what I said. I really do hope that she will explore other religions to find a belief system that works for her. I don't want to see her negative experience in the LDS Church to cause her to reject all religions. There are so many good spiritual ideas out there that are worth exploring.

This post isn't meant to be about this lady, though. I wanted to write a post about why I love New Age Spirituality because the church's Facebook page has been inundated by three atheists spreading their doubts all over the place. I found it ironic that they won't believe something until a scientist in a laboratory can prove that it's true. How is this any different than a religious person seeking authority for their beliefs from a sacred text, such as the Bible or the Qur'an, or from their religious authority figures in whatever church they belong to? Both groups are seeking validation from an external source of some credentialed status. In reading the comments of these atheists, I'm struck by the irony that they are willing to discount their personal experiences with coincidences (Godincidents) and synchronicities in favour of the opinion of some atheist scientist who has no interest in anything that cannot be tested in a laboratory experiment.

The term "New Age" gets a bad rap and has a negative connotation in many people's minds (thanks in large part to evangelical Christians calling it part of Satan's plan to destroy Christianity). As the above photo shows, New Age is a catch-all category that includes belief in any or all of the following: reincarnation, numerology, astrology, Celtic / druid spirituality, Wicca, Sufism, Kabbalah, Buddhism, Hinduism, vision boards, Law of Attraction, channeling, psychics, incense sticks, gnostic Christianity, crystals, yoga / pilates, Near Death Experiences, self-help / pop psychology, the Urantia book, aliens / UFOs, 2012 / Mayan, Nostradamus, prophecies, animal totems, Native American spirituality, coincidences, synchronicities, vegetarianism / veganism, self-hypnosis, meditation, sustainable living, chanting, scented candles to burn for specific purposes, King Arthur / Merlin, Akashic records, ESP, Atlantis, Astral Travel, Tarot cards, and stuff like that (I'm sure I left a few things out).

When someone hears "New Age", they think: "flake!" Some of the mockery is well deserved (see the movie Serendipity, as Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon hilariously plays a lady who owns a New Age bookstore in San Francisco and makes fun of her customers to her BFF). The stereotype of a New Ager is a Baby Boomer woman dressed in earthy clothes and looking like a hippy with flowers in her hair, speaking with a soft voice about having gratitude and love for everyone and how the world would be so much better if we skipped hand in hand singing "Kumbaya." I know a few ladies like that. Last weekend, I was in the New Renaissance Bookshop when just such a woman was skipping through the store (with a bunch of fresh flowers in her backback). She recommended that I read a set of channeled books. I skimmed through one and didn't really like the writing style. There are so many books to read that I'm actually selective about what I buy and read. Most of the books say the same thing, so the trick is to pick the one that has the best writing style. A lot of the New Age books are self-published, which makes it risky. I think Hay House is a credible publisher, though. Wayne Dyer and Jerry & Esther Hicks (The Abraham materials) are published through Hay House, which has a good track record in publishing quality books.

Pat Robertson loves to have former New Age believers on his 700 Club, as if they were credible enough to dismiss an entire movement made up of individualistic spiritual seekers. In my young life, I've seen people leave one religion or belief system for another. Yes, there are former New Age spiritualists who probably went evangelical Christian, but there are also plenty of New Age spiritualists who came from evangelical or mainline Christian traditions. So what? All it proves is that people's spiritual life is fluid and not static. People have to go where they feel the most resonance. Because New Age spiritualism is such a catch-all category and not an actual religion, people needing structure and authority figures would only get lost. New Age spirituality is essentially tailor made for people who are individualistic and quite comfortable exploring different ideas and incorporating the various traditions into whatever works for them. No other believe mindset is as open minded as New Age spirituality, because if you've ever gone into a New Age bookstore, you'll see the amazing diversity of subjects (conspiracy theories and Near Death Experiences, UFO abductions and Yoga, etc.). Its definitely not a belief system for people who are easily offended or closed minded.

I admit that as a teenager, I was a little bit "fearful" of New Age spirituality because of the evangelical protestant youth group rallies that my dad made me attend when we lived in Germany. The protestant leaders warned us about Satan's tricks, which New Age spirituality is about in their eyes. But after I heard too many good things being attributed to Satan (such as 80s pop music! And Star Wars!), the fear of New Age spirituality crumbled and I slowly started reading a few books. The more I read, the more I wanted to read. I devour New Age spiritualist books like water. Since the early 1990s, I must have read well over a hundred books under the New Age category. True, a hundred or two is small compared to the hundreds of thousands of books out there (or more). I read between 24 and 35 books a year and probably in a given year, 10 of those might be "New Age." I believe that I am well versed in it by now that I understand the principles.

In the debate with the atheists, I wrote that "circumstantial evidence" is good enough for me to base a belief on. What I gather from what the atheists have said is that their biggest fear is being conned or duped into believing something false. This is why they demand physical, undeniable truth! But the universe doesn't work that way because it would violate the gift of agency / free will if God proved to all of humanity that God exists or that we live in a spiritual universe. It is up to us to experiment with our lives and to analyze our own experiences.

As the drunk girl asked in her Facebook post (the quoted paragraph at the top), "what is the point of life?" Here's what I gather based on the numerous books I've read:

Evolution is the way of the developing our souls. The point is to learn how to distinguish between our ego's desires and our soul's desires. Ego wants separation, soul wants unity. We are tasked with learning how to move away from the natural human state of hating anyone who is different from us towards complete, unconditional love (as Jesus showed with his life's ministry). We have all of eternity to work on this challenge, in lifetime after lifetime. During these lifetimes, we experience good and bad, and our tastes develop. If we are interested in a certain period of time (for me, its the Medieval / Renaissance Ages, the Age of Enlightenment, and Colonial / Revolutionary America and France), its likely that we had a good life experience then. If we have unexplained phobias, it could be that was how we died in a past life (typical phobias like fear of flying, fear of drowning, fear of falling, fear of fire). This theory is based on the idea that everything (every emotion) has an origin. Reincarnation explains why people are different, why siblings have different personalities and interests, why homosexuality exists, why some people believe they were born the wrong gender, why prodigies exist, and even why birthmarks exist.

Coincidences / synchronicities are experiences that is meant to guide us on or towards the path our souls wanted us to be on when we planned our incarnation into this lifetime. Life was not meant to be easy, but as someone who has experienced some tough moments, I learned far more during my trials and tribulations than I did during my periods of grace and easy gratitude. In trying to explain "faith" to an atheist, I admit that words fail to convey my feelings on the subject. The best analogy I've come up with fails to make a great comparison. When a person has faith, without evidence, it's a sign of trust in the universe / in God. To make it conditional that you will only believe something when you have the evidence means you might miss out on something. The comparison I used was the early investors in Steve Jobs' Apple company. Those investors believed in his abilities that they gave him start-up money to build a company. When it became successful, they became rich. They took the risk based on a belief and it paid off. An atheist is someone who doesn't invest in the early stages but wants in on the wealth after the company proves itself! Doesn't work that way. Neither does spirituality.

I read an interesting Near Death Experience quite a few years ago that I've never forgotten. In it, the person did not experience heaven or hell. This person's experience was a black void with only a twinkling light, which kept telling the person that she didn't exist and that she never existed. She was arguing with the twinkling star about why she did exist, such as how she could have made up all the people in life that she had as friends and relatives. This sounds like the Near Death Experience of an atheist.

The discussion taught me that I'll never understand the mind of an atheist. I guess because I've never lived life needing to have actual physical and undeniable evidence in order to believe something. I haven't been easy to con, as I learned in my Navy experience and my BYU experience. I have a logical mind that processes information (I know that atheists might take issue with my claim of having a "logical mind") and any idea has to pass my consistency and logic tests. But because spirituality can never be proven to the satisfaction of scientific materialists, we can either reject it all or we can examine all the spiritual ideas out there and find what makes the most logical sense to our experiences. Circumstantial evidence is good enough for me, as I used it to figure out early on that O.J. Simpson was the likeliest killer of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, that Bill Clinton did have sexual relations with "that woman", that Iraq did not have WMDs, that the 2000 election was stolen through voter fraud / vote suppression in Florida, that Bush did wear a wire / earpiece during his debate with John Kerry in the 2004 election. I believe most people use a combination of factors to believe something or not believe something when actual physical evidence is not available.

Spirituality is a risk, because as people sometimes ask, "Which religion is right? Can they all be right?" What if you believe something and it turns out to be wrong? I'm of the view that if we follow the intuitive pull of our heart, we can't go wrong. But we have to take the risk of believing first. As U2 sang in their beautiful song, "Walk On": "a place that has to be believed to be seen." Belief is a powerful tool. It can and does change the world. My wish for everyone is to examine the strangest coincidences you've ever had and ask yourself, "If the world was purely random, what is the statistical probability or likelihood that this coincidence could ever happen? What is the meaning of this coincidence?" Follow that coincidence and see where it leads, for it may just lead you on the greatest adventure of your life. Mine certainly have. Have faith and carry on.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Proactive Approach to Lent

Last year during Ash Wednesday, I attended the Garden Grove Community of Christ congregation and walked the labyrinth with a question in mind: what shall I fast? This was my first time participating in the Catholic tradition of Lent. I grew up in the Community of Christ and never heard much talk about fasting during Lent. It seems to be a new thing that is being promoted in church, or maybe its a regional thing.

By the end of my walk in and out of the labyrinth, I received my answer. I would fast the drinking of soda for 40 days. It proved harder than I thought (but that's what a fast is meant to be: difficult). I actually got intense headaches because of the lack of caffeine. By the 40th calendar day, I broke my fast, which some might think of as "cheating." As I learned, for the tradition of Lent, Sundays are not counted for some reason. The fast is meant to be broken on Easter Sunday. Oh well.

This year, a church member of Facebook challenged church members to read the Book of Mormon. I haven't read it since 1998 for my Book of Mormon class at BYU (all students are required to take two semesters of it, and one semester of New Testament, and several semesters of elective religious courses). I've been feeling an urge to read it again. When I went to BYU in 1997 for my college years, I believed the Book of Mormon was true, but after learning things in those Book of Mormon classes as well as in the LDS History class, I came away from BYU with a view that Joseph Smith, Jr. likely plagiarized most of the Book of Mormon, from the King James Version of the Bible and other sources. There are too many questions surrounding its authenticity and the writing style, particularly the Book of Mosiah, which in parts is word-for-word plagiarism of the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. So, I'm excited to take up that challenge to read the Book of Mormon for this period of Lent. Not sure I'll finish reading it in 40 days, but hopefully in 4 months! I'm continuing my other various reading, so this will be my bedtime reading.

Below is a photo of a mock-up of what the Golden Plates or the Brass Plates (Joseph Smith claimed that the records he unearthed in a hillside in upper New York, near Palmyra were made of both gold and brass) look like. The actual artifact has never been found and I believe that the LDS view is that the Angel Moroni took them away from Joseph after the translation was completed. When you read Joseph's account of unearthing the plates and carrying it from the hill back to his family cabin in the middle of the night so as not to be seen by anyone is a tad suspicious. For one thing, it would be a heavy, cumbersome thing to carry. Another aspect that casts doubt on Joseph's story is that he had a reputation as a "treasure seeker" and told fantastical stories that entertained his family.

There are more interesting bits of information regarding this sacred text of Mormonism. But, I won't be writing about them on my blog because that's not really interesting to me. I am simply making a commitment to read the Book of Mormon again to see if I have new insight to gain from the reading of it. During my BYU experience, questions naturally cropped up during my reading of it (for class) and I would always have my questions answered, sometimes in unusual ways (once, I had a question about how early African Americans were treated in the LDS Church and one day, I happened to be in the huge library on campus and on the shelf in front of me in a room the book wasn't supposed to be in sat a book about African Americans in the early LDS Church! I didn't have to search a card catalog for a book title and then take the info to the right room and the right shelves, it was there waiting for me to notice it and check it out!).

So, here's to a great Lent. No fasting, but that's okay. I might alternate every other year. Fast in odd numbered years, do something proactive in even number years. Its a good way to motivate me to read religious texts, which I generally find too boring to read. One of my goals is to rewrite the entire Bible to my writing standards and spiritual beliefs, just for my own personal use. Not that anyone should think it blasphemous. My favourite President Thomas Jefferson has his own Bible, so why couldn't I?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Coming Population Crisis

On Monday, the Movies and Meaning Group I'm a part of went to the Hollywood theater to view a free hour long documentary called Mother: Caring For 7 Billion, about the population crisis. This is an issue that I have long thought about, since sometime in the 1980s. Not sure what prompted me to think about it, but it might've been when the population reached 5 billion sometime in the 1980s. It reached 6 billion when I was in college, in 1998 or 1999. Now it has recently reached 7 billion. This is especially troublesome when you consider the idea that it would take 6 planet earths for all 7 billion people to live the average American lifestyle. Now that is truly scary to contemplate.

In the beginning of the documentary is an interesting computerized illustration of the population from the first appearance of humans through the centuries to the current moment. It's simply a line moving in a three dimension space (empty warehouse), staying consistent in its gradual rise until it spikes in the 20th century. It's an alarming graphic to watch. The documentary discusses our consumption patterns, our economic system (which depends on never-ending growth), family planning (an especially current issue that exploded into our politics last week with the birth control issue), and education. One thing I learned in watching this documentary is that increasing the educational and economic opportunities among women in the developing world actually reduces the birth rate, as motherhood gets postponed and they have less children.

When I was in college, the radical roommate I had (who was a hardcore Rush Limbaugh Republican) stunned me when he denied that the world's population would have an impact on our planet. To my stunning amazement, he said what I consider to be "the stupidest thing anyone ever told me." He claimed with a straight face and a pure ideological belief that the entire world's population of 6 billion would "fit in Florida and one county of Georgia." Seriously?!? It's amazing that anyone could believe something as preposterous as that. There's no way, unless you stack bodies on top of one another. Population is more than just the actual space that one human takes up when they are standing on the earth. You can't take the square miles of a country and divide it by the population of the people and decide that its not overpopulation. All that mathematical equation does is show you population density.

What this roommate did not take into consideration is that a lot of square miles are undeveloped marshland for wildlife. It's also quite crowded enough and in a hurricane zone. Can you imagine the nightmare of skyscraper apartments all over the state and the morning commute of 7 billion people? And the enormous impact that would cause on the environment? Not to mention the food to feed these people and the waste products that have to processed through our waste treatment facilities. So, population is more than just people living on this planet, because we consume food and resources and we produce waste.

When I shared info about this documentary on the church's Facebook page and mentioned some of the things we can do to slow down growth and limit our impact on the planet (such as having no more than two children per couple, and adopting if you want bigger families; reducing our consumption habits; changing our way of doing business from a growth-model towards a sustainable-model, and educating girls in the developing world and giving them rights to make decisions for their own bodies including the right to a safe abortion), one person commented that the solutions I proposed were "unrealistic." He then incredulously claimed that the best and only real solution to our planetary population crisis is to "colonize another planet"! A few back and forth comments later revealed that he was serious and not joking about it. He can't see how far fetched his solution is. Wow...and people have accused me on there of not being "logical"!!

I had posted on my blog before when I got into a heated debate with an atheist on Facebook regarding the unrealistic goal of colonizing another planet. Basically, I said that we have to be realistic about our technology and economics. We haven't even done a manned mission to Mars (which I actually support, regardless of the expense), so how are we going to be able to transport millions or billions of people off the planet to another planet that is not even in our galaxy that would have a similar atmosphere as our planet, the same temperature range, the same make-up of water, with animal and plant life to sustain us? HOW??? I know that science nerds love to fantasize about colonizing other planets, but let's get real when we tell people to "get real!" Maybe its because I'm a foot-in-the-earth Capricorn, but we are here to stay and we had best put our best minds together to solve the population crisis now. Stop wasting time dreaming of running away to some perfect planet that will save humanity from itself. Oh, and another thing I never hear these science fantasy nerds ever address...haven't any of them seen the miniseries V? The Classic 80s one or the current one, doesn't matter. We who live on this planet would not take too kindly some alien invasion force who are looking for a new planet to colonize because they destroyed their own. Even pacifist me would take a gun and start blasting away at bug-eyed aliens who want to invade our planet! So, even if we did manage to find another planet somewhere that is suitable to sustain human life, why wouldn't such a planet already have life on it, and perhaps even intelligent life?

So, let's save the science fiction for our books, movies, and television shows and really focus on the real world things that we can do on our planet now. The only way to deal with any crisis is to be real and not fantasize about running away from it all. I believe it is possible to slow our population crisis down. We see it happening in Northern European countries and Japan as many couples only have one child each. Everyone should commit to having no more than two biological children and then getting fixed after that. Of course, this is easier said than done, as I know from reading the personals. There are many women who are divorced or never married with two or more children already. Even if she was everything I want in a wife, I still want my own child or two.

After viewing this documentary, though, I don't hold out much hope for our species. Especially since our economy is so tied to unlimited growth. We are at a crashing point and I'm afraid all hell is going to break loose. A Bird flu pandemic might be the only thing that saves humanity from itself, but that would be devastating for everyone. I really wish, though, that our politicians would address the larger issues instead of pandering to the ignorant vote that is still obsessed with sideshow issues like abortion and birth control. We go through the same arguments in election cycle after election cycle and nothing changes. We don't have much time remaining to make the necessary changes. Better voluntary changes in behaviour than forced changes through disasters.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Music Video Monday: Nirvana

In honour of Kurt Cobain, who was born today in 1967, which would've made him 45 years old, this week's music video is my favourite song by Nirvana: "All Apologies."

Nirvana manifested into pop culture reality with the late 1991 release of Nevermind, which had a memorable album cover design of a naked baby boy in a swimming pool trying to grab a crumbled dollar. And yes, everyone who saw that cover knows the baby is a boy! The album flew under the radar, as Michael Jackson's Dangerous album and U2's new sound was unleashed with Achtung Baby during that same fall season.

Nevermind did catch on in 1992 as Nirvana led the way in what is known as "Grunge" music, alongside Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Screaming Trees, and other bands, many of them from the Seattle area. Alternative music became mainstream.

I was living in Sardinia, Italy at the time, a sailor in the Navy. I was far into U2's new sound (at the time, I believed Actung Baby was their best album. I was never a big fan of The Joshua Tree. Now, Achtung Baby ranks as my third favourite U2 album, behind All That You Can't Leave Behind and Zooropa). I did not really get into the Grunge craze, though I did see the excellent film set in Seattle that featured many of those bands (Singles, starring Bridget Fonda who was my fave actress at the time). The soundtrack is excellent and one of the classics of the 1990s (one of these Fridays, I'll have to do a "Fun Friday" post charting my all-time favourite soundtracks).

However, I did not like Nirvana at all. I just couldn't get into the sound. I thought that album cover was tacky (a pedophile's wet dream come true). Plus, I thought the band's name was a misnomer. Nirvana is a state of bliss in Buddhism and Hinduism, and the music of Kurt Cobain and his group were anything BUT Nirvana! If anyone should call themselves Nirvana, it is Enya. Now her music is blissful!

Anyhow, when I saw MTV's Unplugged series with Nirvana, I was impressed. Their music stripped of its "noise". I loved it and bought the CD when it was released in 1994. You can see the soul of Cobain in the above clip to the song "All Apologies", which was released as a single. I also love the song "Jesus Don't Want Me For a Sunbeam". There were rumours that Kurt Cobain was LDS or familiar with it, because the song "Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam" is a popular song that Mormon kids sing in Primary (a pre-Kindergarden Sunday School class). Who knows what Cobain was?!? He was troubled, that much was known. His tabloid marriage to punk rocker Courtney Love seemed to destabilize him and they had a daughter together (Frances Bean) before he took his life in April 1994 at the cursed age of 27 (many rockers can't seem to make it past this age).

I was in my last few months in Italy when news of Cobain's suicide was mentioned on MTV with a warning to viewers not to harm themselves. I remember thinking how ridiculous it was that MTV had to report the death of Cobain with a warning. Talk about insulting your viewers! Of course, perhaps they were worried about liability issues and the fragile state of Nirvana fans who can't live without their idol.

So, it took Kurt Cobain's death for me to really give Nirvana a fair listen. The more I read about him, the more I liked. He didn't fit in to any social group and hated fake people. He appeared to be a young soul thrust into the glaring spotlight of fame and wasn't able to cope. All he wanted to do was sing. He didn't accept the role of rock god that music critics and fans put on him. While it was drugs that killed him, I think it's also fair to say that fame took him as well.

Last year, on the 20th anniversary of Nevermind, an article and photo of that cover baby was published. Yikes! Make us feel old. That baby is now in college!

Who knows what great albums might have been made by Nirvana had Kurt Cobain sobered up, viewed fame as merely a game to manage to one's own advantage, and continued to record new albums. While their place in rock history can't be denied, in terms of impact, I think Green Day is far more impressive (particularly in the evolution from the immature Dookie to the absolutely brilliant and perfect American Idiot). Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day recently celebrated 40 years old (last week). I hope his band continues to surprise us.

As for "All Apologies", I felt at the time of Kurt Cobain's suicide that this song was his "suicide note" to fans. It is haunting, even after all these years.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Owning One's Words

I received an email on Saturday from someone asking me to "take down my blog" just because of a post I wrote back in September 2011 regarding an unfortunate dialogue I had with a hateful fundamentalist Christian woman on Facebook. The person was concerned that my blog post about the lady might cause more harm for those who know the woman. This is an example of an unreasonable request. My blog has more than 1,200 posts and is approaching 300,000 hits (my goal is to hit 1 million hits). My blog is not about this particular individual I had the misfortunate of dialoguing with on Facebook. My blog is about how I view the world and about my experiences. I am open about what I believe and experience and that's the risk anyone takes when they come into contact with me. I generally keep my family and close friends out of these blog posts because I consider them sacred and not for public consumption.

Everyone else is "fair game." Anything you say and do can and will be used on this blog for whatever purpose I deem it necessary. This, of course, includes anyone who wishes to pick a fight with me and be as inflammatory and insulting as possible. I believe that people should own their words, and I've experienced too many times where people have said something purposefully hurtful in private that they would not say in public. In fact, they may even pretend to be the opposite in public and put on a good face. Well, you won't get away with it on my blog because I will call you out on it. This is especially true if the other person is a bully, tyrant, or some other characteristic that brings out the underdog fighter in me. So, beware!

I think it is an unreasonable request of someone to suggest or insist that I take down my entire blog just because they don't agree with a single post (or even a number of post). Who made them ruler of the blogosphere?!? I'm not into censorship, though I did edit the post so that the woman's name no longer appears anywhere in the blog. I had debated whether or not to include her name because when I write a critique of someone on this blog, I never use their names. The point is not to shame an individual, but to write about the situation with the person becoming an anonymous character that makes a larger point. I realize that with Google and the fact that my blog does consistently come up on the first page of many Google searches, this could present a problem for the person I wrote negatively about (such as a particular City Council candidate in Portland in 2008). For this particular lady, I did not feel a need to protect her name and wanted it to come up in a Google search so that people who might come across her and experience the same kind of abuse that I did will see that it wasn't them. She really does have a problem with anyone who does not share her narrow-minded view of things. There was another lady I had problems with on Facebook recently as well. What is it about neurotic middle aged white women, anyway?

There is a quote I heard when I was in high school. It went something like this: "Never piss off a writer because you'll be immortalized as a villain forever." The pen is mightier than the sword. Writers get the last word. Just something to take to heart when you're dealing with a writer. It's not that I believe in revenge, because I don't. I believe in fairness and I do not like bullies at all. I'm not afraid to stand up to bullies and call them out on their bullshit. I don't mind making their lives a living hell if that's what it takes to get them to see the errors of their ways and change.

As for that "offending" blog post about the hateful fundamentalist woman, I made the changes to delete her name and that's all I'm going to do out of respect for the request. To ask me to remove my entire blog because one doesn't like that particular post is not a reasonable request to make of a writer. I have only written about that particular individual once and that post has not received a lot of hits (only from the same computers in Nevada and Arizona, which I'm assuming are relatives of the woman the post was about). I want to keep it up as an example of the irrational logic of a fundamentalist Christian trying to have a discussion on religion and failing miserably at it. That post is just too funny when I re-read it.

In another strange blog-related event, on Friday afternoon at work, I received an email from someone asking questions about the movie Sarafina! The person said that they had a test on the movie and wanted to know what I thought about certain aspects of the film. It was one question asked and then I would email a response, then receive another question and I would email a response, and another question, etc. This happened four times on Friday afternoon! I was impressed that someone had personally emailed me to ask questions about one of my all-time favourite movies and was happy to answer them. When I got home from work, I checked my blog's stat counter and saw that the person who had emailed me was in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Wow. What a world we live in! This is what I love about the Information Age. Someone in the U.S. Virgin Islands had to watch the 1992 movie Sarafina! about the 1976 school children uprising in Soweto, South Africa and answer questions for a test, so that person did a Google search on Sarafina! and found a blogpost I had written in 2008 about the movie and emailed me. Here I am in Portland, Oregon, responding to some stranger in the Caribbean, helping him write good answers down on his exam about this movie, while I'm at work where I do the necessary paperwork procedures so that songwriters can get paid royalties. What a great world we live in!

This is proof that my blog does have an impact. Every so often, I experience something like that regarding my blog. Or I've heard from a long-lost friend. This is what keeps me going on maintaining the blog and why it is unreasonable for anyone to request that I remove this blog. Only a control freak would tell someone to take down their blog and as long-time regular blog readers know, me and control freaks don't get along too well. I don't tell other people how to live their lives or what they should or should not blog about, so I expect the same courtesy. I will delete names of people from certain posts, but that's the extent of editing that I will do for my blog. And if you're worried about the impact my blog makes, well, I would rest easy. Most people likely don't read every word of my blog due to its "wordiness" and besides, the most popular blog post of all time here is the one I wrote about drugs being "the Devil's Candy." That's the one that occasionally receives the most hateful comments.

If you don't want to be written about, the solution is quite simple: don't piss off the writer and be as boring as possible! Then, you truly will have nothing to worry about.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Another Gay Republican

Earlier today the news broke that the sheriff in a county in Arizona was accused of threatening to deport his ex-lover (who happens to be Mexican) if he went public with their relationship. This is the kind of scandal that our Hyena Media loves to devour: a conservative law and order man who is currently running for the 4th Congressional District in Arizona and is a highly respected up-and-coming politician in the religious conservative rightwing of the Republican Party has been exposed in a gay sex scandal. Surprise, surprise!!! Is anyone really surprised anymore about this party of hypocrites? I'm not. Wake me up when the media finds a faithful, family values Republican with ethics and morality. Then, I'll be shocked. Until then, I think the whole lot of them have a lot of things hidden in their closets that they don't want the American public to find out about.
Sheriff Paul Babeu is the current example. I've never heard of him until this scandal broke, so I did some Google-searches and found his campaign website. Based on what I read, he actually sounds like a reasonable guy. He served 20 years in the Army Reserves, starting out at a lowly enlisted rank and then going to college and getting a commission as an officer. He served in Iraq. He was elected sheriff in a county in Arizona and had endorsed John McCain's campaign in 2008 and was a co-chair something or other on Mitt Romney's campaign. He's definitely law and order type of guy and an example of the kind of guys I met in the military. As a liberal Democrat, I'm actually not opposed to someone like Paul serving in Congress as a conservative Republican. His background is interesting and he would've been a fine addition to Congress.

That is, until the scandal broke. Though he is not quitting his campaign for Congress, nor resigning from his sheriff's job, he did give up his position on Romney's campaign (though it was probably nothing big other than being a big name attached in order to sway votes when the primary comes to Arizona and a possible job offer in a Romney Administration). In his press conference (which I've added a video link to below), he denied the allegations of threatening his ex-lover in any way but he did not deny a relationship. It was kind of difficult for him to deny a relationship when photos appeared that showed him standing next to his lover with his left hand touching the bare chest of the guy next to him (the lover wore a shirt that was unbuttoned down to the stomach). In the press conference, Babeu even mentioned disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner to make a case why his situation was different (because he's not denying that its him in the photos, he's not going to lie about it in hopes that it goes away). Well good. Someone learned a lesson from Weiner. It's nice to know that there are people out there who are paying attention and not repeating the same mistakes as other politicians. I give him a few points for that.

In his press conference, though, you will hear him state many times during his statement and during his Q & A segment that he always believed that his private life (i.e. sex life) was no one else's business. He spoke about his professionalism at work and how his private life did not interfere with it and he did not rub anyone's noses in what he did in his private life. He did not want to answer questions regarding his private life and made a very libertarian appeal to protecting his own privacy. Well, I actually agree with him on that point, but considering that he is a Republican who recently spoke at the CPAC convention (the biggest conservative political gathering of the year) and is courting the teabagger support and vote, I'm a little bit skeptical about his claims. Had he not been outed, would he have pandered to the teabaggers with homophobic appeals on issues like gay marriage? How long did he think he could hide the truth of who he was from the public? He had to know that there is a target on any conservative Republican who might be gay, because of the level of hypocrisy regarding the pandering to the religious right, particularly on sexual issues. Another question that comes to mind is, now that he's out of the closet, will the teabaggers support his campaign? If they do support him because they like his track record and conservative views, are they being hypocritical when they continue to be anti-gay marriage? How can you say that you support a gay politician because he stands on the same side of the issues as you, but you still expect him to be celibate and monastic? His political race will be an interesting one to watch because it puts evangelical voters in a tough spot. Do they vote for his opponent because they hate his sexual orientation, or do they vote for him anyway because they like his stance on issues, even if they still might be against gay marriages?

With the scandal, I hope its only the tip of the iceberg. I suspect more stuff will come out on this guy. A reporter managed to ask him if he expected any more people to come forward with allegations. Paul gave an honest answer that he didn't know, but he can't base his campaign on what might come out. He has to work to clear his name on the current allegations, which is kind of ugly. The ex-lover seems like the jealous type, who suspected that Paul was cheating on him so he sought ways to get back at him. Sabotaging a Congressional campaign would be the ultimate revenge. Outing him seemed to be the implied threat. But did Babeu make threats back? Such as threatening to have him deported back to Mexico. If this allegation is true, it represents an abuse of office and is certainly an impeachable offense.

It was funny to hear Sheriff Babeu say in his press conference that he has gotten many marriage proposals from women, but he turned them down. Must be nice to have women throw themselves at you and you get your pick. But, he's not attracted to women and if he gets elected to Congress, it does make one wonder, considering the number of gay sex scandals inflict the religious right and the Republican Party: Just how many closeted Republicans are there, anyway? You have to say one thing about the Republican Party in the past few years. They sure do know how to keep on entertaining us. The non-stop carnival of crazy continues under "the Big Tent" of the GOP! Step right up and take a look.

Sheriff Paul Babeu Press Conference from Paul Babeu on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Another Angry Reader

On Wednesday, I received a notice in my email that someone had left a message on my most popular post of all time: the post about my views regarding drugs (being "the devil's candy"). It's amazing to me that this post continues to be ranked number one as people Google-search anything dealing with drugs and somehow finding my blogpost, which is my opinion about drugs. Those who have left messages have been very condemning. This latest posted comment appeared in my email but when I checked the actual blog, the writer apparently had second thoughts and deleted it. Nevertheless, I still have the comments, so here is what the angry poster wrote:
"im sorry but you are just a lonely loser who left a party because your friends were smoking and drinking? are you serious? if you are wiling to be that antisocial because you are not respectful of other people's choices, than go ahead, live and die alone my friend."
Here's my thoughts on the comment:

1) I absolutely hate it when people start off any sentence or disagreement with "I'm sorry, but..." Do you realize how mealy-mouthed that sounds? If you're going to make an opinion, don't apologize for it. You only show a weak hand. Own up to your view and be bold! Otherwise, don't bother. It's not a good way to make an argument or a comment.

2) That post mentioned my experience as a 16 year old (back in 1988!) being disappointed at seeing classmates (actually, castmates...we had a party at the conclusion of our play, You Can't Take It With You) drink alcohol and smoke marijuana. This was a clash of values for me. Does that make me a "lonely loser"? No. It's just a difference in what I valued in comparison to what they valued. But I was 16 years old. Give me some credit that I've relaxed a bit in the 24 years since!!!

3) Is it "anti-social" to see people doing things you don't agree with (we were all under the age of 21, so drinking was illegal, as was smoking marijuana) and leaving the party because you don't feel like you fit in? I made the right choice and when I arrived home, my mom was waiting for me. Imagine her reaction if I had come home drunk or high. I respected my parents. 24 years later, my parents are still in my life, but none of those people at the party (except for one person) are in my life. I have no idea what they are doing now. The one person I reconnected with through Facebook and I valued his friendship, then and now.

4) How was I not respectful of other people's choices? I did not tell a single person not to drink or smoke a joint. I simply refused to participate and left. What is wrong with that? They weren't respectful of my choice to associate with people who were fully present and not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

It amazes me that people are so enthrall of drugs that whenever they see someone with an opinion that does not agree with them that drugs are wonderful things, they go apoplectic and just lash out at you. Whatever. I stand my ground. There is nothing great about using drugs. Just ask Whitney Houston. Or Michael Jackson. Or Elvis Presley. Or River Phoenix. Or Corey Haim. Or David Kennedy (RFK's son). All of them died because of drugs. I prefer to live life fully present with people. Once you've experienced the euphoric bliss through meditation, you understand the futility of drugs.

Which reminds of a cool story that I read once. The gist of it was, a Zen master caught a man at a spiritual retreat using drugs so he asked for the man to turn over his drugs. The man handed it over. The Zen master put it in his mouth and swallowed them. He asked if the man had any more. The man reluctantly admitted that he did and handed them over. The Zen master put those into his mouth and swallowed them. The man was stunned and afraid that the Zen master would overdose. He still had a hidden stash and the Zen Master demanded that he turn over all the drugs in his possession. When the man did, the Zen Master swallowed all of them. The man became afraid that the Zen Master would overdose on him. He took more pills than was humanly possible. The Zen Master just looked at him and said, "I don't understand what these drugs do for you. I can't feel a thing."

I'm sure I did not write it exactly as I read it, but the point is, the reason why the drugs had zero effect on the Zen Master is because the Zen Master has experienced euphoric bliss through meditation and no drug is able to give him that level of "high." That's the difference and it matters. The body builds up a tolerance towards drugs and alcohol, which means that one has to take more and more doses or drinks to achieve the same level of "euphoria."

But there's also the side-effects and hangovers when you over-indulge. Anyone who has experienced this knows the hell the body feels (having been drunk a few times, I have never felt like hell as much as during a hangover). When you meditate, you can get to the blissful euphoric state pretty quickly and it has zero negative effects on the body and you don't have negative side-effects afterwards. Also, your body doesn't build up a tolerance, requiring more and more meditation to achieve the same level of bliss. The more you meditate, the easier it gets to reach that state of euphoric bliss. It's that simple. This is why I wrote in that "popular" post that drugs are "the devil's candy." It's a bad deal that lessens the quality of your life. If you can achieve the same end goal through meditation, why not go that route? Meditation is free and available at any time of day or night. It's really that simple. Think of all the money you'll save when you meditate instead of medicate! Give it a try.