Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Only Cows I Eat Are Sacred

This evening, I learned on Facebook that four people have decided to leave the unofficial church Facebook page partly due to a joke I had made that they found "offensive." One guy claimed my joke was "the icing on the cake" but there were other reasons too. Some people are bothered by the back and forth dialogue between a few of us and claimed that we were dominating the dialogue. Others feel too intimidated to jump in with their comments. Whose fault is that? Discussion boards aren't for the timid. I've been doing this for 13 years now. No big deal. You get to learn different personalities and their writing style.

You're probably wondering what the joke was, right? I'm the master at saying jokes that get me in trouble. That's probably because I am not afraid to go places that other people are, for whatever reason. The church member who blocked me suddenly un-blocked me in the past week, which surprised me. I'm not able to unblock the person I accidentally blocked because her name doesn't show up at all. Weird. I supposed that someone got word to him that his blocking me meant that I would offer his name the next time the FBI agent I know asked for it. Now that he un-blocked me, I'm back to my "I won't divulge the name of a fellow church member and friend" policy. Or it could be that he missed reading my comments. He's a bright guy and finds it difficult to relate to people on an intellectual level because his thinking is so different from most people. He is an outside of the box thinker, a true non-conformist, even if I don't happen to agree with his anti-government, anti-tax views.

Anyhow, in one conversational thread, he mentioned something about seeing a vision of Jesus in the Sauna and hoped that Jesus was wearing a towel. Of course, when someone makes a statement like that, my mischievious streak cannot be denied. So, I posted: "Why, are you jealous that Jesus is well hung?" His response was, "Was that a pun?" I said, "Yes, that was a crucifiction joke."

Soon came comments about how inappropriate and offensive my joke was. However, was it "offensive"? I served on two all-male ships in the Navy and this kind of humour is typical. Also, I doubt quite seriously that any man would ever be offended if someone joked about them being "well hung". Granted, the joke was double-entendre, which makes it particularly brilliant. Anytime you mix the sacred with the profane, you're going to get some really funny but offensive jokes. I've read somewhere that many of the best jokes are the ones that touch upon the sacred. If we can't laugh about it, then how humourless are we?

Did the joke make light of Jesus' crucifiction? Well, considering that he was nailed to a cross and withstood the pain of being up there for hours upon hours until death took him, I am not lying when I say that Jesus was "well hung." If he wasn't well hung, he would have fallen off the cross.

Do I think the crucifiction is a laughing matter? No. I think it is an absolutely horrific way to die. It is always emotionally difficult for me to watch any movie about Jesus, most especially Mel Gibson's torture porn one. I'm not a fan of violence and wish that Jesus did not die that way. It's simply a reminder of how cruel and sadistic we humans can be.

This joke brought to mind an example I used at BYU to make a point. In my English composition class during my first semester in the fall of 1997, the instructor asked students to bring one example of good writing and one example of bad writing to share with the class. For my example of bad writing, I opened my Bible and started reading from Genesis the part with all the begats (the genealogy list) until the teacher said, "Okay, you made your point." I remember the wide-eyed looks of those naive Mormon kids (they were 18 and I was 25, so I had a lot of life experience over them). In their minds, I'm sure that they thought God might send lightning bolts. What I did was considered "blasphemous" but in my view, I know it wasn't. The point I wanted to make was that the Bible was just a collection of writings by ancient men. Some of them couldn't write very well (the Bible is a snooze-fest for the most part). The sacredness with which we hold it is undeserving. If God really wrote the Bible, then why would it not have been the most exciting, well-written book ever? Whenever I try to make an effort to read the Bible from Genesis to Revelations, I always end up falling asleep during the genealogy list in Genesis. I'll skip around and read different stories, but to this day, I still have not read the entire way through the Bible. I really would like to someday.

Anyhow, I just thought it was lame that some overly-sensitive folks were going to blame me for leaving the church page. It's just an attention seeking way to shame people into feeling guilty and it worked on some people. One lady had posted that people on the page needed to "behave" so that others wouldn't leave the site, too. Okay, School marm! I thought that was a hilarious suggestion because these people who are so worried about the few Facebookers who might leave the church's Facebook discussion page are also the same people who don't seem to care that the actual church faces a potential mass exodus next year if delegates to the National Conference vote to allow gay church members the right to receive priesthood callings and to get married in church ceremonies. The absurdity is hilarious! I'm a fan of absurdities because they tell us so much about life and human nature. Sometimes, you just want to slap sense into people. This is why I love telling jokes that can be taken in multiple ways. Sometimes a well-placed joke can reveal hypocrisies.

Then I posted a few video clips on the church site (one of a tweaked out young guy on a manic episode talking about the opening of a new mall in Salt Lake City; another of a cartoon that was made about what Mormons really believe; and the third was a clip of the Temple Endowment ceremony from the show Big Love). To each of those clips, a gay guy in the church asked, "What does this have to do with the Community of Christ?" He got on my case about posting non-church stuff, even though everyone posts non-church stuff. Why single me out? Even more galling, the same day, he had posted a few links of his own that had nothing to do with the Community of Christ (a link to Bruce Springsteen's song "The Land of Hope and Dreams" and a video link about some gay Mormon teen who committed suicide). When I brought up these points, he tried to spin it around to why his were in line with the Community of Christ while mine were not. What a hypocrite! I called him out on it and I was close to de-friending him. Unfortunately, with the timeline design for Facebook, it has made finding the de-friending button much harder.

Why would I de-friend this guy? Well, the more I get to know him, the less I like. Though he is a liberal and a former LDS who joined the Community of Christ, his morality is questionable. We had a few clashes. Since he is on my friends list, whatever he posts appears on my Facebook wall as I scroll down to see what people posted. He signed up for some app with AussieBum underwear, which sends him each day a new picture of some guy wearing nothing but AussieBum underwear. Who wants to see that on their screen? I found it interesting that of my nearly 340 people on my Facebook friends list, he is the only one who gets a model picture every day. It shows how shallow he is. I even told him that if he were a member of my congregation and the church allowed gay people to be called to the priesthood, I would have no hesitation to vocally object to his calling.

That's only one incident. We also had a flare up when the news that two different male teachers lost their teaching careers when someone exposed their gay porn star past. This gay church member doesn't see anything wrong with a gay porn star becoming an elementary or high school teacher. In all our back and forth debates, he doesn't understand that children look up to adults as role models and it would be hard for a teacher to maintain the respect and authority he has over the children he teaches once they discover his past. That's just the way it is. Not only do parents don't want their children taught by a former porn star, even the American Civil Liberties Union declined to represent one of the teachers. The ACLU lawyers said that had he picked any other career, they'd represent him in a wrongful termination suit, but because his new career involved teaching children, they wouldn't touch that case.

We had another flare up regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement. This guy is in his mid-to-late 50s and has been chronically unemployed and underemployed (he only seems to be able to get seasonal jobs with the IRS). He often posts his woes on Facebook and someone who knows him personally apparently said that this guy suffers from manic-depression or something. Perhaps he has a hard time keeping a job. I don't know his work history, but you'd think that he'd be a little more sympathetic to the movement that is trying to change our economic system (or at least raise awareness and keep the pressure on). However, he is so hostile towards this movement and appears to support the very people who won't employ a person like him. It's pretty sad when a person supports their continual economic disenfranchisement. On one hand, he posts his struggles with money and paying the bills, on the other, he rips on anyone who supports the Occupy Wall Street movement.

As one more example of this guy's warped morals, he had posted on an ex-Mormon Facebook page a comment to a picture that has disturbed everyone else. The picture showed a family of five completely naked on top of one another. On the bottom of the pyramid is the naked father laying on his stomach. On top of him is his naked wife. On top of her is their naked son whose male body part appears to be lined up perfectly with mom's derriere. On top of him is his naked brother. The boys appear to be ages 8 and 6. On top of the younger brother is the naked sister, who might be 5 or 4. Now, what is wrong with a person who is unable to see why such a photo is inappropriate?!? Every other person who commented on that photo were shocked and felt sickened by the photo. It is disturbing on so many levels. There is a huge difference between a family of nudists, and a family photo with a naked pyramid in which certain body parts are touching other certain body parts. When I saw the guy's comments that he doesn't understand what the big deal is, that told me that something is not right in his mind. Especially on top of the not understanding the controversy over the ex-porn star teachers and his seeming to be okay with all of his Facebook friends seeing his daily AussieBum photo. Based on what I've seen of him on the site, if the church does allow gay people to hold the priesthood, I hope to God that he doesn't get called. I'd lose a lot of respect for the church. He is someone who should not serve in the priesthood.

For me, the last straw was when he kept asking me "What does this have to do with the Community of Christ" on the three links I had posted on the site. Also, he had shared on his own wall that he decided to leave the church page because too many people were "obsessed" talking about the gay issue. I wasn't one of those people because I honestly don't care one way or the other what the church decides, though I am concerned about the number of people who say they will leave the church if there is a change in policy. I know too many good people in the church who happen to be conservative but I don't want to see them leave. Especially when a change of policy is likely not going to lead to an influx of new members. I don't read every post on the church's page. Only the ones that interest me, but it is galling to read that this gay guy is going to criticize other people for focusing too much on gay issues while he posts links about homosexuality all the time, including one about a gay Mormon teen who committed suicide.

I posted a comment on his wall that he lives in a glass house and yet he's throwing stones (I meant that figuratively) at people. Before he criticizes people, he better make sure that he's not guilty of doing the same thing that he accuses other people of doing. What he showed me this weekend is that he is nothing but a hypocrite and as soon as I figure out how the de-friending works on the new design for Facebook, I'm going to make the rare exception to de-friend this guy. I'm tired of his objectification of people (oh, he also openly lusts after American Idol David Archuletta and asked that the guy "come out of the closet" even though the guy is an active Mormon and has not said anything about his sexuality). I'm tired of his woe is me posts. I'm tired of the superficial way he tries to use the Universal Law of Attraction. I'm tired of his support of sexual immorality. But most of all, I'm tired of his hypocrisy. I think those are perfectly justifiable reasons for de-friending someone. He is simply someone I do not care to know nor do I want to hear about his pathetic life anymore. His views and posts also give a bad example for me, because based on his views and behaviour, if I was a delegate to the National Conference next year, I would be inclined to vote against allowing gay people the right to be called to priesthood offices. I would support the marriage rites, though. I just don't believe that someone who objectifies people the way he does on a consistent basis has any right to act on behalf of the church in spiritual matters. I would have this same view regarding any straight guy who receives a daily picture of a woman in a bikini on his Facebook page every day. Its not proper conduct for someone who aspires to be a spiritual leader in the church.

A part of me almost wants to send the guy a copy of the Billy Joel CD below. I remember seeing that cover photo when I was a kid and it made an impression on me. I despise hypocrisy so much that I strive to make sure that I am not one. I think I do make an effort to self-examine before I criticize someone else. The worst thing in the world to be is a hypocrite. This is why Newt Gingrich leaves such a bitter impression on people, whereas Rick Santorum is far easier to like, even though I don't agree with any of his views. Rick at least lives his values. I may not agree with them, but I do admire people who live their values. Wish that the gay church guy would've looked in the mirror first before he flamed people for doing the same things that he has done. Hopefully, the church board will be better off without his posts.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Music Video Monday: Bruce Willis

In honour of Bruce Willis' 57th birthday, this week's music video is one of the songs he remade for his 1987 debut album, The Return of Bruno. It's the Motown classic "Under the Boardwalk." When I was a teenager in the mid-to-late 80s, my favourite show was Moonlighting, which brought a former bartender from New Jersey fame as the crazy, but very cool boss of a fledgling detective agency owned by a supermodel (played by Cybil Shepherd). I became a huge fan of Bruce Willis because of that show (and lost interest when he starred in a lot of bad and violent movies and turned out to be one of the few Republicans in Hollywood). I wished that I had a personality like David Addison. He was my idol! Funny that from 2002 to 2005, I actually had a supervisor who reminded me a lot of David Addison. And yes, that kind of boss is really fun to work for!

Such the big fan of the show that I was, one of the things I most loved about Bruce Willis' humour and performance is that he would break out in song on occasion. It was all the classic 60s songs that he sung that caused the DVD of the series to be delayed in release because of all the synch licenses that the producers of the show had to have to be in compliance with copyright law. His singing wasn't so bad and in the 1980s, he became one of several actors who recorded albums (Rick Springfield, Don Johnson, Michael Damian, Patrick Swayze, Eddie Murphy were other actors with albums out). Of course, like any true fan, I just had to buy Bruce's debut album when it was released in 1987. I actually liked it, even though most of the songs were remakes of classic 60s songs. However, in the 1980s, remakes of 60s songs were also a big thing. Songs I loved include "Comin' Right Up", "Under The Boardwalk", "Secret Agent Man / James Bond is Back", "Down in Hollywood", "Flirting With Disaster" and of course his only Top Ten hit on the U.S. singles charts "Respect Yourself." His song "Good Lovin'" from the show was featured on the soundtrack album for the show. He had fun with this album and it shows. He's actually quite soulful for a white guy.

His follow-up album, If It Don't Kill You, It Just Makes You Stronger followed in 1989 but it was a dud, both with the record buying public and myself. Another prey to "the sophomore jinx." Oh well, at least his debut album is memorable and is probably the best actor-to-singer album that I heard in the 1980s.

Happybirthdaymotherf#@ker! I'm sure his John McClane would be pleased with that kind of birthday greeting.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

In honour of Saint Patrick's Day, here is an awesome Irish song by a great Irish band, Gaelic Storm. The song seems fitting for me: "Born to Be a Bachelor." Well, I hope its not the case for me. I'm still searching for my Lady Love and I even thought of doing a new series on my blog where I post an ad from Craigslist for my critique. I've seen so many bad ones and ones worth making fun of. Perhaps I shall start that in April.

This song has a great Irish melody that I find irresistable. About a decade ago, I actually got to see Gaelic Storm perform at an Irish Pub in the Buckhead neighbourhood in Atlanta. I loved their performance. Something about Irish music just hits me deep at the soul level. I probably was a Celtic / Druid in one of my past lives. My family name comes from an Irish ancestor, though I don't have the genealogy on that. My sister is the only member of our family to have ever set foot in Ireland. Hopefully someday, I shall see this beautiful green country for myself. But, it's far down my list of places to see.

Hope you have a Happy Saint Patrick's Day.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lost Another Friend on Facebook Over Petty Politics

Last week, I finally bought the paperback edition of what is considered to be the most comprehensive biography on President Barack Obama written to date. This is next on my reading list as soon as I finish reading Carl Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections. I've had this biography on my reading radar for quite a few months now and am excited to finally get around to reading it. I've read Obama's autobiography, Dreams From My Father, and his political book The Audacity of Hope, both in 2007. I also read one biography on him called Obama: From Promise to Power by David Mendell. There are plenty of anti-Obama books out there by partisans lacking the proper credentials. I won't bother to read those because they were written with a negative agenda. I'm only interested in getting closest to the truth as is possible. When I was in college, a professor told the class that a book without an index is worthless. While he probably did not mean to disparage novels, I understood his point. A well researched book would have an index. This makes it easier to find information. Also, the citing of source material is another important aspect of any non-fiction book. So, when I look for a comprehensive biography to read on a subject, I always look at the index first and the bibliography.

David Remnick is a prestigious journalist who has won a Pulitzer Prize for his book about the last days of the Soviet Empire (which I want to buy and read). I highly doubt that he has any agenda in promoting an inflated view of Obama or to perpetuate invented myths about our first African American president to feed a rabid base of hardcore conservatives. His job as journalist is to get to the truth of Obama's life experiences to present the most accurate portrayal he can of the man who is our 44th president. He has a reputation of being well researched and well written to uphold. So out of all the biographies out there, I figured that his The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama would be the biography to read.

The first thing I looked for when I bought the book was what he wrote about concerning the birth of Barack Obama. I was curious to see if he addressed the "birther" issue at all and if he mentioned that Obama's mother ever traveled to Africa. What I found was not surprising, so I decided to post it on my Facebook page. I did not expect the response I received from one church member, whom I like on a personal basis. I was so stunned by her comment that I wrote a rebuttal, which some might view as harsh, but I was not really directing my comments at her. I know that she is not a racist or ignorant, but many of the people who are going around saying that Obama was born in Kenya actually are. She's choosing to associate with those types of people and for what? Because she doesn't like our president? It was stunning to me because she holds a high priesthood calling in the church I belong to and I keep thinking about the Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not bear false witness." This is exactly what people are doing (namely, conservative evangelical Christians) when they keep insisting on seeing Obama's birth certificate and not being satisfied when Obama finally released it last May.

My response was likely too much for this woman, so she defriended me sometime during this week. I guess it is more important for her to go on believing that our president was born in Kenya than it is to be friends with me. This is truly sad and I dare say, "un-Christian." To allow ignorance to end a friendship is wrong. But maybe its for the best. Quite a few times, I've had to reassure her that I don't allow politics or religious differences to affect any of my friendships. Since childhood, I have never based friendships on whether or not someone agrees with me. I have always based friendships on personal interactions. Do I like your personality or not? And I liked her personality. She was larger than life and made me laugh so much at the Bend Institute last year. Its a shame that she can't look past our differences on this.

I also wish she would look more deeply at the issue. When I was in high school, my favourite teacher told his students that whenever you encounter information, it is always important to consider the source. What's the motive behind it? So, when someone goes around saying that our president was born in Kenya, why don't these conservatives stop to think that maybe someone is lying to them. No, they just swallow it like truth, as though they were smarter than the entire security apparatus of the country!!! Does anyone really want to argue that the CIA, FBI, NSA, and Defense Intelligence Agencies all dropped the ball in 2008 and allowed a candidate who did not meet the citizenship requirements to run for president?!? Do these people not understand that in the world's sole superpower, there is simply no way our intelligence agencies would not know every detail about the life of each candidate for president? Do you really think they would allow some foreigner to slip through the cracks? This is why I have a low opinion of "birthers." They are simply stupid beyond words if they believe that Obama was born in Kenya. I mean, we are talking an IQ that is lower than someone with a developmental disability.

Below this excellent cartoon is what I had posted on my Facebook wall on Monday and the response it received. The person's name has been deleted for privacy's sake.

If there are any "birthers" still out there, here's a passage from award-winning Journalist David Remnick's comprehensive biography on Barack Obama, "The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama":

"Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. was born at 7:24 p.m. on August 4, 1961, at Kapi'olani Medical Center, in Honolulu, not far from Waikiki. On the birth certificate, the mother's race is listed as 'Caucasian,' the father's as 'African'.

"Ann dropped out of school to care for her infant son. She never expected to be in such a traditionally domestic spot so soon: home alone with Barack, Jr., while Barack, Sr., was in classes, studying at the library, out drinking with his friends. Yet her friends don't recall her being resentful or depressed. As a young mother...she was a take-life-as-it-comes optimist. The last thing on her mind was what people might say as they saw her, a white woman, walking down the street holding a black child...

"In June, 1962, Obama, Sr., graduated from the University of Hawaii Phi Beta Kappa. He had a choice between staying in Hawaii for graduate school, going to graduate school at the New School, in New York, on a full scholarship, with a stipend capable of supporting the three of them--or going to Harvard. For him, the choice was easy: 'How can I refuse the best education?'

"Ann Dunham was twenty years old, and a single mother. All the early promises of adventure now seemed unlikely. 'It was sad to me when her marriage disintegrated,' her old friend Susan Botkin said. 'I was so impressed by how relaxed and calm she was when she had Barack--she was excited about going to Africa--and how in love she was, how her husband was going to take a serious role in government. It was a great disappointment to her that Barack, Sr.'s father wrote and said, DON'T BRING YOUR WHITE WIFE AND YOUR HALF-BREED CHILD, THEY WILL NOT BE WELCOME. There were Mau Mau uprisings, they were beheading white women, and doing unspeakable things. Ann's parents were very worried when they heard that." (pp 55-56).
All caps my emphasis, which indicates why Obama's mom, Stanley Ann Dunham, did not travel to Kenya in her life, thus the birth certificate nonsense only shows how ridiculous birthers are.

Mikal: What is a "birther"?

Conservative Obama Hater (COH): Oh gees, he wrote it so it must be true?

Me: Mikal - A "Birther" is an ignorant racist who cannot accept that we have a black president so they buy into a vast conspiracy made up of state government employees, a state governor, doctors, a U.S. Congressman, the federal government, the Democratic Party, the FBI, the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agencies, the National Security Agency, and a foreign government that are keeping a secret regarding the actual birth location of Barack Obama. Because he's black, has a funny name, and was basically forsaken by his own father, he somehow can't be a natural born American citizen.

COH - Please don't tell me that you're a "birther." Oh, and if you don't think a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who wrote the most comprehensive biography of Barack Obama that has gotten critically reviewed in major newspaper, who has made a career out of being a journalist, is "credible", then I really don't know what else there is to say to you. If a reputation based on research, peer review, and the prestige of winning major awards doesn't mean anything, then why bother believing anything? Like a sign I saw said: there are people who believe that their ignorance is every bit as equal to those who have spent time getting educated. I doubt that God would excuse people's ignorance about stuff. Fox News sure has warped people's minds about how to analyze truth and detect propaganda.

Mikal: Thanks! I depend on you to keep me up with the latest political slanguage

Me: Birthers annoy me with their ignorance and blatant disregard for facts and logic. As one who is a natural born citizen, despite my overseas birth and the fact that only one of my parents was a citizen at the time, I still experienced throughout school (particularly in elementary school) the nastiness of other children trying to deny my American birthright. So I understand full well this ignorance and hatred that uneducated conservative people have about anyone with foreign blood. Its the constant demonization of people who don't look like they do, or have an identifiable name, or who weren't born in the 48 continental states.

In my own life experience though, the federal government of the United States has never considered me anything other than a natural born citizen. I'm certain that it has been the same for Obama growing up. So birthers can just shut up and worry about their own citizenship.

It amazes me that people are unable to think logically about this issue.

For Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. to have been born in Kenya, it would mean that:

A white lower middle-class family in Hawaii would have to find the money to buy a plane ticket from Honolulu to Nairobi, which was likely not cheap and was a long journey (according to Remnick, in 1961, a flight between mainland U.S. and Hawaii was 15 hours, rather than the 5 hours it is today from Los Angeles). Stanley Ann Dunham (Obama's mother) was a 19 year old college student at the University of Hawaii who met and was taken in by the charms of a foreign exchange student from Kenya named Barack Hussein Obama. She got pregnant and they reportedly wed in Hawaii. If they were both in Hawaii at the time, why go to Kenya to give birth? Especially since she was her parents only child. Do you think it is logical that this white family would allow their only daughter to go off to far-away Kenya by herself, pregnant, to give birth to their first grandchild in a hospital alone in a developing country where there was a Mau Mau uprising that was killing white people?!? Think, people think!!! It does not make logical sense.

A flight would be quite strenuous, as I'd imagine that a person would have to fly from Honolulu to Los Angeles to Chicago to New York to London to Cairo to Nairobi. This was 1961, remember, when planes were still propeller powered and took longer. There is no proof of any plane ticket or passport or birth certificate from a Kenyan hospital. And after giving birth in some mysterious hospital in Kenya, this young white woman would have to make the arduous journey back home with a black baby in her arms. Do you not think this would raise alarms at customs upon entry into the U.S.? This was in 1961, remember, when racial discrimination was still going on.

So, you can believe that magical voyage if you want to, as highly improbable as it is, or you can accept the likeliest scenario: Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. was born in a hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii in August 1961. Two newspaper announcements were in the paper within days of his birth indicating the hospital, the governor of Hawaii has verified the authenticity of the birth certificate and a U.S. Congressman (Abercrombie, I believe his name is) knew Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. while they were in college and is on the record as having known about the birth of Barack Jr.

Which makes more sense...that there was a vast conspiracy to hide the truth about President Obama's birth location, or that there is a vast conspiracy perpetuating a distracting story to con their gullible base into believing b.s. for the sake of undermining the credibility of a president who won the popular and electoral vote by a comfortable margin in 2008?

Even though I value my friendships with people and am sad that this one lady decided to de-friend me over this issue, I also have little tolerance for ignorance. When you choose to remain willfully ignorant about the true motives of people who say things with impunity, then perhaps it is for the best that we aren't friends. I value intelligence above all else. Let's not allow ourselves to be taken in by malicious people who want to take advantage of our ignorance to do damaging things to our country and the middle class.

Oh, and one more bit of information...even if Obama was somehow, magically born in Kenya, that would still not make his presidency illegitimate because he was born to a natural born citizen mother. As the campaign of John McCain proved, a presidential candidate can be born outside of the U.S. so long as at least one parent is a natural born U.S. citizen. So, try again, birthers!

Also, don't pretend that you care about presidential legitimacy when you were silent regarding the Supreme Court's decision in 2000 to end the Florida recount and install George W. Bush as president. You told liberals to "Get over it!" Time to take Gore's advice from 2000 and know when it's time to let it go and move on. Obama is our president and he was born in the U.S.A.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I Want Power

Today is The Ides of March, which is most famous for being the day that was foreseen by a soothsayer regarding the fate of Roman Emperor Julius Caesar. He did not heed the warning and was stabbed in the back by Senators in one of history's most memorable coup d'etats.

In the evening, I attended my normal Thursday night class at the Presbyterian church on my route from where I change buses in the evening commute. We've been watching a series on the major religions of the world and are now watching the videos on specific spiritual movements, such as Native American spirituality last week and tonight was on African and African-American spirituality. One guy gives me a ride home afterwards and he does say some interesting things in the discussion we have after viewing the film. His wife is an ex-Mormon but I don't think he was ever a member of the LDS church.

Anyhow, on the ride home, we somehow got on the topic of power and why people abuse it and is it possible for a person to have power and use it wisely? He doesn't believe so, but I believe that it is possible, if not rare. That's when I said: "Well, I want power just to see how well I handle it. I want God to give me that test."

His response was, "You'd just be like everyone else who gets a little power and abuse it."

I told him that I did not think so, because I think I'm more conscientious than most people about how my actions could affect others. I strive to live by the Golden Rule and I do believe that Karma is a universal law. Since I believe in reincarnation, I want the best possible future life experience opportunities as possible, so I think I would be judicious in how I use power. Plus, one of the biggest influences on my thinking is the film Casualties of War, because as a 17 year old, I completely identified with Michael J. Fox's conscientious soldier who refuses to participate in the rape and murder of an innocent Vietnamese girl. I have never been able to watch that film without crying, as it is the most powerful film I've ever seen. I don't watch it often because it is emotional difficult to watch, but I always draw strength from the fact that I identify strongly with Michael J. Fox's character.

I mentioned to the guy that when I was in the military, I did not go along with what other guys were doing. Yeah, I saw abuse of power in basic training, when the company commander gave a few recruits leadership positions. These recruits turned out to be even worse than the company commanders! For those that were abusive in their power, I would try to undermine their authority through sarcastic comments and outright disobedience. In fact, my belligerent disregard for one recruit's leadership resulted in him turning in a letter to the company commander resigning his position and refusing to take responsibility for anyone other than his wife and child. The letter was mocked when the company commanders read it to the company. Yeah, I take credit for disposing of a tyrant. I do not like abuses of power. Its a big reason why my focus of study in college was on human rights.

If I were given power, I believe I have enough internal safeguards to prevent me from being corrupted by it. The reason I want power is because I am growing tired of working for morons in leadership positions. As a few people have told me, this is called "The Peter Principle", where people rise to the level of their incompetence and that's where they stay and is the reason why so many organizations are hopelessly dysfunctional. As a lifelong "Meritocrat" (I admit that I was enthralled by the idea when I learned about it in grade school, especially since it was an idea associated with one of my favourite Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson), I would love to work in an organization (or to form one of my own) where a true meritocracy exists. The management would be aware of people's work ethic and abilities / talents that promotions would be based on those who perform well, not on who kisses the most ass and does it the best.

Perhaps my problem has been that I never saw myself as a manager, due to the fact that I've seen so many managers who were incompetent, clueless, and uninspiring. I did not want to be like them and I believed for so long that something about management turns people into mundane zombies. Perhaps it is time to test out the principles of Law of Attraction and start thinking of myself as a leader and not shy away from it. After all, my preference for deferring leadership to others has only led to disappointment as I've watched organizations promote people who lack the personal ethics and values that make for a great leader. In terms of leadership, my role model is more Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel than Donald Trump and Mitt Romney.

Is it wrong to want power? The older I get, the more I want it so that I can make a difference in the life and health of an organization. It is time for people with a spiritual and ethical vision to take command and show organizations how to transform work environments into high energy, inspiring places to work. Work life doesn't have to be mundane, boring, and oppressive, with fear running rampant. I really wish more people would have a spiritual worldview and learn to live by the principles of the Golden Rule. People who abuse their power should lose it and those who are responsible should be given the opportunity to experiment with it. If I am entrusted with power, I would make certain that I used it only for good and I think I have enough self-restraint and spiritual knowledge to not abuse it. After all, my favourite quote from the Bible is: "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his very soul?"

The figure below seems to be most people's idea of power, but not mine. That is the ego's desire to make someone submit to your authority. I'm not interested in that. I have no use for the ego's need to be worshiped and adored. I would find such behaviour embarrassing. For me, power is merely a means to get things done. How you get things done is where you need to be cautious. This is where leadership gets made or falls apart. I'd like to have my opportunity to give leadership a try. It probably begins by thinking of myself as a leader and getting rid of the old idea I've carried for more than twenty years now (that I am neither a leader nor a follower). After seeing so many people in leadership positions abuse their trust or be completely incompetent at it, I KNOW I can do a better job because I'm smarter than they are, I'm more conscientious, and I like getting to know what people's best skills are and making things work. A new day is coming and this requires a new kind of leader. Why not me?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fishing For Love Among the Salmon in the Yemen

One of the things I love about living in Portland that I've never experienced anywhere else is the occasional free movie pass I've received over the years. I know it happens in other cities, too, but I never managed to get one when I lived in Atlanta. In the past six years that I've lived in Portland, I probably got to see more than a dozen films for free. Okay, many of them I probably would not pay to see, but a few were ones that I had planned to see anyway, such as Into the Wild, The Green Zone, and the latest, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. When I first heard about an upcoming Ewan McGregor film with a strange title, I thought I would likely not see it, until I learned that Emily Blunt was the co-star. I'm absolutely captivated by this British actress, ever since I saw her in The Devil Wears Prada in 2006. She's gorgeous and has the most incredible accent (since elementary school, I've always been a sucker for a lady with an accent). I loved her in The Devil Wears Prada, The Adjustment Bureau and Dan in Real Life, so I'd watch her read a phone book.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen might be a strange titled film about the kind of "sport" that most people would find boring (a movie about fishing?!? Who wants to see that?), but it was actually this year's opening film for the Portland International Film Festival (they always get a high profile film to open up the festival. I was hoping it would have been The Lady, which I'm still eagerly awaiting). This film is a British-made one, so we'll see how well it does in America (I don't expect it to be a huge hit, perhaps a break-even or a modest one).

The premise is that the British government is desperate for any good news stories out of the Middle East in light of continual bad news (it is quite timely, considering the flare up in Afghanistan recently, due to the American military burning Qur'ans and an American soldier going postal on a group of Afghani people as though he were Anakin Skywalker getting revenge against the Tusken raiders for killing his mother). Kristin Scott Thomas is the press officer to the Prime Minister who plays it campy, stealing the film with her zany bureaucratic b.s. For example, when she learns from Ewan McGregor, who plays a scientist who knows a lot about fishing, that there are 3 million men in the United Kingdom that fish for sport, Thomas decides that her boss needs to tap into that constituency by faking a love for fishing and appearing on the cover of every fishing magazine that is published. Then she calls her own ideas brilliant. Her email exchanges with the Prime Minister are hilarious, though unrealistic (if a real politician and staff member had such exchanges on the Internet, they would be in so much controversy and trouble that their careers would not survive the scandal).

Emily Blunt plays a lady who works for a firm that has as a client one super wealthy sheik from Yemen. He's a billionaire with a strange request. He wants to bring the sport of salmon fishing to his desert country. Naturally, Ewan McGregor's scientist is cynical about the whole operation and can barely contain his contempt at having to treat this request seriously. But his supervisor blackmails him with a choice between unemployment or to work exclusively for the sheik until the job is done for twice his current salary. The supervisor is under pressure from the Prime Minister's press officer to do something that will bring good news out of the Middle East for the folks in the British Isles.

It's not until the fisheries scientist meets the sheik that the skepticism begins to fade. The sheik speaks of salmon fishing as a religious experience, but McGregor's scientist's idea of religion is going to Target on Sundays (my friend thought this was a lame joke in the movie and complained to me when one lady a few rows behind us was laughing like a hyena). The sheik is the most intriguing character in the film. He appears like a wise, visionary leader who is not afraid to do something for his country that others find strange or unrealistic.

There are a few subplots, regarding Blunt's relationship with a soldier who has gone Missing in Action on a recent special operation. McGregor's marriage is lacking in passion and strained by dual careers (his wife takes a U.N. job in Switzerland, I think). The salmon project brings the two characters into a closer working relationship which supposedly blossoms until complications ensue.

I understand the point of the film, which is meant to be an inspiring story about how what might seem impossible odds can come true through perseverance and shared vision with similar minded people who believe in it, but I thought it was a rather lame attempt at being a creative romantic comedy that rang kind of false for me. While it is a likable film with enough laughs and a good cast, I just felt like it was missing something. It tried too hard to be relevant and deep and it wanted to be more than merely a romantic comedy. I love salmon. It is my favourite fish to consume and I already knew a little bit about the salmon's preferred environment (cold water) and habits (swimming upstream), but to make a film about it? I'm thinking it's not going to be an easy sell for the American public.

When I left the theater, a man with clipboard asked people what we thought of the film. I gave it a generous B- and said that it was "good." My friend gave it a C. Out of all the free films I've seen, this was the first one I've been to where more than half the seats were vacant. The company that gives out free passes (I'm assuming for screen testing to see how will it will do nationwide) always gives out more passes than seats. If people don't show up for the free film, I think that is probably not a good sign. The ultimate question is...would I have paid $10 to see this on opening weekend? Probably not. I would've waited until it was released on DVD.

One thing that does strike me though, is that Ewan McGregor does have the most unique accent I've ever heard. I've noticed this in other films, but it is so blatant here. He's from Scotland but doesn't sound like the stereotypical Scottish person. Its definitely interesting to listen to. As for Emily Blunt, I've come to realize that she basically plays the same personality in every film I've seen her in. And I'm actually perfectly okay with that!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Summoned to Jury Duty

Today, I had to report for Jury Duty, which was my first since I moved to Oregon in 2006 and only my second time since reaching the voting age of 18. The last time I was called to Jury Duty was in 1996 in DeKalb County, Georgia. I was selected as an alternate, so that meant that I got to sit in on the trial, but I could not participate in the deliberations. I was just as clueless as the defendant in how the jury would render its verdict. In that case, the criminal defendant represented himself. He was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute it. The most memorable event during the trial was when he asked the police officer who had arrested him to show the jury the pat down procedure he gave the defendant the night of his arrest. The police did so. Afterwards, the defendant pulled out a plastic sandwich bag filled with white powder. Everyone was stunned and the prosecution objected because the police officer was not giving a real pat down procedure. The judge sustained the objection and told us to disregard what we had just seen.

What was the point of that object lesson? I think the defendant was trying to get us to think the police officer might have planted the bag of "cocaine" (the defendant admitted that the bag only had detergent, rather than cocaine). This was in the aftermath of the O.J. Simpson trial, so anything to get juror's suspicious of the cop was probably his only hope of a not guilty verdict. However, as the prosecution said in the summation, if the defendant had changed as he claimed, why did he keep going back to his old neighbourhood and hang out with drug dealers? The defendant also was permitted a public defender, but chose to represent himself. The jury ended up with the same verdict I would have given at the trial's conclusion: GUILTY!

For today, I was up bright and early to be at the courtroom no later than 8 a.m. I decided to stop by the place near my old apartment and work for breakfast and to say hello to the young Korean lady who works there, whom I'd gotten to know for all the lunches I ate there from 2006 through 2010. She was surprised to see me again and was happy to make me my regular (Chai Latte, which is better than the version Starbucks makes). I really hope that I can find a job downtown again. I love and miss working downtown. If I get to work downtown again, then I can stay downtown after work to do my usual things, rather than having to travel an hour from work to downtown and then 45 minutes back to home when I'm done downtown. My life was so much easier when I lived and worked downtown. Too bad it was such a sucky job that depleted my soul. Had I been in a better job, I might have never moved away from downtown.

After going through airport-type security (I actually had to take off my belt and my shoes), I went to the Jury Assembly room where many people were already seated. It was a large room that from my guess had about 200 chairs, plus a few sofas to the side. There were also restrooms, a few desks for people to plug in their laptops, and a kitchenette. I have never seen a more elaborate room before. Just for jurors? There were also two flat screen TVs and a couple of bookshelves filled with a few hard cover books and mostly mass marketed paperbacks of novelists like Danielle Steele and Clive something or other. According to the flat screen TV that displayed useful information, all books were donated by the Multnomah County Library as a thank you for our Jury service and are free to be taken. Though I had brought my own book that I'm reading (Carl Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections), I was still curious about the books on the shelves and was disappointed to see crappy novels. Granted, these are the kinds that one likely finds in drug stores and airport bookstores, and mall bookstores, nothing was worth taking. Maybe I should donate old books to the courthouse!

Shortly after 8 a.m., a video about jury duty started showing on the flat screen. I thought this was a nice touch. When I served on jury duty in DeKalb County in 1996, they had nothing like this. But of course, that was 16 years ago. The video was informative about the process, with the repeated message that serving on a jury is an important civic duty that doesn't exist in other countries and is crucial for our democratic system and Constitutional rights. No arguments there. I'm not one of those who schemes about how to get off jury duty when I receive a notice. I was looking forward to serving on jury duty, even though my supervisor kept insisting that I needed to let them know that I could not serve on a jury because it would be a hardship on my income as well as for the company. While I agreed that my bank account will take a huge hit if I'm on a jury for a week, the company seemed to function just fine when I was gone for a week during Christmas. Of course, that was in between holidays, but still. Nothing I've done in the 16 months I've worked there has been so crucial that I couldn't miss a week.

I told my supervisor that I would tell the judge that serving on a jury would be a hardship, but I wasn't going to attempt to get out of serving on a jury. In reality, I was looking forward to it. This has always been an experience I look forward to. I was envious whenever my mom, dad, brother, and co-workers had to serve on a jury duty. My chance never seemed to come and the one time it did, I was merely the alternate. The 13th Juror. Kind of like Miss Beauty Pageant Runner-Up. I'd only get to join the jury of 12 if one person is dismissed or falls ill. And prior to that, I had received my first jury summons while I was in Basic Training in 1991. Of course, I was excused from Jury Duty for that.

At 10 a.m., a group of us were called to report to a courtroom for Voir Dire. Then we were seated by the judge's assistance. I got to be seated in the jury box. There were a list of questions we had to answer. Not only basic info about our names, occupation, where we live, but also, have we ever been victim of a crime, if we knew anyone in law enforcement. The last two questions were more for filling out our personalities for everyone else's benefit: what are our hobbies and how would people who know us describe us? The judge read the indictment against the defendant, which was a bunch of legalese that almost put me to sleep. But, it was a long list. The defendant was facing 17 indictments that included robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, and kidnapping. I looked at the defendant and was stunned. He looked like a twentysomething fresh-faced guy who should be in college. He was an African American and so was his lawyer. Besides the long list of indictments, the prosecution listed the names of about 20 people he would call as witnesses (for the purposes of the juror so we can mention if we know any of the witnesses). The defendant only listed one witness: a forensics expert. To me, this was stunning. He had no relatives or friends to call in his defense? The deck definitely appeared to be stacked against him.

The judge said that this trial should last through Friday and depending on how long it takes for the jury to render a verdict, we could possibly be on duty through Monday. Plus, there were two days in May that required our return. Then began the process of each juror going through the list of 10 questions to answer, with everyone listening (I hate that!). Based on how we answered, the judge would ask follow up questions. I got her questions when I mentioned being robbed at knife point while on vacation. She asked if it happened in Portland, and I told her that it happened in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1994. She asked if my experience would affect my ability to look at this case with an impartial eye. I said no. I meant it, too, because each case is different. Besides, I had processed my own experience years ago and it no longer has any emotional "residue" for me. For hobbies, I said that I love reading, writing, and traveling. As for what friends would say about me, I said "They'd say that I was thoughtful." As I heard other juror's answer the questions, I regretted not going for laughs, because some jurors did get laughs from their statements. Had I known, I would've answered, "Well, my best friend once introduced me to people as having the kind of loyalty that you can't even find in a dog." I'm sure that would have caused laughter!

One guy answered that people who know him would call him "dull", and people laughed. The judge was even stunned. She said that he didn't need to think that poorly of himself, but he said that it was true. Yikes! Who thinks of themselves as dull?!? Another guy answered that question similarly and also got laughs. He called himself "boring." However, the biggest laughs went to the guy who answered the question about our experiences with courtroom procedures that he had a lot of experience. He shared some of them before admitting, "I actually have an outstanding warrant for my arrest in Los Angeles." The courtroom exploded in laughter (the loudest of any of the laughs). The judge was stunned and said, "That's actually something that you probably should not have disclosed. I'm going to have to check what the proper procedures are and talk to you in my chambers afterwards, but the purpose of these questions is not to incriminate anyone today." Wow, amazing. The guy admitted that the warrant was issued in 1974, so you'd think there would be a statute of limitations and it sounded like it was for possession of marijuana or something. He said that he had not been back to Los Angeles since the warrant was issued.

As I listened to the jurors answer the list of questions, I was stunned by how many people had been robbed or burglarized. There was no way that the defendant would be able to dismiss everyone from the juror who had been personally affected by crime. And besides, of the pool of 38 jurors, only one was an African American. So, this young African American man was looking at a "jury of his peers" being mostly middle-aged white people with college degrees and plenty of experience with having their houses or cars broken into and robbed.

After each juror had the chance to answer the questions, it was time for lunch break, which was from noon until 1:30 p.m. I love that length of time for lunch break! The judge told us to meet back in the Jury Assembly Room at 1:30 p.m. and she would call us back to the courtroom when they were ready for us. So, for lunch, I went to the nearby Pioneer Square mall, which has a nice food court. After that, I still had plenty of time to kill, so I went to the public library to check my email and post comments on Facebook about my Jury duty.

I made it back to the Jury Assembly room at 1:30 p.m. and waited and waited and waited and waited. At 2 p.m., the lady next to me mentioned something about how they expect us to be back on time but they aren't in any hurry to call us back to the courtroom. I remarked to her, "Perhaps the defendant took one look at the jury pool and decided to plea bargain." I was certain of that, because it simply did not make sense that he would only call one witness and that there was a list of 17 indictments against him. My impression (based purely on observation, as I knew nothing about this case nor had I read about the armed robbery that happened somewhere in Portland in May 2011) was that he probably refused a plea bargain, thinking he'd have better luck with a jury. The prosecution went ahead with the trial, but because of our legal system with the number of cases involved, no one really wants to go through the expense of a trial so at every stage in the process, there is hope that a plea bargain deal can be reached.

This Voir Dire was probably the last moment before trial, as the prosecution is able to show the strength of their case against the defendant and with the jury makeup being predominantly white, middle class, college educated citizens who have experience being robbed, the defendant likely realized that no sympathetic jury was possible for him. Better to accept a plea bargain than to lose a trial, which will have stiffer sentence for him. Plus, even though he claims "not guilty" to each of the 17 indictments against him, he knows the truth of what happened during those incidents. If he is truly guilty of the crimes he was charged with, it was better to come clean and accept the lesser punishment of the plea bargain than the heavier sentence he would likely receive at the end of the trial.

At 2:40 p.m., just when CNN was interviewing Mitt Romney about his chances in the Mississippi and Alabama primaries, the lady in the Jury Assembly room muted the flat screen TVs and made the announcement that the judge has dismissed the jury, as the defendant came to an agreement with the prosecution. We were free to leave, our jury duty having been met. We would not be called for at least two years. Everyone was happy. We turned in our Jury badge, got our letter to employer, and left the courthouse. I was relieved, even though it would have been nice to experience a trial. However, this one seemed a little obvious from the beginning, so I think it resolved itself for the best. A jury trial where there's more room for doubt would have been nice. However, had this gone to trial and I was stuck through the end of the week, my supervisor would not have pleased. During the Voir Dire, those who expressed the hardship serving would have put on their finances or work responsibilities, the judge asked if we might lose our jobs because of it. However, I think there is legal protection. If one loses their job because of serving on a jury, that seems grounds for a wrongful termination suit. I definitely would press for this case if I lose my job because I did my civic jury. After all, I'm not really hurting the company. My job will get done next week, but all I'd lose is almost a week's pay and that actually saves my company money.

After leaving the courthouse, I went to the nearby eyeglass shop that I've been meaning to visit since last November when I saw that they had the Ernest Hemingway of glasses that I wanted to see for my next pair of glasses. Unfortunately, they aren't part of my vision insurance plan. My vision insurance plan's network of opticians does not include eyeglass frames from the Ernest Hemingway collection and I really love the tortoise shelled frames from this collection. I may have to just buy a pair when I get my tax refund and then get a reimbursement from my insurance company. I think I look really good in those pair of glasses.

In the evening, I had free passes to see the film Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which I will review for tomorrow's post. All in all, it was a good day and only reminded me how much I miss being downtown, with all the energy that comes with the various workers in all the businesses and offices. I feel so isolated with where I work now, out in the boonies in some huge warehouse / office complex. I really need to find a job that will bring me back to the downtown area.

Below is a photo I found in a Google search that looks exactly like the jury box that I had sat in for my Voir Dire. I wonder if all courtrooms adopt this style.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Kerouac Day

Today is Jack Kerouac's birthday. In honour of that day, I decided to post the trailer to the long-awaited film adaption of his most famous novel, On The Road. The trailer does appear to embody the spirit of the novel and is avoiding the "docudrama" route that has been far too common for filmmakers who have made documentary films of Kerouac, Ginsburg, and the Beat Generation. Though I am excited to see it, there appears no release date set yet. Also, I don't think the main actors have the charisma necessary to play Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise (the alter egos of Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac). But, I will see the film opening day, whenever that might be.

On a personal note, for today's Kerouac Day, I received a rejection letter from the independent publishing company for my novel that I had submitted it to back in September. I expected a response in January but when I never heard from them, I assumed that it was rejected and I'd never hear from them. Supposedly, this company reads all the submissions it receives, which I thought would give my novel a better chance than just reading the first 50 pages. The reason is because the novel has a theme that is apparent when one reads it in its entirety. But, no dice, I guess. I wasn't too heartbroken over the rejection, since I was expecting it. Still, I wish someone would take a chance on this novel. I really would love to see it published and hopefully be controversial enough to provoke a public dialogue on the subject matter: namely, the sexual culture of our military and the connection between misogyny and homophobia. With all the scandals going on in the media about sex-related issues, this novel would be a perfect firestorm for controversy, especially if Rush Limbaugh were to receive a copy of it and make jokes about it on his radio program.

So, onward to more submissions. I'm on #13 or #14 rejections now. I still have a long way to go to reach the level that John Grisham, Jack Kerouac, and Ernest Hemingway received for their novels. I really do believe, though, that there is a literary agent out there who is looking for a novel like this to represent. We just have to find one another.

After work, I went to New Renaissance Bookstore for a special talk by some guy who claims to know special techniques for how to access our akashic records. It turned out to be a disappointment, though. I don't know what it is, but I just didn't feel it with him. I got the impression that he was a fake. I didn't like his manner of speaking (it was hard to hear him, and there was only 9 of us sitting in a half circle around him). True to form, the majority of the people who showed up were Baby Boomer women! There was a young couple in their 20s, or maybe still in their teens. They looked awfully young (and typical "Portlandia" type hipsters). The presenter had us each introduce ourselves and what we hoped to get out of this. Most said that they wanted to learn how to access their akashic records. I said that I wanted greater clarity about what career I need to be looking for, as I'm tired of dead end jobs that don't pay squat.

He did some meditation ritual and claimed that he had a glimpse into everyone's main issue that he would reveal. Yet, he apparently forgot in the two hour session as he talked about the akashic record. But at the start, he looked at the young hipster couple and said: "I just want you to know, your spirit guides really wanted you to be here tonight." I thought, "of course he's going to say that!" I've been to enough of these to realize that it is extremely rare to see young people attend such talks. It pretty much attracts Baby Boomers, who likely have faced mortality with deaths of friends, parents and relatives and looking at calendars with less years ahead of them and more years behind them. Then he looked at an attractive woman and told her that he was getting a unique vibe from her. A "cosmic" one, as a matter of fact. He said that her soul was definitely out of this world. OMG, he sounded like a lame drunken idiot at the bar trying to pick up the hottest woman in the place to take home and have some earth-shattering one night stand. It was lame.

Though I did like some of what he said about the akashic record, most of it was information that I've already read about and wasn't new for me. Thus, I felt bored and couldn't wait for the event to be overwith. He had us do a couple meditations and I was following along at first, but my tiredness kept me dozing off, which wasn't cool. In the end, I left when it was over and returned home rather disappointed. I don't know if its because he's male or because he might be a phony, but I just did not get a spiritual vibe at all. I noticed at the three Body Mind Spirit Expos I've attended in the past couple of years that I have never liked the sessions I've gone to that were done by males. I got more out of the female speakers. Perhaps subconsciously, I find them more authentic in their spiritual expressions, while with the men, I always feel as though they are faking it. Plus, I simply thought that the male speakers whose sessions I attended were just dull, perhaps a little too intellectual in their approach.

So, this Kerouac Day did not turn out to be all that great for me. Last year, it fell on a Saturday and the Trinity Episcopal Church in Portland had a special Johnny Cash Vespers service that I attended. Now that was a great Kerouac Day. The only thing that would've made this Kerouac Day awesome was if I had received an email from that independent publishing company that they liked my novel and wanted to publish it. Oh well, I'm never giving up my dream to be a published novelist. No matter how long it takes, my Navy novel will be published.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Native American Spirituality

The Thursday evening class I attend at a Presbyterian church on my route between work and home continued tonight with Native American spirituality, which I find fascinating and wish had more influence in our culture and Christianity. There is much to admire about the Native population's reverence for nature and focus on personal mystical experiences rather than handed down written doctrines that people are required to believe, which have nothing to do with one's own life experiences. How different would our country look if we had a more Native American spiritualist approach to everything?

In a post from last month about why I'm a New Age spiritualist, a big part of it is an open-mindedness to any spiritual idea that is "good" / "constructive" and even "inspirational". In the New Age bookstore that I go to, there is a section on Native American spirituality, which includes animal totems, vision quests, smudging, art / jewelry, and music. When I helped move my brother into the nice apartment he got into a few years back, a young couple from the evangelical Christian church he attended also helped him move. When they saw his big dream catcher with a painting of a wolf on it, the young Christian lady told him to throw it away. My brother asked her why, and she responded, "It's kind of New Agey." To my brother's credit, he refused. He may be an easy person to con, but on some things, he'll refuse to budge. I smiled when he refused, glad that the evangelicals hadn't completely brainwashed him. However, the lady's comment only reminded me of everything I hated about the evangelicals I had to deal with as a teenager. I've come a long way, myself. There's no way I can go back to believing their crap again.

Dream catchers are "New Agey"?!? Now that's some crazy talk right there. It's only "New Agey" because New Age spiritualists are accepting of Native American spirituality. In fact, New Age spirituality seems to be a blend of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Native American spirituality. It's all about the personal experiences with the world of spirit. The idea of a vision quest is very strong with me. I would love to go on one. That should've been the birthday gift to give myself for my 40th (well, I'm still in my 40th year, so maybe?). I don't think I'm ready for it, though. But, its a good concept worth exploring.

In our discussion groups, one elderly lady seemed to not understand Native Americans because she mentioned a Native American boy that her son knew, who went to school and to college and seemed to assimilate well, but after college, instead of taking a career, he returned to the reservation and hasn't amounted to much. Others shared about the depressing nature of the reservation with high incidents of alcohol and drug abuse. What is it that has devastated the Native American population? I mentioned that it was probably difficult for Native Americans to assimilate into our materialistic / consumption based culture. We've stolen their lands, killed native species of animals, established permanent buildings / houses, built up an artificial world that takes most modern people away from nature. How are they to function when we've deprived them of the sacred land?

I also mentioned that the pull of one's culture is quite strong, and used the example of the Amish, where teenagers are allowed to go off to experience life among "the English" before deciding to commit themselves to the community again. The Amish have a 90% retention rate. The Amish teens indulge in our worst habits for a time and then decide to return to the closed off communities that they grew up in. You don't just see it with Amish, but also with other groups, such as Mormons, Native Americans, Jews, etc.

Unfortunately for the discussion, we did not get to other ideas that were presented in the film we watched because of the lady's lack of understanding about why Native Americans just don't assimilate and get educated and have careers. To my surprised, she basically asked, "Why can't the Indians be more like the Chinamen who come here and get successful?" Uh, "Chinamen"?!? Wow, I actually cringed when I heard that. To me, that term is like running nails down a chalkboard. I remember my grandmother using it, so it is a term from an older generation. But still, hearing it makes my ears hurt.

This was one of those nights when I wished that I went with the other discussion group, because from what I was told, they had a far more interesting discussion about Native American spirituality. We only get a taste of the spiritual ideas behind each religious tradition we've been watching videos of for several weeks now. There's certainly a lot more worth exploring.

One guy asked me what I thought my animal totem was. I said that I didn't know, but added, "I keep thinking its a raccoon for some reason." He asked me why I thought that. I have no idea, other than it keeps coming to my mind. I'll have to check to see what it means. Someone who actually did my animal totem for me a few years ago came up with Goose, which I would have never picked in a million years. But when I read the description, it certainly sounded like me. Perhaps. Who really knows? I heard that a vision quest is where you come into contact with your animal totem. With my luck, it'll be a raccoon. Or a skunk.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Unraveling the Layers of "A Separation"

Yesterday, the Movies and Meaning group that I've participated in since last summer decided to see the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner from Iran, A Separation. I was on the fence about this one. The plot summaries I've read didn't sell the movie to me. I just didn't think it sounded interesting. Also, I have just seen four foreign films at the Portland International Film Festival, so I'm kind of "foreign film'd out" for the moment. What did grab my attention, though, were the movie reviews I did see in various papers and magazines. There was a consistency in that reviewers really like this movie. While I don't often trust the movie reviews (I've been suckered in to see a few critically acclaimed films that I ended up hating), I figured that at least this will give me a glimpse into life in Iran. I've never seen an Iranian film before, so there's that. And, I figure the discussion afterwards might be interesting.

I got to use up the last of my Regal Cinema gift card that I got for my birthday (which I used to see The Iron Lady, A Dangerous Method, and paid for half of this ticket). My Regal Cinema card that counts my points gave me a free small soda and since it was Tuesday, I got a coupon for a small popcorn for $2. What a deal!

From the opening scene, I was drawn in. The couple are arguing before the judge in a small room. The wife wants to move abroad and went through all the trouble to get a visa and make arrangements but her husband refuses to go. He claims that he cannot go because his elderly father has alzheimer's, so who would take care of him? That's a valid point. If he won't go with her, then she wants a divorce. However, divorce is difficult to get in the Islamic Republic of Iran. To make matters even more difficult, their 11 year old daughter does not want to go with her mother, and her mother does not want to go without her daughter. Oh the dilemma!

The wife moves out of the house, which requires the husband to hire someone to help watch his father during the day while he's at work. A woman who wears a full black chador shows up and gets hired, but under the condition that her husband doesn't find out about it. Apparently in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a woman cannot get a job without her husband's approval, and her jealous, hot-tempered husband would definitely not allow her to be alone in the home of a man who was separated from his wife and living "like a bachelor."

As the movie moves along, more complications get added to the storyline and both families end up facing a judge to address charges and counter-charges. To reveal what these issues are is to deprive the reader of this blog post the joy of discovery in watching the film for themselves. A Separation is a great example of masterful storytelling, as it builds in intensity with each new morsel of information. What it boils down to is the lies we tell to ourselves or others because the truth might make life more difficult for the person. Lies to protect others. Lies to protect self. Lies that hurt the other's credibility. And if the truth won't set you free, is it okay to tell a lie?

The film is meant to be a clash of what political geographers like to call "cross-cutting cleavages." We have the conflict between the wife and husband in both couples; the conflict between father and daughter; the conflict between an educated upper-class family and a religious lower-class family; the conflict between men and women in a patriarchal society; the conflict between truth and lies, especially in the court system where the case manager's job is to discern who is telling the truth.

The actor who plays the main character does a phenomenal job and kind of resembles Australian actor Eric Bana. His beautiful wife desperately wants to leave Iran, with her daughter. The daughter (played by the director's actual daughter) indicates in the film that she decided to stay with the father because it was the only way to keep her mother from moving abroad. Throughout the film, she keeps trying to get her father to ask her mother to stay, but he's too proud.

One scene that really stood out for me was when the hired help saw that the elderly man with alzheimer's had wet his pants and the sofa that he was sleeping on, she called someone for religious advice since men and women aren't allowed to see the naked flesh of the opposite gender (except their spouse). It struck me because this seemed like a common sense thing that needs no phone calls to one's religious authority. Someone had an accident and needs help, she's the only one available. How complicated is that? It's not like anyone would get sexually aroused by cleaning up an elderly, overweight person's body. When my dad was a nurse, he told me about the sponge baths he had to give elderly patients and one senile old lady kept accusing him of making inappropriate contact. One of many reasons why I'd never want to be a nurse!

The religiosity of the hired help shows itself in quite a few ways. She is willing to lie about an event she claims happened to her, but when she called her religious authority figure about the spiritual price for accepting a settlement offer to close the case, she learns that taking the money would be a sin. This creates a conflict with her husband, who needs the money to pay off his debts to creditors. She refuses to swear an oath on the Qur'an that her story is true. Interesting that she was willing to lie to a judge and to another man's wife, but when faced with the judgement of Allah, she could not bring herself to swear on the Qur'an.

This film has so many layers to unwrap and the audience truly gets drawn in to a drama that shows the universal aspect of human nature when in conflict with others. As someone once pointed out, there are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and The Truth.

The discussion on the film was interesting. One new person showed up and kind of annoyed us. He was an elderly man who listened to everyone's initial impressions of the film in our introductory statement to the group, and boldly said that none of us seems to have gotten the entire point of the film. He heard ambiguity and for him, there was no ambiguity in this film. It was so obvious to him, which he admitted that he had a career as an academic. When he admitted that, I wasn't surprised. The arrogance of academics is off-putting at times. I have encountered more than a few prideful academic types. Yeah, its great that they pursued post-grad educational degrees and taught courses in colleges. But in our Movies and Meaning Group, everyone has an equal right to express their thoughts and feelings about the movies we see. No one is more or less valid than the other. What I love about seeing films with the group are the discussions afterwards. I learn so much from other people's perspectives. For instance, last summer, we saw Terrance Malick's Tree of Life, which I did not know what to think at first. Hearing other people's impressions actually made me want to see it again (I didn't, though, nor will I likely see it again. I found it incredibly boring, with small gems scattered throughout).

When I asked this newcomer what he got out of the film that the rest of us didn't get, he said that he could not explain his thoughts about the movie without first giving us his life history so we could understand where he is coming from. Excuse me?!? Really? Wow. In all the films I've seen in the past (almost) year and the discussions we've had, no one has ever had to share their life history for us to understand what they got out of the film. It really is not necessary. I got the impression the elderly guy was lonely and wanted to connect with people, even with strangers, even if he went about it the wrong way. The facilitator showed remarkable patience for the guy.

The other things that bothered me about his comments was that he had asked twice: why bother seeing a movie if it's all made up? He seemed to imply that if it's not real, then what's the point? The rest of us are fans of movies, particularly the facilitator, who is a minister. He said that for decades, he referenced films in his sermons and that movies are the most popular way of conveying stories to people. Most people don't read the same books any more, so its hard to pick a book where there's a broad cultural knowledge of. Movies, however, do reach a wider audience of people and the visual medium has become a powerful way to represent life and play with metaphors.

Anyhow, the overall consensus seems to be that the majority loved this movie and I was one of those. One elderly lady did not like the movie much because she wanted something "happy." When she said that, I wasn't surprised. I could see on her face that she was not pleased with this movie at all. She wasn't the type I'd expect to ever go see a film like this. But, I loved it and at the end of the discussion, I said, "I hope people in our government watch this film so that they can put the kibosh on any more war talk with Iran. The characters in this film are the kind of people who are going to get killed in any war. Most people around the world just want to live their lives and not harm other people. They deserve that right."

Below is the film's director who gratefully accepted the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film this year. I haven't seen the other nominees in that category, but I have no doubt that the Oscar voters chose the right one to win this prestigious award. I've seen plenty of foreign language films over the years and A Separation would go down as one of the very best. I would not be surprised, though, if an American version gets made. There would have to be some cultural adjustments, but the story itself is universal. It is definitely a film worth seeing and pondering about.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Music Video Monday: Andy Gibb

Today, the youngest Gibb brother, Andy, was born. Had he lived, he would be 54 today. Instead, he died of an inflammation of the heart muscle a few days after his 30th birthday in 1988. He had prior substance abuse problems, notably cocaine, which caused him to lose his hosting gig on the music program Solid Gold (I was a big Solid Gold watcher as a tweenager).

He came to fame in the late 1970s, around the same time as his three older brothers were ruling the charts with the hit soundtrack to the disco movie Saturday Night Fever. Andy being just 20 was a natural pop idol for teenage girls in the 70s. His three hit songs were "(Love is) Thicker Than Water", "I Just Want to Be Your Everything", and "Shadow Dancing."

He was also known for dating the gorgeous star of the night time soap opera Dallas, Victoria Principal (even I had a crush on Victoria Principal as a kid!). He lived a short life and saw the ugly side of fame. Though I do remember hearing the Bee Gees songs and Andy Gibb's songs back in the 1970s, I was never a fan of them. I remember a girl in the 1st grade (back in 1978-1979 school year) who had a Bee Gees lunchbox and I made fun of the band. I thought "Bee Gees" was the dumbest name for a band. But back in the years 1977 and 1978, there was no escaping the music of the Brothers Gibb. Even Frankie Valli had recorded a Barry Gibb-penned song, "Grease", the theme song for the movie version of the popular musical from the 70s. Their popularity in the 1970s, though, seemed to produce a backlash in the 1980s, as they couldn't even score a hit in the U.S. with a great song from 1987, "You Win Again." Perhaps Americans were embarrassed by their love of disco that they didn't want anything to do with that music. I agree that the 70s decade were an embarrassment, in terms of music, movies (save for the birth of the blockbusters by wunderkinds Steven Spielberg and George Lucas), clothing (bell bottom trousers, three-piece polyester leisure suits, and butterfly collared shirts), automobiles, architecture, presidents, etc. Just an awful decade around.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Flashback Friday: 1987

The year 1987 hardly seems significant, as I don't remember much about the events of the world during that year. 1986 had the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion and a royal wedding (Prince Andrew to Lady Sarah Ferguson). 1988 had the Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, Canada; the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea; and a presidential election between Vice President George Bush and Governor Michael Dukakis. What is most memorable about 1987? Well, that happens to be the year that the four biggest singing superstars all had new albums released. Plus a fifth one, if you consider Bruce Springsteen. Twenty-five years later, two of these superstars are dead with drugs playing a key role. Despite the tragic deaths, the bigger tragedy is that their self-destructive behaviours destroyed their careers. Twenty-five years ago, their new releases increased their superstar status and seemed to guarantee a lifelong successful career. Perhaps too much success led to their eventual demise. Who knows? Let's look at these major album releases from twenty-five years ago...

Whitney Houston came onto the music scene with her 1985 self-titled debut album. After racking up a string of hits, including three #1 hit singles in 1986, expectations were high for her sophomore album, which she not-so-creatively titled Whitney. This was one of the most anticipated albums I've ever been excited about. I could not wait until it was released so I could rush out and buy it with my allowance money. Its funny to reflect on it now, as I rarely get excited over an upcoming new release (Johnny Clegg is now the only artist whom I always get excited about when I hear a new album is scheduled for release). But in 1986 through 1988, Whitney Houston was my favourite female singer. A lot of it had to do with this album, which I consider even better than her debut album.

The first single to be released was this album's equivalent of her only up-tempo dance song from her debut, "How Will I Know?" The video is even kind of similar, as Whitney sings, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)." She's all frizzy hair and skinny legs, looking like she's having fun as she seeks a male dancing partner. Why did it have to be Bobby Brown, Whitney? He was not in the picture in 1987. The next single, "Didn't We Almost Have It All?" kind of reminded me of "The Greatest Love of All" in terms of melody and the use of "All" in the title. "So Emotional" is a great uptempo song and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go?" is another great ballad (and video). Her streak of #1 hit singles on the Billboard Top 100 Singles Chart ended with "Where Do Broken Hearts Go?" in the spring of 1988. Why they decided "Love Will Save the Day" was a hit single is beyond me. It's a good song, along with "Love is a Contact Sport", but I think they missed an opportunity with "Where You Are", another ballad but still to this day my favourite Whitney Houston song of all time. This song makes me think of my family's three week road trip through England, Scotland, and Wales, as I listened to this cassette a lot and especially this song. I was never a big fan of ballads, so it's amazing that her vocal performance and the lyrics to this ballad grabbed my attention like nothing else.

On this sophomore album is also a duet with her mother, Cissy Houston, who was a famous Gospel singer. They performed a song from a musical, called "I Know Him So Well." It was written in a way that could be thought of as a man or God, depending on the spirituality of the person (or not). Whitney claimed that she was singing about God in that song. At any rate, it is a good duet to close an absolutely perfect album. If there is any song that doesn't feel like the others, I think it's "Just the Lonely Talking Again." I did not like this torch song at first. It took awhile to get used to and grow to love. Now, I think its so ingrained in the album that it just fits.

There was a lot of attention surrounding Michael Jackson in 1987. His follow-up to the hugely successful Thriller, which became the biggest selling album of all time with 30 million copies sold (it is supposedly over 100 million in sales now). The follow-up was due in 1986, but as a friend of mine and I speculated at the time, Michael probably delayed release of Bad for a year to allow his baby sister Janet the chance to find success with her album Control. By the time Bad was released in the fall of 1987, Control was a huge success and the string of hits already played out on the singles charts. If Michael did delay his album's release for a year on behalf of his sister, that was a good move on his part. Of course, he's also well known as a perfectionist and might have felt that the album wasn't ready yet in 1986.

It was during my family's road trip through the British Isles that I heard the debut single, "I Just Can't Stop Loving You". I loved it from the start. Never heard of Siedah Garrett before, but it was a good, strong single to reintroduce himself to the music buying public. This is another song that always makes me think of England whenever I listen to it.

The following single, "Bad" also had a long-form video attached, which introduced his new style of black leather with buckles all over. I never really liked this song nor the video. It was funny to hear my dad and other adults think that calling the single and album "Bad" was a sign of "truth in advertising." As we 80s kids knew, "Bad" was a slang word that actually meant "good." Well, it conveys more than just that, but that's hard to explain actually.

Other singles followed: "The Way You Make Me Feel", "Dirty Diana" (supposedly a favourite of Lady Diana Spencer, the Princess of Wales), my personal favourite: "Man in the Mirror" (to this day, my all time favourite Michael Jackson song), "Smooth Criminal" (which had another longform music video featuring Michael Jackson as a 1930s-style gangster), and "Another Part of Me." This album became the first to have five singles hit #1 on the Billboard Top 100 Singles chart. It was a hit album, but came no where near the sales of Thriller, which was difficult for any artist to do, much less Michael Jackson!

For Christmas in 1987, I actually received two copies of Bad. From my parents, and from a girl I was penpals with. I have no idea why she sent me one. Now, I have the special edition CD which features the song "Streetwalker" that was supposed to be on the album, but producer Quincy Jones nixed it because it seemed too adult for an album that many kids would want to have. It's not a bad song, but the album doesn't really hold up well for me all these years later. I find 1991's Dangerous to be much better than Bad, but none of his albums hold a candle to Thriller.

When Madonna's single "Who's That Girl?" started playing on the radio, I was shocked because I had expected "Love Makes the World Go Round" to be the next and final single from Madonna's super successful True Blue album of 1986. "La Isla Bonita" was the last single released from her third album and now she had a new song that featured some Spanish words thrown in to the lyrics, like "La Isla Bonita." I loved "Who's That Girl?" and it remains high on the list of favourite Madonna songs for me. I couldn't wait for her new album to be released.

Again, like Whitney Houston's "Where You Are" and Michael Jackson's "I Just Can't Stop Loving You", Madonna's "Who's That Girl?" makes me think of my family's U.K. roadtrip. I also heard this song a lot during that vacation. When the album was released, I was disappointed that it only had four Madonna songs: "Who's That Girl?", "Causing a Commotion", "The Look of Love", and "Can't Stop." I liked all of them and wanted more (yes, even after her perfect True Blue album and dance remix album, Spotlight). However, the album did feature songs from other artists, which were pretty good. Does it hold up after a quarter of a century? Well, its a pretty typical example of 80s pop music. I didn't get to see the movie until I was in college in the late 1990s and saw it in a video store. As expected, the movie was bad and Madonna's acting was atrocious. This was another case where the soundtrack was better than the movie.

Interestingly, when Whitney Houston's debut movie came out in late 1992, the soundtrack to The Bodyguard only featured six songs by Whitney Houston and the rest by other singers. It reminded me of the Who's That Girl? soundtrack. However, Whitney could act and the movie was a huge success as well as the album. Madonna only released two of her songs as singles, though all four of them could've done well on the pop charts, especially "Can't Stop."

Twenty-five years later, Madonna has given one of the best half-time shows in Superbowl history and has a new album coming out this month. Her career seems as strong as ever, even if she doesn't sell as well as she used to. However, it is difficult to stay relevant in today's changing music scene, with music interests being as fractured as it is. I plan to buy Madonna's new album, but my expectations are not very high. It'll be hard for her to top the musical brilliance of Confessions on a Dance Floor and Hard Candy, but we'll see.

The fourth major artist of the 1980s achieved huge success with 1984's Purple Rain soundtrack. I remember this soundtrack as being a staple of my 7th grade year at Logan Fontenelle Junior High School in Bellevue, Nebraska. Prince is a talented singer / songwriter who has been quite prolific in what he has managed to come out with. For many years, he released an album a year. This might be good news for fans, but in terms of quality, it was often hit or miss. Some albums only had a song or two that was a hit while the rest felt like filler. He certainly could have combined the best songs from a few albums and discarded the waste and have a much stronger album. This includes 1985's Around the World in a Day, with its sole hit "Raspberry Beret" (my all-time favourite Prince song) and 1986's Parade, with its solitary hit "Kiss." Then came Sign o' the Times in 1987, a critical and commercial hit. It was certainly his best since Purple Rain and would be in the top five of his best albums ever.

The single "Sign o' the Times" is Prince's equivalent of John Lennon's "Imagine." Also on this album were the singles "U Got the Look", "If I Was Your Girlfriend" (made a better single for girl group TLC), and "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man". Even the songs that were not released as a single were quite good. This was a strong album that is worth listening to. After this one, there were only three others that I liked after that: Batman soundtrack, Diamonds and Pearls, and The Gold Experience.

Prince is still around, releasing music. But in terms of the four biggest superstars of the 80s, he was in fourth place. Unlike the other three, he released an album every year. That might have been the problem. He should've waited two, three, or even four years between albums to create some kind of demand and attention, plus it would have been far better to include his best songs on a single album than to release albums with only one or two hit songs or single-worthy songs. It got to the point where each year, with a new release from Prince, one would think, "Another Prince album?" Think of 1988's Lovesexy or 1990's Graffiti Bridge. If anyone should be working on a major comeback, Prince definitely should. He should get with Madonna (they did sing a duet in 1989's "Lovesong" for Madonna's fourth album, Like a Prayer) to get advice on how to create a good album that garners attention in the press and appeals to the music buying public. I'd love to see him come out with a critically acclaimed, musically brilliant album again. It has been a long time!

Finally, the fifth major superstar of the 1980s, Bruce Springsteen scored a huge hit with his Born in the USA album from 1984. His follow-up was much anticipated, but turned out to be a disappointment. In 1987, he released Tunnel of Love, which lacked the brilliant rock anthems of his huge hit album that promoted him to performing in stadiums. It was a mellow album of ballads about love and disillusionment about love. The only single I remember is "Brilliant Disguise" but even that song gets lost among his bigger hits before and since.

On Tuesday his latest album, Wrecking Ball, is released and it has gotten acclaim already for being one of the best of his career with lyrics that reflect the politics of our times. I will definitely be getting this album sooner rather than later. I've heard the lead single, "We Take Care of Our Own" and I love it. Hopefully, he'll be singing a lot from now until election day. It's time for Americans to remember "the Boss" that they loved in 1984-1985. He's had hits (The Rising, Magic, Working on a Dream) and misses (Tunnel of Love, Lucky Town, Ghost of Tom Joad), but I think Wrecking Ball will be among his best. It is great that twenty-five years after that magical year in music, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen have new albums out and still enjoy a loyal fan base and critical attention. Not everything they've done in the past twenty-five years has been great, but through it all, they've worked hard and shown some growth as people and as artists. They've managed to avoid the self-destructive behaviours that have befallen others. I only hope that they will continue to do the creative projects that bring joy, inspire thoughts, and engage the public. Here's to the next 25 years!