Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas - 1993 Style

Keeping with the tradition of the past few years, I have written a retro Christmas newsletter about what I did in 1993. I did not start writing newsletters to include with my Christmas cards until 1999 when I was in my final year of college and busy with exams and packing to move to Washington, D.C. It made sense to have a newsletter so that I didn't have to keep writing the same things down in card after card that I sent to people. I know that some people seem to hate newsletters and the complaints seem to be about "bragging" or "depressing" but the one complaint that I don't understand is the one about newsletters being impersonal / form letter. I don't mind that as much, because I'd rather get a newsletter, no matter how braggy or negative or formula than to just get a card with nothing but a signature. Those are the worst. Don't bother to send me a card, then. I want to read about the adventures and experiences of a person's year. That's why I love them.

I keep all the newsletters I send out in a binder, along with a sample card of what I have sent out, and my Christmas card list (dating back to 1987). They make an excellent summary of every year, which is why for the sake of my blog each year (from 2010 through 2018), I will feature a "retro-Christmas newsletter" about events that I experienced 20 years ago. Enjoy!

The Carillon Scholar

Christmas 1993 * La Maddalena, Sardinia

“I have sailed this impossible ocean
I have sailed this crazy sea
I can never be what you want,
whatever you want me to be”

Johnny Clegg, "I Can Never Be (What You Want)”

Compared to the amazing adventures of the previous two years, this year was somewhat of a let-down for me, but as I reflect on all that I experienced, I can honestly say that it wasn’t a bad year at all.

In January, I was excited about the inauguration of a Democratic president and probably was the only sailor on the USS ORION who was happy that day. Each time a controversy occurred in the news, some of the officers I worked for would always ask me, “Do you still like Clinton?” Uh, why wouldn’t I? I’m not a flaky, fair-weather person. I might not always agree with what the Democratic president does, but I much prefer when my party is in the White House. Despite what the naysayers say, I think Clinton is more Kennedy than Carter, and that would be just fine with me.

Starting in January, I had a persistent eye problem that the Squadron doctor (LT. Jensen) couldn’t figure out. Some shipmates thought I had pinkeye. Others gave a more obscene diagnosis. Basically, my eye was red, making me look like I haven’t slept in years or that I was some kind of demon. Anyhow, by April, LT Jensen said that if I cared about my eye at all, I needed to see the eye specialist at the Naval base in Naples. I had hesitated going because my supervisor kept telling me that it was a “boondoggle” and would make me look bad if I went. He threatened that I might not have my Squadron job when I got back. On top of this, the USS SIMON LAKE was due to arrive in late April for a transfer of duties as the ORION sailed back to Norfolk for decommissioning. I didn’t want to miss out. Anyhow, the gravity of what LT Jensen told me was enough to convince me to go. After leaving the eye doctor one day on a shuttle bus back to the barracks at Capodichino, the bus jerked to a stop. I looked out the window and saw two young men in white shirts and riding bicycles. One of them looked familiar…a classmate from 7th grade in Bellevue, Nebraska, whom I haven’t seen since the school year ended in 1985. After some amateur sleuthing around, I learned that the Mormon missionary was indeed my friend, John Adams, from Logan Fontanelle Junior High School in Bellevue, NE. I visited him at his Rome Mission on the way back to La Maddalena, Sardinia. This coincidence amazed me and really got me thinking that there must be something more to the universe than what atheists or religious people claim.

Travel was a big part of my year. I spent Valentine’s weekend in Nice, France on an MWR trip with some shipmates. The most annoying thing about traveling to France with Americans is that someone will inevitably bring up all the negative stereotypes Americans have about the French, which ticks me off. I have not found the French to be rude or arrogant. In fact, there was a man who worked the front desk of the hotel we stayed at near the beach who singled me out from the rest of the herd and asked me questions about Robert F. Kennedy. I was impressed that out of a group of Americans, he probably picked out the one Kennedy fan amongst us. We had a great conversation while the other Americans were out looking for rude French folks to tell the shipmates back in La Maddalena all about. Other than that, it was great to see beautiful Nice again with trips to Monaco and Monte Carlo casino as well as a perfume factory near the hillside village of Eze. I love the French Riviera!

In the summer, I went to sea with the USS SIMON LAKE to Gibraltar, which is a place I have wanted to see ever since I saw my favorite James Bond film in the summer of 1987: The Living Daylights. I got to admire the view from the top of the rock, watch the Barbary Apes terrorize the tourists offering bananas (some of the apes look like big, fat teddy bears), fail at downing one tot of bad rum, and went on a day trip to Tangiers, Morocco where we ate North African cuisine at a restaurant. I had to sit on my left hand throughout the meal so as to not offend any Arab diners who might glance our way. The mint tea was especially delicious. The young boys selling trinkets were persistent in wanting a sale on illegal items such as switchblade knives and tortoise shell drums. I left Morocco with only a book on Morocco and some photographs. I would’ve liked to have spent more than a half day there, though.

From Gibraltar, I flew to London for what was supposed to be my second Eurail trip, where I would pick up my Eurail pass at the USO in Paris and head to Scandinavia. I was interrogated by the British customs agent, took the train to Canterbury but decided not to stay the night and just continued on to Dover to catch a ferry to Calais. A late arrival in Calais meant that I had to sleep at the train station like other backpackers, hoping that no one would attack or rob me in the middle of the night. Then I caught the first train to Paris in the morning. I learned at the USO that my Eurail ticket had not arrived from Germany, so I decided to spend a few days in Paris before heading back to La Maddalena. I was disappointed because I had written a detailed itinerary for Scandinavia and had no idea what I wanted to see in Paris that I hadn’t seen in October 1992 (or 1988 or 1985). So, I rode random buses with no end goal in mind and just had a relaxing time, seeing Paris like a resident rather than like a tourist. I visited bargain stores, strolled around residential areas, relaxed in parks, and saw the view from the top of Notre Dame cathedral. It was a relaxing time in a great city.

In October, I finally made it to Prague, Czech Republic. The biggest shock was how cheap the prices were. It was 4 cents to ride the streetcar or subway or bus, I rented a studio apartment for $25 a night, a bottle of Coca-Cola was 23 cents (which cost more than $2 in any western European city), and I even got to see “Jursky Park” (“Jurassic Park” in English with Czech subtitles) for what was advertised as the most expensive movie ticket prices ever seen in the Czech Republic: $1.50! I loved the gothic architecture and layout of the streets in Prague. Some places I visited included the famous clock tower in the main square, Wencelas Square, Lennon’s Wall (someone had painted a portrait of John Lennon in graffiti style along a wall), Prague castle, and Charles Bridge (the one with all the statues). I stayed in a hostel the last night and had interesting conversations with two Aussies, one Brit, and one Dane. To me, that was probably the most memorable aspect of my trip because I love hearing what foreigners think of America and Americans, as well as hearing about what their life experiences were like. My shipmates tend to use all 30 days of their leave each year to visit family and friends back home and don’t understand why I spend my leave traveling Europe by myself. I love the people I get to meet on my travels and I also know that when I’m in college, I don’t want to regret the fact that I lived in Italy for 3 years and didn’t make a point to see as much of Europe as I’m able to see in three years.

The saddest news for me this year is that my temporary assignment to Submarine Squadron 22 has come to an end, as the SIMON LAKE requested me back so that they could send me to man the Palau Community Center for my final year in Italy. I love working in Squadron 22 and consider it a huge blessing, but all the officers I liked the most have transferred and many of the replacements have not been as good, so perhaps it’s for the best. At least I get to keep my barracks room at Paradiso, even though my commute to work includes walking for 20 minutes from the barracks complex to the pier in downtown La Maddalena, then a 30 minute ferry ride to Palau on the mainland of Sardinia, then a 10 minute walk to the Community Center. My job is to keep the center clean, to operate the snack bar, and keep the place operational. The Community Center is only for U.S. Navy personnel and their dependents, so that means I have to tell curious Italians or even American tourists that they can’t hang out there.

That sums up my year and I hope that you have a BUON NATALE and best wishes for a great 1994!

Friday, December 06, 2013

Eulogy for the Great Human Being known as Madiba

On December 5th, 2013, the world learned that one of the greatest human beings to grace us with his presence for nearly a century has left us for the spiritual dimension, where he will hopefully meet the souls of the other great men of the 20th Century: Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We all knew this day was coming at some point. Mandela had been sick for much of 2013 and reports of his death often appeared on social media throughout the year, but this time, it is true. While we are all sad about his passing, there is also much cause to celebrate a remarkable life that was an inspiration and a stellar example of how to live one's life. Rather than repeat what I've written in many blog posts of the past, I am reposting one that I wrote in tribute to him on the occasion of his 90th birthday on July 18, 2008.

Nkosi sikeleil iMandela!

From July 18, 2008:

An important milestone in the life of a great man: 90 years old! I was pleasantly surprised last week when my Time magazine arrived and on the cover was none other than Nelson Mandela. The cover story was written by the man who helped write Mandela's excellent memoir: "Long Walk to Freedom." I read that in 1996 and it remains as one of the best autobiographies I've ever read (I highly recommend it). The most alarming thing about the article, however, is that the writer seems to hint that he doesn't think Mandela will be around much longer. Will he live to see triple digits? Who knows?

The article seems to be the last chance to lionize the man once again, with a new twist: Mandela on Leadership. The article stressed a few points on what we need in a leader, which could be read as a jab against our current president because he has none of the great leadership qualities which Mandela excels at. The qualities include: leading from behind; able to negotiate with "enemies" while bringing allies along; the ability to realize when one's ideas don't work and making changes. It's a very good list.

Mandela has been one of the people I most want to meet since the late 1980s. I first heard about him in 1986 when I read an article about Winnie Mandela. Its kind of humourous today to think that I only heard about him after I read about his wife Winnie, but I was an apolitical teenager who didn't come into true political passion until the summer of 1989 (the massive student protests in Tiananman Square, Beijing was the wake-up call). As I learned more about Mandela, I became a fan. My favourite singer, Johnny Clegg, even had a beautiful song about him ("Asimbonanga"). After his release from prison in 1990, he went on a Goodwill tour around the world and came to Atlanta. I didn't go because I would've had to go by myself and I knew it would be a massive audience, so I stayed home. That's too bad. It was one of those events that I wish I had decided to see, when he spoke to a stadium audience at Georgia Tech.

On my 1994 trip of a lifetime to South Africa, I was in the country around the time of his 100 days in office and the media was rating his first 100 days, which I thought was odd. I asked a tourguide about it, saying, "this is a crazy American tradition that is unfair to all presidents. It all started because FDR made it a goal to have sweeping changes in his first one hundred days as president. America needed those kind of changes back then, but ever since then, every president has been held hostage to that legacy and I'm sad to see that now, Mandela is as well." That led to an interesting discussion about the inappropriate levels of influence our country had on other countries. If I remember correctly, we started talking about lofty things and eventually devolved to a discussion on Michael Jackson (whose career started to decline after the child molestation allegations hit in 1993).

What I most enjoyed about South Africa were the people. When Africans found out I was an American, they had many questions to ask and some were not even afraid to quiz me on my knowledge of South African politics (I passed). I saw taxis around Johannesburg with pictures of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, so I asked a store owner about it. In a nation that gave the world great figures such as Desmond Tutu, Stephen Biko and Nelson Mandela, I was pleased to see that South Africans found our Civil Rights icons inspirational as well. It reinforced the idea that South Africa and the United States were tied together in a unique bond that no two nations on earth share. In many ways, I found South Africa to be the photo negative of the United States. Everything was flipped (the seasons, the side of the street they drive on, the racial statistics between blacks and whites). Even our histories paralleled: South Africa counts its history from 1652 when Jan Van Riebeck of the Netherlands founded a colony at Cape Town for a trading company. America was first settled in 1607 at Jamestown, for a trading company. Both countries passed discrimination laws, which reached intensity in the 1960s. It just took longer for the blacks in South Africa to gain their freedoms.

With the rise of Barack Obama in the United States, it would not surprise me one bit if he is already popular in South Africa, with many people hoping that he becomes our next president. And I truly hope that Mandela will be around to see that day, as well as get invited as a special guest at the Inauguration. Out of all the events that has happened since my birth in 1971, I consider the Inauguration of Nelson Mandela to be the greatest event in my lifetime (I'd put the fall of the Berlin Wall at #2). Leaders from around the world (Kings, Queens, Presidents, Prime Ministers, and dictators) all put aside their political differences to honour a man who achieved a dream that was a long time in coming. I still get high thinking about that day when I watched it live on CNN International from my barracks room in Italy.

In college, when I took a human rights class and a discussion occurred over Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, there was a white South African in the class who called them a "terrorist." I was shocked, but even more shocked when he praised Mangosutho Buthelezi (Zulu chief) as the kind of African to admire. Buthelezi was behind some of the vicious attacks that occurred into the lead-up to the first universal elections in South Africa. I remember a scene of one man throwing a huge rock at another man sitting on the ground, his head red with blood. Buthelezi is what one would call a conspirator who sold out the interest of his people for a little bit of power for himself. The apartheid government often did this, particularly with the creation of the "homelands" where they made tribal leaders into "Kings" of their reservation for a bit of "autonomous rule" (think of the American equivalent: Indian reservations--hardly areas worth "ruling"). But, the white South African classmate was biased, of course. True to form, he was a conservative in his political view (as anti-communist as any Republican in our country), so of course he wasn't going to admire Mandela or Tutu.

The biggest lesson I learn from Mandela's life is the power of forgiveness. He was imprisoned for 27 years during the prime of his life. When he finally received news that he would be released from prison immediately, he wanted extra days to prepare. As a prisoner, he was known to help his white jailers with some legal advice. By his leadership example, he showed that reconciliation is the best way to move beyond the past. Instead of seeking vengeance against those who participated in the apartheid system, he sought truthful disclosure in exchange for amnesty (the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is one of the greatest ideas ever conceived by man). If there is one person to nominate as the best representative of the 20th Century, I would nominate Nelson Mandela.

Unfortunately, his wisdom, grace, and spiritual enlightenment is rare among leaders. On a continent that has produced a Mandela on one end and an Idi Amin at the other end, too many leaders have followed the Idi Amin leadership example: liberate the country from the white colonizers, then abuse your fellow citizens and live a lavish lifestyle while everyone else struggles along in desperate poverty. We've see it time and again in places like Liberia, Nigeria, Zaire/the Congo (first with Mobutu then his successor Kabila), Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, the Central African Republic (they once had a crazy leader who modeled himself after Napoleon, complete with a coronation and a renaming of his country into the Central African Empire), and of course, the current atrocity in Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe, who has ruled since 1980 and was knighted in the 1990s (which was finally rebuked this year, I believe).

Why don't more African leaders aspire to Mandela's greatness? If they are egotistical (which you can wisely guess that they are), you'd think that they'd have their eyes on history and for the sake of eternal posterity, they'd want to leave the world having improved their nations standing and the lives of their citizens. Instead, people hundreds of years from now will remember Mandela as an example for all humans. No matter what was done to you, if you are on the side of universal justice, you can achieve a kind of power that no one else can touch. There is power in forgiveness and no one need look further than the life of Mandela to see that it's true.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Music Video Monday: Richard Marx

This Monday marks the one week anniversary when I learned that Celine acted in such a way that ended any possible romantic future between us. When we first started getting to know each other, so many love songs popped into my head that described what I felt and they all seem so "cheesy" now. I mean, songs like "I Knew I Loved You" by Savage Garden, "Cherish" by Madonna, "In Love" by Ronnie Milsap, "Rush Rush" by Paula Abdul, "Love Changes Everything" by Sarah Brightman. Interestingly, though, each time a "red flag" presented itself to me that made me doubt that a relationship with Celine was possible, this song by Richard Marx would always pop into my head. "Should've Known Better." Yup. Ain't that the truth. You live and learn. I've always loved this song...but now, it will forever be associated with my summer with Celine. A promise that ended in heartbreak. Perhaps even a lie that I thought was real. But, I learned that lesson and I won't be repeating it because I took a risk that went against my principles and in the end, the experience only proved the reason why I have principles in the first place and should never compromise them for anyone.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Where Have I Been?!?

So much for blogging this year! As we head into the final month of the year, I acknowledge that I haven't been much of a blogger in the past two years. Last year, it was due to my obsession with the 2012 election, as I spent hours of my free time reading article after article after article of anything dealing with the election and the candidates.

This year, it was partially due to my HP mini laptop having a problem that I still haven't had a professional geek to look at it and give me the diagnosis, so I'm here at the library to post an update about my life. But the biggest reason for my lack of blogging is because I got busy falling in love. Now that what had seemed so right and inevitable had turned out to be a complete bust, I'm going to offer my diagnosis on what happened. Normally, I wouldn't do this. When people make my "first tier" of friendship, they can expect privacy and my not writing about our relationship (which is why I hardly ever write about my family and close friends on here). But, if the relationship is over, then the hazards of being friends with a writer and a blogger will come to the fore, because I believe in an honest examination of life and hopefully, my experience won't be someone else's experience. Learn from it and avoid the mistakes I made. The only way the human race can improve / evolve is if we learn from each other's mistakes and avoid making them ourselves. So, I write this as a favor to humanity. You can thank me later.

I'm changing some personal details because its not important who she is but what the situation was that made things "unworkable" for the long haul. So, here it goes...

In March, I met a lady at church named Celine, who is married with young children. Even though I found her attractive, I didn't pursue her because I just don't do adultery. A few weeks later, when she happened to tell me that she was planning to get a divorce because her husband is verbally and emotionally abusive, I thought establishing a friendship would be a worthy goal, to show her that she has options. He's an atheist who hates religion and Celine is an incredibly spiritual woman. For me, that contrast definitely boggles the mind. I have plenty of friends who are atheists but I would never marry one because in a relationship, especially if the couple has children together, the difference will become huge and ultimately incompatible, particularly if one has a hostile view of religion and the other wants to raise the children in the church. I was curious about her relationship with her husband and it sounds like they have very little in common. She won't even tell me why she married him (she actually proposed to him, even though he had told her that he wasn't the marrying type and that no one in her circle of family and friends even liked him), but I suspected that she was too embarrassed to admit that she was attracted to him for shallow reasons (he's supposedly 6'5", 250 pounds of muscle, and gets plenty of attention from other women), so she simply says, "I don't know why I married him."

Things heated up in late April when she admitted that she was attracted to me and wanted a relationship. I was pleased to hear it, but I was planning to just be her friend until the divorce happened. I didn't want to ruin a friendship by rushing into a relationship. In May, June, and July, we pretty much spent 3 of 4 weekends together doing various things around Portland. One of the "red flags" for me was that she said she missed me a mere 3 days after we declared our intentions for one another, when I went out of town for a 36 hour period. I thought it was too soon to say that. She also was quick to drop the "love" word, when I didn't feel it yet. She was confused by that, and I told her how the process works for me: it takes time, more conversations, more activities, but eventually, the "loyalty gene" will kick in and it'll be solid. For me, that moment came in July when she went with me to see a special screening of a documentary about Yogananda.

With Celine, I had the most amazing conversations with her. Deeper than with any other person I've ever known. We talked about everything and anything. There was no censorship and it was through these conversations where I actually felt like I had met the one I am meant to be with, because I didn't have to censor myself with her. She doesn't get offended easily like other women I've known do. She shared my spiritual views and even though she's not political, she said that she likes my political views. She and I had over 25,000 messages between us on Facebook's Instant Message.

Then she started getting distant in September and on the night of the full moon in October, she called me all hysterical about her husband. Instead of being sympathetic, as it was the same old story she told me all summer long, I simply asked her, "So what steps are you taking to free yourself?" She then lashed out at me, saying I don't understand because I have never been in an abusive relationship before. I responded, "Of course I haven't, because I know I could not be in an abusive relationship. I'd rather be alone than be in an abusive relationship." Rather than listen to her drone on and on about the latest drama in her home, I had to cut it short so that I could participate in a "full moon meditation" with my housemates.

In November, her behavior became even more erratic and illogical, until ultimately, she cut me off of Facebook by blocking me. I was stunned and devastated. She did this (and did this on the Monday of Thanksgiving week) when she had told me that blocking someone on Facebook was "bad karma" (we had discussed that sometime during the summer, the reasons one should block or de-friend someone). I was completely shocked by what she did, especially since she had claimed to have never been in a relationship with a man who respected her or treated her as an equal. We were so compatible, or at least I thought so or was led to believe by her. During the summer, I had surprised her by taking her to a movie theater without telling her what we were going to see (she loves surprises like that). I chose Austenland since she loves Jane Austen. Before the movie began, she asked me, "Would you have gone to see this film on your own?" I responded, "Probably not." Her eyes glowed and she said, "No guy I've ever been with has done that for me!" Wow...really? That's the way I roll. I wanted her to be happy and I am definitely more easy going about things. I don't have hang ups about what other guys derisively call "chick flicks".

Since Monday, I've been thinking a lot about what I've learned about my summer with Celine and what I also know about abused women, based on books I've read. There's something psychologically amiss about a woman who only knows love through the intense drama with an abusive male. I knew that she'd probably experience a "freak out" at some point. I thought that I was going to be devastated by her behavior and cutting me off, but a housemate had me go through a technique called "EFT" or "Tapping". After we did that, I was surprised how quickly I felt the effects (a small blissful feeling in my "solar plexus" and a view that it's her issue and not mine, so I am able to let it go). In the days since, I actually feel good about moving on and beginning the search anew.

I will probably use elements from our "summer of sizzle" in a novel I've been wanting to write about courtship and dating. Not sure if I plan to write that next year, but I'll at least develop characters, story, and plot so I can begin writing it as soon as I get my novel about the Boy Scouts completed. I decided to devote 2014 to meeting my writing goals, no matter what. The itch to write again is coming on strong.

What I learned most about my experience with Celine is that the most important personal value I have is my sense of personal freedom. I consider it so vital to my well being that I am unwilling to surrender it to just any lady who comes across. To me, a relationship means a complete commitment that involves my loyalty and the subversion of my own interests for the sake of the other / for the relationship. I can't do that for a woman who is emotional unstable or a control freak or neurotic or whatever dysfunctions people have and bring into relationships. I read a book this summer that describes the kind of relationship I seek. The book is Gary Zukav's Spiritual Partnerships. Direct and honest communication is required. The game playing, cryptic messages, and evasions / non-communication subverts the relationship. Keeping one another honest about one's emotions and actions is not for slouches. Interestingly, Celine's daughter asked me on a few occasions why I'm not married. I told her, "The most important decision you can make in life is the person you marry." I think most people make it for ulterior motives that they might not even be aware of. The casualness of many engagements is likely a factor in many a divorces. A few years ago, I actually overheard a cellphone conversation where a young man in his 20s was telling his buddy on the other end of his phone conversation that some girl was really into him and he'll probably marry her because he's shipping off to Iraq and if the worst happens, it would be nice to have at least one person cry at his funeral. I was horrified when I heard him say that and prayed that the woman would somehow come to a realization that he was not right for her. That's an incredibly selfish reason to make a decision as important as marriage.

As the year ends, I am amazed that it began with my frustrations of living in a household where I witnessed the homeowner / landlord sexually using a variety of Asian women for his sexual pleasure and it ends with personal heartbreak that being the proverbial "nice guy" who treats women as equal and with respect failed with a lady who has a long history dating and marrying only abusive men. But I have the self confidence to say that this is not the life I want for myself and I'm using my personal freedom to move on and hopefully manifest a more suitable partner for myself in 2014. This time, I hope that she is ethnically / racially mixed or African American. Lately, I've been finding that my interests / attraction for someone who is a racial blend like myself is growing. Or maybe it didn't disappear altogether. Most of all, the next lady I date will be single and fully available for a relationship. Until then, you can find me in the gym. Happy December!

Friday, May 24, 2013

What is Cruelty?

On the church's Facebook wall a few weeks ago, one member who has "gone atheist" questioned my spirituality by saying that she saw no evidence that spirituality made me a better person because she believes that I am "cruel" on my blog. When I emailed her privately and requested examples of my "cruelty", I never got a response. Not surprised, actually. There are always going to be people with controlling personality types who hate the fact that I have a blog and that I write about the way I view the world and other people. A few have made unreasonable demands to have me take down my blog for whatever reasons, which is a sign of their controlling natures. If something offends you, then don't read it!! It won't hurt my feelings at all if people who are "offended" by something I wrote don't read my blog ever again. I'm actually flattered that people do read my blog.

Whenever someone accuses me of something, the first thing I do is look at the dictionary definition, just so I can try to see if the word fits in some way. At the very least, it gives me insight into another's mind. Here's how Mr. Dictionary defines "Cruel":

adjective, cru·el·er, cru·el·est.
1. willfully or knowingly causing pain or distress to others.
2. enjoying the pain or distress of others: the cruel spectators of the gladiatorial contests.
3. causing or marked by great pain or distress: a cruel remark; a cruel affliction.
4. rigid; stern; strict; unrelentingly severe.

Well...that definitely does not fit me at all, and that is no self-delusion. No one has ever called me that before. I tend to be fair-minded and flexible rather than "rigid, stern, strict, or unrelentingly severe." I definitely have had moments where I physically and emotionally felt another person's pain, which I believe is a sign of true compassion ("compassion" meaning "to suffer with"). I hate to see anyone in pain and I especially would hate it if I was the cause of another person's pain.

However, if someone gets "offended" because they don't like my opinion on something, then I have no responsibility for that because when I write something or say something from my own life experience, it is meant to share my perspective. I'm not sharing something to deliberately hurt someone's feelings and make them feel badly about themselves (unless I'm specifically addressing something wrong that they did, such as speaking out when someone is abusing someone else). It seems that some people are too sensitive or hyper-sensitive that any opinion that another person makes from their own life experience / truth, appears as deliberately "hurtful" or "cruel" to them. This is where learning discernment comes in handy. Children are actually the best teachers for this kind of thing because they have an unfiltered way of expressing themselves and you really do get to learn how to accept their truths and not be so offended by what they might say.

You know who I think is cruel? Dick Cheney! The man just emits that kind of vibe (he was the one who authorized water boarding of terrorist suspects) and you can see it in his countenance as well as his physical manifestation (that crooked sneer of his). When I find someone to be cruel, I don't waste my time with them. I don't read their writings or be in their presence or even talk about them much. I just stay far away from them.

I have my theories on why this particular church member might find my blog to be "cruel", but I won't get into that. All I will say is that this blog is how I view the world. It is opinionated on politics, spirituality, and popular culture. This is my right to write about life from my perspective. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees me that right and my honorable service in the U.S. Navy helped protect those rights. If someone is bothered by anything I say, they can always feel free to post a comment or email me a message. I may or may not agree with their view, and that's the risk you take. However, if it bothers you that much that you'll tell church members on Facebook what an awful and cruel person I am without giving specific details, thus slandering me to people within my faith community, then what you did was cross the line. All I have to say is that if my blog topics and opinions bother you, won't hurt my feelings if you decide to not read it anymore. There are well over 100 million blogs out there to read from. Hope you find a few that makes your heart sing. In the meantime, I'll continue to write about topics of my interests, exercising my right to freedom of speech as guaranteed by our Founding Fathers.

Shifting tracks a little bit, as regular blog readers can see, I have been blogging less lately. It started last year and this year is even less than last year. Well, there is a logical reason for that. Since March of this year, I met a lady who meets all the criteria I have been looking for in a marriage-destined relationship and we have been progressively spending more and more time with one another, which includes every weekend now for several weeks. I'd love to return to a regular blogging schedule, but honestly, I prefer to spend my time at the gym (I joined in March) and with this lady. I have great feelings about where this is heading, so life is going incredibly well since I moved out of that toxic living environment with the divorced bachelor housemates and their neanderthal way of treating women. In case you're curious, the lady doesn't think I'm cruel. In fact, she says that I'm one of the kindest men she's ever met. Her young children even like me. I feel blessed.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Music Video Monday: Red Hot Chili Peppers

In honor of the Red Hot Chili Peppers post-Dalai Lama speech performance, this week's Music Video Monday is my favorite song by this California band, "Snow." It is one of the most fun songs to sing along to, especially on a road trip. It is sheer brilliance and proof that a long-term band can still create great music more than a decade and a half after their "masterpiece" single "Under The Bridge."

Enjoy! If you get a chance to see them in concert, go!!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Dalai Lama's Visit to the City of Roses

This past week, the Dalai Lama has been back in the U.S.A., making stops in a variety of places, including Maryland, where he rubbed noses with Governor Martin O'Malley, whom I am planning to support for president in 2016 should he decide to run. I love this photo of both of them, because it shows just how open-minded the Irish Catholic governor is, recognizing the spiritual leadership of the world's most famous Buddhist monk. I would expect Governor O'Malley to do something like this with the Pope, but not His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Its stuff like this (along with the other things I've learned about him in the past couple of years) that makes me more confident that I'd love to see Governor O'Malley become our next president.

This photo of me was taken at church today. Someone saw my status update on Facebook and requested that I bring my "khata" (white prayer shawl, which has Tibetan writing on it). Each of the more than 10,000 people who attended the Dalai Lama event in Portland received a "khata", which the Dalai Lama blessed en masse at the end of his speech.

Tickets to this all day event were $50, but I received mine for free because I was part of a winning team during a World Affairs Council trivia night event. I saw the three previous speakers at the Arlene Schnitzer auditorium earlier this year and the Dalai Lama event was the final speaker in the series. His speech was at the Veterans Memorial Colosseum (home to the Winterhawks ice hockey team) and was an all day event. I woke up too late to catch the opening of the morning session and only got to see the final 30 minutes. He was part of a panel that included Dr. Suzuki (a famous Buddhist scholar), Oregon Governor Kitzhaber, and some lady who is involved in environmental / sustainability issues in Oregon. The purpose of the event was a weekend conference on environmental responsibility. The Dalai Lama had been in Portland since Thursday, attending various events around town on Thursday and Friday. After this morning's panel interview session ended, the Dalai Lama got up and all he said was, "Lunch?" and the people in the auditorium laughed. I guess it is an unexpected reminder that he has human needs like we all do. His Holiness has to eat, too!

We couldn't bring food into the venue, so our options were overpriced stadium food. I got into the shortest line I saw, which was for pizza, which beat hotdogs for me. On the concourse around the auditorium were various booths of people selling all kinds of Tibetan souvenirs. Since I know of at least three different Tibetan stores in Portland, I didn't have to buy too much of anything I wanted. Lunch was two hours, which offered everyone plenty of time to eat and get to their seats.

The event started when film director Darren Aronofsky came out and gave a short introductory speech. Then the director introduced my Congressman Earl Blumenauer. The Dalai Lama came out and was given a Trailblazers jersey and ballcap, along with a bicycle lapel pin that the Congressman gives to dignitaries. Being a true sport, the Dalai Lama put on the Trailblazers ballcap. He spoke about compassion. His speech didn't really fit the theme of the environmental conference, but it was good to be in the same building as him and finally see him in person, even though my seat was high up in the nosebleed sections. As much as I love and admire the Dalai Lama, his speech was not all that great or memorable. I loved the moments when he laughed, though. Of all the people I've ever seen in life, no one has as great of a laugh as the Dalai Lama. He has a kind of impish / mischievous personality and I think were I to meet him face to face, I'd likely break out in laughter because he would inspire that response in me.

At one point in the speech, a loud boom went off and at first, I thought it was a bomb. But the speakers or the mike blew, which was a testament to his amazing energy. I have no doubt that he blew the speakers. There were two large screens on either side of the stage and the things he spoke into the mike appeared on the screen. We couldn't hear what he was saying, but his words appeared on the screen. He walked back and forth on the stage, asking technicians what happened. Then he sat down in the chair and made a gesture of taking a nap, which got the audience laughing. When he got a new mike, he made a joke about the "boom!" which I thought was funny. This incident really showed his patience and sense of humour.

After his speech, there was a question and answer session, with Aronofsky and Red Hot Chili Pepper Anthony Kiedis taking turns asking the questions. The closing blessing of everyone's khata marked the end of the Dalai Lama's visit and then the Red Hot Chili Peppers brought down the house with a 75 minute set. I've never seen them in concert before so it was great to finally see that. I was really impressed with Flea's stage presence. The concert began with him playing the guitar in a strange position (he bent over, making his body look like a triangle while he played his guitar close to the floor). Flea dominated the stage and I suspect that he was ADD or ADHD and found the perfect career for that. It wasn't long before lead singer Anthony Kiedis took off his shirt. They rocked through their hits and after singing one song in encore ("Give It Away"), I was surprised that they did not sing their biggest and most famous hit: "Under The Bridge." But, they did sing the song that is probably my favorite of theirs: "Snow", which is incredibly fun to sing along to.

All in all, it was a great and memorable day in the City of Roses.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Big Change in the Community of Christ

In April, the Community of Christ, a church that I have been a member of all my life and being a fifth generation member, had its World Conference and the first ever USA National Conference. We've had a World Conference for as long as I remember and in the past, it occurred every even numbered year, where delegates representing congregations from all over the world would meet in Independence, Missouri to discuss and vote on church government legislation. I attended one as a child in the 1970s (either 1976 or 1978) and in 1996. I had wanted to attend this year, but its hard to get time off from work when I only have 5 vacation days (God, I hate American corporations and their stinginess regarding vacation days and benefits). I hope to attend the next one in 2016. World Conference is now once every three years, which I hate. I loved the even numbered thing. We can thank the controversial resignation of the previous church president / prophet for messing up our schedule. We had a World Conference in 2006 and then he resigned in 2007 (for reasons that have never been made public, leading some people to speculate on the salacious reason), so we had to have a special conference to pick a new president for our church (we are no Catholic conclave for sure). The next conference was in 2010 and now here we are in 2013 with TWO conferences, back to back.

The USA National Conference was specifically for the issue of what to do about church members who are gay / bisexual / transgendered. The reason why they have to decide this issue on a national basis (Australia and Canada church congregations already had their national conferences on these issues) is because homosexual rights is a growing reality in the Western industrialized nations, while the topic is still quite taboo for the church congregations in African nations in particular. It presents a problem, because in the past, church policy has been universal. Which means that in 1984, when the priesthood offices were opened up for women to be called and to serve, that meant women in the church anywhere, whether in Missouri or Malawi. Now, though, due to the dangers posed to any sexual minority in an African country, it makes it difficult to have such a universal policy.

What the delegates to the National Conference decided was a pleasant surprise. More than 70% of the delegates supported a policy change that allows the church to recognize and perform same-sex marriages in states where it is legal, or civil unions in states where it is now; and for priesthood calls to be allowed for members who are homosexual / lesbian / bisexual / transgendered. This is a significant change. I wasn't sure that the majority of the church members were quite there yet, as I know quite a few people from my home congregation in Atlanta who are troubled by this development and have threatened to leave the church over this issue (the church lost 50,000 members after 1984's decision allowing women to be called to priesthood offices). I'll be sad to see anyone leave the church over this issue, but what can you do? Society has experienced a seachange since 2004 when so many gay marriage bans were voted on in ballot initiatives. Now, Time magazine had a cover article recently about how the majority of Americans now support marriage equality (not banning gay people from marriage) and the Boy Scouts organization plans to make a decision regarding their ban this month, and the Supreme Court will release their decision on gay marriage in June (just in time for Pride parades?). Society is moving towards equality and tolerance, so it would have been damaging to the church's future authenticity among young people if they continued down the archaic path.

When I heard the wonderful news out of Independence MO one beautiful Sunday morning a few weeks ago, I was proud of my church for once again doing the right thing. Out of all of the churches that grew out of the shared Latter Day Saints history, we remain the most liberal church (and the second largest). I love Community of Christ!

The above video was played at World Conference. It shows the universal nature of our church, as it features singers in Africa, Latin America, America, and Polynesia. The words are pretty simple and comes across as a beautiful mantra. "Peace, Salaam, Shalom." This is the essence of our church and yes, I'm pretty proud to be a member of such a faith community. It is my extended family and my tribe. If you're curious about the Community of Christ, please see if there is one in your part of the world and stop in and say hello.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Fatal Flaw of the Male Species

Recently on Facebook, I posted a comment that I had seen on a celebrity gossip magazine while waiting in the check-out line at the grocery store that Bachelor Sean Lowe's relationship with the lady he gave the final rose to, along with a marriage proposal and an engagement ring, is on the rocks. I don't know if it is true or not, but it would come as no surprise to me. There has not been one single bachelor on that series who has married the woman he chose. You would think that starting with the odds of 25 women all pining for you would be an excellent way of finding someone to marry. But, I think the superficiality of the show encourages personal dramas, shallowness, and cattiness among women. No one wants to be rejected, especially not on national television.

My post sparked a debate with a co-worker, who said that the reason why it doesn't work is because when the reality of living together away from the cameras sets in, they see a whole new side to their significant other. I agree with that, but I still think one could gauge a woman's sincerity through conversations during the show. For example, I thought Desiree was really genuine and if I was the bachelor, I would have chosen her (good thing she is getting her own show in which to pick a husband). In fact, if I was the bachelor, I would ask every single lady what she thought the purpose of life was and what her thoughts on spirituality might be. This would easily winnow down the group and have all the shallow ones running for the limo out of there. But, I don't have the all-American hunkiness and charisma of Sean Lowe, so I won't ever be in such a situation.

As I discussed with the co-worker about this show during my lunch break, another co-worker whom I view as a snake, chimed in. I don't really like this guy because he always talks about sex and he thinks that's the only motive that guys have in life. He's always trying to get me to sleep with my boss, but I'm not even attracted to her and even if I was, I wouldn't do something like that because I have healthy boundaries (I won't even date co-workers, though there is one Hispanic lady that I find quite attractive). Anyhow, this horn dog of a co-worker actually asked me this: "If you could choose between sleeping with three different hot women every week for a year or to be in a relationship with one woman, which would you choose?"

I responded, "I'm a relationship guy. I am looking for just one lady to make a lifetime commitment to." He thinks I'm crazy, but c'mon! I'm 41 now and wanted to be married in my mid-30s. I've always viewed myself as a monogamous, relationship-focused guy. In fact, the character Eric "E" in the TV show Entourage is a lot like me. Even in my Navy days, I never felt comfortable around guys who used women for their sexual pleasure. I love the friendship and relationship aspect, first and foremost. Sex is great when you can get it and when there's love involved, but I've also had an experience that was even greater than sex.

This co-worker is a decade older than me and has never been married. In fact, the last girlfriend he had, she wanted a child and her biological clock was ticking. He kept stringing her along and stringing her along until she came to a point where she needed a secure future. He dumped her (she was in her mid-30s) after a several year relationship. You can't do that to a woman in her 30s who wants a child. It is truly a selfish thing to do.

I've seen a lot of selfish males up close and way too personal. As my previous posts have pointed out, I recently got out of a living situation in which the homeowner converted a shared open space into his bedroom, with only minimal levels of privacy, and what made me ultimately decide to look for a new place to live was his having three different women stay at the house for long periods of time, in which he engaged in some pretty loud and not-so-private sexual escapades to the point where I actually felt like I was living in a brothel. Another  housemate, whose bedroom was next to the washer and dryer, was into S&M sex and when I was loading up the washer once, I heard him beat the living tar out of some woman and had to restrain myself from busting down the door. I do not like hearing a woman cry or get a beating. Even though in this woman's case, it was likely consensual, it's still something I prefer not hearing because my natural instinct is to be the white knight on the horse rescuing her from the douche bag men who are not worthy of her.

The lady from church who let me stay in her house for the time being is just the latest woman I know to have a husband in mid-life leave her for another woman. It makes me mad when I hear about men doing this and all seems to boil down to sex. Its our gender's natural obsession. The counselor I've been seeing has told me that she was once married to a muscular, good looking Alpha male and now does not find them attractive. She's trying to help me through my dating frustrations, because I really don't understand why I'm still single and why so many of the women I meet are so messed up. Why do people pick the wrong person to mate with? Why can't people override their biological impulse? We've all read about the "Bad Boy fixation" (there was even a recent article on the Huffington Post about it). What is it about women that seek the kind of men who are not likely to be faithful?

For me, I know I'm faithful. I like knowing people at a deep level. It takes a longer period of time for me to get to know people and feel comfortable enough to share parts of myself with. When I'm in a relationship with a woman, she will never have to worry about me running off with another woman. That just wouldn't happen because my loyalty gene is too strong. Plus, I live by a chivalrous code of honor (which includes not sleeping with my boss or dating co-workers). The five different housemates I've had in the past couple of years have all been married and divorced. I'm like the rare species of male who has not been married yet. Everyone's on their second or third marriages and I'm at the point where all that's left for me are the discards and left-overs.

I read another article in The Atlantic magazine, which was about online dating and how that is becoming a major threat to long-term relationships. The easy way of meeting prospective partners online means that more and more people are no longer willing to work hard to salvage their relationships. They are willing to discard the person they are with for the exciting and new. This disgusts me, actually. My values of loyalty and long-term commitment seem so old fashioned.

If any women are reading this post, please please listen to me. I'm a guy who served on two all male ships in the Navy and lived with about 20 various male housemates over the years (in college, mostly). The guy you want for a long term relationship is the one who will be your friend first. If sex comes too easily or is expected too early on, you can bet that you won't be the last person your man will have sex with. Develop a friendship first and watch it blossom into something more. It will save you grief years down the road. I actually agree with feminists on this point: most men really are pigs. The sex always gets us in trouble.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Life Update

This is an update for my loyal, regular blog readers. On March 9th, I finally moved out of the shared townhouse that the homeowner pretty much turned into his personal whorehouse. He gave me an eviction notice when he discovered that I had posted on Facebook back in January about my dislike of the constant parade of women that he allows to stay at the house, even when he is away for three or four days. Because my post had mentioned that I almost wanted to tell these women that he was just using them for sex, he felt exposed and didn't want me around for his latest sexual escapades. I have no idea how he found out about my post because I had de-friended him and saw that his ex-girlfriend had de-friended me, yet she was the one who saw my post and confronted him about it. When he approached me, he said that it was none of my business or any of the women's business who he sleeps with. Well, when you rent out all the bedrooms and decide to convert an open space between the bedrooms, bathroom, and stairs into your own bedroom with just some bookcases and folding screens for privacy, and you have constant and loud sex whenever you want, then it becomes everyone's business. If you want to live like a randy bachelor, then you shouldn't have housemates. Oh, my bad. I guess you can't afford to pay the mortgage on your own.

I had been wanting out of that intolerable living situation since January, after the third woman he had for a houseguest. But it has been a frustrating search on Craigslist due to the high number of flaky people or downright strange people. Fortunately, a lady from my church asked me if I wanted to stay in her house at least until mid-August, giving me more time to find a long term living situation. So, on March 9th, two guys from church helped me move out. I hadn't spoken to the homeowner for the last two weeks, after he had asked me to leave. I also did not pay him rent after February 15th. As we were moving stuff out of the house onto the truck, the homeowner walks in with his sex toy who spent a weekend before Thanksgiving at the house. They proceeded to his little den of iniquity and had sex while my friends and I were moving things out of my bedroom and down the stairs. It was truly awkward. Oh well. I'm out of there and a lot happier now. I'm also certain that the homeowner is a sex addict who will probably find himself in hell when he dies because he's a user and an abuser. I hope karma will catch up with him eventually.

Unfortunately, my Netbook is having issues, so I won't be able to blog for awhile until I get it looked at.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Best of 2012

This is the latest I've ever done a year end "Best of" list. This is due in large part to my not seeing the film Les Miserables when I wanted to. I had wanted to see it over my birthday weekend but I decided to wait until one lady was able to see it. We could never coordinate a time and I ended up seeing Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook, and six films at the Portland International Film Festival. I finally saw Les Miserables yesterday, so now I can do my year end best of list (I have not seen Argo yet and it looks like it has the momentum to steal Best Picture away from Lincoln even though the last time the Academy awarded Best Picture to a film that did not get a Best Director nomination was in 1990 for Driving Miss Daisy). Enjoy!
Best Quote of the Year
"President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college...What a snob.”
by Rick Santorum

In a year that gave us so many memorable quote from Republican presidential candidates and Republican candidates for the Senate and the House of Representatives, it was almost hard to choose which quote represents to the most hilarious of the year. I decided to go with the Rick Santorum quote above because it illustrates how clueless conservatives are about the meanings of words and is so absurd that you wonder how he could say it with a straight face. If you have a chance, check out a recording of Rick Santorum saying it, because his delivery is hilarious, particularly when he says "What a snob!" Usually, a snob is someone who is arrogant and proud of his or her intellect, so for a president who wants everyone in America to go to college, that's not a sign of being a snob. A snob would not want other people to have the same education or to reach the same level of intellect, because a snob thinks he's better than other people. Even more crazy, Santorum said this to a roomful of conservatives and they applauded him! You mean to tell me that conservatives don't want everyone to go to college? Isn't that what being a snob is all about?

 Best Book
The Mirage by Matt Ruff

Last year, I went to a booksigning and lecture at Powell's City of Books for this intriguing novel. Novelist Matt Ruff wrote one of the most fascinatingly creative novels I've ever had the pleasure of reading. It falls under the "alternative history" genre. In this novel, the Arab countries of the Middle East make up the "United Arab States", a democratic superpower, while the United States is fractured into different countries in open hostility with one another. The United Kingdom plays the role of Iran in this alternative universe, and the Jewish state of Israel is Germany, which has to deal with hostility from fundamentalist Christians and neo-Nazis who aren't pleased with having their homeland run by Jews. In this novel, the Jews of Israel (in Germany) are aligned with the United Arab States. Other interesting details include references to a former action movie star being the governor of Lebanon, Gadhafi is the governor of an eco-paradise state of Libya, and Saddam Hussein is a gangster warlord. The novel begins with a 9/11 incident (which takes place on November 9th) in which twin towers in Baghdad are destroyed by fundamentalist Christian terrorists. Once you start reading this novel, you simply won't be able to put it down. Though I was not happy about the ending, I still believe it is well worth reading and deserves a lot of credit for originality and inspiring a lot of thinking outside of the box.

Best Song / Best Music Video
"Some Nights" by fun.

In my job, I have to research songs on the Internet to find the writer and publisher in order to contact them for the right of the company to use these songs on products that they sell. Well, last summer, as I was researching a song on a website, I kept getting a link to the song "Some Nights" while the website played this song. I was completely hooked on it. When I looked for a music video on YouTube, I was blown away by the clever use of setting the storyline in the Civil War. Just like the band's name, this song and video is simply "fun." I love the melody shifts and it has a very high charge melody, too. Simply put, "Some Nights" is the best song I heard in 2012.

Best Album / Artist of the Year
Born Under The Star of Change by Kaya
When Bruce Springsteen's political anthem zeitgeist Wrecking Ball came out a year ago, I thought for sure that it would end up as my favorite album of the year. He had captured the anger of our times, regarding our dismal economy and a condemnation of those whose greed put our economy in the toilet. That album stands next to his classic masterpieces Born in the U.S.A. and The Rising albums. However, that was before I discovered Kaya's spiritual album, Born Under the Star of Change. Again, my exposure to this album is due to my job, as this artist is distributed by the company I work for. He performed at our annual conference last year and I listened to his album out of curiosity at first and the more I listened to it, the more I loved it. I also loved the way I felt after listening to it. I could feel a positive energy shift. So many of his songs have a deep spiritual meaning and cover a wide range of topics. I wrote about the album twice last year, so I don't need to repeat myself here. Of all the CDs I heard last year, this one is the absolute best.

The reason why I am naming Kaya as my choice of "Artist of the Year" is because this album represents a "come-back" for him, after a 15 year absence from the music scene. In the 1990s, he was being marketed as a teen idol and was a well known pop star in Canada. After meeting a young lady who died of leukemia, he decided to walk away from it all: the wealth, the adulation, the tours, the records, and just pursue a spiritual path. Now, he decided to return to music making spiritually enhanced music. I consider him the male Enya and I hope that he will become just as successful as her in this genre of music.
Best Foreign Language Film
A Separation (Iran)

This was the first film from Iran that I have ever seen and it won the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award last year. A well deserved win! I saw it last year with the "Movies and Meaning" discussion group and it was quite the discussion (there was a new guy in the group who came across as a snob by commenting that none of us knew or understood what the film was really about, which annoyed everyone because we actually love hearing the different perspectives people take away from the film). The film is intense and well worth seeing. It deals with lies, class, religion, and misogyny. I've read before that of all the countries in the world, the United States is more similar to Iran than we actually are to the socialist and very secular countries of Western Europe. I don't agree with that view, but I can understand the comparison because both Iran and the United States have a very strong element of religious conservatives who seem to hate secular liberals more than they hate foreigners. In this film, we see the divide which is similar to the United States: an upper class, educated family is not religious, while the poor, working class live by religious authority and conformity. This film deserved its Oscar and it was great to get a glimpse of life in Iran, even though it is fiction, and to hear Persian spoken in a film.

Best Television Show

Though I wish this show would be more traditional in terms of the characters and storylines, I think it is fantastic that there is a TV show that showcases the People's Republic of Portland, in all our ironic, hipster glory. There are some interesting sketches and a friend once asked me how accurate this show was regarding life in Portland. I told her that it was a satire, which requires a bit of exaggeration, but some of the ideas are pretty right on. For example, the episode where a couple go to a restaurant and ask about their meal being organic or free range...this is typical Portland culture. Where the satire goes into absurdity for the sake of comedy is that the couple actually gets a complete biography on the animals they are about to eat. It's funny because its absurd and it makes fun of Portland in a loving way. The unfortunate aspect of the show is that it supposedly has caused an uptick in young people moving here, despite our dismal job market and expensive housing options. Seriously, if you love this show and are wanting to move here because of it, DON'T!! At least get a job offer before you move. A better idea is to find a hipster neighborhood in your city and create your own "Portlandia" experience.

Best Song from a Motion Picture
"Skyfall" by Adele

Theme songs from movies are slim pickings these days. I don't know why. Back in the 80s, it seemed like every movie wanted its own cool theme song and soundtrack. The James Bond series gave us plenty of memorable songs: "Goldfinger", "Live and Let Die", "You Only Live Twice", "The Man With the Golden Gun", "Diamonds Are Forever", "Nobody Does It Better", "For Your Eyes Only", "A View To A Kill", "The Living Daylights", and "Licence To Kill". The Bond theme songs for the Brosnan films of the 1990s were disappointing and not radio friendly. They totally wasted the talents of Tina Turner and Sheryl Crow in lackluster Bond theme songs. Madonna's "Die Another Day" was a welcome relief, but then they went into another slump with the theme songs to Daniel Craig's Bond films. Until Adele, that is. Her "Skyfall" is a welcome return to the Bond-sound, utilizing a few familiar notes to indicate that this is most definitely a Bond song and what an incredible song, too.

Best Costume Design
Les Miserables

One of the aspects I loved about the film version of the popular musical, Les Miserables, is the clothing styles worn by the men. This is my kind of style and I really do wish that this would come back in style again. I particularly love the look of Inspector Javert's blue jacket with black neck collar and silver fleur-de-lis. I would absolutely wear something like that. The vests worn by the men also represents my style. I have a few vests but I prefer the 1800s style. The costume designers did a fantastic job in this film.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables 

For me, Anne Hathaway wins the honor hands down with her devastatingly heartbreaking performance of "I Dreamed a Dream." I was completely stunned when I watched that scene in the movie theater. She conveys all the heartbreak and despair in her face and voice during the singing of that achingly beautiful song. Though her role of Fantine in the film is small, her impact is huge. I hope it will be felt tomorrow night at the Academy Awards.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook 

Robert DeNiro is always a joy to watch in any film. He strikes me as the kind of father-in-law you'd want to have. In this film, he plays a father with a gambling problem, whose temper has caused him to be banned from ever attending a Philadelphia Eagles game in person. He imposes on his son, played by Bradley Cooper. Wanting his son to watch the game with him is less about father-son bonding than it is about his superstitions (he considers his son watching the game with him to be "good luck" for the Eagles to win the game). He does a great job in the film, along with Jennifer Lawrence (the likely winner of this year's Best Actress Oscar) and Bradley Cooper.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Michelle Yeoh, The Lady

The most beautiful Asian actress playing the beautiful dissident in Burma? Now that's perfect casting! It's a shame that Michelle Yeoh was not given a Best Actress nomination for this role, for she did a phenomenal job of disappearing into Aung San Suu Kyi. I did not see Michelle Yeoh at all in this film. She was Aung San Suu Kyi. Yeoh has been among my favorite actresses since I first saw her in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997. I wish that she was in more films. I loved her in Memoirs of a Geisha, and I hope that Amy Chua has sold the rights to her controversial best-seller, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother to Michelle Yeoh. There are so few acting opportunities for Asian actresses and while I believe Yeoh could play a wide number of roles (not just Asian-specific characters), I really would love to see her play Amy Chua in the film version of the demanding Chinese mother and the battles she has with her youngest daughter. No matter what films she makes in the future, though, I believe that her portrayal of Aung San Suu Kyi was phenomenal and worth of the "Best Actress" distinction for 2012. She was born to play that role.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis may be receiving his third Best Actor Oscar award tomorrow night for his portrayal of America's 16th and greatest president, Abraham Lincoln, but this is the first time he has won that distinction in my Carroll Awards (which goes back to 1980. You can see my previous best actor selections in an old blog post). He did a fantastic job in this role, to the point where I could not see Day-Lewis at all. He was Abraham Lincoln come to life and it has been long overdue for this beloved president to be seen on the big screen. When it comes to selecting the single best acting performance in each of the four categories, I have a preference for actors and actresses who play real or historical people over invented characters. I think it takes a lot more work to convincingly portray a real life or historical person. One has to disappear into the role and for a famous actor, this is hard to pull off. Tom Cruise has difficulty with it, because when I see a Tom Cruise film, I'm aware that I'm watching Tom Cruise playing a character. This was especially distracting in a film like Valkyrie, where he played a Nazi officer attempting to assassinate Hitler. But, Daniel Day-Lewis is probably the best actor of the Baby Boomer generation. It will be difficult to watch any potential future movies about Abraham Lincoln without Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal.

Best Director
Luc Besson, The Lady 

French director Luc Besson captured my attention with 1991's film La Femme Nikita, which was the first foreign language film that I liked. Actress Anne Parillaud was my Best Actress choice for 1991 for her role in that film as a street gang member who becomes an assassin for the government. Besson has made quite a few films over the years, but none have interested me much until he decided to bring Burmese dissident and political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi's life story to the big screen. It was a story worth telling and he told it well. I still have no idea why it did not capture the acclaim of film critics and all the award nominations. The film was far better than some previous Best Motion Picture award winners, such as The King's Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, Crash, Shakespeare in Love, and American Beauty. I mean, seriously...those film win the top honors but The Lady did not garner any such nomination?

I have a tendency to split the honors between Best Director and Best Picture, but this year, I have to credit Monsieur Besson for the difficulties and dedication he took on for this important film project. I'm not certain that any other director could do as great of a job. It'll be interesting to see where his career goes from here.

Best Motion Picture
Best Cinematography
Best Film Score
The Lady

This should come to no surprise to anyone who knows me. I've been a big admirer of Aung San Suu Kyi for about 18 years now and a few years ago, I had made a wish to the universe that a film biography would be made of her life and that it would star Michelle Yeoh. The universe granted my wish in a beautiful and moving motion picture. This film covers the most important parts of Aung San Suu Kyi's public life, with a prologue of her as a young girl whose father is assassinated and an epilogue of her a few years after her husband's death when the Buddhist monks protested en masse against the brutality of the military dictatorship. In between, we see a woman who did her family duties by returning to Burma to care for her ailing mother, which happened to coincide with the upheaval in the country when the college students protested against the government. She becomes a symbol of democracy for the nation that never experienced it. She endures the loneliness of separation from her English husband and their two sons for the sake of winning democracy for the people of Burma. Of all the movies I've seen in 2012, The Lady has touched me the most, at the deepest level of my being. It is truly a great motion picture experience and thus why it is named as my favorite and the best film released in 2012. In second place is Lincoln and in third place is Les Miserables. Those three movies were simply phenomenal and the other two deserve the top spot as well, but no film hit me at such a deep emotional level as The Lady, so it deserves the top honor.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Music Video Monday: Duran Duran

This week's music video is by Duran Duran, which was my favorite band back in 1984. Their song "Union of the Snake" is the perfect song to usher in the Chinese Year of the Snake. I always loved their cinematic quality of their music videos. They, along with Michael Jackson and Madonna helped to make MTV the #1 station among teenagers in the 1980s.

Last week at work, I had to product review yet another upcoming DVD release that has about 6 "documentaries" dealing with various conspiracies. One of the more interesting documentaries on the DVD is about they symbolism and long history of "serpent worship". I watched it, quite riveted. I had no idea. The narrator claimed that once you are aware of how the snake is used in all kinds of mythologies and religious stories, you'll begin to see them everywhere. In the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, there was the talking snake that convinced Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge (of good and evil). There's also the story of Moses turning a snake into a staff. From Greek mythology, there's Medusa with her head full of snakes. Cleopatra committed suicide with Marc Anthony with a snake bite (an asp). In Meso-American culture, there's Quatzalcoatl, the plumed serpent. In some Southern Baptist or Assemblies of God churches in the South, there are snake handlers, who grab poisonous snakes as a testament of faith.

One of the best advice I've ever gotten was from a Navy chaplain when I was stationed in Italy. He would say to me often, "Be as wise as a serpent and appear harmless of a dove." I had no idea what he was talking about at the time. It wasn't until years later, when dealing with office gossip that I learned just how true those words are. I have learned that people seem threatened by someone they consider to be intelligent. The common misperception of me is that people seem to think I'm much smarter than I really am (one lady on Facebook thought I was smart enough to join MENSA, which I know that I am not). To de-emphasize this, I often play the clown or say something people think is stupid, just to take their impression of me down a notch or two. When people think you aren't bright, you can fly under the radar. I like that.

Anyhow, it will be interesting to see how the Year of the Snake will play out. Hopefully, it will be a great year...especially for me, personally. There's stuff that I want to do this year.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Welcome to the Year of the Snake

Surprise! It's me. I've been meaning to write several old posts for January, but that would be too much of a commitment, so I decided that the Chinese New Year would be a great opportunity to break my long hiatus and start regular blogging again. I suppose I could go back and write about events in January, such as Obama's Second Inauguration (I thought his speech was far better than his disappointing first Inaugural speech in 2009), but I am deciding that my blog for 2013 begins now. January will just have to be the missing "hiatus" month.

For 2013, I am keeping with my tradition of the past few years of giving a theme to my year as well as a theme song to my year. This year's theme is a rather simple: "Lucky 2013." I will focus on good luck this year. My year of good luck. As a kid, I used to fear the number 13. I suppose a certain hockey mask wearing psycho on the Silver Screen had something to do with it. I remember being afraid of turning 13. But once I turned 14, I realized that I had a great 13th year, so that number no longer carries any stigma with me (I'm actually disappointed that buildings don't have an official 13th floor, even though floor 14 is in reality the 13th floor). Anyhow, I will be playing with the idea of luck and examining it and thinking about it. In consistency with that theme, I have chosen the song "Lucky" by Greg Kihn to be my theme song this year. I love this song from the 1980s. Other songs under consideration were "Wishing I Was Lucky" by Wet Wet Wet and "I Should Be So Lucky" by Kylie Minogue. However, I found that those were too wishful and according to the principles of the Universal Law of Attraction, I need to be more in the mindset of thinking that the things I am hoping for this year have already come to past. Greg Kihn's song was the perfect choice because of its upbeat melody and the positive lyrics.

Every year, I like to try something new. Last year, it was flotation tanks. I did it twice (including on my birthday weekend). This year, I decided to try an experiment by living my life according to my astrological chart. In January, I went to a session given by an astrologer who explained the basic mechanics of this "New Agey" belief system that gets much ridicule in the general public and among science types and logic / left brained folks. I'm not convinced that there is anything to astrology, but after hearing the astrologer give good and easy-to-comprehend background on the basics of reading a chart and how to plan one's year, I decided to give it a try. My biggest problem has been timing and I need a good system of timing for myself. I feel like I wasted the last two years. In 2011, my focus was finding the love of my life that will lead to marriage. I struck out badly that year. In 2012, my focus was on finding a living wage career in government or college. I did have 4 interviews last year, which I believe is a personal record for most interviews in a single year since I moved to Portland in 2006. Something is improving! However, in the past, while it has been difficult landing an interview, I had a great track record of being hired from those interviews. This didn't happen for my last year, so now I enter 2013 wanting both a living wage career and a lady love by year's end. Thus, 2013 is my lucky year. It will happen this year.

January was a busy month for me, as well, in my search for a new place to live. Unfortunately, I have met freaks or had to deal with flakes. I don't know why it was easier to find a room to rent when I was not happy about giving up my studio apartment in 2010 (the apartment complex would not allow month to month so I decided to vacate, a decision that I have come to regret), but now that I am desperate to move, I have run into brick walls. I have no idea why people are so flaky. My God, it does not hurt to meet people...especially if you keep running your ad for housemates every day for weeks on end! Anyhow, according to one astrological book I read, I need to make the move in March, so I am not wasting a day in February thinking about it. Besides, this is the month of the Portland International Film Festival, which is far and away my favorite Portland tradition. I have tickets to see six films (narrowed down from my list of 18 films that I wanted to see out of the 135 films being shown), but I may splurge for two more. I love getting the booklet and reading through the descriptions of the films and making a list and then narrowing it down to what I can afford. My preferences on subject matter tend to be: anything dealing with life under totalitarian governments, communism, or Nazism / fascism goes to the top of my list. Any film from France, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand gets first consideration. And finally, any film that is set in a location that I'm curious about or want to see, I will go to that film. Among this year's offering is a film from North Korea and another one from Taiwan. Since I'm very curious about those two places, those films went to the top of my list.

Also this month, I have decided to see a counselor to help with my career search and lady search. Saturday was our first official session (the week before that was our intro session to see if we were a right fit). Interestingly, the counselor asked why I needed to see her because she thinks I'm smart and don't need help. I informed her that 12 years of my life went by without my accomplishing one of my three major goals. I need to do something drastic because I feel like I'm losing momentum in life. She offers a very affordable rate that I did not think was possible. Had I known it was this inexpensive, I would have gotten counseling in 2009 when I needed it the most. What I hope to get out of it is some kind of momentum. I didn't make any three or six month commitment. I'd play it by ear. It's just nice to talk to someone who really listens and offers suggestions.

Since I never did my "Best of 2012" list, that will be in Friday's post. I'll include my choice for 2012's Nonconformist of the Year since I never made that known on my blog last December. I also never got around to writing movie reviews for "Lincoln", "Skyfall", "Zero Dark Thirty", "Life of Pi", and "Silver Linings Playbook", so look for that this month, as well. If I really want to play catch up, though, I should probably write my album reviews of Bruce Springsteen's and Madonna's 2012 releases.

Thanks for checking out my blog. Happy Year of the Snake, Have a great Mardi Gras, and here's to a great year of blogging (I will be continuing my series of analyzing personal ads).