Sunday, April 29, 2007

Chickenhawk Cheney's Disasterous Puppet Show


Recently, Chickenhawk Cheney had this to say:


"What's most troubling about Senator Reid's comments yesterday is his defeatism.It is cynical to declare that the war is lost because you believe it gives you political advantage. Leaders should make decisions based on the security interests of our country, not on the interests of their political party."

The bold and italics are mine, to emphasize a word that has come to represent everything that is wrong with the Bush Administration. It is by far the most cynical administration in our nation's history and as a result, it inspires cynicism because they twist words in ways that would make even George Orwell jealous. How can one take anything they say at face value? Their "No Child Left Behind" policy has only increasingly left many children behind. Their "Clean Skies" initiative was an invitation by corporations to pollute our environment even more. To listen to everything the administration has to say, one has to come to believe that they mean the very opposite of what they claim. In essence, they are the hypocrites that Jesus had warned followers about. No where is that more apparent than the above quote...for it is Cheney and company that waged a pre-emptive war against Iraq not for national security concerns, but for political reasons. They even forced Congress to vote on the war BEFORE the 2002 mid-term elections, something the elder Bush refused to do during the Persian Gulf crisis in 1990. The Iraq War is nothing if it's not politically motivated.

You have to hand it to the man. How he can make statements like that with a straight face is beyond the scope of any spiritually authentic person to do. I often wonder what he sees when he looks in the mirror. I know what I see when I see him on TV. Ever see the film "Devil's Advocate"? What most haunted me about that film was when Charlize Theron looked at the beautiful faces of the wives of her husband's colleagues, she saw the snarling demon beneath. Well, that's exactly what I see whenever I see Cheney on TV. He harbours an evil force beneath his mask of conservative values. There is little if no light of goodness that emanates from his body. He is someone who had better hope he lives a long life, because I'm certain that he will not like his eternal fate.

As I reflect on the disaster that is the Bush Administration, I can't help but see it as a three act puppet show tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. It's also part minstrel show (with Condi Rice and Colin Powell playing the part of white people in blackface, acting as house slaves on the Bush plantation). Act 1 is the snoozer of an opening, from the controversial Supreme Court decision and the Inauguration where he was booed and pelted with eggs, through his month-long vacation, where he ignored CIA warnings that Osama was determined to launch a terrorist strike in the U.S.

Act 2 covers the period of time from 9/11 through August 2005, when Bush seemed most invincible and the Democrats were cowering in fear from his political power. The corporate media fawned all over him and presented a false image of the president that had little basis in reality. Anyone remember the 2004 debates against Kerry, in which Bush had a mysterious bulge on his back, a bulge that looked a lot like he was getting answers fed to him, which isn't hard to believe since his behaviour during the debates were kind of odd, like he was listening to a whole other conversation going on. Anyhow, during Act 2 is when the American public was bamboozled and cowed by fear of another terrorist strike. In fact, the color-coded terrorist warnings (remember those? We haven't had one since the weekend before the 2004 election day) seemed timed to Kerry's bump in the polls. Everytime Kerry garnered positive attention or a poll increase, out came the terrorist warnings!

Act 3 covers everything after August 2005. That's when the bubble burst on the Bush administration. It took a mother of an Iraq War soldier to get the press to focus on Bush's disaster of a war and seemingly scared response to meet with the families of the fallen soldiers. When that drama died down, then came Katrina, and ever since then, Bush's poll numbers have been hovering around 30%, which represents his core, Kool-Aid drinking followers (Hitler had those die hards too, so there's really no amount of evidence that will ever convince them that they were wrong). The reason Katrina pulled Americans out of the 9/11 daze we were in is because Bush's response to the Katrina disaster was the exact carbon copy of his response to 9/11. On 9/11, he ran and hid at Offutt AFB and wasn't seen or heard from for a couple days. After Katrina, he ran to San Diego to play golf and celebrate John McCain's birthday. When he finally made it to New Orleans, it was a fly over in Air Force One, complete with a snapshot of him looking out of the window, as though he couldn't be bothered. I think it was then that most reasonable Americans realized how dysfunctional our president really was. And what helped that image along was his own mother making racist statements and laughing about it! People lost their homes, and she had the gall to say with a chuckle that staying in the Astrodome in Houston was "working out for them."

Now, in just the past week alone, we've had a retired Army general say that Bush was AWOL on Iraq, criticizing the president's detachment from the reality on the ground. And tonight on CBS' "60 Minutes", George Tenet will speak out about how the Bush Administration misused his information to go to war in Iraq. Also last week, a member of the Bush Administration resigned over a sex scandal, though he claims only to have gotten a massage from the call girl. A $400 an hour message? That's not what call girls are called for! All this comes on top of recent scandals involving Wolfowitz hiring his mistress to work at the World Bank, and Alberto Gonzalez for claiming not to remember anything about the firings of 8 attorneys, and the missing e-mails.

Will it ever end? This puppet show disaster has gone on too long, at too large expense to the American public. Our prestige is ruined, soiled by this Adminstration more than any semen-stained dress that Clinton could have done. This was an administration that promised to bring integrity back (though I knew in 2000 that it was a lie). But the reality is, I can't think of one single good thing this administration has done. Though I didn't like the Reagan or the previous Bush administration, there were still a few things that I agreed with, and their policies didn't cause our allies to shun us as the current administration has done. There truly is only one thing that would make the perfect ending to this puppet show: Let's help Chickenhawk Cheney buy the farm! His removal from power will at least set Bush adrift and perhaps lessen any further damage. So long as Chickenhawk Cheney has his hands on the government, we are due for scandal after scandal. The stench is getting so bad, you'd think Americans would demand an end to it. Why wait until January 2009? There is nothing good these puppets can accomplish in the next 21 months.


Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Road Trip That Changed My Life!


This week, eight years ago, after finishing 20 consecutive months of college, I decided to take Spring Term off to just work and to travel (since my sister was graduating high school in May 1999). So, after my finals were finished, I accepted the invitation of one of my best friends, Nathan, to visit him at his new duty station at the Naval Submarine Base in Bremerton, Washington. It was a crazy week and I really needed a road trip to sort through my feelings of the recent Columbine shootings, my struggles fitting in among the majority Mormon population of BYU, and my disappointments with the Clinton Administration (though my goal was to intern in the White House the following year).

The morning I was set to leave for the Puget Sound, the news reports was not good. By some rare weather related oddity, the local news reported about the high winds north of Salt Lake City to the Idaho border, showing images of trucks turned over on their sides along Interstate 15 in the Ogden area. Because of that, I left a couple hours later than I wanted to, hoping that the winds would die down. But by 9 a.m., I simply could not wait any longer, so off I went on that great adventure in my life. When I reached the area of high winds, it was a challenge to keep my car in the same lane. My arms got a workout by the time I passed that area of high winds. It was probably one of the scariest driving experiences I've ever endured. Once I passed the area of high winds, and into Idaho, I pressed the pedal to the medal and attracted the attention of a patrol car on the opposite side of the Interstate. Instead of traveling along I-84, I decided that I wanted to drive I-15 all the way north to I-90 and then head west, so I could drive through Montana as fast as I could (no speed limits then) as well as see Coeur d'Alene ID, which was famous for its population of neo-Nazis, who ran a training camp in nearby Hayden Lake.

Anyhow, I didn't quite make it to Montana when the police officer pulled me over. He asked me some weird questions, like "what's the hurry?" (I want to get to Seattle before midnight), "Are you in school?" (Yes, but I just finished the semester), "You took your final exams and everything?" (Yes)... It went on like that for a few minutes. He seemed to have a hard time believing school was already out, as BYU does not have spring break, so Winter Semester ends a month earlier than most colleges (which gives graduates a jump on the job market). I was afraid of getting a ticket, because I was driving about 17 miles over the speed limit, but surprisingly, I got off with a warning to drive within the limit. After that short delay, I was back on my way, and kept to the speed limit for the rest of my journey through the bland scenery of eastern Idaho. Once I crossed into Montana, the signs told drivers only to drive at a "safe and prudent speed." Whatever that meant! So, I pressed the pedal to the medal to see how fast my 1991 Saturn SL1 could go, at one point hitting triple digits, and my proudest moment when I passed a BMW and left it in the dust! The only thing that alarmed me was seeing my gas guage move quicker towards the empty column. I stuck to driving at 90 mph along I-90, and stopped for a short nap at a rest stop (showing that I had learned from the death of my friend Alejandro Garcia, who had fallen asleep at the wheel in New Mexico on his way home to Chihuahua to see the opening of the LDS temple there).

Once I was refreshed, I was able to enjoy the beautiful drive along I-90, impressed by the scenery between Missoula and Coeur d'Alene. When I stopped for gas and supper in Missoula, I noticed a few cars lacking in license plates, which meant only one thing: anti-government extremists. It was such a different world than the one I know. As I drove through Coeur d'Alene, the sun was perfectly placed and I was struck by how beautiful it was. And I heard a voice say, "this is it...paradise on earth!" In all my travels upon this globe (that would be 25 countries, 4 continents, and 46 states), I had never seen a more beautiful place than Coeur d'Alene and it became one place that I would have to investigate further for the potential of settling there some day.

Darkness finally came just west of Spokane and at my next gas stop, I had to inform Nathan my location and when I might arrive in Bremerton. He thought I was in Seattle by that point, and seemed dismayed that I had only passed Spokane. I estimated my time of arrival to be 2 a.m., and he reminded me that we had to leave early in the morning to catch the ferry to Victoria BC. I hinted that I might have to take another nap between Spokane and Seattle, because I was tired again. The darkness didn't help. I arrived in Seattle at 1 a.m. or so, and because I had to drive around the Puget Sound to cross a bridge, that added another hour onto my drive. But I was glad to have arrived and to see my best friend again.

On my 10 day vacation, I saw Victoria, drove up to Vancouver BC, Seattle, Olympia, Astoria, Cannon Beach, Portland, and Salem. I packed a lot into my trip. Washington and Oregon were two new states to my ever-shrinking list of states I've been to. I fell in love with Washington. It reminded me a lot of Germany, where I had lived for 3 years as a teenager. The Pacific Northwest became the top region where I wanted to settle down and raise a family. I consider myself a Midwesterner at heart and never wanted to live in the South. I've been trying to escape the South ever since graduation from high school. The Midwest region is too flat and dull for my tastes, but the Pacific Northwest was more my style. I love the diversity of scenary from mountain peaks, trees, and large bodies of water. Vancouver BC was the city I most would love to live in, followed by Portland OR. That's what I learned most about that trip. And I had a great time with my friend again. I met one lady he knew in Victoria BC and we went to see "The Matrix", which I probably would not have seen without Nathan's endorsement. I braved up to the top of the Space Needle, took pictures of the troll hiding under the bridge and of a Vladimir Lenin statue. And Nathan gave me a mix tape of Australian rock music, which contained songs I had never heard of, yet were catchy pop hits down under from the 1980s. That was a great gift, and to this day, whenever I listen to it, I'm transported back in time to my road trip, when I drove around Seattle and Vancouver listening to that tape.

On my way home, I stopped in Boise and again at Shoshone Falls (the Niagara Falls of the West) to eat supper with a view of the waterfalls. When I arrived home late at night, I was stuck by how much I was able to see on a low budget and 10 days time. I also knew that the Pacific Northwest was the region of the country I'd eventually move to. However, my goal remained Washington D.C. for a career in the Gore Administration. After that, I could move once again. When things didn't work out in D.C. and I lacked the money to move west, I ended up in my Plan C of post-college. Atlanta, the place I've tried to escape since high school ended, was not where I wanted to settle. So, I had to save money up and my trip in 2004 to San Francisco and Portland made me realize that my heart was still out west. So, a year ago on this day was my last day at work. I had finally saved up an amount that I felt I needed to make the move, and here I am. I don't regret it one second. Portland has been a dream. Though a part of me still wants to live in the Bremerton area or even Coeur d'Alene, I have arrived in the region where I feel most at home. Had I not taken that road trip in April/May 1999, who knows where I would be right now? My life might have taken a different road. It's amazing to reflect on the events that alter one's life, the locations and people that influence the decisions that I make, but I can honestly say that I hope I'm here to stay.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Bore us, Yeltsin!


So, this week, the crazy former president of Russia has passed on to the spiritual realms. He defined an era, though he was no Gorbachev. It's interesting to reflect on the strange way the leader of the Soviet Union/Russia contrasts with the American President throughout the different eras. In the 1950s, it was Kruschev and Eisenhower and the start of the whole space race when Sputnik was launched in 1957. Kruschev said that they'd bury us, which got Americans into a panick, because we've never been a math and science culture (we have the problem with China now). We're too obsessed with our pop cultural trivia...Elvis the pelvis back then, Anna Nicole Smith's gyrations and death now. Then came the era of scary eyebrow Brezhnev versus our crooked nose Nixon. Two leaders that lacked the charisma and looks of a Kennedy. By the time Reagan came along, the Soviets ran through a few deaths (Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko) before Gorbachev came to power. That defined the 80s, I think...the Reagan/Thatcher/Gorbachev era.

While I credit Gorbachev (not Reagan) for the collapse of Soviet communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was sad to see him swept aside after the August 1991 coup attempt to return the Soviet Union back to communism. Boris Yeltsin was born to take charge at that moment, by standing on a tank and preventing the Soviet soldiers from destroying the Duma (the Russian congress). He became the hero of the moment, a true case of a man being in the right place at the right time with the right response. That moment took courage, and perhaps he had so much vodka that day to give him the courage it needed to stand up to the Soviet Army.

The 1990s was the era of Clinton/Yeltsin. They kind of look like brothers...both big in the belly and with the shock of white hair, and a fondness for pinching the ladies. They were two of a kind, political soul brothers on the world stage. My most favourite televised moment of Yeltsin was during his 1996 reelection campaign in which he is seen dancing like a loon on stage with some Russian ladies. He looked less like a dignified leader of a major superpower and more like a buffoon one couldn't take seriously. In fact, he looked like a dancing bear in a circus act. It only made me miss Gorbachev even more.

Now we are in the Bush/Putin era. Bush had claimed that he "saw through Putin's soul" and realized it was good in one of their first meetings. What a way to base relations on our two nations, eh? The jury is still out on Putin, though one thing does intrigue me. According to Nostradamus, that famous seer of the Medieval Ages, the third anti-Christ would be named "Mabus". Well, a few years back, I did a search on Mabus and came across a painter from a few hundred years ago named Mabus. And in one of his paintings, there is a man who looks stunningly like Vladimir Putin! Talk about trans-time-dimension prophecy! What does it all mean? Probably nothing at all. Just things that make you go hmmmmmmm...

Anyhow, back to this Yeltsin character, and boy, he was a character! He is not someone that I am glad is dead, because I don't think he was a bad guy. He was a fascinating world leader, a drunkard who helped transition Russia out of its communist police state into what is currently a mafia-overrun, anarchist state still flirting with a return to authoritarian roots under Putin. Yeltsin was probably the right person to come along at that time of transition, but like Clinton, his inner demons ruined what could have been a great leadership for a country that desperately needed it. For the squandered possibilities, the world should mourn. I doubt there will ever be another world leader of his character to entertain us and make us wonder just what the people are smoking or drinking over there to produce someone like him. Then again, the whole world is probably wondering the very same about us Americans since 2001.

Boris, may you rest in peace!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Lighting a Candle Against our "Mad (and Darko) World"


This past weekend, I spent it with some friends from church in a little cabin in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest of Washington state. It was a Young Adult retreat, and a very nice respite from city life in the valley. I traveled the furthest, via Amtrak to the Seattle area, and stayed with Erik and his brother before heading out to their grandparents cabin, where others joined us. Considering all that happened that week, namely, the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, it was simply nice to get away from it all, be out in nature, and enjoying the company of friends.

During the special communion service Saturday night, Erik did a brilliant job around a theme that is probably very difficult to pull off. Since the cabin was without electricity, we went by candlelight and as each person took turns revealing a shadow or dark aspect about their personalities, we had to blow out our candle, until only the center one remained. It did get dark in a hurry. To get us in the appropriate mood, Erik played one of my favourite songs (which he didn't know that it was)...Gary Jules' version of "Mad World", a haunting melody most known for its brilliant inclusion in a powerful scene from the movie "Donnie Darko" (a film that has grown to be among my favourites in recent years). That song is perfect to contemplate life to, and I think even the band Tears for Fears, which wrote it, admitted that Jules' version was superior.

It was difficult to reveal my darkness, and it was made more difficult when I saw the shocked expression on a few faces around me, in the growing darkness (I had spoken near the end, when most of the candles were blown out). But, it is something I do recognize about myself and something I wish and hope to be able to change. So, if it doesn't scare you, here is what I admitted to my fellow YAPSters...

I'm guilty of "schadenfreude", which is a perfect German word to describe the feeling one has when another person receives his or her just desserts. That is to say, taking pleasure in the misery others fall into based on their own greed, avarice, malice, and all manner of sin. While we as spiritual beings are called to be above that, to mourn even the deaths of our enemies, I struggle with that because I believe in justice. I want a universal justice that is immediate and righteous. Because I tend to follow the rules and strive to live by the Golden Rule, it is frustrating to see evil get away with stuff, even getting rich or whatever benefit they get at the expense of other people's pains. Even if they ruin the lives of so many others. Thus, I was happy when I heard that Ken Lay of Enron infamy had died soon after his guilty verdict. I saw his death as a conscience-imposed instant death penalty. All those lives he ruined so he can live in wealth and buy political influence, and his death so soon after the verdict was justice to me, or as John Lennon would sing, "Instant Karma is gonna get you!" My biggest guilty pleasure, though, is hearing occasional reports about Dick Cheney's health problems, though he still manages to survive...five heart attacks, shooting a friend in the face, a terrorist attack in Afghanistan, and a blood clot, yet still no death. He is one person I will definitely not mourn the passing of. I believe he is the most evil person on the planet, and I have a personal policy of not mourning evil people when they pass.

So, that's my darkness. And what I also shared was how the Dalai Lama had true compassion at heart when he holds no bitterness towards the Chinese, even though he has every right to. They invaded Tibet in 1959 and have tried to destroy the rich spiritual culture of that place (the true Shambhala/Shangri-La of legend), and even creating a false Dalai Lama for people to follow (a Lama more loyal to the Chinese government than spiritual legacy passed down for generations). Of all people, he should have bitterness, anger, and take part in some justified "schadenfreude" when things go bad for the Chinese government, but he doesn't. That's the mark of the true spiritual person and I fall so far short. I know I should be above that, but when I see people like Rush popping pills and viagra, I snicker to myself that it's proof that they are struggling with the lies they tell people daily. Despite the wealth and fame, Rush is not a happy man...thus a reason for schadenfreude. The same goes for people like Rumsfeld, Rove, Libby, Wolfowitz, Don Imus, and all the other hate-spouting, propagandists for the Fourth Reich. When they fall by the side of their arrogant blindness, I do get smug and happy about it. It's like justice is coming home to roost, as Malcolm X once put it so bluntly. But if we are to be true spiritual beings, there should be a touch of sadness over the ignorance these individuals have fallen prey to. They have caused untold number of pain and misery on the world's poorest, and yet, for all their wealth and power, nothing saves them from their own hubris except the long arm of justice, which Martin Luther King Jr. says always bends towards righteousness. We should feel sorry for those who act in ignorance, unaware of the harm they cause not only others, but how that harm manifests back into their own lives in other ways. If we can pray for these people, that they might realize the folly of their ways and change, that such act is better than standing around feeling smug when they inevitably do fall. Because if we were to do that, we would sink to their level. And that's not how I want to be as a person. So that's the darkness from my soul that I must purge. Cheney may be an evil mo-fo, but he still has a chance while he's still living to realize the harm he's caused and to change. And wouldn't that be a powerful change if one day, Cheney admitted on national television of all that he took part in and works to undo the damage? I'm not saying it's gonna happen, but if it does, then perhaps we'll have a heart big enough to forgive.

So, after we revealed our inner darkness, we took part in communion, listened to an uplifting song, and relit our candles. It was a cool effect as we can see how much each single candle can illuminate a dark cabin late at night. That was a powerful service and I was glad that I decided to attend (I almost decided not to, due to overcoming a sudden illness earlier in the week that I still haven't fully recovered from). When we left on Sunday, I was shocked by the location of the cabin. It was between the two halves of Interstate 90. So near the hustle and bustle of the freeway, but in between that Interstate lies a secret, hidden world of nature, where one can feel a thousand miles from civilization and closer to God. It truly is a "mad world" after all!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

April's Bad Case of Deja Vu


I'm becoming very cautious about the month of April. It seems to be the most violent month. After all, did the whole Branch Davidian fire near Waco, Texas in 1993 happen in April? Then, two years later, Timothy McVeigh decided to blow up a government building in Oklahoma City on the anniversary of that ATF/FBI fiasco. Then, in 1999, two outcasts decided to honour Hitler's birthday by shooting up their high school, which left 12 people dead. I remember the shock back then. 12 was such a high number for a school shooting. It was a huge shock. Now, eight years later, we get another school shooting, which dwarfs what happened at Columbine. Now, the media loves to amplify this latest tragedy as "the worst shooting in our nation's history." 32 people are killed, plus the suicide of the person who decided to leave our world in a blaze of infamy.

Hearing this news, I can't help feeling that we, as a nation, have learned nothing from Columbine. Guns are still easy to buy, and though the person who sold the gun to the killer claims to feel remorse, I find it hard to believe. For what possible reason could there be for anyone to own a semi-automatic weapon? The only point to own such a gun is to mow people down in a torrent of bullets. We can see the devastation on our TV screens: 32 people killed. I can foresee a day when even this tragedy is dwarfed by another. Media attention does attract a certain type of people who know that they won't ever get the kind of attention the media gives a lunatic with a gun. Negative attention is sometimes good attention for some people. That's such a shame for all those students and teachers who were just going about their daily routine of class, counting down the days until final exams and summer plans. One crazed lunatic, from early accounts a loner (surprise! surprise!) who didn't seem to have any friends, has single-handedly affected the lives of everyone who knew and loved the 32 victims. The pain he caused, a pain that never truly goes away. What a legacy to leave behind.

What I get sick of hearing is the question "why?" does this happen. Even pundits on television admit that our country is the only one in the industrialized west which has this type of work-place or school-place shootings. Is there something wrong with our society that seems to encourage such behaviour? The answer is a yes, unfortunately. We are not a society that is compassionate. People often greet one another with a friendly "how are you?" before moving on, but what happens if a person answers "not good"? Would they take the time to listen and emphathize?

When I went on a roadtrip to Boston in 2002 with a good friend of mine, Frank, we had stopped at McDonald's on Staten Island so he could use the restroom. I waited in the car. Minutes would pass, then ten, then fifteen, then thirty. I became impatient and wondered what was taking him so long. Especially since some of the people walking in front of Frank's car looked like thuggish types. When my friend finally emerged from the McDonald's restaurant for what seemed like an hour later, he told me that he saw a man who looked very distraught, yet no one would talk to him. He thinks he saw a bulge in the guy's pocket, indicating a weapon of some kind. So, due to Frank's extroverted personality, he talked to the guy, bought him a meal and let the guy share his problems with a complete stranger. Frank even showed a quarter he had gotten back as change, which had South Carolina on the back, where Frank is from and so was this other guy. As we drove away, on towards Boston through some horrible NYC traffic, Frank told me the whole story and I said to him, "you know what? You probably prevented a shooting!" Of course, Frank is too modest to admit that he had the power to do anything like that, but I've seen him in action. Just by talking to a complete stranger and letting that stranger unload his whole depressing story of woes was probably what that person needed the most. A compassionate, listening ear. A connection with another human being who genuinely cared about his emotional state. Perhaps that is the real key to preventing such mass shootings from happening.

I know it's tough, because I'm not extroverted at all and I really don't like to absorb a stranger's sob story. Honestly, I don't even like to look at beggers on the street in the eye. I just walk past most of them, sometimes not even saying hi. I know I should be better and perhaps acknowledge them with a friendly smile and hello, but when I see them, I get angry. Not angry at them, per se, but angry at our system which failed them somehow. But do I really do anything about it? No. So perhaps, I should.

The Virginia Tech tragedy did hit close to home for me, however, because a family I've known since we all lived in Italy back in the early 1990s, their son attends Virginia Tech. As soon as I got home from work on Monday, I re-read the Christmas newsletter from them and with shaking hands, realized that their son Jeremiah was majoring in French at Virginia Tech. For the next two days, I searched for a list of victim's names, praying that he would not be on them. I prayed for his safety, as well as for the comfort needed for the families of the victims. Fortunately for this one family, though their son did live in the same dorms as the shooting occurred, and attended class in the same building where the shootings happened, he is safe and alive. To come so close to death at a young age changes you, I think. I know it happened for me when faced with a bloody knife waved in my face on the streets of Johannesburg when I was a mere 22 years old. It changes you, in a good way. And you learn the tough lesson of forgiveness. It's something I wish the killer could have known, that he had other options, creative options. To bring pain to others before ending your own life is not the way to leave this earth. That's the true tragedy of it all....that there are people out there, lonely souls, who believe that no one would care if they committed suicide, so they do what they feel must be done...bring pain to other people so that he won't be so alone anymore in the inner pains that he suffers from. I hope our nation will learn the right lessons from this, that we failed to learn after Columbine. It's the only way to save future victims from the fury of another loner who believes that causing as much pain as possible is the only way out of his predicament. We owe it to each other to be more compassionate, like my friend Frank.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Happy Belated Jefferson Day!


Friday, 13 April was Thomas Jefferson's birthday, in the year 1743. I wanted to honour him with a post but didn't get a chance to, so here's to Mr. Jefferson, my favourite president.

From childhood through my early 20s, Abraham Lincoln was always my favourite, with Jefferson in second place. What moved him to the top spot was when I lived in Virginia in 1995 and finally made my pilgrimage to Monticello. I also read a lot about him at the time and saw parallels between his feud with the evangelicals of his day with the conflicts between evangelicals of the present day and President Clinton. Like Jefferson, Clinton was also reviled by the right wing zealots, and also like the third president, Clinton had a time with the ladies. Of course, back in the early 1800s, what really got the evangelical's knickers in a twist was the rumours of Jefferson's affair with a mulatto slave named Sally Hemmings. Granted, Jefferson was only married a mere 10 years and swore an oath to his wife on her deathbed that he'd never marry again. So, what's a robust president to do? Sally was available and she was a slave. I'm not saying it's right, but it is cool that Jefferson didn't seem to think that interracial sexual relationships were off limits. Interestingly enough, Clinton's middle name is Jefferson. So, with the strange parallels between the two presidents and their being slammed by the evangelical types, it only reinforced in my mind that I would most definitely be in the Jefferson camp.

Like Jefferson, I consider myself a man of the enlightenment. Since adolescence, I've always found the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods of human history to be the most fascinating and the times I'd prefer to live in, rather than the Dark Ages when the Church had it's grip on power over everyone and kept people ignorant, especially in spiritual matters. In the present day, evangelicals often wax nostalgic over the past (particularly the 1950s) and seem to view the Age of Enlightenment as an evil era in which men turned away from God and the Church. Not so...it was that questioning long held assumptions made by corrupt church officials that mankind had broken from. So, Jefferson, like Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, represented that ideal form of mankind in which ideas were powerful, and self-education and enlightenment were better than following the dictates of the clergy.

In honour of the great president, I watched "Jefferson in Paris" last night, one of my favourite historical bio-pics. Though it does have a few flaws, particularly the lame ending, it's still a film I love to watch on a regular basis. Even the recent "Marie Antoinette" paled in comparison, simply because I love the woman who played Marie Antoinette in "Jefferson in Paris". All the acting is good and we get to see Jefferson interact with historical notables as King Louis XVI, the Marquis de Lafayette, and Marie Antoinette. We also get to see a more romantic and playful side of him in his flirtations with the married British/Italian artist Maria Cosway. And, true to form, we also get to see him freak out during a seance session, which his rational mind rejects as trickery of the worst form. What most endeared me to this film was the actress who played Sally Hemmings, the beautiful Thandie Newton. It the first role I remember seeing her in and she followed that film up with a few more in which she played slaves. But the sweetness in which she played Sally Hemmings was right on target. I loved how she interracted with Thomas Jefferson, and how she said things like "My head riz up til I couldn't get my hat back on." I can see how Jefferson would fall for a young lady like her.

Another scene in the film that I like is when he withdraws his daughter Patsy from the convent school after she had made indications of wanting to accept the vows to become a nun. We see Jefferson as he was in regards to religion and liberty. What he tells the nun in charge is pure Jefferson and made me cheer him on. Essentially, he said that liberty is not a toy for children to play with, but the decision of a fully rational and engaged adult.

So, what would Jefferson think of our current government? From all that I've read about him and the things that he has written, I think it's safe to say that he would be rallying against our current government. After all, in the Declaration of Independence, he wrote that when the government no longer represents the wishes of the people, it is the divine right of the people to reject that government and form a new one. That is truly a revolutionary idea. However, the irony is that the government they formed, while it has morphed into something so obscene to the point of becoming virtually unrecognizeable to most Americans, for any American citizen to advocate the overthrow of our government would be considered treasonous and probably guarantee a one-way ticket to Guantanamo Bay to be waterboarded by Dick Cheney until one confesses to every terrorist act against the U.S. government in the last decade. What a shame that our government can't seem to realize how far they've fallen from the principles and ideals that our Founding Fathers had debated about. They had wisdom and foresight, but apparently not enough foresight. For they could not imagine that one day, multinational corporations with huge sums of money can basically take control of the government away from the people, and turn political servants into capitalistic whores chasing after every last buck.

In honour of Jefferson, we should do a revolutionary act. One of my favourite quotes by him is "Disobedience to tyrants is duty to God." Since I consider George W. Bush to be a petty tyrant, it is our religious duty to disobey Bush and not support anything he wishes to accomplish in his final two years in office. Let's make him the most irrelevant lame duck president ever, before he passes into the history books as the worst president to ever disgrace the office. Long live Jefferson!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Another Minion of Satan visits Portland on Friday the 13th


Yesterday, on that "scary day of the year" (with visions of a hockey-mask wearing slasher of naughty teenagers), Karl Rove spoke to a sell-out crowd of Republicans at the Embassy Suites Hotel in the Washington Park area of Portland (Tigard). The protests were minimal, according to news reports, they had prepared for hundreds but only about 25 people showed up. One lady carried a poster full of indictments to "serve" Rove and make a citizen's arrest! Of course, that didn't happen, but at least she got on the news and forced the local evening news to mention Rove's involvement in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, the firing of 8 Attorneys, and other list of scandals. I thought about going to add my presence to the protest, but as I thought about it, Rove probably loves that. In his case of swelling ego, ignoring him is probably best. He thrives on attention, probably because he didn't get so much as a child.

I hope you don't mind my calling him "another minion of Satan" (see an earlier post regarding Cheney, Satan's prime minion, who's still on to speak at BYU's commencement in two weeks). I've always been fascinated by faustian tales since childhood. Something about the idea that a person could sell his soul to Satan and think it was a fair and honorable thing to do. What's even more disturbing is why would anyone want to? Not that I believe that there is an actual Satan (I have my doubts), but the idea that a person would do what Jesus knew not to, and yet still claim to be a Christian is particularly baffling to me. Of course, a lot of people seem to think that Christianity equals morality and non-Christians are seen as immoral, no matter how Gandhian they might be in their interactions with other people. Even more baffling is why anyone tempting to make a deal with Satan would even think they'd come out ahead. There's eternity to deal with! No amount of wealth and power in the temporary life of a century long (or less) is worth the anguish of eternity and the bad karma that stems from all the actions one commits with the wealth and power.

Rove should have learned from his idol Lee Atwater, the mastermind behind Bush Sr.'s dirty tricks in the 1980s. Apparently, on his deathbed, Atwater admitted that what he did in the name of a political agenda was wrong and he acknowledged that he was wrong. Such an admission comes too late to make true amends, and what good is it if others haven't learned from it? The damage is done and deathbed conversions seem ego-based, a "get-right-with-God" attempt at forgiveness, as if God was blind to everything a person does in one's lifetime. You are the sum of all you do, and what good is a death-bed confession if you can't make amends to the people you've hurt? At least with David Brock, he confessed to his dirty tricks in the name of the Republican agenda (in the book "Blinded by the Right") while he's still alive and able to make amends and work to undo the damage he caused. But Rove, no such confession yet. I suspect that he is one who will have a deathbed confession or maybe go to his grave unrepentant. I don't see a reversal coming from him anytime soon.

Here is what Rove has wrought: He is considered the mastermind behind making George W. Bush "presidential." That is to say, many believe that Bush would not have even become governor, much less president without Rove's manipulations and dirty tricks. Some of what Rove has done included a whispering campaign against Texas Governor Ann Richards that she was a lesbian (gasp!). A whispering campaign in South Carolina against Senator John McCain that he was (1) homosexual; (2) that he had an illegitimate daughter with a black prostitute (the girl was a Bangladeshi orphan the couple adopted after paying for an operation to have her cleft lip fixed); and (3) that his 5 years as a POW in Vietnam made him "unstable" and brainwashed. Then in the 2000 elections, Republican operatives were sent to Miami to intimidate the vote counters and slow down the process while the Supreme Court deliberated on how to handle the controversial election results. And Republican operatives camped outside the Vice Presidential manor at the Naval Observatory, chanting a demand that Gore get out of Cheney's house...even though the transition did not happen until two months later (on the set date of January 20th). And, instead of seeing the presidency as a representative of all Americans, Rove set out to make divisive politics the way to electoral victory by marginalizing the 50% who did not vote for Bush. By losing the popular vote, Bush should have been more conciliatory towards the majority who voted for Gore and governed from the middle and even appointing Democrats to work in his administration. He did not do that. Instead, he immediately ran to the far right, surpassing Reagan and Nixon.

As pundits have said, the problem with a strategy of basing a presidency on your base constituents, you anger a lot of people and when the bottom falls out on your policies, all you have left is your base, which is about 30% or less...which not surprisingly is where Bush's poll numbers have remained steady since Katrina blew into town. Angering our allies overseas, questioning the patriotism of people who disagree with his policies, destroying the careers of anyone who speaks out against the incompetence of the administration, destroying the honorable military records of political opponents...these are all hallmarks of Rovian politics, the reincarnation of Machiavelli himself! And what has he gotten out of it? True, he might have "won" a midterm election and a reelection of the president in the short term, but in the long run, there's the treasury-draining, military morale-defeating, disaster of a war in Iraq. The death of thousands and hundreds of thousands, not to mention the injuries, the divorces, disruption of personal lives this war has wrought. Rove is at least partially responsible for the misery his policies has caused and it's naive to think that God is not going to hold people accountable for their sins. Whether Rove believes he has a personal savior to absolve his sins or doesn't, I feel sorry for the guy. An authentically spiritual person is one who can see how his/her actions have repercussions for the future, and how those outcomes can lead to good or bad results. Service in pursuit of a political agenda (Rove's stated ambition was to make the Democratic Party irrelevant into basic extinction while our country was ruled by one party--shades of the Soviet Union there!) is not spiritual. Buddha had it right with his Eightfold Noble Path in which "right livelihood" was one of the eight principles on how to conduct one's life.

Because karma is most likely the operating law of the universe, accountability and repercussions are built in. The continuous bad news emanating from this White House is proof that while Rovian politics might have succeeded in the short term, in the long term, it only quickens the demise of the agenda he sought to achieve. Because nothing has gone according to plan (has our troops ever received flowers and chocolate from the grateful citizens of Iraq? What they got was flowering bomb shrapnel and mud on their uniforms), it's safe to say that karmic justice works. We haven't fought a just war since World War II and it was the last time the U.S. emerged truly victorious. Ignoring spiritual principle is not something to brag about, and because of the level of nastiness Rove has wrought on our country and planet, I think it's safe to say that his karmic bill will be astronomical when his life comes to a bitter end.

I wonder what Rove sees when he looks in the mirror. The self-hatred is apparent. A person who truly loves wouldn't act the way he does. He, like Rush Limbaugh, seems to have based his life on avenging whatever injustice he suffered in adolescence. Rove, a non-Mormon, grew up in very Mormon Utah. Did he fit in? Probably not. Was he ever popular or well liked? He is one example of how an inner ugliness manifests itself on the outside. Like Rush, I don't think Rove is a happy person. Some Democrat must have done a number on him years ago for him to act that way. It's a shame that he conned Bush into going along with his Machiavelli schemes. Our world suffers greatly because of it. And the even bigger tragedy of it all is that McCain seems to have joined the Rove brand of politics of personal destruction, forgetting about all the things Rove did to him in 2000. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, eh? At least the increasing disaster in Iraq has discredited the Rove brand, as I don't see the American people falling for divisive political leaders any time soon. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

My Jesus can beat up your Jesus (or maybe not!)


I just read on my friend's blog (flannel-christian.blogspot.com) about an outrageous belief that some pastor named Mark Driscoll had about Jesus. Apparently, in an article, he (Driscoll) had said that he could never worship a person he could "beat up." That is to say, the idea of a kindhearted, gentle, peace-loving, pacifist Jesus doesn't sit well with him. In fact, he seems to say that he sees people like that as being weak and worth beating up.

To that, I say it reveals more about him than about the Jesus he worships. He's basically revealing himself to be nothing more than a bully. Or better yet, a FASCIST. I hate to bring out that label, but I do see a lot of similarities between fascist tendencies and our society's growing worship of military strength to get its way in the world. Fascist tendencies are perhaps natural in most human beings. The way we admire strength over weakness, our belief that might makes right, how bullies often pick on the weakest and least popular kid in class (and no one comes to the defense of such weakling, lest they be categorized as weak themselves), and even in the promotion of blue-eyed, blond-haired people as the most attractive. This last point, I mention, because I had noticed it most in the brilliant "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. All the heros had blue eyes, and the most beautiful of the people in those films were the Elves, who had fair skin, blond hair, and striking blue eyes. And the evil people were all brown skin and ugly. That's one example of fascist aesthetics making its way through popular culture without most people being consciously aware of it. But, I digress...

Back to the image of a weak Jesus and this pastor who admires brute strength over moral courage. Whenever I hear evangelicals and fundamentalists make claims about Jesus that contradict what I know I've read in the Bible, it baffles me how they can convince so many people that they speak with any ounce of credibility. Credibility is a huge issue for me, and one only assures his or her credibility by how close they are to the facts as everyone knows them. For instance, in the Bible, did Jesus ever bully anyone? Did he side with the rich and powerful over the poor and destitute? Why, in story after story, does he seem to take the side of the outcast, the unpopular, the gentile, the woman, the slave, the leper? This doesn't seem like a brute fascist that I can imagine. For the life of me, I simply don't understand how anyone can picture Jesus any other way, than as a gentile, loving man, who angered the powerful, the sanctimoniously religious, and the wealthy. The only instance we have of him acting "violent" was when he overturned the moneychangers' tables in righteous anger for their sacriligious consumerism in God's most holy temple. But when a Roman soldier's ear was cut off by one of his disciples, Jesus healed the man who had come to arrest him. Is that an act of a bully?

Which brings me to my final point...one of my biggest problems with so-called "Jesus-freaks" (those people who go around asking strangers and friends and co-workers if they have been "saved" as a way of introduction, as though that was the most important thing about a person they first meet) is that they have created an image of Jesus that conforms to what they admire and are willing to worship, whether or not that is how Jesus truly was. Because Jesus is a historical figure whom we don't have a chance to truly know in person, we can impose whatever image we like on this person and he can be all things to all people. That represents the danger of religion, mostly because it's dishonest and it allows for wide deviations from the man who he truly was. It is hard for anyone to live up to another person's expectations on how they should be or act...much harder when its a person who perhaps two billion people believe is the way to salvation. Thus, we get people like Pastor Mark Driscoll who refuses to believe in a gentle Jesus, and we get evangelical writers like LaHaye, who presented a genocidal Jesus in the final installment of the best-selling "Left Behind" series. And Christians in Latin America see a Jesus along the lines of Che Guevara, a Marxist revolutionary who sides with the poor.

How can the true Jesus ever be reconciled and accepted by the vast majority of Christians? I think the answer is much simpler. When I meet people, especially those of the evangelical type, my main goal is to find out if they are more of a materialist or more of a spiritualist. I believe that's where the dividing line is (not whether they are "saved" or heathen; or Christian or not). Even so-called Christians can be materialists, and atheists can be spiritualists. It's how one views the world that's important to me. So, an individual who believes that God created the USA and has appointed Bush to be president, and that capitalism is part of God's plan for this world...well, a person who believes all that comes down on the materialist side of things, because they don't care if we rape the planet, pollute the earth, wreck the lives of the poor, and wage immoral war on weaker nations. They are bullies who use the good name of Jesus to pursue a materialist goal. A person on the spiritualist side tends to be tolerant of other faiths, willing to work with others who have a different perspective, value diplomacy and dialogue, and really care deeply about the kind of environment we will leave to future generations. This type of person is more likely to believe in a gentile Jesus, and whether they are Christian or not, they all see Jesus as a spiritual person worth emulating.

So, I hope that more people will come to reject the kind of Jesus that Pastor Mark Driscoll wants people to believe in. The kind of Jesus who goes around beating people up doesn't square with what's written in the Bible and it's not the kind of Jesus that will convert the world to a spiritual life. That kind of false Jesus is an idol, and a convenient idol that only serves mammon. In fact, it's probably the kind of Jesus that Satan would love to have us believe in...because that Jesus is probably Lucifer in disguise. After all, Jesus did warn his followers to beware of false prophets who appear in sheeps clothing but underneath it, are ravenous wolves. How any true follower of Jesus can miss that warning and fall for charlatans continues to baffle me to this day. Thus why, whenever someone asks me if I'm saved, I cringe, because I think only a non-spiritually authentic person would ask that question. When I meet people and converse with them, I know immediately where they stand on the material/spiritual spectrum. It's how one views the world that's the dead giveaway. And the truth is, if one's a die-hard capitalist/materialist, they are in more need of saving than anyone else. They have put their faith in an idol, not the true God. They have sided with the powerful instead of the people we are commissioned to help...the world's powerless and poor/middle class.

So, no Pastor Driscoll...my Jesus can't beat up your Jesus. He'd turn the other cheek. And if your Jesus goes around beating people up, I think you better check to see if he's not wearing a mask. You just might find yourself PUNK'D by Satan himself!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Resurrection, the Da Vinci Code, or a third scenario?







In honour of Easter Sunday, and remembering all the hoopla last year over the film version of Dan Brown's controversial novel "The Da Vinci Code", I wanted to reflect on the whole idea of what Christendom has hung its entire reputation on, and why I think it might be a fraud.

First things first, I was raised in the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) since toddlerhood, as I was a fifth generation member of this faith community. I was taught all the standard ideas of Christianity...the virgin birth, the crucifiction (I know it's spelled another way, but I like to emphasize the "fiction" aspect), and the resurrection. When we lived in places where there weren't an RLDS congregation around, we attended another protestant church, where the confusion only grew when I learned that no one around me had heard of the Jaredites (when we discussed the Tower of Babel) or even of Nephi and his family, who fled Jerusalem in 600 B.C. What I learned was more evangelical ideas, particularly the obsession with asking people if they are "saved."

Somewhere in my adolescence, partly due to a rebellion I had against my father making me attend youth group meetings with these evangelical hypocrites, and partly because my hero at the time was an atheist teacher I had for government class...the ideas surrounding the whole "atonement sacrifice" for the "original sin" no longer made any sense to me. That is to say, since I didn't really believe in Adam and Eve for as long as I remember (2nd grade?), the whole idea that God would tell them they could eat of anything except from that one tree, which bore the fruit of knowledge. I always saw knowledge as a good thing. Ignorance as a bad thing. What's wrong with it? Had God told me not to eat of the fruit of knowledge, the first thing I would have done would eat it. I wouldn't have been like dumb Adam, who had to be convinced by Eve to partake it. Give me the damn thing and bring on the enlightenment, baby! So, that's problem number one. Well, actually, several problems: (1) that God who created all would be ignorant of the fact that telling a person that they can't have something only makes such thing more desireable; (2) that if God truly didn't want humans to partake the fruit, he could have made it poisonous (didn't they have poison ivy back then? Or mistletoe?); and (3) that God preferred humans to live in ignorance than enlightenment.

Anyhow, a few years ago, it dawned on me that the story was probably a metaphor for drugs. When I received my most significant spiritual experience, I was in ecstasy for about a month. I've never taken drugs, but I understood why people use it. They want to feel what I felt, but I achieved my bliss through spiritual hard work (it had come after a year of being in the shadows of despair), not the instantaneous gratification of a pill or vapour or powder or weed. When I pondered the Adam and Eve story, it hit me that the only sin they committed was that they wanted to attain spiritual knowledge/enlightenment the easy way. By partaking of the fruit, they'd suddenly know all...instead of having to do the hard work to attain it. So, that is essentially how I now view the Adam and Eve story. A precautionary tale against the easy promises that drugs and anything else that's a quick fix offers.

The flaw of Christianity, though, is that they have based the entire belief system on Adam and Eve being literally true people who walked this earth a mere 6,000 years ago. And that their partaking of the fruit of knowledge was a sin. So that's where the idea of Jesus' atoning sacrifice comes in. That all of us are descendants of Adam and Eve, thus we are all guilty of that original sin and in need of a saviour to take away the sins from us because his innocent blood was sacrificed in the resurrection. Sorry, I have a hard time believing that. The reason is because I don't believe God is imperfect. Only an imperfect God would make such a ridiculous requirement in the first place. First, why would God hold all human beings responsible for something that two people have done thousands of years ago? Where's personal accountability fit in? Secondly, why would God make the requirement that the most spiritually perfect person would have to be sacrificed in order to "wipe away that sin" for all humanity? Again, that's unfair to make a perfect person the scapegoat for our sins, and it also takes away the responsibility of each individual for the sins that they commit. By marrying the two stories together, Emperor Constantine and the early Christians did a huge disservice to Christianity. It became about a false idea in which one had to be "saved" by acknowledging Jesus as one's personal saviour in order to gain admittance into the heavenly afterlife. Instead of each person paying for their own sins (through the law of karma..."what a person sows, so shall he/she reap"), they have turned Jesus into a sacrificial lamb, a scapegoat in which a mass murderer can confess on his deathbed and accept "Jesus as Lord and Saviour", while a spiritual person like Gandhi, who followed the faith of his ancestors, is doomed to an eternity in hell. Sorry...the story doesn't wash!

So, here's what I believe about Jesus. He was the most spiritually advanced person on the planet. He didn't come to earth to create a new religion, but to correct the mistakes of the one he was born into (Judaism). It had become a rule-obsessed religion which ignored the needs of the people as followers sought to live by the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law. Because he violated so many of their laws by conversing with gentiles, women, lepers, slaves, and the like, he was seen as a threat by the pharisees and the sadducees. He had to be removed, assassinated, essentially. Rome wasn't threatened by him, but they were afraid of a Jewish uprising, so they placated the pharisees and had him executed. What happens next is a mystery. Did he resurrect? Did he fake his own death, married Mary Magdalene and moved to the French Riviera? Or did he just die a martyr and his followers were so shocked and saddened by his death that they refused to believe it? That they carried on his legacy, laying the groundwork for what would eventually become one of the world's three most significant religions?

Since none of us were around at the time of the crucifiction, it begs the question: why would God make a requirement that in order to live for eternity in heaven, one had to profess to believe that the resurrection of Jesus is true? Why is "belief" more important than one's actions? Such a requirement is unfair for untold billions who have lived from the time of Jesus until the 20th century, who have never heard of Jesus. And then there's the idea that missionaries who bring "the Good News" to heathen lands are condemning those who reject this foreign concept to eternity in hell. Where is the spiritual justice in that? In my spiritual study, I find it hard to believe that a universal and just God would ever base one's eternal standing on a mere belief. Too many people believe the wrong things, and we're counting on religious historians over the centuries to have pure motives in what they decided to include and exclude from the Holy Bible. And then there's the fact that there were many good German Christians who supported Adolf Hitler and what he did to the Jews, and a great many Hindus who followed Gandhi in caring for the poor and downtrodden. How does a Christian explain all that? What is just and what is unjust?

So...in honour of Jesus this Easter Sunday, I hope we will reflect more on why we believe so easily the traditions we are taught, without examining if those beliefs make logical sense or not? None of us were around at the time of Christ, so it would make sense that God would not judge us on what we believe may have happened or not have happened on that first Easter Sunday, but that God would judge us only on how we treat one another and if we lived up to the words we promised other people and God. That's true faith. Being tolerant of non-Christian religions and not trying to convert everyone to Christianity is the way to pursue peace in our world. After all, none of will truly know the truth of this planet's history until we're all up there in heaven to receive the unbiased account from our spiritual teachers.

With that, Happy Easter...however you celebrate it!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Fast Food Nation


Last weekend I saw a film that completely blew me away in terms of impact. In a mere 100 minutes, this film packed a powerful punch. That film is none other than "Fast Food Nation." For a simple film about our fast food industry, it covers a lot of ground...from how food is processed and marketed; how flavor is artificially added to enhance product; how marketing execs overlook other unhealthy ingredients; how illegal immigrants fill jobs no American wants; how underpaid they are; how unsafe the job is and the lack of legal protection these workers have; how underpaying the restaurant employees leads to petty things like spitting in the food, poor customer service, and even the high robbery rate perpetuated by former employees; how some liberal groups only talk about changing things without actually doing anything; how unpatriotic the USA PATRIOT Act is; how dumb cows really are; and the most stunning visual yet: what really goes on in a meat packing plant...including the moment when cows are slaughtered.

The impression I had after watching this was "cow concentration camp." That's exactly how it looks. The cows live tightly packed in and fed some processed food with God knows what ingredients, and then they are slaughtered...according to some statistics, 400 per hour! This is the price of our consumption! The other thing that most fascinated me is that it is a bilingual film in which the narrative switches back and forth between English and Spanish. I believe that is the future of our films and society. It's really beautiful in that regard and I'm glad more and more films are using original language with subtitles rather than like in the old days of film where they just have foreigners speak to each other with bad accents to indicate when they are speaking a foreign language.

I've curbed my own carnivorous diet somewhat from what I was eating a decade ago. Of course, I haven't eaten at McDonald's much since 1997 when there was that meat scare and talk of Mad Cow Disease or Hoof and Mouth Disease coming to the U.S. Occasionally, though, I'd crave a Quarter Pounder and indulge...up through last year. When I saw "Supersize Me" in January, I decided once and for all not to eat at McDonald's again, not only because the hamburgers are not good for you...but because I don't want them to get a penny of my money. I'd love to see them go out of business someday. There are healthier options, and Subway is my choice for fast food these days.

Though eating a steak or any kind of beef is a rare treat for me, I doubt I could ever go full on vegetarian because I still love chicken and fish. And since I have fished in the past with my grandfather, if I had to, I could definitely fish for my food, cook it and eat it. With any other animal, I'd have a hard time killing and eating it. Though cows are probably the dumbest animals on the planet, there was something disturbing as I watched the scene in "Fast Food Nation" when the cow is stunned into unconsciousness, struck up a meat hook and sliced for the blood to drain. With it's huge eye, I could tell that it was shocked and knew what was about to happen. Like I said earlier..."cow concentration camp." Food is only processed that way to keep up the insatiable demand consumers have for meat products. It's just gets harder and harder to justify that being the right option, spiritually or environmentally. So, I will probably even eat beef products even less often than I currently do. A few years back, I started eating soy burgers and didn't think it tasted that far off the mark, so that's one option whenever I crave a burger.

Other than that...save the cow! End the concentration camp we subject our cows to. Gosh, now I'm sounding like an ad for Chick-Fil-A! Maybe if they make a sequel to "Fast Food Nation", they can focus on the poultry industry. Though chicken would be the hardest meat for me to give up. Anyhow...if you haven't seen "Fast Food Nation"...I highly recommend it. But don't watch it if you're eating a hamburger. You may possibly not want to touch one again. Moo!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

When the minion of Satan comes visiting BYU...




I was going to write about the return of "The Bachelor" reality show on TV, as there was so much to make fun of...but then I discovered in my daily digest of the news through the truthout.org and commondreams.org websites that BYU had invited none other than VICE President Dick Cheney to speak at this year's commencement. And to think that I did consider attending it (a few months ago) to receive my long delayed degree! This news is all the more reason why I love my church (the Community of Christ) and not the LDS one. In 1999, at the commencement ceremony of my church's college, Graceland in Lamoni IA, it was none other than Vice President Gore who gave the address. Of course, the more conservative members of my church didn't like it and a few complained in our church's magazine...but maybe they should switch over to the LDS Church, which skews conservative (though, thankfully, my fellow BYU friends, all active, good-standing, Temple-worthy LDS members AND liberal...well, except for one possible exception).

When I was a student, I remember the fuss about Clarence Thomas making a visit to the Law School. I seriously contemplated showing a picture of Anita Hill through the window on the door of the room that Justice Thomas spoke in. The big controversy around that time was the Clinton sex scandal and allegations of sexual harassment by the president on interns and other ladies. So, while BYU made clear that Clinton would not meet BYU's honor code requirement to be a guest speaker, they looked the other way for Clarence Thomas because he was a good personal friend of Utah Senator and LDS member Orrin Hatch. It was one example of holding a double-standard, which seems to have continued to this day. Why is it so easy to believe all the negative stories about Clinton and his womanizing ways, but not when it's about Clarence Thomas? Especially when one of the conservative political operatives to have helped smear Anita Hill's reputation had a "road to Damascus" experience and revealed all the things he had done to serve the cause of conservative Republicanism. The person's name? David Brock, who revealed in his book "Blinded By The Right" that Clarence Thomas did have a huge collection of pornography.

I also remember at the time when I was at BYU that the bookstore made a big fuss on how they would not sell Monica Lewinsky's book (as written by Andrew Morton), yet they sold George Stephanopoulos' memoirs, which had a few profanity words sprinkled among his prose and reveals a lot more about Clinton than Monica's book did. Monica's book was a love story seen from the naive eyes of a troubled young lady. However, it was conservative Republican Ken Starr who wrote the most salacious account of the affair, with plenty of the kind of detail that would make a viagra pill unnecessary in even the most impotent of men who read his government report. To BYU's credit, they didn't sell the Starr Report either.

Now we get to Cheney, who is perhaps the most evil man on the planet. Last year, I had a debate with a fellow churchmember over Cheney. He didn't think Cheney was evil for the simple fact that Cheney loves his lesbian daughter. Anyone who could love didn't qualify as "evil" in his book. But then I thought, even Hitler loved his mistress, and his dog, and his secretary. What does that prove? It's easy to point the finger at who is evil...Stalin, Saddam, Hitler...and turn them into cliched characters from history. But that idea is dangerous. Because we are so used to thinking of evil as these giants in history, it doesn't prepare us for the evil that hides in the shadows, an evil that Jesus warned his followers about, time and again.

Jesus warned "by their fruits, ye shall know them." And anyone who isn't blind or in love with the Bush regime can see what kind of fruits Cheney has wrought on the world. To look at everything that makes Jesus (and even the Buddha) a spiritual leader, one can clearly see that Cheney is the exact opposite. Jesus did nothing in secret. Cheney relishes secrecy. Jesus hung out with the poor, the afflicted, the outcasts of society, the sinners. Cheney hangs out with the rich and the powerful. When Satan appeared to Jesus in the desert, one of the temptations he tried to use was that if Jesus would bow down and worship Satan, that the entire world would be his dominion to do as he wished. Jesus rejected that offer and asked "what does it profit a man who gains the whole world but loses his very soul?" When Satan appeared to Cheney sometime between 1993 and 1998, Cheney said, "where do I sign?" The question is not is Cheney evil, but how much did Satan buy him out for?

I know that some people still want to believe that there is goodness somewhere in Cheney, that he hasn't completely turned to the dark side, but the man is so heartless, he's had 5 heart attacks and still won't die! Is that not a clue that Satan has kept him alive for a purpose? And he was able to shoot a man in the face and that man miraculously lived and apologized to Cheney for the inconvenience he caused! I was truly baffled by that apology, but figured that it was another sign that something truly evil is at work in the mechanical and cold heart of Cheney. He signed off on torture, totally okay with the use of waterboarding. Jesus was tortured (to this day, I still can't believe how any Christian could watch Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" and still support the Bush Administration. The contradiction is so baffling!). Cheney is a wealthy man, made even wealthier by the war in Iraq and all the no-bid contracts his company Halliburton got. Jesus was poor. Cheney has no compassion. Jesus died for it. There's no doubt about it...Cheney is one evil mo-fo.

Which brings up my final point. Why would BYU allow someone that transparent to speak at commencement? There is nothing in Cheney's personality, behavior, or life that would give any evidence at all of being a Christian. There is no light of Christ shining through Cheney's body. He is undoubtedly the most evil, vile man who has ever disgraced our government. He is the dark cloud our Founding Fathers feared would one day end the noble American experiment in democracy. Though I dislike Bush, I don't believe he is an evil man. He is simply an ignorant man suffering from a complex family dynamic, egotism, and lack of understanding how the world works to be an effective leader. But Cheney is another story altogether. He is one person who better enjoy all his days on earth, because after he's gone, he will come to hate everything he has ever done on earth. The boomerang of karmic justice will come back to him. I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up in the same holding cell with Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. They are three peas in a nasty pod.

It's a shame about BYU, though. That they lack the good sense not to invite such a vile man is surprising. It makes me doubt whatever spiritual claim they ever had. The honor code was something I took seriously when I attended there. Now, it means nothing. That they would turn a blind eye towards a man who embodies everything Jesus had warned about; while showing judgmental attitudes towards another government figure's personal failings (think King David)...I simply don't get it. It's just another case of conservative Republicans not knowing where they stand. They speak of family values and honor when its against a liberal Democrat, but conveniently overlook it when it's one of their own. That's politics, not how a spiritual person would behave. After all, if Cheney were a Democrat, I'd despise him even more. But the truth is, I feel sorry for Cheney. When he leaves his body, he has a hellish future ahead of him. Who am I to judge? Well...I believe everything we do in life has consequences, and we pay for those consequences. By inflicting hell upon the world's poorest, while getting rich in the process...it just seems like a bad move to pick on the very people Jesus was for. If we love Jesus, the choice is clear...the poor are the ones we need to side with, not the powerful. As Jesus said himself, it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. No exceptions, BYU, no exceptions.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Happy April Fool's Day (Tribute to the Biggest Fool!)


Remember this quote?


"There's an old saying in Tennessee--I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee--that says, fool me once, shame on--shame on you. Fool me--you can't get fooled again."

That was uttered by none other than George W. Bush and the clip was brilliantly used to end the film "Fahrenheit 9/11". The whole strangeness of it is, Bush doesn't seem to realize that the quote perfectly describes him, though he mangled it. The actual quote is: "Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me."After Katrina, it seems like the American people have finally woken up to the fact that he's incompetent, he lies constantly (almost seems incapable of telling the truth), and he's no longer credible (that he was ever viewed as credible is baffling to me). The American people no longer seem willing to be duped and I think that's a good sign of progress.


Granted, most Americans were in a cloud after 9/11. Most Americans are shamefully ignorant of world history and of our government's involvement in a lot of bad foreign policy since 1945. Because I had majored in International Politics, I learned a lot of the dirty secrets our government has done that most Americans seem not to want to know about. So, because I learned about our foreign policy, 9/11 didn't really surprise me all that much. I saw it as karmic retribution for our immoral support of Osama Bin Laden in the 1980s in his war against the Soviets. As the Bible and other religions point out..."what you sow, so shall you reap." What part of that do Americans have a hard time understanding? If our government is going to support immoral thugs (Noreiga, the Shah, Saddam, Marcos, Pinochet, Karamov, the Saud Royal family all come to mind), why is it so surprising that any of those people would turn on us eventually? The Bible spells it out so plainly for all to see...we get back what we put out. If we are giving money and arms to prop up dictators in foreign countries, then we have no moral right to be outraged when the same bloodshed reaches our shores.


Unfortunately, to say that to a conservative means that one will most certainly be accused of treason, of being "unpatriotic." But it's the truth. It's the undeniable truth of the universe. Karma is reality. Every religion says so. That universal idea is proof positive that karma is the governing law of the universe. No other idea is so present in all the religious ideas in our world. So when people wonder what the "absolute truth" is, they should look no further than the fact that all religions have their own version of The Golden Rule, which conveys the same idea of karma in different wordings.


Because Karma is a universal spiritual law, I knew that the Iraq War would fail dismally. We violated our own Declaration of Independence to wage that war. In that sacred document, Jefferson had written that ALL PEOPLE (the world over) had the God given right to SELF-DETERMINE their form of government. No other nation had the right to invade another country and establish a puppet government, including our own. The Iraq War also violated our Constitution and our established precedent of waging war in self-defense only. Of course, some could argue that our wars against Spain for control of Cuba and the Phillippines; or against Mexico to acquire Texas; or against Vietnam...that those wars were not self-defense (and I would agree that they weren't), but the matter is, the current war is definitely not about protecting our country from terrorism. Also, the biggest clue that this war violated spiritual law is that the Bush Administration knew that support for the Iraq War was flimsy. He could rah-rah the nation into war frenzy for only a temporary time...but the fact that he didn't raise taxes to fund the war or institute a draft or ask Americans to sacrifice at all shows that he knew all along that the American people would not sacrifice one bit of our luxuriously bloated lifestyle for an uncertain war in Iraq. This is the first war in history in which there was a tax cut involved (or tax bribe, as I like to think of it). So, instead of paying for it now, we are borrowing billions from our future rival China to fight this war, and our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be stuck with the bill! Where is the morality in that?


So, this April Fools Day, I hope Americans reflect on the biggest fool we got going. The fool in the White House. The Americans might have been fooled about the facts regarding Iraq and 9/11, but it looks like the Fool in the White House is having a hard time fooling the American people anymore. He can't get support from Congress over going to war against Iran, he can't lie his way out of anything anymore thanks to an opposition party controlling Congress. Let's face it...the only way he can hope to fool the American people one last time before his term is up is by allowing another terrorist attack to happen on our shores. One that dwarfs 9/11/2001. And honestly, if one does happen before he leaves office, I hope the American people won't be fooled again. I would hope that we learned something from that book most have read in childhood...the story about the boy who cried wolf. Perhaps future children will one day read a story called: "The Bush who cried wolf." And then they'll ask us, "why could you not see what a fool you had for a president?" I know how I'll answer. Do you?