Saturday, June 30, 2007

Time to Get "Sicko"!


Last night, I went to see the film "Sicko". I was a fan of "Fahrenheit 9/11" and even enjoyed "Bowling for Columbine" and "Roger and Me". My big hesitation with seeing "Sicko" was the subject matter. Focusing on the HMOs (everyone seems to have a horror story) just didn't seem interesting enough to make a documentary on. However, I knew that the Michael Moore brand of documentary filmmaking would be interesting. Some critics complain about his agenda pushing and the slant of his documentaries, but what's wrong with it? He is the modern day equivalent of Thomas Paine, whose political pamphlet "Common Sense" was designed to rouse the passions of the American colonists against the corrupt King George. Who says we have to be fair to the powers that be? They aren't, after all, fair to the average American. So, I'm glad someone like Michael Moore is taking on those people with his brand of filmmaking.

What really inticed me to go see this film (over "A Mighty Heart", which is next on my list) was in a review I read in which he talks with American ex-patriots who live in France and their thoughts on the whole health care system. A part of me has always wanted to move to Paris and live the rest of my life there. And after I saw the film, it only renewed that desire. But, I think things are going to change under President Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative who promises to put France back to work (putting the 35 hour work week and the 5 week paid vacation on the renegotiation table).

The film was a lot more crowded than I thought it would be. I've seen a few documentaries in theaters, but none have been as full as it was for "Fahrenheit 9/11" in 2004 (which went on to gross more than $100 million). I guess others are also sold on the Michael Moore brand of filmmaking. This one follows the same formula as his previous ones, using choice music to make a point (I especially love the tribute to "Star Wars" opening scrawl when he lists all the pre-existing conditions that HMOs use to deny coverage to insurance holders), mixing humour (everyone laughed everytime Bush was seen on screen...not because he's purposefully funny, but because he was seen more as a buffoon who doesn't realize that he's a joke) and tears, and a publicity stunt (such as when he takes a group of 9/11 rescue workers suffering from mysterious ailments and denied health care coverage to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to demand the military treat them as well as they treat the Muslim prisoners).

The scene with the biggest impact for me was when Michael Moore was in France talking with American ex-patriots. I heard the audience gasp when the Americans told Moore that the French people don't have to pay college tuition. I was actually surprised. When I visited France ten years ago, the French girl I had stayed with didn't understand why I had to pay for college. She was completely dumbfounded that it cost money. And I was shocked to see how shocked she was to the concept of paying for college. She wanted to know how one could afford to pay for college if they didn't have a job. It was an interesting conversation, and I knew then what a sham our system is. I believe that our government finds way to keep Americans in debt as a controlling device. Instead of the levels of control used in totalitarian countries (police surveillance, neighbors ratting out each other, threats of prison, torture, disappearances, and government owned media propaganda), our government has found other ways of controlling us. Because we leave college saddled with loan debt, we'll be good workers who won't make waves, especially when such jobs offer medical benefits. It keeps people in line.

Michael Moore asks the most provocative questions to the audience, which I love. In this film, I really appreciated him asking (to the effect), "Why do you think we're told to hate the French so much? Is it because they live better than we do?" That is so true. I've never understood why Americans hated the French. The French don't hate Americans. In my 12 times to France, I've never experienced "French rudeness" (in fact, I experienced more rudeness in New York City than anywhere in France). In a lot of ways, the French are like Americans in that they won't bow down to any nation and do what is against their interest. Americans expect other nations to jump when we tell them to (thanks to lapdog allies like Great Britain and Israel), but in reality, America will be like France when China becomes the superpower. We'll object to everything they want to do. There's nothing wrong with a nation objecting to another nation's use of power. We should admire France for that. And I find it ironic that in a nation like France, which is pretty secular these days, that they have a social safety net that is more in line with Jesus' philosophy than our capitalistic country, which claims to be the most Christian nation on earth. If we are "so Christian", where's the evidence? Would a Christian nation screw the poor time and time again, rewarding the wealthy class even when evidence of fraud and other malfeasance is involved?

A former co-worker in my last job in Atlanta and I had an interesting discussion before on France. She was a Jehovah's Witness who tried to convince me why her religion is best. She actually told me that we weren't meant to live on earth to work our whole lives away, that we should enjoy life more than working. When she said that, I smiled. Because she was a blindly loyal Republican who gives the party line on all political issues, and listened to Rush, I knew I had her. Like Socrates, who won arguments by leading his opponent into making contradictory claims, I was able to trap her on that statement. After she told me about the point of life on earth, I asked her, "So why do you criticize the French for doing exactly that? They have a 35 hour work week, at least 5 weeks paid vacation each year, universal health care, child care and college..." As soon as I brought up the French, she went on a tirade against them and I was shocked by the amount of hatred she had for those people. She went into a litany about how their economy is stagnant, the unemployment is high, and they aren't a superpower like ours. When she finished, I smiled and said, "you just negated everything you said about the point of life on earth." She realized what she had done, and it was such a satisfaction to me to expose her true beliefs. Between her religious claims and her political views, she chose politics over religion...so how can she expect to win people over to her religion with such a glaring contradiction? I lost a lot of respect for her. I mean, what has the Republican party ever done to make the world a better place? They promote a selfish and greedy agenda, every man for himself. They are social darwinists, even if they profess to believe in creationism. It's such an interesting contradiction how a party that claims to be Christian violates so much of what Jesus advocated, even demonizing the other party that seeks to bring about universal health care.

Anyhow, the film raises so many good points and it's entertaining to boot. In many ways, it's even better than "Fahrenheit 9/11" because it illustrates what is wrong with America, and what's right with other nations. Instead of pursuing a political agenda like his last film, this one seeks to inspire Americans to demand universal health care as a basic human right. There's no just rationale for forcing people into bankruptcy and poverty to take care of a health related crisis. This is the cause Christians should rally behind. The narrow focus on abortion and denying gays equality should be abandoned for an issue that is even more important. Christ calls us to heal people, not destroy them. Having universal health care is the most Christlike policy we could adopt.

Finally, I wanted to say that back in 1993 when we last had a national debate on universal health care, I was in the military and I remember being shocked by how against it my fellow sailors were. After all, the military has universal health care. We didn't have to worry about which premiums to sign up for, and if insurance would pay for whatever we needed. We were covered. No one in the military complained about that. But the idea of extending such a service to all Americans made them absolutely livid. That's the essence of hypocrisy...to deny others the right to something you enjoy. I just don't get it. What is so wrong about helping our fellow humans? Why does it always have to be a zero sum game in America? That if someone gets something for free, that we lose? We all lose if our country slips into third world status. Why should unified Europe have a better standard of living than us? We helped rebuild Europe from the ruin of World War II and now we're getting passed by. So, I'll say it again...if we are truly Christians or compassionate people, the only acceptable view to have is universal health care for all American citizens. Let's get rid of the HMOs and follow the example of Britian, Canada, and France.

Please see this film. You'll laugh, cry, and think. What more can you ask for in a film going experience? This is one of the most important issues to demand of the candidates running for president in 2008...what will they do to bring about universal health care?

Friday, June 29, 2007

Proust Questionnaire

On the back page of Vanity Fair magazine is a Proust Questionnaire that various celebrities and socialites have filled out. I thought it would be fun to do one myself, using the kind of questions that the rich and famous answer.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Reunion or a spiritual retreat among fellow members of the Community of Christ, singing the beautiful hymn, "We Are One In The Spirit." Nothing brings me closer to heaven than that.

What is your greatest fear?

That America will become a Christofascist country under a dictator who claims to represent Christ but does the exact opposite. Oops...our country is almost there. All it takes to seal the deal is another devastating terrorist attack that dwarfs 9/11.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

While I admire people like Galileo, da Vinci, Nostradamus, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Jefferson, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy...perhaps the person whose personality, life, and passions that is closest to mine is Jack Kerouac. When I started reading him in 2001, I was shocked by how many coincidences I had with his life. I don't know what it means, but he is the one I most identify with.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

My tendency to be a recluse more than I should.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Religious hypocrisy and sanctimonious outrage. They should look in the mirror first before casting stones.

What is your greatest extravagence?

I eat out way more than I should, and I should limit my chai latte drinking to one time a week.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Morality. Not because it's wrong, but because too many people use it to beat others up, while hiding their own immoral behaviour. I'd like to hear less moral outrage, especially over sexual related issues. Where's the moral outrage over torture, lying about war, and greed?

What is your favourite journey?

I love solo road trips, with just me, my music, and a long running conversation with God. I probably feel closest to God on a roadtrip than at any other time. I think a lot of that has to do with seeing large amounts of scenery, which fills me with awe for the power and creativity of God to give us such diverse landscapes to enjoy.

What is your greatest regret?

Leaving Washington, D.C. in 2000. I listened to my parents against my better judgment. Here it is, seven years later and I still haven't found the job I'm most passionate about. D.C. has so many cool organizations to work for, and when the Democrats are in power, that would've given me more job opportunities to choose from. And now my best friend lives in the D.C. area. So, I often wonder what might've happened had I stayed there. However, I love Portland, even though I'm growing in disappointment over the lack of good job availability. It was my biggest fear when I chose it over San Francisco as a place to move to last year.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

Well, I haven't met her yet, so my greatest love would have to be writing. I love to lose myself in my writing sessions. It's hard to describe all the feelings associated with it, but it truly is a blissful state.

When and where were you happiest?

Probably during my internship in D.C. It was a perfect 4 months. I had the dream internship job, a group of friends to hang out with after work, a girl I was interested in, and I was living in the city of my dreams. It was the life. Hopefully, I can experience that again soon. But, I strive to always be happy, regardless of present state of being in a job I hate, making unacceptable wages.

Which talent would you most like to have?

Singing. It would be cool to be successful singer, because since adolescence, I had dreams of how I would perform concerts. I'd take people on a visual journey, and each concert tour would be centered on a theme. The closest I could think of, Green Day's cd "American Idiot" and Madonna's concerts represent something I would do...giving people something more than just a song and dance. It's all about the journey and taking audiences there.

What is your current state of mind?

Frustrated...with the politics of this country, with our economic scheme that rewards the rich and punishes the working class, with my low wage and overworked job, with the lack of meaningful work out there, with my novel not finding an agent that believes in taking a risk. I try to find my blissful moments to keep from being overwhelmed, but it's hard. Frustration is very hard to overturn without an external event that improves my life in some way.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

So far, it would have to be a tie between writing a 700 page novel and actually passing Biology 100 to get my long delayed Bachelor's Degree. Those two events were among the proudest I've ever felt.

If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?

I love this question because I believe in reincarnation and I also believe that we do choose what we want to be in each lifetime. So, for my next life, I would choose to be born into a closely-connected Australian family. I'd be athletic, really attractive, with a long line of ex-girlfriends and hopefully all that I've learned in my current lifetime will be ingrained in me so that I won't be corrupted by such good fortune. And with that, I'd like to be a professional rugby player who eventually becomes Prime Minister of Australia.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Probably Dick Cheney when he realizes that God will hold him accountable for everything he's done on earth.

Where would you most like to live?

Paris, France. I could live the rest of my life there if I had a French wife and a writing career. It simply is the greatest city in the universe!

What is your favourite occupation?

Considering that I've had nothing but shit jobs all my life, I'm still waiting for it to come to pass...that of a professional writer/novelist. Nothing would please me more than to earn money writing, and also traveling in search of knowledge and good material to use in future writing projects.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Probably my brutal honesty. A lot of people are actually stunned by it, but I tend to say what's on everyone's minds, even when they hold back from saying it.

What is your most treasured possession?

My letters from Nathan Hagman, Nicholas Smith, Thomas Malone, Yves Dulout and Skyla Larsen. I enjoy re-reading them and am glad that they kept in touch when they did, even if some of them no longer do. The letters keep the memory alive.

What do you most value in your friends?

Their honesty and sense of humour.

What is the quality you most like in a man?

Honesty and reliability

What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Kindness and grace.

Who are your favourite writers?

Jack Kerouac, Jack London, Michael Crichton, Dave Eggers, and Tom Wolfe

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?

Probably Ralph from "Lord of the Flies". I saw a lot of myself in him.

Who are your heroes in real life?

Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Vaclav Havel, the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Al Gore

Which living person do you most despise?

Too easy. That would be Dick Cheney. I have nothing but absolute loathing for him. He is one person who should never be trusted with power and once he leaves office, he should be given a choice of prisontime or permanent exile in Baghdad's Green Zone.

What is that you most dislike?

Hypocrisy

How would you like to die?

Before my body or mind starts to break down

What is your motto?

I love and try to live by Martin Luther King's statement: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands during times of comfort and convenience but during times of challenge and controversy."

Pick five or more things on a single subject matter.

The subject would be Burma and the six things would be:
1) "Beyond Rangoon" dvd
2) The song "Mountains of Burma" by Midnight Oil
3) "The Voice of Hope" by Aung San Suu Kyi
4) "Land of a Thousand Eyes" by Peter Olszewski
5) "Saving Fish From Drowning" by Amy Tan
6) "Finding Orwell in Burma" by Emma Larkin

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My Long-running "War" Against Fundamentalists


Yesterday's post, I wrote about the escort who exposed the hypocrisy of an influential evangelist. Today, I wanted to write about my own long-running battle with fundamentalists and evangelist types.

I suppose it started in my teenage years when I lived on an Army base in Fulda, West Germany (1985-1988). Since members of the RLDS Church were scattered at various bases around Germany, we only were able to get together for three retreats a year (Easter in Hulsa, Christmas in Stuttgart, and reunion in August in Bertesgarten). However, my dad didn't let me off the hook for religion. He made us attend the protestant church services on the army post. Not only that, but I also had to participate in the protestant youth group meetings every Sunday afternoon...even though I was more interested in the weekly music video countdown that was shown around that time on the Armed Forces Network. Music has always been my addiction. I didn't go to Boy Scout camp with my troop in 1985 because they had scheduled it the same week as Live Aid, and I wasn't missing out on that!

Anyhow, the protestant youth group went a long way in offending my sensibilities. One of the adult leaders was an Army guy who played rough. Whenever we played basketball, touch football, kickball, or soccer, this leader was so obsessed with winning that it didn't matter if he cheated or played with unnecessary roughness. He was a big guy and I was such a skinny teenager. He was always bumping into me, knocking me down, and not even acknowledging or apologizing for it. As far as he was concerned...I was invisible. So, after experiencing such behaviour each time, it irked me to no end that when the meeting "got serious" and focused on the Lord, everything this guy had to say went in one ear and out the other. The guy was so un-Christlike in his behaviour during sports that he lacked any credibility with me. So, that's one big beef I had.

The second major point of contention were the special "revival weekends" my dad made me go on with the protestant youth group. It followed the usual pattern of fun and games in the beginning, before turning serious. Once it turned serious, I always got uncomfortable. To this day, I cringe when someone asks me, "Are you saved?" That question is something that I had never heard anyone in my church ask anyone. What was even worse was that these people who were pushing salvation on teenagers made me feel guilty about my insecurities and imperfections, and would not accept baptism in my church as valid for salvation. I had to give my life to Christ in front of them, with tears like all the others who were falling over themselves to prove their piousness. I would always manage to resist, because it felt fake to me. Spirituality has always been a private affair for me. I'm not showy in my faith and I don't feel a need to "prove myself" to anyone when it comes to piousness. In fact, I prefer people to think of me as an unrepentant heathen. God knows better. And that's all that matters.

I remember seeing my main adversary cry as he gave his life over to Christ. I didn't buy his phony piousness and complained to one of the girls who knew both of us. I remember telling her, "I bet he'll go back to his old ways at school on Monday"...which was to make my life a living hell. So, that's another thing that really stuck in my mind about the whole evangelical and fundamentalist modus operandi. They peer pressure people into "becoming saved", making a huge production of it...when true change happens within. One doesn't need to make such a public show of their "salvation" and those who do are suspect...especially if they are back to their old ways come Monday morning.

The third major beef I've had with fundamentalists and evangelicals was their push for us to give up our secular music and listen to strictly Christian music. I've always loved music and there was no way that I would give up on pop music. There were too many songs that I liked. And I've always preferred the tune/melody over the lyrics. I rarely sat and paid attention to lyrics...especially the more uptempo ones. But around the time I was having these debates with the fundys, I pointed out the positive message songs of "We Are the World", "Man In the Mirror", "Heaven Is A Place On Earth", and "Hands to Heaven". Most pop songs were about love. Sure, there were some blatantly sexual songs, like most of George Michael's songs on his "Faith" album, which was popular among girls at the time. However, most songs were about love and what the hell is wrong with that? Besides, Christian pop at the time sucked! It didn't really get good until the 1990s when pop music seemed to die out due to grunge, rap, and hip hop gaining in popularity. But, I digress. When I lived in Nebraska before we lived in Germany, one guy in my church was into all those heavy metal bands, and I stayed away from those kinds of music because I saw them as Satanic. So, the fact that I have an inner compass to know what music to avoid and which to enjoy, it was unnervingly frustrating that these evangelical/fundy types didn't seem to allow me to trust my own conscience in these matters. They wanted to tell me what music to listen to. NO ONE TELLS ME WHAT MUSIC I SHOULD LISTEN TO. They can make a recommendation, but that doesn't mean I'll obey.

I'm such an onery devil!

Another major point of contention is that these evangelist/fundy types knew absolutely nothing about my church, yet they felt comfortable enough to put the "cult" label on it. And to reveal their ignorance even further, they usually mix up my church with the Mormon one. Because my church is so small, most people don't know anything about it. So, what kind of credibility can a fundy have when they tell me that I'm in a cult and need God's saving grace. What the heck do they know? Do they bother to ask? My church isn't perfect and I have my own complaints about some aspects, but no other organization on earth has brought me close to heaven, time and time again, as my church has. In my life, the Community of Christ (RLDS Church) is the closest experience to heaven as I can see. I feel such a deep spiritual connection to the church, it's heritage, fellow members, and even to our cousins in the LDS Church. So, whenever I hear fundys and evangelists mouth ignorant statements about the Latter Day Saints movement, they aren't helping to win converts or allies. They are merely pushing people like me away.

The final nail in the coffin for me was the dark period of my life from August 2000 through August 2001 when I shared a cubicle with one of the most ignorant people I have ever met. She was a fundamentalist Christian woman who believed that communism was of Satan and capitalism was from God; who believed that Swaggart, Robertson, Falwell, and even Rush Limbaugh were men of God and spoke only the truth; and yet, she knew so little about history, our world, and even America itself. It began the fateful day I happened to bring a book to read during my lunch break. It was the collected writings of Thomas Jefferson. She saw that book and saw her opening to discuss religion. I was shocked when she claimed that Jefferson was an evangelist. Like an idiot, I had to argue with her about it, since I've studied Jefferson because he is my favorite president and historical figure. I even brought in my copy of the Jefferson Bible to show her that he wasn't the kind of believer she had thought he was. But, she didn't believe me because Robertson or her pastor said that Jefferson was a man of God, thus that settled it. She didn't have to investigate it for herself. She could ignore the historical fact that evangelists in 1800 had warned Americans that if Jefferson was elected president, that he would ban their Bibles and make Christianity illegal. Evangelist Christians are always demonizing enlightened political leaders. It's no surprise that they held Clinton in such contempt. So it only proved her ignorance. Because she so hated Clinton and his immoral ways, I believe had she lived in 1800, she would also think that Jefferson was an immoral person and "anti-Christian."

Because I spent a year sharing the same small cubicle with "fundy woman" (as I called her to friends), I was shocked continuously by the willful ignorance she preferred to live under. She really believed everything her pastor told her and rarely investigated things on her own. To her, the Mormon Church was nothing more than a cult. She was happy when the Taliban destroyed two 1,000 year old statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan. She considered Gandhi to be an evil man. She actually said that the Dalai Lama was one of Satan's minions on earth (um...no...that honor goes to Cheney). Basically, if you weren't her brand of Christianity (which was Assemblies of God, the same religion as Ashcroft, another political figure I despised), you were going to hell. That includes the usual suspects of people in "weird religions", atheists, agnostics, Wiccans, Satanists, communists, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, intellectuals, Democrats, and anyone in alternative lifestyles. It amazed me that a woman who had no interest in learning as much as she could about our world, and one who hated this world, that she would be among those saved when the rapture comes. Who prides themselves on ignorance? I hate being ignorant. I don't feel productive unless I'm learning something new every day. To put all my faith and trust in another person is hard for me. Humans are flawed. And motives are questionable. Especially if they are wealthy televangelists with a political agenda.

So...that's my long-running feud with those who are evangelical and fundamentalist. I consider myself a man of the Enlightenment. Since elementary school, I remember being inspired by the Renaissance period in history and I've always loved to learn about the Revolutionary period of American history. And later, in high school, when we touched on the Enlightenment period to understand what forces influenced our Founding Fathers to create our government, I knew which period of history I would've loved to have lived in. You can have the ignorance of the Dark Ages...but give me the Enlightenment every time! In college, I came to admire Enlightenment era philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He had it right on hypocrisy. He believed that it was the social life that made men hypocrites, because they have to put on masks to fit in to the group way of thinking. To reveal what one really believes could upset the social order, and that an honest life is hard to maintain in society. I agree. But, it's better to be honest than to conform to the group. Thus why I'll never fit in among the evangelicals/fundamentalists. Our vision for America is on opposite ends and it's a "war" I'd gladly fight to my dying day.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Exposing Religious Hypocrisy

Mike Jones -- The man who exposed the hypocrisy of evangelist Ted Haggard's sexuality

Tonight, I went to the book signing at Powell's City of Books featuring Mike Jones, the male escort who revealed just days before the election last fall that Republican shill Ted Haggard was secretly paying him for massage, methampethamines, and mansex at the rate of $200 per hourly session once a month for nearly 3 years. Remember that scandal? It came on the heels of the Republican Congressman Mark Foley's scandal of having sexual instant message dialogues with underage male pages. What was with all these repressed Republicans having sexual appetites for their own gender, all the while supporting, voting for, and even passing legislation that denies homosexuals to equal rights under the law? Hypocrisy stinks to high heaven and that is why, despite his professional reputation being one of the least respected, Mike Jones is a hero of mine. Anyone who exposes religious hypocrisy is a hero of mine for the simple reason that there are charlatans who deceive well meaning religious people with false doctrine, and anyone brave enough to take down such giants at the cost of their own reputation and well being is worthy of admiration and praise, despite their profession.

After all, in the Bible, Jesus saved a woman who was caught in adultery and about to be stoned to death. Jesus asked her accusers if they were not also guilty, thus they ran off and spared the woman. If there's anything that Jesus criticizes time and time again, it is not sexual sin but HYPOCRISY of the sanctimoniously religious. With just cause, too, because there is just something so vile about hypocrisy. Hypocrites want it both ways. They want to moralize and condemn others, while holding themselves above such laws that they are all too willing to condemn in others. It's an ageless tale. In fact, during my nightmare year of late 2000/early 2001 when I shared a cubicle with a fundamentalist Christian woman (the closest I've been to hell on earth), I used to rile her up when I said, "I'd rather be a sinner like Clinton than a hypocrite like Gingrich." She, of course, hated Clinton with a passion but thought the adulterer and divorcing Gingrich was righteous (at least Clinton never delivered divorce papers to his wife while she was in the hospital. Oops...Clinton didn't get a divorce at all. Oops...I guess it's only "moral Republicans" who get divorced!).

The word hypocrisy has such a sting to it, unfortunately. But, as I told one evangelist friend of mine a few years back, all it really means is that you don't really believe what you say that you believe. There's a reason why religion seems to foster hypocrisy in overabundant amounts. I realized it in college, when my own spiritual views evolved beyond what I was taught to believe. I had a debate with a good friend of mine about our religious beliefs (he and I belong to the same church, but our discussions on religion were often more contentious than discussions I've had with Mormons over our differences). See...he believes what he is taught, but his actions often betrayed what he claimed to believe. He didn't like me pointing it out either. But I go by what Jesus told followers. Whenever what the person claims to believe is in conflict with what a person does, the true belief is action, not words. Words are but lies in self deception. But the body doesn't lie. The body (action) is the arbiter of truth. So, if you want to know the truth about a person, close your ears and watch how they act and you will find the true essence of their characters.

Back to Haggard. Honestly, I never heard of him until Mike Jones exposed him last year. I was shocked that he headed the 30 million member National Evangelical organization. I guess I'm so far removed from the "evangelical culture" and corrupted by our secular society that I don't pay attention to these charlatan Christians beyond the Falwell-Robertson-Dobson "axis" (of deception). But, with the Foley page scandal and the Haggard sex scandal, I was giddy as all get out. I remember some church member (who was liberal) asked me why I was so giddy about it, when I should focus on Iraq and helping to end the war. I told her that I was mad that Americans didn't seem to care much about the real scandals involving the corporate world, Halliburton fleecing our government, the mismanaged war in Iraq, the disasterous handling of Katrina, and the overall incompetence of the Bush administration...that none of that seemed to get voters to see the deception behind the Republican party in election after election. They always voted based on fear of another terrorist attack. So, if it took a couple of gay sex scandals to end 12 years of Republican misrule in Congress, so be it. I'll take it. And I'm glad. If any Republican Christian ever came up to me and tried to tell me that the Republicans are more moral than Democrats, I will rub their face in Mark Foley and Ted Haggard...two Repuglican poster boys for hypocrisy.

Earlier this year, I saw the documentary "Jesus Camp" and saw footage of Haggard for the first time. I didn't realize how creepy he came across. There was something so odd about his performance in that documentary, especially his line "I know what you did last night. For a thousand bucks, I won't tell your wife." Wow. Was he like, inspired by his own secret meetings with a gay escort? There was a debate about whether or not he was fairly "outed", but as Mike Jones points out in his book, he struggled for four months about whether to come forward and the biggest event that pushed him to expose Haggard was a statement that Haggard had made about comparing gay people with mass murderers. That and the push against gay marriages in the form of a Constitutional Amendment (never has that sacred document been amended to discriminate against a group of people). So, even though Haggard is married with five children, I can't say I have sympathy for him. Mike Jones did the right thing and I'm glad he's getting his story out in book form. As I said earlier...anyone who exposes religious hypocrisy is a hero of mine. I've had a long history of my own disputes with the religious right, so I support anyone who has the courage to take them on. I wish the Democratic Party had the cojones of Mike Jones. We might actually begin to make the Republican Party a permanent minority party of extremists. But, that's a battle that will continue on, I'm afraid...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Revisiting 9/11


Last night, I went to a lecture by Dr. Bob Bowman, who is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the USAF, a Vietnam War vet who flew 101 combat missions as a fighter pilot, and has a PhD in Aeronautics and Nuclear Engineering. As if that weren't impressive credentials, he also served under the Ford and Carter administrations as a director for Department of Defense "Star Wars" programs and he ran for Congress in Florida last year (though he didn't win).

The gathering? It was sponsored by a group who believes that 9/11 is an inside job. Some might want to dismiss these people as "conspiracy theorists", yet when one thinks logically about the events of 9/11, there are so many things that simply do not add up. The government's explanation for things defy logic, physics, and common sense. So, I would recommend that people do look rationally at certain claims about 9/11 and ask themselves if it makes sense in pure logical terms.

My own journey to this viewpoint took at least a year. I believed the "official story" (that 11 Saudi and Egyptian hijackers managed to take control of 4 planes with mere boxcutters) for about a year. When Bush decided to push for war in Iraq in the fall of 2002, making a Congressional vote on war before the election, thus politicizing the war to increase the Republican majority by using the old standby of Democrats being "weak on defense", it became apparent that things were not all what they seemed. I knew in 1999 that if Bush became president, that the U.S. would go to war against Iraq. I believed then that it was one of Bush's true motives for becoming president. The primary reason, I believed then and now, was to avenge his father's defeat in 1992 and attempt to "rewrite history" by doing whatever he could to erase Clinton's legacy. So, because Bush had politicized the war and changed his view that Osama Bin Laden was enemy #1 by stressing that Iraq was behind 9/11, it made me reconsider the "official story" about 9/11.

With enough distance from the emotional shock of that day, one of the first things I looked at that didn't make logical sense was the small hole in the Pentagon and the lack of plane parts. How could an entire passenger jet disappear into the small hole in the Pentagon and not leave any parts like the wings or the tail? We're talking Alice in Wonderland type of curious disappearances! And in a speech, Donald Rumsfeld was heard saying, "the bombing of the Pentagon." Slip of the tongue? So, a passenger jet crashing into the Pentagon is the #1 mystery that the official record does not explain to logical satisfaction.

The second curious occurence on 9/11 was the collapse of World Trade Center 7, which was not hit by an airplane. Yet it collapsed like a controlled demolition. In fact, so did the Twin Towers. The disintegration of those two buildings simply defy logic, considering other cases of buildings burning more floors at longer periods of time yet still remaining in place. As I said, curiouser and curiouser.

Another strange claim that baffled me was that our government had found one of the terrorists' passport, yet three of the planes blackboxes were not recovered. Does that make any sense? Blackboxes are built to withstand all kinds of tragedy so the NTSB and FAA can learn what happened on the plane as it crashed. People even joke that they prefer to sit wherever the blackbox is located. And passport is made of paper, which burns easily enough. Weird.

And finally, the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. Our government would have us believe that people were able to make cell phone calls from the plane. To test this theory, I tried making a cell phone call at various altitudes when I was on the plane. Each time I looked at my cell phone, it said "no signal." So, all these panicked passengers were able to discover what happened to three other planes and make last minute phone calls to loved ones on their cell phones?

So...what does this all mean? Well, based on circumstantial evidence, what we've seen of the Bush administration, what we know is true from documents, and using logic of basic physics and human psychology, here's what I believe...

Dick Cheney was angry that Bush senior didn't march to Baghdad after liberating Kuwait in 1991. But because he was merely Defense Secretary and had little influence on the elder Bush who was more cautious and diplomatic, he couldn't get his way. After Bush's defeat in 1992, Cheney went to work as CEO of Halliburton, an oil company. I was in college in the late 1990s and in several political science classes, while being fed a neo-conservative diet of "American exceptionalism", several professors also talked about the impending oil crisis and the problems associated with attaining the oil in the troubled lands of the Middle East. Now, I'm just a mere college student here, but I got the same type of info...which is that oil supply is running out and China and India's energy needs are rapidly increasing. With a combined population adding up to 40% of the world's population, China and India are rivals for the dwindling energy supply. America is only 4% of the world's population, yet we use 30% of the world's energy supply. Do the math. It doesn't take a genius to figure out where the future conflict will be. If I, a mere college student could learn all this, just imagine what oil execs and politicians know!

So, Cheney knew he couldn't get elected dog catcher, much less president. He needed someone dumb and impressionable like Dan Quayle or another Ronald Reagan. With Bush junior governor of Texas, Cheney found the perfect straw man for his nefarious plans. He knew that W wasn't the brightest member of the Bush family, and because of his ignorance of the world and lack of curiousity, he's basically easy to control, influence, and keep in the dark for the true agenda Cheney had for America. Remember, Cheney was the person hired to find Bush the Vice President candidate and he chose himself. With the help of brother Jeb, who was among the signatories of the infamous Project for the New American Century document making the case for war against Iraq (which claimed correctly that the American people wouldn't support a pre-emptive war, that it would take a "Pearl Harbour type catastrophe" to get the Americans to go along), they stole the election in Florida through fraud by suppressing black voters and using legal means and intimidation tactics. Remember people chanting outside the Naval Observatory in December and January for Gore to "get out of Cheney's house" (well before the set date of January 20th)?

One of the first meetings held by the new administration was a secret energy task force. How much circumstantial evidence is needed to convince the American people that a former CEO of a major oil company having a secret meeting with oil execs in the early weeks of the new administration was a huge sign that they were up to no good? Considering how much money Halliburton has made since 9/11, it makes you wonder. Official police procedure to investigate crime is always to ask the question, "who benefits most from the crime being committed?" With Bush always mentioning 9/11 to get his way, it just makes you wonder, doesn't it? Bush is the biggest benefactor of 9/11. He couldn't have "won" reelection without it. Nor could he have invaded Iraq without it.

The biggest outrage of all, which the media and blowhards on the right ignored was that after delaying an official investigation into 9/11, Bush eventually agreed to meet with the 9/11 commission under three conditions: (1) Cheney would be in there with him; (2) neither of the two would be under oath; and (3) there would be no written or recorded evidence of what was said in that meeting. Now, thinking logically...how do you suppose someone like Rush would have reacted if Clinton had made those three same conditions when he faced interrogation by Ken Starr in 1998? Remember that? Clinton was put under oath and interrogated for four hours. And within the month, the videotape was made public as a matter of utmost importance! Why are questions about an affair more important than questions regarding national security failures? Why didn't Bush and Cheney want to be under oath or have any visual or transcript record of what was said? And why did they have to be interviewed together? And most important of all...why did no one take issue with it? Logic dictates that they set these conditions because they had no intention of telling the truth and that Cheney wanted to make sure that Bush got his story right. Anyone who thinks their intentions were noble are kidding themselves. If Clinton had made those demands, he would have been justly ridiculed. So why wasn't Bush and Cheney properly criticized for it and their conditions denied?

What worries me is that they are still planning things against our country. I do worry that there will be a day even worse than 9/11 before their term is set to expire in January 2009. They have every reason to hang onto office, as the only way to guarantee that they won't be pursued for criminal charges after they leave office. Dr. Bowman in last night's Q&A after his lecture expressed his own concern that he thinks that a U.S. Aircraft carrier might be sunk in order to wage war against Iran. With three of them in the Persian Gulf region right now, it seems like something is under afoot to keep us in the war despite dwindling support. The unanswerable question we face is, will the American people fall into line again should such an event occur? Or are we finally fed up enough with this administration that such an event occurring will only result in the removal and arrest of administration officials?

I hope and pray that Americans have grown wiser and more weary about these false alarms and fake attacks. The most cynical administration in history did learn from history. They took pages from Goebbels and Goring, following the model of the burning of the Reichstag to increase power. I'd like to think that Americans have seen the folly of the past few years and would be immune from another misuse of fear to ram through unpopular politics.

I just want this nightmare of an administration to end. And if we don't hold these criminals accountable, I hope that God ultimately will. No one deserves eternal damnation in hell more than Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Rice, Perle, Wolfowitz, Gonzalez, and Feith.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

President Bloomberg?


The media is all aflutter because Michael Bloomberg decided to leave the Republican Party (good for him! Any sane politician should leave behind that party of incompetent extremists that faces extinction in 2008 and beyond) and registered as an Independent (even though he was once a Democrat). The media elite sees this as a preparation for a third party run for the presidency in 2008, which means the potential of the election becoming a three way race between 3 New York candidates: Senator Hillary Clinton v. former Mayor Rudy Giuliani v. current Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That would be quite odd. But, Republicans have to be shaking in fear of a Bloomberg run, because he'll more likely draw votes away from the Republican candidate than the Democratic one. And should he go where Ross Perot in 1992 or John Anderson in 1980 had failed, actually becoming president, he'll be the first billionaire president and the first Jewish president.

Seriously, though, something is amiss when the media is so bored already of the current slate of candidates that they are buzzing anew at the prospect of a "personality candidate" (much like the speculation in 1999 that actor Warren Beatty and the egomaniacal Donald Trump were thinking of running for president in 2000). We're still too far out from the election to really focus on who might win (though my money is on Hillary), and at some point, the fatigue will really sink in as people tune out on the candidates the way they supposedly are on the Bush administration. It's a long race, and it's too early to speculate on what Michael Bloomberg is going to do.

However, if he does have a realistic chance of becoming president, I'd worry a little bit. Because he owns some part of the media, that would be a scary thought. Propaganda was bad enough during the Bush administration...but will it get worse under a Bloomberg administration? At least with a Hillary presidency, the media will return to its adversarial role and scrutinize every decision she ever makes (instead of fawning over her as they have done with GWB). That's what the media is supposed to do. No president should ever get a blank check from the media, especially when it comes to making claims about the need to go to war.

The news story about Bloomberg only reinforces in my mind how insular New York is, and how elitist. When I was in New York City in 2002, I could feel the vibes in the air. I knew why people who lived in Manhattan felt like they lived in the center of the universe. It had that feel, but the "facts on the ground" revealed otherwise (it was pretty trashy/dirty, which is a huge negative in my book on what makes a great city). But, there's something about the vibe of the city that infects the residents (as well as the media) that they are "all that AND a bag of chips" (to use one of my cousin's quote). On "Nightline" last night, not only did they talk about Bloomberg's defection from the Republican party and his potential run for president, but they also talked about the new phenomenon of "mannys" (male nannys) that's all the rage among New York socialite housewives. So desired are mannys that some are paid $100,000 a year!!! Ah, to be so rich that one can afford to pay someone a salary like that to look after one's kids! Man, that must be the life. I would love to have even half that salary, myself. But, it just goes to show, there is something so distasteful about the elitism of wealthy New Yorkers. The last thing we need is a billionaire president from a media empire.

I personally wish that the media would not focus on the lifestyles of the rich and famous. All the talk about mannys and personal assistants, of the Forbes 100 lists, of how much money a movie makes each weekend, or what actors get paid, or how they live, or how much they spent on their homes...all of it contributes to the strange behaviour of Americans to vote against their economic interests. Because so many Americans believe that they will strike it rich someday, they vote against their economic well being and go along with the Republican scheme of tax cuts (which are bribes), and thus why we're in the mess we're in as a nation.

Nope...the last thing America needs is a billionaire president. I predict that he'll hardly make a blip. The excitement will fade as we get closer to the wire. There might still be some surprises in store with future candidates jumping into the ring. After all, the Republicans are scrambling to find "the next Reagan" that they are bored by the current slate of candidates. Democrats have nothing to worry about...we're gonna make history in 2008, no doubt about it. That'll give the New York elite something to chew on and stew over!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Contemplating...


I either have something stuck in my teeth or that's how I am in contemplation. Weird.
This was at the March 2007 weekend at the Skoor family cabin in the Snoqualmie National Forest near North Bend, Washington. It was a fun weekend with some moments for contemplation (see my post on lighting a candle in our darko world).

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Do Foreigners Have the Right to Criticize U.S. Foreign Policy?


Yesterday, I was talking with my supervisor about something and she brought up an incident that really made her mad. First, you should know that she is a liberal who often criticizes George W. Bush herself. Yet, she told me that someone she knew had sponsored a foreign exchange student from Spain. She said that he had the nerve to criticize U.S. foreign policy and our president to her, asking her if she voted for Bush and why Americans seemed to support him (apparently, this was a few years ago). Instead of answering honestly, she lectured on him that in America, we have the right to vote for whoever we want and to keep it a secret if we wanted to. She was really steamed about it, saying how dare some foreigner question our government.

I was actually shocked to hear this, because I've never been that way at all. When I lived in Europe as a young man, I often connected with Europeans for the simple reason that I knew about the politics of their country, proving myself more knowledgeable that the average American. I remember most especially when I sat at a table of French submariners who were invited to the American Submarine Birthday Ball in 1992, sponsored by my command, Submarine Squadron 22 in La Maddalena, Sardinia. The French sailors were impressed that I knew about their embarrassingly right wing politician Jean Marie Le Pen and that I raved about actress Anne Parillaud, of "La Femme Nikita" fame (the movie, not the cheesy USA Network television show). In my travels in Europe, when people found out that I was American, they often asked me questions about the politics of our nation and I was all too happy to respond. I like that engagement. Never once did I get offended. Why should I? I have opinions about the politics of other nations myself. We all have to live on this planet. It does matter to people when 4% of the world's population consumes over 30% of the world's energy. In case you're wondering who that 4% is...it's us. Why shouldn't they have a right to criticize our government and its foreign policy decisions?

I often thought that I wish I could vote in any nation's election. If that were the case, I would have voted for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy in Burma in 1988, and for the African National Congress for Nelson Mandela to become president in South Africa's historic 1994 elections. I would've voted on the French referendum for joining the European Union in 1992 but against the European Constitution a few years ago. I would've voted for Segolene Royal in France's most recent election. In the UK, I would've voted against the Labour Party last year to punish Prime Minister Blair. And in Italian elections, I would've always casted a vote against Silvio Berlusconi. It just goes to show, that my views are progressive throughout.

Hearing my supervisor speak about being upset with the Spaniard with an opinion just reminded me how different I really am from people. Despite her progressive views, she's still underneath it all, a nationalist. Since childhood, I've always felt more of an internationalist. That the goal we should strive for is a world without political borders. I'd have no problem giving up my American citizenship when that day arrives. It's just one more barrier to strip away sooner or later. After all, despite what Americans think, when we die, we don't have head of the line privileges in getting into the heavenly realm. We are all equal at that point, and will be held accountable for the blessings we were given but perhaps didn't use, in comparison to...say, a poor person who lived in Africa. Because of my lifelong internationalist view of myself, I've never been offended by foreigners questioning our country's politics or history. I view everyone as inhabitants of this globe, and because we all have a stake in our planet, everyone has a right to criticize the policies of any country on earth. How arrogant it is of Americans to say that foreigners don't have that right, even as we invade countries that don't do as we say. It's just baffling to me.

Internationalism is the true path of spirituality. We are all one in the spirit of God. Someday, in heaven, we will look back on the folly of earth, with all the superficial divisions and wonder why we ever fell for it. As I've told people, I have more in common with a poor person in Africa than I do with a corporate capitalist in America. We need to reorganize our thinking. The world is getting too small to continue to be petty with our politics.


So I pose the question to you...do foreigners have the right to criticize U.S. foreign policy? How do you feel about it?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The One Campaign to End Poverty in Our Lifetime

I just recently bought the latest issue of my favourite magazine, Vanity Fair, featuring the guest editor Bono (of U2 fame) with 20 different covers to bring further attention to the plight of Africa. Very interesting. As is usually the case, there are many good articles on ideas and events to ponder on. Many of them are written by celebrities. There's an article by President Bill Clinton on Nelson Mandela. In another one, actor Brad Pitt interviews Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu. Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour gives his pick for best world music songs. There's even an article on Lady Diana Spencer, an excerpt from the new book "The Diana Chronicles".

What has intrigued me the most in this issue is the article on China's involvement in Africa. What the article says should alarm every American, especially people in our government. It shows how smart the Chinese are. Because China's energy needs keep increasing year after year at an alarming rate, they are on the hunt worldwide for oil, just as we are. It is because of the future threat China poses to our national security that I believe is the #1 reason Cheney told Bush to invade Iraq. It wasn't to bring freedom and democracy to the poor Iraqi people, but to bring a puppet government with a U.S. military garrison permanently established in Baghdad to control the Iraqi oil as well as keep closer eye on Iran, which has made agreements with China.

But back to Africa. According to the article in Vanity Fair, China is helping to build the infrastructure in African nations (roads, buildings and the like). By improving the lives of African people, they are winning allies, instead of just coming in to take away the natural resources (as the European colonial powers did in the 20th century). China is doing things in Africa that we in the west should be doing. However, it seems like we don't really care about the Africa people. We just want their precious natural resources. We're like mosquitoes in that regard. Parasites leaving behind an infected host. We forget that it was the post-World War II Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe that brought our two continents closer together. Europe was not immune to shifting borders between nations all the way up to the 1940s, yet we expect Africa to accept the borders drawn by the colonial powers a century ago? What we need is a new Marshall Plan for Africa, because out of all the habitable continents, Africa is the worst off and deserves the attention of the world. In fact, the developed world should take a couple years off from all the high tech pursuits and just focus exclusively on bringing Africa into the modern era.

While I admire Bono's campaign (or more accurately, crusade) to rid the world of poverty in our lifetime, I just don't see it happening. Sure, he can get celebrities and politicians to contribute to a special issue of a magazine to raise more awareness. Sure he can get politicians to pledge billions on aid relief to Africa in the form of debt cancellation and cheap generic drugs. But a pledge is a pledge. When will the real dollars flow? When will our nations stop building multi-million dollar high tech weapons and instead use that money to help build Africa? As Desmond Tutu correctly pointed out...the solution to the security problem is to help other people. When they feel secure, we will be secure. We cannot have security when other people are in desperate situations and we have all the power and wealth to help them out, but we choose weapons over human life.

Don't get me wrong...I support "The One Campaign" and encourage everyone to get involved. But, a part of me doesn't believe anything will change when we have the leaders that we do (in the pocket of corporate capitalist warmongers). Until we elect spiritually-based leaders (instead of being fooled by phony Christian platitudes from charlatans), it's not going to get any better. Besides, isn't time for a new U2 album to come out soon? I'm starting to get impatient...

Friday, June 15, 2007

End of an Era :*(



After 35 years of hosting the popular daytime gameshow, The Price is Right, Bob Barker is finally retiring, though the show will go on with a new host (hopefully not Rosie O'Donnell, who has mentioned a serious desire to host the gameshow). This marks the end of an era. He's been the host for about as long as I've been alive. I remember loving my summer vacations when I could watch the show every day. I was always amazed how the ladies (at the time) looked alike, yet weren't related at all. And I learned all about the value of money and what it could buy, by watching this show (it could only have been thought up in a capitalist country, though it would've been interesting if the Soviet Union had a version of the show...complete with long waits for few products).

It's funny how sad I am to hear that Bob is retiring. He deserves it, after all. Well into his 80s, he can now take the kind of vacations he offered many contestants over the years. Why not see the world and relax? It's also amazing that he has been hosting the show from the time I was about 6 months old until the present day. When I think about all the things I've done and seen in the past 35 years, I'm just amazed that all this time, he has been at the same job, doing the same thing. I couldn't imagine myself doing that. It takes a special kind of person. But there is something to be said about a personality who is fixed in the public mind for decades. For example, I was saddened when Pope John Paul II died a few years ago. He had been the only pope I was aware of in my lifetime and I'm not even Catholic! I still haven't gotten used to the new pope, because Pope John Paul II will "always be THE POPE" in my mind.

No wonder why dictatorships often build a cult of personality and serve lifetime roles. Who can imagine a Castro-less Cuba? When Kim Il Sung of North Korea died in 1994, I was struck by how hard the North Korean people grieved for their "beloved leader". For many of them, he was the only leader North Korea ever had. Some of them today might still think of him as leader, and his son as only the caretaker to a legacy. Scary, to imagine, eh?

Well, it is with great sadness to see Bob Barker leave the show, but I hope he has a great and long retirement, doing the things he loves and enjoys, even though it was apparent that he did love and enjoy hosting The Price is Right. Best wishes, Bob. You won't be "the last host of the Price is Right, but you'll always be the best.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

It Bands by Decade (Not Decadence)

When I flew back from my best friend's wedding a few weeks ago, I read in one of the inflight magazines (of American Airlines) an interesting article about the defining singer or bands of each decade, starting in the 1950s with Elvis Presley. The list was pretty predictable and within the general consensus (which I even agreed with). For the 1960s, they picked the Beatles (no surprise there), the 1970s band was Led Zepplin (again, no surprise), and U2 was the quintessential band of the 1980s (no arguments there), and for the 1990s, it was Nirvana, which could be argued against, since they only had maybe 3 years in the public eye before Kurt Cobain ruined any chance of longevity, but because their influence was pretty big (bringing "grunge" into the mainstream, with coattails long enough to carry other alternative/grung bands like Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, as well as making Seattle the premier city of the 1990s), so I can see why they would have a slight advantage over Dave Matthews Band. However, the article left a blank for the first decade of the 21st century, saying that there hasn't been a band that has captured the decade the way the others have.

If the choice were mine to make, I'd give this decade to Maroon 5. I was impressed with their debut CD "Songs About Jane". It took a few years to become a huge hit, proof that our music industry needs to be more patient and allow bands to develop a following, instead of expecting a new band or artist to debut at #1 on the Billboard Hot 200 Album charts. With an awesome debut CD, Maroon 5 had a tough act to follow. But when I first heard them perform "Makes Me Wonder" on one of the final "American Idol" shows, I was hooked. I loved the song from first listen and couldn't wait to buy the new CD. I've been listening to it non-stop ever since. I think it's even better than "Songs About Jane", which I loved as well. But their new CD will probably carry them through for the next couple years. If they can release one more before the decade ends, they would deserve to be the rock band of the decade.

It got me thinking about bands from previous decades. Ten years ago, in 1997, I'd have to say that the "It Band" was Third Eye Blind. They had a catchy cool hit with "Semi-Charmed Life" and an impressive CD with at least 5 more catchy songs ("How's It Gonna Be?", "Jumper", "Graduate", to name a few). Their follow-up wasn't as good, beyond the song "Never Let You Go." Where are they now? I wish they'd come out with a new CD soon. I didn't buy the third one, because cool new bands come up all the time, and seriously...you're only as good as your last album. Unless you're U2 or Dave Matthew Band (I'm a loyal fan, what can I say?).

For 1987, the "It Band" was U2, who still reign supreme (on my list, anyway) as THE GREATEST ROCK BAND ON THE PLANET (take that Rolling Stones!). That was the year of their breakout success "The Joshua Tree", which catapulted them from being a critic fave and college radio fave into more mainstream success. They've only reached more stratospheric heights with subsequent CDs and concert tours. I hope they continue, but Bono seems a bit distracted lately with global politics and the desire to eradicate poverty in our lifetime (a noble goal, to be sure).

In 1977, I can think of no other "It Band" other than the Bee Gees, who epitomized the disco era with three-piece polyester leisure suits, gold medallions, disco balls, and a soundtrack that perfectly captures the era. Thank God I was too young to know better when my parents thought it was a good idea to dress me up in red plaid trousers, a yellow shirt with butterfly collars, and a dark blue polyester jacket. I don't miss that era, one bit...but no other band seems to capture that era better than the Brothers Gibb.

And this was before my time, but 1967 was ruled by "It Band" the Beatles. They defined the 60s and transformed music like no other band before or since. Not bad for what started out as a boy band, but evolved into what a band should be...always experimenting with new sounds, lyrics, and ideas and influencing many many others over the years. I'm partial to the later Beatles albums myself. In fact, I grew up listening to "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" thanks to an uncle who would always pull out that album and listen to it whenever he visited my family.

So there it is...my choice for "It Bands" in the 7th year of each decade of the past 50 years. Now "give me something to believe in"...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Why I Don't Heart Huckabee


On Sunday night, I saw the CNN recap of the Democratic and Republican debates. What a shocking contrast between the two parties. It's proof to me that the Republican party is seriously bereft of any ideas. They've been in power so long and so injured by the incompetence and disaster of their favoured candidate of 2000 that they can't seem to have any leader emerge from the pack of 10 or so candidates.

While I wouldn't normally comment on a guy like Governor Mike Huckabee, his performance during the CNN debate just completely baffled me. I think my jaw dropped and I muttered out loud, "is this guy for real?!?" Seriously...how can one listen to the guy and take him seriously? I don't. Here's why...

For one thing, he had to find a way to bring Reagan into the debate by praising him. It should alarm anyone how much the Republicans revere and worship Reagan. The guy was a bit dense and didn't seem to have a clue most of the time. Even Prime Minister Thatcher had commented to someone about Ronnie not playing with a full deck. She had a close relationship with him (as close as two politicians can get without going to first base, that is), and she knew how intellectually vapid he was. That's the difference between the two parties, I think. Democrats look to FDR and JFK for inspirational leaders; Republicans look to Ronald Reagan. That's why they flocked to Bush in 2000 instead of McCain. That's why they wanted Dan Quayle to run for Governor of Arizona in 2002, to put him in line for the presidency in 2008. Since Quayle didn't do that, now the Republicans are left with looking back to Reagan through rose coloured glasses. Let me tell you something. I was just a kid in the Reagan years, but those aren't the years I yearn to go back to. We need a visionary outlook on the future, not create some mythical past. I guess the 1950s are too far removed now, so that Republicans now view the 1980s as the pristine decade "to return to." Aside from the music, there's nothing about the 80s that I'd like to see brought into the 21st century.

Besides the worship of Reagan, the second thing that made my jaw drop about Huckabee's comment during the debate was that he seemed to be offended that the mujahadeen took the credit for the demise of the Soviet Union. No, in his eyes (as with a lot of members of the cult of Reagan), it was their beloved leader Reagan who brought the Soviet to their knees. Because he had outspent the Soviets on the Cold War, it caused the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Now, who's making the arrogant projections? Just as it is laughable that the mujahadeen caused the Soviet Empire to collapse with the decade long war in Afghanistan, so it is that Reagan was the prime factor. Why is it so hard to believe that the real reason for the collapse of the Soviet Union is INCOMPETENT LEADERSHIP which refused to govern BASED ON FACTS. The Communist Party leadership was so ideological in their belief of communism that they ignored the reality on the ground. The reality that Soviet citizens saw...which was an economy that wasn't working. People lived on rationed food. It took 2 years of waiting before one could get a Lada (that's a Russian brand of automobile). Even apartments were so hard to find that children often lived with their parents until they got married.

Sure, having a devastating and unpopular war in Afghanistan might have contributed a little to the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union. I'm willing to give a little credit to Reagan's nuclear brinkmanship with the Soviets for having contributed maybe a smidgen to the Soviet's collapse. Even a Polish Pope (John Paul II) and a Union organizer (Lech Walesa) had parts to play in the great Soviet drama. But ultimately, the credit goes to Mikhail Gorbachev. He unleased glasnost and perestroika in an effort to lessen the severity of living in a police state, and because truth became a little more valued, it unleashed a tidal wave that ultimately led to the demise of that communist bureaucracy. Truth can have that kind of effect. It'll be interesting to see how much longer the Bush administration lies will continue to prop up the administration. The dam hasn't burst yet, but I'm hoping it will before Bush leaves office. I'm willing to bet that the Republicans are hoping to pass the buck onto a Democratic administration and blame them for Bush's disaster, the way Clinton was blamed for the fiasco that Bush senior got our country into (that would be Somalia).

Lastly, Huckabee actually said in the debate: "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." Anyone who would use such a tripe cliche like that is not fit for the presidency. It proves to me that he is truly lacking in originality, he's only capable of mouthing party propaganda, mistaking it for "the truth", and he's not visionary at all. He looks to the past way too often, and it's time for him to take off his rose-coloured glasses and join the real world.

That's why I don't heart Huckabee. The Republicans will hopefully reject his bid for the nomination. I'm still hoping Senator Hagel will jump into the ring. Otherwise, Mitt Romney remains the one I want to see get the nomination, even though I do have questions about his sincerity, like many people do. But, what can you do? The Republicans have failed to produce a leader. They really can't get much better than the current crop. Thus why the Democrats have a much better shot for 2008.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

PoP! Goes My Heart


I finally got around to seeing "Music and Lyrics" last night and had I known it would be this good, I would've seen it in theaters! I'm a huge fan of the 1980s. Why not? It was the decade that I grew up in (finishing 2nd grade in 1980 and starting my senior year in high school in 1989). I love the music of the 1980s and can never get enough of it. So, when this film opened with a faux music video, replicating the fashion, the hair, the videos, and the infectious melody with often cheesy lyrics...I knew I was in for a treat.

It's like they put into a blender all those British/Euro New Wave and Pop bands like Duran Duran, a-ha, the Thompson Twins, the Eurythemics, the Pet Shop Boys, Tears for Fears, Wang Chung, ABC, and of course, a huge portion of Wham!

Thank you, ma'am. That'll do. The song "PoP! Goes My Heart" is infectiously irresistable as they come and I watched the music video over and over. I can't get enough of it (like a lot of 80s pop songs). I thought it was interesting that Drew Barrymore agreed to do this film, considering her previous ode to 80s music, "The Wedding Singer" from 1998. I'm glad though, as she is a natural to play in this film. Hugh Grant did a terrific job, playing the sidekick shadow of the famous duo group, PoP!, in which he faded into obscurity while his more flamboyant half went on to greater success and wealth (shades of George Michael vs. Andrew Ridgeley).

What I also loved about the film was the singing teen sensation Cora, who is supposed to be a mix between Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, as though they transitioned from sexpot to spirituality a la Madonna and her post-Evita Kabbalah craze. Instead, we get a singer who uses Buddhism and Hinduism in her music and concerts, which I'd love for a singer to do in reality. In fact, a few years ago, I was hoping that Britney would realize that her continuous downward slope of making her songs more sexually provocative in spite of dwindling sales should have been a sign to pursue something unexpected and different in her music. Cora paints the way, though it's a shame that a movie studio thought of it first. But, it was good to see on film and made for a lot of humourous moments.

The duet that the two must complete in less than a week's time turns out to be the kind of ballad that "American Idol" aims for but often misses. I didn't think the song created in this film was cheesy at all. From the title to the melody, it has hit written all over it. "Way Back Into Love" is the kind of song I could listen to over and over, with my cd set on repeat. I'm glad that the film did find good songs to feature, as it really made what I thought would be another lame romantic comedy into something pretty clever, different, and extremely likeable. In fact, I'm going out to look for the soundtrack now. It's irresistable, what can I say?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Attack of the Giant Lobster

I'm such a sucker for taking weird photos, and this one is no exception. Above Jake's Grill restaurant is a giant, inflatable lobster. At least, I hope it's inflatable! Just another thing that "keeps Portland weird", as the saying goes.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Bush Kiss Off

Bush fatique is really setting in. His recent embarrassing trip to the G8 Conference in Germany is only a recent example. With approval ratings still in the 28% range, it's no wonder that he probably isn't taken seriously by the other leaders of the world, or even among his hopeful replacements, as demonstrated by the recent Republican debate. His historical legacy is tied to Iraq and that is not a good way to gamble one's presidency on. Based on history (and the ultimate irony being that Bush got his Bachelor's Degree at Yale University in history!) of that region, it's doomed to failure. Our Founding Fathers knew well that one's freedom must be fought for by the people desiring it. That Iraqis never rose up to topple a dictator (when humans did do such a thing in Eastern Europe and South Africa in the late 1980s) should say something. Though it is a shame that anyone should live under a dictatorship, the most we can do is not support dictatorships in the first place. But since Saddam Hussein was a buddy to Presidents Reagan and Bush senior (until he invaded Kuwait, that is), it is the Republicans who are"flip floppers" on moral issues.

Before I went on vacation, I read an interesting article in the paper speculating why Bush is going to get his own presidential library. True, he's merely following the modern tradition where presidents build their own libraries to store all their papers for historians to research for future biographies. However, one of Bush's first acts as president was to make the presidential papers of past presidents off limits to the open records act. You see, the statute of limitations on the "national security" of paperwork of the Reagan and Bush years were about to end, meaning that historians could finally look into the records of those administrations. The act seemed cowardly, as Bush was probably aware that historians would find a lot of dirty secrets in his father's administration...documents that reveal complicity in the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979, the rise and rule of Saddam during the 1980s when he was America's favourite strongman in the Middle East, and the connections between the Bin Laden and Bush families.

So, if historians can no longer look at presidential documents, why does Bush need a presidential library? What does he expect them to do, look at the ego-gratifying museum section? His museum will be the one I have no intention of ever visiting. Ever since I reached my childhood goal of having been to all 50 states, I've had to come up with some other goals. Two of them are: visit the capitol building of each state (I think I've been to 12) and to visit every presidential library and museum.

The first one I visited was the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta, Georgia in 1988 or 1989. That one was nice. I was just a kid during his administration, so I don't remember much about it except that he had a daughter who was a few years older than me. I've visited his museum several times in the years since, including last year before I left Atlanta.

The next presidential library and museum that I visited was the Harry S Truman one in Independence, Missouri in 1996. I liked his even better than Carter's...mostly because it was more like a museum from an era I was not familiar with. I love the World War II era of American history, so this museum was more in line with my interests.

In 2002, I visited the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. I love the modern architecture to this one...a black glass box of a building on the shore of Atlantic Ocean. Since JFK is my second favourite president, I really got into this museum. I'm always and forever a Kennedy man. He was probably our most inspirational and idealistic president this side of FDR (with GWB being his polar opposite). I even found the prize I've longed to get for years: a replica of the PT 109 tie tack that was given out to people in the 1960 election. I use that tie tack the most, because like Kennedy, I'm a Navy veteran.

In 2004, I saw the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. All I knew about him was that he was considered one of the worst presidents because he really didn't do anything in the aftermath of the 1929 stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. He was a corporate president (when is a Republican president not a corporate whore?) and promised a chicken in every pot. Anyhow, after visiting his museum (which I did like for it's enlightening historical displays), I came away with a certain amount of respect. He was a humanitarian both before and after his presidency. His presidency was a disaster because maybe he just didn't know what to do, and it allowed someone like FDR to step in. But there are worse presidents than Hoover, so it's worth a visit for a glimpse of the past. The small town of West Branch was pretty cool too. I wouldn't mind living in a town like that...if I had to live in a small town.

In 2005, my best friend Nicholas Smith took me to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Now, despite my fondness for the JFK Library, the Lincoln one blew all the others away! Historians grumbled that they had too many smoke and mirrors type gimmicks in this expensive museum, but it does help history come alive, especially if we hope to interest the younger generation in the importance of studying history. My personal favourite was the show "Ghosts of History" (or some such title). It wowwed audiences into wondering if the man who was narrating was real or a mirage. It must be seen to be believed.

So, out of all the ones I've seen, the Lincoln Library is the best one. If you only visit one presidential library, make it the Lincoln one. You won't regret it.

The next one I hope to see is the William Jefferson Clinton Library and Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas. Back in late 1998 and 1999 when there were news reports of Clinton fundraising to build his library, I remember telling people that for his design, he should have on the outside entrance a big open mouth for people to walk through. The design could have made the entrance hallway replicating Monica Lewinsky's throat. People thought I was being too gross, but honestly, when I visit this museum, if there's nothing on Monica Lewinsky, I'd be disappointed. It would be like a Nixon library without mentioning Watergate. Having people walk into the Clinton library through a giant mouth would have shown some sense of humour, though it would most likely be offensive for a lot of people. I would've gotten a kick out of it, though.

If I have one advice for Bush's library...he should focus on three events: 9/11, Iraq, and Katrina. That's his legacy: the worst national security disaster; the worst bungling of war; and the worst natural disaster. All happened on his watch. The clock is running out for anything good to happen in his administration. Honestly, it's only going to continue to slide downhill. I have a feeling that people all over the world are going to rejoice on January 20, 2009...partying like it's 1999 while Bush slips away into obscurity. Well, perhaps not complete obscurity. He's guaranteed a place in history...as the Worst President in our nation's history. Not bad for a C-average history major from Yale. Not bad at all.

Friday, June 08, 2007

My Platform for Political Office


According to the Constitution the two requirements for becoming president of the United States is that one must be a natural born citizen and have reached the age of 35. Scary thought, huh? I'm now 35 and I just can't imagine it. The age requirement to run for the U.S. Senate is 30, and with no Democrat announcing a run against Senator Gordon Smith, I wish I had enough accomplishments and stature to make a run against him. Not because I don't like him. I think he's a decent person, a likeable guy, with good morals. He just happens to be in a party I hate with a passion, and though he changed his view on the war in Iraq, the question in most people's minds is...Has Senator Smith changed his views because the war is a disaster, or has he changed it to win reelection in a blue state that is firmly in the anti-war and anti-Bush camp? As a Republican with big corporate donors, though I may like the man personally, he's in the wrong party. A party I want to see removed from power for at least a half century until they get their act together and learn some humility and compassion for once. So, please indulge with me as though I were announcing my candidacy to run for political office, like the U.S. Senate. I'm not saying that I am...because I need to accomplish quite a few more things on my list before anything like that happens.

Citizens of the great state of Oregon, today I announce my candidacy for the U.S. Senate. I am not running to oppose any man, but to set out a new course, with new priorities, which include holding the president and the other party accountable for the corruption, incompetence, profiteering, plundering, distortions and all out lies. Our Republic is in grave danger of crumbling if we don't correct the abuses of power that has only grown since this century began. I'm sure all you parents will understand when I say that by allowing your children to continue to test your limits and not setting boundaries, that they will continue to push and push to see just how much you're willing to tolerate. Well, the Republican party has pushed too far with their accomodation with a stolen election or two, character assassinations of honourable war veterans, torture, the killing of innocent people, document forgery, demonization of opponents, questioning the patriotism of anyone who dares raise a question about their rationales for certain policies, squandering the surplus with money flowing out of the pockets of our nation's poorest into the pockets of those who don't really need the extra money, and of course, the incompetence we've seen time and time again in regards to the war in Iraq, the fight against terrorism, and the handling of natural disasters.

The Republicans keep pushing and pushing, far beyond the boundaries of what was once previous allowed. During the 1990s, this party kept the attack on Democratic politicians. Nothing was too little to investigate in the hope that it would lead to bigger scandal. While many of us did not like the intrusions into private lives, they at least kept us honest and our motives were always questioned. Once in power, they wanted the public to forget all that and just let them govern without limitations. If Americans wanted to ask questions about 9/11, the motives for war in Iraq, why Osama bin Laden still remains on the run, and why this government keeps ignoring warnings in the areas of intelligence and impending hurricane projections, the Republicans, through their echo chamber of the media, would smear the person asking the question in an effort to silence anyone with courage to speak out. Aren't we outraged enough? They've governed for far too long with little to show for it, other than scandals of incompetence, graft, greed, and even sexual improprieties. That's exactly what happens when you don't hold people accountable for their actions. We failed to set the boundaries on what they could push for, and now we are paying the costs for this failure.

As Senator, I can't promise that I will not make mistakes. I'm sure that I will make many of them. But I can guarantee to you that I will not let greed factor into any decision I make. As an intern, I saw firsthand the obscene way lobbyists and politicians mingled on Capitol Hill. The unpaid interns got to have the undesired crumbs of whatever the lobbyists were giving to the politicians. Even as an intern, I knew there was something seriously wrong about this practice. For my internship program, I had to research and write a paper on a political topic of interest, and I chose campaign finance reform because public financing of all elections in this country is the only way to level the playing field. Opponents of reform claim that it's a free speech issue (yet almost contradictory, they oppose flag burning as a freedom of speech issue). Money as free speech means that rich people have more freedom of speech than poor people. It's obscene when you think about it. The rich are so rich, that they are able to give away vast amounts of their money to politicians in campaign after campaign. Many Americans are struggling to put food on their table, and some elderly people have to choose between paying the heating bill or buying prescription medication. They can't afford to make donations to politicians like those who have huge sums of expendable income.

Money as free speech also flies in the face of reason. Opponents of campaign finance reform deny that it's an open bribery system. They want us to believe that donating huge sums of money to a political campaign is not meant to influence that politician's vote on an issue of importance to their well being. Americans are smarter than that. The growing cynicism among Americans is a cause of concern for the security of our Republic. Too many people know how much money influences a politician, so we should not trust any corporate backed candidate to vote in the best interests of the American people. In my campaign, I pledge to you my commitment towards campaign finance reform. I will work hard to bring it into being. But it's also going to take Americans voting for the candidates who are not funded by corporate backers. If these corporate candidates keep losing elections, it will send a message to everyone that something has to change if they want to keep getting elected. Campaign finance reform won't pass until the careers of corporate politicians are threatened with unemployment.

The second issue of importance is the need to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Committee for our country. This is not aimed specifically at the current administration and it's corrupt allies in Congress and the Supreme Court, but they would be a starting point, to be sure. In college, I learned in a few of my courses on foreign policy the shocking truth of our government's actions since World War II. Our government has not always been on the side of freedom, democracy, and justice. Our government has shamefully helped to overthrow popularly elected governments in places like Cuba, Chile, the Phillippines, Nicaragua, and Iran. Our government supported the apartheid government in South Africa instead of a person who was truly committed to a democratic society: Nelson Mandela. Far too long has our government undermined the lives of the poor in the developing world, all in the name of anti-communism. Yet, most Americans seem oblivious to this history and it's our ignorance of this history that prevents us from understanding why so many around the world hate our government. I've met many people in Europe and from Arab countries who minced no words when they told me how much they admired our country, yet hated what our government was doing in the world. Only through a Truth and Reconciliation Committee can we hope to understand just what our foreign policy decisions since 1945 has cost in terms of money and lives. It won't be comfortable to face this truth, but if we wish to be more enlightened people and restore trust in the world, we are spiritually and morally obligated to uncover the truth of what our material lifestyle has cost other people in the world. Doing nothing is not going to help our country get on the right track. Our planet's ecosystem is fighting back as a warning that we need to change our ways, that we need to reevaluate our values and lifestyles. If we wish to leave a world to our grandchildren, we must make this difficult choice.

And finally, I want to run on a respect for the rule of law. No individual should be above accountability, no matter who he or she is, or what he or she claims. Whenever a politician deviates from the founding principles of our nation, they should be called to account for their actions. If they refuse to listen or change, they should be removed from office. Holding political office is not a right. It's a privilege. It's an honour. But it means following the rules. When a politician puts his or her hand on the Bible (or the Qu'ran, or the Constitution, or whatever sacred text), it should be seen as a signature in blood. Waiting for God to come down and hold the politician to account is not good enough. It's our divine responsibility to hold each other accountable. If you see your friend doing something he or she shouldn't be doing, would you keep silent and hope that he or she will change? Even if it's harmful or could lead to death? If we care about our friend's livelihood, shouldn't we also care about our leaders and where they are leading us? There's nothing wrong keeping a politician honest. That's our jobs as citizens. When they abuse their power, they automatically forfeit their right to lead, so they should be removed. That's what impeachment is for. We don't have to wait until the next election.

So, I hope you will support my campaign. I promise you that I will make decisions that are in keeping with my conscience, that reflect the will of the people, and that will help foster an America we would all be proud to live in. An America in which money doesn't automatically buy you all the privileges and power at the expense of those who can't afford it. I will work hard for an equal society, an honest society, and I hope that you will hold me to the highest standards that political office merits. If we want an America we can all be proud of, it's the minimum requirement citizens must abide by. After all, I work for you, not the other way around. Thank you for the chance to serve you in the Senate.