Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Tale of Two Countries

Amazing. A couple weeks ago, I posted on Burma (Myanmar) and now it's big in the news. I mean B I G! If the protestors don't back down, they have the very real potential to bring down a government. For that, they deserve our prayers and support. I hope they do bring down the despotic and corrupt military government that has ruled Burma with an iron first for 40+ years. It's high time the National League for Democracy, led by 1991 Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, is allowed to resume the rightful place in bringing about needed change to that impoverished country. This is exciting to watch. It's shades of 1989 all over again.

As I read and watch news reports about the development in Burma, I can't help but think of Bush's hollow statements about his rationale for going to war in Iraq. After the WMDs weren't found, he changed his tune to say that the real reason he went to war is to liberate the people of Iraq from a brutal dictator. Well, had he used that as his primary rationale in the lead up to the Iraq War, especially before the 2002 mid-term elections, Republicans probably would have lost control of Congress. No, he used scare tactics to imply that Saddam was going to nuke our nation if we didn't invade. What's wrong with that picture?

Well...as the Burmese people have shown in 1988 and again in 2007, true revolution has to come from the people. When have the Iraqis ever stood up against Saddam and did mass protests in the streets? It never happened (okay, okay...if you want to count the 1991 post-war uprising that was quickly squashed, go ahead). It's baffling in the absurdities. We should help the people of Burma. They have suffered for far too long and have shown repeatedly that they want change. They voted for it in 1990. The world community is morally obligated to help these people break the chains of their oppressive government. A U.N. backed invasion of Burma would most likely be seen as a liberating force for good. In contrast, the Iraqis don't want Americans in their country. They never cared enough to risk an uprising, so why on earth should we help them over others who clearly want democracy? It's backward logic. We help the people who don't want our help, not even our presence. And we ignore the cries of those who clearly want and need our help. What are we going to do? Stand by like we did with Rwanda and let genocide happen? We're talking a half million Buddhist monks here! You can't get more spiritual than a Buddhist monk.

It is my hope that people will see through Bush's facade and lies. By freedom and democracy, what he really means is that the Iraqis have something we want so we're there to stay ("bring 'em on!" he dared the insurgency in 2003 or 2004). All he can offer the Burmese people is platitudes about democracy, which he should really pronounce as "demockery". And the sad truth of the matter is...if Bush really wants flowers and chocolate to be bestowed on American troops (a la France in 1944), Burma is the place where its most likely to happen. Not Iraq (obviously) and certainly not Iran.

Let's continue to pray and remember the people of Burma. May this revolution really bring about the change in government that is desperately needed. Aung San Suu Kyi is ready to lead. Like the two other "political prisoner to presidents" (Vaclav Havel and Nelson Mandela), our world needs yet another shining example of what is possible.Vive la revolution!

Friday, September 28, 2007

No Storm Can Shake My Innermost Calm


The following post is a version (from memory) of a testimony I shared at the Young Adult retreat during morning devotions. It might not be word for word accurate, but I will try to keep to the spirit of what I shared with my fellow Community Christians.

For most of this year, I have been looking for a better paying job in a field that I'm interested in. I've applied to about 50, sending resume after resume after resume to no response. I've been growing more and more depressed over my lack of finding a better job and felt like I was in a downward spiral by July when I was about ready to quit my job and take my chances with a temp agency, which is not the best option but that was how desperate I felt about my situation.

For some odd reason, I finally got some responses in August after not getting any all year. Most led no where, but at least I knew people were getting my resume. There was one job offer that I got really excited about, which required me to work three weeks of every month in Alaska. Though it wouldn't have brought me closer to my career goals, it would've been an adventure worth having for about a year. But at the same time, there was a job that was exactly what I wanted. I was torn by having to make a decision that I had asked for prayers at the prayer service we had at Rachel's house. Jarom and Tim both offered prayers on my behalf and I just want to let you know that their prayers worked! The next day, I got an answer. Rather than go into details about it, I learned that the person offering the Alaska job wasn't truthful and the other job had already selected someone, so they had saved me from making a huge mistake in accepting the Alaska job. Had I taken the Alaska job, it would have required a huge sacrifice just when we finally got a good Young Adult group started in Portland that I want to be a part of. And if I had taken the job, I wouldn't be at the retreat now because I'd be in Alaska working right now. Because I hesitated, they decided not to hire me, which was actually a blessing. It was the best rejection I've ever gotten. I was actually happy about the decision. I just need to be patient for the right job to appear that is more in line with what I want to do in life.

A couple weekends ago, I listened to nothing but Enya cds all weekend and I was surprised how calm and peaceful I felt on Monday morning. I was so blissed out on her music that no one's negativity could affect me. Something Rachel said earlier reminded me of a line from an Enya song: "no storm can shake my innermost calm." I try to remember those words, especially when I feel myself heading into a downward spiral. I just have to remember to maintain an inner peace and trust that everything will work out.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Another One for the Coincidence Files


Another coincidence of mine involves a Mormon! The guy looking at the camera in the photo is Court Solen (sp?). In the course of hearing him talk about BYU to Erik the Dutch guy at the Young Adult retreat, we discovered that we were at BYU at the same time and even had a class together (Comparative Politics in the summer of 1998 term). Not only that...but he married the sister of an RLDS lady I had briefly dated in 1999.

Here's a little background info...

During my lonely isolation at BYU, I often prayed to God to send a fellow RLDS member to the university to become good friends with. And yes, I even asked for that person to be a lady. I was tired of pursuing LDS ladies when I knew it wouldn't go anywhere (unless they wanted to leave behind their church and join mine because I wasn't going to join theirs). Sometime in 1999, I wore a green bowtie to church and it happened to be a Sunday that a certain lady named Brooke Nelson was attending. She was just visiting and was in her last few weeks at Graceland College (the RLDS sponsored college). Her sister, Laia, was at BYU and had converted to the LDS Church (which Brooke wasn't too happy about). Anyhow, after she graduated, she moved to Utah (Salt Lake City) and we were able to get a Young Adult group started for Utah, which included a trip to Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake and the fateful Las Vegas trip.

As we got to know one another, Brooke said that she had a very vivid dream in which she saw a man with green eyes and a green bow tie speaking to a group in an octogon-shaped room. Well, that was me. I had my green-coloured contact lens in that Sunday (I had usually wore my blue ones, because that's my favourite eye colour) and I rarely wore my bowtie. And I was giving an offertory or something that fateful Sunday in the octogon-shaped sanctuary at Orem congregation. She thought it was fate, that she was meant to move to Utah after graduation. I was happy to have a fellow RLDS member around my age and of the female variety. So, we went on a few dates. But there were a few things that happened which didn't sit well with me.

Once, while having lunch at her place, she had offered to give the prayer and started it by saying, "Dear Creator Goddess..." and I started laughing. I wasn't expecting that at all. We discussed it after she was done. Her response was, "I thought you were open minded." My response? "I thought I was too." As it turned out, she was quite a lot more liberal in her theology than I am. She was interested in Wicca and the idea of God being a Goddess. She was also in favour of changing the language of our hymns and prayers to be gender neutral. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but I tend to be a little bit more traditional, I suppose.

But, what really killed any possibility of a romantic relationship was our Young Adult trip to Las Vegas in October or November 1999. She and two other male church members in Salt Lake drove down to meet me at the Orem Congregation. We agreed to drive my car to Vegas, with me as the driver. Before we got started on our journey, she pulled out a waver form for all of us to sign, agreeing that we would not hold her or the church liable for anything that happened on the Las Vegas trip. I was shocked. Never before had a church member pulled that stunt on me (and not since, I might add). I made a huge stink about it and refused to sign. I even said that as the driver and the owner of the car, I was more liable than her for anything that might happen. But she wouldn't budge and refused to get in the car until I signed it. It was one of the few instances where I backed off and signed the damn paper just so we could get on down the road. But I was mad. After Las Vegas, I didn't want anything to do with her. She had invited me to spend Thanksgiving with her and some friends in Salt Lake, but I opted to spend it with Yudelka Castro, a Mormon lady from the Dominican Republic that I was very attracted to and would've loved to have a relationship with (she was supposed to be on the Washington Seminar the same semester as me but dropped out to take some grad level courses or something). I don't regret that decision.

Anyhow...it's funny about the coincidence involving Court Solen at last weekend's retreat. I was thinking recently about how no one has asked me to sign a consent/waver form in all the various cars I rode with fellow church members. Brooke is the only person who has ever done such a thing. It still pisses me off when I think about it. But, it made me realize that she's the one with the problem, not me or anyone else I've met. That's what I love about my church...the sense of automatic trust with one another. That we can let our guards down and not feel a need to protect ourselves from one another. And that's what made me so angry about Brooke's act. She violated that sense of trust among church members by even considering the possibility that something might happen that she needed protection from.

What's weird is that the first day of the retreat, I wore the green "Indian"-type shirt that Brooke bought for me. Perhaps it has her energy attached, in order to attract her sister to the retreat. Okay, so I don't really believe that...but it was odd that I decided to wear that shirt (which I rarely wear) and then I happen to meet her sister at the retreat. I had no idea where either of them are. All I knew is that Brooke and her sister grew up in Arizona and last I heard, Brooke was in Independence, MO.

So, it was a blessing from God to have such a neat coincidence. The retreat was the last place I expected to bump into a BYU classmate. Court and I figured out that we had the same Comparative Politics course in the summer 1998 term, with a visiting professor from North Carolina who didn't get a lot of respect. It was fun reliving all that with him. Gosh, I can't believe that was 9 years ago!

What does this coincidence mean? Probably nothing much. Just a reminder from God that I'm well connected within my church community and that I was truly meant to be at the retreat that weekend, instead of in Alaska, which is where I would still be had I taken that job on second offering. So, there is no doubt in my mind that not taking that job was the right decision. Something better is coming and I need to be ready for it. And the coincidence is a gift from God, as I shared with the fellow retreat participants. People may scoff at how small our church is, but I have these coincidences all the time in our church, so why would I ever want to leave it? I feel spiritually connected within the church in ways I don't feel in the workaday world. So, thank you God for that gift. It was very much needed at this time of my life.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Scenes and Stories from Samish

The happy participants of the 2007 Young Adult Retreat at Samish Island Campgrounds.
Theme: Everyday Discipleship
I'm in the middle row with the green shirt that features the Temple logo
MAYA -- The Young Adult group from Portland (and the Netherlands):
Top row from left: Erik O. (from the Netherlands), Rachel, Jessica, Christine, and ME

Bottom row: Jarom and Tim

We also took photos with the entire group of 30+ participants (the rest of them are part of YAPS...the Puget Sound Young Adult group)


One of the beautiful background shots that makes the camp really gorgeous to spend time in.


A view at sunset.


A seal that we saw "following us" as we walked along a ridge next to the beach. This is actually a close up shot (no! really?!).

All photos were taken by Erik O. from the Netherlands. Since I take forever to develop photos, I won't get around to it for awhile, but I wanted to post on my weekend before I forget. He took a lot of great photos...so if you're interested, please go to www.maxtune-d.com/ameseptember/index35.html

He's in America for a year, to experience our country, and it looks like he has taken in quite a lot of church sites (I've never been to Kirtland OH!). He worked at Nauvoo IL earlier this year.

When we arrived on Friday, 21 September, at the main building we were looking out the window at the awesome views, remarking how beautiful it was when we heard a thunk. A bird had flown into the window and fell to the ground. Rachel kept saying that it was a bad omen, which alarmed me because I kind of believe in omens and know that ancient peoples often viewed birds as carriers of all sorts of omens, ominous and otherwise. Someone suggested that we go out there and put the bird out of its misery, but I didn't want to do that. I viewed it as a fact of nature. Euthanasia might have been the humane way to go, but I still viewed it as murder.

Fortunately, no one decided to do that, and an hour or so later, when Erik (the Dutch guy) touched the bird, it actually flew away! What a good omen! It was just temporarily injured, perhaps...or Erik has a special healing touch and healed that bird. I was relieved that no one decided to euthanize the bird. The rest of the weekend was a great spiritual boost.

One thing I love about our church and its reunions, retreats, conferences, and colloquys is that whenever I'm in the presence of fellow church members or on "sacred grounds" of the various campgrounds our church owns, I feel like I am in Zion. Independence, the headquarters of the church, is not necessarily the "Zion" as some believe...but Zion is wherever we are gathered together in community and fellowship. And it is through the church that I feel like a piece of heaven is brought to earth. I could leave my things unsecure in my unlocked cabin all day and not worry about it. And I even took a nap on a picnic table without fear of being disturbed...even though I was only waiting for people to gather in the gym for a volleyball game. They let me sleep, much to my "disappointment." I would have loved to have played a volleyball game, so I missed out.

There were less classes than last year, which was kind of disappointing. Last year's focus was on human rights, which is right up my alley. That was my main focus of study in college. And it was last year's retreat that made me disatisfied with the kind of employment I've found since college. I want to work in my field of study...human rights, politics, and international relations...not for some non-profit organization that runs like a capitalist, numbers-obsessed corporation. Of course, the recent protests in Burma gets my blood pumping, because that's where my passion lies...in international events of spiritual significance.

Anyhow, this year, the classes were about the problem of the dwindling supply of oil and what we can do on a personal level to help reduce the usage. It was very good and both Christian and Christie Skoorsmith were quite knowledgeable as well as good presenters of the complex information. It left me with a lot to think about. I only wish we had one more class time.

Mostly though, it was nice to see many people from last year's retreat, as well as some new faces. And to share in worship and fellowship. I gave a testimony a few times. Much to my surprise, Aaron kept saying that I wasn't funny. Okay, so maybe when I try to be funny, no one laughs, but when I don't try to be funny, I do get a laugh. That's okay though, because it was good to get people laughing when I shared my testimonies.

During the introduction part of the first day, we had to say our names, where we were from and where we wanted to go on vacation. For my vacation, I said "I want to vacation in Iraq." There was a dramatic pause as I waited for laughter that didn't come. Everyone stared at me like I was insane. Then I said, "Not really, though" and people laughed. Whew! I almost blew that one. Really, my dream vacation is a month in Australia...ever since I was 11 and I'm wondering when it will come to pass.

What I most wanted out of this retreat was a certain confirmation from God that I had made the right decision when I hesitated about accepting the job offer to Alaska. Because had I accepted it on first or second offer, I would have been in Alaska for a week already, missing out on the retreat. Well, God did deliver...and what a deliverance! It was yet another strange coincidence involving a Mormon (which seems to be a running theme in my life). I'll post on that in the next post. In closing, I just wanted to say that I made the right decision in going. I had a great time and needed the time to get away from everything for a new perspective. Hopefully everything will work out. I definitely don't want to be in the same job when the next retreat rolls around. I didn't expect to still be here when this retreat happened. Time is getting too short to continue living on a dream deferred.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On the Road and Into the Wild




Here's both a movie review and a remembrance in honour of the 50th anniversary of a landmark novel. While they are not related in any way, both represent a restlessness with a materialist-based lifestyle and a strong impulse to get back to simplicity in life, back to nature, back to what is real (versus what is fabricated).

In September or October 1957, Viking Press finally published a novel that Jack Kerouac had written years before on a long scroll (teletype roll). A legend had grown up around his novel, which he had claimed to have written in a 3 week benzedrine-fueled burst of creative "first thought, best thought" form of spontaneous prose...which we now know is b.s. It was part of the legend Kerouac wanted to create about himself and his "literary genius". The truth is that he wrote several versions, using the journals he kept, and yes, he did edit the novel. It was a transformative novel. When I finally got around to reading it in 2001, I kind of thought it was overrated...but I could see a lot of my life in there. It made me a fan of Kerouac for life. My whole life seems to have been on the road, so it was like reading something directly meant for me. It is definitely a classic and worth reading. In honour of the 50th anniversary, publishers have come out with two hardback versions...one of which is directly transcribed from the infamous scroll which has the original names and no paragraph breaks. That's the one I want to read.

A few years ago, I won on ebay a copy of the Francis Ford Coppola script of the film version he hopes to make someday. It's interesting but I haven't read it all yet. I don't know what's going on with the film but I would love to work on that film and get all the cool souvenirs that go along with it (perhaps a leather jacket, director's chair, etc). But, rather than live in some other writer's shoes, I'd love to have that kind of success with my own, what I consider to be a "transformative generational novel" that "On the Road" most certainly was. And while a film version of that classic novel might never make it to the big screen, there is a film that carries on the same spirit of life on the open road and a rebellion against materialistic comforts...

That film is "Into the Wild", which I saw with the MAYA group on Monday. I had free passes to that film and it was one of the ones I was most excited to see this fall. I had read the book in 1998 at my friend Nathan's insistence. He said that he saw some similarities between the guy Chris McCandless and me. I remember reading it and writing a rebuke of that opinion. From what I remember, McCandless was oddly a Reagan supporter as well as a fan of Henry David Thoreau. It's a baffling oxymoron, I thought. No wonder why McCandless was so messed up. He didn't see the shallow materialistic promotion of the Reagan years and connect it with the disconnect he felt with his own materialistic parents. Instead, he felt inspired by Thoreau to live an existence out in the wild, working only as a means to finance the next leg in his journey.

Well...the film couldn't be any better than what it is. It is absolutely perfect, which is a rare distinction I give to a film. Granted, perhaps it could be edited down a little for time, but at 2 and a half hours, it did feel a lot longer than that. But by the end, you feel as though you were on the journey with him. There were many scenes of gorgeous beauty...the kind of tribute to our great country that is rarely seen in films. We see a lifestyle that many dream of (who doesn't fantasize at least once about chucking it all and heading out on the road?) but few actually do. There is a whole culture out there, communities that live a basic nomadic lifestyle...namely at Slab City near the Salton Sea. Some might dismiss them as "hippies", but I find it admireable. Why do we need to work in the rat race with all its subprime mortgages, credit card debt, and college tuition repayments? All of that has gotten in the way of community...of actually meeting strangers on the journey of life and finding a deeper connection with them.

The music by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder was awesome. I'm not a fan of Pearl Jam but I thought the music was brilliant and perfectly fit and enhanced the mood of the film. The overall message is good too. At the end of his journey, McCandless finally realizes that true joy is meant to be shared, not in isolation. I agree.

I hope this film will be one of the five nominated for Best Picture come Oscar time, as well a Best Director nomination for Sean Penn. I honestly didn't think he had it in him to create such a masterpiece. What a pleasant surprise that turned out to be.

Please see this film. At the end, it might have you pining for the open road. It certainly did for me.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Young Adult Retreat at Samish Island

This weekend, I will be at Samish Island, WA on the Puget Sound in the San Juan Island chain for my church's (Community of Christ) retreat for Young Adults (18 to 40). I leave tomorrow morning with a group from Portland. I'll post about the experience next week, after I get back on Sunday.

Below are scenes from the campground from the retreat last year, which was so much fun and introduced me to the small core of devoted young adult church members in the Pacific Northwest. I can't wait. I think this year will be even better...partly because I now know most of the people.

Enjoy the photos. It really is that gorgeous up there!

You can see snow capped Mount Baker in the distance
Like I said...gorgeous!

My cabin (sleeps about 6, I believe...but we each got our own cabins)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

GOREdemption Continues...


Sunday evening, I was watching the Emmy Awards when I was shocked to see that former Vice President Gore was awarded an honorary Emmy for his part in creating "Current TV" back in 2002, which supposedly set the stage for YouTube and may well be the wave of the future. For those who don't know, Gore had bought a fledging TV network with plans to do something visionary with it. Pundits on the right thought he was trying to create the equivalent of the Fox Channel...or, to the point, a liberal propaganda network, which they claimed that liberals already had too much of. Yeah, right.

Anyhow, it was a shocker to see Gore walk to the stage to accept his Emmy, which is the perfect companion to his Oscar, won earlier this year. I couldn't help but think that the Academy for Television Arts and Sciences decided that they wanted to give Gore an Emmy Award and thought up of an excuse. Why not? Perhaps this is Hollywood's way of honouring a man who was popularly elected in 2000 to be our 43rd president.

What's next for Gore? I'm hoping that he will win the Nobel Peace Prize this year for his work on bringing to mass consciousness the dire threat of climate change. If he does get the most prestigious award in the world, what an amazing year (actually, make that TWO years) it has been for a man who was practically shunned after the controversial election theft in 2000. He was often the butt of jokes in 2000 through 2002. In fact, he gave a rousing speech against going to war in Iraq in the fall of 2002, which pundits attacked him for. Reading back over it today only proves what a truly visionary man Gore is. Everything he said about Iraq has come true (just as everything Bush has said about Iraq had proven false). Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christians loved to tell me that the sign of a "true prophet" is that his prophecies (predictions) come true, while signs of a false prophet is that his prophecies don't come true. Yet, here they are, still supportive of the man who has failed to live up to the values Christ espoused, whose every statement on Iraq has proven false. When are people going to wake up?

Anyhow, back to the Emmy Awards. I was so happy to see Gore win the award and to hear his acceptance speech. It was a nice surprise in an otherwise boring ceremony (though I did like Sally Fields, even though part of her speech was bleeped out). Here's to another award before the year is out.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Merkley for Senate Campaign Kickoff



Yesterday after work, I went to the campaign kickoff for Oregon Speaker of the House Jeff Merkley, who is running for the Democratic nomination of the U.S. Senate, facing Bush-voting Senator Gordon Smith. The winds of change are picking up and Senator Smith is considered one of the more vulnerable incumbent Republicans in 2008 for his vote on the Iraq War as well as voting for Bush's agenda 90% of the time. He may be nice and Senatorial and all, but his voting record is abyssmal. I certainly think he is beatable and I will be supporting Jeff Merkley to get that promotion to represent Oregon's progressive values in the United States Senate.

In case you're interested, a few weeks ago, I had attached a link to his website on the sidebar. If you're inclined, please check it out, send him a check, or even move to Oregon and register to vote.

The coolest thing about the rally was that they had a live local band play to warm up the audience of about 200 people or so. The band's name is "The Retrofits" and they remind me a little of Ben Folds Five (one of my favourite bands during my college years). They were actually good. I've always wanted to get to know a band "before they get big", and while most bands rarely make it big, it's nice to have a local band that is approachable and makes good music. I'll have to see if I can get their CD at a local record store. And to support them by seeing them live wherever they play in the Portland area.

The other thing about the rally is that City Commissioner Sam Adams was one of the introducing speakers. He's the front runner to be Portland's next mayor. I've read a lot about him in the papers but have never seen him in person or hear him speak. I can see why there's a hype. But, according to an article in today's paper, an opponent is accusing Commissioner Adams of having sexual relations with a then-17 year old male intern a few years back. Great...just what the city needs, a sex scandal to bring down the guy I'd like to see as the next mayor of Portland. I don't think the scandal will amount to much. Both Adams and the former intern have stated for the record that the relationship was strictly a professional mentor/intern thing. Even if it was a consensual thing, I don't see what the big deal is. The opponent who is pushing for an investigation is claiming that it's a sexual harassment or molestation sort of thing. As long as the two parties claim that it was strictly professional and no one has any evidence otherwise, I don't think it will bring down Adams chances to become the next mayor. What I like about Sam Adams (other than his historically significant name) is his passion for bringing more streetcar lines to Portland (east of the Willamette River). I'm all in favour of more streetcar lines.

Well...just an update. My political juices are flowing once again. I can't wait to read up on the bunch of races state and nation wide that will determine just how serious Americans are about leaving the devastating Bushreich era behind. To misquote Justin Timberlake, it's time to bring respect back, competence back, and leadership back.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Prayer for Burma


As reported in Time magazine, the people of Burma may be at the breaking point where suffering is so bad that it overcomes their fear of rising up against the corrupt and brutal military junta that has ruled Burma for decades...continuing the revolution that began in 1988.

I've been wanting to post on Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi (who I consider to be the world's most beautiful woman...since the death of Lady Diana) for some time and the article in the recent issue gives me the perfect excuse to do so. It's an interesting article and seems to correlate to what Aung San Suu Kyi had said in a book I'm reading of her (that's written in an interview format by the author). She believes that the situation in Burma will not improve until people have had enough suffering to overcome their fear of rising up and toppling the regime. After all, the people of Burma outnumber the military elite that is in power. We've seen it happen all over eastern Europe in the fall of 1989, which changed the world overnight. It's unfortunate that fear keeps people in line, with no one wanting to risk a courageous act for fear of being left on a limb or acting alone without backup. The fear works to the advantage of the grossly outnumbered rulers. That's basic psychology 101.

I first became aware of Burma when I had a penpal from Burma named Candy Tet Tun in 1988. Since my mom is from Thailand, I thought it was interesting to have a penpal from a neighboring country that my mother knew nothing about. It was interesting to learn about the similarities and differences between Thailand and Burma. Both have the infamous water festival in which people walk around with buckets of water to throw on anyone they want to (my earliest childhood memory is from a family trip to Thailand when I was 3 or 4 and looked out the window of a bus as a bucket full of water was thrown in my face). I didn't hear from Candy Tet Tun after 1989 and don't know what happened to her. That was the year of the military crackdown on student protestors. I didn't pay much attention to Burma until 1995.

In 1995, a shipmate I worked with had moved from being stationed in Washington, D.C. to our ship's company in Norfolk. Since I went to D.C. as much as possible in 1995, we went up for one weekend, where he introduced me to his Burmese girlfriend and her cousin from Burma. I was more interested in his extroverted, Americanized girlfriend than the introverted and shy cousin. Anyhow, through his Burmese girlfriend, I learned about Aung San Suu Kyi, who had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 (where was I to miss that?!?). Later on, I bought Suu Kyi's book "Freedom From Fear" and learned that she is friends with another one of my favourite dissidents: Vaclav Havel, the playwright and prisoner who became president of Czechoslovakia in 1990 after the "Velvet Revolution" of 1989. Also in 1995 was the release of the film "Beyond Rangoon" which I saw in theaters. The film is a fictional version of events during the Burmese uprising of 1989, which includes the scene of the famous event in which soldiers demanded that Aung San Suu Kyi walk no further. After a brief moment of tension, she continued walking and the soldier backed off rather than shoot her. It was that Rosa Parks moment that made her famous and the natural leader for Burma's National League for Democracy. It was also that incident that is alluded to in U2's hit song, "Walk On" from 2001.

When I was in college, I examined my views regarding "just war". One of the things that bothers me is that in 2000, candidate Bush criticized the Clinton Administration's tendency towards "peacekeeping missions" and promised not to use our military that way. In the 1996 Republican Convention, one of the people recognized on stage was a soldier who refused to don the blue beret of the United Nations in Bosnia. The rightwing was so anti-U.N. and international peacekeeping, even though it was George Herbert Walker Bush who successfully put together an international coalition to evict Iraq from Kuwait in 1990-1991. I believe in international peacekeeping missions. That's the kind of military I would be proud to serve in. I would have had no problem wearing the blue beret of the U.N. That was an organization I wanted to work for at one time.

Because of Bush's go-it-alone strategy of fighting only where our oil interests are, that allows misruling juntas in Sudan, Liberia, Uzbekistan, Somalia, Pakistan, and Burma to remain in power. If Bush had put together an international force to remove the military rulers from power in Burma, and installing the National League for Democracy (which won a landslide victory of 80+% in the 1990 elections) into the government, I would've supported him and perhaps even rejoin the military to participate. There is a place for helping out people who can't help themselves, people who really want us there, as I suspect the Burmese would (so long as we didn't make it a permanent colony the way the Brits and the Japanese empires have done in the 20th century).

In short, Burma is worth the world's attention and action. But it'll never happen with our military bogged down in the Iraq mess for the next decade. We're waging immoral war when the just war is waiting for action. What does that say about our priorities? That oil is more important than the long suffering of people who have to live with these corrupt and brutal governments.

So, it is with hope and my prayers that the people of Burma will find the courage to rise up and remove their oppressive leaders from power. It's been done before and all they need is the courage to stick together and not back down when the regime naturally fights back. I would like to see Aung San Suu Kyi assume her rightful role as leader of the Burmese people, following the prisoner-to-president pattern of Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel before her. That is my one wish for Burma and what I pray for at night. Aung San Suu Kyi is a force for what is good, and I hope destiny will lead the way for change to happen soon.

Friday, September 14, 2007

President Betray-us Commits Successor to Unsuccessful War in Iraq


This week, I read that General Petraeus has presidential ambitions, which may be a reason why he's reading the Bush Administration Talking Points memo in delivering his report on Iraq to Congress. I think what is most absurdly laughable is that this same week when the General and President are claiming that the surge is working, their Iraqi ally in Anbar province was killed in a bomb attack. Not even a week passed from his photo with this major ally (some sheik whose name I forgot), and the man is dead. It's become deadly, the associations anyone has with this president. He's so toxic that any Iraqi who appears with him is almost guaranteed a shortened life, and Republican politicians are refusing to appear with him for fear of losing their seats in Congress next year.

Now, the rightwing are in an uproar over Moveon.org's full page ad in The New York Times that had in bold print: General Petraeus or General Betray-us? It's interesting to hear the sanctimonious outrage of Republican politicians coming to the general's defense and saying that Moveon.org went too far. Man, I thought Elephants were supposed to have long memories! Who can forget that in the 2002 elections, the Republicans didn't find it in bad taste to run an ad comparing triple-amputee Senator Max Cleland of Georgia (who lost his limbs serving in Vietnam, where his opponent didn't serve) to Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein! It's proof how hypocritical and amnesiatic the Republicans are. I say that their moral outrage is audacious, and not in a good way. Every day, they reveal even more and more of their hypocrisy that it's a wonder how 30% of Americans still eats their bullshit. The Republicans have no right to be outraged. They have broken the record on sexual immorality, closeted homosexuality, pseudo patriotism, incompetence, lies, graft, greed, and demonizing their opponents.

While I thought the Moveon.org ad was a stretch, I think the Republicans are so lacking in self-awareness that their indignation is more amusing to me than anything. That they still have the gall to stand on any claim of moral rectitude is just a huge joke in my book. It's like the naked emperor walking around showing his short-comings, not aware that everyone's laughing at him instead of admiring him. That's the state of the Republican party...which should seriously consider changing their name to the "Repugnant Party". It's a more accurate description for them.

Anyhow, moving on...the presidential address to our nation on Thursday night was the same old, same old. Nothing surprising. No change of course. It was just as I thought it would be. While I do agree that leaving Iraq would most likely create greater problems for our nation's future than staying, I couldn't help but think how much Bush has betrayed our nation's trust. Well...he never had my trust since the stolen election, but most people did believe him in 2002 when he made the case for war against Iraq. But looking back, they promised a quick war which would leave an intact Iraq with a functioning government and oil revenues to finance the rebuilding of the country.

The rosy projections hadn't come true (as we all know), so why should young Americans sacrifice their dreams and livelihood to be sent over there to serve as little more than cannon fodder? Because Bush and his government were so wrong about the outcome of the war, there is only one course of action that would be acceptable: resign or face impeachment and removal from office. But because of the severity of getting America into this hopeless quagmire, it shouldn't stop there. Criminal charges need to be pursued against him and top administration officials after they leave office. It's the only way to save our nation from future presidents with war-making ambitions. Because we are a nation that believes in precedence, future presidents will cite this presidency as reasons why they should be allowed their wars for "national security."

In case you missed the speech, Bush did commit his successor to remaining in Iraq by warning Iran and Syria not to expect Americans to withdraw when he leaves office. Hopefully, Hillary Rodham Clinton was taking good notes. She's going to inherit his war and not only will the liberals demand that she leave Iraq, so will the 30% of Americans who still remain loyal to Bush. They will automatically become anti-war simply because Hillary is the commander in chief. Any way you look at it, President Hillary is screwed.

It's almost a shame that Bush can't serve a third term. Not that I want him to...but I think it will take another 4 years for the rest of his supporters to realize just how bad a president he really is and finally break away from his delusions to join the "real world" once again. Unfortuntely, the next president will pay a huge price for Bush's war in Iraq and will most likely be a one term president if American troops are still in Iraq on election day in 2012.

Where will Bush be? In a perfect world, he'd be in jail getting raped every day by his cellmate...but most likely he'll be clearing brush on his ranch and not interested in following the news. The pattern of his life is that he walks away rich after ruining companies while someone else is left to deal with the damages. America is no different. If we don't hold him accountable for his lies, mismanagement, and incompetence now, he has a rosy future ahead of him while our country is left to pick up the shattered pieces.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Oops...She Did It Again!




Try as I may to keep away from commentating on "fluff issues", I can't resist this one. I've been wanting to posts on Britney Spears for some time and now that she's back in the spotlight making a fool of herself yet again, I can't keep quiet this time.

Her career represents a perfect example of a concept I learned in Economics 110 at BYU. That would be the concept of "the law of diminishing returns." What that means is that a product (such as Britney's music) loses value over time. To rectify that, changes must be made to get people interested in it again. So, that means that one increases the "wow" factor to get attention in hopes that it will prevent the natural slide of the product sales. Britney has released four cds (excluding her greatest hits and remixes cds). Each subsequent cd has sold half of the previous one. Yet, each subsequent cd, she has upped the ante on sexually provocative videos to sell songs that leave little innuendo to the imagination. In other words, she has increased the sex factor with each new cd, which only resulted in a decline in sales. That's not the intention she probably wants and look where it has gotten her.

Since she often gets compared to Madonna, let's look at Madonna's career trajectory. Madonna saw an increase in the number of albums sold from her 1983 debut to her smash hit "Like a Virgin" and the even more succesful third one, "True Blue". While "Like a Virgin" pushed some sexual buttons, she backed off (until "Justify My Love" 6 years later). "True Blue" was pure pop, with hit after hit. For her fourth album, she went deeper as the songs got more personal as well as richer in content. She started her flirtation of mixing spirituality in her songs and music videos. True, Madonna has crossed the line on many occasions, but she is the master of reinvention and knows when to switch tracks, as demonstrated by her last CD, "Confessions on a Dance Floor" (a commercial and critical success after the disappointments with previous one, "American Life").

Britney, unfortunately, hasn't learned about reinvention. She's following the Michael Jackson model of personal destruction...as apparent in her spate of public appearances. I suppose this is the natural outcome of pursuing one's sexual obsessions. It's no secret that pornography is degrading and seems to destroy lives as people seek even more thrills that their current interest fails to deliver. It's that "law of diminishing returns" again. All drugs have that problem. You need a greater dose to get the same effect, while in the meantime, the drawdown periods grow worse. It's sadly ironic that Britney's new single is titled "Gimme More." While she tried to portray a sexually provocative tart on the most recent MTV Video Music Awards, it was apparent how out of it she was. She did a low-energy dance routine, wore a revealing outfit that was appropriate for someone who is toned, not flabby as she was, she couldn't even lip sync to her own song, and generally looked like she'd rather be elsewhere. So much for the much talked about "comeback". It only showed the world that something is seriously wrong with her.

And why not? She was thrust into the fame spotlight at a young age. I remember when she first caught my eye back in 1999 with her music video "...Baby One More Time" (dressed in a school uniform and dancing provocatively suggestive in the school hallways). The "Catholic Schoolgirl uniform" I'm afraid to say is a classic male fantasy that even I'm not immune from...so, she knew what she was doing.

My friend Janell on the Washington D.C. program could never understand my interest in Britney Spears. Janell said that Britney looked like any popular girl in school: rather bland. For me, it wasn't so much her looks, but the catchiness of her songs on her first cd. It was better than I expected it to be. In fact, I really listened to it a lot in my post-internship period so now when I hear it, I am reminded of that depressing time of seeing the other interns leave D.C. and realizing that one of the greatest experiences of my life was over.

Britney seemed to have it together then, and even though she was a decade younger than me (and my friends loved to call me a cradle robber for being interested in her), I still thought she was an interesting singer. I wouldn't have been as interested in her if I didn't like her music. She had a sense of knowing, almost winking at fans by titling her follow-up cd, "Oops...I Did It Again." Did what again? The song implies breaking guys' hearts (I had told Jenet, the lady I was interested in at the time, that that was her song) but it could've also meant her use of ellipses again in a song and album title. The follow-up followed the same successful formula as her first cd. Both were pretty strong cds in being musically irresistable. And in the music video to that song (which I watched a lot of during my post-internship period of trying to find a job in DC), Britney dressed up in a look that always drives me crazy...the Barbarella look (I easily fall for a woman who dresses that way). Britney definitely knew what she was doing.

I finally lost respect for her when she got married in Las Vegas to her high school friend and almost immediately annulled the marriage. Since then, it's been downhill ever since. She's on slow self-destruction mode and made a lot of personal mistakes...the biggest being her becoming a mother before she was truly ready. She still seems like she doesn't want to give up the partying lifestyle. Instead of sacrificing personal interest for the sake of her two sons, she wants to have her babies and party too, thus making Kevin Federline look more responsible by comparison.

I wish I could manage her career. I'd even do it for a less than six figure salary. She'd get a good bargain with me. If I was her manager, I would have her pick catchy songs with depth to them...both personal and spiritual depth. No more songs with sexual innuendos. She needs to break free of that and show that she's more than her sexpot image. She needs her own "Like a Prayer" album. I would also have her find a charitable cause to devote herself to for at least a year. Perhaps spending time with people in Haiti, working with UNICEF will help her to mature and strip away the false values that being in Hollywood has instilled in her. She seriously needs an influx of spirituality to combat the effects of excessive materialism thrown at her for the past eight years.

It is sad to see people dump on her. Her actions reveal a serious cry for help, yet no one who has her best interests at heart is listening. She is a prime example of what happens when someone achieves too much fame and fortune at a young age, making it harder to know who their true friends are from all the sycophants and parasites who attach themselves to celebrities for reflected glory and a piece of the money. Love her or hate her, Britney is someone I'd like to see mature out of this current mess in her life and return to making irresistably catchy music. But I fear that she is following the Michael Jackson path towards complete self-destruction rather than the Madonna model of personal and spiritual growth. I guess we'll all just have to stay tuned for the outcome.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What Has 9/11 Changed?

On this 6th anniversary of that tragic day, I've long lost my patience whenever I hear politicians and pundits say, "9/11 Changed Everything." It's said in a way to justify anything. Because we were so brutally attacked, it's as though it gives us the right to be barbaric, to torture, to lie, to steal, to consume, and yes, to shop. Who can forget the most asinine thing anyone has ever said? In response to 9/11, our beloved leader actually told people that "shopping will defeat terrorism." I suppose the more we shop, the less terrorism we face. Boy, it must've worked, because we haven't had a terrorist attack since that day!

How about another story?

First, a moment of reflection.

I was at the Atlanta Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, in my first month there. We were at the downtown Atlanta office, near Georgia State University, on the fourth floor.

Someone had a small black and white TV in their office and was watching the news, and told me about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. It didn't really faze me, so I went to work. Then they called my desk with news that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center. By then, everyone in the office was on edge. Once someone reported that the Pentagon was hit (and mistakingly reporting that a fourth had hit the State Department building)...we knew it was going to be a day from hell.

The third man in charge gathered all the employees in the conference room and said that because of the unfortunate events, no one could concentrate on work and nothing we did at work was as important as our families, so he was making a command decision to let us go home and hug our loved ones and never let go. Cheesy, but hey...I didn't want to work when I'd rather watch the news. So I went home. I was living at home at the time, so were my brother and sister. When I arrived home, my brother asked if I was home early because of what had happened. My sister was at Emory University and had car troubles, so I went to pick her up. As I drove to the university and back, I couldn't believe how many cars I saw that were driving over the center lines. It looked like people were so shell shocked that they couldn't drive right. It was just a crazy day.

When we got home, we just watched the TV coverage. We didn't know if we should wake up our dad, who works the night shift and was sound asleep. It was as though we had decided to let him sleep peacefully in a world we wished we could still live in. When he woke up and came down the stairs, it was a strange feeling that the four of us knew something awful that he wasn't aware of yet. His first words upon hearing about the terrorist attacks was that we were going to kick some butt. I was a little put off by that. Reflecting on it today, I'm still a little put off by that statement. I heard one co-worker today telling me that she went through a period of anger. I never had an angry period about 9/11. I have been angry about the 2000 elections, but not about 9/11. I wasn't even all that shocked about it. I knew enough about international politics to know that our government had been expecting a big terrorist attack to happen eventually. I remember thinking how moronic that some women who lost their husbands that day were calling for an investigation. I thought it was pretty obvious what happened and that an investigation almost seemed ridiculous. Boy, was I wrong on that one!

I'm glad that I was wrong on that one. Because I am now of the belief that it was at least partially an inside job. The whole thing was almost brilliantly orchestrated, fulfilling the infamous words of that neo-conservative manifesto that it would "take a Pearl Harbour type event" to get Americans to support toppling Saddam's regime in Iraq. A month later came the Anthrax attacks, conveniently sent to tabloids and the offices of Democratic senators. Whatever happened to that investigation, anyway? Last we heard, the trail went straight to a government lab in Maryland. Then *poof*...the story disappeared, just like the third plane that supposedly hit the Pentagon (yet we don't see any major plane parts, like the wingspan or the tail). How a tiny hole in the Pentagon made a huge passenger plane disappear is, as Alice would say, "curiouser and curiouser." The other baffling thing about 9/11 is the complete collapse of World Trade Center 7, the 47 story building that wasn't hit by any plane, yet collapsed after 5 pm on that tragic day. Online, you can find clips of British newscasts that reported the building's collapse BEFORE it actually collapsed.

I know, I know...you dismiss this stuff as conspiracy theory, mainly because the facts that don't add up leads to only one scary conclusion: If our government was complicit in the attacks, that means we really do have a government capable of committing evil without conscience. Wake up call! Ask any person in the developing world what they think of our government. You won't hear any positive testimonies. We've been in the dark too long, like those good Germans who refused to believe that their government was evil.

But, enough of that. Back to my earlier question. What has 9/11 changed? The tabloids are every bit as obsessed with fluff as they were before 9/11. Perhaps even moreso, as we witness with the continual fascination the press seems to have with Anna Nicole Smith, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton. We seem to be every bit as shallow as we were in 2000, when who knows how many Americans voted for Bush because they thought he'd be better to have a beer with than Gore (even though as a former alcoholic, Bush supposedly hasn't had a drink since age 40).

9/11 really brought out our ugly side...the way we threatened our long-time allies in "Old Europe" that if they weren't with us, they were with the terrorists; the way we beat our chests and shoved down the world's throat our pain, going so far as to march the battered American flag that was flying at ground zero in the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games for all the world to gaze upon like it was some kind of wounded idol. It was all too much. The torture, the lies about war, the restrictions on free speech, and even how conveniently quick it was to introduce the USA PATRIOT Act and vote on it (proof that the document had long been written and was awaiting the right time to be unveiled upon a scared public that wouldn't ask too many questions).

9/11 is a day to mourn. We have been losing our republic day by day since that event. The values that we supposedly claimed to have were tossed aside, as I heard with shock from fellow Christians that torture was okay (this from people who cried buckets while watching a movie about their saviour Jesus get the living tar beat out of him by another empire that loved to use torture in getting its way). From what I know about spirituality, whenever a person makes a moral claim, the spirit world automatically unleashes a test as a way to check one's intentions. Well, we have failed that test. We cannot call ourselves Christians if we think that torture and killing is okay, or even if we turn a blind eye to the killing and torturing of innocents that still continue to this day in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and CIA-gulags in out of the way places.

The only quote appropriate for today's remembrance is from Jefferson, who wrote of slavery: "I tremble in fear to know that God is just." (Hopefully I got the phrasing right). We should all be cautious that how we act towards others when we are in pain says a lot about us. Are we the ones who will lash out to others, regardless if that other person caused the pain or not; or are we capable of forgiveness and truly examining why someone might want to hurt us. It's not because they hate our freedom, but because we continue to remain indifferent to their suffering. We continue to throw money at false idols like Britney Spears and our entertainment, while people around the world are struggling for the basics of food, water, health care, and personal safety.

May God have mercy on our country. We truly are not worthy to call ourselves Christians if we continue down our warmongering path, killing innocent lives so we can continue to drive our gas-guzzling SUVs from supermarket to our McMansion in suburbia. We must change. We must be better. We owe it to the world to be better than we are.

Monday, September 10, 2007

My Enya-fied Weekend

A week ago, I decided to buy all the copies I could find of old Enya cds to replace my cassette tape versions (which are still in storage out of state). I found a used music store that had every one of her cds that I'm missing (except for "Watermark", which features the first song I ever heard by her: "Orinoco Flow").

This past weekend, I decided to put my 5 disc cd-changer to good use by putting all of my Enya cds in there and letting the nearly 5 hours of ethereal music lift me into the spiritual realm. Only Enya's music is guaranteed to put me in that realm. My interest in her has waxed and waned over the years, but I'm definitely in withdrawal symptoms as I await her next CD (whenever that will be).

I first became aware of Enya in 1989, I believe (that magical year), when her song "Orinoco Flow" played on pop radio. It seems weird to think that they actually played her music on mainstream radio. The only other song of hers that got a lot of radio play was "Only Time", which radio stations seemed to think was the perfect balm for our souls post 9/11 back in 2001 (it was several months old at that point, having been featured in the film "Sweet November" that was released in February). Anyhow, "Orinoco Flow" was such an unusual song, yet the sound captivated my ears like nothing else.

Then in 1992, I was in Naples and had bought the tape of Enya's newly released "Shepherd Moons". Some guys I worked with had driven down to Naples and we were on our way back to Gaeta, where our ship was in port, about an hour north. I remember an officer asking me if he could play the tape. I was a bit self-conscious about it, but let him. I knew that my tastes in music wasn't the norm for sailors, so I didn't want any grief about it. Anyhow, as we listened to the music, it sounded a lot like church. It was kind of surreal too, as we drove in the heavy Naples traffic nightmare to the calming sounds of Enya playing. It's one memory that I'll always cherish.

Between 1992 and 2001, I didn't really listen to Enya. It was hearing "Only Time" in the film "Sweet November" that year which got me to buy her latest CD, "A Day Without Rain." When I first heard it, I knew she had achieved perfection. It's a rare album that can achieve that distinction (to my ears). After U2's "All That You Can't Leave Behind", "A Day Without Rain" was the second most listened to CD of 2001 for me. And it's one that I still haven't grown tired of. As much as I love her follow-up, "Amarantine", it simply doesn't match the power of "A Day Without Rain."

So now I await her next release, though it may still be a few years...but in the meantime, I realized that I never bought "The Memory of Trees", which featured one of my absolute Enya-favourites: "Anywhere Is". So that was one of my newest purchases, along with the ones I already had cassettes of ("The Celts" and "Shepherd Moons").

One thing I noticed in listening to her cds back to back is how unique her sound is. I haven't heard anyone else you could compare her to. In fact, her sound is such that I believe it is perhaps the closest musical replication of the sound of heaven. It truly is spiritually-enhanced music. I wonder how she is able to create that unique sound without sounding the same old, same old. Her songs each have their distinctive elements, with none so perfect as "Anywhere Is". If you haven't spent an entire day listening to Enya's music, I recommend that you try it. After a whole weekend of nothing but Enya music, I felt a lot more calm, inspired, full of love for humanity, and ready to take on another soul-depriving week at work.

It got me thinking...what if we made military members listen to Enya? It's no secret that in the build-up to war, our soldiers watch war movies (which some call "military porn") and listen to heavy metal/hard rock/punk/hard-core rap. Those kinds of music I've never loved, but I can see how it builds one up...full of anger, hatred, and feelings of power/domination. Enya has the opposite effect. No wonder why people in the Navy thought I had weird taste in music. I always saw music as my personal drug. It was powerful enough to inspire and always helped me to focus on whatever I needed to focus on. The hard-core music that most guys listen to doesn't really do anything uplifting. It's ego-derived music for the spiritual depraved. Give me Enya any day. Once you've tasted heaven, you simply cannot go back to the degradation of ego-centric music.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

How Logic Saved Me From Falling for Subprime Mortgage


In 2004, I was thinking of buying a loft condo in Atlanta when I first heard about "subprime lending". I had discovered that a military veteran could get a housing loan and I was really desiring to live in a loft, so I made appointments with a realtor to check out some condos for sale (in my price range around $100,000 or so).

We looked a few and nothing really captured my fancy until the last one we looked at, which was in fact a loft condo in the Renaissance building in downtown Atlanta. We looked at the numbers, both my salary and the cost of the mortgage. She had an accountant who did the numbers for me. Both said that it was do-able. I looked at the same numbers and had serious doubts about it. For one thing, I didn't save up any money for a down payment and I always thought you had to. The realtor said that you didn't, with this subprime mortgage thing. She explained a little about how it worked, but not being able to lock in an interest rate kind of scared me (I don't really trust capitalism, so I tend to be quite conservative with my money). I asked her how she thought I could afford the loft condo we were looking at. I asked her what the monthly payments would be. Then she told me something I found to be strange. In fact, it was a huge warning sign. She said that I would be "house poor", but that being "house poor" (and I quote) "wasn't a bad place to be."

What?!? Being house poor wasn't a bad place to be? Was she crazy? It meant no vacations for me. It meant that all my money would be tied into paying off this mortgage. I would be stuck in this condo that I liked, but I wouldn't have money to do anything else. So, I backed away and eventually, she got the hint that I wasn't serious about continuing with it. It's a good thing too...because I wouldn't have been able to move out west like I wanted to. I'd still be stuck in Atlanta. I'd probably have to work a part-time job or two just to pay for it, since my regular job's salary wouldn't have been able to afford it.

So began my long simmering anger over the cost of housing in America, especially in relation to the lack of good paying jobs that can afford these prices. I'm so glad that I was able to let logic rule the day, saving me from the heartache so many Americans are suffering from now.

I do think that the president bears some responsibility for this crisis. It's no secret that the current administration pushed home ownership as a way to boost the economy (and in a more cynical view, to trap more Americans into debt as a form of control). They loved to cite the numbers of home owners increasing under his watch (during the 2004 campaign). It shouldn't be surprising that they found a way to do it, which people would pay dearly for later on. It's the standard operating procedure of this administration...buy now, worry about the bill later. The "tragedy" for them is that the implosion happened sooner rather than later (as in the next president's administration). Now, it's a full blown crisis that will only get worse next year as more Americans face bankruptcy (which was one of the first things this Administration changed to make it difficult for people to escape out of their debts) and foreclosure. It's just one more example of this current administration's cynical policies to distort economic statistics in the short term without concern for the long term consequences. It's the same policy that Enron had, as well as the Atlanta Area Council and Birmingham Council of the Boy Scouts of America (which I can tell you all about). The tragedy is that too many people fall for it and end up paying a huge price for the greed of others who end up walking away into early luxurious retirement.

Just one more example of the corruption of the current president and how it seaps down into society. Consider it the trademark of his "presidential brand": buy now, worry about the payment later when he's no longer president. For that's exactly what his Iraq War policy is. Why should mortgages be any different?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Obama (ba)Rocks Portland


Last night, I went to Oregon Convention Center to see Barack Obama, not expecting to wait in the longest line of my life! Considering that there was also a Justin Timberlake concert at the nearby Rose Center, I thought I might have went to the wrong place, as there were just as many beautiful young ladies waiting for the Obama speech as there probably were at the Timberlake concert.

While waiting in line, there were some Ron Paul supporters walking up and down the line with signs like "B.O. You Stink!". I've seen Ron Paul supporters everywhere. For those who don't know who Ron Paul is, he's the Republican equivalent of Dennis Kucinich...a maverick running for president currently polling within the margin of error (less than 3%, in other words). One girl approached me and wanted to give me a sheet on Ron Paul's positions. We proceeded to have a friendly argument (bordering on flirtation). I told her that I hated the Republican Party and wouldn't support any of them. She kept asking me if I knew who Ron Paul was, stating that even Republicans hated him. I told her that he was in the wrong party. During the debates, I like the points that he made, but because he's in a party I despise as much as I despise the Nazi and Communist parties, I wouldn't support him. Being an anti-war Republican is like being a Jewish Nazi. It defies logic. Why Ron Paul remains a member of a party whose views are opposite of his is baffling. I couldn't support a person like that. He's either delusional in thinking he has an actual chance of winning his party's nomination, or he's a glutton for self-abuse.

There were a couple other protestors carrying a sign that said "9/11 Is an Inside Job". Like Ron Paul supporters, you see 9/11 Truth people all over Portland. At one point, the guy was walking back and forth with his sign (the 11 made into the WTC as it was hit by planes), occasionally yelling out things like, "This just in, 9/11 is still an inside job!" or "Wake up America, 9/11 was an inside job!" I admire the passion and devotee of the guy...but a lot of people just ignored him. Either the people already believe it or they are still resistant to it. I simply don't see how his one man protest would change people's minds at this point. Another person walked up and down the line with a small sign saying: "Don't invade Iran." I'm afraid he was speaking to the choir about that one.

People in my line were worried that we wouldn't get in, but I had faith that we would, because that would be a mistake for the Obama campaign. They'd be turning away a lot of people at $25 a pop. This speech was little more than a fundraising stop for Obama between gigs in San Francisco and the Oprah Winfrey fundraiser near Santa Barbara. As one stated in the newspaper, Portland is seen as little more than a quick ATM stop for campaigners, since our primary is 47th in the nation (we vote in late May 2008). By that point, we'll already know who the nominees will be, so our votes will be symbolic at best. I'm in favour of a single day in which all states vote in primaries, rather than the roll-out. Because in 2004, by the time Georgia got the primary vote in March, my candidate Howard Dean had already dropped out (but I voted for him anyway).

Anyhow, it was great to make it into the Oregon Convention Center. I was number 88 in the last group of 100 people they allowed into the building. Everyone else got turned away (there was a huge line behind me). Whew! First we were herded to long tables to fill out paperwork to make our $25 contribution (or more if we so stated). Now Barack Obama officially becomes the first politician that I had ever given money too (I was in no position to give money to Gore in 2000 due to lack of work and a low wage job when I finally got one; and I flirted with the idea of giving money to Dean in 2003/2004 but my finances weren't all that great even then).

When Obama came out at 9 PM, he said, "Let me make one thing clear...this isn't the Justin Timberlake concert!" He got laughter and applause with that line. Then he spoke about other things. From where I stood, I could barely see him between other people's heads. I managed to take a few photos, but I'm not expecting to see anything more than a tiny dot for his face in the crowds of people. The conventional hall reminded me of a high school gym, complete with bleachers. Someone remarked as we were leaving the building, "it was like a pep rally." Yeah, I suppose so.

Obama is a good and charismatic speaker. However, he made the usual promises to liberal audiences...universal health care, universal college education, tougher standards on auto emissions, and promising that his first act as president is to start the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. All of it sounds good, but I couldn't help but think of how easy it is to make promises when you know your audience versus the realistic chance of bringing those changes into reality.

What struck me most about this gathering is that I had never waited in such a long line to see a politician before...and I've met a few, like Gore (though I only met him when I was his intern), Hillary, McCain, Bradley, and Dean. Before this night, Hillary was the longest line I've ever waited for (both for booksignings in 1996 and 2003). But I haven't even waited in lines for rock concerts or even amusement park rides that come anywhere near the long line I had to wait for a 30 minute Obama speech. He might have electrified the audience (the newspaper reported 4,000 people; the TV news channel KATU reported 14,000), but I'm not sure he will get the nomination. He's still my candidate of choice for 2008, but I'm afraid that I won't get the chance to vote for him because the nomination will be decided by February and I would place my lifesavings on Hillary getting the nomination. Obama's time will come again in four to eight years, unless Americans are really serious about their desire for change and willing to overlook Obama's inexperience in the hope of turning our nation around.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Don't Believe the Great White Hype



You know the Republicans are desperate for a "superstar" when they have put their ludicrous hope (hype) on Fred Thompson saving their sinking party from itself as though he would be the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Like General Wesley Clark in 2004, I think Fred Thompson has entered the race too late to make much of an impact. We're in the last quarter before the primaries...and the other candidates already have raised tens of millions more than Thompson.

So, why all the hype? Its no secret that Republicans are in a bind these days. Just looking at the candidates on stage at the latest debate is a stark contrast from the Democratic one, which looks more like America. On the Republican side of the aisle, you have 8 (now 9) geriatric white men who should be considering retirement instead of the most stressful job in the world. Their party is seriously berift of any new ideas, as they continue the same old arguments about abortion and guns. Why does that have to be the issue in presidential election after presidential election? I mean, our country is facing serious challenges in the years ahead with a never-ending insurgency in Iraq, an emboldened Iran (because two of their worst enemies are now gone and their greatest enemy is getting its ass kicked in Iraq), a rising China (as well as India), an empending social security crisis when the Baby Boomers retire, the subprime mortgage scandal only just beginning (I've been wanting to post on this for some time, so stay tuned), a health care system that is seriously behind the times, climate change wreaking havoc on many places with greater frequency, and on and on. So many more important issues...yet the evangelical wing of the Republican Party still insists on discussing abortion, guns, prayer in school, posting the Ten Commandments, and other such "trivial issues."

Because not a single Republican candidate for president has electrified this group the way Bush did in 1999, they have basically willed the lazy Fred Thompson into the race. And by lazy, I mean read the latest Newsweek magazine. It's very enlightening. Here is yet another candidate who appeals to evangelical Christians...yet he pursued a Hollywood career at the expense of his first marriage (leaving his wife in Tennessee to take care of their 3 children). It's interesting the amount of visceral hatred the rightwing displays when Hollywood actors criticize U.S. politics, foreign policy, and the war in Iraq. They say that those people have no right to speak. Yet, they are strangely supportive when a Hollywood actor decides to run for political office. Let's see...we had the B-movie actor Ronald Reagan as president, actor-director Clint Eastwood as mayor of Carmel-by-the-sea in the 1980s, singer Sonny Bono as congressman, the guy who played on "Love Boat" as the gopher was a congressman from Iowa, and of course, Ah-nuld Schwarzenegger as the current governor of Cah-LEE-forn-yah (coming into office through a recall campaign of the already comfortably reelected governor Gray Davis, who was blamed for the energy crisis that was manipulated by Enron, which Schwarzenegger had ties to).

The only actor I can recall who served political office as a Democrat was Ben Jones ("Cooter" on The Dukes of Hazzard), who served as my Congressman in Georgia's 4th Congressional district from 1989-1993. There's talk of George Clooney running someday, or Ben Affleck (who supposedly has political aspirations). At least the Democrats have more appealing actors who are interested...yet they never run. So, it is ironic that the people who most seem to hate Hollywood are now the ones who are seeking an actor to save the party from itself. Despite all their talk about morality and family values, it amazes me how often they are willing to overlook a candidate's flaws as they seek to be represented by them (Idaho's very own, not-so-private, Senator Craig being a prime example). It begs the question...how can you show people you mean what you say about "family values" being the most important thing while at the same time being willing to overlook your candidates flaws, even as he attempts to crucify his opponent for personal flaws? The only true family values candidate on the Republican side is Mitt Romney, the Mormon guy. That they'd prefer to have a cross-dressing, twice-divorced former mayor of New York who didn't even attend his son's high school graduation ceremony says a lot about how much they hate Mormons. Wow, what a party!

I honestly don't see Fred Thompson making much of an impact. He's no Reagan (which may be a good thing). Sure, he kind of looks presidential (since he had played that role in a few movies) and has a great voice. But if he is the best that the Republican Party can offer, they really are in a serious mess. I suppose they deserve it. They backed an incompetent, inexperienced candidate based on his being the son of a former president, instead of going with the more experienced Senator McCain. Now, even his time has passed. Will Fred Thompson get the nomination? I personally think he started too late. There's a reason why most candidates announced their intentions to run at the start of the year. Unfortunately, until we enact campaign finance reform, money is the first step towards the presidency. Fred Thompson is a long way off from the 50+ million dollars that Hillary, Obama, Romney, and Giuliani already have. And the major candidates have already spent a lot of time in Iowa and New Hampshire, where traditionally, people don't vote for a candidate unless they have personally met them at least a few times. Time is running out on Thompson. I think he will be like Wesley Clark for the Democrats in 2004. Like Clark, Thompson is seen as the one person who can defeat the other side in the presidential election...yet also like Clark, he waited too long and once he got in, he ends up making little headway. It's no way to run a campaign.

The Democrats are safe for the time being. Their biggest competitor is their own tendency to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as one pundit so accurately put it a few years back.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Scenes from the Adult Soap Box Derby at Mount Tabor

On August 25th, a group of us from the "Metro Area Young Adults" group in Portland met for an afternoon at Mount Tabor to watch the annual adult soap box derby. We're considering entering a soap box derby car for next year's competition...if we can find someone who knows how to build and race one. This year, it was fun just to watch and to see what creative works of art on wheels people have thought of.

In addition to the regular race car look of some soap box derby cars (those seemed to have the fastest times), the favourites were actually more creative: those who went for amusing whether or not they could actually race. There was one that looked like a carrot stick, driven by a guy in a rabbit costume; another one was a "Pope-mobile" complete with a guy in a pontiff's outfit; there was a wedding cake; and a few others. But the three below represent my absolute favourites. Enjoy!
The Jedi and their landspeeder soapbox derby race car.
"Joan of Ark"/Noah and the Ark soap box derby race car.


My absolute favourite...King Kong throwing water balloons to spectators along the race track. Later on, he battled Godzilla as the soap box derby car careened down the hill.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Remembering a Saint


The photo is one of my favourites of the two icons. It was kind of unfortunate that Mother Teresa passed into the heavenly realm five days after Princess Diana's shocking death. The attention was still on Diana, which prompted a debate while I was at BYU about who deserved more attention and recognition. I was shocked to hear the judgemental attitudes against Diana, including such "non-Mormon words" as "whore." Whore?!? Okay, so no one in the Christian Western World liked her involvement with Dodi Fayed (what was she thinking?!?)...but to call her that? I mean, she wasn't Madonna or Eva Peron. She was stuck in a loveless marriage until her divorce in 1996. She was obviously well loved, perhaps one of the most popular people on our planet. No small feat. She presents quite a contrast to Mother Teresa, who was humble, lived in poverty, and not known for being a physical beauty. The opposite of Diana. But, I don't think it's accidental that they died so close together, as I felt then (ten years ago), that Mother Teresa was grief stricken by news of Diana's tragic death that her body just broke down. I believe Mother Teresa had that sort of compassion.

I can't remember when I first heard about Mother Teresa. All I remember is people saying things like, "I'm no Mother Teresa..." or "Who do you think I am? Mother Teresa?" That's how I came to know about her...through people's statements like that. I read a few years back that before her, it was Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer (sp?) that people used as a reference for "saintliness." Mother Teresa happened to be the living saint in our lifetime that people used as a measuring stick for living a completely selfless life.

During my "atheist period" (1990-1993), one of my shocks in talking with self-proclaimed atheists was a harsh judgment towards Mother Teresa. These Ayn Rand types didn't believe anyone had true motives. They believed that all people had selfish interior motives and they believed that Mother Teresa was only doing what she was doing because she wanted to become an official Saint in the Catholic Church. I simply couldn't believe that about her. I've met selfless people before. One thing that is missing is an ego. People have varying degrees of ego...many have a lot of it, very few have little of it. What's hard to believe that a person could be completely selfless in their desire to serve others? It was one example of my distaste towards people who were atheists (what I call the "Ayn Rand atheists").

A recent Time magazine has a cover story on Mother Teresa and her shocking years of doubts about God. Wow...what a contrast between our beloved president! Despite her doubts about God hearing her prayers, she continued to serve the poorest of the poor on our planet. In contrast, Bush claims to have no doubts, as he believes God speaks through him as he continues his incompetent war that is killing thousands and thousands of lives. Give me Mother Teresa and her doubts any day.

I hope the past ten years in the heavenly realm has blessed her for the kind of life she lived and suffered for on earth. It's not easy to devote your life to serving the poor and the afflicted. But thank God someone feels called to do it. Our president should take time to reflect on her life and learn from it. Despite what people think...Mother Teresa is a saint and a perfect example of living a life of service.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Hags Turns 33 Today!



One of my favourite photos of Nathan.

That's part of Navy life...maintaining high-tech/complex machinery through the 3M Maintenance process that involves a lot of dirty work.

Nathan with his son Ean Moroni Hagman, who was born a day or two before Nathan's 32nd birthday last year.

In honour of one of my best friends, Nathan Hagman, who turns 33 (the age Jesus was when he was crucified), here is a tribute to our friendship.

I met Nathan in 1994, when I was about a couple weeks new to Norfolk (after living 3 years in Italy). I called up the church and managed to get a ride one Sunday in November. It was the most excruciatingly silent ride of my life. The pastor of the church, Wayne Ulmer, was a man of few words. So, there wasn't a whole lot of talking going on, except for a few questions that I asked about the congregation.

Anyhow, at church, I was introduced to another sailor and we hit it off. We even spent the day after church together. In the course of talking to one another, and after seeing photos of my family, Nathan realized that we had met before. Ten years earlier, in 1984, when his family came over to our family's house for dinner. This was in Omaha, Nebraska. At first, I thought he was pulling my leg. He is so charismatic, I could easily see him finding connections with anyone. But I didn't remember his family eating over at our house. I still don't remember. I wish I did. That would have been a way cool memory to relive. Anyhow, it was this sort of coincidence that happens ALL THE TIME in our church (because we're so small and a lot of members are well traveled). I was reading "The Celestine Prophecy" about this time, which talks about coincidences leading you on your path, to people you are meant to be friends with or to work with, etc. So began our friendship.

I can't say that it has been an easy friendship. Unlike my best friend Nicholas Smith, whom I've known since 1984 (and if I count the meeting I don't remember, then I'd have known Nathan just as long), Nathan and I have often clashed over politics and religion. He's more conservative than I, plus an Alpha Male (Type A personality). Honestly, it is a challenge to be friends with him...as we often did what he wanted to do, not necessarily what I wanted to do. But on the plus side, we probably connect strongest with music. When I was in the Navy, people always claimed that I listened to some weird-ass music. And that was a lot of "world music" where the songs might not be in English. In the Navy, most guys listened to either country or rap/hip-hop. And those two factions didn't get along very well. Then there were guys like me.

And Nathan. He was the first sailor I met who actually liked the music of Johnny Clegg and Savuka, and French rock band Indochine that I introduced him to. In return, he introduced me to the Lightning Seeds ("Jollification"), Green Day ("Dookie"), and Collective Soul. In 1999, he gave me a mix tape of cool 80s Aussie pop songs that didn't quite make the U.S. charts. I don't remember hearing most of them, but I loved the tape he made...particularly the songs: "Don't Throw Stones" by the Sports; "Hit and Run" by JoJo Zep and the Falcons; "Hush" by Russell Morris and the Rubes; "Unguarded Moment" and "Under the Milky Way" by the Church; and most especially: "Bill Clinton" by the Jury (lyrics include: "I wanna be/Bill Clinton/Bill Clinton/He gets all the chicks"--I actually played this in the White House! Well, okay, technically it was the OEOB, but it was still part of the White House complex).

One of our biggest conflicts is what constitutes "selfishness"...as we have tended to see the other as being selfish. It's an argument I don't really like and I often regret making that a point of contention in the past. I value his friendship over the years and in many ways, he is the brother I always wanted to have. Though he has 3 brothers himself, I know his family pretty well and always appreciate their openness in accepting the friends of their sons. He has the coolest parents in the world.

One of the things I most envy about him is his charisma. He could run for political office and win with that kind of gift. But, he wants me to be his campaign manager or part of his campaign if he ever does. Unfortunately, politics is one area we disagree on...but maybe not so much now as before (during the Clinton years). However, he'd have to run as an independent, not as a Republican (and he says that he'd never run as a Democrat). That's a bind. I'd love to help him to elective office someday, but not under the Republican Party label. I hate that party with a passion (in other words, I like it about as much as I do the Nazis and the Communist Parties).

But, he's in the Navy, working towards retirement. It'll be interesting to see what he'll do when he gets out. I'm glad to know him and call him a friend, and a best friend at that. In 2000, he gave one of the best gifts one could ever give a friend. He asked me to be the Best Man at his wedding, which was an honour I hold highly (up there with my White House internship). It was an experience that I will most likely not repeat since all my closest friends are now married.

Now he's reached the age Jesus was when He was crucified. It's a significant age, I think. The years 30 through 33 were difficult for me...and I'm still working to establish myself. I couldn't imagine a life of a mere 33 years...my life's just getting started. However, here's to a great birthday and many more!