Friday, February 29, 2008

A Leap Day Birthday

In honour of leap day, that quadrennial tradition of messing up our year with an extra day of work (I'm in favour of making it a holiday...and why not move it to the end of October and make it election day?), I am posting on Ms. Lorena Williams, the only person I know whose birthday is today (what year, I'm not so certain about...1952? 1956? 1960?). She's also a twin. When I found out about this, I asked her what she did on non-leap years. She said that she and her sister would celebrate on March 1st.

Who is Lorena Williams, you ask? Only one of my favourite teachers over the years. I had her American History class in my Junior Year (1988-1989) at Clarkston High School in Clarkston, Georgia and for Economics in my Senior Year (1989-1990). We had to read "The Killer Angels" as part of the American History class requirements, but I don't think I read the whole thing (it's on my list of books to read, though, as I attempt to make amends for all the books I should've read in high school and didn't). What I remember most about her was that when I took Economics in my Senior year, I was a Senior in a class meant for Freshmen. Because I missed out on my Freshman and Sophomore Years in Georgia (I was living in Germany at the time), I had to make up a few courses to meet DeKalb County's graduation requirements. I felt like I was in a class full of Kindergarteners for the difference in maturity levels. Well, one day, an obnoxious girl grabbed my cookie at lunch and ate it. I was so mad, I actually told Ms. Williams on her. After lunch period (Economics being my lunch period class), Ms. Williams lectured the class about how angry she was that the girl stole my cookie. I was shocked when I heard her tell the class that she was sometimes ashamed of her race when people acted so disrespectful. I felt bad, her statement really affected the class, I think. I couldn't believe she made such a big production over a stolen cookie, but it made me appreciate her even more that she would speak out about respecting other people's things.

Since I graduated from high school, I have sent her a birthday card and/or gift every leap year (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and this year). Even when I lived in Italy in 1992, somehow, I had timed it right so that it would arrive on February 29th. Last time I talked to her was two years ago when I was planning to quit my job and move to the west coast. I felt like it was going to be the last time I would visit my high school, so I wanted to say goodbye to the only two teachers remaining from when I attended. It was fun to catch up on old times and she reminded me of the cookie story, which I had forgotten. We had a good laugh about it. The visit before that one was in 2000 when I spoke to her students about the military, college, and the White House internship (that was a fun day--the question everyone wanted to know was if I knew Monica Lewinski).

I hope she has a great birthday, however old she is. Oh, and yes, she sometimes only counts the leap years to tell people how old she is. That's very cool. I'd love to have a Leap Day Birthday!

And because this is supposed to be a Fun Friday post, I will list the teachers I've had in elementary school and what I most remember about them or that year.

Kindergarten (1977-1978)
John F. Kennedy Elementary School, Lawrence, Kansas
Mrs. Murphy

Don't remember much about her, other than her incredible patience as one girl cried all day long for at least a month straight. She's a saint, in my book.

First Grade (1978-1979)
John F. Kennedy Elementary School, Lawrence, Kansas
Mrs. Quiring

She had a thing for ascots. That's really all I remember about her...that she wore a scarf around her neck. Oh, and she kind of reminds me of the mother in the original "Freaky Friday" film (the one with Jodie Foster)

Second Grade (1979-1980)
Corl Street Elementary School, State College, Pennsylvania
Mrs. Smith

The best year of elementary school. My two friends was a kid from Pakistan named Khoram whom the other kids made fun of (and because I defended him and played with him, I was seen as "uncool") and a girl who could possibly be considered "my first girlfriend" (Sharon Dunn) and was my first penpal when we moved at the end of the year.

Anyhow, what made this year great was that our class was arranged like a train, with half the students passengers and the other half were the conductor, ticket taker, baggage handler, etc. We did a pretend trip to California, learning about the states we "passed through", complete with maps and facts about state birds, capitals, flowers, etc. Things went well until we passed through Kansas. Mrs. Smith told the class that the capital was Kansas City. Since I had just moved from there, I told her that it was Topeka. She didn't believe me, but I marked it on my map. No one else believed me either. The next day, she apologized to me and admitted to the class that I was right. That Topeka was the capital and Kansas City was the largest city. Again, I had to correct her. Wichita was the largest city (though Kansas City MISSOURI is larger than both). But I was impressed that she was willing to admit that she was wrong to a class of second graders.

When we "arrived" in California, we had a chuckwagon lunch and sang cowboy songs (some of which I still remember to this day: "Don't Fence Me In" and "Home On the Range"). This year was the best year because they used our imaginations to make learning fun. We also learned creatively about the Ice Age (cavemen, woolly mammoths, and saber toothed tigers) and the ocean (I drew a large dolphin that I never got to keep because our family moved before the school year ended).

Third Grade (1980-1981)
Hill Field Elementary School, Hill AFB/Clearfield, Utah
Miss Gatipon

All I remember is that she was my first crush. I don't know what mixed heritage she was, but it could've been Hispanic/Asian/Polynesian or some kind of blend like that. She was probably in her 20s, but I simply didn't distinguish a person's age then. She could've been 20, 30 or 40 for all I knew, but she was the prettiest teacher I had.

Fourth Grade (1981-1982)
Hill Field Elementary School, Hill AFB/Clearfield, Utah
Mr. "Somebody"

My first male teacher and I don't remember his name at all. What I remember was that I didn't like this year very much because the math got harder (we had to memorize multiplication tables, for one thing). However, in retrospect, this year had one of the biggest impacts on my life as the teacher's son was in the Peace Corps in Tahiti or Fiji. He introduced us to a world that fascinated me, from photos of terraced mountainsides in Nepal for farming, to photos of Tahiti/Fiji, and other exotic locales. In a word, he corrupted me with a desire to see the world. And what a shame that I can't even remember his name!

Fifth Grade (1982-1983)
Birchcrest Elementary School, Bellevue, Nebraska
Ms. "Something"-chek

I had the unfortunate experience of switching schools in December thanks to my parents moving out of Air Force housing into a brand new house in another school district (even though it was probably not even two miles away). It made it hell to be the new kid and there was already a Nicholas in my class. The teacher (of Czech heritage with an unpronounceable last name that ended in -chek) asked me what I wanted to be called. I had gone by "Nic" my whole life before that point and got tired of telling people how my parents spell my name and I thought Nicholas sounded more grown up, so I said "Nicholas" and created an enemy for life. The other Nicholas was relegated to Nick and he hated me for the rest of the year. And since he was one of the more popular kids in class, he had a big influence in making sure I didn't have any friends. The only friend I made that year was a guy who was half-Korean, half-Caucasian. We had the bi-racial cultural understanding.

All was not lost, however. It was this year that had also affected my life in ways that I haven't been able to escape to this day. The teacher made the class create our own books (not only the story, but making the cover as well) to enter in the Young Author's Conference that some of us attended. My story about a car race across the United States, followed by a raccoon chase around the world was quite popular with the other students (though it is horribly bad) and I knew then that I wanted to be a novelist someday. It's a dream I'm still working on making come true. The other thing that affected me this year was my love of Australia and the desire to see it someday (still!). For years, I was at a loss at what triggered my interest in Australia, until I realized that my favourite song at the time was Men At Work's "Down Under", which was a big hit around this time. So, in my mind, when I publish my novel, I will take a month long vacation to Australia. My dream writing life and an Australian vacation coincide in my mind. You can't separate the two.

Interesting that another teacher's name that I can't remember had a big impact on my life.

Sixth Grade (1983-1984)
Birchcrest Elementary School, Bellevue, Nebraska
Mr. Montaigue

My dad knew him through Toastmasters, so that wasn't good. My grades really struggled and I would fill in bubbles on the answer sheet without reading the questions or the answers, which meant that I had to be put in remedial math and remedial English. My parents probably worried about my level of intelligence, but in reality, I was trying to escape a bully in class who would harass me. He kept wanting to control me the way he did another boy and no one would stand up for me. It was this year that I once trashed a classroom and didn't get in trouble for it. I joined the Safety Patrol as well. Anything to get out of class and away from the bully. At the end of the year, I learned that no one in class liked the bully (to my surprise) and I had a great group of friends, including two girls I had crushes on.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sam Adams Campaign Video

Check out the official campaign video of Sam Adams, Portland's hardest working and most visionary City Commissioner who is running for Mayor. Watch carefully when Sam is at his campaign headquarters, sitting at a table and working on his MacBook. To the left of him are two neighborhood signs I made (for the neighborhoods of Sellwood-Moreland and Portland Downtown). Very cool! But this video is characteristic of Sam Adams...funny, personable, and a true policy wonk. Everything our city needs to progress into an environmentally sustainable future.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Desperate Measures

The knives are out...both from the right and from the Hillary campaign. Everyone is threatened by the popularity of Barack Obama. And they should be. He has run a sharp campaign. All the pundits and prognosticators, the New York elite and the Democratic Leadership Council (Republicans in disguise) had pretty much coronated Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton late last year before the voters had their say. In primary after primary, Obama has racked up impressive wins, with as little as 17 points over rival Hillary to complete blowouts. He has won more states, both primaries and caucuses, in all demographic groups (including among Hillary's strong core of older women, blue collar wage earners, and Hispanics). He has the kind of charisma and movement behind him not seen since RFK.

True, Bill Clinton was often considered the first "rock star president", but Barack has far surpassed him that he's considered "the black Kennedy" by liberals and "the black Reagan" by Republicans. His name has even become part of a creative catchphrase: "Barack star." No wonder why Hillary is jealous, as one can see through her behaviour this week, from scolding him like a school marm (with her "shame on you!" speech that had an angry tone to it) to the release of an old photo of Obama doing what politicians often do in foreign countries...wear "native garb." Hillary had done it herself when she took Chelsea on a tour of South Asia as first lady. Both wore traditional Muslim outfits, complete with head scarves. Does that make Hillary a Muslim? Or when Bush went to China and wore the traditional Chinese silk shirts. Does that make him a "Mao's Little Red Book-carrying Commie"? No one would think so.

So, why are people (both Team Hillary and on the right through propagandists like Rush Limbaugh who never met a lie he didn't find worth repeating ad nauseum) perpetuating this lie about Obama being a secret Muslim agent of al-Qaeda on a mission to take control of our government? If anyone's a secret agent of a Muslim government, that would be our beloved president George W. Bush. He single-handedly got rid of Iran's two biggest enemies: the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. And he did it with American blood and treasure...accomplishing something Iran could not do (having been beaten to a bloody stalemate in an 8 year war with Iraq in the 1980s).

Okay...so Obama has an unusual name. When I first read an article on the Truthout website in the spring of 2004 about an up and coming state senator in Illinois who was running for the open Senate seat against several well-funded Democratic opponents, I thought it was a joke. "Barack Obama?" I knew that Israel had a prime minister named Ehud Barack and I also thought immediately of Osama. That's quite a name to have. Then to find out that his middle name is the same as both Saddam and the King of Jordan's last name. Neither men are related. Hussein is the equivalent of "Smith" in the Muslim world.

But desperate Republicans are grasping at anything to keep the bigot vote within their party. Since they are a party without any visionary ideas, so corrupt and incompetent in their administration of government, and having the most pathetic choices of candidates to choose from, can you blame them? Their policy positions on immigration pretty much have pushed hispanics into the Democratic party, and that was the ethnic group that most likely would've been loyal Republicans, much like African Americans are predominately Democratic. The other ethnic group that was staunchly Republican in previous elections are Arab Americans, but no longer. Their xenophobic appeals to nationalism and anti-Muslim hysteria has pushed Arab Americans out of the "big tent." Did they truly ever have a big tent? I find that hard to believe. Remember in the 2000 Republican National Convention? They had more black people on stage than on the floor as delegates. It truly was the worst minstrel show ever put on for white audiences. Even the Ku Klux Klan can't starch their uniforms as white as that party is.

They are on the losing end of history and they know it. The only way they can win is by appealing to the basest instincts of people's fears of terrorism, of foreigners, of anyone who speaks with an accent or looks remotely different from them. If that doesn't work, then outright electoral theft is a possibility. The Republicans can't win on ideas at all, because they have no ideas or solutions for America. Their only position is to give more and more money to corporations, who pad their bank accounts rather than use it to create new jobs. Just ask Ken Lay, who supposedly died after his guilty verdict but speculation leads one to wonder what island he's lavishly living on for keeping silent about everything he knows about the Bush crime family.

So...hearing people pile on Obama is a bit hilarious. There's a reason why a candidate gets popular. Nothing a carefully calibrated campaign can achieve with all the poll testing data. That's why Obama is riding a huge wave over Hillary. She made the mistake of playing by the same losing DLC playbook that both Gore and Kerry played from. All three of them had too many high priced K Street Lobbyists on their payroll, people who make too much money to sacrifice quitting their padded careers to toil in the dirt of a true political campaign. The best campaigns are nearly always shoe-string, where young people form the campaign staff, living off of pizzas, cheap motel rooms, and all-nighter sessions. It's the hunger to win and the ability to live on little (sleep, food, and money).

Hillary's biggest problem is that she expected a coronation. That's the "Goldwater Girl" coming out. It's the Republican Party that does coronations, not the Democratic one. As history shows on the Republican side...Nixon ran for president in 1960 before winning in 1968. Reagan ran in 1976 but won in 1980. Papa Bush ran in 1980 and won in 1988. Bob Dole ran in 1980 and 1988 before becoming the appointed nominee in the losing campaign of 1996. Baby Bush didn't have to "wait his turn" since he was considered an heir apparent, running to redeem his father's loss in 1992. McCain ran in 2000 and is now their most likely nominee. Romney will most likely be the nominee next time. See the pattern? On the Democratic side, losers tend to disappear without a second chance. Even Gore saw the handwriting on the wall for his own presidential ambitions (I still think he would've won hands down if he had decided to run this time, due to American desire to redeem our country of the mistake made in 2000, as is obvious by McCain's resurrection from near campaign death last year).

My advice to Obama? Keep on speaking about hope and change, flashing that mega-wattage Kennedyesque smile of yours. Let Hillary rant her way to oblivion. She's angry and growing more irrationally desperate. Her lifelong dream is quickly fading to black...and as much as she might hate the upstart Obama campaign, she has no one to blame but her own cautious nature and the unmistakeable and undeniable fact that Americans simply are sick of the Clinton and Bush families. America wants a change in the best possible way. We are moving towards an Obama Nation. The Republicans and the Hillary supporters just need to get over themselves and accept the hand fate plays in our political process. Our world is about to be "Baracked"!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

No Country For Old Men

So, the Academy went with the Coen brothers film "No Country for Old Men," which I hope proves prophetic when the November elections roll around! Jon Stewart had a good line during the awards ceremony when he said that Oscar is 80 this year, "making it the automatic front-runner for the Republican nomination for president." Ain't that the truth! As you can see from the photo above, those nine candidates for the nomination all have two things in common (besides being Republicans): they're whiter than a Klan uniform and they're all men, like the 42 other presidents we've had.

Last year, I had met a Democratic operative who tried to convince me to support John Edwards so that the Democrats would win the election hands down. What he was saying was that having a woman or a black man as the nominee would be too risky if we hope to take back the White House. But come on! We're in the 21st century! If not now, when? My response to him kind of took him aback (he was an older, white guy after all). I told him, "We've had 42 white men as president already and the reign of the white man is over. It's time for a real change."

Regardless of the outcome in November, the Democrats have proven time and again that it is the party to be a part of if you value diversity. That we're down to two choices means we're definitely going for the history books. Whether the American people find it in their good hearts to take a chance on something different remains to be seen, but I'm hopeful and optimistic. I think Obama has a good case to be made against McCain and his desire for a "hundred year war" in Iraq. McCain is an honorable man in the wrong party. I hope the Democrats are ruthless in pinning the blame of failure of the Republican party on McCain's torture-beaten shoulders.

If I was on the Obama campaign, I'd present the narrative that the Republican party had the opportunity to choose McCain in 2000, who was more qualified than the one they actually chose. Now, they are trying to buy redemption from the American people in selecting the man who should've been their nominee in 2000. But it's too late. They have so ruined America on too many fronts to be trusted to lead our nation out of the darkness of the Bush years. The Republicans don't deserve our trust because they abused it time and again with their swift-boating and fear mongering xenophobia. They trashed our country's good name by policies of rendition and waterboarding. Under the Republicans, we lost our moral footing and the only way to redeem our nation in the family of nations is to take a chance on real change that Obama offers. Let us become "no country for old [Republican] men!"

Let us make posterboys of the Republican darlings: Dick Cheney (who doesn't know a torture technique he didn't love), Trent Lott (who believed that segregationist Strom Thurmond would've made our nation stronger by keeping black people oppressed just so poor white folk can feel good about their exploitation by the corporate capitalists), and Rush Limbaugh (the OxyContin poppin' daddy who makes his Mexican housekeeper take the blame for his addictions that attempts to mask his chronic unhappiness despite his outrageous wealth).

Man, with Republicans like these, it's no wonder why Republicans are so angry these days. They backed someone they thought would be the second coming of Reagan but was more like what the country feared if Dan Quayle had become president. No good news from the economy, from Iraq, from Wall Street, from the real estate industry. A part of me thinks that they are jealous that the Democrats have such charismatic, star quality candidates. No doubt about it...Obama has achieved a kind of critical mass not seen since Robert F. Kennedy's run in 1968. Perhaps there's something to be said about the Biblical "40 years in the wilderness." The Republican era officially began with the assassinations of MLK and RFK and the election of Nixon in 1968. Forty years later, the party of geriatric white men has run out of ideas and passion. All they have to show for themselves is greed, graft, and dangerous incompetence.

I'll be quite happy to bid them "good riddance"! May those Republican politicians find salvation in OxyContin, because that's the closest they'll ever get to heaven by a long shot.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Born to Make Herself Unhappy

My blog is mostly on political and spiritual topics, with the occasional personal post. I try to keep pop culture fluff to a minimum because, Lord knows, we're inundated with enough of it as it is. Such as waiting at a supermarket checkout line. However, I've resisted for long enough and now I can no longer hold my tongue. After seeing her face on tabloid magazine after tabloid magazine and even on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in an article pondering what the heck happened to her, I feel a need to add my two cents worth so I hope you will indulge me this one lapse of "pop culture-itis."

Leave Britney Alone!


What happened to Britney? I'll tell you what happened to Britney! Capitalism, that's what! She's just the latest to break down because of an uncontrolled ego that was given too much, too fast before she was strong enough in self-identity to be able to resist all the temptations money could buy.

She entered the pop consciousness in late 1998 with a provocative video in which she wore a Catholic school girl outfit and did some sexy dance moves. She wasn't yet 18 and even I was intrigued by the video and her music (even though I was 26 and some college friends laughed that I would be interested in her, which they reminded me would be considered "jailbait"). Yeah, but...she knew what she was doing. Her songs were pretty catchy, enough that I bought her debut CD, even though she had a song called "Soda Pop" (you can't get more "bubblegum pop" than that!). Maybe she was prophetic, for she had a song called "Crazy" as well.

One of my favourite songs on her debut CD is "Born to Make You Happy" and the video is awesome as well. Unfortunately, the lyrics are bad, message-wise. In it, she sings that she was born to make some guy happy. Like that was her whole reason for living. Maybe that's her problem. She has issues with men, that much is certain (from her quickie Vegas wedding to a long-time school friend to her dysfunctional "baby factory" relationship with the world's biggest slacker to her running off with a papa-nazi who actually claimed to be a true friend, even as he sold his story of their hook-up to tabloids). If she really believes the lyrics she sings, no wonder why she's in trouble! She's looking for happiness outside of herself, and worse still, in men who simply take advantage of her naivete and spendy ways.

When she came out with "Oops...I Did It Again," I was still smitten with her in some ways, partly because of her sexy music video in which she had to go for the Barbarella look (I'm one guy who cannot resist a woman who dresses like that). Her second CD was a carbon copy of her first...including a remake of a classic ("The Beat Goes On" on the first CD; "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" on the second) and a song called "Dear Diary" on one and "E-Mail My Heart" on the other. So much for breaking with what works!

In college, I learned about an economic theory called "The Law of Diminishing Returns." This idea refers to the pattern of how one has to continually up the ante on something to get the same returns (kind of like in drug use, one has to take higher doses to get the same effect, which lasts shorter). Britney has released five CDs since 1998, and in each one, she has upped the ante on her sexually provocative outfits and songs. The result is that each subsequent album has sold less than the previous one. Her career embodies "the Law of Diminishing Returns." No one is titallated by her music anymore. Even Madonna had the good sense to go in a spiritual direction focused on an intriguing new sound. Britney seems to be afflicted with the disease that the Jackson family suffers from. Janet Jackson has continued to release album after album of sexually provocative music that no one but saps are buying these days. And Michael Jackson's own sexual peculiarities put him in a creative slump that he hasn't been able to recover from.

Why can't Britney see this? My theory is that the people around her don't have her best interests at heart. They, like so many plastic people of the popular culture industry, think sex sells, even when they have proof in the form of Billboard magazine that it truly isn't selling. Part of the reason could be that no one wants to see a mother of two young boys making a fool of herself with her need for constant parties on the Hollywood circuit and for the attention of men who are all too willing to take advantage of a woman in serious trouble. The only thing she sells these days are tabloids. The intensity is such that I would be very surprised if she lives to see who becomes our next president. She's on the fast track to young death and I believe that the tabloid obsession with her every move is practically willing that on her.

It's a shame because she is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with Hollywood. The self-indulgent, party-circuit, wasteful wealth, and misappropriated use of talents is truly a problem of epidemic proportions. It is capitalism run amok. She could've used her wealth for good, like adopting a school to financially support or going off to the developing world where no one knows who you are and just spending time helping other people who truly need the money that she can afford to give to improve lives. But in her example, we see how a selfish existence can lead to a mental breakdown as she loses a sense of who she was before she became famous. She got lost in the sex tart image that she presented the world and seems to have lost her way. Even an intervention by family and friends didn't seem to help.

Who knows if she'll find her way out of her current predicament. I'm thinking she'll end up either dead or missing. Maybe someday when she's gotten rid of the ghosts that haunt her and finds her true self, she can come back with a spiritually profound album examining the demons that have haunted her all these years. But Hollywood should back off. The Papa-nazis and their obsessions with photographing famous people already killed the world's most beloved woman (Princess Diana). Is the bloodlust that bad that they are willing to lead another lady to her death? They should listen to her anthem: "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman." Britney has never been allowed to grow into her own womanhood. She's lost in the false world of capitalist values, in desperate need of the authentic spirituality that would get her in touch with the truest part of herself. The only thing we can truly do to help her is pray that she finds the light of God within and escape the death trap she's in before it claims her forever.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Why I'm Not Wild About Oscar


For the first time in a long time, I'm not thrilled with the Academy Award nominees for Best Picture. I haven't seen any of the five nominees, so I'm not rooting for any of them in particular. Even in the acting categories, none of the nominees excite me as past years have. Rarely are the Academy's favourites my favourites, but sometimes our choices match, which is cool when it happens. Most of the time, though, my choices are far different from the choices of the critics and the Academy members. So, in honour of this great tradition of recognizing the motion pictures that sometimes reflect the times, I will list my favourite films for each year going back to 1980. As you'll see...George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are major winners in my own "Carroll Awards." But these are my tastes. Sometimes there were years when even the runner up was just as good, so I'll mention those as well. Enjoy!

1980
The Empire Strikes Back

1981
Raiders of the Lost Ark

1982
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

1983
Return of the Jedi

1984
Ghostbusters

1985
Back to the Future

1986
Peggy Sue Got Married

Edged out Top Gun because I was still in my 50s/60s craze due to the Back to the Future film, which left me wanting more films that covered that time period. Incidentally, I was stood up on my first date to see this film!

1987
Roxanne

1988
Three Men and a Baby

This film was actually released in U.S. theaters during the Christmas holiday season in 1987, but because I lived in Germany at the time, it didn't make the military movie circuit until May 1988. Had I included it in 1987's films, it still wouldn't beat Roxanne, but for 1988, it edges out my second favourite Who Framed Roger Rabbit? as well as Coming to America and Big.

1989
Dead Poets Society

This film had so many similiarities to my Senior year in high school that it was kind of an odd synchronicity (as this film was released in the summer before my senior year) and thus edges out my other favourite of that year, Casualties of War (which is always the most emotionally difficult movie for me to watch, but also the most powerful film I've ever seen).

1990
The Bonfire of the Vanities

In retrospect, this film wouldn't be my top choice for that year (as I think Pretty Woman, Ghost and Dances With Wolves were better), but it was such a major film for me as my two favourite actors were appearing in the same film together (Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis), which was a big deal for me at the time. I also love the cinematography and the music. The novel is much better, of course, and Hanks was seriously miscast, but it wasn't as bad as the critics made it out to be.

1991
Boyz N The Hood

Edges out the French film La Femme Nikita just barely due to its powerful message and intriguing portrayal of inner city poverty and crime.

1992
Basic Instinct

I saw this film in a crowded theater filled with Navy guys, so it was one of those movies that are fun to watch with an audience all too willing to make sarcastic commentary during the film to increase the laughs even more. Plus it had me guessing the whole way with its numerous plot twists. Sharon Stone was simply brilliant in this film.

1993
Jurassic Park

1994
Forrest Gump
The first time my pick for Best Film of the year matched the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science's choice.

1995
Jefferson in Paris

1996
Tin Cup

This one edges out not one, but three other great films that year: A Time to Kill, Evita, and The Preacher's Wife. What really drew me to this film was the chemistry between Kevin Costner and Rene Russo (whom I had a crush on since she was in In the Line of Fire with Clint Eastwood) and seeing a different side of Kevin Costner than I had seen of him in any other movie. It's such a fun movie that I love re-watching a few times every year.

1997
Contact

This thinking man's science fiction beat out my other favourite from this year: Air Force One with Harrison Ford as one kick-ass president who fights terrorism in ways I simply cannot see of our current coward-in-chief.

1998
Primary Colors

I loved the novel in 1996 and was disappointed that Tom Hanks had dropped out of the lead role because of his friendship with Bill Clinton, but it turned out for the best as John Travolta was brilliant in his eerily accurate personification of Clinton, even though this was supposed to be (wink, wink) about a fictional politician. The scene stealer, though, is Kathy Bates. She's a trip in every scene she's in.

1999
The Phantom Menace

So many people hate this film, but I'm a loyal Star Wars fan since Kindergarten when the first one came out. I saw this one in the theater 13 times! A record for me (before that, I had never seen a film more than 5 times in a theater). I got to be a kid again in the summer of 1999, which was great. This prequel edged out The Matrix which was the other great film of that year.

2000
Thirteen Days

This Kennedy saga edged out Tigerland and The Patriot as my favourite film. I'm a loyal Kennedy man, what can I say? Any film that portrays American history on screen has a loyal filmgoer in me. I want more of them!

2001
A Beautiful Mind

This film was brilliant in how it helped audiences understand mental illness, thus why it edged out Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings for me. It's also only the second time when my choice for Best Picture matched the Academy's choice.

2002
Attack of the Clones

You know I'm a loyal Star Wars fan when this film beat out my other favourite of the year: Steven Spielberg's Minority Report.

2003
The Last Samurai

I loved the mini-series Shogun as a kid and was really excited to see Tom Cruise's take on the whole Samurai culture. Though it was panned as "Dances With Samurai" (I don't deny it's near similarity to Kevin Costner's 1990 film about a Civil War soldier who embraces a native culture over his own), I liked it enough to barely beat out my other two favourites: Down With Love and Laurel Canyon.

2004
Fahrenheit 9/11

The first time a documentary was my favourite of the year (how could I say no to an anti-Bush film?), thus edging out my favourite fictional film: Goodbye, Lenin!

2005
Revenge of the Sith

The tradition holds...as all 6 films were my favourites in the year they were released. A close second and third was Terrence Malick's beautiful The New World and Jarhead, a timely film about Marines in the 1990 Gulf War (making our current war a bad deja vu trip that has gone horribly wrong).

2006
An Inconvenient Truth

The second documentary to take the top spot, and why not? When I saw it in theaters (which I did twice and then I got to see it live with Gore on stage), I finally got to feel some of my anger about the 2000 elections give way because I believe that Gore's mission just might be greater than the mere presidency. Like Gandhi and Dr. King who never held elective office as leaders, they still accomplished great things. I found a powerful message, wake up call, and forgiveness (for a stolen election) in this film. My favourite fictional film this year was The Da Vinci Code.

2007
Into the Wild

This film was snubbed by the Academy Awards this year. Had they nominated it, I would have a film to root for to take home Oscar for Best Picture of the Year. But as you can see, my choices for the Best Picture of the Year is vastly different from the Academy and we only agreed twice (Forrest Gump and A Beautiful Mind). Better luck next year.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Gold In My Hand

Rachel Porter took this photo of me in Vancouver BC in January. We were walking in Stanley Park and taking in the view of downtown Vancouver to the south, then on the north end of the peninsula, we saw the industrial looking North Vancouver across the water. The piles of yellow whatever it is made an irresistable backdrop for such a cheesy photo.

I simply imagine that I have piles of gold dust in my hands. This photo will be my "official manifesting photo." Whenever I want to manifest whatever I want, I'll just think of this photo.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Wisdom of Washington (the Man)

In honour of George Washington's birthday, I will list some of my favourite Washington quotes for today's "Fun Friday" post. Some of the quotes are truly prophetic. When I think about Washington, how he was offered to be the King of the newly independent United States but turned it down, then offered the chance to be "President for Life" but decided to step down after two terms, thereby setting a precedent that only Franklin Delano Roosevelt was able to violate, it makes me glad that George W. Bush or Dick Cheney weren't around at that time. I don't think they have the moral fiber to resist power, as we can well see in how they behave today (betraying everything America has supposedly been about). To observe this day, we should all reflect on what a truly great president is and thank God that Washington was the one to set the example for future presidents to follow (or betray).

Arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness.

Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.

Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.

Happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.

If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

It is our true policy to steer clear of entangling alliances with any portion of the foreign world.

It may be laid down as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every Citizen who enjoys the protection of a Free Government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defense of it.

It will be found an unjust and unwise jealousy to deprive a man of his natural liberty upon the supposition he may abuse it.

Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.

Let your heart feel for the afflictions and distress of everyone, and let your hand give in proportion to your purse.

Mankind, when left to themselves, are unfit for their own government.

My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth.

Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all.

Over grown military establishments are under any form of government inauspicious to liberty, and are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.

Some day, following the example of the United States of America, there will be a United States of Europe.

The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government.

The basis of our political system is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government.

The Constitution is the guide which I never will abandon.

The constitution vests the power of declaring war in Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject and authorized such a measure.

Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light.

When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen.

Worry is the interest paid by those who borrow trouble.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

World of International Cinema

For two weekends now, the 31st annual Portland International Film Festival has been ongoing in local theaters with several showings a day from a diverse group of films from around the world (I want to say anywhere up to 50 films are being screened). Last year, I picked a dull one from Thailand, just because it was the only Thai film being screened. The other films I wanted to see eventually made it to the local theater in a regular run when it was more convenient for me. Films like Ten Canoes from Australia about Aboriginals with dialogue in their native language (which was a very interesting film) and a film from France (the name escapes me at the moment).

I didn't start liking foreign films until 1991 when the French film "La Femme Nikita" blew me away with the gorgeous Anne Parillaud, interesting story, and awesome soundtrack (my all-time favourite film score). I never knew foreign films could be so good. France's Indochine was another that impressed me and made me a fan of Catherine Deneuve (still stunning whatever age she is). As I watched more foreign films, what I liked most about them is that the celebrity of American actors doesn't distract. I get to see actors I've never seen before, who look like real people you'd see on the street somewhere, and I can focus on the story. Foreign films seem to be a reflection of real life and gives me a glimpse into another society. American films seem to be required to have a happy ending, which isn't bad...but sometimes, I don't want the Hollywood version of reality. I want to see something deeper.

BYU's International Cinema really spoiled me on foreign films. It was one of the greatest things they offered students, especially when controversy hit once Hollywood got wind of the other BYU theater that screened poorly edited commercial Hollywood fare for Mormon audiences without the approval of the studios. The one I remember the most was Batman and Robin when everything the character Poison Ivy (played by Uma Thurman) said was silenced out (but because I had seen it before and could read her lips, I remember some of what she said which was amusing that it could be offensive to Mormons. One example: Poison Ivy told Robin to drop "the geriatric bat" and get with her). The films at the International Cinema were not censored, even if they contained profanities or love scenes. In my seven semesters there, I must have seen close to 30 movies at the International Cinema, with my favourites being the French ones "My Father's Glory" and "My Mother's Castle."

So in that tradition, I was pleased to learn about the Portland International Film Festival. There are way more films than I can afford to see (they unfortunately charge $9 per film, which adds up quickly). And equally unfortunate is my inability to pick ones that really wow me. My schedule hasn't permitted me to see the ones I really wanted to see, but I did choose four.

The first one I saw was the Australian film "Romulus, My Father" starring Eric Bana in a very good role (since I've only seen him in action films, it was nice to see his dramatic range). Then on Monday, I saw the other Australian film "Home Song Stories" starring Joan Chen. What struck me most about both these films were the similarities, even down to the steamy love scenes! Both are about immigrants to Australia in the 1950s/1960s who struggle to fit in. Both are from the perspective of a young boy who ends up hating his mother for being too self-involved in her own pain to be an effective mother. And (spoiler alert) both feature suicide as a dramatic plot device. Both are just depressing and heart-wrenching drama...exactly what I didn't need to see this past weekend! Though I'll probably never watch either again, it did give me an interesting perspective on Australia, with dazzling performances by known actors in rich characters.










The third film I saw was the Egyptian romantic-comedy-drama "In the Heliopolis Flat" which surprised me because it featured an Egypt I so did not see. Then again, I only spent 3 hours in Alexandria, walking around in the evening, scarfing up various souvenirs I was presented with. The Egypt I remember is filthy dirty, piles of trash on the street, men in traditional Arab robes walking around, and a city unmistakeably Arab. In this film it could very well have been Naples, Italy. We see many of the men in suits and ties working for a finance firm. Gorgeous women in regular dresses or jeans, talking on cell phones, and even having "sex buddy relationships" outside of marriage. I imagine that this film might be considered kind of racy for the Arab world. It totally wouldn't be "imam-approved" and might be used as an example of the decadent values of the west influencing and corrupting the young of the Arab world who want the fashionable clothing, laptops, cellphones, and personal transportations that Europeans and Americans have.

The story was similar to the standard "romantic-comedy": girl meets boy, boy hates girl, girl is persistent, boy warms to girl, something keeps them apart, and then the final chase scene. But it was a good story, interesting to see the neighbourhoods of Cairo and the diversity of the people. It defintely came across to me as trying to present Egypt as a modern nation, because as I wrote above, it could have very well have been set in Naples with Italian characters. This was my favourite of the ones I've seen this year, because it wasn't a downer of a film. Yet, there was a suicide attempt by a minor character and I almost laughed about it because it seems like a running theme in the films I've selected to watch. Maybe there's a message in there for me. Mostly, these characters contemplating that lack a spiritual foundation. All they have is angst.

The last film I saw was a Danish documentary about an old man who wants to turn an old castle into a monastery for the Russian Orthodox Church and the clashes he has with one of the church's nuns. It was pretty boring to me, with a few interesting moments.

The film festival closes on Saturday with the final film that's certain to be sold out but one I want to see because it has my favourite actress in it: Audrey Tautou. I'll see her in anything. Her latest movie is "Priceless" set on the French Riviera (where I have fond memories from my visits there in 1992 and 1993). If I don't get to see it on Saturday, it's certain to play in a few months at the local theater that specializes in independent and foreign films. I can't wait.

With the film festival over, I can get back to my regular evening schedule of job hunting, volunteering on a political campaign, and other personal improvement goals (such as reading the numerous spiritual self-help books that I'm currently addicted to). Movies are great...but too much of a good thing is actually a bad thing. Especially for my pocketbook!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Losing Streak Continues



Obama racks up some more wins, including Wisconsin. If a candidate loses state after state, can she still claim to be "viable"? It looks like the handwriting is on the wailing wall, so go ahead and wail away, Hillary! Wail to your heart's content. Maybe it'll win you some votes somewhere. But the way things are looking, I think you better give Bono a call and ditch the lame Celine Dion song you selected as your campaign song ("Taking Chances"). No other song fits you better than U2's "Stuck in a Moment That You Can't Get Out Of." Read the lyrics below (and weep if you have to)...


"I'm not afraid of anything in this world
There's nothing you can throw at me that I haven't already heard
I'm just trying to find a decent melody
A song that I can sing in my own company

I never thought you were a fool
But darling, look at you
You gotta stand up straight, carry your own weight
These tears are going nowhere, baby

You've got to get yourself together
You've got stuck in a moment and now you can't get out of it
Don't say that later will be better now you're stuck in a moment
And you can't get out of it

I will not forsake, the colors that you bring
But the nights you filled with fireworks
They left you with nothing
I am still enchanted by the light you brought to me

I listen through your ears, and through your eyes I can see
And you are such a fool to worry like you do
I know it's tough, and you can never get enough
Of what you don't really need now ... my oh my

You've got to get yourself together
You've got stuck in a moment and you can't get out of it
Oh love look at you now
You've got yourself stuck in a moment and you can't get out of it

I was unconscious, half asleep
The water is warm till you discover how deep
I wasn't jumping for me it was a fall
It's a long way down to nothing at all

You've got to get yourself together
You've got stuck in a moment and you can't get out of it
Don't say that later will be better now
You're stuck in a moment and you can't get out of it

And if the night runs over
And if the day won't last
And if our way should falter
Along the stony pass
And if the night runs over
And if the day won't last
And if your way should falter
Along the stony pass
It's just a moment
This time will pass."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cuba Without Castro


In the news of a lifetime, Castro finally resigns after 49 years. And here I thought he had been dead for the past year. I've often speculated what would happen to Cuba once he no longer ruled (I had assumed he'd die in power, not give it up). Because his brother is the new el-presidente-para-siempre, it looks like a capitalistic Cuba isn't going to happen anytime soon.

In a newsquote from Bush, his statement only proves what a truly hypocritical person he is (or seriously lacking self-awareness) when he told the Cuban government that they must have free and fair elections. That'd be like Saddam Hussein lecturing China about its dismal Human Rights record. Bush couldn't win a PTA election without cheating involved.

One thing I'm interested in seeing is if the anti-Castro Cubans in South Florida will finally let go of their hatred, which has forced American policy in this ridiculous embargo that makes it ILLEGAL for American citizens to travel to Cuba. Whenever I told foreigners that they have more freedom than freedom-loving Americans do because they are allowed to travel to Cuba if they wish, they seemed pleased to have one up on Americans.

Rightwingers might wonder why anyone would want to visit Cuba and think that only leftists commies would travel there, but they miss the point. When you claim to be the most free nation on earth and that terrorists are killing us because "they hate our freedoms", isn't it a bit odd that Canadians, Europeans, and South Americans can all travel to Cuba without restrictions, whereas Americans will get in trouble with our government if we didn't go through the bureaucratic process of obtaining a special visa reserved for "educational purposes."

The reason I want to visit Cuba is because it's a time warp. It's the only country on earth that still primarily has cars from the 1950s in use. It is a society stuck in a time warp of the 1950s and for that reason alone, it makes any visit to Cuba a surreal one. I definitely want to go there before it transforms into a vacation destination with resorts and modern cars (though it'll take decades if not a half-century to catch up). I love surreal stuff like that.

I do have a bone to pick with the anti-Castro Cubans who have taken over Miami. Their long-standing hatred of Castro has caused many U.S. politicians to flip-flop unreasonably for fear of their vote (even though they are staunchly Republican, which I'm glad). The biggest case in point was Al Gore in 2000 over the Elian Gonzalez issue, which turned out to be the most riveting "political football" of my entire internship! And the story began before my internship began, when little Elian showed up on a Florida beach around Christmas time 1999, his mother having perished at sea. I forget the details of the story, but it almost had a supernatural/religious tone to it. Because the father still lived in Cuba and didn't want to move to the U.S., it caused an international tug of war between Elian's relatives in Miami and the rights of a father. The Clinton Administration had the correct stance (to return Elian to his father) but the anti-Castro Cubans didn't want to give in and made it a big enough issue to scare Vice President Gore (who wanted to win Florida in the November election) into siding with the Miami-relatives. When he made his views known, my office was swamped with calls, including from an irate Congresswoman Maxine Waters who threatened to take back her endorsement of him for president!

Like I said. Crazy. Those anti-Castro Cubans! Now that he's stepped down (and perhaps will die soon, to have his body preserved like a Madame Tussaud's wax dummy), I hope that they will finally learn to forgive and move on. Let our politicians lift the crazy ban on travel to Cuba. Give us that one bit of freedom so we can stop being the laughing stock of the western world.

And while we're at it...let's return Guantanamo Bay to the Cubans. It's the right thing to do. We wouldn't like it if a foreign country owned a piece of land that's part of the U.S. (like San Francisco Bay, for instance), so let's do the decent thing, eh?