Sunday, November 30, 2008

Enya Returns With a Yuletide Release

I don't know if this counts as a "manifestation" testimonial, but just a few months ago, I was wondering when a new Enya CD would be released and then a few weeks later, I saw an ad in the paper for her latest. I bought it a couple weeks ago and it was just as I feared. I did not just wait three years for a Christmas CD!!!

However, as I listened to it, the music is uniquely Enya's and doesn't even remotely sound like Christmas. Not that there's anything wrong with Christmas music. It's just that I put away my Christmas music after the New Year starts and don't bring them back out until Thanksgiving weekend. That's five weeks of listening to Christmas music, whereas with Enya, I want to listen to her music constantly.

In fact, I've been more and more inclined to listen to her music far more than any other music artist this decade. I don't know what's gotten into me. It wasn't always this way, of course.

I first heard of Enya in 1989 when the song "Orinoco Flow" played on the radio. I had never heard anything like it before and I was hooked. I loved that song. I didn't buy her album at the time though. The first one I bought was her follow-up, Shepherd Moons, when I was at the Navy Exchange in Naples, Italy in 1992. I was with a group of Officers and Chief Petty Officers in Squadron 22 and we drove back to the ship in Gaeta after a day in Naples. The driver wanted to listen to the tape I had bought, but I was kind of embarrassed to have them play it. They had never heard of her before and I was worried about what they'd think of me if they didn't like it. Well, they played it and thought it was a little weird, but unique. One of them complained that he thought he was in church. So there we were, driving through some crazy traffic in Naples while her ethereal music was playing. Talk about surreal! You can't get more surreal than that!

In 1995 or 1996, she came out with The Memory of Trees, but I didn't buy it. I had moved on from Enya. Her music sounded the same. There was a couple songs that I liked but not enough to buy it (as I thought at the time...now however, I do own it and it's my second favourite of hers). When I visited Nathan's family in 1996, I saw a video his parents made of him as a baby and toddler, featuring Enya's "Book of Days" as background music. Now, I can't hear that song without thinking of Nathan and how I remember being envious that he's able to see himself as a baby and toddler through the magic of videotape.

In 2000, at a church service in Springfield, Virginia, my friend Jenet sang "My Life Flows On in Endless Song", which is a church hymn that I remembered as Enya's "How Can I Keep From Singing?" There was no escaping Enya, even though I kind of forgot all about her music until I saw the trailer to Sweet November in a darkened movie theater in 2000. The trailer featured the new Enya song "Only Time" which sent chills up and down my spine. I loved it and absolutely had to have it...so I went out to a music store and looked at the Sweet November Soundtrack. I debated whether I should buy the soundtrack or Enya's newest CD. I decided to buy Enya's CD, A Day Without Rain. Her latest CD became a huge hit for me as I couldn't stop listening to it. It was by far her best one yet. The CD even saw a boost in the post 9/11 period as radio stations played "Only Time" as though it became the unofficial song for that tragic day.

Her next CD, Amarantine, came out in 2005. Not a bad follow-up, though it simply couldn't live up to the perfection of A Day Without Rain. My favourite song on the new release was "Long Long Journey." I haven't listened to this CD nearly as much as the previous one, but I was still hungry for a new release. Because she takes many years between CDs, I don't expect another one until 2011 or 2012, so her And Winter Came... will have to do. The song I like immediately is the catchy "White is in the Winter Night." It's guaranteed that you'll like it and the stand-out song on the CD. The rest of the CD is her typical and unique sound, which never fails to put me in the spiritual realm. I truly believe that out of all the musicians performing in our world today, Enya probably comes closest to bringing the sounds and melodies of heaven to our imperfect world. That's probably why my interest in her music has only grown this decade. I have all of her CDs and have spent many weekends just listening to her music exclusively, which produces a noticeable effect on my attitudes. I definitely feel more inspired, more alive, and more at peace when I have my so-called "All Enya Weekend." She is one person I would love to see in concert, but I don't recall ever hearing about her touring anywhere. In fact, I know so little about her and can't even find a book about her. She's a mysterious lady who has cornered a unique niche for herself in the music world. What would we ever do without her?

Here's to a month of listening to mostly Enya's style of Christmas music, only to be shared with the Chieftains. I'm intending to have a profound spiritual breakthrough this Christmas and I hope the music of Enya lifts me to that place.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Waltzing "Australia"

Wednesday evening after work, I went to see the new film by Baz Luhrmann, Australia. I've been a huge fan of Australia since I was 11 years old and it remains as the country I most want to visit before I die. In fact, I love Australia so much that I intend to live my next lifetime on earth as an Australian (this is my last lifetime as an American, so I intend to enjoy it as much as possible). When I heard that Australian director Luhrmann wanted to make an epic film about his nation that gets to the heart of what it means to be Australian, I was ecstatic. However, I had my doubts that he could pull it off. I loved Strictly Ballroom when it came out in 1994. It was just the kind of quirky Aussie film that I enjoy. In fact, that film launched my whole Australian Film craze. I must see every one that gets distributed in the U.S.

Crocodile Dundee was too American for my tastes, and I didn't like Young Einstein at first (it grew on me with multiple viewings and I love it now), but my absolute favourite Aussie film is Love and Other Catastrophes. It's not available on DVD in North America, unfortunately. That film absolutely got college right, particularly the amusing scene in which one of the characters has to deal with the bureaucracy of trying to switch a class. It's the same kind of runaround I experienced in college with financial aid and registering for classes.

Anyhow, the track record of Luhrmann is interesting. After Strictly Ballroom, he went Hollywood and created a teen dream version of Romeo and Juliet. If this film had come out when I was a teenager (a time in which English teachers made you read Shakespeare and you didn't appreciate it), I might have liked it, as it was a very modernist take on the play. However, I was in my 20s at the time and thought it was too urban gangsta for my tastes. My sister was a teenager at the time and loved the movie. Following that one, Luhrmann made Moulin Rouge!, which was way over the top. I like Nicole Kidman and Ewan MacGregor, but there wasn't much in the film that I liked. It's probably the gayest movie ever. What a waste of a good topic. I've been intrigued by the Moulin Rouge (the most famous night club in Paris, where women dance the can-can topless!) since my tour bus passed by it on a family vacation to Paris in 1988. The place and its history is ripe for a good story. Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! is not it.

He was supposed to make an Alexander the Great film after that, but somehow in the battle of dueling Alexander film projects, his lost out to Oliver Stone's. Which is just as well. Who needs two films about that man when one will do quite nicely?

So, with his latest creation, I hoped for an Oscar-worthy Best Picture type of epic. I had read a basic description of it and thought it sounded pretty good. It's not the history of Australia, but it captures the most essential aspects of Australia...featuring a dusty ranch in the Outback, with a cattle drive to the coast set against the backdrop of the Empire of Japan's bombing raids of islands in the Pacific after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawai'i. At the heart of the story is the ugly Australian policy of taking children with Aboriginal mothers and white fathers away from the primitive families and placing them in missions to "Anglecize" them.

Nicole Kidman plays a prissy, wealthy English lady who flies to Australia to sell her husband's ranch, Faraway Downs in the Northern Territory. When she arrives, she learns that a competitor ranch across the river is set to establish a monopoly on beef sales to the military. If she can get her husband's 1,500 head of cattle to the dock in the port town of Darwin, she can undersell the competitors and still turn a tidy profit while breaking the monopoly in the beef industry. Hugh Jackman is the drover who makes a living doing just that. He's a 19th century cowboy in the coming modern age of World War II.

There are many sweeping scenes of gorgeous landscapes and brief descriptions of dreamtime, songlines, and walkabout...which represents the core of Aboriginal beliefs about the creation of the world and how songs are used to find life sustaining things in the harsh interior landscape that is Australia. The Aboriginal boy, Nullah, is the centerpiece of this unfolding drama and he is the emotional heart of the story. His grandfather serves as a sort of spiritual guide for the characters, as they migrate between the cattle drive and then the Japanese air raid attack on Darwin. The scenes of Japanese Zeros (as a kid, I loved the Zeros and even assembled models of them) were stunning, though obviously CGI. However much I wanted to love this movie, the flow is somewhat jarring. The contrast is amazing...as it flows from an old fashioned cattle drive to a full on aerial attack at the onset of World War II. Think of this film as City Slickers meets Pearl Harbor. I'm not sure it works. While I liked most of the scenes, I also thought this movie tried too hard to encompass too much. I loved the cattle drive portion of the film but didn't like the attack on Darwin nearly as much. Perhaps because it reminded me too much of Pearl Harbor (a film with a lot of promise but ended up a huge disappointment as it tried too hard to be the next Titanic with it's lame love story).

What I loved most about the film was the half-Aboriginal boy who is referred to quite derogatorily as "creamy" by the white Australians. He narrates the film and he helps explain to the audience what it means to be neither a "blackfella" nor a "whitefella." We see the similarities that Australia had with American segregation, in which Aboriginals weren't allowed to enter some establishments, and where men who hook up with Aboriginal women (and sire children with them) are viewed with complete disdain. I would have loved to have seen more about the Aboriginal spiritual view and their experiences with white Australia. That is the core of the movie for me.

Thus, the movie does have it's moments. It rises and falls, almost like a cinematic waltz between story ideas. Some work better than others. Not enough to land a Best Picture nomination perhaps, but it's enough for me to want to own a copy on DVD eventually. I just wish there was a little bit more discipline in the story. In particular, they played up the emotional factor in one part of the movie that turned out to be too much of a Lord of the Flies kind of thing that I found hard to believe. With an epic movie as this aspires to be, you don't want to be reminded of other movies. You want to see originality and walk away in awe. The director even shamelessly features scenes and a song from The Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately, wonder and awe didn't happen for me with this film...and I wanted this to be ranked as my favourite film of 2008.

There's always Valkyrie, Marley and Me, or Revolutionary Road...the remaining three films that I most want to see this year. I'm even interested in seeing Milk because I'm such a fan of bio-pics. I think every significant historical figure deserves a feature film of their life story and I'd see them all.


What you lookin' at, mate?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Litany of Gratitude

Instead of a Fun Friday or Flashback Friday post, I decided in honour of Thanksgiving that I would write about the things that I'm grateful for this year. I realize that it does help to focus on all the good and interesting things that happened this year, as I have tended to perhaps complain too much about the things I disliked this year. I had some trouble mustering up a sense of gratitude for the holiday this year. In fact, I spent my Thanksgiving alone and didn't call anyone. I felt a strong need to be alone this year, just relaxing at home and cooking my own Thanksgiving meal (the grocery store makes it too easy!).

I started the day by waking up much later than I had planned (1 pm)...but I really needed the sleep. I generally operate on 5 hours of sleep every day and then crash on my days off. This one was no different. My family's Thanksgiving tradition is watching the Westminister Dog Show, so I was pleased that I caught the last half of it. I missed the category that features my favourite dogs (Labradors and Golden Retrievers), but it was fun to watch, anyway. I did see a dog that caught my interest: the Tibetan sheep dog, I think it's called.

My Thanksgiving meal came late (4 pm), but I didn't mind. I put on my favourite Christmas CD ("The Bells of Dublin" by the Chieftains), lit candles and offered God my gratitude for the small blessings of this year. Then it was a slow, deliberate dinner. Afterwards, I watched The Moses Code, which I'll review next week.

For now, here's a recap on all the things I'm grateful for this year:

* In January, I was wavering on whether or not to go to Vancouver BC again for the Young Adult event...but I was glad that I did. It was fun being together again and putting on an awesome worship service that I still think fondly of today. It was also fun carpooling up there and getting to know the other Young Adults from Portland better in our conversations on the trip up and back.

* Also in January, I am grateful for Vanessa, who let me ride along when she went to Spokane to visit friends. She even offered to drive me to Coeur d'Alene so I could spend a day there, and then pick me back up. While there, the snow started falling and soon became a winter wonderland. It caused problems and one of her tire chains broke, causing a lot of damage to her car. The huge snowstorm caused us to delay getting back, and then she had to get her car fixed. It was an adventure and she was a real trouper through it all.

* In February, when my co-worker just started yelling at me for stupid reasons, it tested my restraint. I wasn't entirely successful. However, during that month, I happened to be reading "A New Earth" by Eckhart Tolle and soon came across the chapter on "pain-bodies" and how some people are just itching for a fight. By fighting back, you only feed their craving. To turn it around, you have to be nice and treat them with kindness. In other words, do the very opposite of what they expect. During this month, I received the intuitive guidance to put the co-worker's name in a drawing that the office does every month. The intuitive voice told me that if I put her name in with a compliment on something nice that she did for me, her name would be drawn that day. I did just that. When the slip of paper was drawn, I just knew the office manager would read her name, and so it happened. The co-worker was so stunned, she couldn't look me in the eye or even speak to me. In fact, for the rest of day, she avoided me! Weird.

* I'm grateful to the Sam Adams campaign for being the first to contact me about volunteering on his campaign for Mayor. I had sent in my resume to two other candidates for different positions but his campaign was the first to contact me. It was great to meet the man who would be elected mayor, and to work on his campaign. I especially enjoyed getting to know his campaign manager Jennifer Yocum, who has a great smile and sense of humour. She's a smart lady and made it fun to volunteer at the office.

* I'm grateful to The Oregonian for featuring a story on the Writer's Dojo and its founder Jeff Selin. Soon after the article appeared, I made arrangements to become a member. Though my volunteering on a campaign kept me from going every Saturday in September, October, and November...it is nice to have a place to go to, where I can write. With politics behind me, I will spend most of my Saturdays there every month working on one of three major writing projects with a goal to finish by May 2009.

* I'm grateful to Charles Lewis for sending me the best piece of campaign literature I had ever seen...an eight page scrapbook that changed my vote and support from one of his opponents for City Council to his campaign. As I learned from reading that intro literature, to volunteering on his campaign, to our few conversations, he is the best kind of person for elected office. He doesn't see himself as a politician, more as a community activist. His motives for running were for the right reasons, spelled out on his sign: Actions Speak Louder Than Words. Most impressive of all is that he is about seven weeks older than I am, yet far more accomplished. Though he didn't win (this time), I hope he will run again for political office. And I'd love to be a part of that campaign (if I'm still living in Portland). Because I volunteered on his campaign, I got to see a lot of cool neighbourhoods and houses, and meet interesting people. I'm not a big time phonebanker, but because I believe in his ideals and who he is as a person, I was honored to make the pitch for him in phone call after phone call the last week of the campaign.

* I'm grateful to the Clintons for campaigning in Oregon for the May primary. Because the Democratic race didn't end early, it put Oregon's late date primary in play. This meant that I got to meet Chelsea finally (though our paths crossed in 2000 when I was on a tour of the West Wing, and she had been seen partying in Buckhead when I lived there in the early part of this decade, and we have a mutual friend in common), as well as Bill Clinton. I find it truly incredible that I have now met all three of them (I met Hillary at booksignings in 1996 and 2003). When Clinton spoke at Lincoln High School in Portland back in April, I was shocked to find that I had VIP seats. That had to be the doing of my Spiritual Guide, pulling strings somewhere in the ether. Often times, I feel like my life has a sort of "Forrest Gump" quality to it. The magical nature of my ability to cross paths with so many famous people is amusing in one aspect, but frustrating in another. Frustrating because in the grand scheme of things, the meeting is fleeting and doesn't lead anywhere. Why it's easier to "manifest" meeting a famous person but not a dream job is the one thing I'm struggling to understand. However, that doesn't mean I'm not grateful. I love that I have some odd ability to make a request to the universe that I want to meet so and so, and then see it happen in reality. It gives me a little evidence that this law of attraction stuff is no fluke.

* I'm grateful to the Obama campaign for holding a huge rally in Portland the Sunday before the primary. It attracted well over 70,000 people and I had never seen anything like that multitude before. It was an incredibly magical day and one of the best days of my life. What made it such a great day was that Christine came along with me. She has accompanied me to a couple election night parties as well and I enjoy her presence very much. She's smart with a knack to always tell me some interesting fact I've never heard before. She feeds me brain food that way and that's a rare quality. Too bad she's in love with someone else. I'm happy for them and hope the long distance relationship works out. However, the scenario also reminds me of an unbreakable pattern I have with women all my life that I need to solve once and for all. But that's a post for another day, if I'd ever be open enough to share it with you. I might just save it for private conversations with friends, instead.

* Nathan and Lisa deserve a lot of my gratitude. When my plans for a Young Adult retreat in Coeur d'Alene fell through, I knew that I would be moping around my apartment over Memorial Day weekend if I didn't go somewhere. Thanks to Bush's stimulus check ($600), I was able to afford the best vacation I took all year: San Diego. My flight down changed planes in Las Vegas, so I got to see that crazy city from the air and the airport. It was great to be with one of my best friends again, having our deep and diverse conversations that run the gamut. I also appreciated the advice he offered, the easy ability to laugh when we're together, meeting his two year old son for the first time, getting to know his wife a little bit more (I hadn't seen her since their wedding eight years earlier), and seeing the beautiful sights around San Diego. I also enjoyed making the trip to Old Town San Diego and being reminded of Santa Fe, then taking the trolley to the border with Mexico. The highlight of the trip, however, was the return to Portland via Amtrak, where I got to relax and enjoy the scenery. It was definitely needed as a soul boost.

* In June, I got to see Coeur d'Alene again and it was awesome! Very beautiful place (in winter and in summer). Now, my goal is to see it in the fall...when leaves have changed colour. Maybe next September/October?

* In July, I went home after two years away and met my sister's fiance as well as get all my things out of storage to sort through and give away or throw away. It was great to purge the unnecessary out of my life. Though I didn't get rid of everything, I am down to 200 boxes of things. The week it took to go through my things, while being eaten by mosquitos and hurrying before the rains came helped burn into my mind a desire not to buy things. Even today, I'm disgusted with buying much of anything. If I can't eat it, I basically don't want it. Granted, there's always some DVD or CD I'll want for my collection, but as far as clothes or kitchen stuff, or any decorations, I'll pass. Books, on the other hand, are still a hard habit to break. I managed to get rid of over 300 books and limit buying any new ones to one or two per month, but until I have a home of my own, I will be more strict about what I do buy.

* In September, I wavered on going to the Young Adult retreat until the last possible moment. What enticed me to go was Erik Skoor asking if I wanted to participate in a Mystery Dinner Theater. That intrigued me. I also wanted to meet the Young Adult Minister for the Church, plus I needed to get away for a weekend back at the place where I do feel a sense of peace, awe and wonder. I'm glad that I went. The Mystery Dinner Theater was so much fun and I even laughed about it during mental breaks from stressful moments in the workday. It's nice to have that memory to draw upon when I need it. I still laugh when I think about the bit of improv acting by those of us who participated. It was especially fun to see the concerned look on childrens faces who didn't know what was going on when people dropped dead with fake blood on them!

* I'm grateful for my parents trip to Oregon in October. Though they picked a bad time for me to come (right in the heart of campaign season), it turned out to be a great time. The weather was unusually gorgeous. In fact, they completely missed out on the rain in Oregon and only got hit with it on their last night in Seattle before flying back to Atlanta. It was great to spend two days on the Oregon coast with my parents and brother, then the drive along the Columbia Gorge and around Mount Hood with a picnic on the way. It makes me wish that I had a car so I can do more local traveling. I probably saw more of Oregon in four days than I have in two years.

* I'm truly grateful most of all to everyone who voted for Barack Obama and the Democrats this year. I'm glad they didn't let Rovian-negative campaigning scare them into voting for the party that brought our nation to the brink of ruin. I consider 2008 a vindication for 2000. I also realize that we most likely would not have a President Barack Obama without a President George W. Bush. Obama came out of nowhere so fast, it feels like we're watching someone with true destiny to lead us out of the wilderness into a more hopeful future.

Because of that victory, it capped what will be remembered as the greatest political season of our lifetime. I doubt that we'll ever see anything as truly wonderful and amazing and energetic as this election year. His victory gives me hope. In a deep soul search about my own future, I have decided that if following the path I'm meant to be on leads me away from Portland, I will take it. If the choice boils down to: staying in Portland with my current job versus my dream job elsewhere, I will take my dream job. I love Portland, will always love Portland...but I will not sacrifice my future dreams any longer in a job that has the serious possibility of killing me from depression. The truth is, I'm an International guy who loves our government. I would be great in a job where I work with foreigners and representing our government. It's what I wanted when I left BYU for my Washington Seminar in 2000. The Bush years disgusted me with a government I didn't recognize...but with my party back in power, I'm ready to join. We need a government of young idealists again. With a president as cool as Obama, he'll make it easy to have pride in our government, in our nation.

Finally, I should say a big thank you to all of you who read my blog, especially those who read it regularly...despite my super long posts. I appreciate your interest and I hope you also found many things to be grateful for this year.


A few items I forgot to mention:

* My friend Frank and his family coming to visit their friends in California and Oregon. Though I happened to get sick the same day he was in town, it was nice to spend an afternoon with them.

* This year, I got to see the Retrofits at the Doug Fir Lounge and Eartha Kitt and Bill Maher at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Each in their own ways, have helped to brighten up my year. It was especially a dream come true to see a legend like Eartha Kitt on stage. And yes, she still got it!

In the future, it's still my hope to see at least one U2 concert, see Tina Turner on tour (I think she's officially retired, though...but you never know about celebrity retirements), and go to a Youssou N'Dour concert.

* Two people I knew in the past contacted me this year. One, a fellow sailor I knew in La Maddalena, Sardinia who I tried hard to be friends with because he was the rare sailor who could hold an intelligent conversation. Unfortunately, when he lived in La Madd, he was arrogant who looked down on everyone and drank a lot. Even the chaplain was concerned that he would drink himself to death. We exchanged a couple emails this past summer as he found my blog in his search for contact info with the chaplain. Life turned out well for him. In fact, he's doing much better than I am...in a career, married with a son, and publishing an extensive biographical encyclopedia on Nazi Party officials (he was always a WWII history buff...but not a neo-Nazi as some might think). He wanted to contact the chaplain we knew to thank him for "saving his life." Because I keep in touch with people, I did have the contact info and was glad to be of service.

The second person was my best friend in the 10th grade at Fulda American High School in Germany. I hadn't heard from him since 1991 when I was woken from sleep in my Navy "A" School to take a phone call. How he found me when I didn't even know the phone number baffled me. Why he couldn't have sent a letter was another mystery. The officials didn't like that I got a personal (non-emergency) call. I hadn't heard from him in probably over a year at that point. Now, he got ahold of me through the Classmates website, though he didn't say much. Just enough to let me know about a multi-class reunion for Fulda American High School alumni next year. Not sure if I'm going. I think it's supposed to be in Kentucky. Honestly, I'd be too ashamed to show up. I'm so far from where I thought I would be at this point in my life, that I don't want to face old classmates from over 20 years ago. However, if my 10th grade crush Vicki Garcia is single, then I might be enticed to go. I had so many good times with her.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just wanted to wish you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving!

Taking our beloved president as a model, we should all strive to become one with the turkey bird!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Birthday to the Nickster of Virginia

My best friend Nicholas turns 36 today. We've been friends since 1984, when we bonded over being Air Force dependents at Logan Fontenelle Junior High School in Bellevue, Nebraska. We had the same math class and lunch period together, as well as the same group of friends (all of us being sons of Air Force fathers and of an artistic mindset). He lived near my house and we shared an interest in art class, the V miniseries and series, James Bond, and Ghostbusters (I didn't learn until years later that we had both dressed up as a Ghostbuster for Halloween 1984).

One of the most valuable things in life are the friendships you maintain over the course of a lifetime. I still shake my head when I think about where the 24 years went. Though he didn't become a comic book artist like I thought he would, it was a surprise to see him discover a deep interest in the Civil War...enough to get a Master's Degree in it. I was more interested in the topic when I was in elementary school than currently, but it's nice to have his expertise to keep my interest alive. One thing that has remained consistent is his interest in the medieval period. Back in Junior High, we both admired the film Ladyhawke. The medieval era is an interest that I share not only with Nicholas, but also with my other best friend Nathan.

So, here's wishing him a very happy birthday. Celebrate in style!

(Psst! If you're reading this...uh, the birthday card and gift might not arrive today but it's on the way! I completely spaced it because last Friday, I thought I had another two weeks before Thanksgiving).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bush In Your Box

The Bush family and I would like to announce that my annual Christmas card and newsletter has entered the national mail-stream today. Be sure to check your mailbox soon for the highly-acclaimed, anxiously-awaited newsworthy newsletter by yours truly. In case you're wondering why the Bush family is involved...you shall soon find out. I couldn't let their last year in the White House pass without some sort of tribute!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Music Video Monday: George Michael



For today's music video, I'm selecting my favourite George Michael song, "Love is in Need of Love Today." He has released about three "Greatest Hits" cds, and none of them feature this song from 1988. I'm glad to have found it on YouTube.

This song always brings me back to 1988 when I was new to Atlanta. Our family was staying at the temporary living quarters on Ft. McPherson while waiting for my parents to get a loan approved to buy a house in Stone Mountain. Since school had already started and my dad heard that the schools around Ft. McPherson were not very good (high crime risk), he enrolled my brother and I in Clarkston High School in DeKalb County, near where our home would be. This meant that my brother and I had to commute to school by the MARTA rail system and bus.

So, during that commute, I listened to my walkman with the radio station (Power 99) and one of the songs I really loved was George Michael's "Love is in Need of Love Today." I generally didn't like his ballads, which he seemed fond of ("Father Figure", "One More Try", "Kissing a Fool"), so this was the first ballad of his that I truly loved. Other songs that played on the radio during that time when I commuted to school on MARTA were "A Groovy Kind of Love" by Phil Collins, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin, and "Sweet Child o' Mine" by Guns and Roses.

It was an interesting time, commuting through a new city (the largest city I had lived in at that point) without my parents along. It was during this time that I saw the Atlanta Olympic bid logo everywhere and thought how absurd it was that Atlanta might ever host the Olympic Games.

Our family had just moved from Germany. In my old high school in Germany, the girls all had a crush on George Michael and the guys all said that he was gay, which the girls refused to believe. It's funny how that turned out to be true.

As I read about the increase in racist incidents all over the country after Obama's election victory, I can't help but think that perhaps it's true that love is in desperate need of love today. Where's the love, y'all?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Learning About the Law of Attraction


On Tuesday, after the frustrating incident with the emotionally imbalanced co-worker, I had to go straight to the New Renaissance Bookshop, which is the spiritual ("New Age") bookstore in Portland. I'm probably the rare person who shops at a regular bookstore (Powells, Borders, and Barnes and Noble), an evangelical Christian bookstore, a Mormon bookstore (Deseret Books), and a New Age one. If there was a Muslim or Buddhist bookstore in Portland, you'd see me there as well. What can I say? I'm a spiritually open person...though I haven't gone into the local Scientology center to browse their books (something about taking their personality test doesn't sit well with me).

Anyhow, New Renaissance Bookshop is like a piece of heaven on earth for me. As soon as I walk in, the fragrance just hits me in the right place. Then there's the background music. All of that enhances the experience, making it one place I'm guaranteed to lose track of time and feel as though I left all the petty concerns of life behind. It truly does feel like I'm in the heavenly realm when I'm in there. The store is three Victorian-style homes connected to one another. Books on all kinds of spiritual topics, plus other merchandise from cds and dvds, to candles, yoga mats, mini shrines, meditation mats, crystals, religious icons, etc. Anything spiritual, you name it. Probably the only thing you won't find are the dark spirituality stuff (Satanism, fundamentalism). The place just oozes a powerful vibe. Back in May, when my co-worker had a verbally abusive tirade, I went to the bookstore in such a foul mood. After an hour in there, I was blissfully happy and forgot what it was that got me so angry in the first place. So, I know it's definitely the place to go to when I'm having a rough day. I don't even have to buy books. There are a few places to sit where one can read at leisure and there's even a meditation room upstairs.

On Tuesday, I found two dvds to rent. The first one "The Answer to Absolutely Everything" I watched when I got home. It's much better than "The Secret." While I liked some of the ideas in "The Secret", I thought the focus on fulfilling material desires was a bit too shallow for me. It reminded me of that time in 1996 when I went for a job interview only to realize that I was suckered into a multi-level marketing recruiting session. The guy who spoke about how great Equinox International was, said that he was in medical school and unhappy so he prayed to God and God wanted him to have a Lexus, so God led him to Equinox International (where you make your money by taking a cut of the profits of those you recruit to work for you selling the product). Then they showed a video of people whose lives were transformed by the company, with images of mega mansions with swimming pools, luxury sports cars, and exotic vacations around the world. I was so turned off, that I explained to the guy trying to recruit me into this scam that I didn't want any of those things. He said that I could use the money for good, giving it all to the poor if I wanted to. The whole thing just smelled like a scam to me, so I got the hell out of there when it was over. I later learned that the founder of Equinox International was indicted for fraud. Yeah...he was rich and lived the lifestyle because of all the suckers he conned into working for this sham operation.

Anyhow, that's what "The Secret" video reminded me of. "The Answers" seemed to be along that kind of vain, but I thought I would check it out and see. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The video features various "experts" talking about spiritual ideas, which is intercut with segments about various people who saw their lives change once they changed their attitudes. Those stories were pretty cool to hear. In one example, one man had a rough life as a teenager where he was thrown out of the house while he was still in high school. He lived in his car during his final years in high school. He said the hardest part was going to sleep at night in the backseat of his car. It was when he got the most negative thoughts and knew that it would destroy him if he continued in that vein. Somehow, he discovered a book called "Think and Grow Rich" or something like that. It changed his whole outlook. He started his own business and saw money flowing in, he got into contact with his father (whom he never really knew) and became close to that side of the family (it was his mother who threw him out of the house). It's a pretty impressive turnaround. I love stories like that...but a part of me wonders if it's really true. You never know with these things.

The message is pretty good, though. I agree with it in principle. It got to thinking about my own life and all the little miracles I've witnessed. I try to monitor my thoughts so that I don't fall into a deep despair. I had an experience once where I was dreaming about falling into a deep despair that I came face to face with Satan and it scared the living shit out of me. I woke up with my heart racing, but I got the message of the dream. Though I don't believe Satan exists, I think despair is not something God would want us to feel. Learning how our inner thoughts and desires manifest outside ourselves is worth deeper study.
On Thursday and Friday, I watched the other dvd, which is "Introducing Abraham: The Secret Behind the Secret." Esther Hicks claims to be able to channel "non-physical entities" whom she calls collectively "Abraham." She has learned much about how our world supposedly works through Abraham. It can all be summed up as "the law of attraction." The format for the DVD is an interview between one guy and "Abraham" speaking through Esther.

One of the statements that had me hit the pause button to search for pen and paper was when Esther said: "the contrast inspires the clear desire." Ka-CHING! That phrase truly hit home for me in a eureka moment. Suddenly, the world became a little clearer, things made sense. Yet, I've always believed it...just forgotten about it.

She said a lot of things on the dvd that hit home for me, especially in regards to that quote. This is where the conflict with Christianity comes in and why I'm probably more "New Age" than "Christian" (if I had to choose one or the other). In basic Christian theology, God created a "perfect world" that only became flawed when Adam and Eve disobeyed his commandment that they not partake of the fruit from the tree of Good and Evil. Once they did, the world fell into "sin" and imperfection and all humanity requires the sacrifice of an atoning Saviour in order to rejoin with God someday.

I don't believe that fable / fairy tale. It doesn't make sense. Since the second grade, when I learned about evolution, my beliefs follow along more scientific lines. I believe that God created an imperfect world to begin with. This world was never perfect. It's an ongoing work of art. Evolution is part of God's plan. So is reincarnation. Evolution and reincarnation are compatable with one another. Heaven is the only true place of perfection and we all originated there. We knew before we planned our lives on earth that we were going to be tested and tried with challenges on an imperfect world. We would be subjected to weather, animals, fellow humans, disease, and hunger. We all knew this before we signed up. Yet we volunteered anyway. So, here we are...in this imperfect place. Our task is to help bring earth closer to our home in heaven. When that day arrives, when we've evolved to the point of complete spiritual awareness, I believe heaven and earth will become one.

Anyhow...what Esther said really hit home for me. Whenever we are in situations we strongly dislike or are unhappy about, all it truly is, is a reminder to us. It helps us to clarify what we do want. In heaven, where everything is perfect, we don't have contrasts between good and bad. We only know good. So, how can we truly know good if we never experience bad? So, that's how we should see challenges we face on earth. I knew that, but somehow in my current, neverending misery, I had forgotten that important lesson.

Now I know what a truly miserable work environment is like. I can start to focus on all the things that I would love in a future job. For it is what we focus on that we ultimately attract. One of the questions I've been asking God these past two years is why I landed this job? The coincidence of it made me think it was a sign of where I needed to go. Maybe that's the case, but I've fallen far behind in my personal goals. I never expected to be in this dismal situation at this point in my life. I truly hope it is all uphill from here, because I've been in a steady decline since my internship ended over eight years ago. It's time for another mountaintop experience.

One of the things Esther recommends in manifesting things into your consciousness is to think of something...anything small...and watch for it to appear in your life within minutes. She related a story of telling a skeptical lady to think of blue glass, or a butterfly, or a feather...and then she witnessed it herself within an hour of the conversation. So, I decided to try it on Saturday when I made my first "Christmas shopping excursion" of the season. I decided that I wanted to come across a lady with a green hat. I put it in my mind, went to eat lunch, then forgot all about it until I was sitting on the street car and a lady wearing a green hat sat in the seat next to me. Okay. So, I decided to try again. This time I imagined seeing a lady wearing a yellow hat. I rarely see yellow hats, so I knew this one would be tougher to pull off. After I got off the streetcar and walked several blocks...right in front of me walked a lady in a yellow hat with a group of friends! Yikes. I started getting chills. It all had to be crazy coincidence, right? So, I decided to try once again. This time, I put in mind a woman with a purple hat. However, the rest of the evening, I did come across two different girls at different places wearing a purple hat. No woman with a purple hat.

The topper of the evening was coming across the black guy in a wheelchair who was in the movie "Conversations With God." I didn't realize it was him at first. He was rolling along while talking with a lady and I walked past him, thinking, "he looks familiar." Then it hit me...he's the dude in "Conversations With God"!!! He was long behind me and I didn't want to run back and interrupt his conversation with the lady he was with, but I was all smiles on the way home. There is something to this "Law of Attraction" stuff. I will be testing it out some more as I go to St. Johns today for a long writing session at the Writers Dojo, where I haven't been since September.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

So Nice to be Loved!




I saw this video and was amused. Bush is the only one who doesn't shake hands and doesn't make eye contact with the other world leaders at the G20 Conference. Have things really got that bad for our beloved and beleaguered prez-uh-dint?

In an essay on the Huffington Post, one writer who admits to being a Bush critic offered a defense that Bush, as the host, was more concerned with finding his marker and didn't have time for pleasantries. Well...that might be the case, but we're talking about a president who had been obsessed with images (his Top Gun landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln, his bullhorn moment at Ground Zero, his speech in front of St. Charles Cathedral in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, etc). Did he know how it might look...or perhaps no longer cares?

A few years ago, I read an interesting psycho-analysis about Bush. He has a tendency to create enemies. It's like he attracts it into his life. Perhaps subconsciously, he wants to be hated. Well, he got his wish. The disdain of world leaders who ignored him like a persona-non-grata is now on video for all to see. Quite a contrast from the previous president, who received a standing ovation at the opening session of the United Nations after being publically humiliated with the Lewinsky scandal and the Ken Starr Report.

Speaking of the idea of a person attracting enemies, I want to bring up my emotionally unstable co-worker I had written about a few days ago. On Thursday, one lady came in to ask about my co-worker's time sheet. My supervisor was helping a customer with a question. The three ladies and the customer are all Mormons, mind you. Anyhow, my co-worker just went off on the lady who works in the payroll department. She didn't like being questioned about how she indicated her time off to attend a funeral earlier this week. I was so embarrassed to be in that room, witnessing this angry lady getting upset and yelling over a simple matter...especially with the customer in the same room. He looked horrified. I was upset about it, so I complained to the office manager, who shrugged it off like "what else is new?"

I'm totally baffled by management's toleration of one person's emotional instability and verbal abuse of co-workers. This angry lady had no shame going off on a fellow co-worker (and fellow Mormon) in front of a customer. She wasn't embarrassed at all. What does that tell you? If we were a functional and professional office, this co-worker would have been fired ages ago (especially after the incident where she had supposedly destroyed a telephone in one of her rages). Earlier this year, they had fired one lady (who also had a negative attitude and was generally a miserable person to deal with) and hired a terrific lady. It proves to me how easy the office can change by getting rid of those who create a hostile work environment. That's all it takes.

In my post of several days ago, I offered my theory on why this woman is so unhappy (she's physically unattractive, overweight, in a low wage job, little job skills, and a member of a religion that tells her that marriage and family is the reason we're here...and she has little prospects of ever finding someone who would love her). I also wanted to say that there are different types of people in how they manage their inner pains. Some lash out at anyone for any reason. Because they are miserable, they want everyone around them to be miserable. You probably heard the expression: "when she's not happy, no one's happy!"

I actually hate people like that. It's very ego-based. They are unhappy so they don't want anyone else to be happy. Thus, they make any place they are to be miserable for everyone. These are the type of people you don't want in your workspace. There should be no toleration of it at all. Because this co-worker has a tendency to lash out at anyone for any reason, I rarely talk to her or acknowledge her existence. I basically treat her like she's invisible. Maybe that's not the right thing to do, but I also believe that if she doesn't respect other people, why should anyone respect her? She has only herself to blame for being the most unpopular person at work.

The other type of person doesn't let their private pains affect how they treat other people. In fact, this type is more likely to do the opposite. Because they are lonely, they make friends with other people. Because they feel ignored, they do positive things to get attention. You know what they say about clowns being sad on the inside, thus wanting to bring a smile to others. Comics are the same way. They want to make people laugh. The best example of this type that I can think of is Princess Diana. In 1992 when her first authorized biography came out, the public was stunned to learn of her loneliness in the fairy tale marriage. She was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, yet internally, she had low self esteem. Did she lash out at people? There's a reason why she became the most popular person in the world. In her private pain, she reached out to other people in the hope of making their lives better so she can feel better.

I wish I could share this with my angry co-worker, but she'd only lash out at me. Who needs the grief? I don't tolerate abuse of any kind. It stems from my childhood of standing up to bullies when no one else would. No one hazed me in the Navy. Several guys had mentioned a desire to hit me at times, but they held back. Why? I've heard about other guys getting hit or hazed, but never me. I think it's because I project an air of "don't mess with me!" I just want peace. Sure, there might be some conflicts and battle of wills, or disagreements. But there's a right way to discuss differences. One accomplishes nothing by verbally abusing other people...especially over something so routine as a time sheet.

I'm debating whether or not to file an official grievance letter to management. Getting rid of this co-worker would improve the office environment tremendously. The negative energy she emits every day takes a lot of effort to fight off. I've noticed it because on days when she's absent, the air at work is lighter. I can definitely feel the change. It's remarkable. Perhaps that's the greatest lesson I learned this year: there is truth to the idea that we all emit energy that others pick up on. It's grossly unfair for me, as I spend much of my free time in pursuit of spiritual knowledge and self-improvement, to come to a hostile work environment where a co-worker who hates herself and is miserable about her lot in life does everything she can to make it miserable for the rest of us. I've said it before and I'll say it again...getting rid of her would be the one thing that improves the office atmosphere. Much of the negative energy in that place would be gone.

Of course, management feels sorry for her because they know she has worked in the same job for 17 years and is unlikely to land a new job. It's charitable, really, but a sort of martyrdom thing. Why should co-workers have to deal with her abuse and anger just because management feels sorry for her? Firing her would be the best thing to happen to her, because it would force her to change and it would push her out into the scary world. For a woman approaching 40 who has never left her parents' home (both of her parents have passed away, her father most recently), I can see why she might be scared. But like the little birds that are thrown out of the nest by mother bird, it's fly or die time.

Allowing her to remain in the same job she's worked for 17 years and abusing co-workers and customers does nothing for office morale. It's the reason why this place is the most dysfunctional and unprofessional office I've ever worked in. I'm certain, however, that if she ever verbally abused a manager (which she has never done), she would be gone by day's end. See...she's smart in a way. She knows she can verbally abuse non-managers without punishment, but she would never dare lose her cool to a manager. Maybe I should install a video camera for the next time she has a screaming tirade and then post it on YouTube. There's an idea!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Flashback Friday: Tracy Chapman

Recently, I was wondering "what ever happened to Tracy Chapman?" when a few moments later, her newest song played on the radio (the catchy "Sing For You"). To this day, she still holds the record of having what I consider to be "the best debut album ever." Her first release, Tracy Chapman, was released 20 years ago. Yup. 1988. Don't I feel old!

When I lived in Germany as a teenager, I was such a music fan. I'd spend too much of my allowance on cassette tapes of my favourite groups. Anytime a major release was due in the PX (the Post Exchange, which is the military version of Target), I would go to the music section with my allowance to snatch it up. They had two prices for cassette tapes: $6.75 and $7.50. The higher price was reserved for artists like Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Van Halen. Lesser knowns would be priced at $6.75. Well, one day in 1988, I remember seeing Tracy Chapman being sold for $7.50, which I thought was odd, because I had never heard of her before. That price always stood out in my mind for some reason. Why did she merit a higher price?

I didn't buy the cassette until much later, when I was back in the States and was a member of the BMG Music Club. However, back in the late summer of 1988, MTV showed her video "Fast Car" and I really liked that song. When I finally heard her entire album, I was shocked by how good it was. Who was this woman who just came out of nowhere with what I consider to be "the perfect album"? Not a single song that I did not like (nearly every album I've heard has a throw-away song or two or three or five). I loved them all. Especially "Talkin' Bout a Revolution" (to this day, I always picture this song being Jesus' anthem). I love that song. Don't you know that talkin' bout a revolution sounds like a whisper?

"Baby Can I Hold You" is a powerful ballad that still gives me chills. If you've ever had a bad day and needed someone to hold on to, this song is like a balm to your soul.

"Mountains O' Things" is about our runaway materialism with a unique sound. Its actually the perfect commentary on our society, how people fill their lives with material goods at the expense of human relationships.

"Why" reminds you of a child who asks ceaseless questions that you can't answer. "Why do babies starve when there's enough to feed the world? Why are there so many of us? Why are they called peacemakers when their aim is to kill? Why is a woman still not safe, even when she's in her own home?" Why, indeed!

In my senior year, one young teacher I had a crush on said that she loved this album as well, but could never listen to it because it always made her sad! I found that amusing...the idea that you can say you love something you don't want to listen to. But this album does pack a lot in 11 songs: poverty and materialism, violence and powerlessness, rising up and realizing one's power, taking a car to escape unpleasant realities, etc.

The problem with recording such a perfect album (especially your first one) is that the follow-up can never reach the same impact. Her Crossroads was underwhelming. I bought that one, but no song really stands out in my mind. She did have a catchy single in 1996, "Give Me One Reason" but I haven't bought any of her albums since the first two. I'm not sure if I'll get her latest one. Whenever I want to listen to Chapman, I'm completely satisfied with her debut album. Even after twenty years, it's still powerful, timely, and a true classic. I never get tired of it. Fortunately, she's not alone in making a perfect debut album and poor follow-ups. I also love Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D'Arby and Macy Gray On How Life Is. But I never bought their follow-up albums either. It's tough to achieve perfection on the first album and they seemed cursed ever after. But at least we can enjoy all the talent, effort, and craft they poured into getting their first release right.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Geena Davis as Commander-in-Chief

I recently finished watching Commander-in-Chief, the short-lived show on ABC from a few years ago. When it aired (2005-2006), I only watched a few episodes but never got into it. The reason was because there was already an excellent television show about the White House (that would be The West Wing, of course). I didn't understand why Hollywood thought a competing show about the first female president would work. When it premiered to critical acclaim, I knew it wouldn't last. My theory at the time was that the American viewing public would not watch it because of the ongoing and more established show regarding the Jed Bartlett Administration on NBC. It just seemed a bit much to ask TV viewers to accept TWO fictional presidents on TV.

A friend of mine agreed with me in that he thought the only reason Hollywood made this show was to prep us for a President Hillary. It certainly seemed that way. There is a theory that pop culture tends to pave the way for ideas to become more mainstream. When people are used to an idea, often drilled home on televised images, the resistance naturally falls away. This is probably why cultural conservatives are so anti-Hollywood. They know they can't compete in the long run with the ideas put out by our entertainment industry. After the election, I read an article which pointed out the Cosby Show as being vital for Obama's victory a couple weeks ago. Many of those young voters grew up watching the Cosby Show, which showed an educated, middle class black family that wasn't too different from the average white family. Actually, I think Roseanne more accurately reflects middle America. Cosby (I mean, the Huxtable family) was more affluent than most Americans.

Anyhow...after the Republican convention and the whole Palin feeding frenzy, I remembered that I had never watched the entire Commander-in-Chief but wanted to. Now that the West Wing is also ancient history, it seems like now would be a great time to bring back Commander-in-Chief. I had wanted to watch the entire show on dvd before the election, but I just got too busy and finally watched the last episode (#18) on Monday.

The show was excellent. In some ways, I liked it better than the West Wing. The main differences, besides the obvious, is that the West Wing was mostly about the president's staff and how they work day to day in the West Wing of the White House. The president is merely a supporting player in an ensemble cast. In contrast, Commander-in-Chief is about the president and her family. They are the stars of the show. We only see a few staff members, namely her press secretary, pollster, and chief of staff (an actor with the closest physical resemblence to play Barack Obama in a movie). One of the annoying things about the West Wing are the background distractions of too many people walking the halls of the West Wing. When I visited the West Wing, it wasn't crowded like the show since most people are working in their offices and not roaming the hallways. It's not nearly so crowded in the Commander-in-Chief White House. Also, the show really focuses on a lot of foreign policy crises, hence the appropriate title (instead of Madam President).

Before I watched the show, I thought Hillary Clinton was the model for the role. However, as I learned by watching, they made Mackenzie Allen (Geena Davis) an Independent who was a chancellor of a university and a member of Congress before that. So, at least part of it was modeled after Condoleezza Rice (she was provost of Stanford University when Bush tapped her for foreign policy tutoring during his 2000 campaign).

The most interesting thing about this show (remember...it came out in 2005, which was before Palin ran for governor) is that the Republican president had selected her as a running mate only to get the women's vote. When he's faced with the grim news that he might not survive his brain aneurysm (sp? If I remembered that episode correctly), he asks her to stand down so that the Speaker of the House (Donald Sutherland) can assume the Vice Presidency and thus the Presidency. Weird. Would McCain have done the same thing, had he become President? Discard Palin at the first opportunity?

However, Palin is no Mackenzie Allen. Geena Davis is perfect in the role as the first female chief executive. She knows how to balance femininity with toughness to make the difficult life and death situations (which happen quite frequently over the course of 18 episodes). She's completely believable as president and this show lets viewers know the kinds of decisions that must be made on any given day. I watched about half of the series before the election and thus why I grew concerned that Palin might be a heartbeat away from the Presidency. I simply couldn't see her making the kinds of decisions that President Allen makes on the show. Granted, it's merely a show, but it's pretty realistic. Geena Davis plays Allen as a smart lady, not afraid to go toe to toe with military brass who don't respect her (because she's a woman), overseas terrorists, and foreign diplomats. Even the Speaker of the House underestimates her, and he has presidential aspirations.

The meat of the show, for me, are the constant back and forth between the President and the Speaker of the House. It shows how rivals can be respectful in conversation with one another, even helping each other in the best interest of the nation, while still scheming behind the scenes to undermine the opponent's credibility. That presents human nature at its truest, I believe. People aren't all black and white. You have to appreciate the nuance. Politics is like a dance. You may not like your adversary, but there's a sort of rhythm or art to the maneuvering so that one comes out ahead.

In an early episode (if I remember correctly...so much has happened since I saw the first disc), staffers freaked out when President Allen wanted to dance with a foreign head of state. They said that it's never been done and would look weird. Only because we've never had a female president. The mini-faux-scandal reminded me of some of the ridiculous things staffers worried about in D.C. Everything is about poll numbers and winning reelection, and the pollster (played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who has an uncanny ability to kill any show he acts in) has no firm views he's willing to take a stand for...it's all about what polls well.

What I found unrealistic about the show, however, is the idea that America would be led by a president who is not a member of either party. Only Washington was unaffiliated with a political party. All of his successors belonged to parties (Federalist, Democratic-Republican, Whig, and Republican). Given our political system and how entrenched the two parties are, I just can't foresee a day when we'll have a president who is truly independent of party. This made governing difficult for President Allen because she had to contend with both Republicans and Democrats to pass her agenda. She had no base of support to rely on, which would've made running for "reelection" difficult for her.

Perhaps what's most interesting about this show is that when President Allen reviews possible replacements for the Vice President who resigned, two candidates she considers are a Hispanic governor of Texas and her African American Chief of Staff. Someone comments that there is no way the Americans would accept a ground-breaking twofer at one time (having a white woman and black man on the same ticket). Remember, this show aired in 2005-2006. Does Hollywood have the ability to see the future? Or are the movies so powerful that the ideas presented on screen have the ability to manifest in reality? This has happened many times before, particularly in 1997, when Wag the Dog was released during the holiday season and it featured a president who was caught having an affair with a girl who wore a beret. One month later, the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, and newsmedia found photos of Monica wearing a beret. The movie Election seemed to foretell the 2000 election. Just weird little coincidences, you know?

If you have never watched Commander-in-Chief and want good drama now that Sarah Palin is safely back in Alaska and nearly out of the spotlight, I highly recommend renting these DVDs. After you've seen Geena Davis as the first female president, you will never again see someone like Palin as being remotely "presidential." Hillary Clinton, yes. Condoleezza Rice, possibly. Sarah Palin? Hell no! Give me Geena Davis anyday.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Awkward Transitions

It's been two weeks since the historic election, and already it feels like ancient history. Since then, the Obamas made their first visit to the Bush family at the White House for what looked like an awkward meeting between Bush and Obama. The media had a field day quoting what Obama wrote of Bush in his book "The Audacity of Hope." My favourite is a line I posted in the sidebar on the right of the five best descriptions of George W. Bush: "you can easily imagine him owning the car dealership down the road." Yeah, Bush does have that insincere used car salesman vibe going for him.

It wasn't the only awkward meeting between Bush and other politicians. Eight years ago, it was his turn to pay a visit to the outgoing president at the White House:

And of course, the meeting with the opponent who won 500,000 more votes than he did:

And how about his meeting with Putin where he claimed to have seen into the depth of the Russian president's soul and found a soulmate. Does he regret saying that?

Last week, the news reported that French President Nicolas Sarkozy had apparently discussed with Putin about the Russian invasion of Georgia. Sarkozy got him to reconsider when he asked Putin if he wanted the world to think of him as another George Bush. Apparently, that comment worked and Putin decided not to overthrow the government in Georgia. Wow...Nicolas Sarkozy is GOOD. He impresses me more and more. It's funny to think that Palin could be fooled into believing that he would call her. I'm sure if he called her, though, it would be more for an invitation to a menage-a-trois with him and his beautiful wife Carla Bruni...NOT to have a superficial sit-down chat about international politics, a topic in which Palin has proven to be grossly inept.


In other news, I thought it was interesting that the sales of guns spiked after the election, with some gun store owners claiming that they are even getting "Obama supporters" coming in to buy guns "before they are banned." Now...does this make sense?!? The person who made that claim said that people were wearing Obama buttons, so thus why he thought of them as Obama supporters. Duh! Of course they're going to wear an Obama button to buy a gun! They don't want to look like a crazy, rightwing, racist idiot buying a gun after the election of the first black president of the USA. Anyone can wear a political button. That doesn't make them a supporter.

Hell...if I were the type to frequent adult bookstores and buy porn, I would go in wearing George W. Bush and Christian Coalition buttons. Why not? But, rest assured, I don't go to those types of establishments. Just giving a comparison on how easy it is to pretend to be someone that you're not because you don't want the person thinking you're part of the fringe.

I find it highly doubtful that a bunch of Obama supporters would make a run on gun sales in the days after the election. To me, this news story is an indication of what we're in for over the next four to eight years: an increase in domestic terrorism, lynchings, and other acts of racist violence against black churches, neighbourhoods, and people. It's a shame, but it's the reality of our country when one party sees no problem exploiting racist resentments as a desperate way to retain control of the White House.

I wish people would camp out in Lafayette Park in D.C. and shout slogans all day until it drives the Bush family nuts. Kind of like how Republican operatives chanted outside of the Vice President's residence at the Naval Observatory in 2000 for Gore to "get out of Cheney's house!" for two months before the scheduled date. Payback is a bitch! But, I suppose Democrats have better things to do with their time and are more respectful of the Constitution than Republicans are. That's a relief.

Sometimes I wonder if Republicans who play nasty ever realize how ugly they are when they do such things. If you can't win a fair fight, maybe that's an indication that your ideology is severely lacking. It is Republican philosophy that needs to be changed. America is not a "center-right country." It's a moderate country that does realize when one party or the other overreached. In 1994, Americans thought Clinton overreached, so they voted in the Republicans to take control of Congress for the first time in 40 years. Since 2006, Americans have been burned out on Republicans so for the past two elections, they have voted for the Democrats. It is my hope that Obama knows that he can't afford to overreach. He must play his cards right on this election and work to build a long-term Democratic governing majority. The Republicans cannot be trusted with power until they euthanize the influence of the neo-cons and the religious extremists in their ranks.

On 60 Minutes last Sunday, Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay and to rule out torture as policy. That's a huge step in the right direction. My worry is that if the military refuses to close Guantanamo Bay, what then? Will we have another "day in Dallas" moment in our history? I hope not. My guess is that many people in the military realize just how bad it is for Americans to have the stains of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Bagram on our record. Such policies of torture and unlawful detention makes things difficult for Americans traveling overseas who might be taken into custody for whatever reason and denied the right to American counsel. Is there any American who would want to stay in a Turkish prison? Watch Midnight Express if you think it's a joke.

There's another cool report that I read about Obama when he visited the White House. Apparently, he was a little bothered that the Lincoln Bedroom has a flat screen television in it. He vows to have it removed and I think that would be awesome. As he said, who would watch SportsCenter if they were the guest staying in the Lincoln Bedroom? There's a kind of sacredness to that room where you should respect it and if anything, read the Gettysburg Address that's displayed in there. It is kind of interesting that a Democrat holds Lincoln's memory more sacred than the Republican who had the flatscreen TV installed. Even more ironic, Bush is the history major while Obama was the high school basketball player.

Justin Timberlake might bring sexy back, but Obama is bringing R-E-S-P-E-C-T back (to the White House). Bush got served!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Music Video Monday: Robbie Williams


Since we're coming off a James Bond weekend, in which the latest film in the series has grossed over $70 in three days, today's Music Video Monday will feature Robbie Williams' Bond-esque "Millennium" video. The song came out in 1999 and samples the classic Bond song "You Only Live Twice" by Nancy Sinatra. It's no secret that Robbie Williams idolized James Bond and might harbor a secret wish to play Bond in a film or two someday. This video makes his bid, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Maybe he can be tapped to sing a theme song.

Certainly, the Bond series needs help in coming up with catchy songs. The 1980s was the only decade in which I loved all the Bond theme songs: ("For Your Eyes Only" Sheena Easton; "All Time High" Rita Coolidge; "A View to a Kill" Duran Duran; "The Living Daylights" a-ha; and "Licence to Kill" by Gladys Knight). Beyond those songs, I like Madonna's "Die Another Day", Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die", Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better", Louis Armstrong's "We Have All the Time in the World", Nancy Sinatra's song mentioned earlier, and of course Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger" and "Diamonds Are Forever."

During the end credits of the latest Bond, there was an instrumental song that played, which kept me in the theater as people cleared out. I love that music style. I don't know how to call it, other than I think it has a kind of cool bossa nova style to it. I'm kind of getting into bossa nova and would love to hear more of it. Why can't the Bond producers come up with a catchy theme song? They should ask Sting to write the one for the next film. Perhaps he can come up with something similar to his brilliant "Desert Rose" single.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Candidates for Secretary of State

According to reports on the Huffington Post, Obama is seriously considering Hillary Clinton for his Secretary of State. The question is...does she want it...and if she does, why? She would be giving up a safe Senate seat and the chance to eventually become Senate Majority Leader...and possibly be as influential as Senator Ted Kennedy. She may not be the first female president, but she has several options. I've heard other reports that she might want to run for Governor of New York in 2010, but I don't see that happening. Maybe she secretly wants to be a Supreme Court Justice, but I don't see that as a serious option, either. She would be colleagues with her fellow Yale Law School classmate Clarence Thomas (and who would want that?).

If she does give up her Senate seat to become Secretary of State, I would be convinced that she never really wanted to be Senator in the first place. Perhaps she only saw it as a stepping stone to the presidency, but now that Obama will be our next president, she wants the next best thing. I have no doubts that she'll be a good one. She's well traveled and well respected around the world. She'll do much to reverse the bad impressions that Bush and his appointees have left on foreign governments.

However, in weighing pros and cons, I think there's an even better candidate for Secretary of State.

And that person would be New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, an also-ran in the Democratic primary. He had the best political resume of all the candidates but failed to find traction for his campaign (proving the superficiality of our politics...looks and charismatic personality are vital for political office in the age of 24-hour television news). He has served as a Congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, Energy Secretary, and Governor. He became known during his days in Congress for being an excellent negotiator with tyrants and dictators to release American hostages. This skill will definitely come in handy if Obama will seek some cabinet-level dialogue with the Iranians.

In our current politics of desiring a diverse cabinet, Richardson and Federico Pena are two of the highest profile Hispanics, so you know that one or both will probably serve in Obama's administration. I personally would like to see Richardson named as Secretary of State. He's just the natural choice for that critical post.

In 2004, John Kerry had asked Richardson if he would prefer to be Vice President or Secretary of State, and Richardson indicated Secretary of State. Interesting that now, some are reporting that Kerry wants to be Obama's Secretary of State. There might be some quid pro quo here, because Obama owes his rise to national prominence to Kerry for making him the keynote speaker during a primetime broadcasting slot of the Democratic National Convention. Obama's speech launched his profile into the realm of presidential possibilities. Why not return the favour to Kerry by naming him Secretary of State? Kerry is exactly the kind of politician who would fit in well with the European bureaucrats and diplomats. During the 2004 campaign, Republicans even made snide comments about him, saying that "he looks French" to get their rabid voters all riled up. If America had an Aristocracy, Kerry would most definitely be one of them.

Kerry has been rather unremarkable in the Senate. We haven't heard much about him since his loss in 2004. Perhaps his heart just isn't in the Senate anymore and if he becomes the Secretary of State, that means a vacancy in Massachusetts. I know it'll never happen, but I'd love to see the Governor appoint Seth Moulton to fill Kerry's vacated Senate seat. I don't know what the rules are about appointments to the Senate, but I'm almost certain that one has to hold elected office, which Moulton does not, nor has he indicated that's what he would like to do. Who is Seth Moulton you ask? Last year, I wrote a post about him possibly becoming Generation X's first president in 2020. He has an impressive background that makes him perfect for political office. That post regularly ranks high among my blog posts, as I often get hits from people doing a Google search of his name. I forget how old he is, but he might be around age 30 or so, which is the age requirement to be Senator. But, he might not even be interested in running for political office, for all I know. I hope not. With his background, he'll go far in politics. He has presidential material written all over his resume (Andover, Harvard, Marine Officer, three tours of duty in Iraq including serving as a personal aide to General Petraeus, and Harvard Business School and Kennedy School of Government).

I'm not a fan of Kerry. I thought he played into the stereotype that conservatives have about liberals being wishy-washy. Kerry just epitomized the whole aloof, clueless, ineffectual, flip flopping politician. He was a genuine war hero who allowed a bunch of Republican hacks to swift boat his distinguished service record. What's even more galling, when he returned from Vietnam, he became a war protestor and had one of the most famous quotes of the baby boomer generation (he asked Congress as a young man at a hearing: "how do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"). Yet in 2004, he wanted to forget all about that part of his personal history, thinking that Americans wouldn't tolerate a peacenik who once marched with Jane Fonda while our country is in the middle of a war, even though his change of opinion about the Vietnam War showed considerable growth, with the courage to be so outspoken against it. Even more inexplicable...he voted against the resolution authorizing President Bush the elder to evict Saddam's military from Kuwait in 1990-1991, but voted in 2002 to authorize President Bush the younger to launch a preemptive invasion of Iraq. Then, as we all remember, he voted FOR the $87 billion funding BEFORE he voted AGAINST it.

The last thing we need dealing with foreign leaders is a flip flopping Secretary of State.

One name that isn't thrown around in Washington's parlor game as much as in 2000 is Richard Holbrooke, who most likely would've been Gore's Secretary of State. I don't know much about him, though, but I think he worked for Secretary Madeleine Albright, so it would've been a promotion for him if Gore had become the president. Because that didn't happen, it's just amazing that Bush also ruined the career dreams of another person. Hopefully, though, he'll serve in some capacity in Obama's administration.

On the Huffington Post last week, I read one writer making a case for why Al Gore should be Obama's Secretary of State. It was an interesting editorial and made some good points, but I just don't see that happening. I have no doubts that he'll be a good one, but in the past eight years, he has become an extremely wealthy man through Google and other wise investments. He regained respect and high esteem in the world with his Oscar-winning documentary and the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Since he has devoted his post-Vice Presidential career to the cause dearest to his heart, why would he want to give up the freedom and his ability to speak the truth to once again descend into the world of caution that is politics and diplomacy? Besides, Secretary of State is about advancing the agenda of the United States Government to the world and he'll have to focus on preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons, renewing relationships with our European allies and a lot of other diplomatic things that would take away from the urgency he feels about climate change.

I don't see him as Secretary of the Interior or heading the Environmental Protection Agency, either. I think he would be more effective as a private citizen, though I would be thrilled to see him serve in the Obama Administration, of course. However, it might be difficult for him to be so close to the presidency, considering how he was supposed to be president these last eight years.

So...out of those five candidates, my money is on Bill Richardson as the next Secretary of State. I've read some speculation that Bill Clinton might be a natural choice for the position, but he would have a conflict of interest with his Clinton Global Initiative. However, if Obama is smart, there is one role he should ask Mr. Clinton to serve: Special Envoy to the Middle East. It's no secret that Clinton regretted not securing a peace plan between Israel and the Palestinians before leaving the presidency. You know he wants a Nobel Peace Prize, too. But most of all, it would put his natural gifts to the best use for our country and the world. If anyone can get those two sides to sit down, talk, and hammer out a workable solution, it is Bill Clinton. If he's named as a Special Envoy to the Middle East, however, it would be kind of awkward to have Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State. I'm hoping that she'll be happy to remain in the Senate or perhaps be Ruth Bader Ginsberg's replacement on the Supreme Court.

It'll be interesting to see who Obama selects in the most important cabinet position.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Quantum of Something Serious

Last night, I went to see Quantum of Solace. One theater was sold out at the time I had wanted to see it so I went to another, and that too had several shows sold out. However, I caught the late show and found it amusing that there were at least three male moviegoers wearing tuxedos. A co-worker had told me yesterday that he was wearing a tuxedo to see the movie. I had never heard of that. But, having been to opening day showings of other movies that seem to inspire the fanboys to "dress the part", I shouldn't be surprised. Like I said in yesterday's post...James Bond is probably the icon that nearly all men have fantasized about being at some point in their adolescence / young male development. That includes me (I confess...in 1992, I got my picture taken wearing a bow tie and jacket in front of the Monte Carlo casino in Monaco. How's that for replicating Bond?).

I had read an early review of the film online so I could know what the film was about. The review (in Variety) wasn't flattering at all. It basically said the film was all action with little meaning, and a virtual post script to Casino Royale, as it continues the storyline begun in Craig's first outing as Bond two years ago. This one picks up where the last one left off. Immediately. A first in the Bond franchise. Thus, the review had the effect of lowering my expectations a little bit, even though I have the great ability to lose myself in the story to the point where I'm not trying to guess what will happen next (a friend of mine has an annoying ability to accurately predict the ending of nearly every movie he watches).

This film begins with a stunning chase sequence through the Italian Alps in the pre-credits action sequence before segueing into the Bond theme song. The song is pretty hip and current, though not nearly memorable or remarkable in comparison to the theme songs of the 1980s Bond films. I wish the producers would enlist big name artists, like U2, Coldplay, Robbie Williams, Fergie, and/or Gwen Stefani to sing the title songs.

However, all the elements that make a Bond film are present: car chase, foot chase, boat chase, airplane chase; great locales in Siena, Italy (making me miss Italy, which I found out on Thursday that I have more reason to make a visit to my old stomping grounds in Sardinia. My friend Nathan and his family will be stationed at the Sigonella Naval base in Sicily next year for the next three years); Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Austria; and Bolivia; TWO gorgeous babes (I especially love the ethnically mysterious Olga Kurylenko); and a timely plot about a resource more valuable than oil and how an international terrorist cartel strives to control it.

This is a film that thrives in nuance. The terrorist group claims to have infiltrated the CIA, MI6, and Mossad. They even have members in government officials. M doesn't know who she can trust after a personal aide turns on her. The terrorist group even claims to have the ability to overthrow governments in Latin America and install puppet generalissimos who will sign exclusive deals that give away their nation's precious resources.

By film's end, Bond learns something about revenge, forgiveness, and himself. The film credits promise that he'll be back in a new adventure. With the way they made these past two films, it seems like the producers learned their lessons. That's part of the reason why Bond endures after four decades. The producers know how to reinvent the franchise when it gets too over the top (as was the case with Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker, and Die Another Day). Quantum of Solace features a timely issue that reminds me of The World is Not Enough, but it does without the cheesy sexual innuendo comments that ruined an otherwise good film for me. This Bond is one to take seriously because he respects the intelligence of the audience.

As a teenager, I received for my birthday one year a James Bond role playing game box set. Yes, it's true...when other guys were into Dungeons and Dragons, I was into Bond. I actually didn't play the role playing game. I enjoyed reading the book for the description of locales, villains, henchmen, allies, women, cars, and gadgets. It helped get my creative juices flowing and I had dreamed of writing my own Bond film someday. If I was able to pitch story ideas to producers, I'd love to see an update of Live and Let Die, where Bond infiltrates a Scientology-like cult because it has plans to control the U.S. government. Granted...why would a British agent care if the U.S. government fell under control of this financial pyramid scheme? Maybe it might involve Germans, who have their own problems with that cult. I'd also love to see Bond go to Davos to meet or spy on the world's biggest influencers (Bono being one of them). As for locales, I don't remember seeing Bond go to Australia or South Africa, two places I'd love to see in future movies.

This latest Bond is a worthy follow-up to Casino Royale and I'm pleased by the direction the producers are taking. The look, the style, the storyline are very current and it's great to see Bond as such a bad-ass who uses his licence to kill quite liberally, to M's constant horror. Call it a Quantum of quality.