Saturday, October 31, 2009

Spooked by Paranormal Activity

I'm not a fan of the horror film genre, but in honour of Halloween, I wanted to see a scary movie. There's actually few in this genre that interest me, and I consider the Saw series not only to be "torture porn," but downright EVIL. I refuse to watch any of those movies. I've never been into the graphic violence of the slasher flicks.

The horror movies that I enjoy seeing fall into the suspense category, with a supernatural element to it. Movies like Poltergeist, The Sixth Sense, and The Others are generally the kinds of "scary / suspense" that I gravitate towards. I love the movies that really get into your psyche and plays with your mind. What's unseen is far scarier than a lunatic running around with a hockey mask on and killing copulating teenagers.

I've heard very little about Paranormal Activity, thus was unsure if it would be worth the $10.50 ticket price. However, I also have a free movie ticket that I got through my Regal Cinema card. I decided to use that for this film so I wouldn't feel like I wasted my money if I didn't like the movie. I still plan to see Amelia, and even if its dull, I still appreciate the inspirational power of a biopic.

So, what is Paranormal Activity? Its in the tradition of The Blair Witch Project, which I did not see (a huge hit in 1998 or 1999) and was made for a mere $11,000! It had a limited release to build word of mouth among audiences and create a good buzz before getting a wide release last week where it blew away the nearest competition (that would be the latest installment of the Saw series). It made $22 million! Not bad for an $11,000 investment! The other thing that I learned about it was that this film was submitted to the major studios. Paramount bought it and wanted to "remake" it with actual actors. Even Steven Spielberg was interested and there were some news about an alternate ending.

This is the kind of movie where I had to read several reviews before deciding if I wanted to see it. All the reviews I've read were kind of cryptic about the details. All I knew was that many reviewers were calling this film "one of the scariest movies ever made!" and that the intensity only grows as the movie goes on. Some reviewers mentioned that this is the kind of film that one must see in a theater, just for the audience reaction. That claim sold it for me, otherwise I would've waited until DVD. But, if audience reaction was one of the things that enhances the viewing experience, waiting until DVD was no good.

The early scenes of the movie had me questioning my decision. The shaky handheld camera and the chattiness of the couple's mundane domestic routine was kind of dull. But I found myself liking the film as it went along. I even liked the couple and their silly little arguments (Micah is always getting in trouble with his girlfriend). It really shows the kind of daily details of living together that movies rarely show. In fact, I could not tell if this was actually a movie or a homemade documentary.

The chilling scenes come at night, while the couple are sleeping. A time counter on the right side of the screen sometimes speeds up to get to the spookiest parts in the wee hours of morning (between 2 and 4 a.m.). The spooks start off pretty simple enough: the door moving out of the blue; loud banging sounds; footsteps on the stairs; blankets being moved; lights turning off and on; etc. The intensity only grows during each night's footage. Some moments were just so creepy that I felt goose bumps all over my body and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up straight. This was truly terrifying for me and it just doesn't let up. I was so taken in by the realism of this that I was certain that it was an actual documentary and not a movie.

So, is it or isn't it a documentary? Without giving anything away, there were a couple of moments throughout the film that led me to think it might be. By the ending, you'll know which it is. And the audience reaction? Awesome! I saw a few people jump in their seats, blurt out some comment or shriek, and even laughter at some of the more ridiculous moments.

The couple (Micah and Katie) are pretty fun to watch together. Micah is a typical guy, as he pooh-poohs the whole "psychic" thing when Katie consults with an actual psychic about her experience of having a particular "entity" follow her from house to house. The psychic tells the couple that the entity "feeds off of negative energy." I laughed at that line, because it only reminded me of the two most negative ladies I know at work. I wish an entity would attach themselves to them to partake in their negativity. Micah's joking around only seems to make Katie mad. At one point, he's banished from the bedroom (when she ordered him out, I couldn't help but think..."is she crazy?" With a ghostly presence haunting the hallways at night, why would anyone want to sleep alone in that house?).

When the film ended, it was one of the rare occasions where the audience didn't jump up to leave. They remained in their seats, laughing and talking about the experience of watching this film. I was frozen in my seat. Not because of some fear-induced panic, but because the ending was kind of disappointing to me. No wonder why Spielberg supposedly wanted a new ending.

Some reviews I read mention that the horror of the film does not remain in the theater. It stays in your mind when you try to go to sleep at night. That's when your own imagination takes over. Since I'm blogging this after I had seen the movie, I haven't gone to bed yet to see if I will be thinking about this movie as I try to fall asleep.

I can tell you one thing, though. Throughout this decade, I've had my own terrifying experience in the wee hours of morning. It hasn't happened in a couple years (thank God!) but occasionally, I would experience what some call "sleep paralysis," "night terrors," or "sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome" (SUNDS). I've read the definition of each and don't agree with the scientific conclusions. Basically, the scientific conclusions don't match my experience. What is "sleep paralysis"? According to scientists, when coming out of a dream state, the body is paralyzed for a minute or two. This "paralysis" during dream state is meant to keep our bodies from acting out scenes in the dream. It makes sense, but it doesn't explain the experience I had.

So, what was this experience? Well, I remember each time it happened, I was truly terrified. It always happened the same way. I felt a strong negative energy vibration hovering above my body, as though it was trying to enter me. I also could not move and I felt a hand over my mouth and nose as though this negative energy vibrational energy was trying to snuff the life out of me. There was a rushing sound in my ear, much louder and more intense than the sound you hear when you put a seashell next to your ear. This feeling did not go away at all. Each time it happened, I immediately awoke and the internal voice I heard in my head was to pray to God. Once I did, I felt resistance as though this energy vibration was fighting against something, even though it did not want to let go of me, until suddenly, I was able to move again and the energy was gone. Calm like the eye of a hurricane.

What does that mean? I could believe the scientific explanation if the energy vibration was internal, but it wasn't. It truly felt as though some energy was trying to move into my body. I don't know if this is how demon possession happens or what. It truly is a terrifying experience (I think it would actually make a great horror film, if only I could come up with a good storyline to write the script). Once, when it happened, I immediately prayed to God and heard this in my head: "This is the blood of Christ to protect you." As I heard that, I had the sensation of feeling as though a warm liquid was covering my body from the head downward until I was fully encased in this "good vibrational energy" to prevent the negative energy from penetrating me. This experience was truly weird for me and could not have originated within my own psyche because I don't believe in Jesus's blood being a magic elixir to protect us. I find that (and the symbology behind communion) to be obscene. But it worked.

I wish I kept a better journal about those experiences because I don't know when they happened or what was going on in my life at the time. As I wrote above, I haven't experienced a "night terror" in several years now. I hope I never do, because whenever it happened, I felt like I was fighting for my life. What might happen if I don't fight it? According to what I read about SUNDS, my experience is quite common among the Hmong of Laos. It usually happens to young men in that ethnic group and the result is that they die in their sleep of unexplained causes. These are healthy young men. The mystery has baffled those who have looked at the phenomenon.

You might be wondering what my theory might be on SUNDS, sleep paralysis, night terrors. Well, it's a mystery to me. If there was an evil energy trying to enter my body, I have no idea why. It did seem to occur when I had a sense of mission about my life, when I was feeling good about my life and what I wanted to do.

Maybe the reason why it hasn't happened is because I've been pretty much depressed for the past couple of years about being stuck in a job I hate. I've heard stories from the more evangelical members of my church about stuff like this happening to them. They attribute it to Satan trying to prevent you from doing God's work. Since I don't believe Satan exists (but I believe evil exists), I obviously have a different take. But, we'll never know the real truth of any unexplainable phenomenon until we're in the spiritual realm and get all the good "behind the scenes" information about our lives. Until then, all we can do is speculate and develop theories based on logic and experience that might help explain a little bit about why things happen.

So, if you want a good scare this Halloween...go see Paranormal Activity!

Friday, October 30, 2009

If I Were the President

On the back page of George magazine (1995-2000), Editor-in-Chief John F. Kennedy, Jr. asked various celebrities to fill out a questionnaire about what they would do if they were president. It was an interesting feature, which had contributions from celebrities like Madonna, Rush Limbaugh, Tobey Maguire, and even Siskel and Ebert, to name but a small selection.

I liked this idea so much that I used it for a journal assignment in my Freshman Composition course during the Fall Semester 1997 at BYU. Then in the fall of 2000, I decided to write an update to include with my Christmas cards that year. Now, nine years later, I'm due for another update. So, in honour of "Fun Friday," here is how I would answer the questionnaire at this moment of time.

Name your Party:

Considering that I'm a loyal Democrat, it would be hard to abandon a party that I believe in. However, if having my own party wouldn't split the liberal vote and cause the Republicans to win the White House, I would call my party: the Sansego Party. Hey, why not? The rules of the party would conform to spiritual principles such as the universal laws of karma and attraction.

What would your campaign song be?

In the 2000 version of this questionnaire, I chose three: "A Better Man" by Keb Mo; "Talkin' Bout a Revolution" by Tracy Chapman; and "Work for All" by Juluka.

Now, I think I would choose just one...something like Taylor Hicks' "Keepin' it Real" or "Places I've Been."

Who would be your running mate?

Easy...I'd pick my old roommate from D.C. Matt Baker, who's currently a university professor in Kentucky. He and I had a lot in common and I trust his insights completely. There is not a corrupt bone in his body. Besides, an RLDS-LDS presidential-vp ticket would be irresistable, don'tcha think?

How would your raise money for your campaign?

Hopefully public financing of all campaigns is reality. If not, I think Howard Dean and Barack Obama proved the power of average Americans donating $10 or $20 or $50 at a time. Its one way to beat the lobbyists and their big checks (limited to $2,000 per candidate per donor).

Who would you invite to perform at your Inauguration?

Easy...I have a long list, starting with Johnny Clegg, my favourite musician. He would be the headlining act with whatever he calls his band these days. Other performers would include: Taylor Hicks, Keb Mo, Youssou N'Dour, Angelique Kidjo, Enya, U2, Madonna, Dave Matthews Band, Maroon 5, Sheryl Crow, Sting, Tina Turner, Robbie Williams, Moby, Indochine, Gwen Stefani, Eric Clapton, and the Retrofits.

Who would be among your staff and cabinet?

Secretary of State: Noam Chomsky

Secretary of Defense: Chuck Hagel (former Senator of Nebraska)

Attorney General: Louis Freeh (who served as FBI director during the Clinton years)

Secretary of Education: Thomas Malone (my former U.S. government teacher)

Secretary of Health and Human Services: Dr. Howard Dean

Secretary of Transportation: Earl Blumenauer (one of Oregon's representatives in Congress)

Chief of Staff: My best friend Nicholas Smith

Spiritual Advisor: Wayne Dyer

Secretary of Veterans Affairs: John Ratka, who was the best Command Master Chief I had the privilege of working for in the Navy

Press Secretary: comedian Bill Maher, because he's brutally honest.

The Department of Homeland (in)Security would be abolished.

I'd have to think about the other cabinets, but I consider the above to be the most important ones. I'd also ask my college friends Janell, Brooklyn and Mandy to serve as high-level staff, cabinet secretaries, or ambassadors. And I'd appoint my other best friend Nathan to be the head fitness guru.

What three things would you have in the Oval Office?

My Jack Kerouac Bobblehead, my framed BYU degree, and a stereo system with surround sound to play the appropriate music to match my moods (Enya for my meditative moments, ABBA for a quick trip to my happy place, Johnny Clegg for just about every other occasion, and Taylor Hicks' "Do I Make You Proud?" when I want to annoy my staff or visitors!).

What would pose the greatest challenge to your Secret Service agents?

My constant desire to disappear in a crowded room to listen to people's conversations for any interesting story ideas to include in future novels.

What information does the public have a right to know about you?

Well...there is really no private life for a modern-day president in a 24-cable news and Internet world. I think my religious/spiritual beliefs are a definite right for people to know so they can understand where I'm coming from and where I'd like to lead the country. My personal relationships with family and friends, though, would be strictly off limits.

What would be the first act of your presidency?

A treason trial and war crimes tribunal for George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, John Bolton, Richard Perle, and Karl Rove. Everything they did would see the light of day. Yeah, I know that runs the risk of assassination, but hey...it has to be done for the sake of our Republic and the as yet unborn citizens centuries from now.

There would be no presidential pardons for those criminals.

What would you veto everytime?

Any proposals to amend the United States Constitution for sectarian purposes, such as the School Prayer Amendment, the Religious Equality Amendment, and the one concerning the posting of the Ten Commandments on all public buildings. I would also veto vouchers for private schools. As a compromise to the religious crowd, though, I would have all versions of the Golden Rule posted in every school as well as the Noble Eightfold Path. And I would veto any health care reform bill that did not include single payer and abolished the insurance company's role.

Who would you model yourself after?

There are many people that I admire, but the leadership I would emulate would include examples I learned from Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama, Al Gore, Desmond Tutu and Vaclav Havel.

Who would get an invitation to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom?

I know what you're thinking I might say...but no, it would not be Sarah Palin. The first invitation would go to my best friend and Civil War expert Nicholas Smith and his wife Jennifer Bodi. They could even bring their "fids" (feathered kids...pet birds). The rest of my friends would have to hand-write nice letters (not email) to me if they want an invitation.

Who wouldn't get an invite?

Easy...Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Don Imus, Michelle Malkin, and Orly Taintz.

How would you unwind from the pressures of the White House?

I would have a specially made meditation room that is modeled after the memorial chapel in Berlin. The room would be encased in a wall blue glass cubes so that when the light shines through, the inside of the room would be an ethereal blue. I would also have time set aside to write each evening. And maybe even do a presidential blog!

What would be the top three issues that you would fight hardest for?

My answers are the same as the 2000 version of this questionnaire...

(1) Alternative energy development with a preference for renewable energies that harness the rays of the sun, the wind, and waves.

(2) A complete overhaul of our education system so that the personality-type of the child determines how he or she is taught, rather than a standardized, one method covers all.

(3) A radical transformation away from capitalism towards a new system to be called "ethiconomy." Under the new system, ethical behaviour is rewarded and greed is severely punished. No longer will an over-abundance of wealth guarantee that the wealthy have first choice of neighbourhoods and housing. Affordable housing is a human right, not a privilege of the wealthy class.

Write the first headline of your administration:

The controversial best-selling novelist defeats Sarah Palin for President! (the article mentions that Palin had said that she would ban his books were she elected president. The voters decided that intelligence and experience really do matter).

What would historians say about your presidency?

Following in outgoing President Obama's tradition, Americans elected another mixed-race liberal Democrat who considers himself a citizen of the world. In fact, he is so much the internationalist that he married French actress Audrey Tautou and she brought a kind of sophisticated glamour that Michelle Obama possessed, though comparisons to Jacqueline Kennedy were more common.

This president was so hated by the religious conservatives that they did everything in their power to bring his administration down, but he showed his talents at staying ahead of the curve ball and accomplished his ambitious agenda anyway. Like his predecessor, he was unbelievably popular overseas, especially in France, where he was recently asked to run for president there once his eight years wrapped up in the United States.

Some of his foreign policy successes included a trillion dollar Marshall Plan for Africa and Latin America (MPALA), restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba and thus ending the decades long embargo, closing down the School of the Americas and all other off-shore blacksites operated by the Central Intelligence Agency. More controversially, he pardoned Manuel Noriega not because he liked him, but felt that he was victimized by President G. H. W. Bush and needed to be tried by the people of Panama.

The best part of his legacy is the new economy he leaves to his successor, President Chelsea Clinton. With the end of the profit motive, ethical standards have become the norm. Crime decreased, charitable giving increased, and runaway mass consumerism has faded. More Americans own affordable homes without stifling mortgage payments, the costs of college education is provided by the federal government so graduates don't carry the burden of loan debt for decades afterwards, and health care is universal and easy-to-understand without insurance companies to deny claims. Americans enjoy a 35 hour/4 day work week and six weeks paid vacation each year. Meditation centers have sprung up all over the country, and you can find a meditation room in nearly all new homes, schools, hospitals, and offices.

He leaves office with a 68% approval rating. While beloved among his fellow progressives and moderates, he is probably one of the most hated presidents among the small minority of evangelical Christians who still clamor for their beloved Sarah Palin to be their president under the mistaken belief that America "needs" her brand of leadership. Nicholas doesn't break a sweat with these people, though, because he seems to prefer how he's viewed in a global and historical context. His most famous quote is: "Since when were conservatives ever on the right side of history? Name me one example!"

His retirement plans include the building of his presidential library in Portland, Oregon, writing books, traveling, and splitting his time between his home in Portland, summer home in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and penthouse in Paris. He and Audrey have three sons: Darwin, Patrick, Jeremy, and daughter Natalie. His presidential memoirs will be titled: Evolution of a Liberal.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Kerouac and Big Sur

On Monday evening, I went to an independent movie theater on NW 21st to see the limited release screening of a new documentary about my favourite writer Jack Kerouac. When I discovered his books in 2001, I went into a serious Kerouac / Beat Generation phase for a couple years. Not only did I buy all of his books and biographies, and Beat Generation compilations, but I also bought a lot of other things related to Kerouac on eBay: mousepad, coffee cup, book plates, pictures to frame, documentaries on videotape, CDs, a sweatshirt with his image sewn in like a brand logo, and even a rare (and kind of expensive) Kerouac bobblehead.

I probably have between three and five documentaries about Kerouac. They are kind of lame, though. And most of them feature the same stock footage of Kerouac (when he was interviewed by Steve Allen about On the Road). All of the documentaries feature the music that was popular back in his day (jazz), which is not my favourite music style (sorry, Jack). I'm too much a child of the 1980s and the infectious, good vibrations of pop rock.

The new documentary is called One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur. The line comes from his novel Big Sur. In the documentary, they explained that Kerouac's restlessness may have something to do with his running from demons and the belief that if you never stay in a place long enough, the demons won't be able to reach you. How poetic. Kind of.

Mostly, this documentary is about Kerouac's experience at Big Sur in the aftermath of the sudden fame that the New York Times book review of On the Road brought to the introverted writer. One Fast Move or I'm Gone begins with some footage of Kerouac in New York that I had never seen before, so that was great. Some of Kerouac's contemporaries are interviewed, including Joyce Johnson (Glassman) who was his girlfriend at the time he achieved fame. She recounts something a 29 year old lady told her (when she was in her early 20s). I had read this before, but its even funnier hearing Joyce say it. Basically the 29 year old groupie told Joyce that she was young and the lady was older and thus needed to "fuck him now!" What a thing to say to someone's girlfriend!

Its hard to imagine in today's anti-literate society that a writer would inspire groupies the way rock bands do now. I'm sure there are also plenty of actors who get offers from ladies...but writers? As Joyce recounted in the documentary, once Kerouac achieved fame, he had sexual offers from ladies, and men wanted to buy him a drink or "beat him up." Again, I laughed when Joyce said that. It just seems weird that men would want to beat someone up just because they were famous.

Kerouac was not prepared for most of this. That's the trouble with fame. It attracts a lot of people who all want a piece of you. Its hard to know who's a true friend. With the deluge of fans, he had to get away from it all, so he went across country to San Francisco where members of the Beat Generation established a community in North Beach. City Lights Bookstore founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti owned a cabin at Big Sur and allowed his friend Kerouac to use it to get away from the pressure of fame, groupies, and his demons.

When I read his book Big Sur in 2001 or 2002, I wasn't really impressed with it. I found it to be a rambling piece of work, the incoherent writings of an inebriated writer trying to pass along his experience and state of mind as he fought delirium tremens. The documentary features several people reading and reflecting on select passages, as well as showing the actual location and even re-creating the actions he took all those years ago. The beautiful scenery of the rocky coast was inspiring and in one of the most interesting passages of that book, Kerouac attempts to describe the way waves sound crashing against the rocky shore. Its probably the most famous passage from his novel.

When I left the theater, I actually felt inspired and wanted to read that book again with a new eye. The problem with Kerouac, though, is that he lived a kind of selfish existence. He lived off of other people, rarely holding down a job, as he traveled back and forth across this great country of ours, with jaunts down to Mexico City and Tangiers. Always in search of his next story to write about, in his books that lack plot and a story structure. Its all about him, his friends, and the unconventional life they lived in the 1940s and 1950s while most men were settling down into careers and suburban family life with the tract homes and station wagons, that eventually put our country where it is today.

As much as I like Kerouac as a writer and human being, I keep thinking about the writers today and the good that they do beyond their books. For example, John Grisham used his wealth to build baseball fields in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he coaches Little League. He also funds missionary trips down to Brazil with his church. Nicholas Sparks paid for a new track at a high school in New Berg, North Carolina, where he lives with his family. He also used his wealth to create a school that has as a goal for each student to travel to quite a few countries before they graduate (its part of the curriculum). And Dave Eggers, who created writing labs in several cities across the country (826 Valencia Project). Lately, Eggers has used his incredible literary talents to write the story of a Sudanese "Lost Boy" (What is the What) and the story of a Lebanese American who was a hero in New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina but ended up disappearing due to our government's paranoia about Muslims and terrorism (Zeitoun).

My dream is to be a writer, with my set of novels that cover interesting / intriguing aspects of organizations that most people have heard about but never truly experienced. I have about eight novel ideas to write and my goal after I completed my first one in 2004 was to write a novel once every two years as I submitted the previous one to agents.

However, I did not expect to be stuck in this never-ending cycle of looking for and applying to jobs. I seriously want that aspect of my life to end with a new job so I can focus on the writing, editing, and submission of my novels. Its the only way to get published (writing and submitting to agents). I believe that I will find success as a novelist someday, simply because it has been my greatest passion since elementary school and I have several story ideas that I believe would be interesting for other people. I don't have this compelling need to write a novel a year, like what Grisham, Sparks, and other "popular fiction" writers do. I'm more literary and need to be moved by a particular story idea before I feel I am ready to tackle the hard task of writing.

In my dream career, when I'm not writing or editing novels, I would use the money from my writing to fund my own organization, which would be devoted to education in some manner. I think Americans need to be educated on how to recognize frauds and phonies, and to look for hidden agendas. The fact that so many Americans are duped by demagogues, especially many religious people who claim to worship Jesus, is just perplexing to me. Jesus' most important teaching was "By their fruits ye shall know them," and yet I keep hearing Christians say some of the most idiotic things, revealing their ignorance about politics, history, and even spirituality. Something needs to be done, for the sake of authentic Christianity. It needs an infusion of logic.

On November 1st (Dia de los Muertos), I plan to finally start writing my second novel which will be twelve chapters and hopefully come in under 300 pages. Its kind of a simple story, about a serial killer and a lonely 11 year old boy who doesn't know his father. This will probably be the darkest novel I plan to write and I intend to finish it by February. Maybe my fortunes will change in the New Year.

But those were my feelings when I left the theater after seeing the documentary about my favourite writer, who squandered his good fortune because he couldn't handle the fame. Maybe if he had put his fame to good use, he might have been liberated from his demons once and for all. Ultimately, though, his demons did catch up to him on 21 October 1969, when he died of a blood hemorrhage due to his alcoholism. Death contributed to his legend, but that does not have to be the outcome for every writer, as Grisham's, Sparks', and Eggers' examples reveal.

Below is a photo of Big Sur, California. Someday, I want to drive down the Pacific Coast highway from the Olympic Peninsula to San Diego.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

No Apology to $cientology

Monday evening, I read an interesting article on the Huffington Post that on ABC's Nightline, a spokesman for the cult of $cientology stormed out of the interview after some questions posed by Martin Bashir of the leader David Miscavige. Apparently, ex-$cientologists are speaking out against this secretive organization. I used to watch Nightline religiously, as part of my nightly ritual, but ever since the conversion to digital, my converter box can only pick up the local PBS station, so I can't watch any of the networks. I'm a little bummed by it, but I'll live. I'd love to see the Nightline segment, though, and I think its on YouTube.

After reading that article, I saw another one on the Huffington Post about the director of the 2005 Best Picture Academy Award-winning Crash who had a falling out with $cientology, which he had been a member of for a couple decades. What finally forced him out? Was it the weird beliefs about evil warlords from other galaxies, or thetans who inhabit volcanoes and infect every human being on earth, or the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to undergo all the auditing sessions to reach the level of "clear"? NOPE! Director Paul Haggis finally quit the faux religion over a disagreement with what he considers to be "the church's homophobic policies," particularly its stance against gay marriages. That's what it took? And many in Hollywood believe that his Oscar-winning film stole the Best Picture Award from the more deserving Brokeback Mountain. Is he willing to give up his film's Oscar to show his seriousness to the issue?

If that weren't enough, yesterday, my best friend's brother posted a comment on his Facebook wall about how a Paris court convicted $cientology of committing fraud and fined it $900,000. I was thrilled to hear that because I love the French and I'm glad that they can see through the bullshit that is $cientology. Back in the 1990s, Germany refused to classify $cientology as a religion and $cientologists were trying to compare themselves to the Jews who were persecuted in the 1930s. That was a low blow and the comparison is inaccurate. Judaism is one of the oldest religions and the Nazis had a program of removal and extermination of Jewish people. On the flip side, $cientology is one of the newest "religion"s and no one was gassing $cientologists. While they might enjoy tax exempt status in the United States, where even Satan and Elvis have their own tax-exempt churches, $cientologists have no right to dictate what other countries decide about their organization.

In the battle against $cientology, I support any country that refuses to classify them as a religion, because it is not one. Its nothing more than elaborate ponzi scheme designed to suck up massive amounts of cash from gullible and naive seekers. There have been stories of plenty of members who have spent their life savings and earnings on the expensive "auditing" classes in order to attain the level of "clear." What are they being "cleared" of? "Thetans!" That's right. "Thetans." What the hell is that, you ask? Its L. Ron Hubbard's term for "soul." According to the elaborate belief system he concocted in his second-rate science fiction mind, an evil warlord named Xenu ruled the galaxy 75 million years ago. The "Thetans" were banished to live in volcanoes on earth. Each person who is born on this planet is thus infected by "thetans", which attach themselves to us and the only way to be rid of this thing is to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars in $cientology courses. I've read that it costs at least $300,000 to achieve the equivalent of "enlightenment" (which one can achieve for free or low cost through meditation and reading spiritual books).

L. Ron Hubbard is known for this telling quote: "If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion."

How about another one? "The only way you can control people is to lie to them."

So, if a founder of a religion is quoted as to his intentions of founding a religion and its purpose (so he can get rich and control his followers), how colossally stupid do you have to be to join? And why are so many Hollywood celebrities into it? Not just Tom Cruise, but John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Kristie Alley, Lisa Marie Presley, Juliette Lewis, Isaac Hayes, Greta Van Sustern, and some others I can't recall at the moment. Hubbard founded his cult in the early 1950s and specifically targetted celebrities to join this organization and serve as a public face of recruitment. Tom Cruise found his way into the hooks of $cientology as a young man when he was married to Mimi Rogers in the mid-1980s. He suffered from dyslexia and claims that $cientology helped him overcome that. Since then, he's undoubtedly become the poster boy for the cult.

As Tom Cruise has gotten older, he's become more open about his beliefs, to the point of arrogantly arguing with Matt Lauer and calling him "glib" over a disagreement about drugs that treat depression. He also jumped on Oprah's couch like a schoolboy who just lost his virginity to the most beautiful girl in his class. Its a safe assumption that he was excited because he knew at that point that his girlfriend Katie Holmes was pregnant (he adopted two children when he was married to actress Nicole Kidman).

I used to like Tom Cruise as an actor. I still think he has a knack for choosing films that I want to see. Out of all the actors out there, he has the best track record. Unfortunately, though, his increasing vocal evangelizing of $cientology makes me respect him less and less. When I learned the whole origins tale of the $cientology mythological belief system, I was just astounded that anyone could believe that garbage. Especially when it came from the mind of a second-rate science fiction writer, who is not generally known for the pulpy books he wrote beyond Dianetics, the "Bible" of his cult. Its a mix of psychology, New Age ideas, and science fiction.

Tom Cruise is particularly close with the current leader, David Miscavige. Who knows how much of his wealth has helped $cientology? Not only is there a Celebrity Centre in Hollywood (where non-famous members don't even have access), but a compound out in the desert, a cruise ship (called Sea Org), and its headquarters in Clear Lake, Florida. Florida is well known as a place where a lot of fly-by-night get-rich-quick scheming organizations set up shop. However, it almost appears to be the state religion of California. I remember seeing a $cientology center everywhere I looked as I drove through Los Angeles in 1997.

Due to the importance placed on capturing celebrities into this organization, its always interesting to see who Tom Cruise becomes friends with. I've read that he tried to bring Will and Jada Smith into the cult. No one seems to know if Will Smith actually joined or is just a good buddy with Cruise. The other couple I heard that Cruise tried to snag was global soccer star David Beckham and his wife Victoria "Posh Spice" Adams.

There is also a lot of speculation by $cientology-observers that Lisa Marie Presley's prime motive for marrying Michael Jackson in 1994 was to bring him into the cult. They wanted to have the biggest star on the planet, and one who could impact millions of children around the world. The scheme failed, as Michael certainly did not become a $cientologist. However, considering his dysfunctions, perhaps it might have helped. But he would have also given the $cientologists a lot of private information to be used against him if he ever left the organization.

Tom's marriage to Katie Holmes bothered me from the first moment I heard it. After his marriage to Nicole Kidman ended at the start of the decade, he began dating Penelope Cruz. I thought they made a good pair and didn't have an issue with it. I even thought at the time that if she had married him, she wouldn't have to change her last name and they could still share the same name. She's an attractive lady (and I believe just a couple years younger than me). In one magazine I read, the reason why the relationship failed is because of the $cientology thing. In fact, its considered the reason why his marriage failed with Nicole Kidman. Apparently, she wasn't into the cult as much as him and wanted to raise their children in a traditional religion.

An interesting thing about watching Tom over the years, he's the type who would never have a problem getting any woman he wanted, despite his short stature (5'7" or 5'8"?). However, because of his fanatical devotion to $cientology, he scared away a lot of potential mates after his relationships with Kidman and Cruz.

When he started dating the much younger Katie Holmes, I felt like an over-protective older brother, even though I don't even know her. She's such a sweetheart, whom I have fond memories of from the show Dawson's Creek, which my roommate got me hooked on in college. She's the kind I wanted to see end up with a nice guy...not a much older man. In some psychology texts, there's the idea that older men who get into relationship with much younger women do so in order to shape them to their liking. It's quite unfair for the younger person in the relationship and they probably don't realize it until its too late.

That seems to be the case with Katie Holmes. She was swept away in a whirlwind romance with an actor she once had posters of hanging on her bedroom walls as a teenager. When I learned that fact about her, I had a bad feeling about the whole thing. She had a crush on him before she became a famous actress, so she was probably like many teenage girls, dreaming about what it would be like to date or marry a Hollywood celebrity. Then, when it happens, she hardly had time to get her bearings. She was pregnant before an engagement occurred. And then she went off and married him, probably thinking she could endure his religion because the rest of her life with him would be a fantasy fairy tale come true.

So, Katie, is it still a fairy tale for you? Or a nightmare? Many of the photos of the couple don't look good. She seems unhappy, isolated, exhausted, and lonely. Tom seems to love his daughter Suri a great deal, like a proud biological father, with Katie as a secondary figure. The tabloid and gossip rags occasionally run a cover story on the Cruises, and the stories are never good.

One lady at work brings in these magazines, and I can't help looking at an issue when the cover promises to reveal the state of their marriage. I couldn't care less about Jon and Kate or Brangelina, or Britney or the host of other regulars who keep these rags in business. But Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes? I'm intrigued because I feel bad for Katie. I believe that she had no idea what she was getting into when she got pregnant with his child. He's well known to be a major control freak, and mixed with his fanatical devotion to $cientology, it begins to look like a marriage made in hell. She doesn't look free to be herself. According to one article I read, she lost many of her friends when she married him because he restricts access. In the early part of their relationship, she was often seen with a "minder" from the cult of $cientology.

Its heartbreaking to see these sad photographs of an unhappy Katie Holmes. She's America's sweetheart! Had she married a guy closer to her own age and more equal in success level, she might have been much happier and more independent. Instead, she looks worn down. All I have to say to her is: RUN, Katie, RUN!!! Get the hell out of there while you're still young. Don't let Tom Cruise destroy your right to a happy and free life.

As for the cult of $cientology, I consider it to be a serious threat to American democracy. I would never vote for a candidate to political office who belonged to this cult. They operate like a police state, with harassment of anyone who criticizes the organization. I hope they put me on their hate list, because make no mistake. I am an enemy of $cientology. The organization is one of the worst frauds ever concocted. I hope more people will learn more about it and not join. Don't even take a free personality test, because they keep it on file. They will use any information they have on you against you. So long as they keep calling themselves a religion, I will join forces with those who also share my view in that this organization should not be classified as a religion or have a tax-exempt status. It is a ponzi scheme that needs to be shut down for good. There is no difference between what L. Ron Hubbard created and what happened with Bernie Madoff. Both men, in their greed, took advantage of naive people who were seeking a better life with their hard-earned cash.

Join the movement against $cientology today!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

(Not So) Coo-Coo for Coco

On Friday, not one...but TWO bio-pics were released. Who schedules this? Its downright stupid. There are so many weekends during the year where nothing really good gets released, then BOOM...as often happens during the fall season, two or three films I want to see get released on the same weekend. What's a guy on a budget to do? Choose carefully!

As a confirmed bio-pic fan (yes, there is such a person), I really love seeing the lives of historically relevant people on the big screen. I would amend Andy Warhol's infamous prediction that "In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes." No! Not everyone deserves (or wants) fame. Fame should only be bestowed on those who have done something to improve our society or world. None of these reality show created faux dramas (I'm talking to you Jon and Kate and your dysfunctional squabble on the pages of tabloids that stare at me when I'm waiting to buy my groceries).

On Friday, I had to choose between the bio-pic on Amelia Earhart and on Coco Chanel. Normally, this would be no contest. I'm not really interested in the fashion industry because I believe that they help create a more superficial world (I've never found most models to be particularly attractive, though there are a few exceptions. In the 90s, I thought Linda Evangelista and Iman were intriguingly beautiful while other sailors drooled over Cindy Crawford).

However, because my favourite actress, Audrey Tautou, stars as the fashion pioneer, I'll see her in anything. To me, Audrey represents the ideal female...attractive in a cute, non-intimidating way; intelligent; passionate; quirky role choices; and most of all FRENCH! French women and their mannerisms (hand gestures and expressive lips) in addition to the natural seductive qualities of the French language make for an excellent combination. I cannot resist a French woman at all. Even ones who are only average in looks are attractive because of the language and expressive way they speak it. What's a red-blooded American male to do? (cough, cough...move to France...cough, cough!).

So, Audrey as Coco beats Hilary Swank as Amelia (I've never been a fan of Hilary, especially after she robbed Annette Bening of her deserved Best Actress Oscar in 2000 for American Beauty). I will see Amelia, though, because when I paid for my ticket to see Coco Before Chanel, I got a free movie ticket (part of the joys of having a Regal Cinema membership card).

I knew very little about Coco Chanel going into the film. Practically all I knew about her is the ads I've seen over the years for the "Chanel Number 5" fragrance line. And that its considered a luxury product line among women. That's it.

Well, as I learned in a quick read on Wikipedia, Coco was a visionary lady in terms of making fashion more comfortable for upper class women, who often wore corsets and other devices as part of an elegant wardrobe to look good. Comfort was not a consideration. Coco adopted men's clothes for her own use and her style evolved from there. From what I learned, her style influenced the "flapper look" of the Roaring 20s. That was interesting to learn on Wikipedia. When I was a boy, around 10 and 11 years old, I first learned about "flappers" and found them oddly intriguing and attractive. To this day, I still find flappers to be an attractive style for ladies to adopt (not just the look, but the attitude). I made my grandmother laugh when I asked her if she was a flapper once. I didn't know at the time that it was well before her time (she was born in 1925). Now I learn that it was Coco Chanel who inspired that style. Wow. Pretty impressive.

Wish I could say the same for the movie. Though I loved watching Audrey Tautou on the screen (her best acting to date), the film itself was rather boring. It covers her early life, when her father drops her older sister and her off to a Catholic orphanage and disappears out of their lives. The girls end up working at a bar or salon when they are old enough, singing silly songs for tips from well-to-do men. During one such performance, she enchants a wealthy man named Etienne Balsan. She sees him as her ticket out of the working life of being a seamstress by day and a cutesy salon singer at night.

The relationship is not without difficulties, though. He's too embarrassed for his socialite friends to see her at his country estate during lavish parties, so he expects her to blend in with the servants. But when the crowds leave, he's not above requesting her to share his bed at night. Later, a guest of Balsan appears at the estate and its almost love at first sight. This visitor becomes her "one true love," a French-speaking Englishman named Arthur Capel (with the nickname "Boy").

We see scenes of the young Coco offering her critiques of what women wear and how uncomfortable they look. She designs her own simple dresses and hats. In fact, hat making is how she starts her career in the fashion industry. I thought it was interesting to see how a woman's passion and visionary idea (how come no one else thought to make clothing more comfortable for upper class women by the turn of the 20th century?) came into being. She deserved her success (Time magazine apparently included her as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, the only fashion designer to make the list. Take that Yves Saint-Laurent, Gianni Versace, and Jean-Paul Gautier).

Unfortunately, though, the movie moved a bit too slow for my liking and didn't have as many interesting scenes from her life as I had hoped. Others may like the film, depending on personal tastes, of course. For me, though, there was only one reason to see this movie and that reason is:

Ahhhhhhhhhhh...how can I not find her attractive? She is the one person I would love to meet the most right now and talk to her in my college-level French. There is so much I'd love to talk to her about. A month or so ago, I saw her on Craig Ferguson's show (in a YouTube clip) and I was frustrated by his hogging the conversation. She hardly got a word in. She was much more impressive on the Charlie Rose Show a few years back when she was promoting her World War I set film, A Very Long Engagement. It was this interview that impressed Ron Howard enough to hire her to play French cryptologist Sophie Neveu in the film version of The Da Vinci Code (a wise choice!). Word of advice to talk show hosts: let her speak! I'm not watching it to hear you do most of the talking.

I also wanted to give a good mention to actor Alessandro Nivola, who co-stars as Coco's one true love, Arthur Capel. This actor first captured my attention in 1999's Mansfield Park (which starred my other favourite actress, Frances O'Connor). He was in Jurassic Park III. But he truly impressed me in Laurel Canyon, playing a British lead-singer in a rock band trying to record an album in the hills above Los Angeles. Not only does he speak in a very convincing English accent, but he sings two of the best songs I've heard this decade: Shade and Honey and Someday, I Will Treat You Good. Because of his convincing accent in a couple of movies, I thought he was an English actor. Nope. He's Boston-born and bred. However, his name throws me off, because its very Italian. Now, he speaks French in this movie. I'm impressed! He's the kind of actor I like: International (just like me!).

Come to think of it...I seem to have a bias towards internationalists. My three favourite actresses are not American. They are Audrey Tautou of France (duh!), Frances O'Connor of Australia, and Thandie Newton of the United Kingdom. I also love Penelope Cruz of Spain. My favourite actors (besides American Tom Hanks) include Ewan McGregor (of Scotland), Hugh Jackman and Eric Bana, both of Australia. I'm glad that our world is getting smaller. Its great to see internationals in our film industry. I wouldn't expect anything less in the Obama Era. Its time for nationalism to die away. We are global citizens now. What we do impacts the world.

Back to Coco Before Chanel...I wish that I could like it more, but it was only mildly interesting. Certainly could wait until DVD. I've heard the reviews are mixed for Amelia, but I have a free ticket and I've wanted to see a film about her for a long time. She grew up in the same hometown as my father (Atchison, Kansas), so I grew up with her legend and mysterious disappearance. I remember hearing when I was a child, my mother thinking that Amelia Earhart was "raptured" in flight (thus explaining the disappearance). But, its a big ocean in the days before satellites, black boxes, and rapid response rescue teams. At any rate, I hope it will be more interesting than the Coco movie and The Aviator (which I hated, except for Cate Blanchett's performance).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Music Video Monday: Aerosmith



For this week's music video selection, I had to go with Aerosmith's "Crazy", which was one of three music videos that starred Alicia Silverstone and how I first became a fan of hers. Many of the clips on YouTube are not available for exporting, so this is the only one I could feature on my blog.

I read on the IMDB website for Alicia Silverstone, and learned that she hates being referred to as "the Aerosmith girl." So glad that I did not bring it up when I met her last week. I only had a brief minute to talk to her when she was signing a copy of her book for me, so while there was much I'd love to talk with her about, I just stuck with what she talked about (changing to a vegan diet) because I was truly impressed with her enthusiastic passion for veganism. I did not intend to buy her book when I went to the lecture. In her talk, she revealed a kind of depth I didn't think she had (because I only know about her through her film choices, which have not been good). She just may very well be my favourite celebrity because I think she is genuine and truly interested in making our world a better place.

Enjoy!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Going Rogue versus Going Rouge

A friend of mine posted a link on her Facebook page last week that showed the above photos. On the same day as Sarah Palin's ghostwritten "memoir" is released, another book full of newspaper editorials about Palin from a variety of writers will also be released. This can't be good news for Sarah Palin, since the titles are similar, as are the cover photos. Because Palin seems to attract "low information voters" as her fan base, they are likely to confuse the two and pick up the wrong book. What's a Palinista to do?!?

My friend (Tamara) inspired a debate with this. Or maybe my comments did, because it provoked comments from the lady (Cindy) I knew from church who de-friended me on Facebook a few months ago for what she calls my "toxic" criticisms of Bush, Cheney, and Palin. She had no time for "negative energy" in her life. Only one other lady (also a church member) on my Facebook friends list has also complained about my liberal comments. It makes me laugh because everyone else just lets it go if they disagree. I have a diverse range of friends. One guy posts at least ten anti-religious article links a day. I mostly skip over his stuff. I don't understand why these two conservative ladies who criticized my comments can't do the same. It tells me that they can't tolerate any idea that goes against what they believe.

When I was in the Navy and at BYU, I heard nothing but anti-Clinton and anti-Gore talk from everyone else. I would listen to the criticisms for any useful information or else ignore the more outrageous critiques. Some criticisms had merit and were worth looking into. I'm not a blind follower of anyone. I love balance. I think it says a lot about a person who can't deal with hearing criticism of the leaders they follow. This debate (which I included below) makes me think of what Barbara Ehrenreich said at the booksigning on Thursday. Some people can't stand to hear anything that they consider "negative" that they prefer to lock themselves in some happy bubble that bounces back negative news. Bush was notorious as a finger in the ears, blah-blah-blah-I-can't-hear-you, child. And we are living with the results of someone who could not deal with a reality that resulted from his making decisions that were based on neo-conservative fantasies that had nothing to do with the truth.

On the 2012 Draft Sarah Committee on Facebook, one devoted Palinista made me laugh by her exuberant claims that she knows the reason why Palin quit the governorship. She wrote that Sarah knows where the oil is hiding beneath the Alaska tundra and will reveal the location and thus save our country from having to import any more Middle Eastern oil! When I read that, I could not believe the depth of ignorance and devotion this lady had to the beloved Quitter Queen. It truly is a cult among Palinistas! When I mentioned that Palin had quit her job at Alaska Oil and Gas, I was told by another Palinista to "go away!" They aren't interested in the truth. They just want to live in their fantasy world that Sarah Palin will manage to do for them what Bush and Reagan failed to do. What could that be? I'm thinking that they want nothing less than a full scale culture war, with liberal casualties, until America becomes a Christofascist dictatorship with Queen Sarah as the ruler of all!

Over my dead fucking body!!!

The Palinistas are stricken with the belief that anyone who criticizes Sarah is "afraid" of her, which only makes them love her even more. Cindy (as you'll read below) mentioned the fear that liberals supposedly have of her, which tells me that she's a Palinista herself. To be fair, Cindy is a spiritual woman and I like her. But there is a reason why I never spoke politics with her. My parents told me who all the Republicans at the Atlanta North Community of Christ congregation are, so I never talked politics with any of them. So, not many of them knew that I'm a loyal, liberal Democrat. Not just any kind of Democrat, but in the mold of Paul Wellstone, Russell Feingold, Howard Dean, and Barbara Boxer. And proud of it!

It saddens me to see people in our church duped by the demagogues of the right. If they understood the ulterior motives of the people they support, I don't think they would be supporting them. Or if they would, even after learning the truth behind the motives of the rightwing demagogues, they should be asked to leave the church. I know that's a harsh thing to say, because our church is truly open to all and that's the way it should be.

However, what these conservative church members seem to ignore about rightwing demagogues is that the underlying dream for our country is a full scale Christofascist government, with a conservative, evangelical Christianity as the state religion. Reading what some of the leaders of this movement want, you would think that they were members of the Taliban. They advocate the U.S. Constitution to be replaced with the Ten Commandments, that the verses in Leviticus would be the rule of law. They would stone to death homosexuals, women who have abortions, liberals, atheists, humanists, adulterers, fornicators, and basically everyone who does not live a repressive, ultra-conservative lifestyle.

That's not a country I want to live in. That's not a country Jesus would advocate as the ideal. I don't think most members of my church would like that kind of country either. Especially since conservative evangelicals consider our church to be a cult. We would be on the list for a deadly stoning.

Sarah Palin grew up in the Assemblies of God church but attends an evangelical mega-church now that is part of the "Dominionist" movement, which believes literally in the end-times prophecies of the Book of Revelations. That means apocalypse, rapture, tribulation, the Anti-Christ, and the mark of the beast. In other words, crazy ass shit. We've seen the dangers involved when a president (who has the nuclear access codes 24/7!) believes in doomsday prophecies that precede Jesus's return. Bush supposedly told French President Jacques Chirac that he needed to join the coalition to oust Saddam from Iraq because God told him to invade Iraq. Bush also supposedly told evangelical televangelist Pat Robertson that God told him that there would not be a single American casualty in Iraq.

Sorry...but if your religious views lead America into disasterous wars of your choosing, you don't belong in the seat of power. Because Bush violated spiritual laws, it wasn't a surprise to me that his presidency was an epic failure. The law of karma is reality, whether one believes it or not. Your actions will always come back to you sooner or later. The quote I love that sums up karma is: "First you create the experience, then you experience the creation." So if you create chaos, devastation, pain, and death, it'll come back eventually. If you create peace, tranquility, cooperation, and life-affirming policies, you'll reap the rewards of that.

In the Facebook debate, I kicked it off by asking Tamara (who lived in Alaska during Palin's first year as governor) about the rumours that I keep reading about on several anti-Palin blogs.

Nicholas:
So...did she fake her pregnancy?

Tamara
I was not there I don't know and I don't care.

Nicholas
Its an issue with some people...because if she wants to run for national political office, it does matter. I thought you might have heard such stories when you were up in Alaska. I've been reading a lot of strange things about her lately. Someone should give her a reality show as a consolation prize, just so she can stay out of politics.

Tamara
Oh, of course, I heard the gammut of rumors about Trig and I do think she will resurface to run for Pres or something. I think she is most likely underground so she can become "educated" honestly, however, that isn't going to help her foreign policy, but then again Obama didn't have much foreign policy under his belt either. It's hard to say what her game plan is right now. Only serpents hide under rocks... that's all I know.

Dale
Tamara, I guess you haven't picked up any rocks lately... and aren't there snakes that live in trees ( a boa comes to mind )??

Cindy
All I can say is the Liberals must feel really threatened by this woman or else they would not spend so much time trying to destroy her. She isn't even in public office but is still under attack! Why can't she just live her life and raise her children like everyone else?

Walt
I don't think disagreeing with the things she says in public is necessarily 'destroying her'.

Dale
Cindy, liberals AND moderates are not threatened by this woman ( her approval rating is less than 30% ).She seems to self-destruct so why bother to attack her! Believe me she doesn't raise her children like everyone else! Parents of a child with Downs Syndrome KNOW what to do and the major factor is the child must be with the mother for the first 3 years of it's life... not having Mom running around the country opening her mouth to prove how stupid she is! The fact she was flying in a jet in the last stage of her pregnancy says it all ( and odd she kept her pregnancy a secret... you are not suppose to be in a pressurized cabin flying for one ).

Cindy
Sorry, just don't think anyone has earned the right to judge her lest you have never done anything wrong or stupid in your life! If you haven't then, fine, pick up the stone. . . . .

Tamara
I do think it is funny, Cindy, that she was the one that said she didn't want anyone talking about her children and yet at every phot op she had her children on her hip and at her side, but don't talk about them. On the campaign trail you hardly ever, ever saw Obama's girls. Quite the contrast. I am not saying she got what she deserved, but she has burned a lot of bridges and she is the one who lit the match.

Cindy
I don't think she ever claimed to be perfect, either. Nobody deserves to have their life under a microscope for the whole world to see----I think you would agree. and I just think if we spent less time pointing out other people's faults, there would be more hope for the Kingdom to come here on earth.

Nicholas
Cindy, what about when Palin goes around the country accusing Obama of "palling around with terrorists", telling her loyal fans that he's "not American" like they are, and that Obama plans to set up "death panels" to kill grandma and her special needs people like her son? She reaps what she sows.

Palin is simply unfit to become president. And her story about how she gave birth to Trig is simply the most incredible story you'll ever hear a person give. It doesn't make logical sense. If we go by what she claims, that means she put two flights at risk, which could have inconvenienced a lot of passengers had she went into labor on the airplane. To me, that kind of selfish act should disqualify anyone from being given the most powerful job in the world.

Second point, she quit her office mid-term and that would not reflect well for a commander-in-chief. Our military can't serve half of their contract and decide to quit when the going got tough.

I agree with Tamara. I don't think Palin has any intention of running for president. She hasn't ruled it out, because the moment she does, she'll lose her supporters, who she needs to finance the lifestyle she's become accustomed to. Believe me, I am all in favour of her resuming private life to focus on being a good mother to her children. Trig deserves his mother's full attention.

Nicholas
*Oops, Tamara, I thought that you wrote that you believed she would not run for president. I read that wrong.

Dale
Cindy, I have ever right to "judge" Sarah Palin... one, she is a public figure and two, as a gay man SHE has already judged me!

Cindy
I am not trying to defend Sara Palin nor is she running for President that I am aware of. I am trying to make a point that this continual attack on individuals I cannot in any way condone (whether it is an attack on Obama or anyone else). I have always said you can disagree strongly with someone's political views and actions without trying to destroy their character. And yes, you do reap what you sow, so why worry about what someone else does when we will be judged in the same way that we judge others.

Dale
"Why worry about what someone else does when we will be judged in the same way that we judge others"?Other than that statement makes NO sense, we have every right to truthful exam what our election officials say and do... we are American citizens!

Nicholas
It is not destroying her...it is educating people on things Sarah has said herself. This woman would be a complete disaster as president. Much worse than Bush. People need to learn more about her. Jesus did tell his followers "by their fruits ye shall know them." Sarah is passing off bad fruit to her loyal fanbase.

I don't know how anyone could look at her rallies last year and not see the hate and ugliness that people displayed. Some even shouted out "Kill him!" in reference to Obama, while one old man carried a Curious George doll with an Obama sticker. She was practically encouraging her fans to hate Obama, look at him like a foreigner, a Muslim, who is friends with terrorists, and wants to destroy our country.

So, yes, I think by Sarah's words and deeds, she invites scrutiny and deserves it until she decides to retreat to private life in Alaska and not send messages to her fans that the president wants to set up a death panel to kill her baby. That kind of talk is dangerous. With the amount of death threats against the president, its the equivalent of putting a loaded gun on the table and daring some crazy person to use it. I don't want to see Obama end up like JFK, RFK, or MLK.

Nicholas
Cindy, the only one who can "destroy" Palin's character is Sarah Palin herself. She speaks of family values, but parades her children out on the campaign trail. To deny the rumours that she faked her pregnancy, she publically revealed that her daughter was 5 months pregnant (why not let her daughter stay behind in Alaska instead of parading them before mass audiences?). Palin talks about how great special needs babies are and vowed that she would do everything she can for them, but then as governor slashed funding for things like the Special Olympics.

When there is a gap between what a person claims and what they do, it is right for anyone to look at it and scrutinize it. I expect it for Obama or anyone else. Its part of holding public officials accountable.

I'm sure a lot of Palin's scrutiny is the residue of people feeling like Bush didn't get the intense scrutiny he should have in 1999. Too many people were hurt by the policies he enacted, so they don't want the same thing to happen again. If Palin does run in 2012, I will be voting in the Republican primary so I can give Mitt Romney or Charlie Crist my vote.

Dale
Mitt Romney deserves a thread of his own... like how out sourcing of American jobs has made his companies little bit more richer!

Nicholas
Dale, none of the Republican prospects are good choices from a liberal's standpoint. But one of them would be a complete disaster for our country. I know that Palin fans seem to think liberals are "scared" of their beloved queen, but Americans need to seriously analyze why the Bush administration was such a failure. Doing so is not a partisan thing. Carter's presidency was not considered a success.

What I don't understand about Palin supporters is how willing they are to be swept away by surface issues (she hunts! she has a lot of kids! she looks great!) and ignore the deeper issues (her general ignorance and disinterest in global issues). Knowing what we now know about Bush, we have no excuse to let that happen again. The thing that scares me is that Palin shows even less knowledge and interest than Bush. To her, the presidency would be a title that puts her in the history books as the first woman president. There are far more qualified Republican women that I'd rather see break that glass ceiling: Kay Bailey Hutchison, Christie Todd Whitman, Olympia Snowe, or Condoleeza Rice.

I'd rather see Bush return as president than to see a President Palin. No matter which way I looked at it, a Palin presidency would be unacceptable under any circumstances. Our troops deserve a commander in chief who won't quit on them.

*****************************************************

The debate moved into another topic (regarding Condoleezza Rice).

Here's my view about Palin. Its not that I'm afraid of her, because I don't fear her at all. She's a shallow, ignorant woman whose motives for wanting to be president have nothing to do with wanting to make our country or world a better place. Its a desire she has to enshrine herself in the history books as the first woman president. It's the "title" and the glory of being the first that she's after. How do I know this? Because of her pattern of behaviour. She operates as though she has a chip on her shoulder, which probably stemmed from high school. She was a beauty queen and probably wasn't taken seriously. She's been trying to prove herself ever since, but coming up short (going to five universities? Quitting jobs after two years? Unable to answer a simple question about what she reads?).

People accuse Obama of wanting to be president since Kindergarten (because he wrote on a class assignment that he would like to be one someday). There's nothing wrong with presidential ambition. But the path Obama took did not seem like it would lead that way. After all, he turned down job offers on Wall Street in the mid-80s to be a low wage community organizer on the mean streets of South Chicago. Palin mocked his community organizing experience in her debut Republican National Convention speech (to much applause in the audience), but what he did as a young man is admirable. That's not an easy job by any means. The hours are long, the wages low, and the achievements tend to be insignificant to the big picture. It has a high burn-out rate, because you're dealing with chronic poverty, government red-tape, exploitation and indifference by owners of the low income housing complexes.

Palin supporters deride Obama, saying things like he lacks experience (but so did Bush and that didn't stop their support of him in 2000), that he reads the teleprompter (duh! So did Bush, so why is that an issue now?), and that he's too foreign or "un-American" (which is the reason why he is popular around the world). In contrast, they want an ignorant woman to be president and anyone who criticizes her is "afraid of her."

As I stated before, I don't fear this woman because there is nothing to fear. Her vapid ignorance and nonsensical way of speaking makes her hard to take seriously. She's like the country's court jester. A reality show contestant who overreaches her abilities. When Palinistas make the claim that God wants her to be president, I usually comment that if God wanted her to be president, why did God give her a special needs baby? If she became president, little Down's Syndrome Trig will not have his mother's full attention. What's more important? Palin as President or Trig having a mommy who takes care of him and doesn't leave him to nannies or older sister Bristol? But, I don't expect "the party of family values" to actually live their family values. There's too much evidence to the contrary.

If by some strange fluke Palin did become president, I would hope that there would be an open rebellion against it. She would be the most ignorant person to ever hold that office, surpassing George W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and Calvin Coolidge. The people around her would take advantage of her ignorance, just as Cheney did of Bush. Also, her personal dysfunctions would come to the forefront and serve as a distraction. We've already seen what happens when a president can't keep his dysfunctions from overruling his talents (that would be Bill Clinton, of course). America would once again become isolated in the world, because other world leaders would learn really quick just how ignorant Palin was. She would easily be manipulated by shrewd leaders (like Putin's puppet Medvedev and Iran's Ahmadinejad).

Americans were kept in the dark about how Bush came across to other people around the world. Many leaders learned quickly that he wasn't a smart guy. He was also unpopular, as people avoided him. And photos of a drunk Bush at the Beijing Olympics last year brought to mind the drunken embarrassment that Russian President Boris Yeltsin brought to G-8 meetings during the Clinton years. I don't know why the American media does not reveal the truth about how our leader is perceived around the world. Conservatives tend not to go out of the country, so they easily fall for scare tactics that foreigners are all bad and want to kill us (this view is even preached from the pulpit of the church my brother attends). And they believe Fox Propaganda Network's lies about Bush being liked and respected around the world.

I've known plenty of people who traveled Europe during the Bush years and they all said the same thing. When the Europeans they met learned they were American, they got bombarded with questions about why they "voted" for someone like Bush. Some mentioned wanting to put the Canadian flag on their clothes just so they didn't have to explain our domestic political situation. I wish conservatives who love Bush and Palin would travel outside our country for awhile. It would change their views somewhat, I think. At my place of work, I have the most problems with the people who have never been out of the country. The closest friendships I've made at work all have foreign travel in their background experience. I don't think that's accidental.

Its not a sense of fear that I dread the prospect of a President Palin. I love our country too much to see such a divisive and ignorant person lead us. I try, try, try to understand her appeal among evangelical Christians and I just can't. I knew why they liked Bush, but I just can't figure out what it is about Palin that appeals to them. She's so transparently phony its like you truly have to be willfully ignorant to not see what a disaster she would be. I truly think that to be a member of the Republican Party these days, you have to check your brain at the door. Intelligence does not matter. They keep supporting candidates who are dumber than their previous presidents (Palin is dumber than Bush, who was dumber than both his father and Reagan. Reagan was dumber than Ford, who was dumber than Nixon). This is not the kind of evolution that will make our country a better place.

All Palin will do is extend the culture wars, which are stupid. The way to win the culture war is through economic boycotts of programs you don't like. You vote with your dollars. Washington politicians don't have any affect on what Hollywood produces. You'd think conservatives would learn this by now. After all, they supported an actor for president, who was once president of the American Motion Picture Association. If Reagan couldn't change Hollywood, what makes them think Palin would be able to?

I will say it here and now on my blog...I will not accept a President Palin under any circumstances. I hope that whatever skeletons she's hiding in her closets in Alaska will surface before 2012 and that she will be exposed for the shallow and phony fame-chaser that she is. Some liberals call her a "grifter", which I think is funny. We've seen the kind of damage a person can do to our country because too many people were conned by Bush's phony "compassionate conservative" talk in 2000. Everything about Palin reveals that she would be much much worse than Bush. If Republicans want to make history with a woman president, then I would support a Condoleezza Rice or Christine Todd Whitman candidacy. Both women are more intelligent, more experienced, and more presidential than Sarah Palin could ever dream of being.

Finally, I want to tell any of my fellow church members who might like Sarah Palin. If you support her, learn the facts. She's part of a church that believes our church is a cult! Make your choice now. Do you choose our church or do you choose the politics of religious divisiveness? Is diversity, tolerance, and PEACE more important to you than some supposedly "religious" woman you think you like based on superficial "character traits" (gun-toting, moose hunting, big family, anti-abortion, special needs hockey mom)?

I'll tell you right now...there's nothing about Palin that would inspire peace. She's all about keeping the culture wars going and unleashing armaggedon so her church can have a front seat to Jesus' second coming. It is imperative that members of the Community of Christ reject demagogues who seek to divide our country and increase intolerance and ignorance. Jesus did, after all, warn his followers about false prophets and explained how to recognize them: "By their fruits, ye shall know them." To know Palin, all we have to do is look at her personal history and we will see a disturbing pattern of petty vindictiveness, a flaky tendency to quit when things get rough, and more dysfunction than a Jackson family reunion. We owe the people of the world only the best person to lead us. Is that too much to ask for?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Perils of Brightsidedness

On Thursday evening, I skipped my weekly group meditation at the Unitarian Church (which I hate skipping because I get a great benefit from it) so I could once again go to Powell's City of Books to attend yet another lecture / booksigning. This time, it was for Barbara Ehrenreich, whom I saw the last time she came to Powell's to promote her last book: This Land is Their Land. She had a big crowd last time, so I expected a packed audience. She's quite witty with her observations and easily had us laughing quite a few times. Her lecture brought out a full crowd, but not as much as for Alicia Silverstone on Wednesday.

So what would possess me to skip my meditation group (which I've only missed two Thursdays since I started going back in July)? I was intriged by the topic of her new book: Bright-sided. Its about America's obsession with positivity, particularly in the mega-churches, the corporate motivational speakers seminars, and even with New Agey fads like The Secret. I was especially interested in hearing what she had to say because she has a good track record on ideas (based on her previous book subjects: Nickel and Dimed, Bait and Switch, and This Land is Their Land). Since I've been reading a lot about inspiration and the law of attraction, I was interested in hearing what a more skeptical person has to say about it. Full disclosure, though: I have not read any of her books. Just skimmed them and read reviews. So many books, so little time. That's the reason why I haven't read any of hers (yet). I want to, but there are more books that interest me at the moment.

With her latest lecture, I agree with parts of what she said while I disagreed with other parts. I do understand her gripe, though. She said it best when she said that people who have experienced a bad break in life have the right to be angry. Anger can be a useful emotion to help you come to terms with whatever happened to you. Unfortunately, in America, people tend to want to mask the real emotion and just keep a happy outlook. Its kind of shallow. You can actually see this when people ask "How are you?" as a "hello" when they see you. Try answering honestly on a day you happen not to be feeling the best and you'll often realize that the other person wasn't so much interested in your response. We don't hear each other a lot of times. We think everyone ought to be shiny, happy people all the time.

I agree with Barbara's point that it is wrong to tell a person that whatever happened to them "happened for a reason." It may be true, but it may not be. But regardless, it is the wrong sentiment to express to a person grieving something. An example of this was an article I read by an apostle in my church. The apostle's husband was swept away by a rogue wave when they walked a beach in Baja California. The husband just disappeared in a blink of an eye. The lady obviously grieved the tragic loss.

In the article she wrote, she mentioned some things people said to her, such as what I consider to be the most idiotic statement anyone could ever tell another person: "God needed him more than you." WRONG!!! God is not needy, so God is not going to "recall" somebody just because they are somehow more needed in the spiritual realm than on the earthly plain. In my personal beliefs, I have the view that it is difficult to know for sure if a death is pre-ordained (as part of one's lifeplan) or an accident. I believe accidental deaths ("before one's time") happen. Its part of living on the earthly plane. Sometimes, shit happens and you're screwed. It's not God recalling someone, it wasn't pre-ordained, it just happened because accidents do happen.

One lady that I know, her son had committed suicide on September 11, 2005. People did not seem to know what to say to her and they felt uncomfortable around her. Our friendship grew out of that tragedy because I felt real compassion towards her and just offered my listening ears. When we first met, she had called herself a "fundamentalist Christian" and I cringed when she told me because in my mind, "fundamentalist" has negative connotations due to the hell I experienced sharing a cubicle for a year with a fundamentalist Christian woman in my first post-college job. This lady, whose son committed suicide, did not strike me as a fundamentalist. She was too intelligent, well-traveled, and open-minded.

In the aftermath of her son's suicide, she learned that the evangelical church she attended were low on compassion. She experienced cold shoulders in her darkest hour, and this really confused her. It wasn't what she thought Christianity was all about. As a result, she moved in a more New Agey direction so she found a compadre in me. She also wore nothing but black clothes for over a year. I remember hearing another co-worker ask me why she only wears black. In her view, the lady needed to "get over" her son's suicide. I, on the other hand, told the lady to do whatever she felt would pay proper respect to the son she loved and mourned. Telling someone to "get over it" is the stupidest thing to say. What I learned from this experience is how shallow people can be in regards to another person's suffering. I believe that I am more compassionate than most people and maybe this is a big clue in terms of the career path I should take. People often share things with me like they think I'm a priest or something. Always! Since high school and the Navy.

Maybe its because I allow people to be real. In fact, I encourage it. I hate phoniness. Nothing is more phony to me than corporate culture where people are acting crazy happy over the stupidest shit. The whole "motivational speakers" circuit that is populated by cheesy corporate clowns like Anthony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, and the like. The problem with viewing everything through rose-coloured lens is that you get a distorted view of the situation. This mindset fosters groupthink, which can be disasterous. In fact, Barbara points out that Bush was a product of this corporate "positive motivation" mindset. He was also a cheerleader in college, so its a job he apparently took all the way to the White House.

Barbara mentioned that Condoleezza Rice is on record saying that Bush simply did not deal with bad news at all. This was obvious in his handling of terrorist threats received by the CIA in August 2001, with the war in Iraq, and with Katrina (a staff member had to compile a special DVD for Bush and make him watch it five days after the fact). This point can't be emphasized enough. The connection is striking. An inability to deal with reality and the preference for only looking at positive news can actually do more harm than good. If you don't have a good grasp on the reality of a situation, you can't adapt, adjust, or deal with it. The proof is in the disasterous unfolding of eight years of Bushism. Remember that famous quote that was probably uttered by Karl Rove? It said something like: "We're an empire now. We create our own reality and all you'll get to do is observe while we create new realities." How did that work for you, Rove? To illustrate one of their failed aims: "Permanent Republican Majority." That was one reality they tried to create but it backfired big time. Now the Republican brand is so toxic, even moderate Republicans are embarrassed.

This positive-minded obsession is simply just another control device. Somewhere, a balance needs to be achieved. Dissenting opinion on ideas is a good thing, because if you only weigh the pro's of an idea and fail to look at the cons, you might be blindsided when one of the cons knock you on your ass. In the economic meltdown, there were plenty of people who blew the whistle early on, but their caution was ignored. The same with Iraq. When one General testified before Congress that we would need at least 300,000 troops to secure Iraq, Paul Wolfowitz countered that he was "widely off the mark." Rumsfeld wanted a lean fighting force of less than 150,000 troops (Operation Desert Shield / Storm had over 500,000 troops in 1990-1991). People should not be punished because they present an idea that is not popular to those in power. I see this at work all the time. Suggestions to improve efficiency have been ignored because my supervisor created an overly complex process on several procedures that only she knows how to do. This manipulation was done to make her "fire proof" even though it lessens efficiency. I guess job security is more important to some people than improvement in the procedures.

The other critique Barbara offered was at how this "brightsidedness" has affected mega-churches. She mentioned Joel Osteen as an example. Sometimes when I channeled surfed, I came across a sermon Osteen was giving. I'll watch for a couple minutes just get a sense of him. He is a good speaker and draws me in, but I always end up feeling the same way about him. He's too slick and kind of smarmy. I wouldn't put a lot of stock in what he says and I certainly wouldn't give money to him. He has a mega-church in Texas and according to Barbara, you won't find a cross anywhere in this church. There's nothing to make people feel bad. Instead of the hellfire and brimstone type of sermon messages, Osteen offers the "tithe and more wealth will come your way" idea. Mega-churches, to me, aren't real Christianity but more like Capitalistianity. The worship is of the Almighty Dollar. No thanks.

While I agree with a lot of what Barbara said regarding how this brightsided mentality has affected corporations, government, and our workplaces for the worst, I think there are some things she either does not understand or does not want to examine. One speaker I like a lot is Wayne Dyer. I've read several of his books. I can't find a single flaw with them. He's all about making self-improvements and learning about what you really desire. He also promotes inspiration as a force for good in our world. We could certainly use more inspiration in our lives. Barbara did not mention Wayne Dyer, though, so I don't know if she would put his philosophy into the group she includes in her book.

I believe that the law of attraction is real, because I have seen it occur in my own life (where I received what I desired and envisioned). Many spiritual / self-help / psychologist speakers mention "the law of attraction." The problem with gimmicks like The Secret is that it promoted a shallow materialism, similar to the multi-level marketing company I got suckered into attending the presentation back in 1996. However, I always had a good sense when someone was trying to con me. I do not like shallow people at all. The Secret was all about gimme, gimme, gimme (do they also want a man after midnight like the ladies of ABBA?). People read that book and think if they just dream and wish something, it will materialize. What is not mentioned is that it takes work and self-awareness.

When I hear people say the law of attraction does not work, I don't think they really put a lot of energy in it. Since I can't judge how authentic a person is or their level of honesty, all I can focus on is my own experiences. I have seen so many of my desires come true that I don't believe it could be coincidental. There is something to it. There is a connection between what you think and what shows up in your life. However, a shallow person who reads The Secret to learn how to become rich is missing the point. I don't think they have the depth to understand what they truly want. But it is difficult to analyze another person's experience with the law of attraction simply because its up to each individual to figure out on their own. People aren't going to reveal some of their deepest thoughts to others in an effort to understand why the law of attraction isn't working for them.

I don't think Barbara understood this. Its easy to use as examples people who tried to get the law of attraction to work for them but didn't see their wishes come true. That won't prove anything though, because there are many who have experienced manifesting what they truly desired. I know from personal experience with the number of people I've met over the years that people do things that are illogical or they display signs that they don't really know themselves very well or they aren't completely honest about their experiences or desires. Thus, I don't put a lot of stock into people saying that the law of attraction did not work for them. It worked for me, even before I ever heard of the concept. Its not a perfect system, though, as I'm still trying to learn why I haven't found a new job yet with all my searching and applying. But this is my challenge to overcome, so I wouldn't expect anyone else to understand.

I do know that a lot of people will dismiss ideas in an effort to not be duped or to look like an idiot. So, I can understand why Barbara would pooh-pooh the idea surrounding law of attraction as part of her theory on the dangers of brightsidedness. However, she's a successful writer so if she's honest with herself, she'd examine all the things she managed to attract in her life. None of this would happen without an inner desire on her part. She manifested her career as an important writer.

It was an informative lecture and gave me much to think about. I didn't buy the book, though.