Wednesday, March 31, 2010

When "The Box" Gets Inside Your Head

Last weekend, I finally watched The Box. This is Director Richard Kelly's third film. He became "the director to watch" with his cult-hit first film Donnie Darko (released in 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11, which may or may not have affected its dismal box office tally). Shortly after I saw Donnie Darko in 2004, I was impressed that the director was younger than me. As I learned more about him, he struck me as the kind of guy who would have been in my social circle in high school: his father worked for NASA, he's a creative type, and he wasn't afraid to be himself. I did not like his film on first viewing, but some scenes stood out as brilliant and his selection of songs indicated that we have similar tastes in music. Upon repeated viewings, I became a fan of Donnie Darko. Its a quirky film that doesn't make complete sense, but somehow, it all works. The scene that most impressed me was what Kelly calls "the movie within the movie": the scene which is choreographed to Tears for Fears "Head Over Heels." Its brilliant, what can I say? That one scene pretty much condenses the entire film into the span of the shortened version of that awesome 80s song. There's no doubt about it...Richard Kelly is a child of the 1980s.

He took forever on his follow-up film, Southland Tales. In the meantime, he wrote the script to Domino (a stylized, though dull film). When Southland Tales finally made it to theaters in the fall of 2007, I was excited enough to see it on opening weekend. Though it had some interesting moments, I thought the film was the biggest slap in the face that any director could do to his fans or to his studio financiers. The film is quite simply, a colossal mess. Nonsensical, outlandish, expensive, uninspiring, and repeating some of the same themes that Darko touched on (namely some kind of strange metaphysical occurrence that's not really explained). Many reviews ripped apart this film, particularly with the over-abundance of former Saturday Night Live has-beens. There was one outrageously hilarious scene, though: an SUV coming alive after a thunderbolt struck it, then proceeding to mount and mate another SUV. I believe that this was the first time any movie featured auto-erotica. Straight from the demented mind of Richard Kelly!

I walked out of the theaters wondering, "What the fuck was that?!?" Was Kelly giving it to the man? Was his response to the way his baby Donnie Darko was dumped in theaters after 9/11 (after debuting at the Sundance Film Festival much earlier in the year) to make an expensive, nonsensical film? Does he even want a long career in Hollywood? If he and I were friends, I would have a serious talk with him. I'd say, "Look, dude, I know you got some fucked up ideas, okay? And you just want people to pay good money to see some of this weird shit floating through the cosmos of your brilliant mind, but there's nothing wrong with a good story or making the kind of film that draws an audience. There's a reason why people flocked to Spielberg!" I want to see Richard Kelly have a long career as a director in Hollywood...but making expensive bombs is not the way to do it. Better to make a smaller film that focuses on character development. Smaller is good. Prove yourself with that.

Because of the rip-off that Southland Tales was, I was very hesitant to pay good money to see The Box in theaters. I could wait until DVD. I'm glad that I did. The movie is creepy and gets under your skin like some kind of nasty parasite. That's not saying that its a bad movie, but actually, a surprisingly good one. Certainly more downscale than Southland Tales. In fact, The Box has a very M. Night Shyamalan vibe to it. This is the movie that Shyamalan's The Happening aspired to be. Both films give you the major creeps while watching it, but when both films end, The Box had a brilliant one while The Happening did not. Its interesting to note that Richard Kelly does M. Night Shyamalan better than Shyamalan does!

If you have not seen The Box, please do not read this post after the picture below. It contains spoilers and I don't want to spoil the ending of the film for you. In fact, I would recommend that you watch this film for yourself...then come back and read this blog post. The ending makes The Box one of the most conversation-worthy films I've seen in the past year. I wanted to talk to someone about it after watching it (well, after shaking the willies off of me first!). Even if you think this film might not interest you, please do not deny yourself the chance to get your mind blown by the profound nature of this film...and reading any further will deny you that opportunity. Consider yourself warned!

SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILER ALERT!!!

Please DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER if you have not seen this film!!!

Now...about The Box. The premise is quite simple. James Marsden and Cameron Diaz play a middle class couple in Virginia in 1976, and they have a son (around 10 years old?). Marsden's character works at NASA. Diaz is a school teacher who is missing toes on her right foot, which her husband is working to fix with some kind of special prosthetics. Marsden aspires to be an astronaut, with the hope of being one of them selected for the manned mission to Mars.

One morning (before sunrise), their doorbell rings and a mysterious package is left on the front porch. Inside this package is a strange looking box with a button on top of it and a cryptic message. Later, a scary looking man who is missing the lower left side of his face (actor Frank Langella is enough to give anyone the creeps, but the deformity only heightens the tension) appears with the proposition: If you push the button, someone you don't know will die and you will receive $1 million cash, delivered immediately. They have 24 hours to make a decision.

It wouldn't be much of a movie if the couple declined the offer, now would it? Of course they push the damn button. This sets a chain of events in motion, as the husband tries to find out who the mysterious man is and what is the meaning behind the strange offer. He also learns who died around the time that his wife pushed the button. This part of the film goes into some strange, creepy journey...where people just stare without speaking, or having strange nosebleeds, or walking Zombie-like into watery looking portals. The film builds slowly, one creepy element added upon the next. There are allusions to the National Security Agency (a sinister organization in its own right) and of lightning strikes and the Mars program and even the afterlife.

In one of the big reveals, the viewer learns that "the box" is offered to many people and people keep failing the test. Passing the test means not pushing the button, because it means that you value human life more than your own greed. If humanity cannot give up its greed, the box will continue to be offered until EVERYONE refuses to push the button. In the second big reveal, the couple that pushed the button on "the box" find that their son is kidnapped and is held in an upstairs bathroom. The mysterious being has both blinded and deafened him so that he will never be able to see or hear his parents (or anything else) again. The parents are presented with a second choice. They can allow their son to live that way for the rest of his life or the husband can kill the wife. By choosing this self-sacrifice, the boy will regain his vision and hearing...and the $1 million will be deposited into a trust fund for him.

That's the brilliance of the movie. The first choice reveals a person's greed or humanity. The second choice pays for the consequence of the greed. In the third and final big reveal, the couple decide that their son matters more than the life of the wife/mother and she is killed just after another couple made the choice to press the button on the box for their $1 million. A vicious cycle! The profound cyclical nature just hits the viewer with a "WOW!!!" Holy cow. What a mind blowing experience!!! I love it when that happens. Its rare when something just blows your mind, but this is that film. That's why despite the creepy elements, the ending made the entire premise brilliant. A perfect commentary on humanity today. Essentially, the message I got from the film is that our greed is killing us, though we don't know it. Because we don't truly know ourselves. That's what the choice was meant to convey...by choosing greed, we end up killing someone we don't know: ourself! Self-knowledge is important. Value human life, especially a stranger's life, no matter how tempting the money is.

Though the film bombed in theaters, I really hope that Richard Kelly's directing career is still secure. I would love to see a more straightforward film from him, but I have a feeling that he likes murky metaphysical ideas that go over the heads of most American filmgoers. At any rate, he and I really need to collaborate on a story someday. One of my dreams is to work for him as a co-screenwriter or even a personal assistant. Its rare to meet someone who is not afraid to think of ideas that go beyond the realm of what most people are interested in discussing. Good job, Kelly! I can't wait to see what you have planned next.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Another Journal Excerpt

The photo above is an aerial shot of RTC Orlando that I found in a Google-image search. The base does not exist anymore. It was closed in the 1990s, with everything torn down...probably to make way for a residential neighbourhood. When I heard the news of the base closure, I felt sad because that place is "sacred" to me. Its the place where I became a man.

I consider basic training to be a "rite of passage", which according to mythology and some spiritual traditions is a necessary step for a youth to become an adult. This experience is transformative and does not necessarily have to be military basic training. For others, its college, or the Peace Corps, or serving on a mission for one's church. Basically, its any experience that takes you away from home and you have to deal with loneliness, strange new surroundings, people you've never met before, and you learn how to be your own person and what you're made of.

In honour of my 19th anniversary of basic training, I am posting interesting excerpts from the journal I kept (Tales of Terror From Boot Camp Hell: Journal Volume XXII). Each night, before I go to sleep, I read the entry for that particular day half my lifetime ago. Its funny to read back on, as I don't think I've read this journal in the past five years or so. Today's excerpt (in italics below) is one of the longer entries (11 pages in my journal) and I have no idea how I was able to write so much with the minimal amount of free time we had. Not only did I write in my journal after everyone went to sleep at 11 p.m., but I also wrote at least one letter, sometimes three. During my basic training, I received the most letters in the company and it used to tick other guys off. I told them, "You have to write letters to get letters." I had an unfair advantage over most of the guys. I had been writing letters since I was 8 years old and was shocked to learn that some guys did not know how to write a letter and asked for my help!

The picture below was also found in a Google-image search. It represents something that we all did in basic training: various exercises in unison whenever our CC felt like demanding that of us. In the journal excerpt, CC means "Company Commander" (the Navy's version of the "drill sergeant") and SR means "Seaman Recruit" (which was everyone's first rank in the Navy). I hope you enjoy today's entry, as it marks one of the most interesting days I experienced at basic training. There are a few more entries I will be posting between now and May, including the notorious 1-5 Day (on April 3rd). Stay tuned!

March 30, 1991 Saturday

Today has been an eventful day and it started when I woke up.

Both PARKER and BYARS told me that I moan in my sleep. I don't believe them. Moan? Come on...that's ridiculous. They seemed to be serious, but I refused to believe them.

It was raining this morning so we got to wear our rain trenchcoats. At the galley--we ate off of paper plates and plastic wear. Are they getting lazy? Music was played again. It was played during our first breakfast here and haven't since. I wonder why they don't play music more often. Its uplifting (and its music I like!).

In the morning, we had a locker drill. We had to fold and stow 10 items in their proper compartment. Mearsurements were the key. So we had to use a ruler to get it right. The characters starring in the drill are: (1) Shower shoes (easy!), (2) Underwear (or as CC KEENAN calls them: "panties"), (3) T-Shirt, (4) Towel, (5) NAVY BLUE sweater, (6) Dungaree Trousers, (7) Chambray Shirt, (8) SEA BAG, (9) Gloves, and (10) Black knit cap (Gloves and cap were rolled together).

We had a whole half hour to get everything stowed properly and that is no easy task!

While marching to lunch, CC KEENAN taught us the "Stealth Mode" to march without cadence. It was cool! And I found it easy to stay in step during Stealth mode. Basically, on every second left pace, we hit our heel on the pavement harder to make a louder, rhythmic sound to keep the pace. But KEENAN said that mode would only be allowed on certain occasions.

Again, for lunch we had to use paper products--although some people got to use the regular metal trays. For lunch, we had spaghetti and music to soothe our stress.

What stress? They said that Basic Training would be very stressful, but I haven't been stressed out at all. I'm enjoying it too much.

Section leader Stringer again got on my case for not studying and asked why my notebook wasn't open. So I opened it, told him so and then said: "Do I get a cookie now?" SR ALBU, SR NELSON, and SR WILLIAMS all laughed but STRING-BEAN (as the CCs call him) wasn't amused.

In the afternoon, we stood in our usual morning reveille spot (in front of our lockers) to practice what to do during inspections--such as sounding off and to "cover" and "uncover" on command--which is the ART of removing the hats from our heads in perfect unison. "Cover", to put on the hat and "Uncover", to remove. Makes sense, but we have to work on the "unison" part. After standing at attention so long--a terrible drain for my legs, we moved on to practice the bunk drill. When we all messed up majorly, we were cycled for no more than Ten minutes. Cycling is an interesting concept. It goes something like this--the CCs have fun with it...

"DROP!" the CCs shout as we hit the deck in pushup position. "Too slow, on your feet!" We all jumped to our feet. "Too slow...DROP!" Again we drop. "UP DOWN UP DOWN UP DOWN UP DOWN!! On your feet! Too slow! DROP! On your back! SITUP ONE TWO ONE TWO! Get up! Too slow! DROP!!" And their favourite it seems is to leave us in the push up position so our arms could get tired. If your butt was higher than any other part of your body (somehow, its easier on the arms to raise the butt), the CCs would yell: "That's the faggot position!" or "Stop advertising!" If your midsection touched the deck, they would say "You think you're at Sea World?"

Cycling improves the will to get things right--only so we don't have to do it again.

In the early evening, it was eventful. Two recruits "quit" the company -- though I can't see how and they got into serious trouble with the CCs. Later, they apologized to us and asked for our permission to remain in the company. They received overwhelming support and applause. I thought it was dumb that they had to ask to remain in the company. But the CCs were probably trying to humiliate the quitters.

An ambulance pulled up to our division building and SR FRANK was taken away for some "injury" he claimed to have received during cycling. Then, another incident occured with SR HOUSTON. Apparently, he freaked out in the Head (restroom) and went into an uncontrollable rage.

A CC of another company came into our compartment and asked our CCs what the hell was going on with the Ambulance. The CCs told the other CC and laughed about SR FRANK getting injured in a cycle.

CC MATTHEWS chose me to escort SR CARUTHERS (a 31 year old man) to the Hospital. I didn't know why but I did comply. I went downstairs to the division office. CC MATTHEWS was down there as well as a female CC. She asked me a question and I accidentally answered with "sir" attached rather than "ma'am." I thought I was going to get yelled at or worse because I heard horror stories about calling a female CC "sir."

CC MATTHEWS asked for my streetmark. I gulped. He was pulling a streetmark from me for my verbal error. That means I'll have to pay dearly later. We get 3 streetmarks (a sort of "violation" ticket) and the CCs made it very clear that we would pay dearly if we got one pulled. You can get one pulled for talking in the galley--something all of us are criminal to.

In the van, I met Caruthers. He wasn't happy. He told me that he would probably get kicked out of the Navy. He wouldn't tell me what he did, but I thought he might've been in trouble because he was gay--that was the only thing I could assume the Navy would kick a person out for.

I asked why he joined the Navy. He said that he was unemployed and had to do something. He didn't expect Basic to be so tough. I nearly laughed because I expected a TOTAL Hell but its been quite pleasant.

The hospital was off the base but I had no sense of direction in the darkness. I was glad to be chosen as an escort so I can get out of the barracks for a couple hours.

At the Hospital, the doctor asked SR CARUTHERS what he did and CARUTHERS said that he "accidentally ate suntan lotion." The doctor looked at him as if to say "Are you for real?" I looked at him and thought "How can you 'accidentally' eat suntan lotion?" CARUTHERS went on to explain that he was applying it to his face when some of it got into his mouth...somehow. I wasn't buying it and neither was the doctor.

I had to follow Caruthers and watch the whole disturbing process. I saw SR HOUSTON escorted into the hospital with 2 security personnel. He violently shook his arms to cut loose from their grip.

A corpsman asked CARUTHERS the usual questions about swallowing poison--if Caruthers felt nauseous at all. Then told CARUTHERS that he would have to pump Caruthers' stomach.

I got up but the corpsman said: "I want you to watch." I sat back down and almost felt nauseous because all of a sudden, being here was not fun anymore.

Caruthers sat on one of those moving Hospital "tables." The corpsman had a devilish grin and said "I love doing this!" He talked to me most of the time and treated 31 year old Caruthers poorly. He asked why Caruthers would do something stupid like that. He also asked him how old he was. The corpsman was surprised when he heard "31."

"You should know better!" the corpsman said. He then proceeded to make preparations to put a long narrow tube up Caruthers' nose. I could tell that Caruthers was very uncomfortable and didn't expect that "route." But he did it to himself.

It was disgusting as the tube was pushed in further and further.

"I want you to watch," said the corpsman again. "And tell your shipmates what will happen if they try this." I couldn't watch. It was very disturbing to see Caruthers kicking and writhing as the tube went deeper and deeper. He had a bed pan to throw up in as the corpsman put some liquid mixture into the tube to get into his system.

"I love this!" he said. I felt uncomfortable and wanted to go back to the world I knew...the cycling, the yelling, and the marching.

Everytime the corpsman asked me a question, I answered with a "sir" attached because I was still troubled over the fact that I called a female a "sir." The corpsman was only a Seaman though, according to his rating stripes.

When Caruthers was through coughing up all that he could cough up, the corpsman pulled the tube out of his nose and I didn't watch. It was much too disturbing. Caruthers asked if he would be able to return to the company tonight.

The corpsman laughed and said that the Navy was finished with him. The corpsman got him some hospital clothes to wear. Caruthers said to me, "Tomorrow is Easter, isn't it?"

"Yes it is," I replied. He had a look on his face of distress like he had sinned. Then with a most pathetic look on his face, he said to me..."Please don't tell the other guys in the company about this."

"I won't," I said. I left. The corpsman said: "I don't want to see you here again."

"You won't," I said. Next, I had to wait for a van back. I saw SR FRANK on crutches limping around. He really was injured? HOW?!?

I felt a little sorry for Caruthers, but also no respect as well. For a 31 year old man who considers suicide, especially because Basic is "too tough" for him, I can't respect him.

On the van ride home, I met a guy on his uncontrolled weekend who got drunk. He was being picked up while the van driver went to a division building, he told me a brief rundown of his incident. He's on 8-1 Day and said that he'd probably get set back. He took a penny out of his mouth and gave it to me and asked if I would take the "evidence." He was chewing it because "it will fool the breathlyzer" he said and he asked if I could dispose of it. I complied although I was hesitant to do so.

I helped SR FRANK up the stairs. He didn't know who I was and didn't want help, I told him that I was in the same company and said that he would make it up the stairs easier with help. He thanked me afterwards and I said: "That's what shipmates are for!"

It was midnight and the Compartment Watch wanted to know where I've been. I explained that I was Caruthers' escort. He then asked what happened to Caruthers.

I figured that the company would find out sooner or later. "He was getting his stomach pumped for eating suntan lotion." The watch was surprised. I went to bed with disturbing images running around my mind. Tomorrow is Easter and I planned to go to Protestant Contemporary Services to ease my mind of such horror!

*****************************************************
I learned later on that the CC pulled my streetmark to have my information handy in case I went AWOL during my escorting duties. I also learned as the weeks wore on that SR Frank was unfit for Navy duty and became the most hated person in the company. All of us conspired to get him kicked out of the company and I was an active participant because he was also due to attend Yeoman "A" School, like me. I didn't want to have to deal with him any longer than I had to, so I did indeed do everything I could to make sure that he was kicked out of the company. I don't regret it one bit, as he was a huge drag on our company. How he passed the recruiter's screening baffled the entire company.

Also...about the "moaning" incident. I debated whether or not to include it in this excerpt. Apparently, I did moan in my sleep during the first few weeks of training. Some guys got angry at me for it (like I had control over it!) while others found it amusing and something to rib me about. One guy even left a note in my cover requesting that I stop moaning. Another threatened to stuff a sock in my mouth if I didn't stop. And one told me that he couldn't even get his girlfriend to moan like I did. Pretty embarrassing...but maybe it was in conjunction with bad dreams. The first few weeks of basic training were hard to fall asleep anyway, because so many people were coughing all the time. By the last few weeks, though, it was eerie quiet at night.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Madonna Monday: Into the Groove



I'm attempting to start a new feature on my blog. One Monday a month, I will feature a Madonna video. This may prove to be limited, as many of her music videos on YouTube are not able to be imported elsewhere. I hate it when they disable the embedding feature. I'm guessing that it has to do with copyright protection. Whatever. Originally, I was going to start with the first Madonna song that I liked: "Borderline" (her second or third single). I remember riding to church camp from Omaha, Nebraska to Guthrie Grove, Iowa and this song playing on the radio, which caused my nemesis (a heavy-metal obsessed guy named John Charles Yazowski) to make fun of it. When I was in Germany, for one of my journal entries, I drew a cartoon picture of Madonna singing this song on the borderline between West and East Germany (from 1985 to 1988, I lived on an Army base less than 10 miles from the East German border).

The next video in my series is available to be embedded on blogs, so I'm going with that, even though its just the instrumental version of "Into the Groove." This song was HUGE in the summer of 1985. I remember the song playing at the final dance of my seventh grade year and it moved kids onto the dancefloor, like nothing else. Of course, at that time, I had a huge crush on a Madonna-wannabe (Kristin). Even now, as I watch Madonna's early videos, I'm transported back to my junior high school years. What was it about frizzy hair with ribbons, cut-off tops, fingerless gloves, ripped jeans or coveralls, and lots of neon that made girls who wore that style so attractive? Madonna wasn't the only one who had that style. The British ladies of Bananarama had a similar style, as well. As my friends know...the Madonna-wannabe I wanted in seventh grade only ended up humiliating me at the final dance of the year, while I learned too late that another girl had a crush on me (and she resembled an actress I'd go ga-ga over in 1987: Maryam d'Abo).

Last year, Madonna released a two-DVD set of her music videos. I had wanted to get it, but each time I was in Borders, I thought $30 was too much to pay for it. Even a 30% discount coupon wasn't enough for me to buy it. I already had "The Immaculate Collection" on DVD. I had wanted the second set of her later videos, but I didn't want to pay full price for it either. I'm glad that I listened to my intuition not to buy, because I was stunned one day near Christmas when there was a used copy of Madonna's "Celebration" DVD (the two-DVD set of nearly all her videos)...available for $12! Of course I bought it. It features most of her videos. You're never going to get a full collection, I've come to realize, because they want to sell the other collections as well. Its interesting to watch her trajectory, with her diverse videos over the years. Some are classics, while others are kind of dull. However, as I watch her videos, it made me curious to see some of her movies that I never seen before, such as Vision Quest and Desperately Seeking Susan. I've recently watched both and posted my review of the former.

Desperately Seeking Susan was surprisingly better than I thought it would be. This film started shooting before Madonna became a huge star. From what I had heard about it, actress Rosanna Arquette saw this as her big break-through and was stunned when attention shifted to her co-star when the film was released. It became "the Madonna movie" and seemed to be a clever wink to all the Madonna "wannabes", as Rosanna Arquette plays a bored housewife who is obsessed with Susan and "becomes" her in the movie. "Into the Groove" was featured in the film and became a huge hit (it still ranks in the top five of my all-time favourite Madonna songs). Madonna has never been a great or even good actress. She's best in smaller roles (as well as in Evita). However, in her first major film role, she was actually adequately good (how is it possible that she only got worse? See Swept Away to see why it was her last acting role).

I wonder how many "wannabes" are still buying and listening to Madonna's music. Though Michael Jackson is considered more successful than Madonna, at least Madonna knew how to change her image and create fresh new sounds to remain relevant, even if the music industry has changed so much that radio stations stop playing songs by artists over a certain age group. The interest might shift from Britney Spears to Gwen Stefani to Fergie to Lady Gaga...but there will never be anyone with the longevity, endurance, and cultural impact as Madonna. She's not perfect by any means (divorcing cool Guy Ritchie for a fling with a married athlete--A-Rod--to robbing the cradle with her latest beau, born after she became famous) but she is fascinating. I really hope an album that incorporates Bollywood, Rai, and Arabic rhythms is next on her agenda. If I worked for her as a personal assistant, I would definitely lobby hard for her take on those music styles. After all, if Sting could do it for "Desert Rose", Madonna could surpass even that awesome song.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

This is Why Evangelicals Don't Consider Me Christian

On Friday, a friend (Tamara) on Facebook posted a link to a controversial new book by an influential evangelical minister that advocates a "radical" new idea. Okay, so the idea is not radical to me, but to many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, its blasphemy. Naturally, this sparked a debate on my friend's FB wall. I was praising and defending the article which talked about the book and its "revolutionary" idea, and naturally found my spiritual views criticized. Oh why do I always get drawn into these pointless debates? Trying to talk logically to a fundy is like trying to reason with a child. It can't be done, because they don't realize how thoroughly indoctrinated they've been. I'm at an advantage, because I went through my "deconstruction of Christianity" process in 1989-1990. Most people don't want to go there, because it would represent a devastating blow to their identity and beliefs about our world...a trauma far more severe than what every child goes through when they learn the truth about Santa Claus.

Basically, all "deconstruction" is about is examining every belief you have for the reason why you hold those beliefs. If its a belief based on what you've been told by "an authority figure", that's not good enough. Beliefs should be rooted in one's personal experiences, knowledge and interests. I'm not talking about whether someone believes George Washington existed or not...but the kind of beliefs that one would stake his or her life on, which is the root of who you are.

So...what is this "radical and revolutionary" new idea this evangelical minister is proposing? Why, its the idea that a perfect, all-knowing God would not require a blood sacrifice in order to forgive the sins of humanity. Like I said, this idea is considered too blasphemous by some Christians to even ponder because they've been indoctrinated since childhood that Jesus' sole purpose on earth was to die for our sins so that we might have everlasting life. To suggest that Jesus' purpose might be something other than a blood sacrifice to appease an angry God is just too scary for these people to contemplate. And anyone who rejects the idea of Jesus as an atoning sacrifice is automatically deemed a heretic, not a Christian, or even "evil."

I've long had trouble believing in the "Jesus as atoning sacrifice" concept since elementary school. It never made sense to me. Rejecting this idea was easy to do and my life is better as a result. I guess many are too afraid to make that step because they still believe in a wrathful, vengeful, jealous God who will send lightning bolts their way if they question what they've been taught all their lives. Once you've freed your mind from brainwashing and indoctrination, you feel a great sense of liberation and freedom. There is no way I could return to the mental slavery of that Christian dogma. I'm glad that there are evangelical types slowly breaking free of this ancient, yet illogical view of the point of Jesus' life. More evangelicals need to rise up and speak out against this falsehood surrounding the meaning of Jesus. Its not blasphemous to reject ancient men's interpretation.

Here's a sampling of the debate (in the quote box). I'm adding my thoughts in this blog about what the evangelicals believe. The actual FB comments I made will also be in the quote box.

Susan
If jesus is not the only way to salvation than we miight as well all just throw our bibles in the trash. Jesus IS the ONLY way! The Truth & the Life! Jesus warned us about people like this in Matthew...they're called FALSE PROPHETS
Her view reflects a common view among Evangelicals that if we don't interpret Jesus as "the atoning sacrifice for the sins of humankind", then his life had no real meaning. That's a ridiculous argument, though...because I don't see many people actually striving to live the kind of life Jesus lived. He lived a spiritually pure life that is virtually impossible for most people to achieve, so how is it belittling Jesus by rejecting the obscenity of the blood sacrifice?

Another thing...when Jesus warned about false prophets, it was about people using his good name for evil purposes. Jesus was warning us about people like David Koresh, George W. Bush, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell, to name just a few people who love to talk about Jesus while their actions betray everything Jesus was about.

Me
I've thought that for years...in elementary school as a matter of fact. It takes nothing away from Jesus to believe that he's not our ticket to the everlasting.

Dawn
Nicholas, since Jesus' purpose was to save his people from their sins, then taking that away from Him gives his life no purpose.

Again...another evangelical type who mistakenly assumes that by rejecting the blood atonement theory of Jesus, that you are belittling his life's purpose. I do agree that Jesus strove to save people from their sins, but I don't believe it was his sole purpose. The original meaning of "sin" is "to miss the mark." When you miss the mark, you try again. In modern day meaning, "sin" has taken on an almost "evil" quality that we must be purged of in order to have everlasting life. By rejecting the blood atonement theory, I'm not taking anything away from Jesus. He's still the most inspirational spiritual leader our world has ever seen. I love the way he stood up to the religious authorities of his day and sided with the powerless, minorities, and anyone on the margins of society. His life had a greater purpose than to be some human sacrifice for the bloodlust of human depravity.

James
You are 100% right Susan. Jesus is the Truth and the light. The only way to Salvation is accepting him as Savior. He accomplished this by living a perfect life and dying on the cross for all of us.

Me
I don't believe Jesus's purpose in life was to save people from sin. He wanted to bring true spirituality back, as the Jewish authorities were too rule based that it stifled the authentic expression of God. He wanted to reform Judaism, not create a new religion. And he allowed himself to be crucified because he was too much the pacifist. He probably also knew there was real power in being a martyr for his beliefs.

I've met Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and atheists who all admire Jesus as an authentic spiritual being. None of them believe that his life's purpose was to die for the sins of humankind. He may have died because of our sins, but not for our sins.

Dawn
Well, I suppose you can believe what you want, but the Bible says that Jesus' purpose was to save his people from their sins.

Me
You mean...disciples of Jesus who wrote their testimonies decades after he was crucified? The Council at Nicea in 422 A.D. set the rules on what was included in the Bible and what wasn't. I'm not willing to put my faith in the hands of fallible human beings who have distorted Jesus' life for their own agendas of empire building and church control over the lives of the people.

Tamara
So Ghandi is condemed to hell as well as the Dalai Lama? God seems so heartless and what about the little children in Ghana who didn't get to accept Jesus as his personal savior yet? Just asking.... I don't know these answers.

Me
My favourite Gandhi quote is: "I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ." We need to understand the cultural differences. Most people are the religions they are because they were born in a place where everyone around them are the same or similar religions.

Tamara is right. Why would a loving God condemn whole groups of people to hell because they prefer another spiritual tradition...particularly one that everyone they know is part of?

Dawn
I'm pretty sure it was God who set the rules for what was included in the Bible. The writers wrote what they were inspired to write and the compilers compiled what they were inspired to compile. You are free to leave God out of each of these relationships, but I believe that He is powerful enough to accomplish what He wishes to accomplish.

T, the writer of Romans says that the law is written on our hearts, so even if we have never heard of Christ, but believe that God has a plan and live for that plan, that is is accredited to us as faith, so I'm not so sure that Gandhi or the Dalai Lama won't be in heaven.

Hmmm..."pretty sure"?!? You're pretty sure because you were an eyewitness to these events many centuries ago? Its not possible that these ancient writers weren't biased or had ulterior motives and agendas to write what they did? More importantly, why would an all-knowing God hold modern people to the bigotry, sexism, intolerance, and ignorance of ancient men? Wouldn't an all-knowing God value each person's unique experiences in life, rather than requiring us to believe things we did not witness nor could ever really know the truth about? I'm not willing to stake my life on events that may or may not have happened 2,000 years ago. But I will stake my eternal life on what I experienced in my 38 years of life on earth (in this incarnation).

I love how some evangelicals will "amend" their previous absolute beliefs. So, we can't go to heaven when we die if we don't accept Jesus as our atoning sacrifice. But, God will make an exception for someone like Gandhi or the Dalai Lama? What about all those people who were born in Muslim or Buddhist countries and were raised in those particular religions? Why should they be condemned because they belong to the religion that their family, their friends, and indeed, their entire society belongs to? That's what I call "religious chauvinism." We are so blessed and fortunate to be born in "the right religion" and everyone else is condemned to hell. That's a pretty arrogant assumption.

Me
God is not a writer. If God wrote the Bible, there are a lot of contradictions in there. Is a perfect being hateful, smiteful, and jealous?

Writers who were inspired to write their interpretations of the Bible does not mean that its right or accurate. Many people have been killed because some charismatic "religious" leader convinced followers that he spoke for God.

If people aspire to live the life Jesus advocated, then they have nothing to worry about. Whether Jesus died for our sins or died because he was a pacifist ... doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things.

Dawn
The imperfections of the "followers" does not necessarily translate into imperfections in the creator, or those who wrote what they were inspired to do. That is a common fallacy that leads people away from the Bible and it's teachings rather than to Christ.

Me
And yet, as a Christian, I reject most of the Bible as being the imperfect testimonies of people who had erronous beliefs about God.

Given the choice between my own experiences or those experiences written between 2,000 to 5,000 years ago, I have a greater faith in my own experiences. Our world is a lot different and we have more knowledge about how the world and universe works. I wish more Christians would adopt a universalist view of humanity instead of keeping their religious chauvinism. Our world is too small to keep holding onto the bigoted views of ancient man.

Susan
If you reject the bible than you (according to the bible..which IS the Word of God) than you reject Christ.

Me
"Reject" is too strong a word. I should have said: The Bible is an interesting book, but I'm not going to base my testimony of God on it.

Dawn
Why do you have more faith in your own experiences than in the experiences of those who knew and walked with Christ?

What do think about everyone else's experiences when they differ from yours and/or the Bible's? Do you not see why a common denominator needs to be present, or do you feel that God gives everyone a different message, which ultimately ends up as "I'm OK/You're OK, and there is no greater truth?

Me
We just disagree on this.

Why I trust my experiences more than some ancient book written by ignorant, bigoted, and misogynistic men? Well, since elementary school, I've been friends with other children who were Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, and atheist. All were ostrasized by the Christian majority. Evangelical Christians have also been cruel, abusive, and intolerant towards me because of my racial diversity...so yeah, if I can accept a non-Christian without wanting to converting them...does that make me more tolerant and accepting than God? No...I believe that God is perfect, so God created diversity. Its bigoted Christians who have the problem. That's why I trust my experience over some ancient book.

Tamara
Susan, what about the children say in remote parts of the world that haven't yet heard of the Bible... do you agree with Dawn on this that it is written on their hearts and that God wouldn't throw them into the lake of fire for eternity? Help me understand your thought process.

Dawn, I have so much missed your discussions. I am glad to "see" you again.

Stacie
I've read a couple of McLaren's books this year and I don't disagree with much, if anything. I think Western Christianity is midstream in the process of shifting from a pursuit of "Right Beliefs about Jesus and God" to a pursuit of "being right in our relationships", including God, and sister/brother, neighbor, and enemy. There is overlap and tension in this, and that will hopefully bring Christianity needed honesty and depth and blessings yet to be discovered as we actually LIVE it. imo.


The debate was pretty respectful, which I liked. There were no personal attacks. If I'm not mistaken, one of Tamara's FB friends (who did not participate in the debate) is the evangelical lady in our church who de-friended me and later told my mom that I was making un-Christian comments on FB. Of course, I'm used to being accused by evangelicals of being blasphemous and "un"-Christian. I see it differently because my life experience is different than most evangelicals. What do they know about my life? God knows, and I trust in God...not Christian dogmas that we've been indoctrinated with since childhood. My views reflect a universalist view of spirituality because I believe that God set up this world to be an experiment. Our eternal existence is guaranteed. God does not withhold it because a logically-minded person rejects a tradition that developed over centuries and reflects the ignorance of ancient folks who were trying to understand God and our world.

If I know anything at all, its this: If you believe that God is all-knowing, then why would this God be angry at His creation for not believing in events that happened centuries ago that make no logical sense? Why give us intelligence and reasoning abilities if we can't use it to find out the truth? If you believe that God is a loving God, then the blood atonement does not make any sense at all. Ancient man would sacrifice animals to appease an angry god. This reflects their ignorance, because they thought earthquakes and other natural disasters were the result of their sins, not because our world is continually evolving. So, they believed that sacrificing animals or virgins would put a stop to the natural disasters. Christianity put an end to the blood sacrifice of animals and virgins by perpetuating the belief that Jesus' role in life was as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Now, we don't need to sacrifice animals in order to appease an angry God, when we can just accept Jesus as our "saviour." But if you're like me in believing that our existence is already eternal, there is no fear about where our souls will end up when we pass from this earth. Besides, for an internationalist like me, I love the fact that we have religious diversity in our world. A world with only one religion would be too creepy for me.

The bottom line is that some people are comfortable believing the same thing that they've been taught since they were children. I'm not one of those people and have never been. I like things to make logical sense, or if lacking logic, to be awe-inducing. Blood sacrifices is just too icky for a queasy guy like me. If I agree on one point, though, I would say that Jesus did in fact die on the cross because OF our sins (humans have a terrible habit of killing off our most spiritual people). We just disagree on everything else. If this makes me a heretic and not Christian...well, that's too bad for you. The God I believe in is one who values intelligence and expects us to use our brains instead of passively following the opinions of long-dead people who sought to understand their world. I don't live in that world. I live in a multicultural world where we have the ability to communicate with each other instantly through the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, and texting. I don't fear "the other" as ancient people (and present day fundamentalists) did...so why should my spiritual views be held prisoner to ancient people who lived in a different reality?

If Christianity wishes to remain relevant in the 21st Century, more believers seriously need to deconstruct the doctrines they've accepted for far too long. Time for a major infusion of logic into the religion so that people don't have to check their brains at the door when they go to church. Just remember...no matter how smart we become, we'll never know as much as an all-knowing God, thus nothing we do, say or believe is blasphemy.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Journal Excerpt from Boot Camp


In honour of my 19th anniversary of Basic Training, I decided to post some excerpts from the journal I kept. I won't do a day to day blog post, but may post some of the more interesting entries when there's nothing terribly exciting to write about. Each night, before I sleep, I read an entry in my journal (on the appropriate days), laughing at the details of many forgotten moments. I'm so glad I kept a journal, despite the potential problems it might have caused (see the film Biloxi Blues for the likely reaction journal keeping inspires in others).

My basic training journal is titled: Tales of Terror From Boot Camp Hell: Volume XXII.

Here's the excerpt (all spelling and grammar errors are intact):

March 26, 1991 Tuesday P-4 Day

Again, we ate breakfast at 0430. How much sleep will we get around here?

After breakfast, we had our first day of PT -- which was a test. We went to the field house, which had padded floors which made it a lot easier. We did push ups, situps, 8 count body builders, and some other things -- then we had to run around the gym in group formation. We ran around the gym a total of 17 times. It wasn't tiring at all, only redundant. I sang (in my head), "Don't Walk Away" by Johnny Clegg & Savuka to keep me going. It was fun actually but at one point, a guy a couple of ranks ahead of me fell and nearly got trampled over. Poor guy! He was a bit obese and the CCs yelled at him for "quitting."

After the PT test, we marched to RIF for "Data Collection" and one man talked to us about Savings Bonds.

We got our BIRTH CONTROL GLASSES and those of us who received them were too embarrassed to wear them. One recruit, SR NEVIL, and I just looked at each other and laughed. I could tell that he wasn't thrilled to wear them either. SR ALLEN was allowed to wear his own civilian pair because it has a special lens (which made his eyes look bigger) for his poor vision.

After lunch, we marched to the training building for two classes. Some how, the column I was in, we moved when we weren't suppose to and the CCs told us to "DROP!!" We had to do only 25 pushups so it wasn't a big deal. 9 of us had to do it.

In the Training Building, the first class was about the GI Bill. It was our chance to reject our GI Bill opportunity. I said no way that I would change my decision. I was surprised that many people decided to reject it and all because of the $100 a month! The opportunities they are giving up just for $100 a month for only one year to get $10,000 for college after getting out.

The next class was on SEXUAL Harassment and Fraternization and our instructor (a hispanic petty officer whose accent gave his instruction more amusement) was extremely funny and explicit. It was interesting because he wouldn't be able to say most of what he said if females were present. But his class room discussion really enlivened things and I thought Basic Training was suppose to be strict and without humour. His class was a day brightener and the company was in very good spirits afterward -- so much in fact that we were marching on air.

After supper, we practiced marching on the Grinder and did lousy. I think the CCs must've enjoyed it because they had us do pushups on the Grinder and it was most painful! The grinder wasn't paved very well and once were allowed to get up -- only after doing the required amount of pushups and saying in unison: "Permission to recover, SIR!"

On our hands were indents from the loose gravel.

"Think of it as a 'grinder reminder'," said Chief Matthews.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Presidential Libraries

Yesterday, I read an article online about the Hawaii state legislature making a request to President Obama to pick America's 50th state to house his presidential papers and memorabilia when the time comes to build his Presidential Library and Museum. Many comments after the article were in agreement. Proof that people don't think logically about stuff. Its a lovely gesture and thought, but let's get real.

Hawaii has ZERO chance of becoming the official home of the Barack Hussein Obama Presidential Library and Museum for several reasons. The biggest being that its an island far from the mainland of the United States. Most Americans have not been to Hawaii and many cannot afford to travel there. With the historical significance of Obama being our first African American president, his presidential library is going to be a HUGE tourist draw, especially for African American school children in decades to come. Families, schools, and tourists are all going to want to travel by the cheapest means (car, buses), thus, Chicago is the most logical choice for his presidential library and museum. Not only does he consider it his home since he graduated from college, the city is easy to get to (major transportation hub in the north-center of the United States) and its the third largest city in the country, with a thriving African American cultural history. Chicago may have lost the 2016 Summer Olympic bid, but its a sure thing to house the presidential library.

A couple hours away, in the capital of Springfield, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (pictured above) finally opened in 2005. Despite criticisms for its expense and some irreverent "theme park" tricks, I have to say that it is far and away THE BEST presidential library and museum I have ever been to. The two films I saw there were three dimensional and the "Ghosts of the Library" one will leave you scratching your head as a popular ad from the 1980s comes to mind: "Was it live or was it Memorex?"

Since President Lincoln is President Obama's favourite president, no one needs to speculate on the importance for our current president to house his library and museum in the same state as the president who emancipated the slaves and is considered the greatest president our country has so far produced. History buffs who love to tour historical sites will probably make special vacations out of visiting both the Lincoln and Obama presidential libraries and museums. I certainly will.

The first presidential library and museum that I visited was the Jimmy Carter one in Atlanta, Georgia. Its a nice one, even though I was too young to remember much about his presidency. The last time I visited, I got to see his Nobel Peace Prize in a special display case, as well as the special champaign bottle that was used to Christen the U.S. Naval submarine that bears his name. I've visited George Washington's Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, but I don't think either president has a presidential library. In 1996, I saw the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri. I loved the historical displays in that one (much more interesting than Carter's, because it showed things further back in history, long before I was alive). In 2004, I visited the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. I happened to be visiting my friend from Basic Training, who lived in the nearby Quad Cities. All I knew about Hoover was that he was blamed for the Great Depression. His library taught me that he was a great humanitarian before he became president. He had the unfortunate luck of being president when the stock market crashed in 1929. However, if one thing is true about Republican presidents, they take a hands off approach from using government for the public good. In their philosophy, corporations should be left to fix society through the marketplace, while the government turns a blind eye with deregulation.

Before I visited the Lincoln Library and Museum, though, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum was my favourite of the ones I had seen up to that point. The building is a very modern glass and steel structure overlooking Boston Harbour. Not only is the museum dedicated to all things JFK, but his brother Robert was also appropriately honoured. At some point, I may become a member of a Presidential Library (membership in one allows discounts at all of them) and I'll probably choose the JFK one to have my membership.

I still look forward to making a special Memphis/Little Rock vacation, where I can finally visit the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library and Museum (as well as see Elvis' Graceland). Back during the scandal of 1998, I told friends that the front of the museum should feature just Monica's face, with the entrance doors making up her mouth. I'm interested to see how much space is devoted to that particular episode in his history. I had heard that there is no mention of Watergate at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, which if true makes that intellectually dishonest. The next time I do a Los Angeles vacation, I plan to visit both the Reagan and Nixon Presidential Libraries. Not because I like either of those presidents, but because I'm a huge fan of presidential history.

Someday, when I have my central Texas vacation, I plan to see San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, and the George Herbert Walker Bush Presidential Library and Museum. By the time I get to Texas, though, even Shrub's library should be completed and ready for vandals. I don't know if I'm ready to visit his museum, though. The temption to destroy or vandalize it in some way is still too strong in me. I'm of the opinion that GWB should only be remembered for three things: 9/11, Iraq, and Katrina. I'm still clueless on what he managed to accomplish in the worst eight years our country has endured in our (post-Boomer) lifetime. Maybe they can make it fun, with a roller coaster ride symbolizing his economy, a flume ride to symbolize New Orleans, and a free fall ride to remind visitors of the people who jumped from the burning World Trade Center rather than be burned or crushed to death. But, to be honest, Bush does not deserve a presidential library and museum.

Pictured above is beautiful downtown Honolulu, one of the cleanest cities in America that I've ever been to. The Hawaiians might want President Obama to pick their state for his library and museum, but as I said above...ain't gonna happen. Besides the reason I already gave, there's also rising sea levels, tsunamis, volcanos, earthquakes and hurricanes to consider. Important archives should be in secure locations. The tropical island paradise of Hawaii is not a great location to house historical documents. Sure, historians would love to go to Hawaii to research the Obama presidency for their book projects, but think of what future generations would lose if a tsunami wiped out everything?

Hawaii should absolutely have a museum devoted to President Obama, though. Several presidents have other museums besides the "official one." Tourists to the islands would no doubt include it among the places to see (Waikiki - check; Arizona Memorial - check; Diamond Head - check; Punchbowl - check; Luau - check; Pineapple Plantation - check; North Shore - check; Polynesian Cultural Center - check; Obama Museum - check). Hawaii has every right to be proud of their native born son. Most importantly, though, no Obama Museum in Honolulu would be complete without the original long-form birth certificate, proving once and for all that the 44th president was born there in 1961. It would have to be under heavy security, though. Can't trust those crazy birthers and their obsession with faked birth certificates from Kenya.

The city of Chicago (seen above) is Obama's hometown and where his Library and Museum will be located someday. Its a great city (I actually prefer it over New York City and Los Angeles). They might not be Olympic hosts anytime soon, but they'll always have Obama (and Oprah).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Victory at Last!

On Sunday evening, I went to visit the Ethiopian family who live in my apartment complex. I haven't seen them in awhile, but I was curious to hear their thoughts on the health care reform bill. It so happens that they have cable TV and Martha was watching it. Her two young sons (6 and 2) were busy playing and her husband came home from work shortly after I stopped by. I was surprised that they offered me a meal, as I wasn't expecting one so late in the evening.

We watched the votes come in on C-SPAN and when the magic number was reached (216), we cheered. The end vote came down to 219 to 212. The Health Care Reform Act has finally passed, after much back and forth, horse trading, and teabag nonsense. This is an historic occasion, as President Obama has finally achieved what every single Democratic president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt had wanted. Granted, its not a perfect bill (no Public Option, for instance; and much of it will be phased in over a several year span), but I'm of the "pass it now, fix it later" school of politics. Many improvements to our society have come about because of incremental changes. Despite outcries from the right, the passage of this bill is not a sign that America is officially a socialist country with government-run universal health care a la France, Great Britain and Canada. But it certainly is a huge step for our country in the right direction. Insurance providers can no longer deny coverage to patients based on pre-existing conditions, loss of job, or having already used up one's allocated expenses (particularly those with reoccurring cancer treatments).

Martha was in agreement with me in that she believes most of the credit for the passage of this bill goes to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It shows her incredible leadership to get wayward Democrats to vote for this bill, as some were hesitating for one reason or another (many of them blue dogs in Republican-leaning districts who have a target on their backs for November's elections). In the end, every single Republican member of Congress voted against the bill, while quite a few Democrats also voted against the bill. The voting only reminds me of why the Democrats are better than Republicans. Republicans usually vote party line. You rarely see dissenting votes on the Republican side. During the Bush years, the Republican-controlled Congress merely rubber-stamped his agenda. With Democrats, you actually get a debate, with some Democrats voting against the party's position. It shows how incredibly diverse the Democratic Party is. Do we even need a Republican Party anymore? With Democrats, you naturally get checks and balances. Take the recent example with Congressman Massa, who resigned after allegations that he sexually harassed his male staff members. Republican politicians don't resign, for the most part, when faced with allegations or scandals. The voters basically have to toss them out to get them out of power.

On Facebook, I lost yet another "friend" when a conservative "de-friended" me after not liking one of my political comments. He even asked if I ever say anything "fresh" on my FB wall. Interesting that he asked that of me, when a mutual friend of ours, Aaron, posts the same anti-tax, anti-government comments on his FB wall for months. I guess when you agree with someone, even the stale same old, same old appears "fresh", but an opinion you dislike seems "stale." I replied that this guy was not my only friend on Facebook, so he was free not to read what I post. Really. How hard is it to ignore someone's comments on Facebook? One former Navy buddy of mine is a major atheist activist and he posts at least ten article links a day that implicate religious hypocrisy. I don't have time to read everything he posts, nor am I interested in everything he posts to his Facebook wall. It just amazes me that conservatives can't seem to tolerate being exposed to a different point of view. That's why they only watch Fox or the talking heads like Glenn Beck. They aren't interested in anything new or anything that challenges their thinking. They want to be indoctrinated in their ideology. And that's a problem, because anyone who studies history knows the communists in the Soviet Union were so blinded by their ideology that they did not want see that their economy was not working by the mid-1980s. With the visionary Gorbachev, a committed communist who wasn't a blind ideologue, he tried to fix the problems of their ideology, but it was too late.

We also know from the example of the disasterous Bush administration that all their blind ideology failed to produce a successful presidency. From the lack of WMDs in Iraq to the ignoring of terrorist threats before 9/11 to the mishandling of post-Katrina New Orleans, the ideologues in the Republican Party thought that weakening the government and allowing corporations to run society would make America shine like some Reagan Capitalist Utopia. Instead, we got Hooverville redux. That's blind ideology for you.

My dad recently told me that my mother went to eat at some lady from church's house and was told by the evangelical lady who had de-friended me from Facebook last year that I had made "toxic anti-Christian comments." How Christian of this lady to tell lies to my own mother! I was ticked when my dad told me. My parents are the type to think that the reason for my "unpopularity" is because I'm always saying the wrong thing that offends (Southern, conservative) ladies. They see it all the time. Women getting offended by my honesty. Too bad. The evangelical lady is wrong. She truly believes that Bush, Cheney, and Palin are holy, righteous, and the ideal Christian we should just allow to have uncontrolled access to power without ever questioning their motives. This evangelical lady is nice and she's incredibly spiritual. But her politics are toxic because she's a die hard Republican who believes that the Democratic party is evil, corrupt, and aligned with Satan's agenda. I feel sorry for people like her, though. Her "Christian" faith blinds her from the reality that the Republican Party has co-opted the Christian values the way Satan tried to pull the wool over Jesus' eyes by offering the world in exchange for obedience to the horned one.

What good is it to be a Christian if you are blind to the cynical deceptions of the people you trust? The people who speak so easily of Jesus being their favourite political philosopher or that God advocated war in Iraq? Jesus had warned his followers more than 2,000 years ago that there would be many false prophets that would claim him, but in order to find their validity, spiritual people needed to analyze what is said with the actual actions (what is done). When the words and deeds don't match, when there is bad fruit coming forth from the false prophet, we would know. There's a lot of reasons why I strongly dislike evangelical Christians, but their support of the corporate capitalists, robber barons, and powerful elite who lack any spirituality is the biggest reason of all. These are all the people Jesus would have rebelled against. I make no apology if this view offends...for I'll say it again: if you are a so-called Christian who sides with people who profit from the death of others through war, corporate profits, and "I got mine so fuck you" politics, you don't know shit about Jesus. Thus, you have no right to preach to any of us who favour fairer policies that level the playing field in society.

Someday, in the spiritual realm, I want to be present when these evangelical teabaggers learn just how deeply they've been duped by their leaders and their party. Democrats don't talk a lot about religion or spirituality, because its viewed as a private thing. No party is perfect, but in example after example, the Democrats prove that they care deeply about governing, that they want government to work for the good of all (not just the few). This health care reform bill is yet another example. This is why I'm proud to be a Democrat. On the issues that matter most, Democrats have fought hard for the right policies.

For those who love blatant irony, what can you say about a party that gave us nothing but Bush, Colin, Dick, DeLay, and a Boehner? Sounds like the only thing they had in mind was for us to bend over while they screw us for everything we've got. Here's hoping that the Health Care Reform Act will prove to be a popular piece of legislation that causes even more Republican defeats in Congress this November. Its kind of interesting to note that differences between the parties. The Republicans voted for war seven years ago, in which trillions of dollars have been spent destroying two nations. The Democrats voted to give more Americans a fairer health care system that won't bankrupt people if they have a health crisis. Which policy do you think Jesus would favour? I wish Republican Evangelical Christians would wake up to reality. They are not doing Jesus any favours by siding with the party that worships the golden calf (or elephant?).

About those conservative de-frienders on Facebook...yeah, I seem to lose a few each time I post a political comment. I guess they are too weak to deal with an opposing viewpoint. Well, good riddance to ya. I'm not interested in ideology. I'm only interested in what works. And if I know anything at all, its that trickle-down economics DOES NOT WORK. Time to try something else.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Music Video Monday: Bruce Springsteen



In honour of last week's Bruce Springsteen Eucharist, this week's music video is his "Dancing in the Dark," which ranks up there as one of my favourite songs by him. I was quite surprised when it was one of the song selections for the Eucharist, as the song has some veiled references to activities that are likely to happen after a hot Saturday night date, rather than a message that is appropriate for church. But, its inclusion in the Eucharist shows me how daring the Trinity Episcopal Church is to bring their ministry into the modern world. Churches shouldn't shy away from popular culture, because that's the reality of our society.

This video is now best known for being the first appearance of actress Courtney Cox (who played Monica on the hit 1990s sitcom Friends). She's the cute young lady who is pulled up on stage to dance with The Boss. I think she looks better with short hair. I wonder if her appearing in a Springsteen video set her off on a Hollywood career. These days, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of reality-show alumni who hope to parlay their screen time into a longer and more successful career. Fame is a dime a dozen these days. Its hard to believe that video is now 25 years old. Bruce Springsteen was my favourite male singer in 1985. His music dominated the airwaves in 1984-1985. I'm glad that he's still making good music, though I much prefer his stuff with the E Street Band than his folksy, Dylanesque albums.

Here's hoping that you're not dancing in the dark!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Scandals Galore

What is this...scandal month? Yikes! The organization that I work for is currently on trial for an event that happened a quarter-century ago. The local paper published an article in Wednesday's edition. It was top-center, above the fold. The opening sentence revealed an unfair bias against the organization. Then, on Friday afternoon, I was shocked to discover that the Huffington Post has published an even more biased article, with inflammatory accusations. I'm not allowed to discuss the issue with anyone, lest I want to face a subpoena to appear in court, but I did want to bring it to the attention of my friends and regular readers of my blog. Most who know me, know exactly what my opinions about this organization are. I haven't been actively pursuing another job for three years because I love this place. Its hard to work in a place where the politics goes against my own personal code.

Because I'm the low man on the totem pole, I have little power or sway with what this organization does. All I ever wanted since January 2007 was a new job that will take me out of here and in a better office environment. But, the lawsuit has nothing to do with the actual office politics. Someday, I may write a book about what really goes on in this organization...but I want to be long gone from here before I do that. I've said before and I'll say it again...since I moved to Portland in 2006, its like I'm experiencing bad deja vu of every negative experience I hated the first time around. I can't believe that once again, I'm in an organization that is in the spotlight of negative publicity. I swore after the last one that I would pick a better place to work. In reading the articles in the local paper and on the Huffington Post, once again, I'm reminded of the fact that although I get scorn for my liberal political and spiritual views, my personal conservative values once again trumps the morality of the so-called conservatives I work with. This was true in the Navy, as well. And come to think of it, the Navy had its own sex scandal when I was a sailor (1991's Tailhook Scandal). I really do feel like Forrest Gump: an innocent bystander with a front seat to the intense media spotlight.

Is politics any better, though? The past few weeks have been a field day for comedian Jay Leno. Each night for the past couple weeks, Jay has joked about Congressman Massa and Toyota. Maybe both should do the other a favour. The Toyota Corporation should give the Congressman a free Toyota Prius to drive away from D.C. in. He probably can't get away from there fast enough!

Who is Congressman Eric Massa? Well, I'm not going to be like the Fox News Corporation and change his party affiliation because of his embarrassing scandal. He is a Democratic Congressman from a district in New York state. He's also a veteran of the United States Navy. A few weeks ago, news broke that Congressman Massa was named in a sexual harassment suit for allegedly groping his male staffers. He resigned his office for "health reasons." In the drip-drip-drip of scandal, we learned that Massa claims that he merely liked to "tickle" his male staffers, as though it is part of male bonding culture (I can attest that hitting or making fun of each other is part of male bonding culture, but not "tickling"). News reports dug up his prior history and revealed that as an officer in the Navy, he also engaged in inappropriate touching of underlings. He even has a special technique he calls "the Massa Massage."

Uh-oh! When I was in the Navy, I always freaked out when a guy started mentioning wanting a massage. I would always refer them to a special bulletin board where massage therapists advertised their business. Usually, it was women offering massages on these bulletin boards. I wasn't about to give another man a massage. Perhaps a part of me (I was kind of naive back then) knew that a sailor talking about wanting a massage was a code word for something else.

Even worse, the reason why I dislike being around drunk people is because of the lack of inhibitions. There have been a few drunken higher ranking men who have touched me inappropriately at parties. I lost respect for them at that moment and stayed clear of them at work. To this day, its probably the reason why I do not trust ultra conservative men at all, especially the ones who make a big noise about their homophobia. Chances are likely, when drunk, they act inappropriately to subordinates. In other words, I knew khaki uniformed personnel like Congressman Massa when I was in the Navy. What pisses me off is that alcohol is used as an excuse to deny what they did. These people do not belong in any kind of power. If you lose your moral standing, you should lose your leadership position as well. Someone has to be the janitors of society. Why not make these power abusers do the honest work of cleaning up shit-clogged toilets for the rest of their working lives? Positions of power should only go to the virtuous. Reward good behaviour, not sweep bad behaviour under some carpet in the hopes that no one discovers it.

Last week, Saturday Night Live had a field day with Congressman Massa. In one scene, they forever ruined the word "snorkling" for me. Apparently, Massa had a creative vocabulary. To him, "snorkling" means something quite different than being underwater in SCUBA gear.

Republicans have also enjoyed reporting this scandal, because for once, its not one of their party members caught in an embarrassing act of hypocrisy. Fox News Corporation does not have to change the party affiliation indicator for Massa as they did for Governor Sanford, Senator Larry Craig, and Congressman Mark Foley. Glenn Beck even had Massa on the show, but after talking with the Congressman, realized that something wasn't right in the head with Massa, so he actually apologized for wasting his viewers time! Damn, if Glenn Beck thinks you're batshit crazy, what hope is there for you?

My question is...where did the Democrats find this piece of work? And what possessed the guy to run for political office anyway? His dysfunctional unprofessionalism followed him from his Navy days into the hallowed halls of Congress. What a shame. Fortunately the Democratic Party is not like the Republican Party. The Republicans facing scandals stay in office until the voters throw them out. At least Massa had the good sense to resign his office for the good of the people he represented. They deserve a better representative in Congress, whether Republican or Democrat. Good riddance, Massa. No low wage staffer on Capitol Hill should have to put up with the abusive behaviour of the politician they work for.

Finally, there's Sandra Bullock. America's Sweetheart. This year's Best Actress Oscar winner. Tabloids have revealed that her bad boy husband Jesse James had been having an affair with a tattooed lady for months while Bullock was filming The Blind Side. In response, Bullock moved out of the home she shared with James and his children from his first marriage (his previous wife was a porn star). She also cancelled public appearances in Great Britain for this weekend's theatrical release of her Oscar-winning movie.

The amazing thing about this bombshell revelation is that on Oscar night, James was looking like the proud husband supporting his wife at the height of her career success. Reporters gushed about how much in love they looked and what a great relationship they had. I was never convinced about that. When I first heard about Sandra marrying a tattooed, motorcycle driving ex-husband of a porn actress, I couldn't believe it. Why was she "slumming" it? Once again, its another case of an intelligent and successful woman falling for a bad boy. What is this power that bad boys have on beautiful and intelligent women? I don't get it. It pisses me off, quite frankly. I can't think of any example where a lady is able to transform a bad boy into being a happily domesticated, loyal, and faithful husband. Usually, it turns out that the woman ends up abused, murdered, or humiliated. Do Whitney Houston, Nicole Brown Simpson, Rihanna, Mrs. Tiger Woods, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, Mrs. Eliot Spitzer ring a bell?

A week or so ago, I saw Sandra Bullock on the Charlie Rose Show. She was intelligent, funny, and sweet. In fact, she is exactly the kind of lady I always fall for. She has an international background and diverse interests (I learned that her passionate hobby is buying and restoring old homes in the San Antonio / Austin TX area). She also has a terrific sense of humour. So why does such an intelligent and successful woman end up marrying such a jerk? Its the billion dollar question that I'd like to know the answer to, though I already have my theory.

There's a reason why so many women loved Avatar. The "bad boy" gives up his entire human race and his culture for the love of a Na'vi woman. For years, women have been subjugated as second class citizens with no power to change society. Women's natural role was the raising of children, while men went off to dominate the world. Because women have the power to deny men the sex we crave, this is where the power play happens. This is not any new revelation or sexist remark. The ancient Greeks even had a play about what happens when the women of Athens decide to refuse their husbands sex until they end the war (Lysistrata). Perhaps that was the birthdate of homosexuality. Who knows? Ancient Greek men seemed to screw anything that moved. Congressman Massa was born in the wrong era!

My theory is that the reason why so many intelligent women fall for the bad boy is because of the fairy tale fantasy that they have the power within them to transform and domesticate men by the force of their love. It makes for a nice fairy tale, but it could be quite dangerous. In reality, it often does not happen that way. Most women in relationships with bad boys get the shit kicked out of them, or they are humiliated time and again. Is "make-up sex" really that great to endure the physical abuse and humiliation? Women pride themselves on being more thoughtful and maybe even smarter than men, but I often fail to see it whenever I see or hear about an intelligent woman that I'm naturally attracted to falling for a bad boy. Nice guys might be "boring" because you don't have the intense physical fights and prospect of real danger, but we are far healthier for you in the long run.

Besides, what's sexier than an intellectually stimulating conversation and shared interests in some hobbies? It breaks my heart to see intelligent women falling for guys who don't respect them. I think Jesse James might even be threatened by his wife's success. Many successful women seem to have a hard time finding a man who isn't jealous that they make more money or are more successful. Maybe that's why they love to get smacked around or cheated on. A small part of them feels like they deserve it for being more successful than their man.

Get with a liberated man, Sandra! In case you're interested, I'm available and I've had a crush on you ever since I saw Speed in 1994. The most successful Hollywood marriages seem to be the ones where the famous person has a non-famous spouse who doesn't desire fame. Speed away, Sandra! Buy a Toyota Prius if you have to so you can get the hell away from your lyin', cheatin', bad boy husband. You deserve better! You deserve a guy like me.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Flashback Friday: Navy Basic Training

Its hard to believe, but nineteen years ago today, I was a skinny, wide-eyed innocent 19 year old on my way to Basic Training in Orlando, Florida. Nineteen years!!! Where does the time go? From my perspective, the first nineteen years seemed to take forever, but the second nineteen years have flashed before my eyes...slowly at first, but steadily gaining momentum as time sped up in the past few years. The photo above is from two pages in the special journal I kept for the Basic Training experience. I'm very glad that I maintained my memories within the pages of that journal so I can "re-live" the experience whenever I want to.

I was very nervous about going off to Basic Training. For one thing, I never saw myself in the military. I had enlisted mostly to get away from home and experience the world. At the Military Enlistment Processing Station (MEPS) in downtown Atlanta, the bored bureaucratic lady had selected me as the guy to handle all the tickets for the small group of about 8 people going to Navy Basic Training in Orlando, Florida. She picked my name because my last name was ahead of everyone else's in the group. It didn't take long for her to figure out that I had no leadership skill. She even asked me in front of everyone if I was able to handle the responsibility! I said that I was, but I basically gave everyone their plane ticket and folder of entrance paperwork.

Off we went, escorted by some military personnel from the MEPS station in downtown Atlanta to the MARTA station to catch the subway to the airport. As we walked downtown, some homeless men stared at us, one asking another, "Who are those people?" The other responded, "Oh, they're going off to boot camp." Then the homeless men laughed at us! We fools. Giving up our freedoms, the kind of freedom they enjoyed.

The flight was an hour long. Not nearly enough time to enjoy a cup of Coca-Cola. We arrived late at night in Orlando. Saw many tourists destined for the Disney theme parks and wanted to run off with them. All was quiet on our van ride to the Naval Training Center. As soon as we cleared the front gate, I saw a small group of guys in dungarees marching to cadence and liked it immediately. The cadence, that is.

In the months between my enlisting (June 19, 1990) and my going off to Basic Training (March 19, 1991), I had read books about the letters soldiers sent home from Vietnam, read a play set in Basic Training (Biloxi Blues) and watched the film version, read a book about life aboard an aircraft carrier (the USS John F. Kennedy), exercised, asked my father and uncle about their basic training experiences (my fundamentalist uncle's simple word of advice: "don't drop the soap!" Har har), and staring endlessly at the pages of the thin Navy-published pamphlet about what to expect at Basic Training. I think I memorized the entire thing. The photos are burned into my long term memory.

My biggest concern about Basic Training was hazing and the communal shower (not that I expected anyone to try anything like my uncle had inferred, but that I like privacy). After I had been at Basic Training for a couple weeks, my biggest concern was getting set back in training. It was always sad to see fellow company mates leave for a company behind us in the training. Our company also received recruits who were set back in their training and they had a hard time fitting in, because our company pretty much bonded in the first two weeks of training. I was one of the rare recruits who made friends with the new guys, because it wasn't easy for them to go to a new company. You really want to finish training with the company you started with on day one. After my training was completed and I returned home for a brief vacation, I learned that my parents thought I might not make it through Basic Training. My mom, especially, thought I was much too individualistic to last.

I have no idea how much my several months of mental preparation helped me, but I would probably say that it helped A LOT. I knew going in that the Company Commanders (the Navy term for "Drill Sergeant") would play mind games on the company, creating conflict between recruits. Its such a classic tactic, particularly selecting a scapegoat to pay for the mess ups of another recruit. This happened quite often and I was amazed when a few guys would fall for it, getting angry at the recruit who messed up. Even I was made an example of, where another guy had to pay for my mistakes. I got yelled at for not shaving (I hardly had any hair on my face to shave...but in the water, a Company Commander could see those "invisible" hairs on the side of my jaw that I failed to see during the morning routine). I was also called a quitter for being unable to maintain the up "push-up" position for a long period. No one calls me "quitter"! That is one term no one can ever accuse me of being. I don't quit.

One of the things I learned in Basic Training was that you definitely do not want to stand out from the crowd. Keep a low and quiet profile. Its only 9 weeks long, so it was not a big deal for me to keep my ego in check. I did have a few conflicts because some guys tried to pick a fight with me. They ended up getting surprised when I outwitted them and emerged victorious. I'm generally a live and let live kind of guy and don't seek conflict with others, thus its always a surprise when people try to pick a fight with me. Most who have only learned to regret it. In Basic Training, I undermined the authority of two recruits who were selected to be the Section Leader for my section (our company started with 78 men and if I remember correctly, we were divided into six or eight sections). Another guy tried to pick a fight with me one day and was shocked when I responded by yelling a bunch of obscenities in his face. He never messed with me again. Another guy couldn't stop touching me, so with one smart alecky comment of a derogatory word ("faggot"), the label stuck to him for the rest of our time at Basic Training (poor guy...I'm sure that he wasn't, but who really knows?).

Most of all, though, I loved Basic Training. In fact, to this day, I still consider it the greatest experience of my life. I know that always shocks people whenever I say that, but its true. It was the first time in my life where I was known for me and me alone. Because I had a brother who's 14 months older than me but in the same grade / graduating class, I had to endure the "twin" label and often was made to feel like I was half a person. This was a terrible burden for an individualistic guy like me to have to live with for the first 18 years of my life. In Basic Training, though, I was in a fraternity of 78 guys and every single one of them got to know me for me alone. They either liked me or not based on my personality and I never had to hear people talk or ask about my brother. It was a liberating experience. I also loved the marching and the cadence. The last few weeks were especially great, because we knew we were leaving soon and we had more freedom to go places alone (with a special pass, of course) rather than among the group.

The above photo is of the barracks we lived in. My company (C093) was on the second floor. The building had four wings with a central building that held offices. Each floor had one large room aligned with bunk beds, a small office for the Company Commanders, a classroom, and the bathroom with two shower trees (where it was expected that 40 men would shower at the same time), about six toilets with no door in front (there were walls between each toilet, though), and a bank of sinks in front of a long mirror. That was home for nine weeks. We had to clean it every night before bed. I usually got out of it by volunteering to clean the offices of the central building. This allowed me to meet people in other companies, particularly the female companies. That was always nice!

Each company had to create their own flag. This design was our front side. I had no involvement in this planning or painting, though I was known as one of the artistically minded people (the guys saw the cover drawing of my Boot Camp journal). I declined for reasons I don't even remember.

This was the reverse side of the flag. We didn't vote on it, thus I have no idea who thought of it. The title "The Bonehead Club" came from what one of the Company Commanders called us. Probably not very original. But I did like the Company flag idea.

Out of the eight or so guys who came with me from MEPS Atlanta, I think only two other guys finished with the company (besides me). One of the guys was an older guy who didn't like me very much. He started a trend during our "work week" (when our company had to spend ten days of training doing nothing but working in the galley for 18 hours each day). He sang a song he created for his job (telling recruits how to turn in their trays after each meal): "Bowls up, cups down, dress edge to my left!" He had kind of a country twang to it and after all these years, I can still sing it!

To this day, I am pleased that I am still in contact with one person from my Basic Training company. His name is Scott and he's from Iowa. His first comment to me in one of our early days of training was: "Who's this skinny, short shit?"

I had hoped to keep in touch with more of my company mates, and I did keep in touch with a few of them for a couple years. It would be interesting to know how many of them made the Navy a career. I would venture to guess that probably less than 10% might have stayed Navy. One of the things I was insistent on was making my fellow companymates sign the back pages of my journal. Its great to read their comments every once in awhile. Brings back so many good memories and helps remind me of certain personalities.

So...if anyone from C093 at RTC Orlando, Florida in 1991 happens to read this, drop me a line or post a comment to say "hi!" Happy 19th anniversary to this great rite of passage experience!