Thursday, April 29, 2010

How a Hike in Nature Centers Me

The above photograph was taken by one lady's iPhone at a scenic stopping point on a five mile path up and around Multnomah Falls just east of Portland, along the Columbia River Gorge(ous). The guy on the right is Jeff, a church member who started a hiking group that meets one or two Saturday mornings a month to hike somewhere. I went on the one in March that covered the trails in the hills overlooking Portland. It was fun and relaxing. In fact, I was amazed by the amount of clarity I received in the days after the hike. Sign me up for more!

The second hike was canceled due to rain. That one was in a different part of Portland. This past Saturday, though, the hike was on despite threats of rain. Jeff's wife is Japanese, so I enjoyed getting to know them better during March's hike. However, this time, she opted to take their children to OMSI (science museum, which has a special exhibit about space exploration). Other church members met us at the main building near Multnomah Falls. All together, there were five of us, though one decided she had enough after walking a third of the trail. As often happens among fellow church members, I learned of a coincidence with one lady and myself. Her father and my father are both from Atchison, Kansas and might have even gone to high school together. I forgot what she said his name is so I could ask my dad about him. Anyhow, that was pretty strange. The lady's husband works for Nike and was currently traveling in Brazil and Argentina for work. Why can't I have a job like that? I seriously want a job where I travel a lot.

When my parents visited in October 2008, they spent a week in Portland and a week in Seattle. Because my dad wants to see as much of everything as possible, we did a rush tour of two parts of Oregon (the northern half of the Oregon coast, from Florence to Astoria; and the Columbia Gorge to Mount Hood loop). We visited Multnomah Falls but did not hike the trails beyond the bridge that goes across the middle section of the waterfalls. Thus, when Jeff emailed people about the week's hike, I knew I wanted to go on this one.

It is interesting that just when our MAYAs group fell apart late last year (after Christine left for Europe), I find another church group to be a part of. This one is not age specific to young adults, but to anyone who is interested in hiking with fellow church members. Thus, I got to meet the new pastor, Ann, who called me a "Cheaster" church member (those who only attend on Christmas and Easter, which was inaccurate, because I overslept on Easter Sunday and missed out on going to church like I wanted to).

In our conversation, I told her that I've been undergoing a crisis and didn't feel like anyone at church could understand my plight, thus why I've not been attending church. Its not a fault of anyone. Just a reflection that the crisis I'm in can only be solved by me and how I wish that God would offer the guidance or light the way to lead me out of my despair of being in a job I hate more than I've ever hated anything in my entire life. I can't begin to tell you the depth of my hatred for the organization and people I work for. And I hate the feeling of hatred. Its a wasted emotion and not productive. However, its also natural that this feeling would grow the longer my job search continues and my biggest fear since childhood being true: being stuck in a job I hate for the rest of my life.

This hike allowed me to forget about work (the past week was really stressful, as my supervisor and I are at the breaking point where we can no longer stand each other and hardly speak to one another. She had three disruptive family dramas in the month of April and I'm truly getting sick of her constant and ongoing drama because she dumps everything on me and plays the victim card to management, who buy it). During the hike, I kept focusing on the question that has been at the forefront of my mind for a couple weeks now: should I move to D.C. in August or not?

During the hike, I just enjoyed the scenery, as we passed various waterfalls and the path continued to wind around an up the steep hillside at a gradual degree. By the time we reached the top and looked down at the cars passing by on Interstate 84, I was amazed how high up we walked when it did not even feel like we walked that far or steeply. Its an awesome trail, and just one of quite a few. I'd love to do more hikes in that area.

Leave it to nature to restore one's sanity and clarity. The three hours spent in the trees and hills around Multnomah Falls did my soul a lot of good. At the end of the hike, I was reminded about the reason I wanted to move out to the Pacific Northwest and settle here. It really is the most beautiful part of the country I have ever seen (and I've been to all 50 states). I still want to stay here, but in order to do so, I really need to find a better job that is more in line with my personality and values. Honestly, if I don't get out of there this year, I feel as though I'm as good as dead. I'm mentally exhausted by a never ending search for a better job, of unanswered prayers to God about the direction I need to pursue, and of my inability to make positive changes in my organization.

The February incident when a few co-workers decided to go to a strip club after I told them about the potential for being discovered and presented to the media illustrates the difference between my visionary outlook versus their short-sighted thrill seeking. As I learned from someone, there happened to be a newspaper reporter at the club looking to catch clergy members and conservative politicians that night and wouldn't you know? She hit the jackpot when eight employees of a conservative organization that is best known for discriminating against homosexuals and atheists while claiming to be a family values organization came waltzing through the door, with a manager even unknowingly dropping his business card. If I have more common sense and cautious outlook, why doesn't the organization value that instead of someone who is good at faking the membership numbers to reach set quotas every month or quarter?

I was disappointed that none of my numbers came up in the recent lottery drawing ($252 million) for the Powerball. Some twentysomething redneck with missing teeth from the Hoosier state won. Why do I get the feeling that he's going to be broke in five years? Winning that money would have set me up for life, as I would no longer have to work for incompetent and unethical managers who are obsessed about quantity over quality. I really am interested in forming my own foundation work and developing a leadership style that reflects the values expressed in the excellent book Spirit Matters (by Michael Lerner) that I had read in 2001. I don't see any company out there that is free from the conformist mindset of a typical capitalistic corporation. If unlimited growth is considered unsustainable to our planet's natural resources, then our mode of organization needs a revolutionary change. The new focus needs to be QUALITY, not quantity.

Thus, if I can't have the money to form my own foundation to put my ideas into practice as I work to develop a new economic and social model, then I want to work for a company (or government) that values innovative thought and employees. I'm tired of working for managers who are so afraid of the support staff that they hide in their office kingdoms and barely speak to the people who do most of the grunt work. Their fear of the low people in the crappy wage jobs only creates a negative atmosphere where I feel like doing as little as possible during the day. I'm wasting away my talents the longer I work for the organization I work for.

At the end of the hike, I felt as though I still want to stay in Portland, but a new job needs to materialize by June at the very latest. If I'm not in a new job by June, I will spend July reducing my things and preparing for a move. I'll also devote July to applying to overseas jobs as well as seeing what the job market is like in Washington, D.C. For now, I'm putting the terms to the universe. If I'm meant to stay here, then I need to be in a new job before June ends. The costs of staying in a job I hate any longer than four years is simply too high. There is nothing else for me to learn or experience in this situation. Its simply a bad deja vu trip from the worst aspects of my Atlanta job, and ironically makes the office in Atlanta look like a dream place to work.

The ultimate question will be: can the universe deliver on what I've requested for more than 40 months now? There is no good to be gained by my continued employment in an organization I do not respect and have no interest in (in fact, I'd love for lawyers all across the country to sue the organization into bankruptcy). Please, God, deliver me to the promise career where my passion for international cooperation is valued and needed in an organization that shares my progressive vision and values. That is my request to the universe for manifestation this summer, on the twentieth anniversary of my high school graduation and Naval enlistment. Its not an unreasonable request, is it?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Terrifying Case of Sleep Paralysis

Sometime in the early morning hours on Monday, I experienced another episode of what is commonly known as "night terrors" or "sleep paralysis." It was an odd experience. I was dreaming that I was in the New Renaissance Bookstore (in NW Portland) and I was telling the ladies who work there that I love their store, EXCEPT for the section on "elementals who reside in the forest." I found that to be a little more creepy than "spiritual" (disclosure: the New Renaissance Bookstore actually does not sell any books on the darker elements of spiritual ideas. Its purpose is to inspire people to better living). As soon as that happened in the dream, I felt a strange vibration above my body, trying to get in. My body was paralyzed and I couldn't even breathe. I just felt a vibration sensation and the "rushing sound" (like what you hear when you put your ear next to the opening of a conch shell). Since I've had these before, I know what to do. Pray to God! Somehow, I always manage to wake up and almost immediately say a prayer to God for the "light of protection."

Before I relate what happened after that, let me mention what I've learned about "sleep paralysis" / "night terrors"...from the secular / scientific standpoint. According to those who have studied it, this is a phenomenon that is more common than most people realize. In their explanation, its simply the body waking too fast out of the dream state, thus the person experiencing this feels a temporary paralysis. Its supposedly nothing to get frightened about. Easy for them to say! Each time I've had this experience, I am terrified because the official scientific explanation does NOT make sense. Well...maybe from their perspective, since anything supernatural is automatically discounted. The same scientific rationality is used to dismiss Near Death Experiences, ghosts, ESP, psychic phenomenon, and other paranormal ideas.

What I can tell you from personal experience is that the times I've had this were all the same. First, I hear a rushing sound in my ear. Then I feel an energy surge hovering just above my body trying to force its way into my body. I'm pinned down and cannot move. Sometimes, I can't even breathe. Each time this has happened (it must have happened at least 20 times in the past ten years), I'm immediately stirred awake and automatically say a quick prayer to God.

As soon as I said the prayer, a warm feeling started spreading over my body and it completely blocks the energy from penetrating me. How does science explain THAT?!? It definitely feels like a protective shield is placed around my body to block this negative energy force that's trying to invade my body. It always happens after I pray. Even as I write this, I feel chills rushing all over my body. A creepy kind of chill.

When I first started experiencing it a decade ago, I did some research on the Internet about this phenomenon. I was not satisfied with the scientific explanation, because it seemed far too dismissive. Apparently, this phenomenon has been known far longer than modern science has been able to dismiss it as one's physical body coming out of dream state. There have been stories about "gag hags" or "demons" perched on a sleeping person, trying to steal their breath or suffocate them. There's even a mystery entitled "Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome", in which a high case of Hmong men have died in the middle of the night for no apparent reason. If I were to take the scientist at their word that there is nothing "evil" about the night terror, would I end up dying in my sleep? I'm not "Hmong", though my mom isn't certain about her family's lineage. She did grow up in a village along the Mekong River and spoke a Lao dialect, rather than Thai.

This most recent episode was the first one I experienced in several years. I still have no idea why it happens, though it does seem to happen more frequently when I'm starting to get an idea about the direction I want to pursue in life. Maybe there is some evil energy force out there trying to snuff the life out of me for whatever reason. I'm just grateful that when it happens, I immediately wake up and know to pray to God for a protective force. Since I believe that we are spiritual beings in a human body and that we are each assigned spiritual guardians, I think there is more to this mystery than what science can logically explain.

If anyone else has experienced this, I would appreciate a comment or an email, with your thoughts on what you think it might be. Some may read about this experience and be skeptical or perhaps even wishing to experience it for themselves. All I have to say about that is...you really don't want to experience something this terrifying. Its better just to get a good night's sleep. Be grateful if you've never experienced something like this.

In each of my experiences with this phenomenon, I'm always on my stomach when this happens and the energy is centered on my upper back to neck and head, thus I can never get a good look to see if there are any visual images. My face is pushed into the pillow, like the energy force is trying to snuff the life out of me. Weird. Maybe I need to invest in a video camera to have it on me each night. However, I would almost be too terrified to watch it after an experience like this...especially after seeing the film Paranormal Activity last Halloween.

All I can do is thank God for the light of protection in answer to my urgent prayer requests. I'd love for the secular scientists to be right about this. It would make it easier to accept. However, the biggest reason why I can't accept their logical and rational conclusion is because the energy I feel during these episodes are definitely hovering above and outside of my body and I feel hands pushing my head and neck down into the pillow so I can't move. The force goes away after a prayer is said, once a protective shield covers my body in a warm, blissful feeling. It's odd, no doubt about it. I hope that this was the last of those experiences, because I'm getting too old for this shit. Below is a cartoon I found on a Google image search that states everything about what I experienced...so you can see, I'm not making this shit up. It would make an excellent horror film, though, wouldn't you say?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Our First Official Police State


On Friday, the governor of Arizona signed into law the most restrictive immigration "reform" our country has ever seen. In fact, it represents a huge step backwards in terms of human rights. The law reminds me of the kind of laws passed during the Union of South Africa's apartheid era.

Basically, the gist of the law is that all immigrants are required to have on their person the necessary documents that prove that they are "legal" (authorized to be in the United States). If they do not have one, then they are automatically subject to arrest with hefty fines. The governor claims that the police are not allowed to "racially profile" people in attempt to execute this law. However, who are they kidding? Most of the illegal migrants are from south of the border. They fall under certain physical stereotypes (short, brown skin, black hair, some with the mestizo or Native/Mayan heritage). A big problem with this law is what might happen to legal residents (who have a green card or U.S. citizenship). What if a Hispanic or Native American happens to be pulled over and asked for proof of legal status to be in the United States, and they don't have the appropriate paperwork? After all, no one I know carries a copy of their birth certificate, social security card, or passport with them everywhere (unless you happen to catch people on the first day to a new job).

Its important to look at how this kind of law ultimately backfires. The Union of South Africa is the country worth looking at. From the early 1900s, the Africans and the Indians (South Asian immigrants) were required to carry passbooks with them everywhere they went. A policeman could request to see one's passbook at any time and they were required to show it. Penalties occurred for those who did not have one. Mohandas Gandhi was one individual who showed his defiance early on when he burned his passbook in front of the South African police. The practice of passbooks was considered inhumane, because it was a controlling device for the masses. The white citizens of South Africa did not have to worry about passbooks, of course. Membership has its privileges.

Illegal immigration is a serious problem that must be addressed. However, the problem is more complex than simply putting up a wall along the border and demanding that people show their proof of legality. The biggest reason people come here is because of jobs. The government of Mexico is so corrupt and ineffectual that they don't seem to worry much about improving the lives of their poorest citizens. After all, their neighbour to the north has plenty of jobs that U.S. citizens do not want to do (custodial, construction, field labour, housekeeper, maids, fast food, food processing, etc.). Even paying the minimum wage is more than what many immigrants will find in Mexico or the Central American countries. Companies in the U.S. have a difficult time with hiring U.S. citizens to do the low wage and undesirable jobs. This problem is not unique to the U.S. Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the Middle East countries often require immigrant labour to fill out the bottom rung jobs in society. To understand better how much our societies depend upon this low labour class, there is a documentary called A Day Without Mexicans. Without these people to do the unpleasant jobs, our country would come to a complete standstill.

I don't have any solution to this problem, other than perhaps the creation of a new category for non-citizen residents. If they are here and working, they are paying taxes. Many of them send money back to their families in Mexico. Some of them may not even want to become U.S. citizens. They are only here because of the jobs. They should not be penalized or derogatorily referred to as "illegal aliens."

The biggest effect this law may have on people in Arizona is create a culture of paranoia and mistrust. That is no way to build a democratic society. We should make every effort to encourage and foster trust among people. Instead, this law takes one state closer to the paranoid "police state" model that our world has seen too much of. The irony may be that while South Africa got rid of their ridiculous passbooks laws, the United States of America is moving in that direction. The end result will be greater xenophobia, prejudice, paranoia, and fear. Let's not go there.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Madonna Monday: True Blue




For this month's Madonna music video selection, I have chosen "True Blue", which I had never seen until I bought Madonna's ultimate video collection last year. This was the title song to her third album, released in 1986 (the same year as Bananarama's True Confessions and Cyndi Lauper's True Colors albums). The song has a kind of 1950s doo-wop bop feel to it, thus the music video was perfect for the song. Its Madonna singing to her gal pals about her "true love" (that would have been Mr. Sean Penn at the time).

What I love most about this music video is the African American lady. I'm a sucker for any lady who has that hairstyle (I believe its called the "pageboy"). I don't know why I find this hairstyle on ladies to be the ultimate in sexy, but it is. I have no idea who that African American lady is, but she is hot. Zoe Saldana hot. Halle Berry hot. She should've been given more screen time, but it was cool to see her included, because if this music video's setting was true to the 1950s, I doubt that American society would've looked too kindly on Madonna's integrated group of friends. In 1986, it was no big deal. The more famous of Madonna's gal pals in this video is Debi Mazar (who is hilarious on Entourage). She's in a few of Madonna's videos.

The True Blue album is still my favourite of Madonna's albums (Madonna shares a unique distinction with Johnny Clegg in being the only artist in which I have all of their albums on CDs). It marked the first transformation of Madonna (when she ditched her cut-up clothing and lingerie on the outside style for a more mature look). I listened to that album a lot in the summer and fall of 1986. Even the Evangelical Christian youth group I was a participant of liked this album, and the youth leader (a soldier whose rank I forget, though he must have been in his mid-to-late 20s) who did not like Madonna at all (or her values), found "La Isla Bonita" irresistable. I consider this album to be the most perfect "pop" album. Over the years, Madonna has released albums of more lyrical depth and irresistable rhythms, but True Blue captured the mid-1980s well. Whenever I listen to this album, I'm automatically transported back to the summer of 1986 when I had my first job in downtown Fulda, West Germany working with American dependent wives and German ladies at the Civilian Personnel Office. Other groups I listened to that summer included Falco ("Rock Me Amadeus" was a huge favourite for me), Whitney Houston, Genesis (loved "Invisible Touch"), and Mike and the Mechanics ("Silent Running" is still awesome).

Sunday, April 25, 2010

An Example of American Christian Psychosis

In keeping with my ongoing Sunday series about my thoughts regarding Christianity, the latest was inspired by a conversation on Facebook by a conservative member of my church whom I don't really consider a friend. She's a couple years younger than me, but even back in high school, I knew that she and I didn't have much in common. The differences have only grown in the years since. Her parents are close friends with my parents, and I've gotten to know them pretty well. They are like family to my family. And even though our political views are opposite, they are the kind of people you can have a reasonable conversation with. There wouldn't be any devolving into ugliness that is common with too many folks who don't know how to disagree in a civilized manner.

I didn't expect my innocent comment to start things, but as you can see from what I lifted from the Facebook wall, it got ugly really quick. Instead of arguing, though, I opted out. I've learned that there is simply no reasoning ability in the mind of a fundamentalist-minded Christian. After the Facebook dialogue, I will write more about what I see is a major problem with American-style Christianity, and why I view it as a complete betrayal of what Jesus was all about. First, enjoy reading into the mind of a conservative who hates President Obama without any reason (at least Bush gave us plenty of reasons to despise his presidency).
Shelia:
FINALLY some GOOD NEWS in 2010... taxes will be back tomorrow and paying off 2 loans, family vacation & a credit card! Thank you Lord for some relief!!

Tracy
Ours paid off 2 cars and paid cash for my 2003 Explorer. We are car payment FREEEEE and loving it!!!! Chris and I have been married for over 9 years and we have had a car payment the whole time!!

Me:
Shouldn't you be thanking our president for the tax reforms? God has nothing to do with taxes.


Shelia
I can't think of anything I want to thank our useless excuse of a president for. And yes, God provides me with blessings, even financial ones.

Sue
Thanking our President please do not get me started!!!!!!!!

Shelia
AMEN Sue!

Me:
I'm just keeping it real. I couldn't stand GWB at all but when he gave everyone a $600 tax rebate to stimulate the economy in 2008, I was grateful. It paid for my San Diego vacation. Presidents affect tax policies, not God. That's all I'm saying.


Patty
Nah...but the devil sure has something to do with our current president. I'm just saying.

Shelia
Nicholas, you know I love you, so I will not debate with you. God answers my prayers.

Shelia
AMEN to that Patty!

Patty
LMAO..."From the giant flames of hell so he spawned...and his name shall be OBAMA ..meaning "One Big Ass Mistake America."
One thing that most annoyed me about the exchange is that Shelia has a habit of saying, "You know I love you, but..." Love is not a word I throw around easily. There are not a lot of people that I can say that I honestly "love." I reserve that feeling for family and my closest friends. There might be a broader, general sense of "brotherly love" or "agape love", but for a woman I don't really consider a friend to say rings so untrue. Its also annoying when people make qualifiers before getting to the exception. "I love you, but..." I hate that!

The whole point I wanted to make in that exchange was that our president is more responsible for our country's economic policies. That's why its vitally important for people to understand that it is stupid to vote against your own economic interest. It is documented fact that our economy runs better during Democratic administrations than Republican ones. President Jimmy Carter is the only exception, but he inherited inflation from Nixon and Ford, and our country was on the tail end of a costly war in Vietnam. Wars are a huge drain on our economy. Every dollar spent on bombs to destroy a foreign country is a dollar not spent on our own people where it counts (education, housing, infrastructure, health care).

Yet, to conservative and evangelical Christians, economic policy is not a priority compared to a candidate who mouths pithy platitudes about Jesus being his best friend, even as he does everything in his power to enrich his already wealthy friends by looting the National Treasury. This is my biggest critique of Christianity, because it has failed to present a real alternative to our current economic system and has encouraged followers to be easily fooled by charlatans all because they pretend that Jesus is their best friend.

Do these people even read the Bible? Passage after passage shows that Jesus did not like the establishment class of Pharisees, wealthy business people and government officials. He violated so many laws that he had to be put to death for fear of inspiring an uprising that might've overthrown those in power. So many Bible quotes and parables have Jesus condemning wealthy people as he sided with the poor, the afflicted, the abused, the adulterers, and even the tax collector.

What do these people see? A Capitalist Christ, who advocates a doctrine of submission to authorities, empire building, guns, obsession with unborn fetuses, and fear of the dark-coloured "others." Seriously, as you can see above, a few of them called Obama a devil spawned in hell. Even I didn't think that of Bush (though I believe Cheney is definitely evil, as his actions since 1997 have shown). I guess if you believe Satan is a real being, you'll look for his influence everywhere but where it really shows (Cheney is the complete opposite to what Christ was about. He is the King Herod of our day).

In a way, I feel sorry for Shelia. Since I know about her life history, all I can say is that she is on her third marriage. She has the bad boy / good ole boy fixation. Though her third husband is the best of the lot, even he and I don't have much in common and rarely ever spoke to one another (despite his being a submarine sailor for a time). She's not someone who is in my natural "class of friends" (the well-traveled, college educated, intellectually curious with a comfort and love of foreign cultures), so I understand why she and I will never see eye to eye or be in one another's social circle. Its also interesting to see how "religious" she's become as an adult, as I don't remember her being this "devout" as a teenager and young adult. She came across as a party girl with the big 80s hair.

Reading those comments above, where they hate Obama so much that they can't even acknowledge that he had a part in their receiving bigger than previous years' tax refunds, is just sad. Even though I despised Bush (who actually did things that violated the norm of previous presidents and human decency), I was still able to be grateful to him for his misguided 2008 tax rebate to stimulate the economy to affect the presidential election. My $600 rebate paid for my Memorial Day vacation to San Diego. It wouldn't have happened without George W. Bush. Thus, I can admit that he did one good thing for me.

This brings up another point. Even though I did not like Bush's presidency at all (in fact, I consider it to be the absolute worst in American history, surpassing the administrations of Buchanan, A. Johnson, McKinley, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, and Nixon), I don't hate him as a human being. I feel sorry for him and was actually impressed by his refusal to give a presidential pardon to Scooter Libby, even after Dick Cheney kept on pestering him in the final days of their administration. To me, it showed a glimmer of a conscience finally breaking through. Perhaps he realized that Cheney had deceived him for far too long and this was his "Anakin Skywalker moment" (when Darth Vader asks Luke Skywalker to take off the mask and acknowledges his salvation).

Among conservatives, they can't respectfully dislike a person. If that person has a different view of how our country should be, they are demonized and equated with evil, without any evidence of evil. At least I can point out specifics when I say that Dick Cheney is the most evil bastard who ever had power in our government (authorizing waterboarding; promoting war against Iraq, Iran, Syria for geo-strategic purposes; obsession with secrecy; snarling smirk). What evidence do these conservative haters have that President Obama is evil? A Fox newscaster saying that its so?

Often, I wonder what Jesus would think of some of his most rabid conservative worshipful followers who believe in a person that hardly reflects the reality of who Jesus was. This is why its ridiculous to base eternal salvation on an historical figure that no one can come to complete agreement about. If all we do is base our impression of Jesus on what is written in the Bible, it makes you wonder what Jesus the conservatives see, because the politicians they support and the economic and foreign policies fundamentalist and evangelical Christians promote completely violate everything Jesus was about. If they can't even get the basic facts about Jesus right, why should anyone believe what they have to say when they approach you to proselytize why you "need" Jesus?

My suggestion is to read the New Testament for yourself and forget about joining churches that promote a Capitalist Christ who advocates the same set of policies as the current incarnation of the Republican Party. I would even bet that Jesus would prefer that you learn about him through the Gospels and use your own intellect, rather than turning your mind over to propagandists in conservative churches which has an ulterior agenda in Republican politics. Most of all, never forget that the Republican Party exists for one core constituency: the wealthy class. If you're not wealthy, you're just a pawn and a foot soldier to be used and discarded once they have gotten into power. This is something Jesus would have never supported.

Special word to teabaggers who complain about taxes...when Jesus was asked by a Pharisee about money and the paying of taxes, he replied with: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." He was no anti-tax conservative, that's for sure. Time to "Get Real for God." Amen!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Blizzards, Earthquakes, and Volcanos (Oh My!)

Am I the only one who views the record snowdump on the eastern seaboard of the United States, the four major earthquakes so far (Haiti, Chile, Mexicali [Mexico], and China), and the Icelandic volcano eruption (with a neighbouring one rumbling lately) as a major sign that Mother Nature is mighty pissed at the human race?!? In honour of yesterday's Earth Day, maybe its time to step up our game. Earth Day just doesn't cut it anymore. Earth Week doesn't even make an impact, or Earth Month. Let's make it an "Earth Year" and scale back on our constant scorched earth policies of consume, consume, consume!!! Mother Nature is not someone to mess with, because if humans really want to battle against our planetary eco-system, history shows that our ecosystem will survive, but the creatures who inhabit this small marble in the grand universe can find itself extinct, like the dinosaurs, or the mastadons.

It was slightly unnerving to watch the news report on the havoc the Icelandic volcano has wrecked upon continental Europe, causing the airline industry to shut down in the biggest crisis since the hours and days after 9/11/2001. As newscasters are apt to do, they throw out the monetary costs of the shut down, which I heard at least a billion dollars lost because of cancelled flights. Then there are the reports of people who found themselves stranded because they couldn't fly home (this is particularly true for North American travelers in the U.K. and continental Europe during this unusual event). Type A personalities aren't prone to dealing with changes in their well-organized go-go-go plans. Know what Mother Earth has to say about that? "Tough shit! Deal with it, bitches!"

I'm annoyed with the way the news slanted this story. Everything boils down to money lost and lives inconvenienced. It makes me want to yell at them: "Hello! We live on a living organism and our consumption-based lifestyles are wrecking havoc on our earth's ability to cope. Payback is a bitch." Instead of fretting about the loss of business or our schedules being interrupted, this rare event is something that should inspire humans to take a break from our routines and realize just how fragile our lives are. As if devastating earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados and hurricanes weren't enough reminders. So what if you have an extra, unplanned week in London? Enjoy it. So what if airline companies lose money? Our earth is breathing easier this week without all the jetfuel burned in our atmosphere.

I see this as a sign of more disasters to come. Humans better get used to it. We simply cannot afford to continue doing business the same old way of unlimited growth, record quarterly projections, and having more of everything. There is a price to pay for all of this. Is all of our busy-ness in commerce truly necessary? It appears to me that mass production of goods has finally resulted in low wage jobs and high unemployment. Perhaps its time humans returned to a Renaissance economy, in which people had specialized trades and took their time to create homes, furniture, clothing, art, and other products. Do we really need all the crap that Walmart pushes on its low wage earner shoppers?

I'm not naive in realizing that humans will move on to the next crisis after the Icelandic volcano is a forgotten nightmare. After all, in the post-9/11 period, reporters liked to say that Americans became more aware of the world around them and valued their relationships with family and friends. That may have been true in the days, weeks, and months after that tragedy, but it didn't take long before the shallow American celebrity culture to come roaring back with a vengeance. We have even more celebrity gossip magazines AFTER 9/11 than before. On a personal level, I have found that Americans aren't more aware of the world. The same people who were interested in global affairs before 9/11 have continued with their interests and education, but those who never traveled overseas and tend to view foreigners as all out to kill us, they are still consuming the bad mix of greasy fast food, cheap plastic shit from China, and the glossy celebrity gossip rags that demand our attention in every grocery store check-out line. For them, ignorance is bliss.

I wish that humanity would get some depth. I'm tired of being thought of "strange" for my global vision of the world and how different society can look if we completely change our business model to focus on quality instead of quantity. Improving the quality of our lives with less is good policy and Mother Nature will thank us.

In a Google-image search, I came across the above photo of an old version of a classic James Bond novel. What better represents what life is all about than that image? Its pretty sexy, but what I like about it is that while the Volcano is spewing its lava (a sign of our very alive planet), a man and woman are embracing each other, watching the spectacle. In the end, they have each other. No clothing, no property. Just an inflatable raft and nothing better to do than make love to each other. Love. Its all about the love. Love for each other, love for our planet. That's a powerful idea to change our world. Remember...its all about quality, not quantity. In every facet of our lives. Is anyone listening?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tenth Anniversary of the Greatest Single Day in My Life

The above photograph is a copy of the original that I have hanging on my wall, which was taken exactly ten years ago today. Earth Day 2000. My internship had ended a week earlier and most everyone on BYU's Washington Seminar program had already left D.C. Some interns in the White House's Office of the Vice President had also left D.C. Since I stuck around to search for a career in government, I got to meet Vice President Gore for the final time in my internship, when he met with all of his interns for Spring Semester 2000. Fifteen interns were assigned to his office (0ut of 188 White House interns for that semester), but two were already gone.

When Vice President came into the conference room in the Old Executive Office Building (the stately building that dwarfs the White House and home to most of the offices for employees in the Executive Office of the President), he went around the table shaking all of our hands, then sat down directly opposite of me! I was glad that I stood in the right spot to be across the table from him. He spoke for a couple minutes, then allowed people to ask questions. When he called the final question, my hand shot up and he picked me.

My question was: "I had read in the Washington Post that as a young man, you had dreams of writing a novel someday and I was wondering if you still wanted to do that...after your presidency, of course."

His response absolutely floored me. He responded with a question of his own: "You ask that question because you want to be a writer, yourself, right?"

Damn...the guy was smart. In hindsight, I guess its not that amazing, if you know basic psychology and view a person's question as their most passionate issue. But, at the time, I was impressed, because I have dreamed of being a novelist since age 11 and was planning to write my novel based on my Navy experiences (which I did write from December 2000 through December 2004) once I landed a job and re-took my biology course.

I admitted to Gore and the other interns that he was correct. Then he spoke about writing Earth in the Balance and how much research and work it entailed, and finally said that maybe someday, but for now, his goal was to win the election in November.

Sometimes, I wonder if he remembers that an intern had asked him that question. Out of all the questions to ask, that was one that I wanted to know the most about...because I considered myself at a crossroads. The Washington Post had run a series of in depth articles about Al Gore, Bill Bradley, John McCain, and George W. Bush as young men. Out of all the politicians I learned about in the late 1990s and in 2000 during my internship, Gore represented an idealized version of myself. He was the one politician I felt that I had the most in common with (introverted personality, seen as serious by other people but close friends see the funny side, global in our worldview). Thus, when I had read in the article that as a young man, Gore had two competing desires: a political career or a writing one, I was even more impressed because that represented my two competing passions (a writing career or a political aide career). The political career won for Gore. Neither of those careers have panned out for me so far, yet like a masochist, I continue my search in both areas.

His second daughter Kristin published two novels of her own in the previous decade and I had the honour of meeting her one year at a lecture at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta. Perhaps she inherited her dad's creative writing side, as her novels (about a neurotic political aide to a Senator who happens to become president) are quite hilarious.

Because I identify so strongly with Gore, the 2000 election results were quite painful...especially when many people in my church congregation in Atlanta were happy that Bush was appointed the president. It was strange to hear church folks I've known since 1988 tell me that they would "vote" for me if I ran for political office in Atlanta, while celebrating Bush's presidency as a return to "Christian values." If they didn't like Gore's political views, they wouldn't like mine...so why would they vote for me? I stopped becoming a regular church member in the aftermath of the painful 2000 election, until I left Atlanta for Portland in 2006. It was just too hard to be around church folks who had no idea how incredibly spiritual and good Gore is. He, after all, gave the commencement address at our church's Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa. Has Bush ever done that? Hell, no! Cuz in Bush's mind, we're a cult. One church lady even had the gall to tell me that she couldn't vote for Gore because he had the "taint of Clinton." That would be like me telling her that I couldn't be friends with her anymore because she carries the "taint" of her ex-husband's adultery. Does that make any sense?

Seeing as how disasterous the past decade has been for our country and people around the world, its amazing that there are still people who can't bring themselves to admit that Gore was a better man and would have been a better president than Bush. That, I have no doubt.

But, that's all "water under the bridge." Back to Earth Day 2000. After Gore met with us interns and we each got our photos taken with him (the individual handshake and a group photo), he was off to his next event, which included the Earth Day celebration on the National Mall with emcee Leonardo DiCaprio and performances by Third Eye Blind (and other bands).

After walking out of the meeting, I went to meet Jenet so we could attend the event on the Mall. I was emotionally high all day. It was a perfect day: meeting Gore again and hanging out with Jenet as we watched Third Eye Blind perform (probably the band I liked the most in college). Could any day get better than that?

In the decade since, there have been a few notable days for me, including two years ago when Obama spoke at the waterfront in Portland a few days before the Oregon primary. This time, it was Christine who shared the special day with me and its a memory that I will always cherish for the rest of my life. As I think about it...why do my "greatest days" involve politicians and women I'm interested in? Can I have a "great day" without a politician in the picture? That remains to be seen.

The above photo is a copy of the official White House Interns for Spring Semester 2000, taken sometime in mid-April. I'm harder to see...but I'm about mid-range on the staircase on the left, near the flowery bush. President Clinton had kept us waiting for over an hour past the scheduled photo time. During the wait, I was disgusted hearing girls much younger than I gushing to one another about what Clinton was like in bed. Its hard to respect girls who talk that way, particularly at an official function. That's the kind of talk they should've reserved for their off-work time.

After the photo, Clinton shook as many hands as he could but I was too far up to make it before he left for his next event. That's okay, though, because I finally got to meet him and shake his hand when he came to Portland two years ago and spoke at the school where my brother works as a custodian. It just goes to show, if you have patience and want to meet someone badly enough, eventually it'll happen.

Lately, I've been thinking about choices I made in 2000 and in 2006, and wondering if I should once again take a big risk by "correcting a mistake" I consider to be the costliest mistake of my life: leaving D.C. in July 2000. When I was in college thinking about my post-college career plans, Washington, D.C. was "Plan A" and Portland, Oregon was "Plan B." I didn't have a "Plan C", but in the back of my mind, it was moving back to Atlanta, Georgia. In the past decade, I fulfilled all three "Plans." It was not my intent to live all three "Plans," just the way my life worked.

At some point in June 2000 when I realized that my money was getting too low and I did not have a job and my parents kept pestering me to move back home, while Jenet kept insisting not to leave D.C., I was torn. The few interviews I went to did not bear much fruit and I didn't take one Gore staffer's advice to apply to a temp agency as I searched for a career. Someone at church told me about a Peace and Justice Minister position in the Pacific Northwest, which I thought was perfect. It was just the carrot I needed to say goodbye to D.C. and focus on my "Plan B." So, I returned to Atlanta in July 2000 and applied to that position with the church while finding a job in Atlanta in the meantime.

I never heard back from the Pacific Northwest, but I did hear from church congregations in Florida, Alabama, and Pennsylvania about possible positions. Since none of those places were on my dream sheet of locations to live in, I politely turned down their interview requests and focused on finding a permanent job in Atlanta that would allow me to save up money to move to the Pacific Northwest.

In 2006, when I realized that I had made my goal of saving up enough to quit my job and move across country, I did consider five cities: Boston, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, and Portland. I ruled out Boston and Chicago pretty easily because of the cold winters and expense of living there. My biggest aversion to moving back to D.C. was that I didn't want to feel like I was "moving backwards" in a futile repeat of 2000. Plus, I actually believed Karl Rove's talk about a "permanent Republican majority", which was just too depressing to contemplate. So, my focus became a toss-up between San Francisco and Portland.

In retrospect, had I known that one of my best friends would get stationed in the D.C. metro area in late 2006 or that the Democrats would retake control of Congress in that election cycle (and the White House two years later), I most likely would have moved back to D.C. and gotten involved in James Webb's Senate campaign (who knows...I could've been one of his staff members these past three years!).

Though my heart was in San Francisco, the fear of running out of money before I found a job was real at the time. Plus, I knew that the city is so expensive that I wouldn't have been able to afford my own apartment and would have had to live with roommates. That's not an option I ever look forward to, due to plenty of bad apples in college.

My biggest fear about Portland was that I wouldn't find a career that interested me. I had job searched all summer in 2006, looking at what was available in Portland and San Francisco. There was no comparison. San Francisco had more interesting jobs available. Portland seemed to lack good jobs. Since I've moved to Portland, I have found that to be very true. The lack of good jobs is the biggest negative for this otherwise great city. After a 40-month long search for a better job, I'm ready to give up on Portland. The truth is, if I really value my international politics degree, moving to Portland was the worst decision I could have ever made for my career goals. Yes, its a beautiful and livable city with a great liberal and small community vibe. However, the choice I face is: Do I want to continue this never ending search for a better job while I continue to work at the worst place I've ever worked at (with its bad management, low morale among co-workers, and high levels of dysfunction) or do I want to take a risk in the direction of careers that excite me in a city that always pulls at my heartstrings?

When I lived in D.C. in 2000, there were many moments where I had the thought: "I'm in the city of my soulmates." After almost four years in Portland with none of the objectives I set for myself before I moved having been accomplished, I think it might be time once again to take that risk. However, I am giving Portland until June to show me that it wishes to keep me as a resident. Two events have to happen and if neither of them does, then the temptation to cut my losses and move on will be too strong come August when my apartment's lease is up for renewal and I receive my refund check from Uncle Sam.

In the past decade, the most important lesson I learned is that I should have listened to Jenet instead of my parents. It would have made a huge difference in my life. I could have been in my dream career. After all, Jenet eventually found her career after working various jobs in a mall. I gave up on my dreams too soon and paid a huge price (ten years in three crappy jobs). The choice before me is to continue slaving away in a job I despise or taking a risk towards my international career in the city that continues to attract me.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

At Long Last...the U2charist!


This past Saturday, I finally attended a U2charist after hearing about it for a couple years now. This post was originally meant for Sunday, but I didn't get around to blogging on Sunday.

Though I'm a huge fan of U2 and love their music a lot more than Bruce Springsteen, I kind of felt let down after last month's awesome Bruce Springsteen Eucharist. For one thing, the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral went all out with the Springsteen Eucharist, holding it in the main sanctuary of the cathedral. The beauty of that sacred space, with the huge ceiling, beautiful stained glass, and formal decorum contributed to an impressive spiritual experience. It was also packed with several hundred people (I believe I read somewhere that over 600 people attended).

For the U2charist, the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral held it in a smaller space that functions as a theater with folding chairs instead of pews. The turn-out was far less than for the Springsteen Eucharist and this one wasn't advertised in several newspapers, either. Even the live band seemed to be "phoning it in". The singers weren't all that spectacular. The "vibe" just wasn't there, this time. Maybe its because this is the second time they've done a U2charist.

Despite the "letdown" from the awesome Springsteen Eucharist, I just let the music fill me as I read the lyrics on the overhead projection (oh, they didn't print awesome programs for the service, either, as they did for the Springsteen Eucharist). The songs that the live band (and the audience) sung included: "Magnificent", "Beautiful Day", "Where the Streets Have No Name", "One Step Closer", "Stuck in a Moment (That You Can't Get Out Of It)" (I was pleasantly surprised that this one was included, as this song was my choice for Best Song of the 2000s Decade), "Yahweh", "Grace", a couple others that I can't remember the names of, and the closing song, "Walk On", which featured the beautiful photo of Aung San Suu Kyi. That was a pleasant surprise. I love seeing her photo.

U2 has so many songs with a deeply spiritual content that choosing which ones to include can be a difficult task. The church certainly did a good job with the ones they selected. However, I was hoping that "One", "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "In God's Country" would have also been included. But, that's okay if those didn't make the selection. The ones that did were impressive enough. This was the first time when I really paid attention to the lyrics on some of the songs, with a spiritual focus.

I'd love to do a U2-music worship service in my church someday, though I don't know how open the older members of the congregation would be. Not that I'm making a point to be actively involved in a local congregation. I'm still on my "sabbatical" from church as I explore other spiritual options. More and more, I'm thinking that it might be best to "name my own" just for the sake of having complete ownership of my own spiritual ideas. I'm tired of explaining to people what my church believes, its contrasting history from the Mormons, and what I personally believe. Its too confusing to most people who dare ask. It would be far simpler to just say I am "this", whatever "this" is. Naming my own "religion" does not mean I have an interest in founding a new religion, because I don't. Its not to me to tell anyone what to believe or what is true. I'm just one individual seeking to build and maintain a network of spiritually-minded people who all base their religious beliefs on their own experiences and tolerate others and whatever religion they belong to. I guess I dream of the day when we can all sit down at the table of spiritual brother-/sister-hood, complete equals and secure in our own spiritual experiences that we don't seek to convert each other to our way of viewing the world.

I might have enjoyed this U2charist more if it happened before the Bruce Springsteen Eucharist, when I had no expectations. The Springsteen Eucharist really raised the bar on awesome religious experiences in a church setting. After you've experienced that, any scaled down version is going to appear disappointing, which is a shame. U2's music deserves a full scale, highly energized worship service.

The reverend (or pastor?) said that this was the last "special worship services" of the season and that they planned to have more innovative worship services starting in the fall. He didn't ask for suggestions, but I'd love to see an Enya Eucharist and a Johnny Clegg Eucharist. But, I'm not holding my breath!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Journal Excerpt: The Right Amount of Authority


The above photo represents the rank insignia that I wore in my final year in the Navy (E-5 or Petty Officer Second Class). E-5 was the best rank to be in the Navy because you were considered too senior to get stuck doing "working parties" and too junior to be given the responsibility of delegating work to the lower ranks. For a guy like me who neither likes to tell others what to do nor have people tell me what to do, it was perfect. :)

During Basic Training, the Company Commanders picked recruits in which to give certain responsibilities over the rest of the company. The recruits that were given "ranks" got to wear the appropriate "rank pin" on the left collar of the uniform shirt. I remember wanting to wear one, but not one of the higher ranks. I was satisfied to get the lowest ranked one (Petty Officer Third Class, which has just one chevron below the "crow") . From today's excerpt of my Tales of Terror From Boot Camp Hell (Journal Volume XXII), you'll see that I finally got my wish, when I was given a job responsibility that was perfect for a big letter writing like me!

APRIL 19, 1991 4-2 Day Friday

I started the day with watch duty. At 0330, I assumed the watch, having been awakened by the previous watch. I actually prefer the early morning watch because there is less chance of some CC or other khaki uniformed person to pay a visit, requiring me to yell "ATTENTION ON DECK!"

Every 30 minutes, I have to walk around the barracks and check all the electrical outlets by swinging my hand in front of them to make sure its okay. Everyone is fast asleep and all is quiet.

If anyone enteres the compartment, I have to look at their ID card and record their names in the log book.

Albu took over the watch in the morning, after 0700 and I was relieved that I didn't have the watch when a female CC walked in. Albu accidentally addressed her as "sir" and she yelled back: "I have TITS, recruit!"

"Yes, ma'am," Albu replied. I felt bad for him but I was relieved I didn't have the watch then because I could have just as easily made the same mistake.

In the morning was our 2nd competition Military Drill evaluation. We marched to "Anchors Aweigh" which I never get tired of. When we finished, we thought we did pretty well until the CCs gave our score of 3600-something out of 4000 points. 250 points were for alignment hits alone. The CCs were a little disappointed, but they said: "Its over. Forget about it."

Fortunately, we weren't cycled for it.

Lunch was great! I had Pizza (the first time it was offered to us since we've been here) and spaghetti, salad, garlic bread, angel food cake, chocolate ice cream, chocolate milk, and Coca-Cola. A rare treat but I enjoyed it.

Our company got a streetmark pulled for stomping our feet on the flanks. That surprised everyone but it only goes to show that we are constantly under the watch of anyone who wears the shoulder cords of a Company Commander -- not just ours.

After lunch, we were put in push up position just for fun while waiting to do bunks. CPO Matthews taunted the company by telling us that he was going to "get bombed tonight and get some pussy."

We were supposed to show some visiting children about life at Basic Training but they didn't come today because of the weather.

Much to the relief of our company, hothead Felicilda was bagged out of our company into C100 which was on 2-2 Day all for buying a Pepsi last night! What an expensive Pepsi. It cost him 2 weeks. I hope it was worth it for him, but he won't be missed.

Recruits Frank and Duby have birthdays today. Frank was evaluated by a psychiatrist today and was permitted to stay, which surprised our company. Everyone was confident that he would be bagged out of the Navy, so it was disappointing to see that the psychiatrist disagreed.

We finished our evening details early and had an hour of free time to do whatever we wanted.

The great news of the day is that I was appointed the second mail petty officer. We only had one mail p.o. for the past week and now I'm the assistant and get to wear the coveted PO3 metal pin on my collar. I was happy, because this position of responsibility is easy and important. I will be the bearer of morale to my shipmates. SR Frank wanted to be the mail P.O. but the CC told him that he needs to concentrate on getting his folds down and other basic skills that are necessary to graduate from this place. Naturally, he was disappointed and I was happy to be the one selected for this position.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Music Video Monday: Youssou N'Dour



This week's music video selection is dedicated to the lady I met last week at the World Affairs Council Oregon -- Young Professionals discussion group. Ever since I discovered the music of Youssou N'Dour in 1994 because of European MTV and radio playing his bilingual duet with Neneh Cherry ("Seven Seconds"), I was struck by his amazing voice. The album the single came from, The Guide (Wommat), was one of those that I just had to buy, based on a single song. The album was a HUGE HIT for me in 1994 (and ranks in my Top Five Favourite Albums of All Time). The album is an incredible mix of pop, Jazz, blues, and African melodies with trilingual singing (French, English, and Woloof). Youssou N'Dour is the biggest artist to emerge from Senegal.

When I first started listening to Youssou N'Dour, I learned that he was the backing vocals in one of Peter Gabriel's most beautiful songs ("In Your Eyes", which is on my short list to be the "First Dance Song" at my wedding someday. Of course, the bride will have a huge say in what "our song" will be, thus why I need to find someone with a similar taste in music!). I had heard about Youssou N'Dour in the late 1980s because of his high profile in Amnesty International's "Human Rights Now!" series of concerts in 1988 (which also included Peter Gabriel, Sting, Tracy Chapman, and Johnny Clegg and Savuka).

Of all the singers I like, I believe that Youssou N'Dour has the most unique voice. Its always easy to recognize and hard to describe. At my last job in Atlanta, I even got one lady interested in his music, who agreed with me that he has the most unique singing voice she has ever heard. He remains as someone I would like to see in concert. However, he only has two or three really good albums and nothing lately. To me, The Guide (Wommat) will remain as one of the most perfect albums ever released. Its that great. I still enjoy listening to this album in the evenings to relax after a stressful day at work. Few albums have the right mix of melancholy and optimism as this one, with an incredible voice to boot.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Teabag Time Again!

Another tax deadline has come and gone, and for the SECOND year in a row, the crazy teabaggers skipped work to show their ig'nance once again at rallies across the country. One lady on my Facebook friends list (the one whom I thank God every night is not my mother-in-law) is once again posting her ignorant, brainwashed bullshit on my Facebook wall. Does this lady ever stop? Despite our opposite opinions, though, she has not said anything that violates my standards, which is why I won't "de-friend" her. I have heard from other people in the church that they love her when she doesn't talk about politics, because she's a completely different person. When she gets on her political kick, though, its like a zombie appears (maybe she has that Michael Jackson "Thriller" thing going on...changing back and forth between the likable person and the Glenn Beck/Fox News zombie).

In her opinion, teabaggers are mostly the moderate middle of Republicans, Democrats, and independents. She claims that she knows several "Obama voters", which I find highly suspect. One thing I know is that many conservatives who vote Republican claim to be "independent" because they don't want to show their political bias. They want people to think that they are "independent" and weighing both parties' platform carefully and deciding that the Republican Party is best. Or, they want to make their cause seem more credible by claiming to have voted for Obama and being disappointed by his presidency because of his "fascist, socialist, communist, Marxist, terrorist, Muslim agenda." Seriously! If they really believe that about Obama and voted for him in 2008, then they are STUPID FUCKING MORONS! Why would you vote for a candidate you believe represents all those things you dislike? Like I said, the claims that these teabaggers supposedly voted for Obama in 2008 is about as credible as a Pope claiming that his priests don't molest altar boys. Further point, I can PROVE that I voted for Obama. Can they? My ballot was photocopied and framed, hanging on a wall in my apartment.

There are many reasons why teabaggers have ZERO credibility with me. The biggest reason is that these people were SILENT during the Bush era. There were no protests going on by these people when Bush passed a retroactive tax cut in 2001 and again in 2002. There was no protest again when Bush passed a $600 (or more) tax rebate to EVERY family in 2008 to stimulate the economy. This rebate was from borrowed money, since our government was already deep in deficits. And let's not forget the darling of the right, Vice President Dick Cheney saying in the early part of the decade that "deficits don't matter." SILENCE. Like a mouse in church.

That's just a few reasons. The silence during the Bush years of corporate malfeasance, bailouts, and taxcuts. Who was protesting during the Bush years? The liberals and progressives who had a whole host of grievances: the stolen election of 2000, Enron, energy policy written by oil companies, environmental policy written by industrial polluters, war crimes, torture, FISA, USA PATRIOT Act, GITMO, rendition, violations of the U.S. Constitution, illegal war, gross incompetence. I attended quite a few protests in the previous decade and can attest that it was a mostly liberal crowd. There were some hoodlums in masks and the letter "A" (for Anarchy) prominently displayed, which used such protests to destroy property, but they were few and far between. To say that today's teabaggers attended those rallies is a LIE and historical revisionism. Based on the signs seen at teabagger rallies, its obvious to anyone with working eyesight that these people have a major grievance against our first black president. Obama as "The Joker" is the most obscene because it conjures up images from our racist past, when whites donned blackface and acted with exaggerated stereotypes about black people being shucking and jiving, lazy, do-nothings, who are eager to please "massa" while stealing your chicken and watermelon. Anyone who cannot see the connection between "blackface" / minstrel shows and the Obama as "The Joker" signs does not understand our history.

Any meaningful dialogue towards understanding requires a foundation of honesty. However, when a person is so thoroughly indoctrinated (or brainwashed), they cannot see the truth and keep repeating the same lies. They base their worldview on this. They have no idea that they are being used and manipulated for nefarious purposes. Its a tragedy, because as President Lincoln once said, our nation cannot continue on a course that is "half slave and half free." In the modern context, one could point out the growing divide between the educated class and the uneducated class. I notice it at work, the huge psychological difference between those who have college degrees and have traveled overseas versus those with only a high school education and rarely even leave the state, much less the country. One class of people values education while another class is proud of their ignorance, and support candidates who encourage them to remain ignorant because "education is elitist."

Sometimes, I think America should split into two. The educated class can live in one country and the ignorant class can live in the other. We'll see which side ends up a better place to live. In reality, though, we don't need to split into two countries to see the results. There have been reports released and articles about interesting statistics between the "red states" and the "blue states." The "red" conservative-voting states have higher incidents of teen pregnancy, abortion, divorces, and porn consumption. The "blue" liberal-voting states have sex education, lower abortion rates, lower divorce rates, and lower crime. Coincidence? Or do you think that better education and better policies improve the quality of people's lives and choices?

I know that "ignorance" is a highly charged word for most people. Even ignorant people who claim to be proud of their "ig'nance" get offended when you point out their ignorance. Why not call a spade a spade? If you reject being informed on the issues and prefer to cling to everything Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh or your Fox New Channel ministers of propaganda speaks, what is the point of your life? To be a slave for a wealthy corporate executive that wants you to be content with your fat, ignorant, crappy mediocrity?

Many of these teabaggers are evangelical types, which also goes along with the great divide of social classes in our country. Most of my progressive, liberal, college educated, well traveled group of friends are also not traditionally religious. Many are even atheist / humanist / agnostic. These kind of statistics only fuel the perception that the liberal / left is associated with atheistic communism...but here's something to consider. When Christianity encourages obedience, submission to authority, and blind faith in the opinions made by long dead writers rather than actual facts, it will continue to lose members. Europe has become a secular place. There's an irony to all of that, since our nation was founded by pioneers who wanted to escape the brutal oppression of the Church in Europe. Now, its the religious people in our country who want to enslave us all in their cult of ignorance, coded racism, and historical revisionism.

Well, Teabaggers, it ain't gonna happen as long as I'm alive. I pledge my life on whatever battle you want to wage for the future of America. I stand with diversity, enlightenment, inclusion, education, and cooperation. What do you stand for? Slavery to ignorance, to corporate executives, and to charlatan preachers of a capitalist god? Over my dead fucking body. I do not cede any part of the United States of America to your backwards-looking agenda. This is my country and I want it to become a better place for all, not just the corporate few.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Manifesting the Right Lady

I was going to write a post about either the Teabaggers (so much to still make fun of!), the verdict in the trial against the organization I work for, or about my six "dark night of the soul" periods. Instead, I'm going to write about an interesting experience I had Wednesday night. If you read my previous post, it's about my attempt to have a conversation with a young lady that I found extremely attractive. I didn't expect anything out of the conversation except an intriguing conversation, but knew immediately from her facial expressions that she really wasn't interested in talking with me and only did so for a few minutes until she had enough, then coldly rebuking me by turning the back of her head towards me.

Since I'm used to this reaction by "beauty queen" types, I found the incident to be more hilarious than humiliating. It showed me how ugly a physically beautiful lady can be. It made me think of women who are beautiful on the outside as well as on the inside. I also thought about women I thought were plain or not physically attractive at first, but once I got to know them, their inner beauty made them appear beautiful on the outside as well. When you can see one's inner beauty, that is the quality that matters the most. So, this pretty girl might look great on the outside, but the ugliness she displayed only makes her unattractive. I feel sorry for people like her...to dismiss someone so easily after a couple minutes of conversation.

As I walked home that night, thinking about what happened, I had the thought to challenge "the universe" (or God, if you will). I requested to meet a French lady with dark hair and a scarf around her neck by Friday, April 16th. I wanted to meet her in Portland. I knew it was a tall order and I didn't really expect much to happen.

Wednesday night was the biweekly World Affairs Oregon -- Young Professionals discussion group. The facilitator had emailed me on Monday saying that he couldn't make it and asked if I could fill in for him. He even asked what I might want to talk about, so he can do a write-up for the blog and to send out on Facebook. I mentioned that I wanted to talk about the situation in Burma, as well as recent events in Kyrgyzstan and Thailand. As I went to the meeting, I was hoping the two Russian ladies I had met in the past couple months would be there. Unfortunately, there was low turn-out. Just one guy Brandon, who has a similar worldview as me and a great sense of humour (and animated manner of speaking, like a professional actor). We talked for a bit until another guy showed up.

The other guy, Bill, is known as the "agitator" of the group. While most people in the discussion group tend to be liberal / progressive, Bill often plays devil's advocate and speaks in a frustrating style that includes codiciles, caveats, circumlocution, and other bureaucratic bullshit. He often shies away from talking about anything related to the media because of his "broadcast media" job. I think that's also a bullshit answer, because our conversation began with a discussion about the verdict in the trial. Even though I work for the organization in the media spotlight and even though the head guy told employees we aren't allowed to discuss the case, I most certainly did (via phone and email with my friends as well as on my blog). No one tells me what I can't talk about. In fact, telling me that I can't talk about something GUARANTEES that I will talk about it (example: in the Navy, we were briefed before arriving in Sicily for a port visit that we could not mention the word "Mafia" or "Mafioso." While a group of us were eating in a pizzeria in Augusta Bay, Sicily, what did I do? "Mafia this, mafia that!" See? Nothing happened).

After we talked about the case and even compared the organization I work for with the Catholic Church (and its recent scandals involving the cover-up of pedophile priests, who were sent to new parishes rather than excommunicated), I brought the group to the topic of Burma, Thailand, and Kyrgyzstan. However, none of us seemed too interested in talking about it. I wanted to talk more about Burma, since I did not know the full details of what's going on in Thailand or Kyrgyzstan, and was hoping that the other two guys would share their knowledge, but they were equally uninformed with this news event. Somehow, the topic turned to the media, which seemed to piss off Bill. When Brandon mentioned the unreasonable arguments of teabaggers comparing President Obama to Hitler or calling him a fascist socialist communist, Bill mentioned that liberals were just as guilty in comparing Bush to Hitler.

When I fessed up to being one of those who jokingly referred to Bush as Hitler or "Bushitler", I stated that I only did that to rile up the blind Bush supporters. I did see some interesting parallels between the two, but mentioned a cool comparison chart I saw in which Bush was compared unfavorably to Hitler. My favourite comparison was: Bush isn't Hitler because Hitler had charisma. I also like: Bush isn't Hitler because Hitler served in the military on the front lines. Well, Bill seemed to get mad about that and said that Bush has charisma, which I then refuted. He thought I was being partisan, so I mentioned that both Reagan and Palin have charisma, but no one really believes Bush has charisma. Charm, perhaps, but charisma is a different characteristic. Even die-hard Bush supporters couldn't stand watching his speeches in the last few years of his administration, and people who listened to him didn't react the way one does with a charismatic person. Then we got on the whole Glenn Beck / Rush Limbaugh tangent and whether those men believe they are entertainers or opinion shapers, and the responsibility for being honest in how you present facts and history.

Just when the conversation began dying (around 8:30), two ladies showed up for the discussion group. We did a round of introductions. The ladies were sisters. One of them is doing her medical residency at McGill University in Montreal (the same university where the good doctor Howard Dean did his residency, if I'm not mistaken) and is in the process of becoming a Canadian citizen with plans to settle in Vancouver BC. Her sister currently lives in Senegal and is looking to move back to Portland. She has also lived in Paris recently (she was living there on election day when Obama won, and told a great story about how even French people stayed up late to watch the results of the election that night at bars all over the city).

In talking with the lady who currently lives in Senegal, I was struck by the scarf around her neck and her dark hair and awesome looking eye glasses (its very French style). I also noticed that she kind of looks like Nadya "Octomom" Suleman (pictured above). That might not be considered a flattering comparison, but I think there's nothing wrong with Nadya's looks (just her psyche might be a bit off). Its an attractive "look" for me.

With the addition of these two ladies to the group, of course I was interested in hearing their thoughts about universal health care in Canada and France. The lady who lives in Montreal said that she prefers the Canadian system, even though its not perfect. Her sister said that France had the most impressive health care system and I pointed out that the World Health Organization had rated it as the best one in the world (the U.S. is ranked #37, a number to be proud of for all those "America's #1" crowd of teabaggers). Both of the ladies followed the debate going on in the U.S. and did not understand why their fellow Americans were so against universal health care. I mentioned that most people who are against it don't really know what it is that they are against, because they just heard from Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh that universal health care is "communist", so therefore "it's bad." If they experienced for themselves what Canadians, Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, the French, the Dutch, and the Germans have, they'd wonder what all the controversy is about. No one should be denied critical medical care or fall into bankruptcy because of a medical crisis.

I think the critique of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh drove Bill away, which was fine. It was great to get to know the ladies and to laugh when Brandon told a story about his experience trying to communicate a medical emergency in Italy without knowing the language. He is so funny in his expressions and had all of us laughing like crazy. When he excused himself to use the restroom, it was just the two ladies and me. A part of me was worried that they wouldn't be interested in talking to me, but that wasn't the case. They actually started asking me questions about my life experiences, like where I interned. They also said the magic words: both of them voted for Gore in 2000 even though they liked Ralph Nader a lot. Whew! Believe it or not, its an issue with me, as I have a low opinion of "purists" who believe that Nader is a perfect saint and Gore is a tainted corporate hack.

The conversation continued until 10 p.m. (an hour longer than usual). I love that. Both of the ladies are flying back to their respective current residences today, but the one based in Senegal really wants to move back to Portland. She has a ring on her finger, so she could be spoken for. But, that doesn't matter. When I deprocessed my day after getting back to my apartment, it struck me as funny that my "request" to the universe did kind of come true. So, the lady wasn't French...but she is fluent in French and that's important to me. I'd love to practice my college French with a lady. She said that she will be involved in the group when she gets back. I hope so. Even though she's American, her manner of dress was classic French (the scarf around the neck is just sexy and stylish to me. I learned this in college when I took a French history class with an attractive cougar-ish professor with a worldly European way about her).

What a contrast from last week! One beautiful young lady was too snobby to talk to the likes of me and rejected me with a simple turn of her head, while two ladies with international experience seemed equally fascinated with my life experiences as I was with theirs. This might be a social class issue, as I'm noticing that my friends and the people I click with fall into the same mold. I can be friends with many diverse people, but I seem to gravitate towards those who are as internationally experienced as me. Whatever happens will be interesting, but I am maintaining this vibrational direction. Please, universe...more of this! This year, I am determined to meet the lady who will be my wife by 2012.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Beauty and Ugly


Last week, I went out...which is kind of rare for me. I've been extremely busy lately with helping a friend on a campaign, helping another friend with papers he's writing for school, and trying to manage my own life. I hardly see my apartment anymore. Its become mostly a crash pad for sleep and storing my stuff, not a place to just chill and catch up on my reading. Since March, my life has really picked up steam. In fact, I'm confidently going to say that I definitely feel as though I have finally come out of what I deem "the sixth dark night of the soul period". That's a post for another day.

As I was out at a pretty happening watering hole, I noticed a gorgeous young lady. I was attracted at first sight. I watched her talk with other guys and she had the most incredible facial expression as she spoke and listened to them. In fact, she looked kind of familiar to me, but I had never met her before. She kind of resembles actress Maryam d'Abo (pictured above). She also looks like some of the pictures of ladies I have on a special vision board devoted to the kind of lady I hope to attract into my life. I thought all of this was a good sign, so I worked up the nerve to talk to her, thinking of what angle in which to initiate a conversation. When I finally found my way in, I noticed immediately with her facial expression that she was not interested in talking to me. But she indulged me for awhile. Then, at some point where her patience expired, she turned her head like an owl and all I saw was her hair. Wow. Am I that burdensome to talk with?

Of course, I had a laugh about it on the walk home. It amazed me how obvious her disinterest was and how ugly she behaved. It begs the question...how can a beautiful young lady be so ugly? Its not surprising to me, because I have plenty of experience. Pretty white women simply do not like me at all. This was true in high school, the Navy, college, my internship, and the business world. By "pretty", I mean the beauty queen type who is naturally attracted to the all-American jock type. This pretty type represents the most shallow level one can be. The joke's on them, though. The problem with physically beautiful people who are too shallow to talk to anyone they don't find attractive is that they did not get their beauty because of anything they did. It was all a result of their genetic lottery. Basing one's life on how one looks is not good, because such people only remain on the surface as they intermingle with other shallow people.

As I walked home and thought about the exchange, I thought of how I interact with people. I am an introvert, so it is very uncomfortable for me to go up to someone I don't know and initiate a conversation because I always fear being rejected for such superficial reasons as this beautiful young lady did to me. Its far easier for me if other people come up to me and initiate a conversation because I have never rejected anyone in conversation. I genuinely enjoy meeting people and having conversations with them. Its rude to abruptly end a conversation with someone. Not that I was expecting to snag a date with this young lady. The little that I did learn indicated that she wasn't my type anyway.

However, it never hurts to make a new friend. After all, being so rude in rejecting people, you never know what you're turning down. Most of my friendships are long term and more than a few people have told me that the more they get to know me, the more that they like or find interesting. Based on appearances, I don't stand out in the crowd. In fact, I tend to be "invisible" to most people. But if people bothered to get to know me, they'd learn that I'm pretty intelligent, informed, unique, well-traveled, and have experienced a lot more than most people have.

So, while I would never reject a person making an introductory conversation, there are people who I do not speak to. But this usually comes about after I have made the point to get to know them and realizing that they just aren't worth my energy to maintain a fake facade. No one seems to like phony friendliness and I won't participate in that ritual. If you find that I'm not talking to you or acknowledging your existence, there's probably good reason: I DO NOT LIKE YOU! At work, there are about five people whom I do not even say hello or anything to. I've always gotten negative vibes around them and have seen how shitty they treat other co-workers that I just stay as far away from them as possible. I don't think its rude not to speak to certain people after you've gotten to know them and find that you have nothing in common. In case you're wondering...no, I don't even speak to School Marm unless I absolutely have to (about work related stuff). She's a non-entity in my world (though I have caught her staring at me quite a few times, which makes me think that she might have been attracted to me and angry that I didn't return the interest).

School Marm represents the worst of all possibilities: Ugly on the outside and ugly on the inside. The next level above that is someone who is beautiful on the outside but ugly on the inside. Above that is someone who is "ugly" or plain on the outside but beautiful on the inside. The best of all possibilities is someone who is beautiful on both the outside and the inside.

This brings me to two ladies I wanted to write about. First, Christine. Yes, Christine. As I walked home that night after being dismissed by the pretty young lady, I thought about Christine and how her kindness was the most attractive quality she had. That's still what I am searching for in my ideal mate. A lady who is kind. Its the most beautiful quality to possess. Christine has it in spades. Miss Pretty Young Thang does not.

The other lady is Brooklyn, whom I consider to be the most beautiful woman I have ever met. What's most striking about her was how we met. I had attended the pre-D.C. holiday party for Washington Seminar participants at BYU. This was a chance to meet the folks we would be experiencing D.C. the following semester with. As I looked around the room trying to find someone to approach and talk to, I felt a tap on my shoulder. When I turned and looked, I saw the most beautiful woman I had ever seen looking right at me and initiating a conversation WITH ME!!! That NEVER happens in my life. Ever. Beautiful women avoid me like a disease. Not Brooklyn. We fell into an easy conversation and I didn't scare her off with my "depth." As I got to know her during the following semester, she was well traveled (how rare it is that a beautiful American girl travels in Cambodia and Thailand by herself!), interested in ideas, and enjoys meeting people (and not being afraid of their imperfections). I got to see the beauty from within and I'm convinced that Brooklyn has some of the best life karma anyone can muster in a lifetime. It truly is a blessing to be beautiful internally and externally.

Thus, I feel sorry for this pretty young lady that I met last week. I generally feel sorry for shallow people because external beauty is not the be-all and end-all of life. What matters the most is what's inside. I'm sorry that she's too perfect to talk to the likes of me. If there's karmic justice in the universe, it would be amusing if she has a bad boy fixation (like Sandra Bullock). It makes me wonder if beauty-queen types are more likely to be drawn into these self-destructive relationships. Maybe its God's way of teaching them depth.

Now, to find a lady with depth, kindness, and an interest in intriguing conversations without passing judgment based on their perfect little lives. A lady like the one I met from Malaysia a couple weeks ago while waiting for the streetcar back to my apartment. She initiated a conversation with me and we had a great time talking. I didn't have a pen on me and thus lost the chance to get her name and number to continue the conversation over a meal or some place fun. Our conversation was so easy and it flowed, revealing a common interest (traveling!). Its amazing that I can engage in conversation with just about anyone...EXCEPT perky, pretty cheerleader / beauty queen types. As I learned since adolescence, these women might be considered "the most beautiful" in the high school and pageantry worlds, but by spiritual standards, they are pretty ugly at their core, and that's all that matters in the end. Its her loss, though, to be so shallow and vain. I meet more fascinating ladies than this young lady will ever be.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Journal Excerpt: Sports Competition

Continuing the series of excerpts from the journal I kept during Navy Basic Training (Tales of Terror from Boot Camp Hell: Volume XXII), I'm featuring two days. The second one was about my company's "sports weekend" competition which proved to be a huge morale booster (because our company beat the others in our training group for the coveted "Cheerios flag"--which was five gold rings on a blue field, similar to the Olympic rings, but with the rings more in a line like the Audi symbol). Hope you enjoy these excerpts (why experience basic training when I've already done it for you and captured the essence in these entries?).

APRIL 11, 1991 3-1 Day Thursday

Our bunk inspection was in the morning. I worked with Roeller and Rose and we got things done quickly. When time's up was called, we had to leave the barracks to get our ID cards made and to talk about our "A" School.

When we returned to our compartment, I had time enough to polish my boondockers. Roeller also polished his. The inspection results were in and I was pleased to get a SAT. Only 5 shipmates received UNSAT.

CPO Atkinson came in, "ATTENTION ON DECK!!" was called by the watch and we all jumped to attention. Atkinson was merciless--cycling us for about 30 minutes with alternating exercises: jumping jacks, push ups, tricep pushups. When we had to hold in the tricep position for a long time, my arms began shaking and I couldn't hold myself up anymore, so I collapsed on the deck. CC Keenan walked to me, and standing in front of me, he yelled: "You outta win an Academy Award for that one, son!"

That's what he thinks. I wasn't faking it--but I wish I could see how long he could hold out. I returned to the tricep position. When some recruits started grunting in their attempt to stay up, Atkinson told us to lay on our stomachs, then ordered us to pound our hands and feet on the deck and whine like spoiled brats. I could tell that everyone enjoyed doing that, all while acting like we hated it. No matter how humiliating to our manhood, acting like a spoiled brat is better than trying to stay in a pushup position for any length of time.

During the jumping jacks, Rose and Roeller kicked my shoe polish (accidentally), which made a mess on deck. CC Matthews inquired about it later. Fortunately, I didn't get in trouble but the company was angry with me. What can I do? I was polishing my boondockers when "ATTENTION ON DECK" was called and no one has time to do anything other than jump to attention.

Those who passed the bunk inspection earned 4 priviledges:

(1) Right to use the centerboard tables,
(2) Right to use the lounge,
(3) Right to talk, and
(4) Right to receive packaged goodies from home.

Its about time we arned some priviledges around here. Positive reinforcement through priviledges is a better motivation than cycling / strenuous exercises.

At lunch, I felt serious fatigue for the first time since I"ve been here. I was afraid of dozing into my food. After lunch was a trip to Dental with Roeller, Duby, and Mackey. All the dentist did was see if I needed fillings. I didn't so I was out of there sooner than I hoped for. I heard that recruits who have to get wisdom teeth removed get 24 hour bed rest, which is worth it! I was hoping to be one of those. Getting bed rest here is like winning the lottery--a chance to catch up on sleep. A day's vacation from the rigors of boot camp!

I saw Bienvenu limping around. He said that he's getting a medical discharge and seems happy about it.

In the afternoon, we had our Infantry Inspection (where our marching is observed and graded), which we did poorly on. I was behind Frank part of the time and he is terrible at marching! He doesn't do the turns right and I have to ignore him or else he'll mess me up.

The CCs said that Frank is my new bunkmate and I was angry about that decision. Our whole company is angry at Frank and I believe he was dumped on me. The company--all the other recruits are sympathetic towards me at least. What I hate about this decision, besides my strong dislike of that unsanitary idiot, is that I now have to worry about his performance on inspections because bunkmates are supposed to help each other and if one gets SAT, and his bunkmate UNSAT, then the SAT recruit also has to pay for the UNSAT!

I'm worried about Frank's incompetence getting me in trouble. He has problems folding his clothes, and making his bunk. Everyone else lost patience with him and now the company is looking to me to help him. Its obvious to all that Frank has a learning disability. No matter how many times we tell him, he still doesn't get it.

Everyone tells me that he'll be leaving our company soon and possibly the Navy because he's not meant for the Navy. I hope that its true because I have reasons for seeing him get thrown out of the Navy...he's designated to go to Yeoman "A" School and the thought of him as a possible roommate at "A" School really infuriates me.

The CCs said that we run the risk of being "frozen in training" because of our lack of cooperation and effort. What that means is that we will say goodbye to CPO Matthews and PO1 Keenan as our CCs and get new CCs who are Navy SEAL instructors who will turn this place into a Parris Island type of hell. No one wants that, especially not me, since I"m still enjoying this place.

APRIL 13, 1991 * Saturday

Today we received a BIG Morale boost because it was the sports weekend, which was fun and relaxing. We had to do the company 1/2 mile running in formation and then one other event. Our company had the fastest time on the run. Oooo Rah!

There were three categories of competition: swimming, track and field, and the field house. I went to the field house, site of the volleyball tournament, tug-of-war, and the seabag relay. Our company was badly stomped on in volleyball. Tug-of-war was exciting and we came close to losing, but won the first round and lost the second round.

I ran in the seabag relay with 23 others. We had to run 50 years with a seabag of 50 pounds of sand to the guy waiting at the other end, pass the bag to him and he ran in the other direction to hand it to the person who was behind me--back and forth it went. It was fun.

After all of the competitions were through, we had to sing our company song. I didn't know we had one. A couple companies made up their own and one company sang "Lean On Me." We sang "You've Lost That Loving Feeling." That drove the female compoany (K039) wild!

In our training group, it was 4 male companies in competition with each other (C090, C091, C092, and us--C093) while K039 had to compete against each other. What were we competing for? The coveted "Cheerio flag" -- so named because of five interlocking gold rings on a blue field. Our company won the flag and our morale was greatly lifted and because I was considered the lightest, my shipmates lifted me in victory and threw me in an empty garbage can. It was great!