Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Futures 2009: "Polaris"

This year, I volunteered for at least one community service and I'm doing a lot of work with helping others. I wrote at least one screenplay, maybe a couple. I was able to visit Puerto Rico and Haiti - or, at least, I seized the opportunity if it arose.

I was able to do a full detox at least once. I learned either judo or some martial art form of self-defense. I can (kinda) play my twelve-string guitar. Ideally, I'd like to be on my way with the piano, bass, and maybe the pennywhistle. I have a basic understanding of music theory. I also roughly know ASL, and I've got a much better grip on Japanese and Spanish. I'm better with the French alphabet, and I'd like to be progressing a bit with Arabic if I end up deciding to go with the Peace & Justice Studies group to the Middle East next year.

I'm more than halfway done with my English major and I am close to finishing. I might have about a year more to go. I have at least a thousand dollars in savings and I'm saving up for both a motorcycle and, eventually, Japan.

If love came, I wasn't fooled again. I didn't go searching for it; it only came to me, and in whatever form I took. What was most important was the love I could find in revisiting old friendships...and with any hope, one in particular has ideally and finally arrived at the place I've always wanted it to be. With any further hope (and likely a lot of luck had something to do with it, too) there was at last a place I reached with my father, and most importantly with my mother.

I have come to be comfortable with where I stand about God. My choice to either stay or leave the LDS church was not coercion or performance. I made my choice based on what I want most and what I need most. I didn't come to some kind of all-encompassing, self-righteous enlightenment. I only reached a point where the questions were no longer so pressing, or so urgent. I'm satisfied with what I found, even if I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Across the Universe"

Words are flying out like
Endless rain into a paper cup
They slither while they pass
They slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy
Are drifting thorough my open mind
Possessing and caressing me -

Jai guru deva OM*...
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world.

Images of broken light which
Dance before me like a million eyes
That call me on and on across the universe
Thoughts meander like a
Restless wind inside a letter box
They tumble blindly as
They make their way across the universe -

Jai guru deva OM...
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world.

Sounds of laughter, shades of life
Are ringing through my open ears
Exciting and inviting me,
Limitless undying love which
Shines around me like a million suns
It calls me on and on across the universe -

Jai guru deva OM...
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world.

--The Beatles (Lennon)

*Sanskrit; can have many meanings but roughly translates to "Victory to God divine","hail to the divine guru", or the phrase commonly invoked by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, "All Glory to Guru Deva." "OM" is a mystical syllable which is (theoretically) the cosmic sound of the universe and used by monks during meditation.

Looking Back On 2008: All You Need Is Love

"Dici che il fiume
Trova la via al mare
E come il fiume
Giungerai a me
Oltre i confini
E le terre assetate
Dici che come il fiume
Come il fiume...
L'amore giungerà
E non so più pregare
E nell'amore non so più sperare
E quell'amore non so più aspettare."*

--"Miss Sarajevo," U2 feat. Luciano Pavarotti

The year began with that broken-hearted melody. It was cold, and I was standing in the middle of the street in front of my house. I didn't know it then, but it was another U2 prophecy for me (the one from 2007 being "Please").

From there, things got a little crazy. Like Shakespeare’s Romeo, I shut myself in and created for myself an artificial night. I approached the first gay crush I’ve ever had, and when I got rejected, I took it a bit too hard. I fell into isolation with nothing but Abbey Road to keep me company.

In a wild act of desperation, I made the choice at last. I was running out of options; either I could continue this beautiful lie I was living, cheating death every day, or I could find out for myself. And in the moment I opened myself up, Erik dropped right of the sky. So I chose him.

The love I found was more than just paradise found, but I didn't know it at the time. It wasn't until after the break-up that I began wondering just what kind of paradise I had found with Erik. And it wasn't until the guy in the military boots came around that I realized that I had never found paradise with him at all. I had been living under the illusion that we both had true love. I had loved Erik more than anything in the world, and there was little proof I had that he did, too. With the same true, authentic love I gave him, anyway. The fact that I needed proof seemed alone to evidence this. We may have been in love, but my love was different from his. And that is why it took much, much longer to die than his.

The pain that followed was some real schooling. And it was at the end, and only then, that I understood what I really found out last summer when I defeated death. What I saw in the water. I realized that there are many kinds of love. And I realized that I had although I had never found a paradise with Erik. I had created one. An artificial day.

And somewhere along the line, I had to settle for that. I had to accept that true paradise is either impossible, or at least very difficult to find. You've got to settle for the hope that you get blessed with. We live in such a dark, dismal and gritty world. It's filled with shit and lies...and it's so long. When a little miracle comes your way, something that can only make you stronger - something that lets you fool yourself into thinking the world is not so bad after all - you've gotta take it. Before it slips away. It's a first-come, first-serve kinda world we are in. When hope comes, you can't ask whether it comes from heaven or hell. You take it, make it your heaven and you run like hell.

I had never known I could love. I had never known that I could ever be loved, either. It's not that finding Erik was finding that love. I only woke it up. But hey, said John Lennon, you've got to hide your love away. And no kinds of love are better than others, said Lou Reed. Between thought and expression, there lies a lifetime.

More than ever before, I realize just how much choice I have. I also know how much I have to leave up to luck. Or God. And as for God, I hope He's not as hard to find as I've made Him out to be for the past ten years. I am embarking on a new adventure this year. I am going to find Him. And if He's not out there and it turns out I wasted my life on the adventure, at least it was good fun half the time. Erik didn't make that worth it. I did. Because now I know, again: I didn't come here to make that choice. I already made it. I'm just here to understand why. I do not have all the answers. I don't want all of them, either.

My future note from last year says some interesting things about going on a mission and not going on a mission. Since one of those came true - and to the letter - I quote it here:

"I'm happy with my choice, and I'm happy with my companion, whom I'm with every day. I make responsible choices about where I go from now on. Those who judge me for my past and my choices are people who I've reluctantly but peacefully cut out of my life. I can honestly say I've never felt so happy...A lot of my important memories are in 2007, but a lot of my best memories are in 2008."

I cannot be the answer. I am only the question.

"You say that the river
Finds the way to the sea
And like the river
You will come to me
Beyond the borders
And the dry lands
You say that like a river,
Like a river,
The love will come
The love...
And I don't know how to pray anymore
And in love, I don't know how to hope anymore
And for that love, I don't know how to wait anymore."

Top Ten Comedic 2008 Stories

From The Progressive:

The Top Ten Comedic News Stories of 2008

By Will Durst, December 30, 2008

Okay. Other stuff might have had a bigger impact on America and the world, such as an African American guy whose middle name is Hussein winning the Presidency of the United States. But so far, Mister Agent of Change is about as funny as over the counter ear drops. Oh, he’s bound to loosen up after a few weeks getting kicked around on Pennsylvania Avenue, but until then, here are the stories from 08 that were most filled with humorosityness.

10. Proposition 8. Organized religion goes out of its way to guarantee that gays will not be burdened with the right to be as miserable as the rest of us.

9. New York Governor and Emperor’s Club member, Elliott Spitzer. Flies a hooker from New York to DC, because as we all know, there aren’t enough hookers in DC. (535 that I can think of offhand.) Gives her 4 grand and puts her up at the Mayflower Hotel. Now, that’s a liberal. A conservative will try to get it for free in an airport men’s room stall. Demonstrating fiscal responsibility.

8. Joe Biden. Has potential to fill gaffe gap being vacated by George Bush. Inserts foot in mouth so often, he should invest in mint- flavored shoelaces.

7. National Political Conventions. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family called for a storm of biblical proportions to disrupt outdoor acceptance speech of Barack Obama on last day of the Democratic Convention. Hurricane Gustav slammed into New Orleans canceling first day of Republican Convention. Proving that either God has a sense of humor or… be extremely careful what you ask for.

6. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Gives a bad name to people with bad names. Something about the Springfield Capitol makes it work like a halfway house in reverse. Economy is so bad, Hair Helmet probably offered free shipping with Barack’s Senate seat.

5. The Primaries. A: Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee raises hand at a New Hampshire Presidential Debate when asked, “Who doesn’t believe in evolution?” In May, he explains he is still campaigning because “at this point, its survival of the fittest.” B: In Philadelphia, Senator Hillary Clinton says, “In this race, I am Rocky Balboa.” Obviously forgetting that in first movie, Rocky loses.. To a black guy.

4. President George W. Bush. Lame duck, but a good ducker. International community furious at Muntadhar al Zaidi. Not for trying to hit the President with his size 10s, but because… A.) his aim was bad, and B.) he wasn’t a centipede.

3. Senator John McCain runs worst campaign ever. That includes New Coke, France in 39 and Cloris Leachman on Dancing with the Stars. Doesn’t know how many houses he has. Should do what I do. Every time I get 4 houses, I trade them in for a hotel.

2. The Economy. When everybody in America knows the name of the Secretary of the Treasury, that’s not good. Line of the year courtesy of an anonymous Wall Street broker: “This is worse than a divorce. I’m worth half what I was… and I’m still married.”

1. Governor Sarah Palin. For those destined to go cold turkey on Bush, she is like a dose of methadone. And she’s sticking around. How you going to keep them down in Juneau after they’ve seen Neiman Marcus*?


*Yeah, according to Newsweek (November 5):

"...Palin's shopping spree at high-end department stores was more extensive than previously reported. While publicly supporting Palin, McCain's top advisers privately fumed at what they regarded as her outrageous profligacy. One senior aide said that Nicolle Wallace had told Palin to buy three suits for the convention and hire a stylist. But instead, the vice presidential nominee began buying for herself and her family—clothes and accessories from top stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. According to two knowledgeable sources, a vast majority of the clothes were bought by a wealthy donor, who was shocked when he got the bill. Palin also used low-level staffers to buy some of the clothes on their credit cards. The McCain campaign found out last week when the aides sought reimbursement. One aide estimated that she spent "tens of thousands" more than the reported $150,000, and that $20,000 to $40,000 went to buy clothes for her husband. Some articles of clothing have apparently been lost. An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as 'Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast,' and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hollis Brown Comes Back to America

"There's seven people dead
On a South Dakota farm..."

--Bob Dylan, "The Ballad of Hollis Brown"

When my aunt and grandmother came to visit from Puerto Rico a couple of months ago, they both lamented on how much Americans ignore the Puerto Ricans. They said that every week in their city and the capital, there were desperate and violent suicides because of how much the U.S. economy had hurt jobs all over the island.

Nick Turse recently wrote an article published in In These Times called "The Body Count on Main Street: The Human Fallout of the Financial Crisis," which covers several similar instances of suicide in the U.S.

"On October 4, 2008, in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles, Karthik Rajaram, beset by financial troubles, shot his wife, mother-in-law, and three sons before turning the gun on himself. In one of his two suicide notes, Rajaram wrote that he was "broke," having incurred massive financial losses in the economic meltdown. "I understand he was unemployed, his dealings in the stock market had taken a disastrous turn for the worse," said Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Michel R. Moore.

The fallout from the current subprime mortgage debacle and the economic one that followed has thrown lives into turmoil across the country. In recent days, the Associated Press, ABC News, and others have begun to address the burgeoning body count, especially suicides attributed to the financial crisis."

The entire article is definitely worth reading (a longer version is linked at the bottom of the page for those interested). Notably, Barbra Ehrenreich wrote a fantastic, revealing article for The Nation about the same issue this last summer called "The Suicide Solution" (it's somewhat briefer than Turse's, but both are worth looking into).

It certainly resonates with Dylan's Depression Era tale of Mr. Hollis Brown, who had to make a choice about mortality of his loved ones in times of financial destitution.

"It's Much Too Early For Games"

Slowly, the room strains to be brighter
As the shadows begin to blacken.
I lie quiet here staring down the blue arch
That the embryonic winter dawn washes on my
Window curtain
It is a makeshift curtain, made from a blanket
With a gigantic sun on it
There is a smiling face on the sun
But I cannot see it right now in the dark
Because there is a globe of the world
Resting in front of it, and the earth’s shadow
Hides his smiling face.
And I can sense her coming to me,
Her breasts are heavy with the sweetest sadness
And her eyes are longing and embrace
Her presence is nuanced by the coldness of her breath
She comes closer, slowly winning me over
But never quite catching me
With palms wet of tears she teases me,
And fingers that own chipped violet polish and a bleeding catchy,
With arms calloused with some goosebumps
Bare feet that are dirty from the backyard
Sweat that is first cold and wet, then only hot
Breath that is weighed deep down with anger
And the scent of sea-salt hangs as a most delicate veil over her eyes.
She comes to me with these precious traps,
Disarming me softly with that tart and bitter song
But I cannot open my mouth
For I have none of these things to give to her
And none of these things to have for myself.

--Sunday, December 28, 2008 at 7:43 am

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rabbits In Your Headlights

"I used to graze in a field,
I used to breathe - I used to be alive
Did chew the grass in the field
Could see and hear the world around me...
Had a virgin skin but now sold in supermarkets...
Used to hear the cars and the birds going by
And the people going by, they were my destiny
They were my reason, my purpose in this field
For their plates, their cold bodies, their car seat covers
My soul for your soles of shoes.
You may like my taste, you may like my warmth
And it may say in the Bible that you can kill me,
But I don’t want to die."

--"Sick Butchers," a song by 80's punk band Flux of Pink Indians

Yesterday, The Guardian reported on a jury at Winchester crown court took thirty-three hours to convict four members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), an extremist group faction of the Animal Liberation Front, an organization of animal rights activists.

Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) have been accused of violating animal rights since the turn of the century (like the 1997 television documentary It's A Dog's Life), and are only one of many animal rights violations being uncovered all over the globe getting wide coverage through YouTube and news media. In 1993, there was news footage from Sungnam, the largest dog market in South Korea - which is illegal due to the sanitation problems (most of the time, the torture and slaughter is right in public) and a violation of trade and animal rights. The cruel treatment of dogs has not shown signs of letting up, especially since earlier this year an English teacher in Daegu City, South Korea, recorded illegal dog torture for a restaurant occuring near his house and put it on YouTube. In 2001, a BUAV undercover investigation recorded footage of disturbing experimentation on marmoset monkeys at Cambridge University. And, of course, many places in Europe have fallen under scrutiny for the unethical slaughter and massacre of dolphins and whales.

So in 2005, a TV crew was allowed inside the already criticized HLS labs and recorded harsh treatment of beagle dogs, monkeys, rates, cats, and other animals. One clip of a doctor beating a beagle dog was in particular what sent made many in the U.K. public outcry HLS, with many responses from the Animal Liberation Front. However, it was SHAC that began to take demands to a more serious level: as the trial of seven SHAC members has commenced for the past three months, according to The Guardian, "the jury heard how employees of firms linked in any way to HLS would be targeted at work and at home. Groups of extremists wearing masks would turn up at night with sirens, fireworks and klaxons. They would daub slogans with paint on the individual's home and car. In some cases families received hoax bombs, and many employees were smeared by false campaigns alleging they were pedophiles. The intimidation included sending used sanitary towels in the post, saying they were contaminated with HIV."

Three of the seven SHAC members pleaded guilty and seven have been convicted. The extremist action doesn't show signs of stopping; yesterday, the SHAC website updated with a list of companies to target, "including those who trade on the New York Stock Exchange Euronext," says The Guardian, "which now lists HLS shares."

"Customers are the main thing keeping HLS in business," the posting reads. "It's simple No Customers = No HLS.

An HLS spokesman said: "Freedom of expression and lawful protest are important rights, but so is the right to conduct vital biomedical research or to support organisations that perform such research without being harassed and threatened."

One has to wonder, though, if the harassment and threat that HLS researchers feel is so different from the harassment they inflict on their animal test subjects, as seen in undercover investigative footage taken in the HLS labs over the years.

Animal rights violations are not limited to big corporations like HLS or McDonald's. A simple YouTube peruse will yield hundreds of videos where someone has either recorded themselves or someone else torturing and abusing animals. It's also a common enough thing happening every day - and one of the biggest examples is "Rabbit Night" for some Boy Scout troops in parts of the country, an activity that might yield fun rabbit skins, lucky rabbit feet keychains, and a tasty dinner...but at what cost?

Ultimately, public and societal perceptions of animal rights may be influenced greatly by efforts to expose animal cruelty. A special emphasis might also be placed NOT on anthromorphizing animals or on extremist (even terrorist) measures - but on showing the uniqueness of animals in this world being not that different from our own as human beings.

Here is a video (among the millions) that is a good exposure to the kind of effort that goes into making your Costco chicken breast and your Thanksgiving turkey:

And lastly, here is an amazing, and hopefully optimistic video of an elephant who can paint. It is a testament to the nature of animals...but what that exactly that could mean is left to you.

Top Ten Ethics Scandals of 2008

From Mother Jones and Citizens For Ethics:

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has released its year-end list of the "top" 10 ethics scandals of 2008. Why isn't the recent criminal complaint against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on the list? Well, for one, it's not a Washington-centered problem. But Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, adds that while the Blagojevich case may be the flavor of the week right now, she thinks the scandals on her administration's list will have more of an impact in the long run. Here they are:

1. "Unchecked Congressional Ethics" - Congress needs to have "a high-powered ethics office with subpoena power."

2. "No Guarantee that Bush Administration Records will be Properly Archived" - The ongoing missing White House emails problem.

3. "Speech or Debate Clause" - Lots of politicians who are charged with crimes seek to have their indictments dismissed under the "Speech and Debate" clause of the Constitution, which they claim protects anything in their congressional office from being used against them in court on the grounds that its "legislative material."

4. "The Pay-to-Play Congress"- When campaign donors get earmarks from the politicians who they support.

5. "Enriching Family with Campaign Cash" - CREW has released two reports on this problem, "Family Affair - House" and "Family Affair - Senate." We noted the most recent offender, Charlie Rangel.

6. "Controversial Presidential Pardons" - The president's pardon power is essentially unlimited, and that has CREW worried about what President Bush will do with it before he leaves office. Elizabeth Gettelman wrote about the hypocrisy of commuting Scooter Libby's sentence but ignoring Marion Jones. And Bruce Falconer asked if pardoning "all those involved in the application of what [the Bush] administration called 'enhanced interrogation techniques'" would be wise.

7. "VA Officials Intentionally Misdiagnosing PTSD" - CREW broke a story earlier this year about VA officials being pressed to misdiagnose Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a cost-cutting measure. In September, Bruce Falconer wrote a story for the print magazine about whether the Bush administration had "maxed out the military."

8. "Bailout Oversight" - The government spent $700 billion and all you got was a few bank failures. We've covered the hearings and brought you the latest. Most recently, we looked at the Fannie/Freddie bailout and asked about Treasury's blank check.

9. "Political Calculations Dictate Border Fence Placement" - Ray L. Hunt has land that falls on both sides of the border fence, but CREW says he's getting special treatment because he's a Bush "pioneer." That kind of suction wouldn't be unusual for Hunt: in July, Laura Rozen wrote about how Hunt seems to have almost unlimited access to the White House (and, in this case, to Kurdish oil.)

10. "A Politicized Bush Justice Department" - To prevent the abuse of the courts for political ends, the DOJ was traditionally the least-politicized of all the executive branch departments. That all changed when Bush took office. In 2007, Daniel Schulman was among the first to document how the conservative Federalist society may have influenced personnel decisions at the DOJ. Stephanie Mencimer covered another interesting aspect of this story in May when she examined the Justice Department's reluctance to release documents from the 2002 GOP phone-jamming in New Hampshire. And Stephanie was also there for the most unsurprising moment of the DOJ politicization saga: Karl Rove's failure to show up for a hearing on the subject in July.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

One More Cup of Coffee

I finally made it through finals!

...It felt like going to the bathroom in an outhouse during winter.

My first paper was relatively easy to squeeze out in a few hours, even though it was my theory class and I'd only come up with my topic a week earlier. It was about the Dagara tribe near Ghana, Africa, and how they don't have words for "gay" or "lesbian" in their culture because "gays" and "lesbians" are the tribal "gatekeepers," or spiritual leaders who aren't defined by their sexual identity but by their destined role, which is to be the link between this world and the spirit world. I then drew from Butler and Foucault to talk about how "gay" and "lesbian" roles in the West are societal by-products of language and merely performative words for identities that are dynamic by nature, but words attempt to render them static (here I drew from Nietzsche). Then I talked about how the Dagara need the gatekeepers or the village doesn't survive for another year, and how our society may be doomed to self-destruction as a result of the way “gay” and “lesbian” cultural constructions restrict the LGBT community in our society.

It wasn't too bad, for being eight pages. But my next four were much harder, and that's confusing because I'd had those topics lined up practically all semester.

For my film class, I used my abstract for the upcoming UCUR, NCUR, and PCA conferences (I just found out I got accepted to the Utah conference, though!), which deals with the 2003 Bob Dylan film Masked and Anonymous. I talked about Dylan's performance of the song "Dixie" in the film and interpreted it as blackface, talking how it's a recurring motif throughout the film to show the contrasting relationships between “dreamers” and those who homogenize ideologies into societal conventions, rules and standards. I also talked about how how minstrelsy inauthentic representation that is used to affirm authentic identity.

For my comic book class, I wrote about "The Last Temptation of Superman," which talked about Superman and Christ in messianic roles with relations to Greek agape love and its thematic link to world and personal salvation by looking at Jungian femininity and masculinity in Kazantzakis' crucifixion scene and Supes' Black Mercy hallucination.

For my Ethics of War and Peace class, I looked at the morality of Zapatismo and the Mexican Revolution, showing how the Zapatista movement differs from anarchism and resists neo-liberalism more successfully than most "postmodern" revolutions because the EZLN make strategic use of technological communications to gain international solidarity. I also talked about how liberation in Zapatismo ideology is linked with free agency and societal responsibility, which can get side-swept as factors on an intrastate scale.

For my multi-ethnic literature class, I looked at the novels The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron and The White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty. I love both of those books - the Beatty novel is like the story of my life! - and I did something similar to my film class and "The Last Temptation of Superman." I looked at both of them as neo-slave narratives that deconstruct the "Uncle Tom" archetype of the "Black Messiah" and showed how messianism is deconstructed in both novels as a process of minstrelization, where a repetitious recycling of illusory history is used to objectify, control, and marginalize others (in this case, African Americans). I also talked about self-suicide as self-sacrificial redemption in both.

For two weeks, I had to squeeze out roughly forty to fifty pages about all this stuff. Maybe more...I had a couple of response papers tacked on as extras. Plus I had to study for my film class and watched Stagecoach and Rebel Without A Cause. I wasn't too fond of the first, but I LOVED James Dean and I LOVE that movie. I talked about how masculinity is threatened and exposed as latent femininity by looking at the homosocial elements between Dean and the kid Plato. I love that movie; I need to own it.

But what ended up happening is that for the two weeks of finals I went either seven or eight days staying up all night, and at least a couple where I was up until three. Coffee is the only thing that got me through; the morning I turned in my Zapatista paper, my fingers and butt were completely numb and I was running on two cups of coffee and buttered cinnamon toast. It was practically a cup or two a night, plus the intermediary, occasional green tea blended with pomegranate, soy milk, and brown sugar. Oh - and my back bike tire popping definitely didn't help matters at ALL.

By the time I finished up with my paper about Styron and Beatty, I was so out of gas that I really just wrote it all in one go (surviving on nothing but a little bag of sea-salt potato chips), attached it to an email to my professor, mumbled, "Go with God!" and hit the send button. Then I shut off my computer and nearly fell asleep on the table in the library while I was finally letting the cables sleep.

That night, I blew off all the steam and got drunk with my friends/co-workers. In the morning I had a baby hangover. I totally didn't care - after finals, I NEEDED Johnnie Walker. I got to try some red wine for the first time, too. Sylvia's gin is what got me, though (it usually does). Incidentally, I had no idea that egg nog is really for mixing with whiskey. Cassie's bourbon and my Red Label tasted SO good with warm egg nog. We had a lot of fun; Whitney M. played a few of her band's songs. Sylvia and I also tinkered with the guitar (I did what people called a "soulful" acoustic rendition of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower"). Then we had a miniature snowball fight on the porch outside. Ira and Alfonso made these amazing steak fajitas, too. Later we all hung out on the front porch, and Whitney and I took turns taking drags on a cigarette while we were all freezing and talking about crazy stuff. Gosh...I haven't had that much fun in a long time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Obama Betrays Gays and Lesbians?

By now, Obama has recieved both praise and criticism, as well as every mixed reaction in between, for his selections and agenda. As some quip, his choices and behavior indicates only change from a Bush era to a more Clintonian era, which is only a step in another direction and not necessarily forward.

David Corn, a journalist blogger for Mother Jones, suggests that Obama's agenda, while baffeling to most progressives, might be "a sort of stealth liberalism draped in bipartisan centrism." He advises that "for the moment, the watchword for progressives ought to be a version of an old Reagan trope: hope, but verify…"

But Corn, along with half a dozen left-wingers and progressives, threw hands in the air in frustration when Obama announced that he has selected Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor of Saddleback Church, California, to give the invocation at his presidential inauguration ceremony next month.

While it's presumable that Obama may simply be sending Warren off to his conservative critics with an olive branch, he may have lost some important allies in the process: the gay and lesbian activists and Democrats that helped him establish base during his grassroots campaign to help him get elected.

"Here’s a question," says Corn. "Would Obama consider inviting Jeffress to give an invocation at an official event? I don't believe he would, for that could rightly be considered an insult to Mormons, Muslims, and Hindus. Which brings us back to the original matter: since Warren goes beyond arguing against gay marriage to denigrate gays and lesbians as the moral equivalents of those who engage in incest and pedophilia, it is a slap in the face of gays and lesbians for Obama to award Warren this prime plum."

Joe Solmonese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, wrote Obama a letter saying, “Let me get right to the point. Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans. And by inviting Rick Warren to your inauguration, you have tarnished the view that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans have a place at your table."

According to The New York Times, "Linda Douglass, a spokeswoman for Mr. Obama’s presidential inaugural committee...noted that the benediction, or closing prayers, would be offered by the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, a civil rights icon who has expressed support for gay marriage, and that the Lesbian and Gay Band Association would march in the inaugural parade, the first time such a group would do so."

Nonetheless, some in the LGBT internet community, such as LeBain, stated with cynicism, "Gay and lesbian Democrats have been double crossed again, just like the were double crossed by Clinton twice. When will they learn?"

Only time will tell how far Obama is willing to go, and how much Americans are willing to trust him. But as Corn states, "If strong progressive voices are not included in Obama's wild and woolly free-for-alls at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., they will have little choice but to find outlets on the outside (remember the Internet?) -- and become their own agents of change." Those who depended on Obama for real change may find themselves back to square one. And no amount of compromising from Christian conservatives who profess liberal, progressives views will be able to stand under scrutiny when actions are brought to light. Warren has made biting remarks about the LGBT community (even going so far as to compare homosexuality to pedophilia) while hiding behind a front of "close friends" who are openly gay.

But that doesn't fool gay and lesbian activists. As Corn observes of Warren and his ilk, "They want to keep attention focused on the altar, not acceptance."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

"Gay Marriages Will Save the Economy!"

Friends at have come together for "Prop. 8 - The Musical." I'm against gay marriage but I hope God has a sense of humor, or I'm going to hell for laughing at this.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Year Ago

Today, I woke up to find that I slept in, and I was nearly half an hour late to work. My boss gave me my final warning - "If you're late again," she said firmly, "you'll no longer be able to work here."

I got my current grade for my Japanese class. There are thirty-six assignments, and my professor only has fourteen recorded. I'm failing.

I missed my multi-ethnic literature class on a day I needed to attend in order to get some information from my professor about my final paper...because I was busy squeezing out a six-page paper for my post-structuralism class.

I got frustrated at work later and snapped at one of my best friends and co-workers.

I took my Ethics of War & Peace test. The four questions I studied the hardest for, I got wrong.

On the way home, I was riding my bike in the dark and got clotheslined by a blackened chain that didn't appear in the road until I was a foot away. As I stumbled about searching for my glasses (they'd gone flying forward), I heard some onlookers laughing at me. I found my glasses - by stepping on them.

I got home to find that my Wendy's Frosty had spilled all over the rest of my dinner in the bag.

Tonight when I climbed into bed, I slowly closed my eyes, and everything about today came crashing down with more pain than any of the petty things I'd endured all day:

...On December 5, 2007, a year ago today, I met Erik for the first time.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

O Glittering Consumerism, O Baffling Ignorance

A: On Black Friday, a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death by shoppers:

Patrick Purcell (Director of Special Projects for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500) said this on Democracy Now!:

"It is not the local police’s job to control the situation. Wal-Mart knows our economy is on the decline, you’re handing out plasma TV’s reduced well below retail. Again, to us, you’re feeding the frenzy of the economic problems we’re having. They had to know there was a situation that could develop like this. And it bothers us even more that their response was, we’re sorry. Nothing more than we’re sorry. Not that we’re going to review procedures from the top down in every one of our stores throughout the country. Not that they’re going to set up a fund to take care of the worker. Their response was, we did the best we could, we’re sorry. And that’s a horrible response."

B: Yesterday, Variety reported that Shia LaBeouf (and an executive producer who's with him right now in the Middle East filming Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) just got the green light from Paramount to star in an adaptation for The Associate, John Grisham's new legal thriller novel.

How new is Grisham’s novel? It won’t be published until January. Grisham’s rep took The Associate to four studio producers, hoping to nab a deal.

His book must be that bad. Grisham’s success has been leaning on the Hollywood Grisham-spaghetti machine for years. Never before has he depended on them preemptively.

C: Old news, but I just found out about this. In March, Oklahoma Senator Sally Kern called American gays and lesbians a more pressing threat than terrorists:

Those who obtained and posted the recording made sure that it was a public meeting and that the recording did not unfairly misconstrue her comments at the event. Although Senator Kern later claimed that the recording took her comments out of context, she has never apologized nor backed down from her claims; in fact, she reiterated her position, specifically the priority of the so-called gay threat, two weeks later in March and much later in October. Kern's statements caused a response from the Muslim community and the gay community...particularly from Ellen Degeneres:

Good ol' Dory - Ellen always makes me laugh. I love the audience, too.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Alfredo & An Abundance of Noodles

I've had some shell pasta sitting in my cupboard for a while now, and it's been taking up space. So tonight, it was time to experiment again.

As I finished boiling the pasta, Jill showed me how to make alfredo sauce from scratch. I was surprised that it was much easier than it sounds; however, since obviously one needs milk and none of us in the apartment use milk, we opted for my rice milk. That would've been fine ("I've used my soy milk before and it was fine," Jill assured me)...except that after pouring a bunch into the pot, along with the butter and flour, Jill looked up at the container and frowned. " that vanilla rice milk?"

I looked at the carton. "Yeah, apparently it is. Is that bad?" Sylvia grimaced behind me and Jill smiled. "It'll probably taste kinda interesting...let's throw some salt in." Sylvia also offered a couple slices of her pepperjack cheese.

After cooking that, I decided to use my yam as well; Sylvia picked it up as she was cooking and said, "Matthew, you may want to use this. It might go bad soon." I've had the yam for a month; its time had come, so I threw some garlic, salt and butter on it, then threw it in the oven. (Two hours later, Jill came into my room. "Did you want to bake your yam?" I nodded. "Well, I'm about to bake my pies, and the oven isn't on.")

Then I made some lentil curry and rice to eat with the yam tomorrow for lunch and dinner at work while Sylvia was making her chicken and bowtie noodle soup. She decided to use the rest of her noodles, so she poured the whole bag into the pot. She stepped back, clutching the empty bag and staring at the pot. "That might've been...too much," she mumbled as I laughed. She split the huge concoction into two pots, and when the smaller one finished cooking, she and I split it between ourselves. Tomorrow I'll have the yam and the chicken noodle soup for lunch and dinner.

As for Tuesday, I'll be eating the lentil and rice soup, plus the leftovers of tonight's dinner: the shell pasta with alfredo. The sauce came out tasting pretty...interesting. I didn't think it was horrible, and neither did Jill as she popped a shell in her mouth. But when Sylvia tasted it, her eyes widened and she needed a glass of water. "I'd throw a bunch of salt on that," she advised.

I put some seasoned salt on it, which helped a bit. Chandler was just sitting on the couch shaking his head. "It's not horrible tasting!" I defeneded. Finally I admitted it was too much sweetened flavor in one sitting and stowed some of it in a bag. Hopefully that'll be good for Tuesday.

After cleaning the kitchen, Jill decided to make pie. "Yippie, I have a pie pan!" She drummed on the pan using her hand with her wedding ring. As I laughed, she said, "That's one of the advantages of having a wedding ring."

I laughed again. "You mean you get to bang things that are hard?" Jill nodded, then paused. "Wow, that sounded really sexual."

I smiled. "It was intentional."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"I'm Not There, I'm Gone."

I decided to see him today.

I believed that the odds were best to go to Graywhale first. Since I assumed he was still the manager at the store in Draper, it didn't seem plausible I'd have a good reason for being all the heck in Draper without good reason. So I'd pretend I was going to Graywhale, in pursuit of some vinyl record or something. Passing by his store, he'd see me, and then I'd go into Graywhale and text him, asking if it was okay to go say hello. It seemed like a desperate plan (to do what?) but ultimately feasible.

It was a bittersweet relief when I came to his store only to find it abandoned and empty. Void of form. It seemed as if it had gone out of business.

I thought about laughing it off and just moving on, go back to Orem and just spend the rest of the evening with my family. Ideally, that might be what I "should've" done. But I rarely do what I should do. I decided to go to the store in American Fork, and if I didn't find him there, then I'd call it a day and try some other time.

I tried talking myself out of it, of course. I was split in two and my two sides were arguing with one another. It has been seeming, more and more lately, that I am one of two people, and rarely at once. When I am those two people at once, all they do is bicker and fight like a seasoned couple about to divorce.

"You are not ready to see him again! And you know it!" You can't tell me what to do! "You want proof? Then here's one question: Would you feel okay if you didn't see him today?" Yes. "Be honest." ...Yes, I would. "You have to know you'd be okay if you didn't see him today." All right, I am! "You have to know you'd be okay if you didn't see him for another month or so." Well...yeah, sure. "You have to know you'd be okay if it took years. ...You have to know you'd be okay if you never, ever saw him again." ...I........ "...You're not ready."

Before long, I found myself in AF. I was nervous when I walked up to the store; I was even more nervous when I realized he wasn't there, but someone else was. Some almost freakishly tall guy walked up to me. "How can I help you?" By now, the other side was not just angry for me not giving up and going home, but was thrashing inside me in protest, begging me not to ask -

"I'm looking for Erik. Do you know where he is?"

He didn't know. Erik had left the company. What for? From guy's evasive tone, I surmised that Erik had been fired.

So I left the store. And I did one more irrational thing. I texted him, saying I'd been by the store and been told he'd left. He answered, and we had a short conversation that I'm still wondering if it was out of "friendship" or necessity.

I don't know what I want from him. At first I thought it was closure. Then, perhaps, it was to see him know he actually exists. And then I wondered if I thought seeing him again would bestow some sort of enlightenment. Forgiveness. Atonement. And since I'm aware of the danger in depending on someone or something for all that, I have to ask myself if that's really what I'm looking for.

But I do not know what I am looking for. I don't know who I am anymore.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What Are You Thinking, Barack?

For the first time, I am worried about Obama.

First, the Associated Press reported that Obama has made it clear that he intends to close Guantanamo, and as soon as possible. He told Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes, "I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture, and I’m going to make sure that we don’t torture."

That makes me want to pump my fist in the air. What makes me uneasy, though, is that some of the detainees may be subject to a "special court" that is a cross between a military court martial and a civilian court. "It would have to be some sort of hybrid that involves military commissions that actually administer justice rather than just serve as kangaroo courts," said Laurence Tribe ("a Harvard law professor and Obama legal adviser", according to the AP).

Hopefully, Tribe's right and people will be willing to give an Obama administration the chance to not botch this up.

What makes me more nervous, though, is Obama's recent selections for advising and heading Washington's intelligence folk: John Brennan and Jami Miscik.

Democracy Now! recently interviewed Melvin Goodman, who is a former CIA and State Department analyst. Goodman said, "John Brennan was deputy executive secretary to George Tenet during the worst violations during the CIA period in the run-up to the Iraq war." Brennan helped call the shots on black sites and secret prisions as well as torture practicies. He's publically defended the warrantless eavesdropping and, most unsettling for me, extraordinary rendition.

In a December 5, 2005 appearance on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, Brennan said the following:

"I think [extraordinary rendition is] an absolutely vital tool. I have been intimately familiar now over the past decade with the cases of rendition that the U.S. Government has been involved in. And I can say without a doubt that it has been very successful as far as producing intelligence that has saved lives....the CIA has acknowledged that it has detained about 100 terrorists since 9/11, and about a third of them have been subjected to what the CIA refers to as enhanced interrogation tactics, and only a small proportion of those have in fact been subjected to the most serious types of enhanced procedures."

Granted, Brennan's been a bit more lax; in a 2006 PBS interview, he said, "Sometimes there are actions that we are forced to take, but there need to be boundaries beyond which we are going to recognize that we're not going to go because we still are Americans, and we are supposed to be representing something to people in this country and overseas. So the dark side has its limits."

Still, it seems to me like extraordinary rendition can only be completely justifiable in a utilitarian sense; I want to believe that there's other ways of stopping lethal violence and threat besides using "the dark side."

On the other hand, Jami Miscik was the Deputy Director of Intelligence during the run-up to the war and in the immediate postwar period. According to Goodman, "She passed judgment on the October 2002 estimate. She passed on the white paper, which was the phony paper that violated the CIA charter...and sent to the Congress only days before the vote on the authorization to use force in Iraq in October 2002. She was part of the slam-dunk team that George Tenet was so proud of that prepared...the speech that Colin Powell gave, that outrageous speech with twenty-eight allegations, all of them false, prepared in February of 2003, which was the case to the international community. She was part of the team that allowed George Bush to go before this country in January of 2003 in a State of the Union address and use a fabricated intelligence report to say that Iraq was getting enriched uranium from a West African country. Jami Miscik was a part of all of this."

Sylvia told me she thinks Obama selected Brennan and Miscik on purpose, to prove that even though he doesn't have a lot of forgien policy experience he can still be tough on issues. Then she paused and said, "I wanna hope that he knows what he's doing."

I hope so, too. Because I still can't shake the coincidence that I watched The Bourne Ultimatum for the first time last night.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Cruel Irony

There was a weird moment during my Japanese class on Friday when in between looking up hiragana in my textbook and the lecture on a clause modifier that something occured somewhere tucked away inside of me. It was stumbled upon like hearing someone's echo from deep inside a cave only to realize that the echo is your own...or like a wrinkled and faded receipt that you find deep in your pocket; a trace or watermark evidencing something unknown and completely unrecognizeable, and yet clearly it must still be yours because, after all, it's in your pants.

It was this odd moment during class that, without warning, I found myself holding back tears. I struggled against it, and yet as class ended and I filtered out with the rest, I was blinking back salty water and taking deep breaths. I went to the breakroom at work and lay down on a couch, staring at the ceiling. I was sad...I felt sadder than I had in a very long time. And the sadness was mixed with some confusion, because I had no idea why I was sad.

It passed, but left a depressive cloud in its stead, and it hovered over me. It hovered while I worked till closing at the Writing Center and walked with my co-worker/friend Whitney to her car. It hovered as I hung out with my friends and watched Quantum of Solace, then ate a chicken hamburger with sun-dried tomatoes at IHOP for dinner. It hovered while I read some Martian Manhunter comics Saturday morning (probably to subconciously replace ancient childhood weekend cartoons rituals). I checked my email and Facebook, then went outside to look in the mailbox. I listened to Dead Kennedys, Bob Dylan, Rage Against the Machine, and The Beatles' Revolver album. I did some Ethics of War & Peace class homework. I cooked spaghetti for dinner, borrowing Sylvia's tomatoe sauce for the upteenth time. I popped in the fifth disc of the second season of Six Feet Under.

It was while watching a character make a reference to the myth of Narcissus that I realized where the tears had come from. The trace, the echo. He was having someone take pictures of him while nude, and he was talking (more to himself) about how paradoxical it seemed that he was unable to take self portraits without being contrived, so in a sense he needed someone else to see him in order for him to see himself.

It was repetitive of a theme barely a day old with me: Friday afternoon, my critical theory class finishsed watching a documentary on Derrida. Derrida made a similar comment on the irony of archiving, recording, and autobiography - or, more specifically, the futility of authentic or "pure" autobiography. The documentary ended with a roof film crew filming the street film crew filming Derrida walking on the sidewalk. It was indicating Derrida's frequent sentiments throughout the documentary: there will always be a distance between an object or person and the observer, and any attempts to capture the complete essence of that object or person is ultimately quite useless. In the end, the determination of the essential is left to the audience, who "communicates" with whatever is being percieved. There will always be a third realm: language, communication.

This Derridian reminder is what made the moment from the Six Feet Under episode stick with me while I brushed my teeth. And when I was through, I looked at the sink, the toothbrushes, and the towel on the wall until I was looking at myself in the mirror.

And I recalled: earlier in the same episode, a different character had mentioned how sometimes people wait entire lifetimes for love, expecting that someone, somewhere out there, will find them and "complete" or "fulfill" them, thereby inhibiting them from completing, fulfilling or even finding themselves.

I recalled also my surprise in the afternoon when Jill and Chandler disappeared into the bathroom together. When a minute later I heard the shower water running, I asked Sylvia if they were showering together. Sylvia nodded. "Really?" I asked. "That's...that's really cool." I think I said "cool" because I couldn't come up with a way of saying I felt really jealous of their intimacy without coming off as a snob. But Sylvia had turned her attention back to her genetics homework. "It saves water," she said.

I recalled when I checked the mailbox, and my disappointment at finding it emtpy. My disappointment that there was still no letter from Ben. No letter telling me what he thought, now that I'd told him the truth about everything I'd been through, everything I'd been keeping from him for the past two years. And I wondered if he had decided not to write back.

As I realized that I'd been looking at myself in the mirror for several minutes, I simultaneously realized two other things. I realized that I would never truely know myself and what I looked like the way everyone else could, no matter how long I looked at myself in the mirror. And I realized that I'd been denying depression to the point of holding back months-old tears to distance myself from how profoundly, poignantly, and painfully lonely I feel. Every minute. Every day.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Meaning of Life Is, In Fact, A Uterus

Sometimes, it seems, I'm just too curious for my own good. This morning, I walked into the breakroom at work and a co-worker noted a strange diagram on the whiteboard. It looked like...well, to be blunt, a rough sketch of the female reproductive system. With a bell.

It was my fault, I explained. See, Monday night I was told about how one of my girl friends has her life go kinda nuts when it's her time of month. So, being curious and genuinely wanting to know, I asked three of my female co-workers to explain everything behind a girl getting a period. And I mean everything. I wanted to know every detail. So I got a couple of diagrams, some hilarious stories...and a pretty gruesome perspective on what its like to feel like you have a blowfish with Charlie horses inside of you once a month. I even got to look at some "girl items" - I FINALLY know the difference between a tampon and a pad (and a pad with wings)!

I hope they didn't think it was totally weird to talk about it. One said that it was weird because normally, guys never want to know about that stuff. But I figure it's worth knowing. I think that any guy who is seriously considering marriage - or, better yet, are engaged - ought to sit down and find out just what kind of pads (and what brands) are good, roughly when his fiancee's time is and what to do/how to be helpful.

That way, you don't end up bewildered like me a month ago when my roommate/co-worker/friend Sylvia was in a ball of pain on her bed, and when I started to laugh at her discomfort, she yelled: "You don't even know, okay?! You don't know the truth because you don't have a uterus!"

Anyway, I just finished eating dinner. I made my own stir fry for the first time. Incidentally, as my roommate/co-worker/friend Sylvia said, stir fry really isn't as complicated as it may seem. It's actually as easy as it sounds. You throw a bunch of stuff into a frying pan, and you...well, you stir it until it smells good. Piece of cake. I even threw some tofu in pan.

I also made some Thai brown rice to go with it, and then topped it all with some lentil curry soup - which I used to boil some of the rice and veggies, so it actually flavored/sauced the entire dish. Then I sat down in front of the TV with some orange juice and ate dinner while I watched Scrubs with my roommates Jill and Chandler. For dessert, I had some soy green tea ice cream.

Yeah...sometimes, life ain't so bad.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mofo Pt. II

My own mother doesn't recognize me anymore.

I tried to tell her tonight that I've made my choices with the best I knew how. I've told her that my choices must ultimately serve my higher good. I told her that this is not the same thing as "not caring about her" but is, instead, just trying to take responsibility for my own life.

She didn't listen. And she didn't really understand, either. As I was walking out of the room, I tried to explain to her that I'm working hard to destroy an image of her - and a very negative one at that - so that I can see her with new eyes, and she and I can start over. When she asked me what sort of image this is, I told her that it was irrelevant...she would never want to know who she has become to me...but I did tell her that all I asked was that she do the same about her image of me.

She just leaned back and said, "If what you want was to destroy an image of somebody, then you should go look in a mirror!"

Little does she know.

She said that I am not the same person she knew as a boy; I've become a chaotic, enigmatic, giant question mark to her, and she feels that must search for something still to hold on to, something to explain it. (You always fear what you don't understand, I thought.) So, she says, she holds on to those memories of me as a child. And I told her if she clung to that past version of me, she and I could never have a good relationship.

As long as she holds me up to someone I've outgrown, some perception I've destroyed and will never be again, things can never be okay between me and my mother.

I've said it before. Nostalgia is a very dangerous thing.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The First Presidency Flunked History

The LDS church released a statement yesterday on their website's newsroom about the recent bans on gay marriage. The first part of their statement (thankfully) says that the Church's position should not encourage members to act hostile towards gays and lesbians. But:

"Some, however, have mistakenly asserted that churches should not ever be involved in politics when moral issues are involved. In fact, churches and religious organizations are well within their constitutional rights to speak out and engage in the many moral and ethical problems facing society." The statement then defends the Church's coalitions; it's no secret to anyone who read the reports that the Church was especially significant with its millions poured into opposing Prop. 8.

So, essentially, the Church is suggesting that it has a protected constitutional right to get involved in matters of the state and nation. Someone call me out if I've read that statement wrong. Because if I haven't, then church authorities - or, at least, whomever was the brains behind the news release - have to be either historically ignorant or, frankly, unpatriotic, conniving despots.

The Church shouldn't claim that they have a constitutional ability to use money and position to persuade others on political issues when not only would that appall at least two authors of the Constitution, but it contradicts the historical positions of church leaders and prophets.

For one thing, if D&C 134:9 (or that entire section) was all the support available, that'd be all the evidence I'd need to prove my point. But church leaders have always been pretty clear about the need to stay out of politics - presidential campaigns and otherwise. One of the most clear statements about this comes from President Joseph F. Smith in 1907:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds to the doctrine of the separation of church and state; the non-interference of church authority in political matters; and the absolute freedom and independence of the individual in the performance of his political duties. If at any time there has been conduct at variance with this doctrine, it has been in violation of the well-settled principles and policy of the Church.

"We declare that from principle and policy, we favor:
The absolute separation of church and state;
No domination of the state by the church;
No church interference with the functions of the state;
No state interference with the functions of the church...
The absolute freedom of the individual from the domination of ecclesiastical authority in political affairs;
The equality of all churches before the law."

This is a belief that has been reiterated by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, and just about any church leader down to the present day. It has been expressed during the accusations against the Church during its polygamy days, its attempts to create separate seminary schools, and other instances. Not to mention that the Articles of Faith seem pretty clear on how members should behave as citizens. So none of this is anything new; in fact, this church-state separation issue is a pretty old one for the United States.

The earliest instance goes back to December 1657, when New York State was still New Netherlands and Queens was a town called Flushing. The governor had banned all religions except the Dutch Reformed Church. In protest, several denizens of Flushing compiled a petition that called the governor out on persecuting Quakers (and none of the signatories were Quaker themselves). They were all later penalized.

The now-famous Flushing Remonstrance reads:

"The law of love, peace, and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians, as they are considered sons of Adam...Our Saviour sayeth...our desire is not to offend one of his little ones in whatsoever form, name or title he appears in, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker, but shall be glad to see anything of God in any of them, desiring to do unto all men as we desire all men should do unto us..."

The petition concludes that "...if any of these said persons come in love unto us, we cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them," but instead allow such persons free entrance and shelter in their town, "for we are bound by the law of God and man to do good unto all men and evil to no man."

A brief perusal of early American history will make it obvious that this is the exact mentality that drove the early Puritan, Catholic, and Pilgrim immigrants to American soil. It wasn't merely freedom to practice religion, but nonconformist churchgoers escaping from an oppressive mainstream religion that banned all other practices. The ability for anyone to believe in what he or she wants is what predicated the freedoms the Founding Fathers built this country on - the freedom to practice not just "religion" but ANY and ALL religion (and even allowance for those without religion). But oftentimes those freedoms are confused with the compulsory freedom to practice just ONE religion - namely, Christianity.

Thomas Jefferson penned the Virginia Satute for Religious Freedom in 1779. The statute stated:

"Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free...yet chose not to propagate [our religion] by compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical...our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry...

"...No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened...on account of his religious opinions or belief...and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

James Madison addressed the concern of a theological institution's economic power more directly in 1817. In his "Detached Memoranda," he wrote that mixing church and state would be "the means of abridging the natural and equal rights of all men in defiance of [Christ's] own declaration that His kingdom was not of this world":

"But besides the danger of a direct mixture of religion and civil government, there is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capapcity of holding it in perpetuity by ecclesiastical corporations. The power of all corporations ought to be limited in this respect. The growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuses...The Constitution of the U.S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion...The idea also of a union of all to form one nation under one government in acts of devotion to the God of all is an imposing idea."

It ought to be painfully clear, then, that the LDS church authorities behind the official press release are either ignorant of Church history, American history and the Constitution or are manipulating the constitutional protection of expressing opinion to unconstitutional means. Or both.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I can remember the fragmented tale.

About a year ago, I met him for the first time. It was on a fifth. When I made the choice that would change my life forever, a choice not just to be with him, but to find the truth about who I am, it was on a sixth.

And today I remember - remember and forget. Nostalgia is a pretty dangerous thing. It takes history in its pressumptive solidified form and completely shimmers and glosses it. Nostalgia takes history and breaks it into a million pieces that are more commodified, manageable, and believable. It can make us believe in some small synechdoche of our memories. Nostalgia can be a weapon - and our very worst enemy.

And what is surprising...or, perhaps, not so that our story is erased from history. There's no real record of it. There are just pieces of it here and there. An email here. A journal entry there. But nothing that actually tells the story. Our story...My story.

And I have to wonder if it's better that way.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Very Busy"

An email update to family:

Hi everybody,
I haven't had a chance to communicate with everyone since this week I simultaneously had two English papers due, an article deadline at work that kept me at school past midnight, and my phone became disabled (after the mess of working things out, I won't get a new one until Monday, Tuesday at the latest).

I've been very busy, but very productive. I got a chance to meet with one of my professors this week and we're both excited about my term paper for his class. His name is John Goshert, and the class is Multi-ethnic Literature. I also met with my professor, Jans Wager (for my Race, Gender, Class and Sexuality in U.S. Cinema class) about my project in that class, and it turns out that I might get to go to a Pop Culture conference in the spring. I might also get to return to NCUR, the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (reason I went to Maryland this last April) in the spring - and it will be in La Crosse, Wisconsin. In addition, the editor-in-chief and I have gotten to be good friends - his name is Jack Waters, and he and I are arranging to get the staff to go to Kansas City and/or San Diego in the spring. Finally, there's a slight chance that if I work hard, I'll get an internship D.C. for Senator Bennett, Matheson, Hatch, Representative Bishop, or Senator of Nevada Harry Reid next summer! Anyway...basically, it looks like I might go on a few trips early next year.

This week, I saw two movies that I'm absolutely crazy about. One is called Masked and Anonymous and stars Bob Dylan, Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Penelope Cruz, Luke Wilson, Val Kilmer, Ed Harris, Chris Penn (right before his death), Micky Rourke, Giovanni Ribisi...and a lot of other big people. :) Anyway - more importantly, I saw an older independent movie called Bamboozled and directed by Spike Lee (Inside Man, Dad, that movie with Denzel Washington and Clive Owen where they're robbing a bank) and stars Jada Pinkett Smith (wife of Will Smith, plays Naobi in Matrix). I wish I'd seen this movie when I was in high school. I think one day I should buy it, and then [the family] should sit down to watch it together. It's a hilarious satire, but it's a very important message about racial tensions in American society today.

Speaking of movies: apparently, director Ridley Scott (Gladiator) is gonna make a new Robin Hood movie called Nottingham that's set to be released this time next year. Who will play the Sheriff? Russell Crowe. And who shall play Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves? ...Russell Crowe.

I recently took inventory of my library of books. Apparently I own 126 books. So my friend/co-worker Whitney is building me a bookshelf. It's fantastic, and she's very good at carpentry.

Anyway...other than that, I'm doing fine, just busy. I had a stomachache yesterday, but I'm much better today, I think. All week I've had some pain in my jaw because my wisdom tooth is finally starting to impact the rest of my teeth and it hurts a bit to open my mouth and chew. I guess I'd better start saving up money to get it pulled out.

By the way, for anyone who cares - I watched the debates and let me just say that McCain makes me sick! Furthermore, I would rather watch Rocky Horror Picture Show three times in a row than watch McCain smile one more time as he says, "My friends...." It's a creepy smile! Dad, let's move to Canada if he's elected.

Talk to everybody later!
--[Elder Roxas]

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Final Cuts

I found out this week that I won't get to eat until I get paid on Valentine's Day. So I unloaded my bookshelf of some recently bought bookshelf for ones I can still return to the store. Then I turned to my small film collection, and with a heavy heart I decimated the numbers from more than forty movies to around fifteen or so.

It tore me to part with many (i.e. Gladiator, Fight Club, Spider-Man 3...wipes a tear), and some I didn't mind doing without (i.e. The Silence of the Lambs, Jerry Maguire). But there were a select few films I kept realizing that, come leather jackets and lavish dinners or shirts with holes and Cup Noodles, I couldn't quite live without. Ergo, here is a list of the films I now own and consider required possessions in times of poverty; my "deserted island" movie list.

1. The Fountain - I'd have to lose rent for a cardboard box to sell this one. I could live to be one hundred and this film will still blow me away on my deathbed. Arguably my all-time favorite.
2. Magnolia - I have to lie in bed for a long time whenever I finish this movie. It makes me think - a lot. I love that. Everything that makes me passionate about filmmaking is in this movie.
3. Saving Private Ryan - It's incredible, the way I feel about my country and myself every time I watch this. Not love or respect, but something deeper...a kind of honor in awe.
4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - If I could somehow communicate every single thing I feel and understand about true romantic love, it would be this movie. No other love story will ever come close.
5. Almost Famous (Untitled) - The best screenplay I've ever read, the only coming-of-age film I really enjoy, and a sort of love letter to rock and roll, all in one from Cameron Crowe. You can't go wrong.
6. Garden State - I feel so much more alive whenever I see this movie. Seriously, I don't know how I lived before I saw it.
7. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence - Only this one can truly make me cry, from sadness and sheer joy. It can also make me scream and wanna throw up. An emotional powerhouse; I can't watch it more than once a year.
8. The Royal Tenenbaums - One of my favorite character-driven films. Father relationships and redemption are my favorite themes, and they are the backbone of this movie.
9. Big Fish - A cinematic musing on why we love to tell stories. Another father-son film.
10. American Beauty - Not to play on the title...but this movie helps me feel like people, the world, and life itself can be beautiful sometimes.

And finally, a movie I don't own (yet) but would want to have on an island: The Lion King. Mock me if you will, but this is a deep movie for me and I'll always love it to death.

P.S. These are all life-influencing movies for me, and if you feel interested in checking one out, be warned that seven of the ten are rated R. But I'd still strongly recommend any of them.
P.S.S. And yes, we ARE assuming that I actually have a TV on the island. *rolls eyes....

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Hottest Thing Since Abbey Road

So this week, some very key items finally arrived in my mailbox. First, my director's cut graphic novel for my favorite movie of all time, The Fountain. Second, a book I've been looking forward to read recommended by our dear Miss Spinn from her native Norway, entitled Naive. Super and translated into English.

There were two more: a couple of Zippo lighters. I've been learning how to do some Zippo tricks. At this point, I can:
  • breath fire - don't panic
  • make fireballs (in a controlled environment - again, don't panic)
  • take the flame away from the wick, hold it in my hand, then snap it back.
They're both black. One of them has the Japanese kanji symbol for the word "love" on the front, the other has a white silhouette of the Beatles album Abbey Road. My Japanese Zippo, unfortunately, is getting shipped back to the factory next week. Wanna know why?

I read on the internet and heard from someone (probably a moron) that I need to use butane. Which didn't quite make sense, since butane is a gas and the lighter is a wick, would assume it needs fuel, but I was being stupid. I made a foolish choice and went to sell my soul to that devil known as Wal-Mart. Nothing good has EVER happened from me going to Wal-Mart, and tonight was about to prove it. So I get the butane, only 98 cents, figure maybe Wal-Mart is about to redeem itself. I get back to my apartment and start pumping it into my Japanese lighter, and the whole thing starts to get encased with this layer of strange-smelling ice.

(All you proud graduates of Zack Knappenberger's class are already laughing at what will happen next.)

I hit the switch. Nothing happens. I hit it again. Nothing happens. I hit it once more. The whole thing, case and all, erupts into a burning ball of fire that starts to consume my hand. I drop it on my desk and it starts to light the desk. I blow, slam, and stop the flames.

And then I promise myself out loud that I am never, ever gonna set foot within one hundred feet of Wal-Mart again. Karma has never been so bad.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Old School

I don't suppose I'm an expert on the mindset young men in the 70's propagated when they were depressed...but I'm willing to bet ya money that if they were anything like young men today, they put on records.

Believe you me: The best remedy that can get Elder Roxas out of a real funk, and real fast, is getting me some cookie dough, some good movies, and some good music, and then locking me up in my room for hours and hours. And when I found myself in the middle of a very complicated love triangle last weekend, I could think of no better cure. Honestly.

But I might've taken it a bit too far. Instead of the usual run to Wal-Mart and going on a movie buying spree at F.Y.E., I did something a bit more old school. I pigged out at Arby's and Iceburg, then went to my last Sundance Film Festival screening Choke, and then raided F.Y.E. --not for movies this time, but for vinyl. You got me: I bought a record player, plus three or four records.

So now I'm sitting here at 3:18 AM, going through some old emails and my new records. Now before you panic, I must inform you that I've got a perfectly good sense of financial judgment when it's called for. The record player is complete with a CD player, an AM/FM radio, and a jack with plug for an iPod. Now, how much better can you get for only $100? I do not know. Especially when right next door to Pink Floyd and The Beatles, one of my three favorite albums is sitting on the shelf in front of me, glistening and begging me to try it in vinyl: The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance. Oh, JOY! Sweet ecstasy! I think I wet myself just standing there, seeing it. So it now joins my slowly growing record album library, next to Abbey Road and The Dark Side of the Moon, since it's just as great in my eyes as these giants of rock as well. And what else do I have? As a true Orem High alumni, I actually own a copy of Survivor's Eye of the Tiger album. On top of that, I also have two albums that came out last year: Neon Bible by Arcade Fire and In Rainbows by one of the greatest bands to ever live, Radiohead.

I'll admit that I've honestly never heard a record before tonight. From everyone I spoke with, vinyl has its own sound, but CD's and mp3's obviously sound better. But I really think that hearing vinyl is a great musical experience in and of itself. Just when I thought I couldn't fall any more in love with The Black Parade, I hear Gerard Way's voice crackling over the song that changed my life, "Famous Last Words," giving an interesting dimension to it....a sort of beautiful imperfection. An older, warmer sound. A higher pitch, a more desperate and heartfelt sounding music. And hey, some guitar solos on the album actually sound much clearer. I'm starting to wonder just what I've been missing from the 70's....I am gonna raid music stores for record albums the soonest I get the chance. Cuz I am having a lot of fun with my vinyl.

I think I found a new hobby.