Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Friday, 22 February 2008

I'm Baa-aak!

Well, it worked. I lived through my first operation.

But I honestly had an expectation out of line with the statistical liklihood, probably because I've never had an operation before. Knowing that anasthesia occasionally results in death, I had a strong feeling that I would not live through the operation, and prepared my soul for that eventuality last night, as I prayed for forgiveness and the ability to forgive.

I arrived at 9 this morning, and paid half the surgery fee, and waited for my sister-in-law Trina to arrive- my ride and she who will take out my body if things go poorly. While waiting, I wrote on the left side of my face, "Not This Side". Just in case.

They took me to the back and took my blood pressure and began the preparations. I asked the doctor what the odds were that I'd have permanent loss of feeling in my lips. He told me it was higher because I was over 25, and it would be approximately 0.0015%. They put an oxygen mask on my nose and gave me an IV anaesthesia drip. (That was the part that hurt.) As it began, I told the doctor, in case things went bad, "Thank you. And if they go bad, I don't hold it against you, and I forgive you." The doctor was concerned that this was bad karma. I told him I was okay, as I know where I'm going. He told me he knew where he was going too, and it would be hot. I told him I would be hoping this would not be the case. Bit of a religious culture clash.

I felt the world progressively slowing, and recognized the drug was having an effect. Two seconds later I was getting out of the car in front of my house, sans one wisdom tooth. I have a vague recollection of being in a wheelchair. Evidently, they wheeled me out, down to Trina's car, and I was lucid, and she drove me home, and I had a conversation with Trina the entire time, and I remember none of it. Then she dropped me off and went to get me some soft food groceries to eat.

It's odd. I'm not used to being awake and having no memory of events. The most disappointing part is that for the first time in theological history I was able to clearly articulate how the doctrine of the trinity lacks any paradox when combined with Tillich's beliefs on the evolution of humanity, but both me and Trina remember none of it. What comes of losing a wisdom tooth.

In truth, I've just learned from Trina what I did say. Evidently I talked a lot about the Presidential election, and she didn't understand what I said. Actually, a lot of it was inarticulate. I tried to get up before they brought the wheelchair, and nearly fell down. I mentioned a couple times that I was Superman. And the best part- when she asked for the directions to get to my place, she couldn't understand what I said, so had me write it down. But she had to yell at me because the first time I wrote down the directions in Arabic! Sweet. Evidently my default when my higher brain functions aren't working is Arabic.

My jaw was hurting a bit after the operation, but a couple oxycodone made things wonderful again, and I've been sitting in front of the computer for the last few hours, alternately falling asleep and waking a few minutes later. Good job I didn't go into work today, or drive.

Now we're just waiting to see if feeling returns to my lips. Really need those lips. They do important things. The world would be a poorer place without my lips. So I've been told.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

We'll see if I'm alive tomorrow...

Tomorrow I have my first operation ever. For only $600 I get to have my wisdom tooth pulled so that I can see if I need a root canal so that they can put a crown on #38. They'll also put me under, another first for me, for about 20 minutes. Trina will be there at the beginning, and to greet me and take groggy me home- or accept my body if I don't make it through the operation, since there's a small chance whenever they give you anaesthesia that it doesn't work out.

So in that eventuality, this will be my last post. And I love you all and forgive everyone.

Unless I make it through the operation. In which case I take it all back, and I'll post here how the operation went.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Clayton's Atonement for Old Men by Juno's Blood

How's that title for bad theology? I was at another Kindlings Muse, as with last year, on the theology within the Best Picture nominees. You can hear the entire podcast here, but I thought this time I'd give people a taste of what it's like to be at the podcast, there in the bar at Hales Ales. Here's the first few minutes- with a rather unusual beginning.
I got a question in this time- asking,

If Atonement happened in real life, I could pray, and I know that my prayers would be effectatious in some manner. I can help bring healing to the situation through prayer. Is there any place for prayer when viewing a movie like Atonement?
The answer was actually rather helpful. See minute 1:10:30 in the podcast for the answer.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

A Strange and Alien World

A few days ago Northwest Cable News had a special on a new form of exercise. Using Latin rhythms, Zumba involves aerobic exercise that's actually dance for the entire hour. You burn about 800 calories, and have fun at the same time.

So I looked up online to find the closest location. Since women are very into Zumba as a safe place to exercise, I asked first to make sure that it would be appropriate for me to attend, and not uncomfortable for the women participating. I was the only guy in the room.

It was intense. Lots of exercise and sweat. The music was fun. Mostly I had no clue what I was doing. There are just all these ways that women naturally learn how to dance, ways to move their bodies, that I really have no clue on how to do. I can't even really describe what those ways are- but even in today's egalitarian world, dance remains the place where gender is most defined. And I just never learned how to dance the woman's part. Part of it is definitely the hips. I don't know how to move my hips. Or how to belly dance, which was also part of the exercise regime. I just kind of faked it. Of course, the most difficult part of all is when our instructor told us to work on "the girls", pointing down towards our chests. We did those standing bench presses into the air that you often see in women's dance moves, while the teacher told us to make sure to do it right. "Lift them up, then down." I don't begin to know how to do that. Or even how to fake it.

Baracking the Caucus

The day is here! Oh Glorious Day! The Caucus!

Today was my first ever experience in caucusing, and I must say, it felt more like a full immersion in democracy than anything else I've experienced before. And it was really great to be around a bunch of people who enjoyed discussing politics, and didn't get miffed at you for talking about it.

We met at the local school, and the gymnasium quickly flooded to overflowing. They weren't expecting so many people, so we began late, and even as we began people were still in line signing in. I'm told we doubled the record for participation in a Washington caucus. (And incidentally, more than doubled the Republican participation.)

There were some 12 precincts present in the auditorium, and our precinct was by far the largest, with four tables, and a crowd standing around with no seating. We began by talking about who we supported, Obama or Clinton. (Strangely, no one was a supporter of Gravel. I feel sorry for him. He's still in the race, and no one's talking about him.) Then a woman made some announcements up on the stage that no one could hear since the mike wasn't working, and finally the mike worked, and she instructed us on the steps. The first bit was that we wouldn't have a discussion between all precincts, but each precinct would be an entity unto itself. We were all in one place for organizational benefit, with all the materials in one place, but because of the exceptionally large crowds in extremely small spaces, it all felt rather unorganized. We got conflicting information, and were having to shout over each other. But this, also, felt like real democracy in action, as if we were back in the first Constitutional Congress as they tried to figure out how to get their Blackberries to count the votes.

For most of us, this was our first caucus. One man had experience in leading caucuses, and we elected him the chair. He explained how the event worked.

We were told initially that we should break up into our support groups (Obama, Clinton, and Undecided), and count the number of supporters. We finally figured out a method of counting off like in kindergarten, as we lowered our hands, for any other method in such a large crowd would have resulted in an inaccurate result. We went to report our result, only to find out he had sat down at his table (he was a Clinton supporter), and recorded the support from the sheets we filled in when we signed in to the caucus. This was a good method, except that many of us hadn't written who we support, as we didn't know about that part. So I and others were initially recorded as Undecided, until we clarified the numbers.

All three groups got an opportunity for a one minute speech in support of their candidate. The Obama crowd was obviously significantly larger, but I was in the midst of it, so I didn't record our representative. Here's the Clinton guy:
He was representative of the Clinton crowd. They supported their candidate, but they weren't as die-hard about it. It was more, "Well, she's the best one for the job, and I think we should support her." Whereas the Obama people were saying, "I will bleed blood before I support Clinton." (Okay, I was the one who said that, but still, it was indicative of the general mood.)

Our precinct was assigned seven delegates, based on a complicated formula of the number of registered voters and how Democratic we'd voted in past elections. It couldn't be more than seven. Based on that, we had 15 people for every one delegate (making about 105 people gathered around these four tables). Incidentally, this is why caucus numbers reported by the press look so much lower than primary numbers- they are the number of delegates. These delegates will go to the Legislative District Caucuses, who in turn will elect delegates to the County Convention, and then the Congressional District Caucus, the State Convention, and finally the National Convention in Denver. Because Democrats really have that much time on their hands. Our seven delegates would go on to the District Caucus, and they will send some number like "one" delegate to the next level.

After the counts, we had the opportunity to try to convince the Dark Side to come to the Light, or the Undecideds to join our team. I don't think any Clinton or Obama supporters ended up switching. The numbers to begin with were enough for 4 Obama delegates, 2 Clinton delegates, and 1 undecided delegate. (There was one guy who supported Kucinich unwaveringly, but since he was 14 people short of a delegate, his vote went uncounted.) But through some hard work, we won over the majority of the Undecideds, so that we gained a fifth delegate. And, to toot my own horn a bit, I was told that my arguments were rather convincing for the Undecideds. My main points were that:

  1. After South Carolina and Florida, many Democrats won't support Clinton. After her campaign falsely claimed that Obama had brought race into the race, when in truth it was Bill Clinton who was doing it, and after Hillary promised not to campaign in Florida but did anyway- after all this, many Democrats like myself feel we can no longer trust her. McCain says most of the stuff we don't want to hear, and Clinton says most of the stuff we want to hear, but we suspect that Clinton won't keep her word, and will do all the stuff we don't want. Therefore, many like myself are probably not going to vote at all in the General if Clinton is elected. Since polls are showing this is a widespread, if minority feeling in the party, better to vote for Obama if you want a Democrat in office. (This clearly demonstrates why Obama is winning the caucuses. Clinton puts the lies out there, like accusing Obama of being in bed with a slum lord, and people believe it. The undecided woman I spoke with was shocked to find out that the guy had also supported the Clintons, and learning this helped sway her to Obama.)
  2. I'm voting for Obama because I want the candidate with experience. Obama has far more elected experience than Hillary- he's been doing the job on the ground.
  3. More importantly, Obama has the international experience. Because of his skin colour, his cultural upbringing, his father, and living in Indonesian and Hawaii, the rest of the world sees him as someone they can trust. He's someone they can negotiate with. Many in the Arab world in particular are saying this. (And by the way, amazing the hush that fills a crowd when you mentioned that you used to live in the Middle East.) And now, in this time, that is exactly what we need- someone who can be trusted by the rest of the world so that we are no longer the pariah that we've become. Only Obama can do that. He can do that not just because of perception, but because growing up overseas gives him a worldly perspective, and not myopic to America. This last argument in particular was persuasive. Some Clinton supporters poo-pooed it, suggesting that an international experience was irrelevant. A man of colour with a foreign accent in the crowd put paid to that idea, and the feeling of the crowd became that, indeed, this was a serious benefit to Obama.

This convincing and cajoling all took place standing in these crowds, as people rushed in and politely elbowed each other for space and speaking time. We had enough for 5 & 1/3 delegates, giving us six total. For a moment. We were told that, with enough for 1 & 2/3 delegates, the Clinton people would get one delegate, and we'd get our five plus the left over delegate. But then a clarification of the rules went out, that numbers were to be rounded, and so Clinton got two delegates, to our five.

After three hours, almost done. We were there longer than any other precinct, due to our size. The only thing that remained was to select the delegates and alternates to the Legislative District Caucus. We'd have one alternate for every delegate, and I was selected as an alternate! And I can still go to the District Convention as an Alternate, and may be seated if a rep from another district doesn't show up. If not seated, I can participate without voting.

We gave speeches before the selection. This is where I gave my speech that I will bleed before I will vote for Clinton. We had 11 candidates, and 10 spots. It was a very hard fight. We made speeches, and chose from a hat. Democracy in action. Jim McDermott

Then, just as the caucus was ending, standing in the corner, was our Congressman, Jim McDermott! When we broke up, I ran over to him and shook his hand, thanking him for all the work he does in Congress supporting Arab rights. I know he is a minority there (about 20 Congressman are not Israel supporters), and I told him that I know it's often difficult, so his work is doubly appreciated.

Friday, 8 February 2008

20,000 in Obamaland

Obama came to Seattle again today, a day before the caucuses. Things were a little different from the last time he was here. We met this time in the Key Arena, the smallest arena of the NBA, at only 18,000 capacity. (Which, incidentally, is why the NBA is leaving Seattle.) Doors to open at 11, Obama to speak at some time after that.

I planned to take a bus to arrive by 1030, but discovered the bus at 10 was already so full it couldn't stop. I figured buses would only get fuller as we got closer to the time of the rally, so I walked across Queen Anne Hill to the arena, arriving at 1040. The doors had already opened a half hour early. This was soon to prove significant.

Inside the stadium quickly began to fill, and I could only find seating in the nosebleeds. There were two giant tiers empty, but they were dedicated to the union, which didn't end up filling all the seats. It was about this time that I heard my friend Adrian couldn't make it, as he couldn't find parking near the Seattle Center.
At 1115 my friend Shari called to say she couldn't get in, as they had closed the doors. Sadly she missed entry by only four minutes. Though I had two seats saved, they weren't allowing us to go to the door to let friends in. We were already over-capacity. Mayor Nichols later mentioned that it was a good thing he'd let the Fire Marshal go home early for the day. The crowd was overwhelmingly white (as it's Seattle), except for those directly behind the candidate, where the cameras would pick them up. There it was diverse, with a higher percentage of Asians, Blacks, and Muslims. It was also overwhelmingly young. As we waited some entrepreneurial supporters realized that there were box seats right behind them, and started climbing into them.

It was actually the most exciting part, as we waited for two hours for the candidate to show up. We watched as security would come in and escort one box seat out, while at the other end supporters were still climbing into the next. It was rather humorous, to realize that they were irrevocably losing their seats down below, for shortly security would come to escort every box seat claim jumper out.

Finally people began to come out to speak. Like in the last Seattle Obama rally, there was a very bad presenter to clearly differentiate what came after. This time it wasn't a guitarist, but rather a pianist, who might have been very good at the piano, but was very bad when he was reading from a piece of paper.

Then it was Mayor Nickels, a longtime Obama supporter, out to rally the troops,

followed by a surprise- Governor Gregoire! She said today, for the first time ever, that she was endorsing Obama. Honestly I wasn't expecting this. Our other two primary female leaders in this state, the senators, had already endorsed Clinton, and Gregoire was playing coy, so I honestly expected her to make it a triumvirate. But she shared that she had spent a lot of time contemplating, and finally decided for Obama.

Look closely- see the Obama halo.  He's not Jesus- just a Blessed Saint.Then, to the roar of a record-breaking crowd for the Key Arena, with 20,000 inside, and 3,000 waiting outside in the cold, with countless others like Shari leaving early because they couldn't get in, the man arrived. (For comparison purposes, the Clinton campaign was surprised the night before that they actually had 7,000 people.) If you look closely at the picture on the right, you can actually see Obama's halo. Gives whole new meaning to the name "Barack"- Blessed.

Obama covered mostly topics from previous speeches and debates. Strangely the news media, like King 5 and Komo 4, got a number of aspects of Obama's visit wrong. They claimed no one minded waiting two hours. Many did, though we didn't blame the candidate. The media claimed that there was no empty seats. There was, for some union and handicapped seats weren't taken. And most significantly, the media claimed that Obama never mentioned Clinton in his speech. Obama did, though briefly and only once- in the recording below.

I wanted to post the entire speech, but it turns out that the 1.6 Gig file is going to take just too long to upload. This is the last few minutes of Obama's speech.

And wouldn't you know it, but my Flip Video claimed I had a whole hour available, when it reality it was only about 52 minutes. So the best part of the speech wasn't caught. To paraphrase, Obama went Biblical on his detractors, speaking straight out of the New Testament, about what Hope really is. Hope isn't some mealy-mouthed thing. Hope is what inspired a movement which gave women the right vote. Hope is what ended slavery. Hope is what began child labor laws. Hope is what changes the world.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Birds Flock Together

Sometimes, just like Amelie, you look up at just the right times and you see something wondrous. Just now, I looked out my window, the same as the view in this picture. And there, floating gracefully on the winds, as if it were some jelly fish of the sky, was a bald eagle, in the middle of Seattle. It was close enough and slow enough that I could clearly identify it.

And immediately, for the next five seconds that it remained in view, it was harassed by two large seagulls. Though large for their family, they were rather diminutive compared to this great bird of prey. And though it ruled the skies, the eagle seemed either unable or uninterested in resisting the dive bombing gulls. It didn't respond in the slightest, but continued serenely on its way.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

A Timeline of Hope

For a few weeks I was receiving unemployment.

Jan 4th: Benefits end.

Jan 25th: I receive a letter from Unemployment, telling me that my former employer was contesting the right to receive unemployment, and is filing an appeal. It's too late in the day for me to do anything about it. The letter states that, if the appeal is upheld, I have to pay back $750.

This is rather devastating. I don't have the money to pay bills, much less pay this money back.

Jan 28th: I call Unemployment and they tell me that my employer was appealing. This is confusing me, as my former employer was clear that they would support my right to Unemployment, and there was no question that I was qualified for it.

I talk to the head of HR for my former employer, and they unequivocally state that they had not filed an appeal. I call Unemployment, and they unequivocally state that my employer had filed an appeal.

Jan 30th: I receive a large packet of information from Unemployment, including details on paperwork and copies of what I'd reported to them. Of note: the paperwork states that an appeal was filed by my employer, but no response was given when they asked for a response to my statement of the right to unemployment. Because no response was given, Unemployment's policy is to go forward with an appeal.

A hearing is set for Wednesday morning at 9:30. It will be my first hearing ever in my life, and will take place over the phone. I will be on the line, as will the judge, and a representative from a company in the Mid-West that represents my former employer. This hearing will decide if I have to pay back the money. I'm dreading the outcome of the hearing, as I find The Man usually wins in life. But kind of looking forward to the moment when I declare to the judge that I won't swear because I'm a Quaker. Again, I've never had the opportunity to do that before.

I call Unemployment, and they tell me again that my employer very directly filed an appeal. My employer tells me again that they very definitely didn't, but they will look into it.

Feb 1st: I haven't heard from my former employer, and call to find out if they know anything more. I am unable to reach them.

In the mail that night I get a notice from Unemployment, telling me that there was an error on their part, and I deserve an extra $244 from my previous application. No way am I depositing it at the moment. I have no idea if I'd have to pay it back later.

Feb 3rd: I share with my church the dilemma, and ask for their prayers that truth will be expressed in the hearing, and I not have to pay the money back. At times I am a bit concerned about the outcome. I don't know where I'll come up with these funds.

Feb 4th: I try again to get ahold of my former employer. I am unsuccessful.

Feb 5th: I have a good time in prayer this morning. I'm remembering the word I received from a Friend in church two weeks prior, "He will make the rough places smooth and the crooked places straight, and is setting your feet firmly on this path." I still have some concern, but am heartened in a weird feeling of trust.

While in the library I get a call from the law offices. I'm told that my employer filed a letter, just received by Unemployment, saying they are withdrawing their appeal. There will be no hearing.

I go deposit my check. And am filled with such joy, such overwhelming gratitude, that there is a good God, who looks out for us. I find my heart clenching in my chest, and that I'm spontaneously breaking into song.