Madonna’s Like A Prayer

Madonna from her
Madonna from her “Express Yourself” music video

While I’m blogging about iconic 80s albums like Michael Jackson’s Bad, I can’t pass up what I feel is one of Madonna‘s best albums, Like a Prayer.  To me, these two albums stand out because both of them were released in the years during my awkward transition from junior high to high school.

I remember buying Like a Prayer on cassette tape, and the insert or case itself smelled of patchouli oil, adding to the entire experience.  One of my memories of Like a Prayer was, interestingly enough, it was the tape I’d pop in the Walkman when I was mowing my parents’ lawn.

There was the whole controversy over the “Like a Prayer” music video, which featured burning crosses and “a black Jesus” (who actually was supposed to be a saint) and stigmata, among other things.  I didn’t quite understand what the whole fuss was about because I interpreted the video as Madonna’s character trying to free the man charged with a crime he didn’t commit and that (perhaps) having been inspired by her Catholic faith and the particular saint who happens to look like the accused man.  Then again, I was only 15 and a bit naive.  It might pay for me to go back and watch the video in close detail again.

Another great hit was “Express Yourself”.  If that wasn’t a bit of a toe-tapper for a gay teenager, I don’t know what is.  And the music video was full of eye candy, too.  If you have any doubt of that, Google “Cameron Alborzian” for a few images of Madonna’s main interest in the video.

(In college, one of my dorm-mates said she’d give me her carpet if I dressed like Madonna and did a floor show to “Express Yourself”.  I did… and got a free carpet in the process.)

I won’t go into every minute detail on every song on the album, but I think Like a Prayer was one of the first albums where I understood that an album can tell a story and have an overarching theme, where the order and inclusion of songs is important to the overall flow, and sometimes the songs you like the most will never make it to radio.  (I now call these my hidden gems.)  It also was the first Madonna album I owned and turned me in to a fan of hers for her career so far.

Memories of Michael Jackson’s Bad, 25 Years Later

Michael Jackson's Bad
Michael Jackson’s Bad

I can’t believe it’s been a whole 25 years since Michael Jackson‘s Bad album was released.  To be honest, I wouldn’t have noticed it if Prime hadn’t had Spike Lee‘s Bad 25 documentary on TV on Monday night.

To be honest, it’s been a while since I listed to Bad.  Unlike Madonna or other 80s artists who are on my iPod / iTunes, Michael Jackson lost his magic for me a bit when he got a bit weird and sang songs like, “Have You Seen My Childhood”. (“Scream”, on the other hand, was excellent.)  Plus, unlike Madonna, Michael Jackson didn’t seem to be able to evolve as an artist.  I always thought he seemed to be somehow stuck in time as the world marched forward around him.

Watching Bad 25, as the documentary covered many of the songs on the album, I realised how much of an impact the album actually had on me.  If I remember correctly, Mom and Dad had bought me a ghetto blaster for my birthday either that year or the year prior, and Bad was one of the tapes I listened to quite a bit.  On evenings that I couldn’t fall asleep, I’d pop Bad into the tape deck, put my headphones on, lay down, and listen to it.

Nearly every song on Bad went on to become noticeable or a hit.  I mean, I remember “Bad” and “Smooth Criminal” being songs on the album, but the documentary made me remember such gems as “Dirty Diana”, “The Way You Make Me Feel”, “Man in the Mirror”, “Another Part of Me”, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, and “Leave Me Alone”.  To see and hear some of the comments about these songs brought memories back of them and added new insight into them for me.

For example, I always wondered who the heck Annie was from “Smooth Criminal”.  (Remember, “Annie, are you okay? Are you okay, Annie?” from the song?)  Of course, when we learned CPR, the training dummy was named Annie, and part of the script was, “Annie, Annie, are you okay?”  I always thought that was a rather strange coincidence until the documentary pointed out that the CPR dummy and training script were the origins for MJ asking if Annie was okay in “Smooth Criminal”.  Or maybe I was just super dim not to get the connection until 25 years later; I dunno.

Michael and Princess Diana always seemed to me to be kindred spirits in some way, and I often wondered if “Dirty Diana” was written with her in mind, although sometimes I felt the lyrics did not even come close to appropriately describing the Princess of Wales.  Obviously, the song only shared the main character’s name with our beloved Diana; it was revealed the song’s about a groupie.

I could go on about the songs and some of the music videos (for example, how the music video for “Leave Me Alone” reminds me somehow of Peter Gabriel‘s “Sledgehammer” music video), but I think I’ll leave this walk down memory lane at that.  After seeing Bad 25, maybe it’s time for me to take some time to rediscover Michael Jackson’s Bad and truly appreciate the impact it had on my teenage years and later life.

Bureaucracy is Bad (Part 47)

Bureaucracy.  It’s almost as horrible a word as that vile phrase, red tape.  Actually, I’m not sure which one is worse.  Perhaps they’re twins.  Inefficient twins.  Inefficient twins who aren’t exactly that bright, make tons of errors themselves, but love to point out the minor and very occasional error you make yourself.

If you have read any of my previous blogs, you’ll know I’m not a big fan of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) (see “Just Give Me the Bloody Address!” for exhibit A).  As a matter of fact, I don’t know if you would find many fans of theirs; TEC tends to be a fairly strange child of three merged (failing and inefficient) government entities, and it acts as if the DNA wasn’t quite ever right.  One of our suppliers whose product helps us produce our thrice yearly data report to TEC is constantly doing battle with an organisation which can be described as dysfunctional at best.

(I do have to interject here and give credit where credit is due.  There is a senior manager at TEC by the name of Stephen who has been extremely helpful to us this year.  I am sure there are others there who are just as helpful, but, as an organisation itself, it is extremely dysfunctional.)

I could go on and on about the various problems I have had with TEC, but I will highlight a few cases we have faced this year.

Ben Linus Has Transported NaSA to Auckland (And Not Told Us)
We received a report from TEC to say that our provider was located in Auckland.  I wrote them back to tell them we are, and always have been, in Christchurch.  They had the gall to tell me that I must’ve changed it.

Newsflash number 1:  I can’t change that information on their database.  When I sign in, it’s a non-editable area.

Newsflash number 2: The non-editable area clearly says Christchurch.

Newsflash number 3: Given the history of my previous interaction with their computer system (which interfaces with the Ministry of Education and New Zealand Qualifications Authority), and with the Ministry of Education consistently and constantly praising me on how “clean” and accurate my data submissions are, I extremely highly doubt I’d list the school in the wrong region on the wrong island even if I could edit the information in the first place.

Mind Meld with TEC like Spock with a Horta to Get an Answer
Late last year, I made a mistake with the aforementioned thrice-a-year return.  (No, the world didn’t end.  It almost did, but it didn’t.  Obviously.) After a year of quakes and rebuilding the school and all the drama and stress everyone had been under, I think I’m allowed to make a mistake.  It was a simple one; I forgot to mark a small group of students who resat their final examinations and passed as “successfully completed” instead of “unsuccessfully completed” in the database.  I fixed the error.  I admit I made a boo-boo.

Somehow, this all didn’t quite make it into the annual completion reports that TEC judges our funding eligibility for the following year on.  We were above the threshold for funding anyway, but TEC informed us our data should be as accurate as possible (fair enough) and the final data extraction would happen in a month or so.  I wrote to them with the simple questions: “Do you have to reset something on the return database for me to make a new return? Can I upload a new return to be processed?”  A fairly simple question.

It took weeks to get an answer from TEC, and it basically read: “We don’t know.  Ask Ministry of Education.”

I wrote to Ministry of Education.  They wrote back that (sorry), it was a TEC matter.  They could confirm that no reset was needed, although TEC should have known that.

Back to TEC: “Can I resubmit this data?”  The answer should be a simple “Yes” or “No”.

A few more weeks go by.  The deadline approaches.  I keep trying to get an answer.

15 minutes before the cut-off time on the date a change needed to be in by, I get a response: “Yes, you can resubmit the data… as long as you do it within the next 15 minutes.”

I was at a medical appointment I had been waiting for 6 weeks for when the email came crawling in.  By the time I got the email, it was 20 minutes too late and I was at home.

Taking 4+ weeks to answer a simple yes or no question?  Not acceptable.

Yeah but No but Yeah but No but Yeah like Vicki Pollard
Last Friday, after I had left work, and email rolled in from TEC.  I read it this morning.  Basically, they’re doing a data cleanse of their data warehouse.  They wanted to know which of our components were science-based; an Excel spreadsheet, pulled from their records, was attached.  TEC marked whether or not they thought the component was science-based, with a second spreadsheet listing subjects that were science-based (in their opinion).

I open the spreadsheet to find only 2 science components listed.  After logging in to the TEC site I mentioned before (with the unchangeable city / region in it), I look up science-based components we should have: 34.

The 2 they have bothered to include on the spreadsheet have titles starting with “Anatomy and Physiology…”, but TEC have marked that they do not believe these are science-based components.  Flip to the second spreadsheet with examples of what science-based components are, and, probably the third entry down is — you guessed it — Anatomy.

Despite pretty much all tertiary educational organisations being smack-dab in final examination season, the due date to check all this information is… Wednesday.  We’re given a whole 3 days to check over what could be screeds of information for some TEOs because, hey, we’ve got nothing better to do like, oh, examine students or get them their final results, or maybe even give them their diplomas.  Why bother making sure the customers’ needs are met in a timely manner when we have endless bureaucratic returns to fill out instead?

I wrote to them today to point out the missing information, the mismatched information, and the disgustingly short-notice deadline.  According to the server, they read the message; whether or not I get a reply before the year has finished might be another story altogether.

An American Thanksgiving in New Zealand

Over the years, Noel and I haven’t really celebrated American Thanksgiving.  I mean, we did go to an American’s friend’s house for dinner a few years in a row, but we usually were too busy with work or life in general to be bothered roasting a turkey and doing all the bits and pieces.

Our idea of Thanksgiving was making a non-traditional meal like pizza or go to Burger King.  As Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday here, we also don’t get the Friday off to recover.

This year, we decided to go ahead with it.  We bought a small turkey, which we’ll have with mashed potatoes, peas, and corn, finished off by apple pie.  It’s not anything too terribly fancy, but it’s a start.

Having had what can only be described as two years from hell, full of earthquakes and upheavals, illness and injuries, changes and rebuilding, moving work several times, and Jenah’s passing, it sometimes is hard to see what there is to give thanks for.  I try to be a glass half-full kinda guy, so here are ten of the many things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.

  1. I am thankful to God for giving me all the days in my life so far and all the days to come.  He has given me the ability to love, to think rationally, to laugh, to cry, to show strength at the darkest of hours, to have all my facilities and my good health, and to enjoy life; I thank Him for this and for the talents He has given me.  He or His emissaries were watching over us in all the earthquakes, some of which were terrifyingly violent and killed others.  We were guided out of the darkness and into the light.
  2. I am thankful to my family and friends for loving me through my rough patches and happy days.  I realise I haven’t been the easiest person to be around in the last few years, bobbing between overwhelmingly passionate about some things I have no control over and underwhelmingly passive about other things I do have control over.
  3. I am thankful to Noel for standing by me through thick and thin.  His strength throughout the quakes, in stark contrast to my collapsing bravado, helped me get through it.  We make a great team, working through the quakes to relocate, renovate, and rebuild the school over several months.
  4. I am thankful to my work colleagues for circling the wagons after the quakes struck to make sure the school continued in one form or another.  Our strength as a team repelled all the naysayers and kept our students learning as best they could with the resources available.  Together, we rebuilt, and it was so wonderful to finally be back under one roof in January 2012.
  5. I am thankful for all those people who stood by the school in our darkest hours and as we rebuilt.  I am thankful for all those experts and skilled tradesmen and people (including the Prime Minister, John Key!) who helped us rebuild and recover in their own way.  It’s easier to work together as a team than to pull something down.
  6. I am thankful for the opportunities I’ve been presented in my life.  Sometimes I’m at the right place at the right time, and sometimes it’s just sheer determination and elbow grease and hard work that gets me to where I need to be.
  7. I am thankful I’m able to travel back to the US to see my friends and family once a year.  This was extremely important this year because I needed to “ground” myself again, and what better place to do it than the place where you came from?
  8. I am thankful to have such loving and wonderful pets.  I don’t know what we did to deserve them in our lives, but we try to give all the love and care we can.  Even though Jenah passed this year, I am thankful she was a part of our lives for nearly 16 years.  Had the SPCA worker not pointed her out to us that fateful day in November 1996, our paths may have never crossed, and she would have had a much shorter life.  I pray Jenah is at peace and happy now, frolicking in Heaven’s meadows with Celeste, Fay, Nyota, Midnight, Cody, and Cindy.
  9. I am thankful for Christmas trees and Christmas lights.  They cheer me up to no end, and I can sit there and stare at them in wonder for hours.
  10. I am thankful I live in a wonderful country with strong safety nets to rescue those people worse off than us.  Kiwis are wonderfully friendly, open-minded, tolerant people, and, while the country has its problems, New Zealand is a pretty good place to live.

If you celebrate Thanksgiving where you live, I hope you and your loved ones enjoy your special day together.  Use it to think back on all the blessings you had in the last year, to reflect on what went right, to thank whatever deity you believe in, and to marvel in the special bonds we all form in this funny old thing called life.

Kia ora / be well from Aotearoa New Zealand.

A Pause in Transmission

The blog importing is going well, so if you’d like to read some of my earlier works during this pause in transmission, here are the blogs that have been transfered over so far:

September 2006

December 2006

January 2007

February 2007

March 2007

April 2007

June 2007

July 2007

August 2007

Enjoy!

Jenah

Fuelled by emotions the revelations in Vanessa’s haunting blog post today entitled “Imagine that there is a war” evoked in me today, I think it’s time I publicly talk about Jenah.  For those of you not in the know, Jenah was a beautiful German Shepherd / Huntaway cross Noel and I adopted from the Canterbury SPCA in November 1996.  Actually, I think we adopted her 16 years ago almost to the day.

Jenah
The best ever picture of Jenah

Jenah passed away on 5 March 2012, nearly 16 years old.  She was mostly deaf and one of her eyes had somehow slightly split and would deflate every other day (before re-inflating), and the final straw came when her other eye did the same thing.  It was heartbreaking to have to put her to sleep.  We made the right decision but it was still heartbreaking nonetheless.

I cannot put into words the absolute heart-wrenching grief I still feel about her death to this day.  Her death has impacted me very deeply, and her absence in our lives has left a gaping hole in what feels like my dry husk of a body.

The words, “you gave her a good life” and “she was loved” and “she’s no longer in pain” and “she lived longer than most dogs like her did”, are very much appreciated but ring hollow in my head.  Because she’s not here, and never will be again.

Jenah
Jenah in 2008

But there were happier times.  And her memory lives on.  I can think of 101 stories to tell you about her.  The time we found her stealing toast off a plate on the coffee table.  Or when we came home to find she’d dug up anything she could find in the back yard, only to arrange it in a circle around her with that stupid satisfied grin on her face.  And then there’s the morning Noel and I looked outside to see her running around in circles on top of the pool cover.

I guess the best way I ever described her was in our entry for the Hill’s Special Diet “Second Chance for Love” competition back in 2009.  It ended up I arranged the words in the right way to win first prize.  The Web site sadly no longer exists, and I can’t seem to find the original computer file (I think I lost it in the February quake, sadly), but there was a shortened version of my story in Pet magazine.

Luckily, Way Back Machine has a copy of the winning entry cached for all time.  I wish I could put more words to the screen and describe her perfectly to you, but her loss is still too raw for me to handle.

So, instead, I give you the winning entry: “Jenah”.

Noel and I wanted to adopt a dog a few months after I arrived in New Zealand. He’d never had a dog as a pet before, and I convinced him the SPCA would be a good start to find one. I didn’t have a lot of friends, and it would be great to have a fur friend at least.

We saw a handful of big dogs and small dogs, long-haired and short-haired dogs, when our eyes fell on a small walnut-coloured dog. Noel asked a friendly SPCA worker if we could walk that dog, and she said yes. “But what about this dog?” She led us over to a kennel where we hadn’t seen a dog before. There, peeking around the corner, her beautiful brown (but sorrow-filled) eyes staring back at us, was meek and mild Jenah.

Jenah
Jenah and her big brown eyes

After taking both dogs for a walk, we chose Jenah for her very demure and loving nature. The SPCA representatives said we had a two-week trial, just in case, but I knew in my heart she was the dog for us. Noel and I went out right afterwards and picked out dog toys, beds, everything a lovely dog would need to be happy.

That afternoon, Noel and I sat on the back steps of our house while Jenah checked out her new back yard. Noel still wasn’t sure about a dog, and no sooner had the words left his mouth, Jenah trotted up, wrapped her paws around his neck and kissed him a few times before cuddling him. He looked at me, tears in his eyes, because she’d said thank you.

We’ve had Jenah now for a little over 12 years. She’s been our protector, our loyal friend, our cheeky girl, our duck-loving fur baby, and everything in between. There’s an intelligent sparkle in her eyes, and she still picks up new words every day. We love her as much as we’d love a child, and we often forget she’s a dog!

We were led to believe she’d been beaten as a puppy (we got her at 6 months old), and it took us a long while to convince her all people were not bad. Noel took a long while to show her belts don’t hurt dogs, newspapers don’t roll themselves up and hit dogs, and hands are for petting, not for hurting. It took years, but it worked. No dog, pet, child or human deserves to be treated like that.

When we cry, she consoles us. When we laugh, she smiles. When we’re sick, she cuddles with us. When we have good times, she’s by our sides.

She welcomes everyone who comes to our house, whether she knows them or not, a big smile on her face, her tail wagging eagerly, and a bit of a cuddle after they sit down. (Well, either that or her toy duck gets planted in their lap!)

We’ve given her the nickname of “Toast Monster” for her almost-obscene love of toast.

Jenah
Jenah “saying please” for (you guessed it) toast…

When she joined our family, she was near the time where she might have been put down, so in a way, we saved her. But in many other ways, she saved us too.

We couldn’t ask for a better companion in our lives than Jenah. She’s added a dimension of richness, wonderful stories, and love to our lives. And for that, we will always be grateful to her and the SPCA.

Jenah
Jenah : 1 June 1996 – 5 March 2012

Importing Old Blog Posts

Years ago, before earthquakes, and injuries from earthquakes, and nearly losing our school due to earthquakes, I wrote a blog on MySpace.  For a while there, I think I wrote it quite faithfully.  My inspiration was my partner Noel, who wrote his own blog quite a bit, and several other people, including Cat Zen Space and Jules (the latter of whom we’ve sadly lost contact with).  These other bloggers (even some of the bloggers I subscribe to on WordPress) are amazingly talented people, and I sometimes (well, nearly always) feel my words are not as strong or pointed or illustrative as mine can be at times.  I see an idea in my head like a vivid picture, but I grow frustrated at trying to get that idea onto paper, or a computer screen, or tumbling out of my mouth.  Somewhere, between the mind and the fingers or mouth, there’s a disconnect.

I eluded to currently going through a difficult patch in my life in my last blog, and maybe one day I’ll have the courage and strength to talk about it.  Part of me thinks I’m coping with a form of post traumatic stress from the quakes and everything that bubbled up to the surface as a result (not only liquefaction).  The last 2 years and a bit have been a roller coaster ride of life’s ups and downs, and I’m hoping the ride has stopped, and I’m able to not feel so nauseous once my head starts spinning.  Maybe looking back on the ride after a few more years have passed will make it appear more enjoyable or even palatable.

So, instead of forcing myself to write, I’ve been importing my old MySpace blogs into WordPress so I have at least some small sense of accomplishment.  A few years ago, Noel had deleted his MySpace blog, contented with the fact that he had printed all of the entries out before he did that.  Unfortunately, those entries were in our old work building that was severely damaged and red-stickered after the June 2011 quakes.  (We did get inside to pull out super-necessary things, like servers and records, but everything else, including Noel’s years of blog entries, were lost.)  I honestly feel sorry for him, and maybe, somehow we’ll be able to recover some of his blogs another way (Way Back Machine, for example).

MySpace doesn’t have an automatic export function.  No, according to some sources on the Web, they didn’t like the idea of people being able to take their blogs elsewhere, so they shut the whole exporting service down.  Nice.

So, I subjected my poor Facebook friends to a barrage of over twenty updates, saying I was uploading new blogs on WordPress.  On Sunday, my Mom and I were talking, and one of the first things she said was, “Your updates were going crazy!”  So, to those people inconvenienced by my transferring of blogs, I do apologise.

Eventually, I will get them all done, just like I will be able to write blog entries easier again.

Thanks for sticking by me and thanks for reading!  Hopefully, I’ll have a more cohesive blog soon.