Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Earlier today I managed to confuse Marianne Rosenberg and Mireille Mathieu in my now slightly easier than it had been to confuse so-called mind. So let's get this straight.
Mireille Mathieu is French, but she does sing some nice songs in German. Music is a difficult trade, and one follows the money. Have some fun some time and search "ABBA German." Or "ABBA French" for that matter. Those are some very nice versions, and I'm certain that they brought in an extra couple of bucks.
While I am not a fan of French music in general, there are some gems in there. And not like just like Ute Lemper or something, she's a nice German woman who sings in French occasionally, for the variety of it.
Mireille Matheiu's got a great voice, and this is a very nice song. We're all familiar with the English version, so you'll all recognize the melody.
Monday, May 21, 2018
Another marriage between an officially-in-line-to-the-throne Royal Prince of England and an American divorcee is in the news this week. It won't be quite the splash that his uncle the Crown Prince Edward and the American divorcee Wallis Simpson made back in the 1930s, but splash it will. Why this should be true is a question for the ages.
The English hold a dark fascination for some Americans, and probably for many of their former colonials in far flung Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as well. Not to mention the various coffee-colored former English colonials all around the world. I say that will love and a touch of sarcasm, directed at the English, and not my fellow ex-colonials. Some of them are probably fascinated as well. “The English,” I hesitate even to even type the word anymore, because the line between the English and the British and mere “citizens of the United Kingdom” is so nebulous these days, important, evidently, only to fans of Brexit and football. Who were the English anyway, and are there any left in the world at this point?
They were the big show there for a while. It's quite an interesting story, because upon examination it turns out that the English came on the scene fairly late in “British” history, and left fairly early. The Romans quietly took over the more accessible parts of the British Isles in the first century, A.D., and what they found there was a variety of waring Celtic tribes. Didn't they call it, “Britannia?” The parts that the Romans took over look suspiciously like “England” when drawn on a map. The parts that the Romans didn't bother with remained in the hands of some of the Celtic peoples, the Welsh, the Scots, and the Irish. The Romans left their Brits speaking a very Latinized version of whatever they had been speaking before the Romans arrived.
The Romans finally abandoned the place at some point, and the void was quickly filed by some Germans. The Angles and the Saxons, two big tribes who had somehow discovered that the weather was slightly better on the largest British Isle. They brought their language and grafted it onto the existing Latinized mess, and the result was Olde English, which you and I would be hard pressed to make heads or tails of. This was in the days of King Arthur and the Round Table, a semi-mythical time that is also known as the “Dark Ages.”
This went on for only a few hundred years before another group of continentals became covetous of the English weather and farmland. That was the Normans, who were, first and foremost, French, but had originally been some kind of Vikings, “Northmen.” Europe was in a state of some flux there for one or two thousand years.
That was 1066 A.D., the title of a great book by W.C. Seller and R.J. Yeatman, “1066 and All That.” Look it up! It's still on Amazon. The Normans took over all of the Anglo-Saxon parts of the island, and Celtic Wales as well, and even some parts of Ireland, and they stayed for a long time. In fact, they're still there. The Normans spoke French, and that turns out to have been a great bit of luck for the entire world. With the Normans firmly in charge, all governing and record keeping was done in French, and over time the French language crowded out most of the Olde English. This is why we still refer to many legal documents with two words, like, “Final Will and Testament.” The “will” part is the Germanic word; the “testament” part is the French word.
In 1066, if you had landed somehow anywhere in England, you wouldn't have understood a word that anyone said to you, and you would hardly have been able to read a word that anyone wrote down. By 1600 A.D., you would be able to converse with anyone and we had the King James Bible and the works of William Shakespeare, which most people can still read. Go ahead and take a moment, you can thanks the French for that.
So really, the English themselves only came to the island in about the year 500 A.D., and they had been thoroughly taken over and supplanted by about 1100 A.D. They still get an awful lot of credit for what followed, and I'm not sure that they deserve much of that credit at all.
Now our Prince Harry is married to the American divorcee, Meghan Markle, and I certainly wish them the best of luck. The family as a whole seem like a bunch of cold fish, including big brother William, who is, after all, being groomed for the throne. One day he'll be the owner and keeper of all of the swans on the upper Thames and all of the sturgeon in the English Channel! And, lest we forget, the magisterial ruler of the Isles of Mann and White. Responsibility like that sobers a person. Harry, to his credit, actually seems to have some blood running in his veins, and red blood at that. He seems to have a human personality, God bless him. If this were a fairy tale, and I were the aging king, I might give our Harry the golden ring and hand him the crown. He seems to have the common touch; he gets along with the full range of income demographics; and he certainly didn't shirk his nobless oblige duty to do military service at the tip of the spear. Good for Harry! Yeah, I'd hand him the prize.
But let's just say “good luck! Pip-pip! Cheerio! Long life and happiness!” Harry and Meghan, go forth and multiply! I'll bet that our Harry is quite happy to be as removed from the throne as he is.
It's a lot of work, after all, being the king, or even being close to the job, so his life will be much easier at some remove from the throne. And the Royal Family has enough income to go around, so Harry's yearly share of the take will still be a prince's ransom. (Yes, I just said that.) His children will have titles and incomes of their own. This could be a story with a very happy ending.
Or he could end up disgraced somehow like his uncle Edward, making appearances on the modern equivalent of the Merv Griffin Show, wearing the most beautiful custom made suits in the world and being the first person in fashion-conscious New York City to wear tinted aviator glasses while not flying an airplane. That's not Harry's style, though. He'd more likely show up getting high with snowboarders in Aspen. We'll have to wait and see how that all turns out.
Honestly, the entire race rose and fell without my input, so I expect that they will continue to do fine without my help. Or not, upon reflection, since the entire enterprise seems to be on the verge of falling apart. I suppose that I do wish them well, because there are many people in the English part of the British Isles with whom I could trace back common ancestors very easily. Hail and fair well, Ceely cousins! As comedic as your situation often strikes me, it's nothing personal. May you be among the lucky ones in this time of trouble.
There's only one comment required for this cartoon, beyond that it was and is a wonderful statement of what makes America great. Or what made America great, anyway.
The narrator mentions repeatedly that America was made great by "cooperation between capital, management, and labor." It's very sad to note that that kind of cooperation is no longer visible in American society, nor possible in today's political climate. Nor is it likely to return in the foreseeable future.
That, my dears, is sad.
Friday, May 18, 2018
Thai is a continuous language, which means that every sentence consists of all of its component words pressed right up against one another with no spaces in between. There are two spaces between sentences. Thais seem to favor long sentences, so a paragraph presents a huge block of almost all letters with very few spaces. This works better than you would imagine, at least for native speakers.
There is a big controversy going on now about the optimal number of spaces after a period in an English paragraph. The arguments between those who favor using only one space, and those who would prefer to use two spaces, are really quite furious, with a considerable amount of name calling on both sides. So let's agree that the idea of spaces in general is worthy of our consideration.
No less a light than Benjamin Franklin weighed in on the subject. I read one time, and it just might be true, that he suggested that English, too, should give up the spaces between words. He was a printer, after all, and he would appreciate the economy of it. That, by the way, is also the big argument of the “one space” crowd: it saves paper.
Not separating words with spaces is not as foolish as it sounds. If you have a good enough vocabulary to know all of the words in the piece, your brain can find them with very little trouble. Watch what happens when I render a long sentence without spaces or punctuation (have I mentioned that Thai has no capital letters, and no punctuation, either?):
Microsoft Word treats the sentences as though there were one word, so I could not accurately recreate the effect of a Thai paragraph. And note that Thai books arranged on the page so that words are not broken up between two lines, i.e., they are carried over in one piece to the next line. But you get the idea. It might take you a bit of effort to get used to it, but after a few days you'd be reading fine. Like the Thais do. They get along fine without spaces between every word.
It's time for my standard disclaimer about foreigners in Thailand: I did not come to Thailand to give the Thai people advice! Thai style in all of its manifestations is just fine with me! I am here to learn from you, my wonderful Thai friends, not to bother you all the time with suggestions!
And please note, I am not in any way suggesting that Thais give up their own alphabet. No, don't change that! King Ramkhamhaeng gave us that alphabet, and it's a good one. When I started learning Thai I was just grateful that there was an alphabet. The real nightmare is having to learn five-thousand pictograms in order to read Chinese. Thank God that Thai has an alphabet! It's a good one, too. In some ways it's better than the ABCs. There are only twenty six letter in the Roman alphabet, and it isn't enough. There are more sounds than that. Think of the vowels, there are only five (or six) vowels in English. So this “A,” what sound does it make? There are a few alternatives there. Thai has forty-four consonants, and another twenty-two or so vowels. (No one is really sure about the number of vowels in Thai.) So there are letters to go with almost any sound that you can think of. And you can learn the Thai alphabet without too much trouble. About six weeks should do it, working at it every day with a pencil in your hand, some paper on the table, and a neighborhood teenager to help you with pronunciation. That's how it went for me, anyway.
But maybe spaces are worth considering. The one space versus two after a period argument had taken place mostly in the abstract, but recently academics at a few institutions have been applying the scientific method to the problem. They are discovering that having two spaces after every period has advantages for reading speed and comprehension. The brain can more easily see the end of the sentence coming. I myself prefer the two space method, but I think that owes mainly to the fact that as an adult I took a three credit course called “Secretarial 101.” That was in the days of the IBM Selectric typewriter, before computers. We learned to type, sure, but we also learned a great deal about formatting business documents. Two spaces after a period, period. There was no doubt in our teacher's mind. By now I only use one space, but that's only because I hate to get yelled at. The one space people are more aggressive and prone to ad hominem attacks.
If two spaces after a period can assist in reading speed and comprehension in English, maybe putting spaces in between Thai words could assist Thai readers as well.
I can guarantee you that it would assist foreigners who are learning to read Thai. When I read Thai, the first thing that I do is go through the text with a pencil and mark the spaces between the words as best I can. My demarcation is never entirely accurate, because there are complications.
Most Thai words are either monosyllabic, that is, they consist of one syllable, or they are compound words consisting of more than one monosyllabic word. There are a vastly greater number of monosyllabic words than there are syllables, because of the available tones. There are five tones in Thai, with long and short versions of each. That's ten right there, and it gets even worse. There are at least fourteen words made from the syllable “kaow.” If you know the Thai alphabet, and the tone markers, and a handful of rules, you can correctly pronounce any Thai word on the page. Almost any word, anyway. The problem is that when you are looking at the unbroken strings of words on the page, what you are really looking at are unbroken strings of syllables. If you are Thai, and you have a good vocabulary, the words still kind of jump out at you. The learner is not so lucky.
Take the following word for example:
This is the Thai word, “mai-mee-crai,” meaning “nobody.” The first time that I came across this word while reading, I put my pencil marks in between the mai, the mee, and the crai, because each of those syllables was a word that I recognized.
Mai is the designator for the negative, like our no, or not, etc.
Mee means to have, to have something.
Crai is the question word for who.
So I'm looking at this sentence trying to figure out how to fit “no have who” into the meaning of it. It took a minute for context to inform me that it meant nobody. Having the word “mai-mee-crai” set off by spaces would have helped me enormously.
Just for fun, let's assume that the spaces in between words would be totally superfluous for Thai people reading newspapers, or for any kind of casual reading at all. They know all of the words, they have time to spare, they're accustomed to reading that way, God bless them. But please allow me to suggest that in more stressful and demanding reading situations the spaces might come in handy.
Consider the reading that becomes necessary in academic and professional situations. The volume of material that must be examined can grow to impossible proportions. Notice that I used the term, “examined.” Many times, for lawyers, or doctors, or other professionals, there is just too much to actually read, word for word. There are not enough hours in the day to read everything that is contained in those seventy-five boxes. But you must be able to find the good stuff, by whatever means necessary. At law school, they knew that this situation was coming for all of us, so they intentionally assigned so much reading that we could not possibly read all of it. They wanted us to learn to go fast. You do this by scanning, or by skimming. “Scanning” is where you look over each paragraph trying to spot certain key-words that are known to you. “Skimming” is when you look at the material paragraph by paragraph trying to quickly establish whether that entire page is worthy of an additional expenditure of time. Both scanning and skimming would be slowed down to a crawl by paragraphs that had no spaces between the words. At that point, the practice of continuous writing becomes unsustainable.
Putting spaces in between Thai words would not be so great a change, all things considered. Look at the ways in which the countries surrounding Thailand have modified their reading habits over time. Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines all had alphabets that were similar to the Thai. All were derived from models imported from India, and were lost in the colonial period. Thailand was very lucky to have escaped the yoke of colonialism. I'm just saying that those alphabets were lost without too much inconvenience for the Malays, the Sumatrans, or the Filipinos. And how about those Communists up in Lao? They mercilessly streamlined the Lao alphabet. They not only got rid of all of the duplication, they got rid of the raw-rua entirely! No more “R” sound! People didn't use it anyway! Languages change over time, and usually the goal is to simplify things. If you asked Vietnamese people on the street how they felt about their current use of a modified Roman alphabet, I'm sure that it would take them a minute to figure out what you meant. Then, I'm sure, no one would say that it would be better to go back to the various systems of trying to render Vietnamese words in Chinese characters that were used over the centuries. The alphabet is working just fine, thanks.
Yes, all languages change over time, with the goal of simplicity. I'd almost bet that within one hundred years American English will consist entirely of emojis.
Thursday, May 17, 2018
My so-called career in the law began in 1988, with the first three years consisting of law school (with one summer interning at a public interest outfit and one year clerking for a family law office). I actually enjoyed law school, although it was rather stressful. They keep you under considerable pressure to prepare you for the work that is to follow.
I passed the California Bar Exam on my first try and then practiced law in Los Angeles for the next twelve years. I worked for two law offices as a law clerk, and two others as an associate, but most of the time I was a solo practitioner.
For the first two years on my own I made court appearances for other lawyers. I knew a couple of lawyers who paid others to appear for them, and I called all of my contacts to develop a list. There was enough work to keep me busy, and with the overhead low it was paying the bills. I spent that time getting my feet wet and learning the business. After two years I felt like it was time to get an office and find my own clients.
The solo practice was a lot of work. It's much more important to be a good businessman than to be a good lawyer. You need to put butts in the seats without going broke doing it. That can be a real trick. Having incurred serious overhead, I had to continue to make some appearances for others. I implemented a marketing plan, which included direct mail and print ads.
I started spending good money every month, doing the work on the direct mail part of it my myself. I was working about sixty hours a week. It brought in a considerable amount of paying work, but the overhead was frightful. When my accountant did my taxes for that year, I ended up with a net income of $36.00 (thirty-six dollars). That was for the year. It must qualify as the lowest hourly earnings of all time.
But let's get to the hump part. Over the course of a few years, I dropped the direct mail as too expensive and refined my approach to print advertising. The trick there, as everywhere, is to keep the expenses as low as possible while generating enough calls. I realized that there were niches in the cultural landscape of Los Angeles that had their own book stores and newspapers. I focused on the two biggest examples: homosexuals and Christians. Both groups had multiple bookstores dedicated to their particular clientele, and there were multiple free newspapers available at each location. I started advertising in them all. Small column ads were almost free, $12 or so. In this way I kept the overhead manageable and began to make a living. I say, “a living,” what I really mean is that I was bringing home about the same as a decent apprentice plumber with a union card. Okay, we live and we learn, at least the graphs were trending upward.
Here's where I got to the hump. I was still “solo” in every sense of the word. I did everything myself. I made all of the appearances; I prepared all the documents; I kept all of the records; I answered the phone; I managed the marketing scheme; I paid all of the bills; I maintained the computer with its precious specialized programs; and I tried to get around a bit to schmooze other attorneys for ideas and referrals. I was still working about sixty hours per week, and the hourly pay computation was not encouraging. That, and the stress was killing me.
Sitting down with pencil and paper, I worked out what it would take to get a secretary for the office. Even a barely qualified secretary would require a salary about the same as what I was taking home. A real legal secretary would require a lot more. Even a real paralegal would take a bigger bite. So in terms of the rough math, let's say that I was billing about $75,000 per year, with overhead of about $40,000. In order to support an increase in the overhead to $80,000 (doubling the overhead), I would need to at least double the billings to $150,000. That would take more marketing, and more rent for the secretary's work space, and the Social Security etc. for the employee, so let's figure the billings would need to climb to about $200,000. In all that, I'd be lucky to increase my income by enough to justify the extra stress and effort.
The difficulties of getting over this hump were vast, and success was uncertain. The alternative was to continue licking every stamp myself and killing myself for a smallish salary. At that point, I asked around and got myself hired by a small insurance defense firm as an associate. My overhead disappeared, and my salary went up considerably. The hours per week stayed about the same.
This is, of course, the Disney version of the whole enterprise. Within a few years my wife (at the time) approached me with the idea of joining the Peace Corps to get off of the hamster wheel for a couple of years. We were accepted into that noble program, and we were assigned to a small agricultural province in a remote corner of Thailand. I've never gone back to the rat-race. After the Peace Corps I ended up returning to Thailand, and I'm still here. I have been teaching law and legal English at a big Thai university for over ten years by now, and I guess that I should stop complaining about my decision to go to law school, because that law degree did facilitate the great luck of getting my present job.
As for any young people who may be thinking of a career in the law, just be careful. It's not like it appears on TV. I have known quite a few lawyers who were very successful. Those men and women made millions of dollars in most years and supported large offices. I have also knows quite a few for whom the necessary aggression, bravado, and stress-management were not a good fit. That group generally fails to thrive in the law, or hangs on by it's fingernails because the alternatives seem even less comfortable. I know lawyers who drive Uber at night. Most lawyers are in the middle somewhere. They soldier away at it year after year, become accustomed to the stress and learn to tolerate it, and they find a way to put the mask on and off quickly so that they can have a normal family life and some friends. Bear in mind that that large group in the middle earns about as much as a licensed union plumber. There are only a few lawyers cashing those million dollar checks, and most of them seem to be on TV.
But who knows? If being a lawyer is your dream, go for it. Keep the student loans as low as you can manage, and don't expect anything to be easy. There are people still making a go of it. Maybe you'll be one of the lucky ones.
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
This beast calls itself a Kawasaki z900 RS. That is a vast hunk of motorcycle here in Thailand, where anything over about 175 cc is considered a “big bike.”
Isn't it a beauty? We used to call a bike like this a “general purpose” model. It's nimble enough in traffic to use as a daily-rider; it's comfortable enough that you can ride it all four hundred miles north to San Francisco in one day; the riding position is back and low enough that you could race it at Laguna Seca; you could probably even ride it across the occasional open field if the situation called for it. General purpose. Those bullet bikes can get pretty uncomfortable in traffic, or after a few hundred miles of mostly highway.
You don't need all of those Ninja body panels and the super-low riding position under about 120 mph anyway. This bike has nice flat bars and rear-set foot pegs, but not low enough to hurt your feelings.
How fast would it be? People used to ask me that about my Yamaha 650 Seca, which was a similarly laid out general purpose bike. My answer was always, “I don't know.” I had had it up to 100 mph a few times, and that was fast enough for me. Regarding acceleration, this Kawi would have what I call, “the speed of thought.” If you're going forty, and your mind forms the thought, “go seventy-five,” bang! You're there. Zero to fifty or sixty would only be a negligible few seconds, and the acceleration would practically throw you off the back of the bike.
Man, if I were thirty years younger, I'd buy one of these. Oh, and I'd have to be back living in California. There's no place over here to ride a bike like this. But it's a beauty, that's for sure. If I owned one, I'd drain the fluids and park it in my living room.