Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Happy New Year

This is my New Year’s greeting to my gentle readers. It is teary-eyed and heartfelt; a sincere wish for a Happy New Year for all.

“All,” just what “all” is Mr. Fred referring to? As my children were growing up I went through an interesting process. I was naturally impressed with the importance of my own children, and I loved them very much. Their happiness was very important to me. As time progressed, this circle of love and concern grew to include their little neighborhood friends, then their schoolmates, then all of the Los Angeles Unified School District, and then all of the children of the world. Then, at some point, I understood that adults don’t automatically become hateful at some point, they belong in the circle of love too, all of them. (With minor exceptions, I’m no saint after all.)

So, in my own way, my own overly-sentimental, depressed, naïve, benighted, semi-delusional way, I love you all, and I wish you all a Happy New Year, with many happy returns.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hamas Rockets And Israeli Public Relations

Hamas fires some of those Rube Goldberg, homemade stovepipe rockets into Israel and Israel responds. Israel must respond, I get that, but consider this:

The Hamas rockets are merely ballistic, they cannot be aimed. Usually they land almost unseen out in some field somewhere. It takes a lot of rockets to eventually kill one Israeli (or, in one instance today, to kill a Palestinian construction worker at an Israeli building site, talk about the wrong place at the wrong time). So do you think Hamas is really trying to: 1) kill Israelis; 2) make a symbolic display; or 3) evoke a violent Israeli response?

My money is on number 3.

It is an amazement to me that Israel performs according to the Hamas script. Every TV in the world springs to vigorous life with images of unfortunate, blown-up Gazans and heroic Palestinian rescue workers. Citizens in a dozen countries, who already hate the Jewish plantation, fill the streets in protest of Israeli “atrocities.” Many countries make statements unilaterally, and the UN joins in, suggesting that both parties cease hostile fire immediately. Never mentioned is who fired first, which makes the statements a tacit condemnation of Israel, whose firepower is thousands of times greater than that of Hamas. The predictable result is obloquy for Israel and another public relations victory for Hamas.

A better idea would be for Israel to hold their fire and go on a public relations offensive of their own. News footage of rockets being fired; rockets exploding; damaged buildings in Israel; wounded and dead Israelis; heroic Israeli rescue workers; surveillance photos of Gazan fighters transporting and firing rockets; Israeli diplomats making every effort to stop the rocket fire by talking with Hamas politicians. If this occurs to me, it is occurring to others as well. Maybe it’ll happen next time.

Hamas is cynically sacrificing the lives of its citizens for discrete propaganda victories in their struggle to drive all Israelis out of “Palestine,” and back to wherever it is that they believe the Jews should go. Oklahoma maybe, who knows? I don’t think they’ve really thought it all the way through. Maybe they want to just kill all the Israelis. Some of them do, I’ll bet.

I agree that thinking something like this all the way through is quite a challenge.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

FUBAR, No Doubt About It

I liked that movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” but I was pretty sure that they made up the term FUBAR for the movie. (“Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition”) No, it so happens that the term was coined in 1942 in North Africa by American soldiers as part of a new, acronymic vocabulary to describe the new situations in which they found themselves.

It started with “SNAFU,” of course. (“Situation Normal, All Fucked Up”) It went on to include not only FUBAR, but also:

SUSFU: “Situation Unchanged, Still Fucked UP”

SAFU: “Self-Adjusting Fuck-Up”

TARFU: “Things Are Really Fucked Up”

FUMTU: “Fucked Up More Than Usual”

JANFU: “Joint Army-Navy Fuck-Up”

JAAFU: “Joint Anglo-American Fuck-Up”

FUAFUP: “Fucked Up And Fucked Up Proper”

The citizen-soldiers were in fact mocking the acronym-mad culture of the military in general, where “Command, Submarine, Pacific,” was reduced to COMSUBPAC. That’s my opinion anyway, even though I don’t think COMSUBPAC is technically an acronym.

Source: “The Day of Battle,” by Rick Atkinson, page 36.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Thai-Light-Zone: The Tiger Temple


As the story goes, someone long ago left a sick tiger cub with these monks out in Kachanaburi or Tak somewhere in the west end of Thailand, near Burma. Then the whole thing got out of control. More people brought more tigers; the tigers did what came naturally. They've got like thirty tigers now. The temple is near the River Kwai, what Farang call the River Kwai, the real name of the river is different, it escapes me right now, maybe the Mae Klong. (Kwai means "side channel")
I'll leave it to you to look up the whole story. I read it on Huffington Post, I'm sure googling "tiger monk thailand" would do it. There's lots more pictures.

The Right Background

I have been lucky enough to be thin most of my adult life. Twenties, thirties, early forties, sometimes dangerously thin. It makes dressing easier, that’s for sure, everything looked good on me. It’s a big advantage socially as well; it’s definitely not cool to be heavy, much less fat. Women like it too. It’s a good situation all around.

When I was in my twenties it was simple: I preferred drugs to food. I had spent good money on those drugs and eating much of anything would diminish the effect. That or make me nauseous. Certain drugs themselves will send eating right to the bottom of the to do list. Also like most young people I was very busy. I was out with my friends most nights and we stayed out pretty late. Staying thin was effortless, I never even thought about it.

When I was thirty one or thirty two my family responsibilities finally made an impression on me. I realized that I had a nice wife, two small sons, a house in Los Angeles, various vehicles . . . I wasn’t even completely sure where it had all come from. It was real nice, though, so I figured, what the hell, swing with it. So I became really busy with domestic stuff, working, fixing the house, taking “family vacations” (read: working vacations chasing around national parks with my two sons), building skateboard ramps and castles for action figures, and cleaning up after youngsters. Luckily, or perhaps unsurprisingly, I found that I could still eat whatever I wanted. I had ice cream every night, big dinners, barbeques every weekend, and I never gained a pound. I didn’t grow out of one article of clothes until I was about forty three. Soon after that come the jowls and your metabolism just falls down off the scale. I remember the first time that I ran up the stairs and felt my cheeks moving up and down. That was over ten years ago; by now I am officially paunchy. Not fat, mind you, but definitely paunchy.

Well, sometimes I do look fat. I have discovered that it is all a matter of where I stand. If I stand with a bunch of skinny twenty something’s I look pretty fat. They’re nice about it, but it makes me nostalgic for the days when it was my turn to be thin. Then I was thin wherever I stood, now I have to be careful. There came a eureka moment: if I stand near some really, really fat people I still look thin! I had a couple of days recently relaxing on an island in the Gulf of Siam. Not one of the high powered resort islands, just a low key beach island, all low rise, not too expensive. About half of the tourists were Thai; the other half seemed to all be from Europe, especially France. Everyone over forty was fat with almost no exceptions. Mostly very fat, like how can his knees take that pressure fat, like man, his shoes are going to burst fat, like she has to wear a bikini because they don’t make one piece bathing suits to cover that gut fat, like Bill Bennett fat, like how do these people find time to do anything but eat fat. Against this background I was absolutely svelte. See? It all depends on the background.

Something like that happens in Thailand, and unfortunately it is not a pleasant effect for most Thai women. Like whether or not one is fat depends on the background, whether or not one is attractive works the same way. If a woman wishes to appear very attractive she should go out with girlfriends who are less attractive than she. Conversely, if a very pretty woman is seen against a background of fabulously beautiful women she will appear plain. It’s all a trick of the perspective but, like all mathematics, it operates with a cruel certainty.

Because of this phenomenon many if not most Thai women discount their own looks. Thai women as a group are the most beautiful women in the world, beautiful smiles, lavish lips, great hair, coy sparkling eyes, and girlish figures well into old age, gracious and graceful as all get out. Everywhere I go in Thailand there are numerous beautiful Thai women there. But even in Thailand it is not every single one of the women who can be fabulously, achingly, dizzyingly beautiful.

So the trouble is that wherever a merely very pretty Thai woman goes there are almost certainly fabulously beautiful women there. This is always a points off situation for the pretty woman. Stand that pretty woman in a California supermarket and she’s a real attention getter, do it day after day and she will start to feel pretty. At the market in her own city, however, she is usually outclassed by one or more really startling beauties. Day after day she is made to feel plain. Although the merely very pretty woman is still very pretty, the background causes her looks to lose impact, and inevitably causes her to feel less attractive than she really is.

Thai women as a group are very modest to begin with. “Oh, I am not beautiful.” Sorry, honey, but you should face the facts. Local fashion in Thailand is involved too. “Oh, my skin is black.” Honey, that’s just a beautiful shade of copper you’ve got going there, and it’s working. Some of this modesty is cultural and it is part of the charm of Thai women. But there’s something I’d like to say to all of the Thai women who find their beauty overshadowed by some neighbors or friends. Please listen to the voice of one who knows, the valuable advice of one who is well traveled and has been a close and appreciative observer of the miracle of women in a huge variety of settings. Look at yourself! Be objective! Standing alone without reference to anything or anyone else you are a treasure! Look! Be reasonable! See yourself as others see you! Cultural modesty aside, you’re a real looker baby.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Visitation

Over the parapet beyond the swimming pool this morning burst a magnificent male Common Koel, the huge, muscular Coo-Coo, the “Nok Gao Wow,” my favorite bird. He went straight up, wings, tail, every feather fully extended; then he went away from the building and swung around to his right, made a little circle, and flew off to the left with purposeful thrusts. I’m sure he was flying to a large area of open ground to the south of my condo, to feed.

He was like a huge, muscular pigeon with a larger head and a parrot-like beak. His large, fully spread tail feathers were light grey underneath and darker above, the bird himself was dark, mottled grey. His head was almost black, including the beak.

I love these birds. They are so polite: roosters start their racket just before dawn and raise holy hell for two hours; the Koels only start whistling much later and rather more musically. It is fascinating to think that they, like all coo-coos, lay their eggs in the nest of other birds. It is a little horrible to think of them using their powerful beaks and, what, talons? claws? to set upon and pull apart small mammals and lizards in preparation of eating them semi-alive. “Giant pigeons camouflaged for night-fighting,” I called them once.

It was a nice show.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

You Are Dumb Dot Net

I just laughed my way through another youaredumb.net blog and noticed the read-count. Very low, I thought, how could I know about this great blog and it's only a (relative) few of us reading it?

This stuff is hysterical, and I heartily recommend it.

Risk Allocation, Service Provider Style

A slightly nutsy senior-citizenish man came into my shared office yesterday and he looked glad to see me. He produced some paperwork and introduced himself as some kind of fixer in Phuket, a local guy with connections who helped Farang dealing with property purchases or settling accidents or police trouble. He said he needed a translation of a Power of Attorney, he produced a very simple one in Thai and his attempt at a translation. It was typically cupped, rolled and dog-eared. It was also vague, ambiguous and inadequate. I told him sure, I can help you. Come back tomorrow morning, I’ll take a look around and get some good language to start with.

I pulled a Connecticut Statutory Power of Attorney off the internet and made a list of questions for the guy and I was ready to go. That took six minutes all together. He came in and I satisfied myself that I knew just what he needed, something that would look good to officials, give him the power that he needed and no more and, more importantly, something that would assure his Farang clients that he couldn’t take the power and use it to go clean them out. A Power of Attorney is always an exercise in trust, but it shouldn’t be too much trust. I hadn’t written it yet, but it was a nice document in my mind, and I’d done a good job.

So I told him that I could give him something very nice looking and very effective, on CD and with enough hard copies to use as originals, for 1,000 Baht (about thirty dollars). He was horrified. “You want to charge me?” he gasped. I told him, “well, I’m working after all.” He said he could just go and copy something out of a textbook, he didn’t need to pay for it. I quietly noted that it wasn’t his first choice though.

“Go ahead,” I smiled, “and good luck.” I ushered him out the door. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

Always get the money first. I learned that one the hard way. “If they’re serious about paying you,” said my astute friend Maynard, “they’ll give you the money.”

The guy would have been better off to pay me. I have seen lots of documents over here, and I haven’t seen any that I thought were a really good job. I have helped Thai legal professionals with translations of letters and contracts, starting from literal translations from the Thai, and most of them are just terrible. Not only the English, but also the content of the original. My questions are often of first impression to the Thais. Like a certain contract: “so, what about the insurance?” Followed by general confusion. “What about damage to the goods while they are in the possession of (the party of the second part, or, as they prefer to say in Thailand, the party ‘on’ the second part)?” Still not clear. “Who loses the money if the goods are destroyed by fire or something?” Boy, Farang think of the damnedest things. Things like risk allocation. To be fair, I do most of this with friends at school, and if they get a fee for what they're doing they share it with me. If they don't get a fee, I'm happy to help my friends.

One thing is for sure, the nutsy guy reminded me that teaching is so much more comfortable than providing services to ingrates who think everything should be free. He still owes me for about forty five minutes of my life.

Are You a Christian?

“I believe in one god, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy; and endeavouring (sic) to make our fellow-creatures happy.
But . . . I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own Church.”

John Payne, American Founding Father


I have always had trouble with the question, “are you a Christian?” In California, if anyone were to ask it of you, they would probably mean “have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” or “have you been born again?” These are “Evangelical Christians,” as opposed to members of the Catholic Church or one of the mainline Protestant religions, like Methodists, or Presbyterians, or, my favorites, the Episcopalians. In California, I always answer “yes” to the question, although really I am in complete agreement with the statement of John Payne at the head of this chapter. I answer, “yes” because I am certain that at least in the cultural-historical sense I am indeed a Christian.

Religion is all levels of metaphor, and I simply answer truthfully and let the metaphors fall where they may. “Is Jesus Christ your personal savior?” Sure, he is. The historical Jesus is the great teacher with whom I have the greatest cultural affinity. “Do you believe that almighty god created the universe?” Sure, who else? Some mysterious something set in motion the great happenstantial continuum that became life-as-we-know-it. Once you get past all hope of understanding what actually happened, “god” is as good a name as any for the residual mystery.

That’s what god is to me: a mystery, the big mystery, the mystery with no name, the mystery whose plans and schemes are so remote from mere men that in comparison men become like ants attempting mathematics. God is a very personal concept. We all perceive our own universe in our own heads and our own god is in charge. It is shameless pride to think that you understand the ways and means of god. Did god create the universe? Well I suppose so since god is the wall beyond which there is no breaking through, the mystery where all lines of questioning must be abandoned. To argue over how or when god created the universe is not only pretentious and stupid, but also is an affront to god. Leave god’s business to god.

So it really puts me in a quandary when Thais ask me, “are you a Christian?” I’m never sure if it’s a serious god question or whether they’ve just had dubious experiences with prostilatzing Farang. Are they afraid that I’ll start bothering them, you know, you ought to dump that Buddha stuff and find Christ? I usually respond to the question by lowering my head a little and making a serious face, saying something like, “well, I just try to be a good man.” Almost always, the Thai is thrilled with this answer.

Thais have the most wonderful understanding of the essential nature of religion. All religions, all religions worth their salt anyway, have the same goals: to make their adherents better people, to provide a framework for community, to calm people’s fears about the unknown. As Payne put it, love mercy, do justice, make things better.

I'm with Payne on this one. Oh, and on the America thing too.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Oh! My God! It's Not Blazing Hot!

Countryside villages in hilly provinces all over Thailand are experiencing a new disaster: moderate temperatures. All quotes are from the Bangkok Post:

"Eight villages in Hua Hin have been declared a disaster zone after temperatures hit 10C, chilling residents who live without electricity.

"Temperatures as low as 13 and 14 degrees are normal, but this year the mercury has dropped further to 10 degrees, especially at night, according to Mr Prasit. "

Some of the affected areas are without regular electric service, and the reason is mysterious to outside observers:

"Residents want electricity to keep themselves warm in the cold season, but the area (Hua Hin, ed.) has been without supply since the government of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat more than 40 years ago. The area is regarded as a "military safety area," so electricity is not allowed, said Mr Prasit."

Ten degrees Celsius is life threatening to people accustomed to extreme heat on a daily basis:

"Meanwhile, the Public Health Ministry has launched a campaign against diarrhoea which has claimed the lives of 42 people, most of them aged under five since early this year, and continues to threaten people in the cold season."

I'm pretty comfortable myself. Ten degrees Celsius is fifty degrees Fahrenheit.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I know Why Oprah Is Fat

I don’t follow Oprah’s comings and goings that closely, but I notice that she is up over two hundred pounds again and is feeling pretty low about it. I’m not sure if she has mentioned it in these same terms, but I have some thoughts on the subject.

I put on a couple of kilos myself in the run up to the November election. I was very concerned about the issues being presented, or not being presented as the case may be. I was on pins and needles for month after month, and I’ll bet that Oprah was in the same boat. My guess is that both of us, in our driven-to-distraction state, got a little less careful about what we were eating. Both of us get into social situations on a regular basis where we are presented with large quantities of delicious food, and I’ll bet that each of us gave in to the temptation to eat more than we would have under more relaxing circumstances. I don’t know about Oprah, but I was falling back on my comfort menu more often than I had for several years.

I wish us both luck over the next few months getting back into some of our clothes.

Big Stars Doing Voice Over Work Is Mischief

Movies like Shrek (now Shrek III) are wildly popular these days, I don’t understand it myself, I find them mostly wooden and unfunny. I suppose if kids like them it’s a good thing, but there’s one aspect of it that really annoys me. Only one aspect? Maybe I’m trying to be nice here, but one aspect in particular.

Voice-over work, providing the voices for animated cartoons and features was done for most of the history of the movie business by voice-over actors and actresses. We never saw their faces, but many of them were famous in their own right and we knew their work when we heard it. Guys like Mel Blanc, and more recently Billy West. All of that has changed.

Now all of the characters are voiced by big-time movie actors and actresses. I’m sure that the original intention was to provide marquee value for what was essentially a cartoon. Now all of the big stars are scrambling for the business.

John Travolta got a plum role in a movie about a dog or something, a cartoon dog. He seemed very happy about it when I saw him on TV doing PR for the movie. And who could blame him? He got a huge fee, probably most of his usual fee, for sitting around for a few weeks in a bathrobe, unshaven, talking into a microphone. No location shooting, no cameras, no makeup, no losing or gaining weight, just sit and talk, bankers’ hours, sleep at home every night. That’s good work right there.

My point is that it should be work for real voice-over actors and actresses. That is a talent group that should be valued and nurtured. They should get the money, and a lot less money it would be too. Travolta already has seven jet aircraft, he doesn’t need to take food out of the mouths of the voice-over crowd.

I’m here to call for a return to normalcy.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Thai-Light-Zone: The Camera Store

Or should I call it, “The Camera Museum?” It’s way off the beaten path, here in no-tourist town, on a dreary stretch of a main drag featuring mostly dreary shops, in a neighborhood of mostly students with a sprinkling of new “luxury” condo buildings. It’s a perfectly presented shop selling only second-hand film cameras.

I can’t believe that they make a living. The show window, along with a long low counter, and an entire wall of glass-doored display cabinets, are filled with about three hundred, mostly premium brand film cameras in pristine, perfectly operational condition. Each camera is wrapped in a plastic bag; each bag contains a pouch of anti-desiccant as a tropical precaution. It’s a beautiful inventory, but there are few bargains. The prices are fair, but let’s face it, the fair price for a like-new Leica or Hasselblad is pretty steep.

There are Nikon SLR’s of every “F.” Photomic F, F, F-1, F-2, and so forth, some with the motor-drives. Nikorrmat’s of the dry-land or the underwater variety. Lots of Leica’s, including one from the 1930’s that is constructed entirely of brass, and all the way up to the most recent Leica rangefinder and SLR cameras. Rollei-flex’s and Rollei-cords, a few early twentieth century bellows cameras from America and Germany. Two Arriflex sixteen millimeter film cameras. It’s an astonishing and beautiful collection.

Every camera that I looked at was in virtually new condition, and they were all guaranteed to function in every particular. The prices put them out of reach of most Thais. The Nikon reflex cameras start at about four or five hundred dollars (over 10,000 Baht) for a kind of simple, kind of old one, and go up from there. The Leicas start up around a thousand dollars (30,000 Baht or so). I only saw two or three ringers: one Russian “Kiev,” a Leica rangefinder knock-off; one Vivitar SLR; one Petri. Everything else was primo all the way.

It’s a family enterprise, and obviously a labor of love. Dad treats every camera like it was, well, a perfectly preserved relic of a technologically superior past, which they all are. He’s proud of every camera. He speaks English like it was his fifth language, sorely neglected. His son’s English is a little better, he can follow a simple conversation with a sympathetic (slow, clear) speaker (like me). Over in a corner was an uncle or somebody who looked like he was waiting for something to fix.

I asked, they’ll fix a digital camera if you approach the subject gingerly. None in the shop though, not even a mere digital camera accessory. This place is ideologically pure, an analog temple, a monument to Kodachrome. I’d love to help these guys, but I don’t need a film camera right now, and I don’t think that many other people do either. I wish them luck.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Dangerous Karaoke

This is some kind of content attributed to the New York Times, it was already second hand where I found it. It’s all fun, and true as well.

COPIED IN: A 23-year-old Malaysian man was killed on Thursday night after reportedly enraging other customers who felt that he “hogged the microphone” at what Malaysia’s Star Online described as “a coffeeshop-cum-karaoke outlet” in the town of Sandakan, on the island of Borneo.

The Guardian’s Ian MacKinnon adds some regional context:
Karaoke rage is not unheard of in Asia. There have been several reported cases of singers being assaulted, shot or stabbed mid-performance, usually over how songs are sung.
Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” has reportedly generated so many outbursts of hostility that some bars in the Philippines now do not offer it on the karaoke menu anymore. In Thailand this year, a gunman shot eight people dead after tiring of their endless renditions of a John Denver tune.
As The Telegraph reported in March, that maddening John Denver tune was “Country Roads.”

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Malaysia’s official Bernama news agency reports that “two men have been arrested in connection with the murder” in Sandakan.

Last year, Bernama reported that Malaysia’s information minister, Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin, had issued a public put-down of karaoke singers by likening them to another group of social misfits: bloggers. Both groups, Mr. Zainuddin said, “take pleasure in their own singing but have no influence.” END COPY

I would have cheered the policeman who was put on his killing spree by “Country Roads.” That song makes me crazy too. And “My Way?” That’s an unsingable horror that should be stricken from the catalog.

And thanks also to Mr. Zainuddin, for his totally gratuitous yet strangely true comment about bloggers.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Monster Jobs!

Monster.com has not given up on me. I spent most of 2006 looking for a job teaching English, and I registered with Monster and checked in pretty frequently. With 2009 fast approaching, it is nice to know that they have not forgotten about me.

I get an e-mail notice almost every day informing me of the results of “my job search.” Here’s the list I got today:

1. Dec, 05, MECHANIC MUST HAVE 5 YRS EXP TOOLS RELIA, MCDERMOTT, MICHAEL , Worcester-01608
Dec, 05, DRIVERS WORCESTER BUSINESS HAS OPENINGS, T and G Help Wanted Ad , Worcester-01608
Dec, 05, FINANCE DIRECTOR CITY OF COLUS, Company Confidential , Colusa-95932
Dec, 05, Physician, Company Confidential , Hewlett-11557
Dec, 05, Assistant Director, Liberty Lutheran , Philadelphia-19101
Dec, 05, INSURANCE PERSONAL LINES REPABILITY TO Q, T and G Help Wanted Ad , Worcester-01608
Dec, 05, Production Worker, Company Confidential , Panama City Beach-32407
Dec, 05, TEACHER, Worcester Telegram and Gazette , Worcester-01608
Dec, 05, RESPONSIBLE PERSON 117 FT GOOD BENEFITS C, T & G Help Wanted Ad , Worcester-01608
Dec, 05, Welder/Pipefitter Trainers, Navy Recruiting District , Odessa-79761

Today’s list is unusual in that it actually contains a teaching job. Do you think that this is the result of a randomized computer search? Just to get a list going? There doesn’t seem to be any rational consideration behind it. One list included “aircraft refueler, Iraq,” that was my favorite.

Things seem to be jumping in Worcester. Good for them.

Number 8 confused me. After I thought about it, the “FT” probably means “full time.” The “117” still confounds me; strictly speaking, the ad appears to seek a responsible person, 117 feet tall. It would help if I knew what “C, T & G” stood for. Or “Q” for that matter.

Nice to know that they remember me, though, in their zeal to be helpful.

Kite Season in Thailand

We are in the middle of our “Cold Season” over here. This so-called Winter lasts about six weeks, draped in and around the month of December. It’s hot again before the end of January, but for this six week period the weather really is delightfully cool, even in the middle of the day. Over the last week, I have begun to see kites flying around the neighborhood.

I first noticed this “kite season” when I was living up-country in a small provincial capitol. Kite stands opened up around the first week in December; they were all gone by the second week in January. I figured, and I still believe, that this is kite season because it is the only time of the year that it is cool enough to run around outdoors, like running around trying to get the kites aloft.

Almost all of the kites are of the standard, elongated diamond shape, most are very colorful. Thai children, like children everywhere, seem to enjoy the whole thing. Generally speaking though, Thailand is much too hot for the full speed running that is required to get a kite airborne. Better to stick to slow-motion games of soccer for those who insist on taking outdoor exercise.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Greetings and Apologies

Hanging on my every word, I know that there are ten or twelve people who are wondering why I am so quiet these days. It's only that your humble content provider is very tired. It will pass, and before long I will again be the informative, cheerful and wildly entertaining man that you all know and love.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Picture of the Day: Welcome, Mr. Fred!


We went out to Surin for an English camp and we stayed at the nicest hotel in town. It was the most expensive too, at about twenty-eight dollars a night. It was the only time in my life that my arrival was broadcast to the world on a sign board.
The room was beautiful, a spacious corner room with nice furniture and good cable TV. One small drawback: not a drop of hot, or even mildly warm water. Freezing showers were the order of the day.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Birthday Wishes for My King

Yes, he's my King too. We Americans are not big kingsters, but the King has earned my respect as I have come to understand his style and his life. He is a good man with a long record of hard work and selfless devotion to Thailand. That's "selfless," as in, he never got rich off of it. That's a rare claim-to-fame, these days.

December 5th is his birthday. Please join me in wishing him a happy day in the midst of all of this nonsense that's going on now. And many happy returns of the day, for all of our sakes.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Uncle Mustache, Redux

“Oh! You are killing my people! You are killing my people!”

This is the mantra of the killer-elite-anarchists of the Twenty-First Century. This was their excuse for killing some poor, stupid drunken surfers in Bali; their excuse for blowing up timid bird sellers in Bagdad; their rationale for spilling the guts of little girls who have the nerve to go to school in the ‘Stan; now an excuse for killing unknown whatevers in Bombay, India. Big men, tough guys, “you are killing my people!” Self-aggrandizing numbskulls, delusional would-be martyrs, smarter than you and me, know-it-all wonder-men of some stupid cause or other.

If they tried this in the Uncle Mustache universe, the J. Steel terror machine would establish their identities and demand a horrific vengeance. With just a finger left from self immolation, he would know who they were, and he would find their families and kill them all, the bomber’s brothers and sisters, his children, nieces and nephews, his aunts, uncles and cousins, and, most especially, and slowly, with pictures, his wife, mother and father. And let them try to get someone to do it again, knowing what would happen to a score or two of those left alive. Uncle Joe wrote the book on “everybody in your house ‘gonna get killed.” Just ask the Columbians, that shit works, big time.

But me? I’m a man of peace. For me, maybe somebody in the middle ground of revenge logic, like maybe Lyndon Johnson.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Indian Pundits

Depak Chopra weighed in about the whole Mumbai/Bombay thing on CNN. As usual, he was one hundred percent sure of himself.

Depak was in a New York cab one time from JFK to a hotel in Manhattan. On the way out of the airport, the driver asked him to put his seat belt on. He informed the driver, with absolute certainty, that he had seen the manner of his death, and it was not to occur in a New York taxi. The driver looked back over his shoulder and said, “and so, have you also seen whether or not I’m going to get a two hundred and fifty dollar ticket because you don’t have your seat belt on?”

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Nong Chaeng

Please e-mail me at fredceely@hotmail.com

Home

You can find the damnedest things in newspapers. James Carroll wrote this for the Boston Globe:

“. . . [H]ome is the moral center of the universe. The political philosopher Michael Walzer observes that a hotel room can offer safety and comfort, but it is not a home because it fails to offer “the dense moral culture” that locates a person in time and space. Home, in everything from familiar furniture to the clutter of mementos to the imperfections of chipped dinnerware, is a visible manifestation of the golden tie between past and present; between choices made long ago and consequences that present new choices to this day. Life is not a series of unconnected episodes, but a flowing drama, across generations and phases, driven by intense emotions, which are understood only in the tranquility of familiar rooms. Home is not just the stage on which the human drama plays out, but is the character against whom all other characters find their measure . . .

Home is the cosmic center, the secure spot on the earth from which men and women venture forth, and from which children test themselves.”

He was talking about the housing crisis, but I think he’s onto something bigger here, don’t you?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mr. Fred Makes It Easy For You

Only one person was going to St. Ives.

What Would Joseph Stalin Do?

Faced with intractable problems like Somali pirates, we must ask ourselves: how much do our much vaunted Peace and Love values mean to us? Must we really be full-time Liberals? Maybe we need to inject a little Uncle Mustache into the proceedings.

Sometimes when contemplating seriously fucked up situations like this, I ask myself, what would Joe Stalin do? Love him or hate him, that was a man who could make the tough decisions. He could cut right through the bullshit and achieve permanent solutions to complex problems within five or ten years. Somali pirates? Negatively impacting Uncle Joe’s world? Let’s see.

It can’t be so hard to identify the villages that the pirates come from. Why not take entire villages into “protective custody?” Move them lock, stock and barrel to somewhere, somewhere less comfortable, somewhere far away, somewhere cold, somewhere non-Muslim. They’ll be shipped back when “it’s safe,” i.e., when there’s no more piracy. The pirates, in Uncle Joe’s unilateral world they’d all be shot in the back of the head within moments of being taken into custody.

These guys don’t have much to lose. Just look at their clothes, and their old, banged up AK-47’s. And those boats! What a fleet of wrecks! The question is, how can we give them something to lose? How can we make them beg us to forgive them, make them demand execution in return for something that we can give them, or take away?

Old Joe Steel would identify lots of entire countries these days that needed to be processed out, broken up, done away with. Entire cultures that needed to be trans-acculturated to another place, or places, preferably in another time zone, teach them another language and sentence them to death if they speak the old one, give them a new culture and make sure that they like it.

So what I really mean is, thank god Joe and his friends are gone, and let’s always remember that however bad things seem to be, they could be much, much worse.

English Is a Cursing Language

Many languages, including, I believe, Thai, do not routinely include a lot of what is called bad language, or cursing, in their ordinary discourse. Thai is a very polite language, and most Thai’s consider cursing to be bad form, encouraging disharmony. I understand this.

European languages differ widely on the subject of cursing. German, for instance, is a very poor cursing language. “Halt’s Maul,” (hold your muzzle) is a very bad thing to say to someone. “Pass auf,” (watch out) is rude enough to start a fight. The “Maul” comment compares the victim of the bad language to a dog, and both forgo the usual polite character of German. “Halten Sie Ihrer Mund,” or “Passen Sie auf,” might be a little better, at least they are in the form of polite German, and without the dog reference. A German would only use the short, impolite form when addressing a prisoner, or maybe an idiot. Or if he were trying to start a fight.

Italian is the gold standard of cursing. They are the grandmasters of cursing. Some of it is totally blasphemous, like “Madona brahaiola,” (The Madona shoots up [heroin]). Some is graphically obscene, like “vate a’ fare un culo,” more usually rendered, “va’ f’an’gul,” (go get fucked in the ass). I love the simple beauty of “porco dio,” (pig god), or “porca miseria!” (pig misery!). They also like to compare each other, or their families, to vegetables or the lesser animals. But it’s all just casual conversation to the Italians, they don’t say these things in anger, it’s all good fun. Not like Germans, who reach for their knives at lesser offences.

The French and the Spanish really mean business. Cursing in those languages is personal, hateful, and mean spirited. Look it up.

English is more like the Italian style. The bad words are used as much for emphasis as anything else, as in “that was the biggest fucking fish I’ve ever seen!” No one’s day should be ruined by a little sprinkling of bad words into casual English. It’s just a small part of our vast arsenal of words.

So please forgive me if I occasionally indulge in a little cursing herein.

“Jelly Bellies”

There is an American candy called “jelly beans,” a simple, sugary confection popular at the Easter holiday due to their resemblance to eggs. “Jelly Bellies” are a particular brand of “gourmet jelly beans” popularized by Ronald Reagan during his presidency.

The subject of the “jelly belly” came up in the comment section recently, this time in derogatory reference to my figure. Someone thought that it was important to point out my jelly belly as proof of my prosperity. Well, I happen to be sixty years old, and it happens dear commenter, get over it. If you’re my age, it has happened to you too, if you still eat every day, as sure as you’re born.

I offer this explanation because the term caused some confusion among my Thai readers.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Stopped Clock Is Big In Thailand


The iconography of the stopped clock is the same in Thailand as it is in Europe (America). Time, baby, it runs out . . . yours is running out right now!
This fine example of a Chinese standing clock with a fine German mechanism, stopped, is from a Bratat something or other in Pechabun Province. Bratat is the prefix for a temple that has a Buddha relic. It's just like the Catholics: if you added up all of the pieces of the true cross you could build a fucking hotel; if you added up all of the pieces of Buddha's bones you could build a woolly mammoth, maybe two.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Greetings, Good and Gentle Readers

Plenty of good stuff near the top here. Have fun! And don't forget to comment.

Some Bangkok Birds

Some very nice little swallow-tailed kites fly around outside my condo. They are compact, small winged birds, not great flyers in the sense of gracefully covering long distance. They are, however, highly maneuverable, and they kind of mill around a small area of the sky making frequent, sudden changes of direction. Feeding on flying insects, no doubt. They look for all the world like tiny Mig-15’s, and if six or eight of them are up there at the same time it looks like a Korean War aerial dogfight.

There are no roosters in my neighborhood to announce the day. That role is taken up by the Common Koel, the notorious Nok Gao Wow. These are enormous coo-coo’s, of all things, fifteen inches long. I saw a female in a cage one time and it still gives me nightmares. The beak on that one was a long, crooked powerful thing, and her eyes were wide with anger. Females are leopard spotted. The males are black. Their call is a powerful, two-note whistle, sometimes given only once, but sometimes given in a series of ascending keys that take on a quite hysterical tone, and not a funny hysterical either, more like the bird has suddenly gone completely mad. These are ground feeders, everything that they can find, up to and including small vertebrates.

Occasional hawks, some drab things that look like huge parrots camouflaged for night fighting, the usual sparrows, etc. Plus, of course, the ubiquitous Rock Dove, the common pigeon. No surprise, they’re everywhere.

Freddy Got His Gun

“Johnny Got His Gun” is a wonderful little anti-war polemic by Dalton Trumbo. It’s a fast read, mostly depressing. Mr. Trumbo was one of the Hollywood notaries blacklisted in the McCarthy era for being a Communist, or a Socialist, or insufficiently warlike, or whatever was really on the minds of those House Un-American Activities Committee sons-of-sea-cooks.

The unfortunate protagonist in “Johnny Got His Gun” is a GI from WWI for whom Dr. Nobel’s invention of TNT was a mixed blessing. Make that an unambiguous curse. Dr. Nobel’s genius greatly enhanced the effectiveness of all explosive weapons, such as bombs and artillery shells, and by extension all projectile weapons, such as rifle and machine gun bullets. WWI was the first great flowering of Dr. Nobel’s art. The exponential increase in fire power deprived Johnny of his arms, his legs, his face, and his vocal cords. If memory serves, he finishes out the book tapping Morse Code with his head, nursery rhymes or something, he’s quite insane by then.

My life is a flippant, self-serving, totally inapt analogy to Johnny. I also have been separated from most of my accoutrement. He was deprived of the continued use of actual limbs, while I must suffer to live what passes for my daily life deprived of:

1. 99% of my recorded musical recourses, which even a fool could have seen were very important to me;

2. I am reduced to about twenty books, half of which I own only to enable myself to communicate such ideas as “please fix my printer;”

3. I possess ten or fifteen color Xerox copies of covers of some of the magazines that I actually possess in their entirety in another time zone, thousands of magazines representing six decades of American culture that I can read whenever I feel like it if I happen to be there, which I am not;

4. I have to “hand” one semi-acceptable flat-top, acoustic guitar, Takamine made in Indonesia, and no electric guitars, and no bass guitars at all, and no amplifiers, while in the other time zone I have a half-dozen of great guitars (well, four and a couple of mediocrities) and four amplifiers, two of which are surpassingly excellent;

5. I am deprived of 99% of my recorded video recourses, most of what I have on hand is material that I am only half interested in and in languages that I do not understand at that;

6. I am forced to go forth every day dressed like a beggar, because almost all of my decent clothes are in the other time zone, many days I just hold my breath and pretend that I am on my way to a rock fight or a mud-wrestling contest; and

7. I am deprived the enjoyment of my car, which is a classic, luxury hot-rod of the first order, in like-new condition, a rocket on Pirelli P-2000’s, a transcendent joy to drive.

I am generally healthy, and as such, of course, I have no right to complain. I will sleep soundly tonight in my own bed, the mattress of which had a price tag the equivalent of three or four decent months salaries in this country. I have a new Hitachi refrigerator full of food and all of my clothes, such as they are, are properly laundered (by me) and properly stowed (Navy style). Things could be much worse. But, please note, everything is relative.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Some Quality Tourist Time


My friend Choophong took this picture of me with his wife and daughter. Choophong is a dear man, he worries that I may be lonely, all by myself and so far from home. He also worries that his English could really use some quality time with a native-speaker. For me, the result is some quality time with Choophong's lovely family.
On this day we were visiting the Summer Palace (it's always Summer here, so the place was in use all year) of Rama V, the Great King Chulalongkorn. What a lunch we had, oiy!

Thai-Light-Zone: Pardon Me, Have You Seen My Adolescence?

Someone said that Americans keep their dogs in a permanent state of adolescence. It makes sense, actually. American dogs cannot run free, they cannot procreate, they never need to look for their own food. They are our pampered little four legged trophy dogs, constantly wagging their little tails and begging for our affection, and a handout of course.

Dogs in Thailand on the other hand are fully adult. They live a dog’s life everyday. Most of them fend for themselves without any help or interference from the local humans. They display bland, world weary expressions as they wander their appointed rounds: places they found food once, places where humans are cooking, places where students eat lunch or snacks, places where other dogs spend lots of time, places of exceptionally deep shade, places with good garbage.

They are amazingly adult. They will run up a side street where there is little traffic and come to a comfortable stop upon arriving at a main street. Looking first right (Thais drive on the left) and then looking left, then looking right again, they walk safely across the street. If you run past a dog, or ride past on a bicycle, the dog will simply give you a little look without much interest. The dog looks at you just to make sure you are not about to drop some food or hand out a snack. A sleeping dog may open only one eye to see you.

You almost never see an experienced mother dog in America. In Thailand it is common to see dogs that look like the wolf mother of Romulus and Remus, teats almost dragging on the ground, well traveled pudenda dragging open at the rear. They have wonderfully wise expressions, for dogs I mean. They have seen it all, scrounged food for four or five, populated the earth and lived to tell about it.

These Thai dogs know what not to do as well. They know exactly what the humans will or will not tolerate. If one approaches in an unacceptable manner all the human needs to do is cock his foot as if to throw a kick. That dog will retreat ten feet in one second and stop whatever it was that he was doing. Reaching back as if to throw a rock works pretty good too. If they go too far they’re liable to be picked up bodily and thrown into a tree. That gets their attention and keeps it: wow, I’ll never do that again.

One thing for sure, the mating behavior of sexually intact, independently living, chronologically and emotionally mature dogs is a revelation for an urban American more accustomed to aging puppies. That’s a whole ‘nother story.

The situation is reversed as regarding our human offspring. In America children must learn to “stand on their own feet” from a very early age. They must learn to sit in restraints and like it because no one has the time to carry them. They must learn to play by themselves even if their parents are close at hand because, please try to understand, the parents have a lot to do. They must learn to get up early and get fed and dressed and left at an institution all day because mom and dad need to get to work, bring home the bacon. They must learn to like television.

American children are made to work alone on thousands of projects throughout their schooling. Don’t look at him! I asked you! They are encouraged to leave home and go to live at universities far from home. They are expected to have created their own independent life before their twenty-fifth birthdays.

In Thailand this demand for independence is turned on its head. All children are encouraged to work together on most school projects. Ideally, one’s children will never leave the family home, they will get married and have their own children and live their lives as part of a big extended family. Babies are held at all times for about the first eighteen months of their lives. You heard me right, held in someone’s arms almost without a break for about eighteen months.

In some families this togetherness thing is carried to extremes. In some instances Thai children are maintained in a permanent state of adolescence well into their chronological adulthood. If their parents are particularly long lived this state may extend into the child’s old age. This phenomenon manifests itself in all financial demographics. In poor families, one or more children may be needed in the family house on a full time basis, perhaps to care for a handicapped family member or work in the family enterprise making baskets or dying fabrics. Marriage would only add mouths to feed, or maybe there’s just not enough room. In rich families one or more children may just never be inclined to leave such a perfect set up. They don’t work hard, if at all; they always have a nearly new car to use; they always have money in their pockets; they are well dressed; they are fully equipped with the latest electronic gadgets. Where else could they live like that?

In many cases there is a domineering mom or dad involved. See what happened to your sister when she got married? I just don’t want the same thing to happen to you. This can lead to adults with successful professional careers living after work in shorts and t-shirts watching television with mom everyday. Plenty of money to spend on travel and leisure and no adult responsibilities outside of work. I don’t know whether to cry or to wish that I were so lucky.

These perpetual teenagers have the same immature characteristics as the American dogs do, if I may be permitted such a gross analogy. Their smiles are genuine but lack the cynical edge that personal responsibility brings. They are certainly smart enough but they lack wisdom. They don’t worry about eating; they simply wait to be fed. They never become fully formed adults; they remain two-dimensional caricatures until and unless life or common sense steps in and thrusts full responsibility on them.

(I wrote this a couple of years ago. It needs more of a conclusion, don't you think?)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Picture of the Day: The Floating Restaurant


A very nice one too, in Kachanaburi, picture taken from the "Bridge Over the River Kwai."

Thai-Light-Zone: The Purposeful Stride

Looking out my favorite window a moment ago I saw a young woman with a purposeful stride. This is very unusual in Thailand, where virtually all women walk in such a manner as to be stationary and moving forward in almost equal measure.

She being almost one hundred yards away, and five stories below, I had no chance to jog up next to her and satisfy my curiosity as to how she learned to walk that way, not that I would ever do such a thing. Probably grew up in New York or something.

I’m Grading Tests (LA-500: English for Lawyers)

Mildly entertaining are the following responses on a multiple-choice test:

Which of the following is a defense to murder? (Suicide)

In the absence of an emergency, if a doctor who is drunk at the time operates on a person, the doctor has (merely made a mistake).

Both of these answers were fairly common, reflecting Asian values, no doubt.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mr. Fred's Poetry Corner: The Failure of Alcohol

Oh, go on. You know you love it.

Alcohol is a sadly inadequate drug.
The destruction that it brings
Is far out of proportion to its meager gifts.

It has nothing of the majesty
And distraction of LSD,
Which has no calories,
And leaves behind no destruction
At all, but only misunderstood insight.
Or, even better, mushrooms,
Which deliver something similar
Without the tightness in the throat,
Or the vaguely technological sense of menace.
Both are predictable to the minute,
And back to school or work tomorrow
With a clear head and no dyspepsia.

Alcohol is an aperitif, and a good one,
But standing alone it is
An inconstant friend of limited utility.
Alcohol is available, and socially acceptable,
Those are its chief advantages.

Marijuana, what a mystery
Its rejection by super-ego second-guessers.
Practically free, it should be,
And easy on the throat, and the heart.
Smoke it daily for twenty or thirty years
And the first one of the day still gets you off,
Skip a day and nothing happens at all.
Coffee is much more addictive,
Although, I admit, coffee has its attractions.

Thanks are due to researchers
Who have provided medical practitioners
With new drugs that can enthrall their patients,
And that, applied with professional care,
Will ensure years of further billing.
I would not recommend that anyone
Take Xanax every day, as recommended,
That’s a fool’s game,
But on a fifteen hour plane trip,
After a meal and a few drinks,
Even better, watch a movie first too,
Three or four Xanax and it’s lights out,
Sitting upright with no regard,
Sleeping like a baby in his crib.

Overindulgence in alcohol on a plane
Only brings frequent, clumsy trips to the bathroom.

The worst indictment of all:
Alcohol, in a solitary existence,
Brings only exacerbated bouts of crying,
And limits one’s ability
To read serious literature
Or solve chess problems.


November 13, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Picture of the Day: Cool Bike


Not all cool bikes have motors. Note the good use of the ubiquitous blue PVC pipe for the uprights in the back.

Thai-Light-Zone: Wednesday

Before I had ever taught English I thought that it was a very accessible, rather simple language. Teaching it I became convinced very quickly that it is actually very difficult. Take the spelling, please.

With grammar or high school students I always start off a lesson with a five or six minute exercise in sheer fun. One technique is to take a couple of words and make cards for each individual letter, stand along the front of the room the appropriate number of “volunteers,” shuffle well and give them all a card, then have the students tell them how to move around to make the words. One day, the first word was Wednesday.

The interest here came from the nature of their misapprehension. They knew pretty soon that the word was Wednesday, but they spelled it wrong, and then they spelled it wrong again. To be fair, though, I had to admit that their spellings made as much sense as the proper spelling, maybe more. Here are their first two efforts:

1. Wendseday

2. Wedensday

Pretty good, I’d say, and I did. English spelling is diabolical.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Picture of the Day: the Assembly


Every day, at every school in Thailand, all of the students line up at about eight o'clock for the raising of the Thai flag and the singing of the impossibly difficult Thai National Anthem.
At this school, a student is chosen each day to lead the anthem. Almost none of them can really follow the weirdly circumvoluted melody all the way through. It's kind of entertaining. When, once in a great while, a student really nails the entire thing it's a wonderful surprise.

Get Your Kicks

I love a site called LitKicks.com. “Literary Kicks.” All of the content is great, and a feature called “Action Poetry” is a wonderful outlet for obscure poets, part time poets, wannabe poets, and, my own mediocre offerings notwithstanding, some unpublished but highly talented poets.

First open litkicks.com; then go to the upper right and hit the “back,” as in Action Poetry is back! The next screen is always incomplete on my computer, I need to hit refresh to bring up the entire thing. I always have something in the current list, and if you want to go to a complete list of my postings you can click my name.

I am very happy to be amongst the regulars. We comment on each others poems, write poems in response, and engage in general logrolling. Some friendships are developed over time, e-mails are exchanged. It’s a very social experience, for me it is anyway.

So, if you want to read more of my scribblings, this is the place to do it until I can put together my mighty edifice of a super-blog.

Disclaimer

I write these things quickly, with little time for fact checking. I know a little bit about a lot of things, and for the most part my recall of things is pretty reliable. But . . .

I recently learned that Butch O'Hare died flying a Hellcat in the first attempt to fly air cover for a U.S. carrier at night, ignominiously shot down by a Betty, no less. I had been certain, as sure as I am of my name, that he died flying a Lightning in a daylight air battle.

This discovery will make me more careful, but since this is the Internet, and a blog no less, you should take it all with a grain of salt.

Reasonably Entertaining Old Journal Entries

Many people don't know the sad saga of my gone, but not forgotten left middle fingertip. So here's a catch up:

October 30, 2005
Phrae, Thailand
1,140 words

Events Overtake Mr. Fred


One of the classical (Greek) theories of comedy is that anything bad that happens to someone else instead of the viewer is funny. Someone slips on a banana peel . . . boy, I bet that hurt! In much the same spirit, here’s a hysterical story about Mr. Fred’s adventures in the Kingdom.

Thailand is a land of limited liability. America has been stripped of all dangerous products. Sorry kids, no lawn darts for you. Build with only safety glass, please. Safe electrical products, safe power tools, safe, safe, safe. By the same token, if something does happen someone must be responsible. Fall out of a roller coaster? They had a duty! They breached it! You were hurt! They must pay! None of this is true in Thailand.

In Thailand, if you are hurt at a tourist attraction it is considered to be your own fault: you were not careful enough. Didn’t you see that muddy floor? No one else fell and broke their arm. If you are brave enough to go para-sailing or speed boating or riding hanging from cables in a rain forest don’t expect any sympathy if you get dumped or flipped. You’re lucky if the concessionaire calls the hospital for you, he has to get back to work, make a living. There’s no one to sue; in Thailand you are left to your own devices and all risks are assumed by you.

With regard to products this is a mixed blessing. Some dangerous products work very, very well. Too well in many cases. Like super glue, you can still get that REAL super glue here, the kind where you can glue your hand to your chest if your not careful, or glue your eye shut for good. And drain cleaner, the stuff here will take out any clog at all plus a thirty-second of an inch all around the pipe, no fooling around.

So it was a shock, but not a surprise, when I discovered an incredibly sharp edge where I least expected one on an ice chest I was cleaning recently. Real hard plastic, so sharp you could hardly run your finger over it. And it closed on a fixed line with huge leverage behind it, the entire weight of the heavy cover. At the hinge side, no less, leverage like a pair of bolt cutters. Right where any unsuspecting Peace Corps volunteer could put one of his fingers. And let the cover drop. And cut a piece of a valuable finger clean off.

Boy, that was one of those “can I please buy back the last ten seconds during which I did something very, very stupid?” moments. At first I though I had just jammed it, you know, like in a car door, and the worst thing is that you might lose a fingernail. But the nail was the only thing I didn’t lose, the nail was fine, still is. The nail was sticking out half an inch past where the finger tip used to be; the new “tip” was as flat as the top of a soup can, flowing blood. Oh, I wish I had a picture of my face when I first saw that, that absence of a fingertip on my left middle finger, that bloody stump of a finger important to forming any guitar chord you ever heard of, on any one of my seven, count ’em, seven guitars.

“Ann, come immediately!” I screamed with my head thrown back. Something needed to be organized, and I was indisposed. When Ann did not immediately burst out of the door of the house I added, “not fast enough!” Ann had that look, that “what did the baby do now?” look, the same look she had when I pulled her away from a favorite TV show to drive me to the hospital when my appendix burst.

We quickly arranged a trip to the emergency room. Ann said, “should I come with you?” I said, “oh, you’ll have to make those decisions for now.” A Thai doctor turned out to be a good choice for this type of wound, they see lots of strange machete mutilations here. Very Thai, though, certainly too Thai to tell you when he was going to suddenly hurt you real bad. “You will feel this,” they say, American doctors say, and you know to brace yourself for the pain. I didn’t want to look, so my head was turned away when the doc and a couple of nurses were getting started. He chose not to tell me before he jammed the local anesthetic injection into the stump, I jumped a foot off the bed. The next couple of jabs weren’t so bad, I expected those. Then they cleaned it up and cauterized it, a faint cooking smell. After the shots I didn’t feel a thing, and I mean from then on; I never had any pain at all with the healing. I mean, if I jammed it into something it hurt briefly, but just lying there in the bandage it never hurt at all. “You’re lucky,” the doctor said much later, “you have a high pain threshold.”

I did, however, have a low gross-out threshold. I didn’t look at it for two weeks, “mai ow hen, c’ap.” (“I don’t want to see.”) I had to go every day for three weeks to get it cleaned and re-bandaged. It was always a pleasure, the nurses were all typically pretty, cheerful, graceful Thai women. The nurses loved me, I never complained, just smiled and said thank you. They practiced their English. The worst part was wondering: what will it end up looking like? Will it take guitar string pressure? Will it get infected? How long will it take to heal? Will I finally lose the nail? Where does the bone end . . . will the tip be too thin?

It’s two months later now, and it looks as though everything will settle down just fine. It’s already a fingertip to look at it, about three-eighths of an inch abbreviated. The nail is fine. I can type on the new fingertip, although it does still feel weird. In the meantime I have finally made sense of open tuning and can play guitar just fine without it. A forced excursion into the land of slide. I was never versatile anyway. I played songs at an English camp this week. It should be fine for all purposes in a couple of months.

Any lessons learned? Probably not. This case is probably what lawyers call “limited to it’s own fact pattern.” When washing out an ice chest it is important to take your time, focus on what you are doing, and don’t think about ten other things while your doing it. You should be fine.

Postscript:

No, it will never be fine again. A couple of years later, it's still hyperascthesic and not much use for guitar playing (bass guitar is a little better, I can use the flat part of the fingertip).

I had a procedure from a decent American Ortho, a "V-Y Projection" or something. It did a little good, it put a little more meat over the bone tip, stopped the worst of the cupping of the fingernail. Once you rip up a fingertip, however, it's kind of over, Johnny.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Magic Johnson Is Not Who You Think

Magic Johnson is on Larry King. Evidently, he is still on the list of important Blacks to be consulted when something happens that is of interest to Black folk. This is always interesting to me, because, with the parting of only a very thin layer of fog, it’s easy to see that Magic is probably a murderer.

Oh! Slander! Beloved Magic!

I don’t mean in the same sense as one who would make a plan, dress appropriately, arm himself, and set off to his ex-wife’s house intending to kill her. That’s first degree murder, that’s bad stuff. But there is also second degree murder, among the definitions of which is homicide resulting from gross recklessness, behavior that anyone with half a brain should have known might result in the death of another, behavior like firing a gun into a family home. You may not have intended to kill anyone, but by god if someone is killed by the shot your ass is going to prison. And you earned the bid, too, nothing unfair about it.

Back in Magic’s salad days, the late 1980’s, Magic was famous for throwing parties for his friends at his Los Angeles mansion. I forget the little pet names they had for the mansion, or the parties, or the special sex rooms in the house, it was all very pre-Freudian and cute, little pet names for everything. These were sex parties, there were great numbers of women there, and they knew why they were there, they were available. I’m no puritan, I don’t condemn sex, not in any way in which two or three people are involved in a loving relationship, even a temporary relationship. But I do condemn brainless sex with multiple partners on a regular basis, when no one even knows each other’s names, and riding bareback no less, because these were real men after all, not inclined to take showers wearing raincoats. That’s just foolishness, and in the time of AIDS it was (is) reckless behavior with no regard for the safety of themselves or others.

In the Reagan/Bush era it was fashionable to think that AIDS was a disease of homosexuals and junkies, but everyone knew already that the wives and girlfriends of the homo’s and junkies were contracting the disease, and passing it along through heterosexual contact. Stupidity is not a defense to firing a gun into a house; it should not be a defense here. Magic got AIDS from one of the women at those parties, and could anyone believe for a minute that he didn’t pass it on to other women before he finally discovered that he was infected? If any of those subsequently infected women has died, that’s a strong case for a murder charge based on his reckless disregard for their safety.

What would I do if I met him? Smile and shake his hand, probably. He’s rich, after all. Everybody likes rich people.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Enjoying Political Diversity, for a Change

All of this thinking and writing, thinking and writing, and the resulting dialog with many new friends who are generous with their comments, has wonderfully clarified the American electorate for me. That and this election, of course.

I find that most people who espouse political beliefs that are somewhat different than mine are actually very close to me on most issues. I suppose that I am just a liberal, in spite of my sub rosa radical tendencies, and liberal and conservative are really just the two sides of smack dab in the middle. This is real people that I'm talking about, workaday guys and girls like me and mine. And R.C., and my wonderful cousin V.L., I am having a great time finding the middle ground where we all can agree.

I still think that the Republican Party is a biblical curse on America's sainted landscape, having descended into the mania of New Deal unwinding reactionary greed mongering. Republicans have become the party of BIG GOVERNMENT INTERFERING IN PEOPLE'S LIVES, a warrantless phone tapping search and seizure nightmare, jailing people with no recourse, invading other countries because the 8-Ball told them something might happen next year, telling us what we can and cannot do in private, standing between us and our doctors with a long list of do's and don'ts, and all the while building more and more levels of government and spending more and more money that we don't have, and spending it for their own benefit at that. But most people who consider themselves conservatives are actually very reasonable. They have friends and relatives who may be homosexual but they don't seem to mind very much. They would only be happy if stem cell research could help them or theirs out of a tight spot. If some woman in the neighborhood got pregnant and decided in a timely and reasonable fashion to have an abortion, they wouldn't think that it was any of their business. They tolerate racial and religious diversity very well. They are actually good people, just like me, god bless them, and God bless them too.

This election has shown us where the middle is in America, and it has reminded us that most of us live there, together. What a wonderful showing of strength in the face of a satanic effort to divide us. I congratulate the wonderful American people.

And hard-core Republicans? Sixty four percent of whom think that Sarah Palin should run for president in 2012? Adios, MF's. It's cold out there in the political wilderness.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Favorite Picture


This picture always cheers me up.
English Camp, Song District, Phrae, 2004

Winning Ohio

“No Republican has ever been elected without carrying Ohio.” Check.

Virginia for Obama; West Virginia for McCain: an inversion of the sides taken in the Civil War. Alabama; Georgia; Texas; Mississippi; for McCain. Bill Bennett referred to the “Confederate States” vs. the “Union States.” At first I thought he meant it as in “union states” vs. “right-to-work” (i.e., anti labor union) states. Either way, he was right, and his friends will give him shit for this comment.

The McCain “party” in Phoenix had their news connection cut early. Too depressing.

John Bolton was on BBC with an American psephologist, a poll chaser; an English professor-duffus historian; and some guy who was never spoken to and who never said anything. A pretty blond commentator in another location suggested that Sarah Palin hurt McCain with independents, without whom he could not win. Bolton sprung forward, with his index finger outstretched in total attack mode, sharpened teeth mercifully hidden beneath his walrus mustache. “He needed her to solidify his base! And she has! Do you think he could have won without his base!” (Ergo: John McCain had no base. Does Bolton know what a “voter base” is? It’s the voters who would vote for a yellow dog if you nominated him. To Bolton, evidently, the Republican base would only vote for a yellow dog if Sarah Palin was holding the leash.)

McCain has Lindsey Graham with him to keep him upbeat . . . that’s my idea of depressing. He is awaiting the results in the Barry Goldwater Suite of the Phoenix Biltmore Hotel. That’s just pre-Freudian and sad.

CNN had these screens that they could touch and colors would flip and numbers would flash, all of this without drugs. It was all “hypotheticals,” and one guy was way into it, it was like his screens, John King I think. I’m sure that this was very confusing to lots of people who were having trouble just keeping up with the reality of the situation. I believe that this showed admirable confidence in the generally literal-minded American people. Unfounded, probably.

I love Barney Frank, but he’s really more of a bass player, he’s not a lead singer. That non-descript man in the Senate, is it Harry something? He shouldn’t even be on stage, put him in charge of the fan club or something. Nancy Pelosi is like Grace Slick: she looks ok, and she’s a pretty good singer, but no one likes her anyway. This team needs a tough-love clean-sweep with a wire brush.

Joe Lieberman’s fate: life at the limits of the patience of the Democratic Party, and proof that people in Connecticut aren’t as smart as they think.

“Republicans will be looking to re-create 1994,” as a step to re-creating 1900, no doubt.

“We’re going to win in Pennsylvania! We’re going to win the election on Tuesday!” Throwing air-punches like an ill-constructed animatronic device of a mean spirited, fading old tough guy.

Bolton is making a list of things over which “we’ll see them in court.” Number one is: Virginia doesn’t count absentee ballots unless they could affect the race.

Let’s count the states that can be relied upon to follow macho flag waving supported by outright lies. This is the dream world: no issues; no fact-checking; no memory, what? me worry?

The Colorado GOP chief, rubbing his hands together gleefully, says that the worst thing that could happen to the Democrats would be the presidency and large majorities of both houses of congress. He promises perpetual, total war based upon the Democrats’ impending “failure to deliver.” This is the logic of criminals and the insane. Having destroyed the country, many Republicans are secretly relieved to see the Democrats in a position where in only two or four years they can be blamed for the entire thing.

McCain’s concession speech has been well received, and to be fair he kept it on a surprisingly gracious note with only some little digs like, “he’s my president, and I’ll support him, but we’re Americans! We never quit!” On the whole, however, McCain’s concession speech was self aggrandizing and maudlin. His audience was decidedly not gracious. They heartily booed Joe Biden, and repeatedly chanted “John-Mac-Cain!” and “U-S-A!”

The remains of the so-called right wing conservative branch of the Republican Party should be banished so far out into the political wilderness that their horses die of thirst. I say this for the good of America, and for the good of the Republican Party, out of love.

My Guitars

I made a fundamental mistake when I was “learning” how to play guitars: I learned with my ears and my hands, and I never used my brain to figure out what was actually happening. For me it was all ear-training and muscle memory.

Go ahead, ask me, what are the chords to “Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night.” How the fuck to I know? I think I play it in “D.” Whenever I wanted to play it, I’d take twenty or thirty seconds to figure it out all over again, or, remember it, if you will. Then I’d turn it over to my fingers, and it was music, and it came out fine. I could play fifty songs, no problem. I couldn’t tell you shit about them, especially the ones with 6th’s and 9th’s and major 7th’s and like that, but I could play them.

So after I stupidly cut the business end of my left middle finger off, cleaning out an ice chest in preparation for a party, my life is all about the love, bringing happiness to other people, after I had so mutilated myself I couldn’t play shit. How could I play the songs? I never knew shit about the songs! My fingers could play the songs, and now the most important one was gone!

When I pick up a guitar now it’s almost like starting all over again. Worse than that, I must un-learn over forty years of muscle memory. There are worse fates in the scheme of things, but it’s certainly annoying.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Very Cool Comment on Spin Easy Time!

. . . on “Sadly the Case,” see below. I doubt if any of the books mentioned in the comment contain places or deeds that interest me much.

My most amazing meal in Thailand was up around Kachanaburi, on my way back “home” from the WWII bridge thing. I got out of a van and had to figure out how to get to the train station, and since it was lunch time I pulled up a chair in a wall-less noodle shack. There was the usual shock at seeing a Farang off the beaten path, and the usual relief when it became apparent that I could speak a little Thai. I ordered a bowl of noodle soup, and was disagreeably surprised to find that in this small city lots and lots of pig blood was a key ingredient. I never say anything when this kind of thing happens, I try to be a good guest. It was ok anyway, it tasted good if you didn’t think about the probably uncooked blood too much. Lots of people wanted to talk, I mean in some places when a Farang speaks Thai, however poorly, it’s like a talking dog just ordered a drink in a bar. One guy was fully dressed up as an American cowboy, boots, jeans, pearl-buttoned cowboy shirt, American Indian turquoise jewelry and belt buckle. He spoke twenty words of English, but we had some fun. He had a nice little cowpoke with him, also with the cowboy clothes. He got done before I did, and when he left he paid for my lunch too. Nice fellow.

My favorite golf course is Penmar in West Los Angeles. It’s the most used golf course in the world, no lie. It’s a nine hole “goat path,” that’s the term of endearment in L.A., straight, flat and easy. From first light until lights out they sent out groups of five players so close together that someone is blasting into you for the entire round. Here’s the good part: you almost always play with strangers, and the strangers can be very, very interesting. I played with a ninety-something guy who made cracking sounds and cries of pain every time he took a shot. He had a good straight game, but short. He was playing with a beautiful forty-something blond. I knew a guy there who played everyday and who was a very good golfer. He carried three clubs in a shitty little bag, he bought the entire kit for five dollars or less when he retired. He had a two-wood, a five-iron, and a sand-wedge, he putted with the five, and boy were the young athletic, competitive guys pissed when he beat them. I played with Len Sheridan one time. He came on as a single and just introduced himself as “Len.” He was a goofy sort of guy, very friendly, about seventy years old. After a few holes during which I noticed that he had a huge leather tour bag that said “TOYOTA” in letters that could be read from space I blurted out, Oh! you’re Len Sheridan! (Len Sheridan Toyota, one of the biggest Toyota dealers in California.) He about swallowed his gum, he was very impressed with my powers of deduction.

No, I am an unusual tourist. I stay away from the big temples, I like to go to the small markets outside of town, the ones where poor people shop for their daily bread, often in the form of bugs, or rubbery little, bitter as hell sea urchins from the rice paddies, or frogs, some of which can be of very impressive size, crucified on these split bamboo crosses and grilled. They don’t have those at the hotel restaurant.

Here’s a poem for you, I know you all love my poems:

Death and Venice

Now I lay me down to sleep,

Venice, before it sinks,
Would top the short list, I’d say,
Better hurry now,
Time being what it is, like money:
Once spent, gone like a summer’s breeze.

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

The no-go list is long,
The couldn’t-give-a-shit list is
Vast and unwieldy, but then,
Who gives a shit?

So, Venice then, but expensive now,
Euros, I’ve never even seen one!
And so many time zones!
Think of the jet lag!
Six weeks anyway, to make it worthwhile,
See the Berninis.

And if I die before I wake,

Too old now to look for work as a sex-toy,
And not inclined to submit to the tremors of actual work.

But I’ve seen the Alps,
And Greenland, from a plane, it’s white,
Some kind of joke, I guess,
And I saw the Ramones, and Jimi,
And way too many rude All-Stars to name,
Or even count, in clubs as small as your apartment,
And who needs more museums?
Once you’ve been to the Met?
And the Modern?
One hundred times? Each? At least?
And the Frick for good luck?

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

And I’ve seen things,
And done things,
That if you’ve seen them too,
And done them,
Then we should have a secret handshake!
The elite! The lucky few!
I salute you!

I’ve seen the sun, our sun, shine
On waters far and wide, and battlefields,
And a concentration camp!
The real kind, no ersatz bullshit where no one died,
Saw the showers, stood in them!
And the industrial crematorium, and the dissecting tables,
Wow! This dumb fuck swallowed a wedding ring!
What an impressive pile of ashes they had!
And a room, a big room, filled with children’s shoes,
Filled to a height of five feet,
The cute-beyond-cute of horrors.

But Venice,
Venice haunts me,
Who’ll die first?
Me or Venice?
Time is our enemy,
Passing inexorably,
Leaving only
History in its wake.


April 20, 2008

Congratulations Are in Order!

Let's hear it for Mr. Radical-Terrorist-Abortionist-America-Hating-Friend-Of-Criminals! Chicago, a city to which I could not be more indifferent, is obviously a good place to learn politics.

I know a good tailor in Columbia who makes beautiful bulletproof clothing, even t-shirts!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Unitary Executive Theory

After the election we can look forward to a proper airing of issues that were considered too difficult for voters to grasp. The most important of these is the Unitary Executive Theory.
This boondoggle was first formulated by the Reagan Justice Department under Edwin Meese. It was an expansion of the power of the Executive Branch of government to control policy through its authority over Administrative Agencies.

Under the W. Bush administration the theory was expanded to put the president as far as possible beyond the control of Congress or the Constitution. Dark Lord Cheney, and his minion, the activist and deeply reactionary Professor Yoo, posited an almost imperial presidency. Their importance may diminish soon, but they leave in their wake four Supreme Court Justices who support their new version of the Unitary Executive.

One of the first formulators in the Meese office, Federalist Society founder Steven Calabresi, now writes:

“The cost of the bad legal advice that he received is that Bush has discredited the theory of the unitary executive by associating it not with presidential authority to remove and direct subordinate executive officials but with implied, inherent foreign policy powers, some of which, at least, the president simply does not possess.”

Which is to say that the president, with the backing of one short of an unbeatable majority on the Supreme Court, has been wielding unconstitutional power for several years now.

Tomorrow, there will either be a president elect who wishes to continue the expansion of the Unitary Executive and will veto any effort to investigate abuses by the Bush administration, or a president elect who (it is to be hoped) wishes to return to constitutional equilibrium and oversea the aforementioned investigations. And America will within a year or two have a President and a Supreme Court that believes that Congress is just a powerless showpiece, or a President and a Supreme Court that believes in the Constitutional balance of power that had been in effect for two hundred years until the Bush administration got a hold of it.

This sure has my intestines in a twist, and I don’t think that I’m the only one.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Wives' Neighborhood


Yesterday I took a trip with my buddy Choophong and his family to visit the recreational palace, the out of town get away mini-Versaille, of the great king, Rama Five. It was all very impressive, but my favorite part was this large collection of nondescript but nice houses tucked over in a wooded corner of the large, park like property. It was the wives' neighborhood.
It was house after modest house, each bearing signage naming the occupant. They had titles which had meanings like, "Main Wife," "Wife with Children," even "(Mere) Concubine but with fully accepted Royal Children." One slightly bigger house listed five wives names, the "bull-pen" I suppose.
Rama Five was a busy guy on the wife scene. He had lots of them, and lots of children, no less than seventy four sons alone. That was in the second half of the Nineteenth Century.
This kind of thing is the rationale that Thai men offer even in these late days for having more than one wife. In Thailand, if you can support a second wife, you know, put her in her own house and pay the bills, most people think it's ok. The women don't like it, no surprise, but for men with money it's a way of showing off.
How do you feel about that, said the doctor?

Sadly the Case

I should go swimming more, the pool is really nice. I’m not an action kind of guy, though, I’m more about stasis. Oh, I can get a lot done, especially if I’m getting paid, biff, bam, boom, one task after the other. But once I’m done with the things that really must be done I tend to do something that is fun and can be done while sitting quietly.

It is sadly the case that given the choice between doing something, and doing nothing, I’ll probably choose to do nothing. But doing nothing isn’t really one of the options, is it?

Even retired, one needs to do something. Getting up; washing; eating; evacuating; sitting still; eating again; taking a nap; eating yet again, god it all gets so old, all of this eating; watching TV; sleeping; it would only be two or three days before the soul would cry out for mercy and something to do. Life requires that something be done.

There are always hobbies. One can devote oneself to golf. Golf has a noble social aspect, and the impossibility of mastering it gives it a long term appeal for many people. Golf also has result-motivation. Myself, I get result-motivation from writing, reading and writing, with maybe a little TV thrown in. It may look like the quiet tranquility of the tomb to some people, but sometimes, if the writing is good, or if I read and understand something meaningful, I feel very productive.

One recent Sunday, by ten o’clock in the morning I had written a thousand good words, after edit, and done a load of wash besides. I’d also had my breakfast of choice: two cups of coffee (Maconna instant, with two packs of Equal and a little whole milk), a bowl of corn flakes (Kellogg’s) with orange flavored drinkable yoghurt (Dutch Mill), and a cigarette (Marlboro Menthol, no lights, please, I smoke three or four a day). I almost went back to sleep for the rest of the day, the daylight hours anyway. It was too early to start drinking; drinking is only fun for a couple of hours, after that it becomes tedious.

It occurs to me that someday I may wish that I had done more while I still had the strength, but I doubt it. I’ve never been ambitious, nor have I ever been overly impressed by the accomplishments of my fellows, even of famous overachievers. My accomplishments in sixty years so far would look fine as a total for an eighty year lifespan, I’m just a run-of-the-mill human, after all. “The Accomplishments of Run –of-the-Mill Humans” is not so impressive a book.