Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Thailand’s a Fun Country

Everything here is fun. At any business meeting that I have attended, the snacks were the most important thing, lunch was provided if the time was anywhere near, and anyone who got a cell phone call just took it, stood up and walked out of the room laughing and talking. This lack of discipline extends to academics too. For certain majors the required thesis must be in English, and I see stuff that includes paragraphs of perfect English mixed in with paragraphs of mangled English, it’s obviously been cut-and-pasted off the internet, probably Wikipedia, but you’d never know because no sites are provided.

Every teacher here is a government official and has a military style uniform. The elaborate accoutrement tell the experienced viewer what degree the person has, what grade level they are at, and what honors they have received. They also have row after row of “battle ribbons,” the small multicolored bars of which there are tiers and tiers on any general’s chest, they get medals for any old thing at all, but that’s a complaint for another day. American enlisted men get them for things that are either bloody hard or bloody dangerous. What did the teacher do to get all those medals? Four tiers was not uncommon, each tier has three or four. Heroes or what? All police have them too, and many workers on the railroad, I kid you not. I asked around.

The ribbons have no independent meaning at all. After four years as a teacher, or whatever, you get to wear one tier, one row. Every four years thereafter you can add one. They have no other significance. They can be in any colors or combinations.

This place is the triumph of form over function; form is extremely important and function is an afterthought. They don’t care if you sign a years worth of time sheets at once, as long as at the end of the year there’s a years worth of signed time sheets in the file, a big book, that no one will ever look at, but which will take it’s place upon a shelf in numerical order and will stay there forever.

So it’s all like a game, really. Buy a cell phone so you can take pictures of yourself and send them to friends; buy a lap-top so you can play games while you pretend to study; spend all your time in English class drawing pictures of oranges that are labeled, “Oranqe,” wear a cool watch but when teacher asks you what time it is, just tell him, “I don’t know, it doesn’t work.”

But everyone seems to be working; everyone seems to eat well; all of the cars and trucks and motorcycles are running fine, Thai mechanics are excellent; most people seem to be happy most of the time, whether they’re at work or at a party, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference; Thai roofs do not leak, and that’s asking quite a bit in the tropics; Thai buildings don’t collapse; the food here is as safe as the U.S. or Europe; and if anybody gives you water to drink, you can be sure that it’s drinking water, they wouldn’t want to make you sick, they don’t drink the tap water either probably.

The world could learn a lot from Thai people. I know I have.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Oh! It’s all just too exciting.

Watching myself heal, it’s always gratifying. I heal with the speed of summer lightning, you can watch my cuts heal. I don’t mean like watching grass grow, I mean you can watch those things dry up and crust over in real time, it’s like a miracle, Lazarus came back from the dead slower than my cuts heal. About eight last night I cut myself on a can, inside the first joint of my left index finger, bad place to get cut, pretty deep, bleeding like a stuck pig, it was an ugly mess, hurt some too. I looked around for my antibiotic ointment and band-aids, I know they’re here somewhere, I couldn’t find them. I wondered if I should visit the clinic today, it’s free. By nine thirty the bleeding had completely stopped and it was kind of dried over. This morning it was fine. My body is amazing.

I had another gourmet dinner tonight, total cost three dollars. Some chicken, perfectly non-greasily fried, with crispy fried onions; a few sticks of marinated pork; delicious spicy papaya salad, the great Som Tam; some sticky rice; a small can of rambutans stuffed with pineapple. A couple of pops, and a nice English gangster movie on the big Samsung.

Went to the office today, got there about nine after a nice, leisurely breakfast at home. Had some Internet fun, talked to some of my friends, had a nice lunch of stir fried pork with garlic and some vegetables, left the office for home at two thirty, “to get home before the rain.” Took a nap.

Fact checking my lessons I’m even learning something. Just what is the difference between theft and larceny? It’s a close call. I always thought the law was interesting. Just don’t make me fight tooth and claw with those other lawyers, all at the mercy of those black robed devils.

So I suppose that I’ll stay with y’all for a while, no hurry to leave this corrupt shit-hole of a world, might as well wait for the real bad news from the doctor, might be a while yet, I have a good constitution, I’m interested in things, I manage to have some fun in between episodes of self-induced horror. Might as well give it more time, wait for a novel descendant or two, or the re-ignition of love. Stand back, Mr. Fred, dig yourself, chill. It could all take a while.

At least I enjoy sleeping.

Dear Finder of Fact

Evidently there is someone out there who is appointed to judge which blogs are living, breathing organisms, which ones are merely moribund, and which ones are actually dead. Perhaps it’s a group, it’s a big job after all. Maybe they have a bunker somewhere. Indiana, maybe.

My advice is, get out more, meet some people. Your web time has convinced you that your opinion means something. It doesn’t. This is a blog, and blogs can have only one subject: The Blogger. If there were any other subject it would be a web site. Web sites have value; blogs do not. They are not worth the paper they are printed on. They are the most disposable and ephemeral of all entertainments, down the list with limericks and thirty-year-old TV Guides.

So get over it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Mr. Fred, Oh! The Lucky One

I always feel like I've been lucky, consistantly lucky over the years. Two unlikely things that I have wished for have actually come true.

I used to ride my bike past Pepperdine in Malibu once a week on my way to risking my life in the canyons. It was so beautiful. I had one in a seemingly endless series of shit jobs at the time, and I thought, wouldn't it be great to have a few years to do nothing but study here? Five years later I got into the law school, and it was as great a three years as I had thought.

In Thailand, Bangkok, my favorite hotel is the Suwan Dusit Palace, or Place, it calls itself either one seemingly without pattern. It's on the campus of Ratchapat University and it is run by students of their hospitality industry programs, so it's great and cheap. Walking on the campus I always thought, wouldn't it be great to teach at a Thai university, all these fabulous co-eds in the tight black skirts and white blouses. So now I teach at Ramkhamhaeng and I can tell you, the co-eds are breathtaking.

Oh, and I was lucky in my marriage too.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My City

Remember that slogan for New York? "My city can kick your city's ass."

Well, speaking from Bangkok, I'm pretty sure that my new city could stomp your city's ass flat.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Joseph Tanaka, August 15, 1948 to August 27, 1948

Comments on “The Dash” reminded me of Joe Tanaka.

Joe has been a good friend to me since I was very young. He’s buried across the way and facing the grave of my maternal grandfather, now grandmother too. The Catholic cemetery on Kissena Boulevard in Flushing, across from the golf course. I was born on August 16, 1948 myself, so Joe’s gravestone always had great resonance for me.

It’s horrible when that stuff happens, that two weeks to live stuff. In the Seventies I worked with a girl about my age, twenty seven or eight at the time, in Los Angeles. She’d had it tough: at home there’d been abuse, physical, emotional and sexual; she ran away at fourteen and within two years she was working in a bar and married to the abusive fifty plus year old bartender. She’d been clear of that marriage for a couple of years and had just married a really nice guy her age. She was a great kid, still cheerful, kind of cute. We were really happy for her, we all knew her story, she wasn’t shy about telling it. She got pregnant, and there were no problems, perfectly normal birth, “you have a son!”

The next day the doc’s came in and told her some bad news. The baby had a genetic problem with his skin, it was brittle. Every little movement drew blood. The kid would die almost immediately. He lasted about a week, one terribly painful, bloody week. Talk about being crushed, the young mom’s eyes were permanently widened after that, her voice a little hysterical, she’d gone a little crazy. We lost track of her.

I don’t know Joe’s story, but it was a short one. He’d have turned sixty next month, like me, if he’d lived.

There but for fortune, my babies, join me in a silent prayer for the lucky, the living. So, in heaven, is Joe still an infant or does one in his situation become the heavenly representation of the man he might have become?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Et in Arcadia, Ego

I’ve been to lots of Thai funerals. The chanting, the snacks, the muted good cheer. Today I went to one where the dead guy was a friend of mine. It was a first.

I liked this guy. He was more fun than a barrel of monkeys, and he spoke pretty good English, he might have been homosexual, whatever, for some reason he enjoyed my company, and I certainly enjoyed his. Check out the picture that accompanies this post. That’s less than a month ago, the whole Law staff, along with some faculty, had a big party weekend in Pattaya, he was one of the “Masters of Ceremony” kind of guys. He also was my Xerox connection when I needed handouts for my classes. I saw him all the time. He was very sociable. Well now he’s dead.

And it only happened yesterday. He was working, nothing unusual, until four o’clock or so, when he told his secretary that he was very tired and that he was going to lay down on the couch for a while. She thought nothing of it until ten minutes went by and she heard the death-rattle. By the time she’d crossed the floor to the couch he’d turned green, stone dead.

He was about fifty-three. Heart attack, most likely, there’s no autopsies here, could have been a cerebral hemorrhage, maybe an aneurism. I’m no doctor.

I’ve been to lots of Thai funerals, but this is the first time I’ve seen the peculiar custom of “watering” the body. He was set out on a table with his face exposed, covered by a red cloth up to his chest; he was dressed but you could see the stitches roughly closing the gutting-gash up past his adam’s-apple. His left hand was extended over a large ceremonial vessel. His wrist was wrapped in the typical Thai flower wreaths. Hundreds of people lined up, kneel-walking the last ten feet to the body, were given a small ceremonial cup with water and flower petals, and poured the water over his bare hand. Some country boys actually clasped the hand as they poured. I took my turn and I must say, it’s an affecting way to say goodbye.

Sunday I’ll go to the burning of the body, I’ve never been to one of those either. Funerals are much more serious affairs when you actually liked the loved one.

Portrait of a Dash

June 25, 2007 there's a post with a picture of the Dash. I still have never seen another one like it anywhere in Thailand. What a little rocket.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Mr. Fred's Unpopular Poetry Corner: The Dash

Sure, poetry is bullshit, but it has no monopoly on bullshit and some of us happen to enjoy it, unless it's too pretentious, see poetry-review supra.

How about a poem about a machine?

"The Dash"

Just loping down the street
It rattled and popped along
In no apparent rhythm,
Sounded more like fireworks
Than a motor.

With the wick turned up
It sounded like gunfire,
Pulling steadily up the gears,
Explosions more regular now,
With overtones of Steel-Drum
Bands, happy but impatient,
Longing to get on with
The business of speed.

One piston as big as a child’s fist,
Gas consumption of a mid-sized car,
Stand on it and watch the gas gauge
Roll counter-clockwise like a
Stop-watch in reverse.

With the engine in the Second-House
And Jupiter aligned with Mars,
Opening the throttle suddenly
The bike shoots forward
With enough force to throw
The incautious rider straight off the back.

Rev’s ascending, throttle at the stop,
The sound now of a steam-whistle
Woodwind blast, engine fully alive,
Quickly through the gears,
Bigger clouds of gas drawn in
To the inescapable gravity of the motor.
Indistinguishable explosions now
A ripping, terrified
High pitched Psycho scream.

Roll it off and the angry noise
Subsides, again the rattle
Like something deep inside has snapped,
Random pops and huge banging noises,
The Steel-Band now, after Midnight,
Drunk and celebratory,
Reduced again to a shambles
Of potential violence, almost like
It will fly to pieces at any moment.

That bike was hot.
When you turned it off it sizzled and crackled
For two minutes at least.

Written on a commuter van from Lopburi to Bangkok, July 21, 2008

Why I love Fox News

In my absence from these pages I visited a new city, new for me, the Monkey City, Lopburi. I taught a class, for which I will be richly rewarded, and afterwards I stayed in a lovely, cheap hotel with huge golden monkeys outside the door. I was assured that the hotel had cable with channels in English, but it turned out to consist of one-half of the Deutsche-Welle and Fox News.

The Fox News was very exciting, everyone was very excited all the time. Weirdly overexcited, in fact. All of the anchors and so-called experts seemed to be hyperventilating, their very metabolisms seemed to be dangerously overheated. I cannot say whether this was due to natural enthusiasm for the universal object of their devotion, Corporate-Fascism, or just a general tendency to chaos. Who knows, maybe they just have a great warm-up act, boot-camp-screaming mindbenders who get all of the air talent chewing rubber balls and crying out for Liberal blood. Or maybe it’s some kind of “Vitamin Shots.”

But make no mistake, their purpose was always very clear, their hearts were on their sleeves at all times, the flag of State-Socialism was flying high. There was a lot of political news, and all of it existed for one purpose: the victory of John McCain, whom Fox News roundly hated until very recently, if I recall from my days in America. It is very important to Fox News that America continue to suck at the trough of horrors that the Republicans have held our collective heads in for the last eight years. Lots of time was devoted to propagandistic warnings of the consequences of a Democratic victory in the November election. When it came to Mr. Barack Husein Obama it was all brutally obvious, vicious Halloween Agit-Prop, lies cut from whole cloth, a seamless garment of blind hatred. Twenty-First Century Journalism at it’s finest. Mr. Obama is the enemy of their actual and their sub-rosa sponsors; their current mission is to insure his defeat.

We have only recently been introduced to this style of TV “news.” One of my favorite movies is “Starship Troopers,” which was made by a mad Dutchman in 1997 or so. In it the TV news consists of wide-eyed, bizarrely dressed talking-heads shouting single-minded arguments that accept nothing of contradiction, presented in a fast-cut style and computerifically interactive. At the time it appeared kind of funny, in an impossibly stupid kind of way. Fox News has adapted the style lock, stock and barrel.

The anchors have obviously been instructed to appear cheerfully uninformed and kind of stupid, to put the general public at ease, no doubt. Many of them are beautiful women; I appreciate that as much as the next man, some of them are gorgeous. For them or for the men involved, if they have received any education in their lives it has had no effect on their juvenile personas.

It’s comically one-sided. All of the “Business News” exists to inform us of the benefits of the Corporate Agenda: wise oil men explain to us that more drilling will lower prices at the pumps and that not to drill everywhere imaginable is unimaginably stupid.

Many of the presenters, the “experts,” are discredited political hacks. Like Carl Rove, who looks like he’s melting, poor man, maybe it was the make-up. Everyone’s favorite psephologist appears frequently to explain to us that “Dunkin Doughnuts” Democrats are abandoning Mr. Obama in droves because he is a “Latte Liberal,” he is inexperienced, he changes positions on every issue almost daily, he favors radical tax increases and has radical friends, he doesn’t like to wear American flag lapel pins, he is the most Liberal Senator, his wife hates America, and he is a closet Communist (“we’ve heard this all before, ‘from each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs.’”) I bet that if we split Carl Rove open we’d find a lizard from Mars in there. We should try it.

John McCain can obviously say or do any stupid thing that he wants these days and no one seems to notice or care. Confronted with issues of first impression (birth control v. Viagra) he turns into Popeye; on a good day he sounds like Mr. Magoo. No one seems to notice these things, so if he manages to stay alive until November 11th we’re all in big trouble, people, because he has all of the ducks that matter lined straight up his ass.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


It all disappeared as quickly as it had arrived on the national scene. Mysterious anthrax loaded envelopes began to show up, a few people were killed weren't they? Then, nothing, no clues, no more attacks, just that poor red-herring guy who was finally dismissed as a suspect.

Anyone else think it's curious, as in makes you go mmmmmmm, as in coincidence v. intentional act, anyone else a little suspicious that it happened right after the so-called 9-11, providing a distraction for, oh, I don't know, the premature clearing of the site without an investigation? Once the 9-11 story had ossified the anthrax was gone, making the world safe for, whom?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Farang Fatigue

No, I don't mean when Thai's get sick of having Farang around; I mean when I get sick of being a Farang around Thai's.

Generally I am fine with it, I am well accustomed to the constant, low to high level confusion of it, the occasional complete breakdown of communications. But sometimes it all just gets tiring, exhausting in fact.

I know so many people that I see all the time, and I only know so much small talk. I get repetitive pretty quickly. And it's important for me to speak first, if I don't control the conversation the Thai will say something that I probably won't understand. So I'm working on more simple things to say about the weather, and where I'm going to or coming from, or how my classes are going. Like, "I hope that it rains so that it cools off a little." Thai's can appreciate a sentiment like that, they don't like the heat any better than Westerners.

Rather than retreat to my apartment, which is insular and maladjusted, I usually go to the movies or to a mall where it is certain that I don't know anybody. After a brief respite I am fine, generally.

Poetry Review: The Waste Land, or, The Tyrany of French

“The Waste Land,” by T. S. Elliott

“They have the Knopfaugen typical of German miniature painting of the period . . .”

I put that sentence into a term paper that I did for a class in Late Medieval Art. “Knopfaugen” means “button eyes,” a term to describe the big, black pupils of the portraits in the miniatures. These days we might call them, “Acid-eyes.” The teacher was very good, and justifiably pretty famous, but he was a little arrogant about finding the French Connection in everything he taught us. I read his scholarly articles, he dropped in French phrases all the time. He did it in class too. I didn’t get the references, my French is non-existent. In my paper I tried to put the shoe on the other foot. I can be a bitch like that.

I dropped in German words. Nothing too ambitious, just a few words that were decipherable to an educated English speaker or understandable in context. Common art-historical reference kinds of words. Predictably, the professor wrote in the margin of the paper, “I’m not sure that these German references are universally understood.” I mean, he gave me an A+, but he bitched about the German. Of course, I understood his point. I would never have included a foreign language in a paper in English except to try to make a point to the professor. He saw the problem, but I doubt if he made the connection to his casual, annoying French references.

I read “The Waste Land” the other day, and the same thing happened. Somebody who was basically very talented and worth reading pushed the envelope a little too much to prove how cool he was by including lots of French. German too. (Line twelve in English is “I’m no Russian, I’m a genuine Lithuanian, a real German.” I get that, but why should I be expected to? Don’t do me any favors, T. S., I hate to see anyone confused.) Greek, you name it, Latin, he wasn’t taking any chances. If he could work it in there he did.

T. S. Elliot is pretty cool on his own, he never really needed the French to make a point. In fact, he realized that all of the foreign references in “The Wasteland” were over people’s heads. He provided the footnoting himself so that it could be understood by most people. So why did he include all of this foreign verbiage in the first place?

And who are these people? Coriolanus, PHLEBAS, a Phoenician, thanks for the hint, but I still don’t know who that is. Philomel? A women, I can tell from context, but that’s as far as I go. The English names aren’t much better, most of them are just as obscure.

The neologisms are a little annoying too, a little “co co rico, co co rico” goes a long way.

Finally the whole thing goes to hell in a hand-basket:

Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam ceu chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo's mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

Shantih shantih shantih

What is that, Italian? And something about birds? Or maybe a sex act? And then French again? And who’s Ile? Is that a person’s name? And Hieronymo, a mad somebody-or-other, is that Bosch? I do have some education. And finally, the last blind challenge, what is that, Sanskrit? Shantih my ass.

Walt Whitman was pretty cool in plain English. William Carlos Williams too. It can be done.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Comment on a Comment Elsewhere

David Ehrenstein, see supra, has been excoriated in the blog-o-sphere for a comment he made on Crooks & The comment was about the Supremes decision to back hand-gun ownership rights in Washington D.C.

"If you see Justice Scalia anywhere near your house, shoot the motherfucker."

I tried to leave a comment, but as easy as that seems for other people I always have trouble. My comment on David's comment is:

1. That's not a threat, it's a rhetorical irony or something like that; and

2. That's not a comment a Liberal would make; the sentiment is Radical. Liberals and Conservatives prefer incremental change, and we can all see that that has gotten us nowhere.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Picture of the Day: Wedding Photo

This wedding was fun. Her father is the provincial governor of my little northern town. The couple are very nice. Who do you think will be the boss in this family?

Challenging Coincidences

I’m pretty sure I don’t like coincidences. They overtax my limited faculties: are these two things related at all? did the first one cause the second one? The Romans considered that second statement a fallacy, “post hoc ergo propter hoc,” but the first thing does cause the second thing sometimes. Did it this time?

Last night I had a limited time to kill before resuming my preferred occupation as a sleeper, so I thought I’d put in disc three of an Indian action movie, the cover pictures looked pretty bloody, and I thought there might be a nice song and dance number too. A dialogue box appeared with the first scene, “Danger! Threat Detected! Trojan style!” I took the disc out and attempted to quiet the machine down, but it was touch-and-go there for a minute, dialogue boxes wouldn’t close when they should, “End Task” program non-responsive boxes came up, finally I restarted the thing.

It opened up normally and I put in the second disc of “Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla,” I know that one is fine, virus wise. The last bit is a protracted, brutal battle between the two title characters, Godzilla bleeds and screams in pain, the young woman who is piloting the MechaGodzilla is very pretty and very determined, Godzilla is finally overmastered by a freeze-ray.

Then, coincidence struck and the electricity went out. Not the whole neighborhood, but my entire huge apartment building. How could a virus threat do that? I’m not an expert, as John McCain says, so I wondered for a minute if they could be related events. I doubt it.

I continued to watch the movie on battery power and the power came back after half an hour or so. Life can be very confusing for those of us who think too much.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Mr. Fred's (Short) Poetry Corner

I know that poetry is not for everyone, so I'm trying to write shorter poems.

Do birds ever close their eyes
And just let the wind blow over their systems?
Are they grateful for their talent,
And proud, aware of doing in daylight
What most of us can only do in dreams?

July 9, 2008 One of the ideas I’ve gotten laying in bed trying not to get up.

Movie Review: The Duelist (Korean, 2007?)

Lee Myung-Se; Director, Producer, Production Designer, Writer.

Cool movie alert! We stylin’ now, baby. Think of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, Gary Oldman weird red un-naturalistic sets and Coney Island camera angles, but on Acid, not the crap they sell now but that good blotter we used to get, and more than one.

This movie is so happening, it’s a shame you’ll never see it. Primary colors, flowing drapery, faux sex-witch scene near the beginning just because the director loves us, to set the mood, lots of slow-motion, balletic super slow-mo even.

The protagonist: the eerie, calm confidence of the magically dangerous, a swordsman. And his foil, an Annie Oakley girl with two knives and an Elvis snarl, beautiful, of course, but in a goofy, “I meant to do that” kind of way. They have a few duels, spinning and thrusting in the dark, he silent, she grunting sometimes, exhausting themselves but never getting cut, like they were doing something altogether different.

Lots of jump-cuts, overlays, lapse-dissolves, one great scene of comedic Benny Hill under-cranking. Scenes in daylight are bright and charming, all set in an outdoor market with lots of food, fruit, baskets, flowers, everything you’d expect if you were familiar with such places. Scenes at night time are misty, moody, it’s almost always snowing and swirling, thunder and lightning, the moon should have gotten an acting credit, an Anime moon with Anime jumps and backlight, autumn leaves and living shadows in pale lantern light.

The box says, “Anamorphic Widescreen,” which in Asia can mean anything from almost all the way letterboxed to almost all the way Full Screened. This one is out at the Letterboxed end. It’s an extravagant visual orgy, circular and hypnotic, I can’t wait to see it on a good TV. (I watched on my lap-top this time.) In Korean with Thai subtitles that cannot be disabled.

Lots of those lovely little Korean hats that project status. Poor people have hats made of straw and rich men have the fancy gossamer black ones, they are all the kind that have tiny little crowns with big, round flat brims and tie under the chin because they’re not really hats at all, they do no good in hat-ness, no warmth, no shade, just really cool little hats.

At the end about fifty guys in black outfits with round-crowned Korean chin tie hats and six foot halberds have it out with some government official and his minions. The Annie Oakley chick is on the winning side, she’s very tough, they kill everybody at the official’s house. There are great overhead shots of swirling, clashing crowds, making shapes that run into one another, including the Yin-Yang of the Korean flag. It’s at night all shades of whites and grays with snow and occasionally an unexplained red drapery overlay.

There’s some kind of plot, of course, but I couldn’t get it. Somebody gets pissed, somebody steals something, there is abuse of power, unconsummated love, climactic blade battle, the usual. Annie Oakley chick and the title character are an Asian item, they fight, flirt, duel, laugh, drink, fall in love, he dies, no boom-boom. She cries. He comes back and they duel again in a snow swept, moon lit, shadowy ally, then he disappears, it’s probably a dream.

This movie is a ten, a gem, a keeper, a must-see. I love it.

Go Back In Time

Thursday, June 26th post about College Point, there are a couple of very interesting comments there now. Thanks for that, everybody.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Picture of the Day

This is a kindergarten class moving from one building to another. These kids are in Phrae, a little northern town. Pretty clever too, they speak two languages already and know most of the alphabet (the Thai alphabet at least). Everyone speaks Thai and just about everyone speaks the northern dialect at home and with close friends.

I Told You So

As the value of our house shot up in the last ten years I thought about those people, you know who I mean, and I got worried. They are so desperate for our money, all of our money, it must kill them thinking of all this home equity laying around, not helping them in the least. Teams of hirelings, I was sure, were working day and night on the problem. How to steal middle-America's home equity.

And people call me negative. What could be more positive than worrying about my biggest investment?

Seen what's been going on with the value of the dollar? Guess what it means for your home equity?

Here in Thailand, three years ago you got a nice bowl of noodle soup for the equivalent of fifty cents. Now it is the equivalent of one dollar. And so on down the line.

So your money, wherever it is, is losing value and that my brothers and sisters is the same as losing dollars. This weakening of the dollar was one of the great plans of those geniuses at the Bush White House. Supposedly to "help raise exports." I read some Asian media, and those guys are worried that a big "dollar dump" is right around the corner. What images accompany the phrase, "bottom falling out."

You economists out there can fill in the blanks. This weak dollar is good for some aspects of business, and that's where the wealth transfer will take place. It's a tough job being negative, but somebody has to do it.

Good luck with that retirement plan.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Bridge on the River Kwai

Here's a nice, short, heartfelt obituary. This poor guy died making the bridge, there's about twelve-thousand in the graveyard with him. It's all beautifully maintained.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Mini, or "Brief," Bio

I like the site, "Memories of College Point," and I just gave them a "mini" bio. For the benefit of all the College Pointers among my fans I'll include it here too. Remember, lawyers are people who can write fifty pages about something and call it a "brief."

I was born in August, 1948 and lived in Rosedale, just outside of JFK Airport, for a year. We moved to 119th street and 12th avenue in the summer of 1949. Pre-school I hung out either on 119th street or 118th street.

I went to Saint Fidelis, I was a winter start, after Christmas 1953 I think. I was younger than most of the other children. I went to the CYO summer school a couple of years, and spent a lot of time at the PS 27 “summer school” playing Knock-Hockey and stick and stoop ball, some softball. I took the bus rides to a couple of ball games with that summer school too. At one I’m pretty sure we saw Yogi Berra hit four homeruns in a game, we were in the bleachers. I graduated in June, 1961 and went to Holy Cross.

In the St. Fidelis years I got around CP quite a bit, we had bikes and were free to roam around. I visited my school friends all around town. I played Little League, first with the Savio team and then with the Ravens, Charlie Calmus was the catcher/captain. I lived near enough to Chisolm’s Park to be there almost all the time, year after year of pick-up baseball games and shenanigans. We all climbed trees a lot. Summers I remember hanging around in the bushes watching the teenagers drink beer at Ripley’s Beach. I fished at the park, caught a lot of eels, gave them to Doc Winkler, he liked to eat eel, he taught me to fish. I was in the St. Fidelis Majestic Knights marching band when I was in St. Solangia’s class. I bowled in the league at the College Lanes for a couple of years. I went to all those Kid’s Special Saturday morning movies at the College Theatre.

We had a lot of freedom then. I went after bowling with a lot of other eleven and twelve year olds to the Museum of Natural History, a couple of trips like that. We went down to Manhattan for the St. Patrick’s day parade and then ran around loose, amazed by Times Square, as high-schoolers we loved to eat at Tad’s Steak House, which was I think $1.59 for a steak dinner at the time. We knew where the Ferrari dealer was and went over to sit in the cars. I saw ball games at Ebbitt’s Field and the Polo Grounds, the Giants and the Mets up there.

I went to dances at St. Paul’s, PS 27 and St. Fidelis (Sodality Dances). I worked three summers at Belock Instrument during high school.

1963 to 65 I hung around mostly at 7th avenue and 124th street. Ronnie Barrett and Jimmy ? had cars early. Me and Barrett went to that neighborhood because Teddy Bullock told us there were lots of cute girls there, I ended up marrying one. Bob Kretschmann is the best friend that I’ve ever had. Steve Candelliri I met the first week he was in town, we always got along. During this time I risked my life on a regular basis driving around with Freddie Maul, who was always a blast to hang around with. I knew the guys in the Dominants, the Imperials, the Renaissance, and the Shifters (they never worked, Frankie Priore, Billy Booth, I forget who else).

After that I hung with band guys, the Others, Stuff, Backstreet Blues Band. I was in the Navy for a while, they gave me an early Honorable Discharge for having “no military bearing.” In 1969 I got married to Ann Suppe at St. Fidelis, with a reception at the VFW. We lived in Larry Kunst’s family’s place on 130th street and 20th avenue, then moved to Flushing, and in 1975 we went to Los Angeles. We’re still married, and we have a house there since 1978. Ann and I both eventually graduated from Queens College, she in 1974 and me in 1985.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

What Does Woman Want?

by Anonymous

I think that I shall never see
A man who’s good enough for me
A man who may forever wear
A golden tan and all his hair
A man with muscles firm and tight
A man whose teeth stay in at night
A man who has no liver spot
A man who does what all men ought
A man who works real hard each day
And every week brings me his pay
Good men like that don’t grow on trees
If you ain’t one, move along please.

Public Service Announcement Re: Marriage

I like this guy, a priest, summarizing in a talk for HS students "Who Not To Marry." From a Maureen Dowd column.

I asked him to summarize his talk:

“Never marry a man who has no friends,” he starts. “This usually means that he will be incapable of the intimacy that marriage demands. I am always amazed at the number of men I have counseled who have no friends. Since, as the Hebrew Scriptures say, ‘Iron shapes iron and friend shapes friend,’ what are his friends like? What do your friends and family members think of him? Sometimes, your friends can’t render an impartial judgment because they are envious that you are beating them in the race to the altar. Envy beclouds judgment.

“Does he use money responsibly? Is he stingy? Most marriages that founder do so because of money — she’s thrifty, he’s on his 10th credit card.

“Steer clear of someone whose life you can run, who never makes demands counter to yours. It’s good to have a doormat in the home, but not if it’s your husband.

“Is he overly attached to his mother and her mythical apron strings? When he wants to make a decision, say, about where you should go on your honeymoon, he doesn’t consult you, he consults his mother. (I’ve known cases where the mother accompanies the couple on their honeymoon!)

“Does he have a sense of humor? That covers a multitude of sins. My mother was once asked how she managed to live harmoniously with three men — my father, brother and me. Her answer, delivered with awesome arrogance, was: ‘You simply operate on the assumption that no man matures after the age of 11.’ My father fell about laughing.

“A therapist friend insists that ‘more marriages are killed by silence than by violence.’ The strong, silent type can be charming but ultimately destructive. That world-class misogynist, Paul of Tarsus, got it right when he said, ‘In all your dealings with one another, speak the truth to one another in love that you may grow up.’

“Don’t marry a problem character thinking you will change him. He’s a heavy drinker, or some other kind of addict, but if he marries a good woman, he’ll settle down. People are the same after marriage as before, only more so.

“Take a good, unsentimental look at his family — you’ll learn a lot about him and his attitude towards women. Kay made a monstrous mistake marrying Michael Corleone! Is there a history of divorce in the family? An atmosphere of racism, sexism or prejudice in his home? Are his goals and deepest beliefs worthy and similar to yours? I remember counseling a pious Catholic woman that it might not be prudent to marry a pious Muslim, whose attitude about women was very different. Love trumped prudence; the annulment process was instigated by her six months later.

“Imagine a religious fundamentalist married to an agnostic. One would have to pray that the fundamentalist doesn’t open the Bible and hit the page in which Abraham is willing to obey God and slit his son’s throat.

“Finally: Does he possess those character traits that add up to a good human being — the willingness to forgive, praise, be courteous? Or is he inclined to be a fibber, to fits of rage, to be a control freak, to be envious of you, to be secretive?

“After I regale a group with this talk, the despairing cry goes up: ‘But you’ve eliminated everyone!’ Life is unfair.”

This Blogging Thing

I'm trying to figure out this whole blogging thing. I Googled "David Ehrenstein" and out of sixty-one thousand hits SET was number one-twenty-four. Not bad, but that's page umpteen so nobody's going to find it.

Googled "David Augustus Ehrenstein" and SET was first, not to mention that from number two on the hits had nothing to do with David Ehrenstein. So I am the only person in the world that knows his middle name. And nobody will look for it, so being first fades to insignificance.

I need to go to the woodshed and learn how to get this thing read.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

David E’s Fablog Makes Me Cry

My I get personal for a moment? Of course I can, it's my site. It's an interesting story, and you can check the named site, when I grow up I hope that I can include links, but I can't yet.

David E’s Fablog Makes Me Cry

David Augustus Ehrenstein seems to have established himself in one of the nether circles of the pundit-underworld as a social critic of matters of homosexual and/or racial politics. I know David very well, well enough to have seen his [redacted] on several occasions, outside of the gym (without ever having used it myself for an improper or unnatural purpose, not that there would have been anything wrong with that). He was, in fact, an usher at my wedding, not only because he was one of my best friends but also because he was one of the only two of my friends who owned a suit and a tie. It was quite a fuss, a big surprise to me, I can be a bit dense about such things, but it was a big fuss, based upon the fact that David is Black, and homosexual.

My mother, may god have mercy on her soul, and not send her back for any reason whatsoever, she cried easy, so it was no great accomplishment to make her cry. Her discovery, on the day of my wedding, that David was to be an usher, made her cry, and my assurances that I had never wanted a church wedding in the first place, and was doing it as a courtesy to her, and if David went, I went, that only made her cry more. I was used to it by then, and the fact that the epoch of her ascendancy was coming to an end made me magnanimous. My family, bless or damn them accordingly, had to put up with being seated by either David or a White, long-haired friend of mine. Neither thing was considered ideal. It was the Sixties, and the Generation Gap was in full effect.

It was all a mystery to me at the time because David was culturally not Black in the least. Oh, he has a lip-seam, and kinky hair, and more than a good tan, and dark brown eyes, but culturally he was almost identical to me. He had grown up in Queens, White working class neighborhood, he had gone to Catholic grammar school with all White kids, he was interested in most of the arts, usually at the Avante Guard edge. That much we shared in every detail. And frankly I have always thought that homosexuals were more gracious and agreeable companions that almost all straight people.

His father, dead by the time I met David, was Jewish, and his mother was mostly Irish but with more than a little touch of the tar brush, may her soul rest in peace, and if god wants to send her back, tell her to visit me, and give her please sufficient physicality to cook mortal food, I loved the woman. David almost always wore at least a sports jacket and tie, with a double-duty top coat, and seemed to carry an umbrella more than most people. He was the consummate gentleman. He seemed to enjoy my company, and he was so well versed and interested in so many things that he was a delight to hang out with. It was David that took me to my first French New Wave films, my first Bergman films, my first Fellini films. It was David who suggested that I would like Anthony Burgess’s new book, “A Clockwork Orange.” He was quite a treasure. I loved him.

We were best of friends for thirty years, and I love him still, although the thirty years have elapsed and we no longer see each other. I still dream about him, I love him, and I am still saddened to be alienated from his affections.

We first met in New York City, a couple of teenagers. After knowing each other for about ten years I moved with my family to Los Angeles, and by having such an intimate contact as me in that city David felt himself empowered to move to LA. California was David’s real education in Blackness, I don’t think that he had considered it too much while he lived in NYC.

David didn’t know any of the Black handshakes; he spoke like an Ivy League academic; he dressed like a mid-level civil servant. New York was filled with Blacks like David, but LA was still very provincial. Every day he was approached several times by Black folk who had a clear expectation of what they could expect based upon his apparent Blackness, and their disappointment and confusion at actually finding David there was hard for them and hard for David too. Not to mention the police.

The theory of Police management of crime in LA at the time was to save money by maintaining a small police force, and to make it effective by making it especially violence prone and minority-unfriendly. So David would routinely be stopped on the street, or pulled off a bus, that’s a party, nice audience right there. Sit on the curb, and don’t show any temper, you don’t want to have an accident. David didn’t drive, he didn’t take drugs, he had never stolen anything in his life, he had broken fewer laws than anybody that I knew, man, woman, boy or girl. But he attracted police attention in LA, because he had a lip-seam, kinky hair, and more than a good tan. Personally, as a chauvinistic New Yorker, I believe that the cops in NYC were more sensitive to David’s clothing and the quality of his interactions, New York cops know who’s dangerous and who’s not, it’s not a color thing, if you’re not threatening to them they are relieved and happy to see you, in New York it wasn’t even so much a police thing, it was a working-man thing. In LA, though, he was just another nigger trouble-maker.

Year after year of this wore on my friend, that’s what I think. It taught him for the first time in his life how to be angry, it forced him to carry a growing load of resentment. He was so disrespected, on such a regular basis, that it gradually changed him. Oh, there’s more to it. The never-ending waves of friends dead of AIDS; his own near death experience with a troublesome blood vessel. To see too much, and understand it better than most people, is a curse.

My friend David Augustus Ehrenstein should have commanded more respect on first meeting than anyone I have ever known. He is a genius, he is erudite, he is well dressed with impeccable personal habits, he is polite to a fault, and very charming, he is tall and handsome, and he is articulate to the point of remarkable lucidity. It is one of the bitterest disappointments of my life, in this vale of tears that life as we know it, that mere daily life was allowed to turn David into a cyclopean edifice of deep cynicism and barely controlled rage. Given the remarkable Christmas present that was DAE, the world threw it aside based upon the wrapping paper.

I don’t give one, smooth shit for the world’s loss, but I am deeply saddened by the ruination of David’s pleasant equilibrium. And even more so by the unpleasant fact that somehow I have no place in David’s new life, the life of an angry pundit. I long for almost nothing in this life, but my most ardent wish is that once before I die my friend David will again hold me in his arms and kiss my cheek and tell me that he loves me.

Movie Review: Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidora

Movie Review: GMK: Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidora; Giant Monsters All Out Attack. 2004 or so.

Boy, that’s an unwieldy title if there ever was one. Not unusual in Asia though, over here a movie title can be an entire sentence, let’s describe the entire movie!

This is the scariest Godzilla movie since the first one, fifty years before. Not that Raymond Burr crap, the real Godzilla, true terror, mothers and babies getting fried, Tokyo in flames, giant footfalls that still haunt my dreams. This one is terrifying. It has a unique G-suit, used only in this movie, big, broad square snout with dangerous looking teeth, blank milky-white eyes, this Godzilla looks dangerous, sounds dangerous, and damn, everyone whose paths' cross his in the movie agree, this ‘Zill is the real deal.

GMK stands outside the conventional Godzilla time line. Usually, these things can be stacked on top of one another; this one starts from scratch. The other three monsters have identities completely unique to this movie. There are three others, poor Baragon got left out of the title. Got to draw the line somewhere. Godzilla actually appears to die at the end of this movie, the first time he’s died since the first movie.

This is one of the few Godzilla movies where the human characters actually appear to be afraid of the ‘Zill man. Crowds too, not just running around, but running in total panic. There are scenes of a realistic evacuation, usually people just stay at home and watch TV. Several sympathetic characters are introduced, developed and then killed with terror in their eyes. Soldiers don’t just have their positions burned, they fly screaming through the air. All of the human characters are three dimensional, not the usual cartoon characters. Politicians and military people included. The female lead is genuinely heroic and sympathetic.

The monster fights themselves are very up-close and personal. Huge bites accompanied by crunching sounds; blood spurting, real emotion in the monsters eyes and actions, fear, aggression, contempt. Godzilla’s atomic-death-breath here is really impressive, a screen filling display of white hot horror, terribly effective whenever it is employed.

There’s a happy ending, not to worry. And a false ending too, the music over the credits gets somber at some point and the camera goes back underwater to revisit the dead Godzilla only to discover his still beating heart as big as a city bus.

No, this one is really good, I know that I like them all, but this one I would recommend to anybody.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Was It Good For You?

I don't know about you, but I enjoy reading "The Universe and Everything." Astronomy? Astrophysics? Physics itself? Fooey. I'm having fun.

I like the way it set up the "women with starving babies" bit though. And I particularly like the last suggestion. Liberals and Conservatives? I eschew the middle of politics. Let's get this thing done!

And god agrees with me. I both reject and embrace god. I also stand at the right shoulder of god and speak for god. She says hi.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Slow Day

No comments today. I understand that it may take a little while to get through "The Universe and Everything," supra, but it's worth it. The punch-line is a killer.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Another Thai Bus

I'll wager all of these lights are hooked up too. And check out the generous space left open for the driver to see through the windshield. This is one of those Nissan Diesel un-air-conditioned hot-rods.

Why Blog?

I like this blogging thing, but I’m afraid that it’s just a negative impulse on my part. After all, how much different is it than the monkey at the zoo who throws his own shit at the rubes? It’s all ego and spite, isn’t it?

But I like it, and for me it provides its own reward, the writing is therapeutic. And the comments are validating, and I’m flattered that so many people have visited and checked my so-called profile.

So spin easy, babies, and keep on keepin’ on. Blessings be upon you and peace be with you. I love you.

The Universe and Everything

Parental Advisory: Last Paragraph May Not Be Suitable For Children.

The universe, you’ve got to love it. That’s the big show right there, the Biggest Top, the trillion-ring circus. And the people who study it, ain’t they something! Some of them say there are one hundred billion galaxies; other insist, no, there’s one hundred and twenty five billion. Where do they come up with these things? That guy Carl Sagan said it best, in the correct pseudo-religious tones of incredulity, “billions and billions . . .” with eyes cast up to the ceiling, who knew what he was seeing, but there was a lot of it.

Somehow they all seem to agree now that it all started out as one small thing, a “singularity.” Was it as big as a golf ball? . . . tennis ball? . . . basketball? They argue about that too, and unfortunately there are no eye-witnesses. And some small thing it was, too, containing all of the mass and all of the energy, and I suppose all of the time, and of course all of the light, in the universe, all of the everything that became our “billions and billions.” Where would you keep such a thing? And what would the dimensions of that space be? Boy, what if there was another one somewhere? I guess it would have to be pretty far away. Like a trillion miles to the trillionth power. Get out all the zeros, we’re going to need them all. I don’t know, with mass like that, and gravity being what it is, probably couldn’t even put it far enough away. And if they crashed together, what a crash that would be! Two of them knocking heads! Probably cover the distance in a trillionth of a second or so.

Whatever, somehow the little thing blew up, a Big Bang, that they all agree on. And wow, that was some explosion right there. I guess technically it’s still happening, everything is still zooming away from the explosion. It was only fourteen billion years ago, that’s a pretty easy number to get your head around. A million is only a thousand thousand, lots of us have houses now that are worth that in dollars, or they were until the last year anyway, either way, we know it’s not that much any more. And a billion is only a thousand of those, like a thousand houses in Santa Monica, how hard was that to imagine? Now fourteen of those. You’re not even halfway to downtown L.A.

Sometimes I imagine that I am at the edge of this explosion of matter and energy, looking out in the direction that it’s all traveling into, traveling away from the explosion. Looking out, as it were, into where it’s all going. Can I assume that so far there’s nothing there? And all of this matter, our matter, is expanding into this empty space very, very quickly, exponentially quickly. How far will it go? . . . can it go? Is there any end to that great nothing at all out where it’s going? Our universe is exploring it, and inquiring minds want to know.

That bubble of crap racing away from the first explosion occupies quite a little space itself. Fourteen billion years from the middle, the radius, so the diameter of the stuff that’s ours to see is probably twenty-eight billion somethings across, depends on how fast it’s all going. It’s less than the speed of light, because we can still see it. Let’s just say it’s a big bubble, and growing, and it’s taking up space where? How big is the where? I have a hunch we’ll never figure that one out.

Now there’s a big argument among the geniuses as to whether or not the whole thing will sometime stop expanding and begin contracting under the irresistible force of gravity. Lots of things are contracting already, like into Black Holes. Those are some big gravimetric generators right there, they get big enough and I’ll wager they’ll start to attract each other. I’m on the side of the contraction argument. The other side thinks that the expansion will go on “forever.” Well, Virginia, there ain’t no Santee-Claus, forget forever right now. That’s a creationist argument; if there’s no end to it, the first little thing must have been put there somehow. Just to consider the term “forever” as part of the mix is a little naïve, “forever” and “infinity” are impossibilities that have no place in rational argument. We are somewhere, and somewhen, and something, we just don’t know what. Just because we don’t understand it, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

The smart money says it’s a closed system, it’s a little thing that blows up and then it all reaches the end of it’s tether and starts to come back together into another little thing, the identical little thing actually, in every way, in exactly the same place it was too, I’ll bet.

How long would that take? Nothing is yet showing any indication that the expansion phase is about to end. Quite the opposite, the expansion seems quite content now, quite confident, rushing along quite sure of itself. Another ten billion “years?” Twenty? Fifty? And then another fifty billion years to collapse again? The collapse phase should be rather shorter, actually, at some point it should all start to happen really, really fast, as gravity gets a full wind in its sails and rushes to a final solution.

I am a lawyer, and we like round numbers, so lets say the whole process, from singularity to singularity takes one hundred billion years. That’s still only a small fraction of “forever,” if there ever could be such a thing. Then how long could the little ball of everything remain intact before the next Big Bang? That’s probably another very long time, that much stuff all in one place would be pretty cozy. I have no guess or speculation about the forces that it would take to cause another Big Bang, but I do think it’s all part of a closed system.

So many questions. Is there only one of these things? Or are there “billions” of singularities out there Big Banging and expanding and contracting and settling down and then Big Banging again and etc. Even ten of them would take ten times more space than we can even begin to imagine. But why should there be only one? That would be quite the little leap of faith right there, even a little egocentric, our singularity must be unique! I don’t think ego or faith have anything to do with any part of this inquiry.

It’s all jaw-dropping wonder, clueless mystery mongering, it stuns the mind, our minds anyway, there’s no shame in it. No need to jump into mythical speculations of just what it is that we are inferior to. Our inferiority is a nameless, unquantifiable reality. Deal with it.

It’s enough to know that there is more to all of this than we can claim responsibility for. There is more to all of this than we can possibly understand. There are dimensions here that we cannot give names or faces to, and that fact should not trouble us at all. It all simply is, and so are we. We must be, because we are. So what is our role in all of this? There is little we can do except try to make life on earth a little easier for everybody. By doing that we make it easier for ourselves too. Doesn’t that make sense?

There’s a moral to this tale, my babies. Don’t worry about who we have to thank for all of this, who we must adore, or for whom we must be good, don’t give it a thought. There is no man at a desk with a book. Atheists and theologists all agree on that now. Call it “the ultimate mystery,” or call it god, or gods, or goddess for that matter, call it anything at all, it doesn’t change anything.

So what now? Well, help the women with the starving babies just because it’s obviously the right thing to do. And so on, right down the line. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s not religion; it’s common sense, common-fucking-sense. You don’t need books, or priests, you don’t need interpreters to show you the way, you don’t need gods. You have it in you, you know what’s right, just fucking do it.

And if your leaders, your elected officials, don’t seem to know the right thing from a hole in the ground, if they seem like all then can think about is their own prosperity, if they’re holding up the black thing that they’ve done, and telling you that they did it for you, and that it’s a white thing after all, no matter what you can see with your own eyes, well they are lying to you, and they do not have your best interests in their plans. That being the case, you should un-elect them, and if that doesn’t work, seriously considering separating them from their heads, it’s been done before, and god and the universe and all of the saints and angels of all religions and all of the dead of all time and all races will only cheer as the blood spurts from their necks, and the dull film covers their still open eyes.

So there. Now you know how I really feel.

Time On My Hands

. . . and I'm thinking too much, but it's fun. Some of these philosophical posts are a little verbose, but I hope that they're entertaining. I have fun writing them, that's for sure.