Sunday, August 31, 2008

I’m Sure That It’s a Joke

I have cable TV, the good package, Platinum they call it. It costs me two thousand Baht a month, about sixty Dollars, a fortune by local standards. It’s a comfort to me, I lived fifteen months without it, and believe me, I missed it. But this is Thailand, and when it rains, the cable goes out, sometimes for a good while after the rain stops, sometimes partially, one part or another. That happened today. The news and the movie channels were non-starters.

I went to the local good mall today, the Mall Bangkapi, it’s very nice. While I was there I checked the internet, e-mail etc, including the Huffington Post, for news. I’m sure the lead story, and all of the related story, were a joke. They claimed that McCain had chosen as his running mate somebody named Sarah something-or-other, the first term governor of the dark side of the moon. A nice looking woman, but every further article made her look increasingly ridiculous as a VP candidate. Silly ideas about things that should better be left to scientists. Only local experience, in a locale that is as far removed from any beaten path as you can get. No legislative experience, she was the mayor of some kick-stump town somewhere in the outer darkness. Voice like chalk scraping on a blackboard. Kind of a lightweight, a kind of pretty lightweight. I’m sure it was a joke.

I’m home now, and in spite of the fact that it hasn’t rained for about seven hours, my cable is still out, at least the part that has the news channels. Later it’ll come back, and I’ll check CNN and BBC, see what really happened. I’m sure that it’s a joke.

Scratching Beautiful Instruments

First of all, I predict that Hurricane Gustav is harmless, because lots of preparation is going on. The next bad one will be another unpleasant surprise.

And I have been fulminating, radically, about how America just throws off potential friends willy-nilly. After those Soviets were gone, the Russians really could have used a friend. What’s so hard to imagine? We fought the Nazi’s with those guys and girls. As a matter of fact, they saved many tens of thousands of American lives by doing almost all of the heavy lifting. Six and a half million German soldiers got killed in that war, and the Russians, well, the Soviets, killed about five million of them (almost three million civilians got killed, we killed our share of those). But friends? No way, said our genius leaders, hell no, we don’t like those guys.

And Cuba, who could be a better friend than Cuba? Those people know how to party, and I’ve got two words for you: La Musica, baby! I know, that’s three words, you know what I mean. Cuban food is great too. What’s not to like about Cuba? I could move there tomorrow. Look at Miami: Cubans have succeeded in making Florida hip. Cuba rocks.

And Vietnam, what would have been wrong with becoming friends with them? Lots of times people become friends after a fight, you find out a lot about a person, or a country, during a good fight. If they were our friends we could hire them to get rid of the Taliban. They could use the money, and I’ll tell you, the last army I would want after me would be Vietnam’s. That’s some tough little guys right there, ask anybody who fought them. Fought them? Shit, try to find them, you only know they’re there when they’re killing you.

Friends are the greatest resource in the world. But I guess they don’t do much to boost defense spending. Or trick rubes into voting against their economic interests.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The College Point Effect

Now, come on, we're all senior gentlemen now and no one is going to ass-kick anyone while I'm around. Like I could stop anybody. The last fight I had was almost twenty-five years ago. It was over very quickly, as soon as we got to the "balls-and-eyes" portion of the ground fight we simultaneously realized that the whole thing was a tragic mistake, a supremely bad idea. We both just froze, separated, cursed at each other a little bit, and went our separate ways. I didn't start it, all I can say is, that glass pipe gives some people explosive tempers.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thailand is Cool

Thailand is a separate universe, proof of the multiverse theory, the strings here are not like the strings that give substance to anywhere else.

I’m watching a Korean TV show, some kind of Gong Show, non-professional acts, singers, dancers, some kind of weird-outfitted MC. The audience consists of all ages, and everybody is equally amused. Nobody is holier-than-thou, the oldsters love the hip-hop dancing and the hippie kids love the old time singers. It’s got a real cultural rhythm to it. There’s a crew of five hip-hop dance guys that would be a cool act in New York or Paris. The thing here though is that everybody, hip or not, old or young, is on board, it’s all Korea baby, it’s all us, we can dig it. And none of them are cool.

The shared value of all of the acts is talent, ability. They are very accomplished at what they do. Lots of Asian countries have TV shows like this. Good acts, universal approval, we are all (Fill-In-The-Nationality-Blank). It’s so dull.

In Thailand, however, real talent that displays itself freely is a detriment to entertainment value. I think it makes people uncomfortable. Thai’s prefer acts that are having fun, but not exhibiting any real talent. That way we can all have fun together, nobody feels inferior. Fun is cool.

So many Thai singers are really not very good, and many, most Thai dance acts are horribly spongy in their presentation, all the girls are beautiful, the guys are handsome, everyone is smiling but no one is dancing to the same music. Don’t get me wrong, lots of Thai entertainers are very talented, their genius is to make it look so easy, so effortless, that they appear to be just another half-wit comically failing at something. They typically have real half-wits on the show with whom they are completely indistinguishable. Sometime the act or routine features genuinely talented people, who show off their talent to its best advantage unashamedly, who make the other star appear totally amateurish and inadequate. This is all a delicate balance to maintain, intended to make all of the viewers comfortable, intended to make the stars appear to be just like anybody else, no better or more talented, we’re all in this together. These entertainers, and their viewers, are cool.

The reality is that all Thai people are cool, you heard me, unless they try. Those Korean hip-hop dancers were very good, lots of practice, got that shit down pat, no one could hold that hard work against them, Korean people appreciated the effort, made us all look good, amen. In Thailand, the effort to stand out is seen to make most of us look second class, not so good, so cut it out. Let’s just have fun.

I’m telling you, any Thai woman selling Mango and Sticky Rice somewhere, wearing cheap shorts, giant old lady bloomers, a cheap bra made from scraps, a Popeye the Sailor T-shirt, and plastic flip-flops, with a sixth-grade education from out in the rice field somewhere, she’s cool. Cool is a relationship with reality, a casual understanding of what is important, and a casual disregard for everything else. She’s not trying a bit, she’s just doing her thing and having fun. Fun sleeping, fun waking, fun cooking, fun working, fun talking on the phone, fun at a funeral, fun at a party, fun kissing her boyfriend, fun at the temple, fun riding her ten year old cheap motorcycle, fun in the cold bucket-shower, fun drinking and snacking with her friends and family, fun, fun, fun, and never trying to be better at anything or better than anyone. What could be cooler than that?

Most Thai’s have this cortex-disconnected, solar-wind-unconscious, natural, pre-Freudian kind of cool thing going on. Most poor Thai’s anyway. If they get some money, or try to be cool, they only fuck it up.

August 23, 2551 “Uthai Thani”

Uthai Thani, another pleasant little back-water I can cross off my list. Up in the north-westernish part of the giant-rice-bowl-central-valley. The rice fields here are huge, as is to be expected, no mountains, small hills spread far apart, the very beginning of the foothills of the Himalayas. The owners of the fields must have money because I saw huge combines harvesting the rice crop, not huge like in Iowa, but big. Never saw that in my little northern town, small province, poor, Phrae.

My class was not very accomplished in the mysteries of English. Mostly, they understood nothing. Before the class, while I was being treated like a king by the staff as a visiting professor, one of the students came up to see me and gave me a word list that he said the class could use a pronunciation drill on, stuff like “chop; shop,” I saw the writing on the wall. The class is “English for Lawyers,” in the Masters’ Degree program, most of the students are lawyers already, none of them, or very few, had any familiarity with English at all, much less legal English.

But I did my thing, cut hard parts out of the lesson, repeated more than usual, spoke more Thai than usual, not that I can explain anything of substance, just tell little stories to illustrate my points. Before, after and on break, I go around and say hi! to everybody. Out of one hundred and thirty five students I only spoke to three or four who could have a decent little conversation. So I think the lesson was a wash, by and by, but I got paid, so that’s good.

One of the students expressed an interest in treating me to dinner, and I accepted. He’s a lawyer, as it turned out he has a pretty lucrative practice. Good thing too, he asked me where I’d like to eat and I suggested anyplace owned by a Farang, like a German, or a Frenchman or Italian, that owned a place in town. Some of those places are great, little gems in the middle of a Thai food wilderness, most are not so expensive, just some guy married to a Thai woman. He said, I know just the place, and it turned out to be the restaurant of a very fancy resort hotel, very expensive, well, for Thailand anyway. They had a twenty page menu, one page was Farang food. I got a bowl of asparagus soup, a pork chop with apple sauce, some vegetables cooked in butter, and French fries. (Alone I’d have gotten the filet mignon, but that was another two hundred Baht, and as a guest I didn’t want to push my luck.) It was all perfect, very delicious. He got the same as me, and he seemed to enjoy it too. Didn’t leave a scrap, me neither.

Nice guy, I hope he calls me when he comes to Bangkok.

The hotel is ok. Nothing fancy, but there’s some warm water in the shower, even warm water in the sink, and one sports channel in English on the TV. The room service menu is all in Thai, every word and heading, so it was slow going there, that’s for sure. But I did read it, every page, I love menus. It’s the first room-service menu that I’ve ever seen that had a whole page devoted to cigarettes. That’s odd. Also odd, it didn’t have any desert items at all. Two pages of cocktails and a page for bottles of whiskey etc but no deserts. Who stays here, I wonder? I didn’t see any other foreigners, not even Asian foreigners.

I love Thailand, it’s so safe here and everything is fun. Someone just knocked on my door. If I were in Chicago, I’d call the desk and ask them what was happening. Here, I just answered the door in my underwear. Sure enough, it was a smiling hotel employee delivering an envelope from the university. The results of a quiz we gave the class after the lesson. No one could really do it, the quiz that is, it was way over their heads. The last time this knock-on-the-door thing happened to me was in Chiang Mai at three a.m. and I just got up and answered the door, also in my underwear, I didn’t even put my glasses on. I looked out modestly from behind the door and greeted a beautiful young woman who said, “sa-wat-dee, ka,” with a deep wai. I offered a friendly Thai greeting and asked her, “pom choo-ay dai mai k’ap?” (May I help you?) She looked a little ver-fushed, excused herself, and left, wrong room as it turned out.

But this country is so safe. Even the gangsters and thieves only want a little bit, not like they want to hurt you, not like they want it all, not even like they want as much as they can get. Just a little, so that they, you, and the cops are all happy, everybody is friends, sabai, sabai. If the gangsters get ambitious, the cops take them out into the woods, shoot them, and leave them for the animals. And the cops, if they arrest you for some legitimate reason, sure, you can offer them some money, they’ll take it, thank you, you can go, they’ll be happy to drive you to the ATM, but they won’t set you up for anything, put shit in your pocket, they won’t even take more than they bargain for, even if they think they can take it. This place is paradise. There aren’t five other countries in the world where a stranger can get as good a deal.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

This Week

Yes, I know, I miss you too. I'm out of the office this week, proctoring "re-tests." If you fail a course at this university, you can take a second try at the re-test next term. It's a bad idea. Even good students kind of blow off the tests, why study too much? I can take the re-test.

More soon.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Silly, Silly Names

Oh, come on. You all must know some too.

How about Guy Aydelot? Some people even refused to page him, sure that it was a joke.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Silly Names

Re: comment on the Ceely post, my life has been a little silly sometimes but I don’t think the name had anything to do with it. And I didn’t take much kidding at all about the “Silly” connection, it’s surprising now but I guess it was beyond the language recognition of any potential tormentors. Wordplay was not their strong point. Frederick Ceely is a surprisingly innocuous name.

Funny names? Doctors named after body parts? How about this one:

A urologist named Dr. Passwater? I swear to god, his son was a client of mine. I have a completely ridiculous story about the client too, something that was in the L.A. Times a year after I performed a service for him, but I’ll leave that for when you buy me dinner, it’s a great story. He had some funny stories about his dad, though, like being paged at airports, “Dr. Passwater, please pick up the white phone.” He was the hit of all the piss-doctor conventions.

Myself, I like names where the first name is an adjective and the last name is a noun; my all time favorite is a guy I worked with named "French Fowler." I also like the Balkan politician named "Milan Panic."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

All My Children

I keep up with All My Children. Monday or Tuesday I copy the recap’s from the previous week, make a Word file, and then read them at my leisure. I take the “Soap Net” recap’s, they include every sneeze and bad look.

Hard to believe that Jessie is the Chief-of-Police now, after twenty years incognito, but that’s Pine Valley for you. He’s way hung up on Richie’s murder, like who cares? Richie was a psycho, everybody hated him, cops don’t worry about those things. Besides, somebody bumped a car over the dead body, bingo, traffic fatality, any cop in the world would close the file. But not Jesse, no sir, even though his stepdaughter is involved. It’s hard to believe.

Randi’s pimp is a new bad guy. She gave up the life like a week ago and already she has a good job and a doctor boyfriend. The pimp just wants to get paid, he doesn’t sound like such a bad guy.

Crystal told Adam it’s over; Erica told Jackson it’s over. Neither one means it.

Richie’s ghost is haunting Annie, his sister, who killed him by blunt trauma, up close and personal. Last month it was ghost-Dixie, it’s nice to see actors getting work.

Greenlee got married to Aiden, but she still loves Ryan; Ryan is married to Annie, but he still loves Greenlee; Kendell still loves Ryan too, and she loves her husband Zack; Zack was kind of stuck on Greenlee there for a while.

The new character is Taylor, a buff, blond soldier chick. She’s in town to visit Frankie, who’s hung up on Randi. Taylor is hung up on Frankie. Jake, another doctor, is already hung up on Taylor, they met jogging. Amanda is hung up on Jake, she works with Randi.

Watching these people makes me feel very reasonable and well organized.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Teaching high school was fun, but it was a hard job. None of these brats had the least bit of an interest in English. The good students would study a little because English is on the admissions tests for the good universities. The rest, however, could be counted on to do almost nothing, or, in many cases, absolutely nothing. Motivating them, one had to be a combination of Soupy Sales, Mr. Chips, and Wyatt Earp, oh, a little Johnny Carson too.

Teaching Law is so much easier. They’re in the class because they want to be. They motivate themselves. They’re a little afraid of the English at first, but we laugh that out of them within a few lessons.

I know, I could be teaching in the Ukraine having fun, eating beet-soup and arm-wrestling the local women over warm beer and salted potatoes. No, like Mother Teresa, service is my life, sacrifice is my middle name, I’ll stay here where I’m needed, and suffer.

More Good News: Ceely


This interesting name is of early medieval English origin, and is primarily a nickname surname from the use of the Olde English pre 7th Century word "saelig", a derivative of "sael", meaning happiness, good fortune, used as a term to describe someone with a cheerful, happy disposition. The Middle English development was to "seely", meaning happy, fortunate, which became a surname as early as the 13th Century (see below). Occasionally, the word was used as a female personal name during the Middle Ages, recorded as "Sela" in 1219, and as "Sely" in 1221, and this may have been the source for some bearers of the modern surname, which has at least seventeen variant forms, ranging from, Seal(l)y, Seel(e)y and Sill(e)y, to Ceel(e)y and Zeal(e)y. The sense of "pitiable", which developed into the modern English "silly", is a later 15th Century usage. "

So we can forget about the silly stuff. The original meaning, "cheerful; happy disposition," fits me like a glove. Ask anybody. After all, my family does call me "Mr. Happy."

What's Hot?

I was just thinking, another nice day, but I looked up the Accu-weather and it's ninety degrees, "Real Feel" one hundred. The humidity is only fifty-five, that always sounds low to this old New Yorker. Remember those ninety-nine degrees, ninety-nine percent humidity days anybody? Tropical Inversion my ass, it was hell is what it was.

The humidity here, by the way, is always about fifty-five.

It says that this evening the temperature will go down to eighty-seven, with thunder showers, so that's good. Good sleeping weather.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Our Friends, the Russians.

I hate presidential election years, the massive volume of self-serving lies delivered with the assumption that we will believe them because we are stupid; the leaving aside of any important issue because those are too complicated to fit into thirty-second pre-packaged negative TV ads; the absurd promotion of non-issues and meaningless code-words. But it’s not as though we had to wait for an election to witness such exquisite foolishness.

Consider Russia. Nothing un-foolish is ever said about Russia. Faced with the miraculous disappearance of the Soviet Union, we, the West, embarked on a decade plus of confusion, steadfastly refusing the logic of welcoming the great Russian people into the community of nations. One of the great lost opportunities: consider the United States and Russia, shoulder to shoulder, working together for mutual security and prosperity, there’s nothing that we could not have accomplished. Instead, we chose to treat Russia with benign neglect, waiting patiently for any sign that they had not really changed, that the Soviets were not really gone. Demonizing them, hating and fearing them, had worked so well for American politics and business that we hated to let it go.

You may not like Putin, you may not like the level of state control and cronyism that still exists in Russia, but please, let’s face it, it’s all worlds apart and infinitely better than the brutal state fascism of the Soviets. Even the Soviets were afraid of Soviet Communism! No one misses it, except maybe five or six non-Jewish, party member, decorated veterans of the Great Patriotic War. It’s over, Johnny! We can all get over it. But we can’t.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia, are there any two places on earth that are less important to American national security? No one would suggest, though, that they are not important to Russian security. In the current controversy involving Russia and Georgia, one version of events has filled the news coverage. The Georgian version of events. In hysterical tones and hyperbolic language we hear about how the Russian Bear is back, invading and occupying neighboring democratic, “Christian” countries, trying to rebuild the old Soviet empire.

After weeks of this one sided, propagandistic approach, some of the essential facts are coming out. In the final version of events, Georgia does not sound so blameless and Russia does not sound so unreasonable. And would any sane person even talk about the possibility of putting Georgia in NATO? Let’s give it time, and hold it all up to the light, before we re-consign Russia, and America, to Cold-War-Hell.

In the immortal words of Rodney King, why can’t we all just get along?


Pat Buchanan agrees with me! Kind of! On a site named no less! Boy the Twenty First Century is weird.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tom Yom Goong

“Tom Yom Goong” is a fine movie staring Tony Jah but it is first and foremost the national dish of Thailand. I highly recommend both. To make Tom Yom Goong you will need:

Lemon grass, fresh whole stalks (dtah cry)
Lemon leaves (ma’groot; aka kefer lime, leech lime or porcupine orange)
Fresh green peppercorns (prik Thai sohk)
Green onion
Galanga root (kah; aka Siamese ginger)
Dried red chilies
Coconut cream, about 500 ml.
Fresh shrimp (without the heads, a small pound of 20 to 30 count shrimp)
Knorr pork bullion
Tamarind (dried is okay, just soak it in water; paste is best)
Chili paste
Fish sauce
Oyster sauce

Prepare the tamarind; paste is okay as is, if you have dried tamarind just soak it in hot water and mash it up with the back of a spoon to make a paste.

Wash the shrimp; clean and rinse.

Boil some water, add the bullion and set aside.

Heat the dried chili in a dry pan to release oils.

Clean and thinly slice the galanga.

Cut the tops (the stalks) off the lemon grass and cut the bulbs thinly on a bias.

Heat some coconut cream to a rapid boil.

Add the lemon grass and galanga.

Keep everything at a high rolling boil; add some coconut cream as it evaporates.

Add two big dabs of chili paste.

Add some oyster sauce and one half teaspoon of salt.

Add two big dabs of tamarind paste.

Boil to a pretty thick reduction; remove and reserve; clean the pot.

Cut more galanga.

Bring some coconut cream to a high boil.

Add galanga.

Add lemon grass stalks, lots (break apart and bruise in a mortar and pestle first).

Add green peppercorns (about 50).

Turn off the heat.

Prepare tomatoes (cut roughly); lemon leaves (whole); shallots (peal off top layer and chop roughly).

Turn the heat back on (high, always very high).

Add shallots and shrimp.

Give the shrimp a couple of minutes to cook.

Add the rough-cut tomatoes.

When the shrimp has cooked, add the rest of the coconut cream.

Add lemon leaves.

Add dry chilies (break up by hand).

Add fish sauce (an ounce or two).

Add the juice of one lime.

Add reduction reserved in step thirteen.

Add bullion to desired thickness.

Taste and adjust as required.

Add green onion and cilantro (roughly chopped).

Ready to serve in a couple of minutes.

If this seems like a lot of work, you have correctly understood the directions. Anywhere that I have traveled in Thailand, every restaurant and every family have prepared tom yom goong. Get a few people involved in the smaller tasks and have a Beer Singh or two, tell your doctor that I said it was okay. Put ice in the beer, Thai beer is brewed to drink with ice, lots of alcohol, lots of flavor. Keep the boil dangerously hot; the fluid should noticeably reduce as you watch.
Enjoy with damn near anything, often. This dish would make a wonderful family holiday tradition.

N.B. You don’t eat most of the solid stuff in the soup. Use your own judgment.

College Point

There's a post from June about College Point that continues to draw interest. Thanks for the great stories, Rory and Joe.

I know lots of guys got by without too much violence, but it was out there. Me, I hated to be at home so I was out all the time, at all hours, asking for trouble I suppose. I figured, I might get jacked out here too, but at least there'll be a reason.

Joe, I remember the BB's raiding the baseball fields for spare change. They literally made us take our shoes off to prove that we were broke. I also remember seeing them around Bernie's or the deli on the bus-stop corner. That deli was a good place for anyone under eighteen to get beer, because it got so much foot traffic that before long somebody you knew that was over eighteen would come by and agree to go get it for you.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Remember Mr. Obama?

Hubert Humphrey, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis, John Kerry, Barack Obama . . . remember those guys?

Those poor guys never had a chance. (Well, Carter had half a chance.) Good guys, all, intelligent, affable, cooperative. Somehow, though, they thought that it was ok to go unarmed into a back ally knife fight. Let the other guys fight dirty, they say, let the other guy smuggle a pistol to a fist fight, I have principles, they say, I won’t let myself be dragged down to their level.

Reasonable guys, all, but reason is of no assistance when caught alone on a dark street and confronted by a gang of drunken hooligans who want to roughly explain to you that you are dressed like a fag.

Generally speaking, Democrats are from Venus and Republicans are from Mars, and Martians win that fight every time. Where can you find a Lyndon Johnson when you need one? He was a Martian, that one. Hang your children on hooks if he had to. The Clintons are Martians in Venusian clothing. But those guys named in the head paragraph? Babes in the dark, ghostly woods. They didn’t have a chance.

Mr. Obama would be a good president, if he were given the chance. Unfortunately, all of the planets and every force in the universe are aligned against him. The American media, American churches, American cultural biases, all of the agencies of the Federal Government, the American President, the Republicans (the only effective American political party), half of the Democratic Party, all of these power centers are against him. Now even the Russians weigh in against him, bringing Cold War memories to the forefront at a most inopportune moment. And who then is on Mr. Obama’s side in this? The French and Germans, some other foreigners, one half of the disastrously weak Democratic Party, and the handful of politically progressive American citizens. Kind of one sided, isn’t it?

Maybe Mr. Obama will take the gloves off after the convention. Seize the initiative and keep it, keep the pressure on, full court press, explain in no uncertain or polite terms just what a horror a McCain presidency would be. The Supreme Court issue alone is a deal-breaker for the Republicans. September and October: the curse of interesting times, as the Chinese say. I wish us all luck.

My Favorite Movie Quotes

Not an exhaustive list. Feel free to add personal favorites.

Daigoro, your mother awaits you (. . . and I will join you soon).”
Sword of Vengeance: Baby Cart to Hell

“Blimey . . . the ‘ood’s gone.”
Sink The Bismarck

“Charles Napier is morally degenerate, physically loathsome, and genetically unsound.”
Morgan: A Suitable Case for Study

“What’s the matter? Don’t like dog anymore?”
The Hills Have Eyes

“I am a bullet.”

“Fuji, I think we’re putting too much trust in Planet X.”
Godzilla v. Monster Zero

“Do you think it could be the swamp creatures?”
The Swamp Creatures

“Oh, it’s you . . . I thought I was alone.”
Bride of Frankenstein

“Did IQ’s suddenly drop while I was away?”
“They mostly come at night. Mostly.”

“What’s the weather like on your planet?”
The Long Kiss Goodnight

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Lest We Forget

Everyone mourns an Isaac Hayes, and most people who care about music mourn Curtis’ passing too, but let’s take a minute to call attention to those who enriched our lives without ever being noticed or acknowledged.

My nominee is Ian Stewart. Ian who? He was as much of a Rolling Stone as Mick or Keith, you can look it up. He was the piano player. He got relegated to the background when Andrew Oldham became manager and image became everything.

He still played with the band live, for many years, but the piano was off stage. He played on all the albums up to a point, you can check the credits. He kept the band together when none of them had any money; he had a good job, an apartment, and a van, no Ian, no Rolling Stones. All of the Stones speak well of him, very well. He got along with everybody.

There’s some good stuff on the ‘Net, check it out.

Anybody want to nominate someone for the honor of Unrecognized and Unappreciated Artist?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Let's Hear It For Them!

Issac Hayes (BBC speach: eye-sack hayes) and Bernie Mac have passed beyond our praise or condemnation. About Issac H, no kind words from me are needed, Issac was one of the giants. I miss him already.

That Theme from Shaft was great, everybody knows, but for me it was interesting in another way. That same year Superfly came out, soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield. No value comparison here, they're both great, 'nuff said. The interesting part was seeing, hearing the styles side by side. Shaft, more assertive and straightforward, very hot stuff; Superfly, very understated, big city, New York soul, pretty cool. We've been missing Curtis for a few years now. Both men will always be Blacksploitation legends, for better or for worse. They will also always be legends of Soul.

Bernie Mac was hard working and consistantly funny, and if he was ever arrested waving a gun in traffic I never heard about it. Miss you too, brother.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

An Incomplete Understanding of English

These lovely women are from a little northern town in Thailand. Mom in the middle, her daughter on the left and a cousin on the right. My introduction was very interesting.

Krue P. (mom) teaches with us,” said our mutual friend. “This is her daughter,” pause to look for a word, “she is a bastard!” After I expressed my delight to meet them, I thought that a lesson was in order. “But you must not say bastard,” I explained, “bastard is a naughty word in English.” I told them that although the word is descriptive, it is no longer used in polite conversation. “You should just say, ‘Krue P. is a single mother.’”

But maybe it is polite here, in the manner of "this is my sister, she is an old maid!" or, "you are fat!" Those are certainly polite. Everything is a little different here, after all.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Bangkok Taxi

Yesterday as usual I took a taxi home from school. Bangkok is a great taxi town, lots of cabs and very affordable. No one expects a tip, I give them fifteen Baht on top of the fare and they go nuts thanking me.

Yesterday’s cab was spectacular, quite special. On the dashboard there were figures of all of the characters in the Doremon cartoons, each about four inches high, plus a couple of little Hello Kitty’s and a big push-button air freshener shaped like a mushroom. Each of the four head rests was covered with a big, plush Winnie the Pooh, as was the brake handle, never saw that one before. On the right side passenger window was a big, neon-lime green stick up clock, with the right time on it too, in itself a rarity. The gear shift knob cover was Hello Kitty. High on the console, partially blocking the windshield, was a screen for the VCD player; an episode of the very funny slapstick local comedy Cha Cha Cha was playing. Cha Cha Cha is Thai for “slow, slow, slow,” as in retarded, the three retards it could be called, there are three goofy stars. There were sleeves for VCD’s on both visors, a total of over fifty VCD’s by actual count. In the three cup holders were a can of Sprite, a can of Red Bull, and a bottle of water.

Amazingly: 1) there were no religious artifacts at all; and 2) nothing was hanging from the mirror.

Thai Swimwear

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Thai Swimwear

Whatever you may have heard, Thai women are very modest. Swim-wear for women here ranges from rare bikinis to common cover-all suits with half sleeves and knee length covering. Then add lots of swim caps and goggles. Very young girls usually wear suits with skirts.

Very young children are a special case. Many of them in the pool of my condo building wear life preservers, this to go into a wading pool with their mom seven feet away. Often they wear what looks like a wet suit, ankle and wrist length, total coverage, usually with the cap and goggles, often with the life preserver too. They look comfortable though, they’re having fun.

Most Thais have never gone swimming. Some have splashed around in irrigation canals. Things live in the rivers, things that make it a bad idea to swim. Not like alligators or piranhas, things with names like “liver flukes.” Tiny things that swim up a person’s urethra. And most places have no public pools, and hotel pools, although sometimes open to the public, are too expensive for most Thais. Swimming here is a luxury.

So the Thai people in my luxury condo building, those who have children, take them to swim dressed in every available swim gear, everything that they can find at the best malls in Bangkok. Just the swimming part is a status thing; the rest is icing on the cake.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Lessons Learned from Chess

It’s been a long time since I learned the moves. I don’t play anymore, but I still love the game. I like doing chess problems, I’m not fast but I do ok. No games though, because I find both winning and losing almost equally disagreeable.

As a boy I came to believe that the best, the ideal result of any game was to lose, but not by too much. I found that most of the other children, here I mean the other boys mostly, were much more concerned with winning than I was. At one time I enjoyed winning as much as anyone, but I never minded being beaten by a better player, whatever the game or sport. Better, I came to believe, to let the other player win. They want it more than me, and they may turn violent if they don’t get it. I grew up in a tough town. So if I lost, but not by much, we were both happy, and no body got hurt.

Now I just enjoy setting up a board and watching the unfolding of a great or famous game played long ago by the great players.

Paul Morphy is my favorite player. No one has ever charged across a chess board with more focus or fury. Many of the games are quite short; his style eschewed defense in favor of an all-out attack marked by feverish momentum. I remember a game in which he sacrificed his queen, one bishop, and a rook in quick succession as he was setting up a very creative check-mate. How stunned his opponent must have been.

Morphy, an American, sought to immediately put his opponents off balance and then keep them there until their destruction was complete. Many of the opponents’ moves were forced by Morphy. I notice that he shared this style with many of history’s famous generals. Keep the enemy responding to your aggressive movements and you can beat his army while half of it is on trains to places where you were two days ago. Keep the initiative. Defense is for losers.

Great sports figures do the same. Imagine Tiger Woods cautiously laying up outside a particularly well defended green. Fuck that! I’m driving the green! I want the birdie! Defensive play is for the lesser lights.

The application of this lesson to life is not at all clear. A cautiously lived life, a life of safe moves, a life concentrated on defending against some of life’s more disagreeable fates, a life like that can be very comfortable. Maybe not too exciting, but very comfortable, and how bad could that be? A comfortable life?

The successful people though, the people who get things done, the people who build successful entities, those are the people who make decisions decisively, and who look ahead for what they want and then look for the way to get there. It’s not always comfortable, was it Walt Disney who went bankrupt three times before he hit it big? Not comfortable, maybe, but often successful, and probably exciting as well.

It’s a personal choice though, no right or wrong here. On a daily basis I choose comfort over ambition. I don’t get anything done, and I’ll never get anywhere, but I have fun and I sleep ok. In life too I aim for the top tier of the list of losers.

New Mexico Highways

Out in the way-out-back deserts of the American south-west there are some funny road signs. This set is one of my favorites:

First sign: Danger-Dust Storms

Second sign: Zero Visibility is Possible

Third sign: Do Not Stop on Roadway

Fourth sign: Use Extreme Caution

There is a disconnect here between the instructions and reality. Since there is no shoulder on this stretch of road to speak of, if visibility falls to zero and you wish to follow the instructions on the signs you must either throw the car over into the ditch or drive blindly forward.

I wonder what they really want you to do.

My favorite sign of all is, out in the very middle of nowhere at all:

Correctional Institution: Do Not Stop for Hitchhikers

The Gift

To answer a question in a comment . . .

At the moment, neither of my sons is married. There are two, aged 30 and 38 years. Neither is a confirmed bachelor to my knowledge, they wouldn't tell me if they were. As far as I know, they both want families with children some day. And in this world, I believe, although I could be wrong about that.

It would be nice to have grandchildren, but let's face it, it is surpassingly rude to start yelling at god, "where's the fucking cherry!" when god has presented you with a delicious cake.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Thailand: Where the Happy Muslims Are

In my neighborhood, and of the students at my university, there are many, many Muslims in evidence. Lots and lots of head scarves, I guess the guys are harder to spot but I have met quite a few. I also know that lots of Muslim girls don't wear head scarves. So there's a lot.

And they are happy. Thai Muslims should do seminars for those miserables in the Middle-East. It's just not an issue in Thailand, you're a Muslim, good for you. It's a lot like the way it is not an issue if a sixth grade boy wants to wear make-up and talk like a girl. That's his business. No one cares at all. And the Muslims are as Thai as anyone else. They love it here and are just as proud as anybody to be Thai. Proud of the King too. And there's no Taliban to bother the girls if they wear a tight t-shirt revealing a sexy bra and tight jeans along with the head scarf. That's their business too. The Muslims leave each other to practice each according to his own conscience.

I can clearly hear the call to prayer being broadcast over loudspeakers at the appointed hours every day. Hey, it's a free country. In fact, Thailand (Brataet Thai) means, "Land of the Free." You can look it up.

Incidentally, the "Muslim" problem in the three southernmost provinces is not a religious problem at all, it's cultural. Those Muslims speak Malay and were part of Malaysia until the Twentieth Century.

I'm beginning to think that the problem's not religious in the Middle East either. More likely it's a problem with the underlying culture.

Bangkok Dawn

This was taken from the veranda of my old ABAC Condo. My new place has the pool right outside, which I am finding to be a nice view as well. No, get your minds out of the gutter, although watching children having fun is not the only part that I enjoy. Just the pool itself is a beautiful sight.

You All Make My Day

I knew that everyone would love Love, because Love is just so lovable. Thanks for the comments. And thanks to the young man who reminded me that fifty-one years old is pretty young, because then I realized that sixty in two weeks is young too compared with seventy, or even sixty-five. The sun is still shining for hay making purposes; it's a shame to waste a day of it.

There are terrible alternatives to being of advanced years.

"Obituary, Brooklyn, 1918 . . . died May 7th at Governeur Hospital, Frederick Ceely, aged 40."

Monday, August 4, 2008

It Was a Pretty Good Day

It’s not late; I’m listening to “Wyatt Earp,” by the Marquees, featuring Marvin Gaye, produced and featuring on guitar Bo Diddley, and on the big Samsung is “Wyatt Earp,” a Kevin Kostner movie. Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday, the luckiest man in history, played also by Val Kilmer and god knows who else, I’ll let the film buffs fill in the blanks, but Doc Holliday has been made to look good in movies, I’ll say.

Didn’t get rained on today, but beautiful clouds. Chicken Gap Pow and some vegetables stir-fried with pork and shrimp for lunch, less than a dollar. For dinner, some tropical fruit and a sandwich, which if I do say so myself, was an epic of the genre, a world class ham and egg sandwich.

Nothing really to do today, talked with some interesting people at school, goofed off on the Internet, but I looked good in my yellow shirt, Monday, yellow shirt day, the King was born on a Monday.

Taking it easy now. Half-way through playing out a Paul Morphy chess game from the late Nineteenth Century on a set that I made yesterday out of “Future Board,” some kind of Asian plastic heavy cardboard popular with us teachers. Got the moves off the Net, God’s greatest gift to man since Penicillin.

An hour more to kill before I can go to bed with any dignity.

Now does any of that sound drunk to you? Whatever you might hear to the contrary, I'm not drunk, I'm just drinking.

Movie Review: Godzilla v King Kong

The best natives and the best island sets by far of the entire series

All of the natives are laid out in primary colors, the whole village too; on this island even the birds have feathers in bold primary colors.

The epic Mia Hama, alone in orange with a huge, coconut-shell brassiere that sways languorously. This is a solid, strong looking beautiful woman, a real brick-house.

Explorers totally Abbott and Costello in their costumes and personas. Bribing the natives with lots of cigarettes and a bright red radio playing Japanese pop songs.

Akiko Wakabayashi shines. The most beautiful sentence in any language. I know that there have been beautiful women throughout history, women that I will never see, but if any of them were better looking than Akiko I’ll eat my hat. Miss Earth of all time. She was even a Bond Girl in one of the later Sean Connery Bond movies. Unfortunately she gets very little screen time.

American nuclear sub, the crew decked out in white gloves like those worn in the Imperial Japanese Navy. Crew killed by Godzilla, they die with dignity.

Everywhere the primary colors, including the internal and external color scheme of a U.S. Navy helicopter.

Godzilla emerges from an iceberg and approaches land surrounded by a field of icebergs. He is immediately fired upon from a very big land base that is strangely devoid of ice or snow and covered with brush and trees that ‘Zill can set on fire.

A wildly successful native dance around the drugged out Kong, lots of good looking women on this island, displayed to wonderful advantage. We would have loved this dance at our parties in the early Sixties, the girls walking slowly and jerking their breasts to one side with the beat.

Funny how the monsters always appear in twos in Japanese Kaiju movies. In this one Godzilla is breaking out of an iceberg simultaneously with the finding of King Kong by some guys who went to an island looking for something else. After that they gravitate to one another, the better to stage a climactic battle.

The old Tokyo skyline, nothing over six stories . . . the little tanks are Shermans, World War II vintage and kind of rinky-dink.

The Godzilla suit used in this movie is a good one for the period. It might be the famous “frog” suit that I have read about. The Kong suit is really awful, but the suit-actor makes the best of it.

My copy is a DVD in the original Japanese, letterboxed and very good quality images, two Dollars worth of Baht. No thrills and chills in this movie, but lots of good looking women and plenty of fun.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Love: 101 (No Prerequisites)

Love, think about it. Everyone loves to love Love, loves to be in Love, loves to be loved, everybody. It may be different things to different people, but the love of it is universal, the love of Love that is.

Contrary to common belief, Love is rather easy to understand. The description of Love has an obvious vocabulary, and the theory of Love can be reduced to almost mathematical precision. Yes, be assured that the theory of Love is easy; it is only in the practice, the mechanics of it, that Love goes horribly wrong.

Love is usually confused with sex. They are definitely related phenomena, but they are quite different things. Sex is merely an aspect of some types of Love. Parental Love, romantic Love, filial Love, fraternal Love, all Love has the same basic components, sex is merely the icing on the cake in some situations.

The building blocks of Love are several and obvious. They are the essentials of human existence, the things that we all must have, often called either “wants” or “needs,” although it’s all the same thing. We want them because we need them, and visa versa. Love is acknowledging that we want them from a particular person, and are prepared to offer them in return. Ideally, anyway. They are arranged below in their approximate order of importance:

Consideration: Consideration is a filter through which the individual in love must pass most little decisions every day. The loved one’s feelings must be considered. Think before you speak, think of the loved one. Think before you agree to something, before you decide to do anything, consider the feelings of the loved one. Consider this: your loved one wonders, should I fuck this person? If the loved one considers your feelings, the answer should be “no,” or at least, “as long as it doesn’t get around.” Failure of consideration may lead to a simple “yes,” or a “yes, and I don’t care who knows it.” Absence of consideration may come in the form of a “yes, and take that you moron.” That hurts, because in our everyday worlds, the world shows us no consideration at all, and we count on it from loved ones. It’s nice to get it, and little trouble to return the favor. If you love someone.

Approval: This can be in the form of acceptance or forgiveness. Censorship, the opposite of approval, is encountered in life much more frequently, censorship or indifference. We all have complex personalities in which some aspects are more admirable than others. It is nice to find someone who will take the good with the bad and approve of the total package. Someone who will accept you as you are and value you for your good points, someone who will forgive your little peccadilloes, or your grievous shortcomings if it comes to that. Your approval of a loved one creates in them a warm feeling of belonging that is not generally available in the world at large. The ultimate expression of approval is consensual procreative sex.

Comfort: Monkeys comfort each other by picking nits off of the loved one. For humans, it may be offered as a smile, a kind word, the offer of a cool glass of water or a warming cover, a gentle good morning! a simple touch or a hug. Or, sex. Comfort, offered lovingly over the course of years upon years and years should deepen Love, and this history of comfort is the greatest comfort of all.

Enjoyment: Sex may offer some assistance here as well. But more than sex is required, the provision of opportunities for enjoyment by the loving one should be broad based and varied.

Encouragement: If the loved one is happy, the love giver is happy, so it only makes sense that one should offer encouragement to the loved one.

Commitment: This can come in many forms, it may be less than total and/or less than eternal. It is only important that the same degree of commitment be recognized by, and comfortable for, both of the loving parties. Here it matters little what the lovers say, the important commitment is in their hearts. If one party commits for all time in all situations, and the other commits to a couple of years to see how it goes, there is a failure of communication that sinks the love boat.

These are the components of Love in most situations. Other, strange components are common, strange to most of us anyway. These, whatever they are, should not be thought of as pathological. In analogy, if a person is ugly, that is natural, it is not a problem, the person looks like a person, like it is possible for a person to look. The person’s ugliness defines the range of human appearance. If a person wants to be treated badly, or to have pain inflicted on them, or to be pissed on, it is because they want it, and by wanting it they help to define the range of human wants and needs. It’s all Love.

The mathematics of any particular Love situation is different from others of its type, and couples or groups must find their own solution to the problem. The mathematics of the first strike of Love is easier to formulize.

Most men have only the most limited understanding of Love. No surprise there. “Man,” and “woman,” are, of course, interchangeable in this analysis, I just happen to be a man. Women are in the dark too, by and large, even though they may believe otherwise.

For young men the experience of new Love is so emotionally and electro-chemically charged that it often results in a stunned feeling, much like having been hit in the head. Many men think that they have a certain type, as in, “she’s not my type.” But it’s really just simple mathematics. It’s the simple sum of two numbers, and there are two important factors.

The first factor: the numbers should be close to each other in value; the second: the higher the total, the better. If the total is high enough, the result is love-at-first-sight.

Of the numbers themselves, the first, the most important, is the numerical rendering of the perceived likelihood that the woman involved will be responsive and grant the man intimacy. At this stage, sex is disproportionately important, but all of the above components involve intimacy. If this number is high enough, it alone may cause love-at-first-sight. Standing alone it tends to make a woman attractive to a man, especially a young man. The second number depends for its value on the degree to which the man desires intimacy with the woman.

It’s possible that a man may meet someone, or see someone, and calculate immediately that: 1) this person would love to fuck me, I’m the answer to their prayers (let’s say, ninety out of one hundred); and 2) getting next to them would be the greatest thing that has ever happened to me (again, ninety out of one hundred). Note the gender neutrality, no need to be exclusive here. So it’s easy to see that if the combined number is very, very high (in the example it’s 180/200), the man will experience a shock as this wave of emotion travels through all of his systems. Every molecule in the man’s body moves towards the woman (person) on an individual basis, much like the tide moves towards the moon. It has happened to me, and if you are lucky, dear reader, it has happened to you as well. I have on several occasions met a woman, here I can be specific, a woman, and performed a calculation similar to the one in the example, and I have thereupon become dizzy and disoriented, giddy, and openly grateful to the deity. Out of consideration, as defined above, I will not detail the results of these encounters.

Age Distortions.

If a person with a year to live is convicted of a crime and sentenced to twenty years in prison, shouldn’t they be tortured for that remaining year of life? It’s only fair. We must pack their punishment into only one year.

Why should a ninety-five year old woman get seventy-five thousand dollars worth of heart surgery? Even if she lives through the surgery, she lives for what, six months? Sorry honey, back of the line, it’s only fair.

I don’t know about the torture, although it seems to be coming into vogue, but the old lady with the bad heart was in the news recently. She’s doing ok, but it was very controversial for her to receive that treatment at the twilight, shit, the deep darkness of her life.

Insurance entities whined that providing life extending care for her was “not economical,” and that it “used recourses that could better be applied to younger patients.” If they offered a proposed age for plug-pulling I missed it.

So what if the insurance companies decide that at a certain point, let's say five years beyond when the actuaries said that you had no chance at all of still being alive, they are not responsible for providing you with any care to prolong your already ridiculously prolonged life. Anybody have a problem with that?

That policy would be only a short step from legalizing the euthanasizing of old people because, after all, it is only practical to stop the ridiculous waste of resources that their maintenance represents.

So the old lady with the heart thing is a “Right To Life” issue. I’ll be waiting for the anti-abortion people to weigh in on the subject.