Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Welcome to My World

I'm sensing in the wind that there are some new readers out there. Welcome to Spin Easy Time! Thanks for your time. I'll try not to waste it.

I dabble in politics, American in particular and Realpolitik in general, but I try to stay at the feelings and impressions end of the pool.

I offer impressions of Thailand, I love this country and I find Thais and Thai culture absolutely fascinating.

I talk about myself quite a bit, but there's a strong non-self-centered component to it. I have always known that none of our lives are really as unique as they may appear. If something is happening to me, it's happening to lots of people. My self-consideration may contain some helpful clarification for readers as well.

There's some general trouble making, I can be abrassive. Please don't take me too seriously.

There's poetry, for those that have the stomach for it.

I enjoy writing this thing, and I hope that you all enjoy reading it. Hopefully, enough to visit from time to time. I love your comments, they are a wonderful gift to me.

Thank you for your attention.

Revisit "The Genie and the Clever Little Fisherman"

No comments on "The Genie and the Clever Little Fisherman," back in the middle of September. I love those old stories, they are packed with truth like Japanese commuter trains are packed with Japanese. Kind of an allegory, but packed with good information for those to whom it is addressed, and for anyone who may find themselves similarly situated at some point.

Mr. Fred's Poetry Corner: The Fulcrum, and the Lever

The Fulcrum, and the Lever

I only need two things, it’s what the seamen call
A new stack, and a new ship under the stack,
Some new hair, and then a new body to go
Along with it, that would set me up just fine,
But that would just be selfish, even I know that,
That kind of thing comes only in our dreams and wishes.

But selfish wishes, they can only cloud the mind,
Best to wish for simple things that can be done,
Simple things, not just for us but helpful to us all,
To recognize our talents, we all have those unique
To us, and find the fulcrum for the lever of our good,
The good that is our debt to god and to the world of men.

September 30, 2008, fast as hell, and just as serious

Mr. Ceely Goes to Sacramento

Sometimes I think that I should run for office. Some legislature, probably, I know how to read the law, I know what it means. I understand public policy. Writing the law is harder, I know, I have seen some of the ways that good intentions go wrong, but I feel qualified to know the difference. Executive positions are sexy, but I’ve always known that I am not the leading man. The best friend, that’s me, I never get the girl, I die in the third reel.

I think of Hillary Clinton, she’s a matter of months or a year older than me. She’s still working hard to become the president some day, a leading lady right there, she’s not ready to feed the pigeons, that’s for sure. Maybe it’s a little early for me to give up on accomplishment.

The law is my education, and I’ve been public-speaking for a living for sixteen years now: twelve years lawyering and four years teaching. So, maybe politics, ten or twelve years. Then maybe stand up comedy, it’s good to stay fresh, not do one thing for too long.

I have an unusual resume for a politician, but spin is my training, and spin is everything. I’ve always been an underachiever, but at least I’ve never been an obnoxious drunk or a public menace. Of course there’s the drugs, but that seems to be an issue of diminishing importance, unless you were caught smoking crack this morning, and that’s not my profile. I haven’t been successful in my business endeavors, but I’ve never claimed to be a great executive and at least I never lost a lot of other people’s money. Maybe I wasn’t the best husband in the world, but I never had a girlfriend, and I never dumped my family because it was selfishly convenient at the time. It could all be spun. Like, at first I took only simple jobs because my real priority was to get home early, with no homework, so that I could concentrate on being a dad; after that I found myself in a business where my ethical standards and sweet disposition were considered anathema. Those are plausible explanations. One good thing, I’ve never been arrested, so the paper trail is negligible.

I failed to thrive as a lawyer, I admit it. I finally got out when two things became only too clear: 1) I didn’t have the stomach for a game where, day in and day out, vicious battle and winning were everything, and many of my fellows lived to make other practitioners miserable in the process; and 2) in many situations, telling the truth, or simply being reasonable, was unethical, and indeed often rose to the level of malpractice for which one could be sued (with the cheerful assistance of the misery wing of the legal profession). If I enter the public arena, many of my brothers in the law, judges, lawyers, maybe even the odd clerk, will come forward to condemn me as a lily livered loser. Spin, though, pre-emptive spin, could be useful here as well. The way could be prepared for these self serving attacks. After all, they’re really just bullies who stoke the fires of their own egos by chewing on the flanks of others when they think that it is safe to do so, insecure mediocrities who need to prove, on a moment to moment basis, that they are smarter or more talented than others, even when that is far from obvious. The truth of the law game is that almost no one wins all the time. I won some, and I lost some, I did ok. I had strengths and weaknesses, “human,” I think they call it.

So, the legislature. Running as a Democrat, that much is cut in stone. I am a “Yellow Dog” Democrat, and I can prove it. I voted for Dukakis, Mondale, Al Gore, and John Kerry. I would have voted for Hubert Horatio Humphrey if I’d had the chance. No names, but there’re a couple of Yellow Dogs on that list. I will admit that my soul cried out to god for mercy when I pulled the lever for Kerry. I won’t take any credit for voting for Clinton or Carter, voting for them was a no-brainer. I’d vote for them again, given the chance.

No need to start in the United States Senate, even considering the lateness of the hour. I’m not getting any younger, but I’ve never been ambitious. Ditto the House of Representatives, I’ll leave the Fed’s to their own game. No, I’m thinking of the lower house of the legislature of the great State of California. That’s a netherworld of invisibility right there, but it needs manning. I could be helpful there.

Just thinking out loud, I suppose. Isn’t that what blogs are for?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Maybe You'd Like To Go A Little Faster?

These bikes are a major step up from the first rung hot rods. This is a Honda CBR 150, double overhead cams and four valves. Got the mono-shock and disks all around. Like my Dash, not much of a roll on from sixty to ninety, but under sixty it'll sure have the tears running straight back from your eyes. About two grand, in dollars.
Nice accessory, you can hardly see it, there's a big red plastic flap on the end of the throttle grip that you can just push down with the palm of your hand. I never saw one of those before. This guy is serious.
Yamaha and Kawasaki are represented in this market niche. Kawi, as usual, get the Balls-To-The-Wall award: theirs is a 175 cc two-stroke.

The Things I Miss

I have accumulated a lot of things over the decades, it’s all pretty far away, all of nine time zones right at this moment. I’m kind of a pack-rat, the fact that a thing becomes mine impresses me sufficiently that I can’t seem to part with anything. I still have my forty-five RPM record of “Thumbelina,” I was probably five when I got that, I think that I was actually four but I don’t like to exaggerate. I have all of the rock ‘n roll records that I began to accumulate several years later. Good stuff, some nice picture covers too, Elvis EP’s. LP records, I’ve got about three thousand of those, that’s over thirty thousand songs. A lot of great tunes that you’ve never heard; honestly there’s a good few that I’ve never heard either. But it’s all mine.

I have always loved magazines, they are a perfect fit for my limited attention span. I have more magazines than any but the largest magazine stands. Boxes of Silver Age Marvel comics, lots of 1950’s Mad magazines. There was more, lots more. Almost all, almost every piece, of my car magazines are lost to me, I remember them longingly, the early days of drag racing, Bonneville speedsters made from old war-surplus external fuel tanks, ratty looking hot-rods and “No Go Showboats.” They, along with a large number of good, collectible comics, motorcycle magazines, some magazine miscellany, my stamp collection, my baseball glove and my bicycle, mysteriously disappeared some time between when I left for Navy boot camp and when I came home on leave ten weeks later. Thanks, mom.

My things are important to me. One theory is that I have a weak self-image and need to be surrounded by things that are mine to keep track of who I am. Some would attribute it to poor toilet training, but I think that’s simple minded conclusion jumping. Let’s see your license, pal.

I consciously try to keep the amount of stuff in my possession down these days, and I resist any temptation to have any of my stuff shipped to me. No room, no desire to lug stuff around, no wish to ship anything back when the time comes to return to America, it might come, I’m not sure it’s up to me, I don’t like to rub myself in people’s faces. I feel like a juggler, all of the balls are in the air, I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Muslim Hats

I’ll tell you, I know my hats, and Muslims have cool hats. I love those ones that look like floppy grey 1930’s sailors’ hats, you know, without the ship’s name. Those are some cool hats. And the scarf stuff, way cool, and handy in the hot sun too. Something as simple as the little, lacy white, flat sided skull caps, yes, Allah, my head is covered, I love you. I love Muslim hats.

That Mohammad Karzai, he’s got some cool hats. Not the modest kind, the luxurious Persian Lamb kind. My grandmother had a Persian Lamb coat, that stuff is beautiful, and expensive. Warm too, that Afghanistan is a cold place. But he is the president of Afghanistan, after all, so for him a Persian Lamb Muslim hat.

If I thought that god wanted me to wear a hat, I probably would. I kind of like hats anyway. Have your people call my people. I’ll play ball.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Whose Constitution?

I like the Constitution, our constitution that is, the Constitution of the United States of America. It’s a miracle of economy, ten pages all together, and not huge pages like some blanket newspaper, smallish pages without many words.

The Rules of Baseball, by contrast, take up about thirty-eight pages. Baseball is surprisingly complex, once the pitcher lets fly you never know what’ll happen. The Rules of Baseball are an erudite and comprehensive prescription for the result of any given set of circumstances. Just reading the rules controlling the “balk” situation can make you dizzy. It makes sense, though, allowing the balk would be mischief; it would detract from the game. The Rules of Baseball are composed from a deep understanding of the game with the goal of avoiding mischief.

Take the infield fly rule. In baseball, the pitcher serves the ball to the opposing team and each player in turn attempts to hit the ball into play, thereby putting players on base and moving them forward to score runs upon safely reaching home plate. The ball in play, when it touches the ground, releases the base runners to begin their advances to the next base; if the ball is lifted into the air the runners must remain at their base until the ball either is caught or until it touches the ground. The authors of the rules had played the game, and they knew full well that a ball lifted into the air and returning to earth in the midst of the runners would allow the mischief of the team in the field “dropping” the fly ball, retrieving it quickly and throwing out any unlucky runner who had been trapped at his base waiting for the ball to fall. When a ball is so lifted, an umpire simply points his index finger skyward invoking the infield fly rule. That hitter is out whether the ball is caught or not, and the base runners are safe on their bases. The Rules of Baseball are so long because they contain specific instructions for any situation that possibly may come up.

The Constitution, on the other hand, contains no specific instructions. It is a set of guidelines to be applied to any present or future law of the United States. This application requires that the words in the Constitution be interpreted. “Cruel and unusual punishment” is not allowed; what does that mean? Someone charged with a crime has “the right to be represented by counsel;” at what stage of the proceedings may that right be invoked? Who decides what these words really mean?

The answer is: The Supreme Court. Those nine justices, appointed for life by the president, and whose appointments have been ratified by congress, are solely charged with deciding what the words mean in practice. They may change their minds over time in response to constitutional challenges. The right to counsel, for instance, was first interpreted to mean the right to have a lawyer at trial; later it afforded the right to have a lawyer with some time to prepare for trial; now it means the right to have a lawyer present upon arrest if the police wish to ask the individual any questions about the crime. The words in the Constitution were not changed; just the Supreme Court’s interpretation of their meaning.

So really, those nine justices, it’s their Constitution. They, their prejudices, their temperaments, their predilections, are very important to all of us in ways that are very real and immediate. If your child were arrested for a crime, perhaps a very serious crime, and taken to the station for interrogation, it would be comforting to you to know that he could insist on having a lawyer present for that interrogation, a comfort to know that she could not simply be taken to a room, handled roughly, deprived of sleep and food, and subject to a lengthy, coercive interrogation by a team of professionals. You have the Supreme Court to thank for that.

Or not. Those nine justices of the Supreme Court could just as easily decide that they had been precipitous in allowing representation so early in a police investigation, that it was unfair to the people of America to so impede the police in their good efforts to keep us safe from criminals. So the composition of the Court, and the quality of those who are nominated for advancement to the Court, is of critical importance to all of us, we Americans.

My constant readers are only too aware of my own prejudices in these matters. Better, then, to go and speak with someone that you trust. Most people have a lawyer in their families, lawyers are more ubiquitous than rats these days. Go and talk to a lawyer that you trust and ask him about our current Supreme Court and about the likelihood of new appointments in the next four years. Ask about the lawyer’s concerns, and question the lawyer about your own concerns.

You should be very, very concerned, because, by the law of unintended consequences, a wrong vote for president this year could have a disastrous effect on your core happiness.

Further Proof

Proof this week, further proof if any were needed, that there are more people in this world who have something to learn from me than there are people who think that they could learn something from me. They come and go, more or less condescending in their dismissal. I’d be a better man if I cared less about them.

The Social Lubricant

Alcohol is often described as a “social lubricant,” something that somehow improves the quality of social interaction. It serves this purpose for me, at a party, or a restaurant dinner. But for me it also serves this purpose just sitting alone in the evening having a couple of pops.

I live a very sedate life, it’s all very still, like a photograph, or a tomb, a tomb with a TV, where all of the food is properly stowed and the place is kept clean for the deceased. In the evening I almost never see anybody, almost never even make or receive a phone call. I listen to music, sometimes idly and sometimes with great enthusiasm. I watch TV, movies, anything from Hollywood Noir to the sheerest escapist crap, some news, the History Channel, I’m enjoying Jimmy Kimmel these days, he’s better than I had thought. I play through old games on a two-dimensional, home-made chess set, it’s more exciting than you think. Why is Tal sacrificing his queen? What does he see that I don’t see? Why is Symslov retiring while he’s a queen up on pieces? Some of these problems take a while to solve, if I can solve them at all. I read, maybe poetry, maybe my own poetry, maybe something I cut out of some internet newspaper, maybe the recaps of “All My Children,” maybe I write something. It’s all very low key, I try stay engaged in life, and to avoid frustration.

Once in a blue moon I take out my guitar. It’s super-annoying. I first learned to play over forty years ago, I know scores of chords and hundreds of songs, I’ve gotten pretty good on and off. Now all of my fingers more or less automatically go to their accustomed positions, including the partially destroyed left middle finger, which only causes pain and a mess that mutes other strings. Django re-learned playing after his mutilation; I’m no Django. Who would I play for anyway? There’s nothing social about my evenings, so why would I need a social lubricant?

Well I do. I don’t like getting drunk, I never get drunk. But I do enjoy the buzz, so that’s a good thing. The real benefit, though, for me, alone, is that a couple of drinks makes me much more positive in my reflections on the day, much less likely to curse my situation, much less likely to review unfavorably my social choices made, or avoided, earlier in the day. Just drinking also allows me to retain the intellectual ability to enjoy all of the things described above; getting drunk would screw up the whole works. Getting drunk would also open the floodgates on a Lake Meade of bitter recriminations, I’m not interested in that at all, I avoid it like the plague.

So, the middle way, no no-drinking, no way, and no drunkenness. I’m a solo-social-drinker. It’s working for me

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Labor of Love

I come across one of these lovingly maintained Hondas pretty frequently. This looks like a Honda 50 from the 1960's. I see some bigger bikes too, old 125 or 250 Dreams and Hawks. I love this stuff.

The Question

The question has been posed: which came first? The depression or the drinking? Posed that way, the answer is definitely the depression. That came on line when I was four or five; I didn’t start drinking for at least ten years after that. When I was in my thirties, I hardly drank at all. There was generally nothing in the house. My children were young and I was busy with all that. I remained clinically depressed, but not so much that I couldn’t finish college and go to law school.

Posed as: do I drink because I am depressed or am I depressed because I drink? Neither is true. There was a period of several years some time ago when I did drink to excess, and that did exacerbate my depression. Excess drinking interferes with normal rest and nutrition, which screws up body chemistry. I didn’t like it, and I stopped. The excess part, that is.

Now I have a few in the evening, but I taper off before retiring early to a good, restful sleep. Why drink at all? Why not? Who am I to refuse a gift from god?

My checkups and blood work, by the way, are all good up to and including this Spring. My pressure is not high.

So remember, if I speak here of alcohol, I’m not drunk, I’m just drinking. And about the depression, I have so much experience with it by now that, to coin a phrase, I don’t let it get me down.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My "American Legal Institutions" Class

A very good group, I wish them all well.

One More Brother Gone

The suffix –icide, I teach in my English for Lawyers class, means someone has died, at someone’s hand. It may be by someone else’s hand, homicide, or it may be by one’s own hand, suicide. Only the later is in every case a horrible tragedy.

Another brother, perhaps more accurately characterized as a “son” of mine, has chosen to permanently forgo the pleasure of our company. One of those “I can’t take this shit any longer” moments, odds are. Well, we don’t, do we, have to go on taking this shit, it’s a choice, leaving aside the question of whether it’s a good choice. It’s our choice. Please don’t think ill of me, friends and family, but I’m out of here.

Well I don’t think ill of you, brother gone. Fare thee well. I only think with dolorous sympathy of those who are closer than I to the loss and remain alive to suffer forever.

Patrick Ruffini: Online Vigilante

I have pointed out that these Republican so-called “Conservatives” are mostly the much more dangerous Reactionaries, not content with favoring slow or no change in the status quo but really longing for the return to some past (“pre-New-Deal”) reality. And yes, some of them go further than that, some Vigilantes who don’t care for process or history at all, preferring to just blow up the whole mess and start over. There are those, I know, who say I am silly when I point these things out. Well, here’s living proof, a terrorist-anarchist-vigilante right in our very own Blogosphere. This is from Thomas Edsall of the Huffington Post, which, whether you like the content or not, contains things that are as true as any media remaining in our fair country:

“One of the rising stars of the conservative movement, Patrick Ruffini, has sent a shiver down the spines of his colleagues who fear that Republicans in the House and Senate might follow his call to vote against the "Bush-Pelosi Wall Street bailout."
In an analysis on his NextRight.com web site, Ruffini wrote:

‘God Himself couldn't have given rank-and-file Republicans a better opportunity to create political space between themselves and the Administration. That's why I want to see 40 Republican 'No' votes in the Senate, and 150+ in the House. If a bailout is to pass, let it be with Democratic votes. Let this be the political establishment (Bush Republicans in the White House + Democrats in Congress) saddling the taxpayers with hundreds of billions in debt (more than the Iraq War, conjured up in a single weekend, and enabled by Pelosi, btw), while principled Republicans say 'No' and go to the country with a stinging indictment of the majority in Congress.’”

Now that’s commitment to “change.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Asia, My Asia: In Case You Were Curious

So that idle speculation can be reformed with concrete information, I write to share with you the exciting details of my life in the Kingdom of Thailand. It's really quite a thrill to be me.

My Asia

Ate poisonous fish
just to get a buzz
comforted Chinese acrobats
seen it in the mirror, too
looks like it was Photoshopped
peace-piping with warlords
got Hill Tribe women
searching the forest for the good shit
finding it, too
it’s hot; sweat keeps me cool
Lord Jim without the boat wreck
that’s me, Asia, my Asia
got my bullet-proof amulet
and my sacred tattoos
from a thousand year old
monk wearing animal skins
seen my death too
it’s a trip, you’ll read about it
no karate, no Muy-Thai
got my pistol, motherfucker
little Brown nine, wooden grips
eyes in the back of my head
amulet for that too
don’t get no traffic tickets
everybody knows my car
cops shallow-grave my enemies
for a smile; I offer to pay them
they just want to be my friends
ain’t no Marlboros
in my Marlboro box
I’m cooking, baby
you couldn’t eat it
way too hot for the likes of you
Karaoke girls
don’t want my money
they just want to ride the big one
and hear me sing “My Way,”
wrap it up, baby!
clouds spell out my name
tropic lightning punctuation
rainbows you could only dream of
farmers make me glassy moonshine
birds sing out my destiny
vermin click and scratch my welcome
bulloxen wink knowingly
at water buffaloes, they get it
frogs and bugs sing me to sleep
in the peaceful countryside
roosters wake me gently
and tell me the time all night long
gunshots rock me to sleep in the city
and the Muslim song is my alarm
I am the foreigner here of choice
the one and only sainted White-man
the very earth here loves me
it hums
go ‘head on, Jimbonie
show ‘em how it’s done
dig you later

September 19, 2008, only half drunk, with re-writes substantially sober

Little Things You Should Know About Thailand

Thai people are generally very modest and graceful, but there are exceptions. For instance, they cannot seem to do anything with their respiratory or gastro-intestinal tracts without dramatic vocalization.

Burping is not merely the release of air trapped in the stomach; it is an opportunity to block the diaphragm and project an operatic tone into the proceedings. A simple cough is amplified with as much enthusiasm from the voice box as can be mustered. Someone hawking and spitting into a sink is quite an elaborate song and dance. All of this is merely quaint, the real show is presented upon puking.

Our home in our Peace Corps days was in a thinly housed neighborhood of a small city. There was an egalitarian mix of very nice homes of prosperous people and lots of Tobacco Road shacks housing families who were very, very poor. In the mix was a condo block populated mostly by young Thais with good jobs and cars, the burgeoning middle-class. Only the condos had air-conditioning; the rest of us slept as though together, hearing every sound together, not only bird sound, bug sound, frogs, and lizards, but also lovers’ quarrels, impromptu midnight karaoke parties, drinking bouts, and fights. Some shooting of guns was involved, also a bit of puking.

The vomiting was theatrical in the extreme. Never just the rushing fluid sound, but always accompanied by screaming. Vomit, as you know, is a caustic fluid, bearing as it does a large amount of stomach acid. Good judgment dictates that one should allow the flow to be accomplished with as much speed as possible. Screaming is exactly the wrong idea. I constricts the throat and impedes the flow, the result is painful. This is obvious, because the vomit-screaming is always followed immediately by a pained cry, further constricting the throat and causing further pain.

It is always my wish in these scribblings to offer a reasoned explanation, or at least to speculate on some plausible explanation. Alas, here I have nothing to offer. Like so many other things, this vocalizing is a mystery to me.

A Little Sadness

Like my sister tells me, she's some kind of LCSW over in New Mexico, we all have touches of these things, ADD, Excessive-Comp. Disorder, Bi-this-or-that, Depression, none of it is important until it becomes pathological, which is to say when it starts to negatively impact our lives.

Many of my readers are at the "Boomer Doom" stage of life where, to one extent or another, wisdom and experience collide at the corner of understanding. The insight in many of the comments is very helpful, and the generally kind sentiments are always appreciated.

I wish us all luck, but as my cousin Henry told me, when he was teaching me how to parallel park in a Sixty-two Chevy, waiting for me to drive by someone pulling another Sixty-two out of a tight parking spot, stop, park right there, he got that one out, so you can get this one in, what man has done, man can do. So let's be encouraged.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Weekend

It's my Friday, probably your Thursday, welcome to the future. My weekend internet access is touch and go, so I've included an extra portion today. And oh, boy is it good stuff.

You bring out the best in me, my angels.

Reframing the Sadness Problem

I’m reading a nice article from the N.Y. Review, free from the internet, “Redefining Depression as Mere Sadness.” It’s making sense, but as I once heard and still believe you cannot transform a camel into a racehorse by committee, redefining a thing does not change the thing.

I also heard once that depression was just the not doing of something that you knew in your heart needed to be done. When I heard that one it made great sense to me. I was in my early thirties, incomplete education, doing dead end jobs for like no money, boy was I sure that something needed to be done. And it wasn’t, and that was depressing. Not much of a surprise there.

Certain things freeze the mind, and it all starts to look like depression. Another such situation would be when something has happened and you really, really wish that it hadn’t. In a limited sense this would be like the time I cut the tip off of my left middle finger. I wish I had a picture of my face, standing there looking at the bloody, flat new tip, nail hanging grotesquely out into space, frantically trying to unwind the last ten seconds and have the precious thing back. Impossible, of course, time is like that, once past, it’s gone like a piece of trash that floated by in the river five minutes ago.

This phenomenon, in a broader sense, could be the maudlin preoccupation with lost youth. That’s just as gone. Like the beautiful girl in the Irish folk tale, “aye, yee had me once, but yee’ll not have me again.” Some people are overcome with grief over the accelerating pace of their own decrepitude. This kind of thing is worse: if something needs to be done, you can go and do it; something that is lost is gone forever.

Lots of people struggle against reality, resist the dictates of fate, refuse to dance with the one they brung. But sorry Charlie, in this game we all get dealt some cards and that’s all she wrote, no redeals, no do-overs. If you don’t like your cards, all you can do is try to bluff.

Anger at things that cannot be changed is another emotion that brings on so called depression. Things like Republicans. Or things that would be hard to change, like Rush Limbo. Release, as somebody tells me on a regular basis.

All of this intelligence is available to the conscious mind quite easily; the real trick is internalizing the firm belief. That interface is where the real problem lies. Our egos are quite rational, but our ids make non-negotiable demands, reasonable or otherwise, and refuse to accept bad news.

The Angry Charm of a Bloodclot Prole

You know me to be a charming man, unfailingly polite and full of love for the world and all of god’s creatures. But elections, especially presidential elections, bring out the worst in me. As is amply demonstrated by this poem, which I would ask you not to share with the authorities:

My teeth are hungry.
They are running with spit,
clicking together menacingly.
My lip is curled,
not sensuously like Elvis
but rather like a wolf,
in preparation of ripping asunder,
in preparation of receiving meat.
There is a low sound in my throat,
I am hiding it to cover my approach.
My eyes are dry, they sting,
I cannot blink, I remain focused.

hooks through the bloody shirts;
bodies suspended above screaming crowds;
necks mercifully severed by looped piano wire;
bound wrist and ankle, blood running, clotting;
glassy eyed stares and protruding tongues;
the terrified cries of children;
bodies, signs around the necks, hanging,
“I Sold You For Gold;”
signs of angry recrimination.

I could not be angrier if they pulled Jesus off the cross and took turns fucking the body;

I could not be angrier if they used the blood of my children to toast the triumph of heretics;

I could not be angrier if the sun came up in the west and consumed the world;

I could not be angrier if I woke up and discovered that I was a boy who had dreamt a terrible dream and was dying.

September 19, 2008; transformed from prose

Ony, thanks for reminding me that it is good to vent negative energy. I feel much better now!

The Genie and the Clever Little Fisherman

Reminded sometimes, I am, about the Genie that was caught in the net of the clever little fisherman. His bottle, that is, was caught in the net, and the Genie released when the clever little fisherman incautiously rubbed it.

The little fisherman, being clever, thought that this was his lucky day, and that the Genie would now grant his wishes. Alas, it was not to be.

“There was a time,” said the Genie, “there was a time. When first I was imprisoned in the bottle, I did think, yes, someone will find me and release me soon, and out of gratitude I will grant his wishes, but that was long ago. After hundreds of years, my heart grew hard, and I thought, yes, someone must find me soon, and release me, and out of gratitude I will grant them one small wish, but that was long ago. After a thousand years had past, my heart grew harder still, and I thought, eventually someone must find and release me, I will pay them no mind, I will go on my way, but that was so long ago, it hurts me now to remember. After time beyond counting, my heart turned to stone, and my only thought has been, if anyone ever finds me, and has the misfortune to release me, I will seize him and chew him into pieces.” The fisherman, when thusly seized, thought coolly, I guess I’d better think of something clever pretty damn quick.

Bitter, the bottle prison, and cleverness to be desired.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dead Again

"Frederick Whateley Ceely, died in London August 5, 1844, age 22, member East India Pilots' Service, Calcutta."

This is what happens to the lucky ones, they become curiosities. The unlucky among us become somebody's science project after a few hundred years in the ground.

Nong Fuang, Research Assistant

Nong ("younger person") Fuang works with one of the professors in my office. She is highly intelligent, hard working in the Thai manner, superbly computer literate, and her English is very good, not just for a Thai, but really, really good. Now she's working on two masters' degrees, Law and English. She wants to be an academic.
She has all of the tools, but sometime soon someone will need to polish her up a little, like in "My Fair Lady." She's kind of a country mouse. But that'll be an easy job when the time comes. She'll do fine.

The Wheel of Political Thought

Liberal Conservative

Radical Reactionary

Revolutionary Vigilante


This is the wheel. Conservatives and Liberals want to fine tune the present; Radicals want to push progressive change; Reactionaries want to return to some status ante; Revolutionaries want to institute some substitute reality now, as do Vigilantes, each after their fashion; Anarchists don't know what they want, but they know what they don't want and seek to destroy it, let the chips fall where they may.

What goes around, comes around, and after all is said and done, we are all anarchists.

The Perfect Storm of Comments

There is a huge tropical depression going on in the comments somewhere, the post is so old I can't even find it, you know who you are. Interesting remark today about the two most intollerable criticisms: 1) you have no sense of humor; and 2) trouble? you don't know trouble.

I know that I am funny because people don't respect me enough to laugh out of a sense of duty. No trouble there. And I'm a little funny in the head, too.

Trouble? I had a client, Jack let's call him, well, his name was really Jack, and he was a young blond, blue eyed Polish Jew when the Nazi's came, he ran from them, his family all died, he got to the Russians and they arrested him as a Nazi and put him in the Gulag hunger camps for four years, the Russians then put him in a stooge Polish army unit, he deserted and made his way to Israel where he joined the Hagganah and bombed some shit, then fought with the Israeli army in 1948. That's trouble, my friends, bent little arms outstretched. If only stuff like that is trouble, none of us have any trouble; if any trouble is trouble, we all have trouble.

People write interesting stuff when they are annoyed. Keep it up, boys!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Soooo little time, soooo much to complain about. It looks like a lot of homework today, fair readers, but it's so entertaining that it will go quickly.

Blogging and the “Bullshit!” Defense

In my courtroom days I had to explain to some clients that there was, unfortunately, no way to immediately bring the matter before a judge and simply inform the court that the case was bullshit, as in, “Your Honor! This is bullshit!” No, Virginia, there ain’t no sanity clause, I’d tell them, as patiently as possible, we’d have to file the answer and jump through all the hoops for two years before a jury could decide that, yes, this was bullshit.

Blogging, for better or worse, embraces the Bullshit Defense.

Real newspapers can print opinion editorials, but these must be academically correct presentations of reasonable opinions. No bullshit there. Columnists can be informal, according to their own style, but they too must arrange their thoughts into structured arguments. Bloggers, on the other hand, can come directly to the point, and after briefly describing the bullshit, they can come right out and declare it unambiguous bullshit, the stupidest fucking thing in history, in the entire history of stupid shit, wake the fuck up, this is bullshit.

This is the Twenty-First Century’s gift to journalism, he said, damning with feint praise.

I Unashamedly Point the Finger, Yes, That Finger

Big investment banks are chalking up some impressive “loses” and “write-down’s.” I don’t feel too badly for them, after all, these are the guys and girls who get those annual bonuses that we read about every year, multi-millions of dollars, they lengthen the waiting lists for every luxury in world. Those bonuses famously piss most of us off on a regular basis.

Those banks are in such trouble now because of their own foolishness, and the foolishness of our elected officials. Oh! Regulation! Those god-damned Liberals! Let the market run itself! Who knows better, the market or Washington insiders?

Washington insiders, it turns out. In the absence of responsible regulation the banks came up with some novel ideas, some novel, irresponsible ideas. “Derivatives,” I think they were called. Loan people money for houses, then bundle the loans and sell the whole kit and caboodle to another investment entity, some poor, unsuspecting investment entity. So then the question became, how can we sell more of this crap? The answer was to suspend ordinary prudence and lend money to anyone who wanted it, irrespective of the ability to pay, the existence of an equity cushion in the property, down payments, or credit history. Who cares? We’re going to jettison the risk within a month.

Those who sold these derivatives are probably still counting the money while the suckers who bought them are declaring bankruptcy, watching their stock become worthless, sending their employees home to sell their Ferraris and let their houses fall into foreclosure. The loses that we are hearing about? That money went somewhere, and it’s still there folks.

The sellers of the properties got some of it. Small timers, mostly, I figure. The sellers of the derivatives got a lot of it. The geniuses who run the investment banks got a lot of it, before the whole scam went to hell. Now the boss-geniuses will get Golden Parachutes. Guess who’ll pay for that?

And now the entire world is paying for it. Who is responsible for this cluster-fuck?

You know my political prejudices, so you will not be surprised to find out that I blame the Republicans, with all that “de-regulation” crap. Many businesses cannot be trusted to run themselves absent some guidelines from those who are charged with running our fair country. Especially those greedy pricks on Wall Street.

You can’t blame the bankers. They are like the experimental monkeys who are given free access to cocaine, just push the button Bonzo! Almost immediately they give up eating and sleeping and push the button until they have cocained themselves to death. You can’t blame the monkeys.

No, blame the Republicans. For ages and ages there were regulations in place to avoid just this kind of unfettered, egomaniacal greed. Remember? Not too long ago banks couldn’t sell insurance and insurance companies could not engage in banking, just for one gross example. But no, sayeth the Republicans, this demonic Liberal regulation is ruining our competitiveness in the global market! So, with the lemming like compliance of the “shoot-itself-in-the-foot” wing of the Democratic party, the deregulation was accomplished and before too long the bankers and insurance executives proved that they could not be trusted after all, they needed to be regulated, or else they’d die on the floor of their cages like a bunch of silly monkeys in a lab somewhere.

I haven’t heard anyone mention this issue in the current election cycle. No, much better to keep to more easily understood so-called issues, like “Mandingo wants to teach your five year old daughter about oral-sex,” or some good old righteousness for life, or maybe some I-won’t-let-that-old-Ming-zap-you-with-any-damn-Mongo-death-ray! You know, make it up as you go, nobody will know the difference.

But chaos is so exciting. Look for the good.

The Odd, Unexplainable Good Mood

I’m in a great mood today. I didn’t even realize it until my cab got to my destination. The meter is forty-five Baht, and I always give the guy sixty, it makes them so happy they plotz, the “Miracle of the Tip.” Today, mister wise-ass tells me with a serious expression that he has no change.

I have driven cabs, and I know what this means. He has more change than the bank, but he wants the fifteen enough to try to trick me out of it. When this happens, rarely, to be fair, and I am in a foul mood, also rarely, I am a man of love, I take back a twenty and fish a nickel out of my pocket, no tip today, mister wise-ass. But today I smiled and told him, you don’t need any change, it’s all for you! He was very happy. And so am I, evidently, today anyway.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Common Last Words

I like those web sites where they give you transcripts of the last bits of the cockpit flight recorder from ill-fated commercial airliners. Some sites just put "(expletive)," but the good ones spell it out for you.

Most of the time, if they have any time to say anything at all, they say, "oh, shit."

Famous Last Words

Now that I'm death-focused, I'm remembering some of the choice door-of-death quotes:

"They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." A Northern Civil War general, right before a canon ball tore through his horse, taking his leg off in the process (he bled to death).

"Mehr Licht!" ("More light!") Rainer Maria Rilke, a German poet, typical poet bullshit.

"Fuck 'em all." William Claude "W.C." Fields.

Et In Arcadia, Ego: Part II

I have sung the praises of this couple previously, and I meant every word of it. Fate broke them up about a month ago. He'd only been sick for a month, died in the hospital, might have been cancer, it's hard to pin down details in the interlinguaverse.
They loved each other so much that it filled the space around them; they have two wonderful, handsome, polite, smart sons in university right now; they were both popular and successful high school teachers. I'm a little sick about it, but we must get used to these things.

JOY! shipmate—joy!

(Pleas’d to my Soul at death I cry;)

Our life is closed—our life begins;

The long, long anchorage we leave,

The ship is clear at last—she leaps!

She swiftly courses from the shore;

Joy! shipmate—joy!
(Walt Whitman)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Very Nice Sixth Grade Class

See September 2, "A Very Nice Second Grade Class."

Four years later, and it's almost the same group as that Second Grade. I was very happy to see them, and happy to notice that they looked a lot better than the Sixth Grade that was four years ago. That bunch had terrible teeth and generally looked unhealthy, lots of them. This time around the kids have very nice teeth, hard to spot any missing at all. Even the socks looked better, almost no holes, and everybody looked pretty well cared for.

I love progress.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Role of Punditry in Corporate (National) Socialism

I saw Bill Bennett, the pundit, at the Republican convention this week. He’s still on the radio, talking about values, punditing up a storm. He is interesting choice for values-pundit, since his own understanding of values comes from having none or dubious values himself. He is guilty of several of the Seven Deadly Sins, like Gluttony, obviously, Pride, Greed at least, probably more if I don’t miss my guess. But he’s a pundit. What does that mean?

I’m not certain, but I think that pundits these days do the job that was once done by public intellectuals. Those were some educated people, wow, did they know things, were they full of ideas! I read a joke the other day: guy says to his friend, Lionel Trilling lives over there. Friend wonders, do you think he has a view of the river? Guy tells him, Lionel Trilling has a view of everything! And a great education too, it was required of public intellectuals, they were intellectuals after all, weren’t they? Nowadays old Lionel could make ten times as much money (adjusted for inflation) and do one-tenth the work, he could be a pundit. Wouldn’t have needed all that education either, it only gets in the way of punditry.

To be sure, not all pundits are rich, the Internet has made pundit status available to anyone with opinions and a computer. Some of today’s pundits sit in plain circumstances, in their underwear, sit at their computers, longing to share their opinions with anyone who will happen upon them. For inspiration they close their eyes and try to imagine what righteous indignation would feel like, and then they try to incorporate that emotion into their opinionizing. Some of them are quite ingenious and well educated, others less so or not at all, many of them are very industrious, and any of these conditions can lead to entertaining opinions.

Pundits these days write books, just like the old public intellectuals in their turn wrote books. Those intellectuals were really something, they wrote books about the damndest things, books with titles like “Early Netherlandish Painting,” or “The Iconography of Death in Early Elizabethan Poetry.” Somehow they used this arcane knowledge as a basis for their opinions about the society that they lived in. The classical references could make you dizzy, they make me dizzy anyway. Now pundits write books with titles like, “Why Bush Sucks Eggs,” or “How to Cut the Head Off a Liberal.” I read and enjoyed the one about Dutch painting; the others don’t interest me.

The really sad feature of all this punditry is that they don’t really believe the opinions that they espouse. They have been enlisted by the media that employs them to masquerade as outside observers, independent “experts.” The so-called Conservative pundits read up on the days talking points and repeat them with great emotion, and the so-called Liberal pundits mostly smile and put up with abuse from the Conservatives. Those who produce and direct these shows allow this to happen, because their dual agenda is: 1) to present something lively that will sell advertising; and 2) to deliver the days Conservative talking points with great emotion. This agenda is set by the business entities way up the food chain from the people involved with the show. It’s big business, this TV thing, and up the ladder are the biggest corporations in America. They know which side of their bread the butter is on. It is buttered in particular by one of our two major political parties.

It is often said that there is no difference between the two major political parties. No, be assured that if there were indeed no difference between the two parties none of the big corporations would care who got elected. But they do care, so there must be a difference. If only the choice were black or white! The choice between: a) brutal, selfish bosses who want to keep you and your children in diseased poverty; or b) benevolent social servants who want you to be prosperous and happy. But nothing is ever that easy. The choice that is offered is between Nazism-Light and Weak Democracy; between Corporate Fascism and Benign Big-Brotherism.

The Mainstream Media is Corporate America, and their choice to win this election is clearly John McCain, high school bully turned Naval Academy anchor-man turned mediocre ground-attack pilot turned Prisoner-of-War turned North Vietnamese propaganda tool turned self-aggrandizing asshole . Regarding Mr. McCain, all we hear in the media is what a hero he is, his heroic service to America, how he’s a maverick who loves to work bi-partisanly for the good of America, a man of principles, that’s all we hear. There’s nothing at all to suggest his recent alteration of everything he previously believed in to fit the strict Reactionary Conservative line; nothing at all about his frequent, astonishingly rapid changes in position, make that “stated position,” on almost every subject; nothing about his outright lies about prior statements on the record; nothing about his involvement in old scandals; nothing about his stupid, uninformed comments about important issues, nothing at all about him selfishly jettisoning at perfectly good family like they were excess fuel before a difficult landing. Guess who the Mainstream Media wants to win?

Isn’t that enough of a reason to vote for Mr. Obama? Being so certain that corporate America is afraid of him? They do their damndest to make him look bad but he doesn’t give them much to work with. What do they have against him? They haven’t found anything of substance, and they’ve been looking. All they have come up with is the sheerest bullshit, things like: he listened for years to this preacher, Wright, and he never once nailed a manifesto to the church door! He is inexperienced! He is a Muslim! Maybe even a Jew! He’s the candidate of Al Qaeda! He won’t wear an American flag pin! He is the most Liberal Senator of all! Worst of all, he is arrogant! He is a typical politician! His wife hates America! He is elitist! These are all such crap that it is hard to fight them without giving them additional power to persuade. They prove that an Obama presidency would push the scales back in favor of the working man, at least a little. And they prove that there is really no reason at all to worry about an Obama presidency, it’s obvious, people have been looking for worrying deeds or ideas and they can’t find any.

My advice is vote for Obama, unless you like the idea of being ruled by Nazis dressed as bankers, Nazis who don’t even have the guts to wear swastikas. Nazis without even the cool uniforms to recommend them. That’s if they’re human at all, sometimes I wonder about the fat, girly ones. These are the corporations and people who rage against socialism when it is meant to benefit ordinary citizens. What they actually long for is state-socialism that benefits them, and their “elected” stooges. And if that doesn’t sound like the “State Socialism” of Krupp and Hitler, you haven’t been paying attention. Hitler didn’t care a fig about politics, German culture or philosophy, he and his cronies were only interested in making money. Did you know he got paid for every time his image appeared on a postage stamp, a coin, or a bill of money? And he was on all of them, guess who’s idea that was?

My name is Fred Ceely, and I approve this message.

Sandra, or Sarah Who's Book Hit List

The formatting on this list disappeared in cut/pasting, but as a concession to the brevity of life I'm going to leave it the way it is. It's worth the trouble to read, though. I got it from a librarian web site.

This is the list of books Palin tried to have banned. As many of you will notice it is a hit parade for book burners.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony BurgessA Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’EngleAnnie on My Mind by Nancy GardenAs I Lay Dying by William FaulknerBlubber by Judy BlumeBrave New World by Aldous HuxleyBridge to Terabithia by Katherine PatersonCanterbury Tales by ChaucerCarrie by Stephen KingCatch-22 by Joseph HellerChristine by Stephen KingConfessions by Jean-Jacques RousseauCujo by Stephen KingCurses, Hexes, and Spells by Daniel CohenDaddy’s Roommate by Michael WillhoiteDay No Pigs Would Die by Robert PeckDeath of a Salesman by Arthur MillerDecameron by BoccaccioEast of Eden by John SteinbeckFallen Angels by Walter MyersFanny Hill (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure) by John ClelandFlowers For Algernon by Daniel KeyesForever by Judy BlumeGrendel by John Champlin GardnerHalloween ABC by Eve MerriamHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban by J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. RowlingHave to Go by Robert MunschHeather Has Two Mommies by Leslea NewmanHow to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas RockwellHuckleberry Finn by Mark TwainI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya AngelouImpressions edited by Jack BoothIn the Night Kitchen by Maurice SendakIt’s Okay if You Don’t Love Me by Norma KleinJames and the Giant Peach by Roald DahlLady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. LawrenceLeaves of Grass by Walt WhitmanLittle Red Riding Hood by Jacob and Wilhelm GrimmLord of the Flies by William GoldingLove is One of the Choices by Norma KleinLysistrata by AristophanesMore Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin SchwartzMy Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher CollierMy House by Nikki GiovanniMy Friend Flicka by Mary O’HaraNight Chills by Dean KoontzOf Mice and Men by John SteinbeckOn My Honor by Marion Dane BauerOne Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander SolzhenitsynOne Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken KeseyOne Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia MarquezOrdinary People by Judith GuestOur Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women’s Health CollectivePrince of Tides by Pat ConroyRevolting Rhymes by Roald DahlScary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones by Alvin SchwartzScary Stories in the Dark by Alvin SchwartzSeparate Peace by John KnowlesSilas Marner by George EliotSlaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice BurroughsThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark TwainThe Bastard by John JakesThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerThe Chocolate War by Robert CormierThe Color Purple by Alice WalkerThe Devil’s Alternative by Frederick ForsythThe Figure in the Shadows by John BellairsThe Grapes of Wrath by John SteinbeckThe Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine PatersonThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret AtwoodThe Headless Cupid by Zilpha SnyderThe Learning Tree by Gordon ParksThe Living Bible by William C. BowerThe Merchant of Venice by William ShakespeareThe New Teenage Body Book by Kathy McCoy and Charles WibbelsmanThe Pigman by Paul ZindelThe Seduction of Peter S. by Lawrence SandersThe Shining by Stephen KingThe Witches by Roald DahlThe Witches of Worm by Zilpha SnyderThen Again, Maybe I Won’t by Judy BlumeTo Kill A Mockingbird by Harper LeeTwelfth Night by William ShakespeareWebster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary by the Merriam-Webster Editorial StaffWitches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of the Halloween Symbols by Edna Barth

Monday, September 8, 2008

My Little Buddy

Her dad is a friend of mine, he was one of my grad-students, he just got the Masters. He's a lawyer. He worries about me because my predecessor killed himself and he's a little bit afraid that I'll go that way too. Actually, we all think my predecessor was murdered, but that's another story.

You can just see the top of the open-heart surgery scar on my buddy's chest. She's five now, and the doc's want to go back in a repair some veins or something, her oxygen count is only fifty percent or so. So, probably next month.

I forget her name and I'm ashamed to ask again at this point. Please join me in wishing her luck.

Golden Time

If it’s after five o’clock, I’m drinking. So what? My work is done, this is my time. If it kills me, I don’t care. I ain’t drunk, I’m just drinking. If it makes me sick, and puts me in great pain, I don’t care. Where my cigarettes at? Four a’day, my doc says it’s ok. I’m in the game, Jack, I’ll play my cards, you just deal them and I’ll smile. Can you say that? If the deal gives you five Aces of Spades and the dealer says, time to go, the car’s outside, are you ready to go? I am. My work is done.

I kept my eyes on the prize, I won the life-lottery. Through a glass, darkly, but I could always see the goal. My nature was to tempt fate, drugs, firearms, motorcycles, deep-dark-depression, driving way on the edge of good judgment. I did what I did and what I needed to do, to do what needed to be done.

I’ve done good in the world, never asked for any credit. More good than harm, lots more. My conscience is clear. I enjoy giving strangers a better day than they might have had; I enjoy encouraging virtual strangers to achieve the things that they think are beyond them. I’ve had one family, two pregnancies, two live births, raised them both, on the scene, gave them values, two good men I gave to the world. My conscience is clear.

Done good with the cards that I was dealt, too. Had a lot of good times, stayed in the game. Gave as good as I got . . . not everybody can say that.

And now I’ll do whatever it is the fuck I feel like doing. Been almost dead, almost died so many times, in hospitals and cars, hanging off and scraping around some coastal mountain somewhere, I’m on Golden Time, Jack, nothing matters anymore.

Clocks of Thailand

I've got thirty or fourty thousand words of this kind of stuff. Might as well share some of it.

At the big grammar school in a northern provincial capitol there is a clock in every classroom and every one is wrong. Some are stopped all together; some are close to the right time, like within ten or fifteen minutes; some are off by many hours.

The classes are scheduled without travel time, in other words, classes start and end on the half hour, the next class starts instantly. In reality, classes may start or end anytime within ten minutes of the half hour, depending on the lesson. There are no bells or other annunciators to mark the change of class. These are related events. In Thailand keeping to a close schedule is not highly valued. It’s a farm thing. On the farm, people wake up when it’s light and make their way to the fields. When the work is done, they go home.

There’s a clock in the office of the sixth grade teachers the face of which is covered by a picture of the two great kings: Rama V and Rama IX. The time may only be read between five to and five after any one of three hours: 11:00, 12:00, or 1:00 o’clock. At any other time the face of the clock completely obscures the hands and it is impossible to tell the time from further away than several inches. When I mentioned this, I received the standard, bemused look, as though to say: “Farang think the damndest things are important.” It’s a very attractive clock, after all.

Every temple prominently features at least one very nice, old German grandfather clock. Almost always they are stopped. They face the gathered worshipers as part of the Buddha image display in the central area. They are there to remind the congregation of their own mortality. There is usually one clock that bears the correct time. It is usually a cheap wall clock over in a corner somewhere.

I remember visiting the clock department of a large department store in Chiang Mai. There were lots and lots of clocks, I couldn’t even guess how many. These clocks found themselves in one of three different circumstances: 1) one third were stopped randomly at different times; 2) one third were running and displayed a time within plus or minus ten minutes of the correct time; or 3) one third, the biggest third, were running but with the wrong time. The effect was chaotic. In America every clock would be stopped at ten minutes after ten with the battery removed from those that ran on electricity.

In Thailand, clocks are everywhere as decorator items, but only rarely are they employed for their primary purpose. This is true of wrist watches as well: many times I have asked students wearing wrist watches to tell me the time, only to have them shrug their shoulders, smile and say, “mai dai,” (“doesn’t work.”) Time pieces here serve a mostly symbolic purpose. Modern societies value precise timing; ‘our timepieces prove that we are a modern society.’ Successful people wear very nice wrist watches; ‘our stylish watches prove that we are successful people.’ And of course, the symbolic stopped clock, which has the same meaning in European iconography: everything ends, boys and girls, your time will come.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

More Movie Quotes

“Everybody in the city wants to go to the country, and everybody in the country wants to go to the city, and they’re both right,” says John Barrymore’s character in “The Penalty,” 1943, “only difference is, the country folk that want to go to the city are all crazy.”

“The Haunting” (1963, Robert Wise version): “Whose hand was I holding!!!” Julie Harris after a disturbing incident. I love this movie.

Probable Cause

“Probable Cause is facts and circumstances which, by themselves, would give a reasonable person the belief that 1) a crime had been committed; and 2) that a particular person had committed that crime.” That’s the bar-exam version.

You need Probable Cause to get a search warrant in this country, America that is, and you need it to stop and frisk someone on the street, and you need it to stop someone’s car too, unless it’s a DUI roadblock and you’re stopping everybody, Equal Protection and all. This entire house-of-cards has been weakened considerably by the Patriot Act, etc.

I love PC stories (thanks for a good one, Rory). Black people have always had the best. At one point my UPS rep in California, not the driver, the sales rep, was a Black guy with the initials, J.W. That’s a great job, he had a beautiful BMW, black, trick wheels, a nice ride. He’d gone to the University of Washington, “U-Dub,” and his license plate read, “J-Dub.”

Both of his parents were very successful doctors, they had a nice place in Beverly Hills. One afternoon on his way to see them he got pulled over by BH police. They are very conscientious about protecting their citizens from Black guys stealing BMW’s. Probable Cause? So far, maybe two arguments.

They looked at his paperwork, all in the name of J. . . W . . ., with the license plate “J-Dub,” and everything was in order. No more Probable Cause at this point, it’s his car. So of course they got him out of the car and sat him on the curb for more than a half-hour checking everything that could be checked. When he protested, telling them that his parents lived around the corner and that they could call them, they were home waiting for him, he was told, you just sit still, you wouldn’t want to have an accident, with the hand on the pistol.

Probable Cause is a wonderful thing, and it should be cherished and guarded from harm, not weakened as being of assistance only to alleged terrorists. During the Fifties and Sixties the holdings of many Supreme Court cases actually strengthened Probable Cause, police were limited in their stop and frisk and warrantless entry habits, you could say that Miranda was a Probable Cause case too.

Let’s hear it for Probable Cause! It’s part of what makes us American.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

My Failures

It’s a Jackson Browne song, used in some movie somewhere along the line, sung by the Dark Chanteuse, Nico. Pretty good song too, “These Days.”

“I’ve stopped my dreaming,
I don’t do too much scheming these days,
These days,
These days I sit on cornerstones
And count the time in quarter-tones to ten,
Please don’t confront me with my failures,
I have not forgotten them.”

Jackson, I like a lot of his stuff. When we were younger, he and I, I thought he was a whiner, but he has so many successes to look back on, “Doctor My Eyes” alone insures his spot in music history, “Red Neck Friend,” nice little play on words, popularized by the Eagles, no less, he’s in good shape. But he has become contemplative, wondering now, what does it all mean? Boomer Doom, my friends, step up to the mirror and say hello. We are all doomed, and we all wonder, did any of it have any meaning at all?

Was any of it worth the trouble? Is anything at all worth further trouble, any further so-called accomplishment, any further waste of time, would it just be a stupid waste of precious energy to do anything else at all?

There’s a strong argument for just sitting, drinking and eating yourself to death, abusing some lesser beings along the line, so what, none of it has any meaning at all. I wouldn’t want to get the other side of that debate, arguing that things had meaning, arguing that we should be good, like it could mean anything.

In my more lucid moments, I see the big picture, some of it, and I understand that we must strive, that there are things more substantial than our own selfish little point-of-view, an overall direction that we must all move towards, altruistically, as a group, not paralyzed by the myth of individuality, not incapacitated by the obvious meaningless of striving.

But it’s so hard, so hard to see, such a difficult ideal to follow, to understand, such a very difficult goal to visualize, so abstract, so unlike what we see everyday, the shit we wade in, hip deep in the blood and suffering that surrounds us, knocked breathless by the horror of everyday existence.

Failure: to be acknowledged? to be confronted? to be overcome? to be given meaning? Stepping stones for progress?

I still think sometimes that there are things worth doing. It’s just a feeling, it overtakes me when I’m not paying attention, like an itch that is idly scratched before its existence is realized. There are people needing assistance. People whose lives might be amplified by some particularized assistance, something that I could do. Wouldn’t it be “better” to serve the purpose than to simple discount it as a meaningless endeavor?

You tell me. I’m just sitting on the fence, and time is running out.

Sieg, Heil!

I love these speeches, they’re so, so, reminiscent.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


I know you miss my poetry, don't deny it. Maybe I'll put one up tomorrow. Or you could always go to LitKicks.com and see plenty of my stuff, see "Action Poetry" feature.

The Second Party Convention

Public Service Announcement (and content, I mean contempt, I mean content warning for thin-skinned Republicans)

What they say: Energy Independence.
What they mean: Anything the big energy companies want.

What they say: Activist Judges.
What they mean: Judges who don’t vote our way.

What they say: Fighter Pilot.
What they mean: Failed fighter pilot; ground attack pilot.

What they say: Real Americans.
What they mean: Country bumpkins.

What they say: Right to Life.
What they mean: We need your votes.

What they say: Character.
What they mean: They don’t know what this means.

What they say: Country First.
What they mean: Me first.

I’m sure that many of the people at this convention are good people, lots of good people consider themselves smart when they are not, lots of good people allow themselves to be mislead if it is in their economic interest, lots of good people make mocking fun of things that they do not understand.

These delusional people, manipulated by cynical egotists, actually mean to do good. What they have accomplished, though, is to disestablish middle class America and half ruin the country all together. This year they mean to complete the job.

Chaos or order, voters. The choice is yours.

So Called Republicanism

The republican revolutions of the Eighteenth Century, hand in hand with the steadfastly secular-humanist Enlightenment, were all about individual participation in government and individual economic freedom. Like anything else, though, the accepted meaning of these words is found not so much on the page as it is in common usage.

I play golf, I golf, and I was confused for thirty years about the meaning of “hit down on the ball.” All I could picture was someone with a golf club making a double-handed, overhead hammer swing straight at the ball, “hit down,” what were they talking about? The swing, of course, comes in the form of an arch, a circular movement, and the words simply mean, begin the swing forcefully.

Words mean different things to different people, or to different political parties. To wit:

Family Values

Party “A:” Stay with one spouse and make an eternal commitment to one set of children.

Party “B:” If your wife loses her looks, feel free to dump her and the children and find a younger, richer, better looking woman and start a new family.


Party “A:” Recognize Constitutional principals in the lives of all citizens, individual or corporate, with the proviso that the freedoms so provided should not infringe on the common good.

Party “B:” Observe Liaise Faire capitalism, with no government regulation or interference; and allow individuals to accumulate unlimited assets which can remain untaxed in hands of the individual’s heirs in perpetuity.


Party “A:” The greatest degree of financial security for the greatest number of citizens and their families.

Party “B:” The greatest number of billionaires.


Party “A:” Safety for the country’s citizens, and security for the country’s borders and interests.

Party “B:” An acceptable level of outside threat which can be used to control citizen’s votes and enrich a thriving defense industry.

I could go on, but the pattern is already clear. So please listen carefully, oh voters, to what the political parties are saying, and think carefully about what they really mean.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Very Nice Second Grade Class

Sorry if I seem to harp on this "small school out in the rice field." There are students in this class who are as capable as any Second Graders in Thailand. The "large" girl could answer questions in English pretty readily, and did very well in every game we played. In her row, from the left numbers three and four, are two girls that are highly intelligent, I don't mean kind of smart, they should be doctors when they grow up. They had English down, they could do more than almost all of the Sixth Graders. Every time I asked a question they would look at each other and nod their heads and smile, yep, got that one, and then take turns raising their hands to answer.
The quality of their education, however, is so poor that no such great opportunities will be available to them. Odds are, they'll be working by about fifteen years old, no more school.
This area is tragic in general, and ultra-tragic in many particulars. There is so little opportunity for the country kids with poor educations that a lot of the girls go to Bangkok, or Pattaya or Phuket to become sex-workers for a few years so that they can take the money home and buy a little market or something, not have to work in the fields. Yes, in Thailand the girls keep most of the money and can save quite a bit in a few years. Of course, some, maybe this is getting better, but some of the mothers of these kids came back home with AIDS, got married, gave it to the husband and maybe children too, and died. Lots of orphans at this school.
But what wonderful, wonderful children. If I were not so stuck in my existential malaise I'd do something for them, not just remember them fondly.

Look For the Good

Entering Late-Middle/Early-Old age isn’t so bad.

True, everything is going a little dead. When I was young it was very uncomfortable to hold ice in my hand, you know, a little too cold. Now I have no trouble holding ice, even that really dry, cold ice, for quite a little while. (No, not actual dry-ice, I haven’t tried that yet.) Feeling going a little dead, I suppose.

Vision goes, hearing goes, hair goes, skin-elasticity goes, teeth go, joints, hearts, livers, everything. And any of those old rich guys married to young beauty queens who tell you that not everything is going dead are lying. That’s going dead too.

But I’m not dead yet. Look for the good.

Mini-Movie-Review: “My Dream is Yours”

Turner Classic Movies, I never heard of this movie, had never seen a minute of it, I’m sure. Hilary Brooks, “Our Miss Brooks,” always a treat, so droll, a beautiful woman with a wonderful, rangy superstructure, gets lots of screen time. And an absolutely adolescent Doris Day is absolutely radiant. Mostly primary colors but that might be the TCM effect. Fabulous hats and Superman suits, lots of cigarettes, about 1947. This movie is funny, and fun.

Highly recommended.


A good day for comments, thank you. Be sure to follow up on your comments, I generally offer a response.

Monday, September 1, 2008

On Christianity and Liberalism

Controversy generates better comments, so, for my own amusement, I offer you controversy.

We should all be concerned about the absurd posturing of our politicians on the subject of Religion. I respect Religion more than they do, more than you do too, odds are, but I don’t believe in any of it, not a bit. I respect them all, though, right down to those remaining Animists out in some jungle somewhere worshiping the spirits of the trees. But politics is not the place for Religion.

“We are seriously misguided when it comes to the role of religious belief in political races. Faith in God should no more trump perspicacity in matters of governance than it should replace olive oil in Italian cuisine.” John S. commenting on an essay about Robert Ingersoll, who was a nationally respected Atheist in the late Nineteenth Century.

Our political dialog is swimming in Christian platitudes and religiosity, but among the spewing politicians no one makes the point about the connection between their own actions and the message of Christianity? Precious few anyway. For most of these openly religious politicians, even a cursory examination of their own lives betrays an active contradiction of Christian ideals.

Even if a Christian governor believes that it is just to carry out a death sentence, it is certainly unchristian to mock the condemned person. Even if a practicing Christian believes in good faith that in some circumstances it is morally acceptable to unilaterally divorce one’s wife, it is certainly unchristian to do so because she is no longer beautiful and a woman fifteen years her junior, beautiful and incredibly rich has come along and volunteered for the job after heavy lobbying and some adultery; or to visit a wife who is hospitalized and suffering with breast cancer and bully her into signing divorce papers on the spot. It’s not only presidents and others that I don’t like who engage in this behavior. It is equally unchristian for a president to engage in sexual liaisons with a page, especially with an immature and slightly goofy page; at that level of power-inequality, and considering the age and blissful air-headedness of the woman, behavior like that is little more than rape. And in what universe is torture sanctioned by Christian politicians as the official policy not only of the country that they serve, but also of the people that they represent? (Including me, and it embarrasses me, it degrades me and personally annoys me, that they would do such a thing.) Christians, my ass.

President Ronald Reagan started all of this nonsense. An amoral political genius, he and his cronies developed the strategy of using the pretended belief in evangelical Christianity to trick those unfortunate people into voting for Republican so-called conservatives, voting, as it were, against their clear economic interests. These people, largely poor, largely uneducated, largely rural, are the very Americans that are most dependant upon Liberal social innovations like Social Security. Many of them wouldn’t even have electricity if it weren’t for Liberals. Many of them wouldn’t have ever been born if it weren’t for Liberals, their parents would have starved to death in a shack during the Great Depression. But since the late Seventies these Christian Fundamentalists have been voting with Republican Conservatives whose core program is to do away with these very social programs and divert the money thus saved to the highest level of property owners in the country. All it took was a little, “they say you can’t pray in school . . .” and some, “evolution is a theory that is still being debated . . .” and a bit of, “abortion is murder.” That and a little public pontificating. They shamelessly stand for pictures with their second, or third families and proclaim themselves to be good, Christian family men with “Family Values.”

Reagan . . . there are tapes of speeches that President Reagan delivered to fundamentalist groups in which he waxes poetic about his mother reading him the Bible when he was a boy, and how he sees the signs and believes that the Tribulation is fast approaching. The Tribulation! That’s way out there with snake-handling. Does anyone allow a one percent possibility that he actually believed in the Tribulation at all? That would be the belief that in the “End Times,” when the “Last Judgment” is at hand, “Believers” will simply disappear, all of them, at once, having been assumed body and soul into heaven to be with “God,” and he included the belief that we would actually see that weird event in our lifetimes. These people will say anything to gain control of a voting block.

Does anyone think that Dick Cheney is a good Christian? None of his nicknames reflect that prejudice. George W. Bush? He talks about his Christianity more than most of them but displays personal Christian values less than almost all of them.

Alas! Babylon!

If any American wishes to believe that anyone who has not “recognized Jesus as his personal savior” will not, indeed cannot, upon their death be admitted to heaven, let them do so in private, and if they wish to discuss it, let them discuss it with like minded people in private. If anyone wishes to believe that Jews are devils, or that “polytheists” may freely be killed, or that newborn babies bear a curse that came down from God and has afflicted every single human being since the beginning of time, or any other such foolishness, it is their Constitutional Right to do so. I would fight for their right to their own beliefs.

But if they wish to criticize my beliefs, they are engaging in politics and should lose their tax exemption immediately. If they wish to inject themselves into politics at any level, they should lose their tax exemption immediately. As for the politicians who cynically affect Fundamentalist Christianity to effect this voting block, there is much that can be done.

Firstly, they should be challenged constantly by the media for the hypocrisy apparent in their daily lives. The defense of, “these people are attacking your right to your beliefs!” should be easy enough to brush aside. They should also be called out on their “Conservative” credentials; their true positions on all issues are much further to the right, they are deeply reactionary almost to the point of vigilantism.

Secondly, Liberalism has allowed itself to be demonized without raising a hand in self defense, and that must end. Liberalism took a failing Capitalist playground and turned it into a middle-class democracy. Liberalism in America eliminated more hunger, suffering and discrimination than any prior political system in any country. This failure of Liberalism to defend itself has allowed the recreation of the deeply stratified and dismally undemocratic “Gilded Age” of the Robber-Barons.

Thirdly, and most importantly, our progressive politicians must wake up to their responsibilities. It is impossible to oppose these shrill, so-called Conservatives in a polite manner. Liberals and progressives must realize that they are in a back alley knife fight, and the sociopath with the knife cannot be reasoned with. If they are too genteel for knives, and if they abjure the use of gunpowder, let them put a half of a brick in one hand and a stout cudgel in the other and beat the sociopath until five minutes after he has stopped responding, metaphorically, of course. Be assured, this can be done in good conscience, the opponents have demonstrated a hundredfold that they do not deserve any greater consideration.

Liberalism . . . to be a Liberal . . . the current demon myth must be dispelled. Big Business needn’t worry; did not Big Business thrive under Liberal administrations? Fundamentalists needn’t worry; Liberal policies would give them all of the religious freedom that they could stand, plus a middle-class lifestyle in which to enjoy it. The rich needn’t worry; the rich, like the poor, will always be with us, and Liberalism values leadership and innovation as much as any political system. All of that whining, oh, Liberals want to deny entrepreneurs the benefit of their innovation, it’s all such crap, tell it to Professor Land (inventor of the Polaroid process, the “Polaroid Land Camera) or the inventor of the Barbie Doll.

I welcome the rich! I will give them the thanks that they deserve for improving society! But anyone for whom fifty or sixty million dollars on hand is not enough, and for whom five or six million new dollars a year is insufficient, well those people have no place in a rational society and should be hospitalized immediately as a danger to themselves and others. Anything over that should go to taxes and charitable contributions. And anyone who can’t sleep at night, angry at having to share out most of his or her one hundred million dollars received this year as “income,” angry at having to offer it to society as charitable donations, angry at having to live for an entire year on only five or six million dollars, anyone like that has a dangerous mental condition requiring immediate, compassionate treatment.

Of course I’m just blogging this, which is like sitting half-drunk in your own room talking back to the TV, or privately reading a well written essay and mumbling, “you’re god-damned right.” Maybe I should put on a sandwich-board like those “Soon, A Cleansing!” guys I used to see preaching glassy eyed on Wall Street. I should try it sometime. Go stand in front of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in mid-town Manhattan with a sign that says, “RELIGION IS DOOM!!!” yelling, “Religion has made you idiots! Your ‘personal savior’ is a danger to America and the World!”

But I’m lazy, and a coward, so I’ll stick to blogging.

Sarah Something

Well blow me down! It's not a joke! Or is it?

Can you say, "Senator Eagleton?"

This is going to like that Dallas episode where we found out that the previous season's death of Bobby was all a dream. Someone will pull back some shower curtains and Mitt Romney will be standing there.

I hate jokes like this almost as much as I hate prestidigitation; in both things we are expected to be entertained by being fooled into thinking that something impossible just happened.

Thai Princesses

This is one of our co-teachers in a little northern town with four of her students dressed up for some festival. They're all from a small school way out in the rice field, in a small town where everyone is poor, poor, poor.
There are lots of these festivals, and everybody has a great time. These girls probably participated in a Thai Dancing contest in some shabby pavillion somewhere, after a short parade. It's a real lesson for Americans: in a poor village like this, no one has anything, but most people are completely satisfied with their lives.