Thursday, December 31, 2009

Movie Quotes.

From “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:”

“We seem to have reached the age when life stops giving us things and starts taking them away.”

The movie, by the way . . . I saw it in a theatre and I thought it was unmitigated crapola, but upon a second viewing on cable TV I was more sympathetic. I always say, many value judgments are a function of background, as in, stand next to a fat person and you look thin. Compared to the usual fare on Asian cable, it’s not a bad movie at all.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Welcome To Super Junky Monkey

I’ve been loving this band for years. I discovered them on a CD called “Japanese Homemade.”

Thai women are very sweet, but Japanese women are more versatile and, I’m told, make equally good wives (a two way tie for best wives in the world).

Songs Are Our Universe: fragments; is this an intro to a CD? It’s a decent intro for the band anyway:

Here’s a whole song: “If”

A Customized Bicycle In Bangkok

In Holland, most of the bicycles have a chain guard which completely surrounds the chain and the gears. It's super practical, just like the Dutch. They are much too modest to say it, but I'm sure that they think that anybody who rides a bicycle without a chain guard is a little stupid. They call the bikes with the chain guards "Hollandisch" bicycles.

I came across this bicycle on my campus in Bangkok. That's a homemade chain guard, made from the typically Thai heavy plastic posterboard called "Futureboard," which is very versitile.

Fox Derangement Syndrome

I rarely get a chance to watch Fox News. Maybe it’s a good thing.

I read the ratings, lots of people watch Fox News. The odds are that many of them agree with the on-air personalities. They can’t all be idiots however, even though the content of the presentation is certainly idiotic.

That’s the viewers. Many of them watch like I do, either for amusement or out of a fascination with the grotesquery of it all. The Fox on-air personalities, and their guest performers, cannot escape so easily. They have a much more certain diagnosis.

One of my favorite movies is “Starship Troopers,” and one of my favorite devices in that movie is the clips of news from a TV station of the future. (Here I’m repeating myself. Regulars may know this already.) The show in the movie juxtaposes two “experts” with opposing views on a split screen and they shout each other down, weird caricatures of academics, bug-eyed, in eccentric professorial outfits. All of them appear to be slightly crazy, and nowhere near as smart as they think they are. The overdrawn characters from this movie have been fully realized on Fox News, without the entertainment value.

Fox News is a constant parade of lazy eyed, slack-jawed losers with bad hair cuts, pontificating ad nausuem according to a script that is designed to get them more air time. It’s hard to tell who’s worse: the Fox personalities or the so-called experts. Who is crazier? Who is stupider? Who is more delusional? Who is more perfectly bonded to the agit-prop agenda set by their corporate sponsors? Make no mistake. This is not all about ratings and money, there is a sub-text of reactionary fervor. Fox News itself is aligned with the forces that wish to, and are, you might say, restoring the ascendency of the super-rich, and destroying all of the progress that our society made during the Twentieth Century.

Sometimes there is a perfect storm of political misdirection. I happened across an interview of Rupert Murdoch conducted by Neil Cavutto. It was the perfect circle jerk of all time, a symphony of corporate-crypto-fascist talking points.

These Foxettes, all nicotine and gravy, these hyper-caffeinated, over gelled, boiled dry morons, struggle desperately to suck whatever tit presents itself in their desperate attempt to achieve the new American dream: Celebrity Unencumbered By Talent Or Achievement. Unathletic, not particularly smart, and non-entrepreneurial, they chose Right Wing Media as their avenue to success, and, of course, money. Not one of them believes a word they say.

I may be deranged about Fox News, but that’s all in good fun. Fox News is deranged, and it’s hurting the country we love. So bear that in mind when you watch Fox News.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Duck Of Death

Remember, in “The Unforgiven,” when Richard Harris shows up with the writer and Little Bill finds the book called, “The Duke of Death?” “Oh,” he says, “is that you Bob? The duck of death?”

I found a variation on this theme in Wellington’s Pub, a long established Bangkok eatery and watering hole. On the menu, under “Main Courses,” was “Duke with Orange Sauce.”

Sunday, December 27, 2009

One True Thing

You know, don’t thank me, but I’ll tell you one true thing. Call it a Christmas present. You don’t have to believe me, people believe all kinds of stupid things that are not true, and fail to believe many things that are manifestly true, so my confidence in people’s powers of discrimination regarding truth is generally low. But I’ll tell you one true thing, take it or leave it.

America is a Socialist country, and that’s a good thing.

It was not always thus. There was a time when Capitol could ruthlessly exploit Labor without fear of contradiction, the generations of my grandfathers and beyond. Want a job? Work for peanuts. Get crippled at work? Tough darts. Can’t work anymore? Live with your children. Got a terrible disease? Go bother somebody who gives a shit. The children of the Working Class were generally born at home, and two-out-of-three surviving the birth and the first year was a pretty good percentage. Records show that we are working our way back to that level of infant death, uninsured health tragedy, and adult poverty. Are you happy about that?

As so often happens in history, catastrophe intervened, catastrophes have done more to help the Working Class than any of the better loved events of history. This may be a second true thing, but the single greatest thing that ever happened to the Working Class was the Black Death, which freed laborers from virtual slavery and directly led to the Renaissance, an explosion of scientific knowledge, and the creation of a middle-class in Europe (with an assist to the printing press). In the case of Twentieth-Century America, the catastrophes were the Great Depression and World War II. Suddenly, Labor was very, very important, and workers, men, women, Black, White and Puerto Rican, so to speak, were critical to the continued existence of Capitol. Capitol responded with money, benefits and security, and government in the form of Franklin Delano Roosavelt and the New Deal (along with the Social Democrats in Europe) leveled the playing field, and a Socialist, Middle-Class version of Western Civilization, including America, was born (thank you, John Maynard Keynes).

All that peace and prosperity, back in the 1950’s and 1960’s and 1970’s, did you think it was an accident? Remember the Middle-Class America? Remember the LACK of income disparity? Remember Unions? Welfare as a right? Public housing? Do you love Social Security? and Medicare? Well, you should.

No, of course you don’t remember. The Reagan-Thatcher-Crypto-Fascist-Click dismantled a lot of it, and the behest of the Power Elite, yes, they exist, you are probably unwittingly doing their bidding right this second, at the instruction of their new generation of stooges.

It’s a long story, and other people tell it better than me. But in my lackadaisical, coaster style, here it is in a nutshell: Socialism is your salvation, you non-rich, non-genius, non-entrepreneurial, run-of-the-mill MF’s, you guys and girls just like me. It exists, and it’s good, and you discard it at your supreme peril.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Mr. Fred's Christmas Poetry Corner: Fred On Fire!

Fred On Fire: A Christmas Poem

Happy Birthday, Mr. Nazz!
What’s this, number 2,006? or 1,995?
Something like that,
Did you ever think,
In your most delusional moments,
That it would come to this?
Twisted adoration,
Putting words in your mouth,
Turning you into the you
That other people would prefer, and would imagine
To be a wonderful, wonderful you!
The laugh’s on those stoops who think
The whole calendar was your idea,
Or served up to your wonderfulness
On a silver platter: The Year Of Our Lord!
Our Lord Augustus, more like,
But who remembers the great Emperor?
So narrow, the memories of mortal men,
Unless Harpies scream in their ears
Without breaks for mere eating, or the toilet.
But Lord of Lords,
If you’re still paying attention,
Please note for your records,
That Fred is still on fire,
And has never, not even a little,
Relaxed; has never slacked in his devotion
To the ideal, the Dream of Dreams,
To not be on fire.

December 26, 2009

DISCLAIMER: I offer my heartfelt apologies to anyone who is offended in any way whatsoever by the above pathetic excuse for a poem.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Season's Greetings! Happy Holidays!

And Merry Christmas! I may be secular-humanist trash, but I know a good holiday when I see one!

So here's to you, my beloved double-dozen, in this season of good cheer. Have a safe, happy and altogether totally awesome New Year as well!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Care And Maintenance of Amulets

I had been noticing a fall off in the effectiveness of my good luck charms when I came across some interesting information. I never understand the monk’s instructions because I never took the time to learn all of the details of the Thai language. I’m like the guy who asks you for directions in the subway, and as you tell him where to go his look of intense concentration makes you change your tactics and just say, follow me! (I did that one time. I was also going to “mine” street.)

So I found out that there are lots of rules that need to be followed if you want your amulets to remain totally effective. Fail to follow the rules, and that really expensive “bullet-proof amulet” won’t be working when you take one in the chest. The rules are a little like those found in certain “received” holy books that are popular in the West.

For instance, defecating and urinating simultaneously. That will remove the spell and make the amulet worthless. I had never thought about it, but upon reflection I am sure that I have been guilty of this. One time, in fact, I defecated, urinated, and threw up at the same time, which I believe is almost impossible. I was eight-years-old at the time, and very sick. I’m sure that it was a shocking display, I was certainly impressed. My mother took it well, that was before she adopted the posture of permanent ill-temper.

So I’ll be more careful about the rules. One pays good money for these things, and one wants to get one’s money’s worth.

My Faculty Of Law At The Recent Seminar Weekend

This is the group photo at one of the outdoor "team building" sports sessions. It's all very effective, at least it works for me. Back at the campus, I get more and bigger smiles, and more of the staff have the necessary courage to talk to me, which can be difficult.

Museums In Nakorn Si Tammarat, Thailand

Most provinces of Thailand have a “National Museum,” which may be located in the provincial capitol, or out in the stix somewhere; may be large and well funded (Phuket), or just the old governor’s residence with some original furniture (Phrae); may be free to all comers (Udorn Thani), or almost free for everybody, or charged on the Farang double standard (like Nakorn Si Tammarat: Thai, 30 Baht; Farang, 150 Baht).

I’ve been to a lot of these things. Generally I don’t mind the double pricing, although it was really expensive in Sukhothai, where there are multiple sites to check out and each one is a pay point. What for Thais is twenty, twenty, twenty, twenty Baht, was for Farang, one-hundred-and-twenty, one-hundred-and-twenty, one-hundred-and-twenty, one-hundred-and-twenty Baht.

The double pricing was annoying in Nakorn Si Tammarat too, because the museum was so lousy. Almost no signage, and what there was only good for a laugh (“Crap Trapping Tools”). A nice collection of those shadow puppets, called “Nang Talung,” which are popular in Southern Thailand, I think they originated in Indonesia. All downhill after that, exhibits like “Seven Old Fashioned Clocks,” with no further identification. One pair of Buddha images was fascinating, and I use that term literally and advisedly: the Buddha was presented wearing a crown and earrings, and a necklace, all very luxurious, in the pose of (double) dispelling fear, both hands raised, palms outward, with what looked like ornate joy buzzers in both palms, and wearing a large, Batman style cape. Those were a trip. I’m no expert, but they were a new one on me.

Up the block, you could walk it, on one of the two big streets in town, was a huge temple complex, Wat Phra Mahatat. In a country where “ancient” can mean Nineteenth Century, this place has been a site of reverence and merit-making for probably two thousand years. They had a very nice museum, totally free (although there was a sign strongly hinting in Thai that your luck would go bad unless you put twenty Baht in the charity box). Two museums, actually, there was a separate collection of items that had been donated to the temple.

First, the main museum. What a collection of ceramics! Including a couple of Ming Dynasty Chinese pieces, those are Fourteenth Century, one was a huge, beautiful bowl in perfect condition. From about the same time, many Yuan Dynasty ceramics in the crenellated “Daek Lang Ah” style (the signage was outstanding! All in Thai and English!). Tons of great Qing Dynasty stuff from the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries; tons of Thai Bencharong ceramics (five colors) from the same time; Annamese ceramics (Vietnamese). The items were displayed in well lit cases against the walls.

Many of these items were spectacularly beautiful, what could be considered first class examples by people in the know. A huge ceramic teapot, from the Song Dynasty in China (Eighteenth Century), looked like it had been carved from marble, with a reading distance of eighteen inches through one clear piece of glass the obviously intended illusion was complete; another small ceramic teapot had the appearance of jade and took the form of a fantastically imagined elephant with its head bent back along its side.

There were strange inclusions too. There was a small room of things from the sea. There were some fossil crabs, some very ordinary looking sea shells, and a taxidermied sea turtle which offered a clue as to the inclusion of these rather pedestrian items: the donor’s name was written in large letters across the shell (Khun Maeh Ru-ay, which I think means “Respected Mother Rich Person”).

One room was devoted to gifts that had been offered to the Abbots of the temple over the centuries. One was a set of writing accoutrements, like twenty pieces all together, decorated in the most lavish mother of pearl, pens, folders, blotters, boxes, writing table, ink bottles, a gift from King Rama VI. There were lots of the kinds of bowls and trays that are used in Buddhist ceremonies, in precious materials and premium hardwoods, decorated with elaborate inlays. There were quite a few “Betel Nut Sets,” to facilitate the chewing of the drug, which makes you “feel strong.”

Animal horns and skulls; lots of long guns, pistols, swords and spears; stone axes, including hand axes and some intended for use with handles (“3,500 to 2,000 years”); “Mythical Coconut Shells,” which looked very real and ordinary to this skeptical observer; all lovingly described and sometimes explained in detail. Thais, by the way, go very quickly and seem not to actually read anything.

No pictures, please! And no gift shop to buy postcards and books of the treasures either.

The second collection was items that have been donated to the temple over the years, a couple of large rooms in a different building, with a few side rooms of miscellany. There was a large glass case against one wall containing bank notes from all over the world and many of history’s periods, including a few brand new, high-tech twenty dollar bills, United States dollars, still respected around the world, and many from countries that you could be forgiven to think had no money at all. There was an exhaustive collection of the vast number of Thai bills that have featured the likeness of His Majesty, King Rama IX for over sixty years, you could watch this lovely, dignified man mature over the years on the bills. There were cases of wrist watches, most of which hardly seemed worth donating, much less accepting or displaying, but it’s the thought that counts when you are making merit. The jewelry was another story. The gold was sorted: there was a huge case of “red gold” jewelry, and a smaller case of “yellow gold” jewelry. The case for the real gold was very nice.

On the whole, Nakorn Si Tammarat was a pleasant surprise for me. Very multi-cultural, in the Thai manner of many streams running into the lake of Thai culture, with all of the streams still clearly visible in NST. Good food, nice people, laid-back pace of living, pretty easy to get around, beautiful tropical sky, and good weather (if you like it hot, and don’t mind some rain, in other words, if you’re like me; the weather in the South has the additional advantage of changing every few hours, because of the peninsula setting and the large bodies of water on both sides).

Saturday, December 19, 2009

My Little Neighbor

I’ve been here at my Farang style, “luxury” condo for a year and a half now, and all the while, off and on, I’ve seen my little neighbor swimming in the pool. She’s kind of pretty, and pretty interesting too.

She must be all of four feet, eight inches tall, with a nice, if unspectacular little figure, not beautiful by any means, but she has long, healthy hair and a nice, friendly face. She looks smart, and smart is always attractive. She has that high-yellow, coppery skin that Farang like.

The interesting thing is that I have seen her with three different boyfriends by now, three and counting you’d have to figure, and each of them has been Farang, blond, and well over six feet tall. She barely comes up to their ribcages, the new guy must be over six feet six, and I’m serious, not just a trick of perspective. I estimate from the height of the pool lights, and he’s two feet taller than her if he’s an inch.

The first guy was a friendly young American; the second guy was a little older, late forties probably, on the serious side, he didn’t last long enough for me to identify any national information; the new guy is probably English, he has that polite, clueless look that prosperous Englishmen seem to prefer. They have all been unathletic but not fat at all, on the thin side really, and white as sheets. They tower over her like Godzilla towers over Japanese soldiers.

I’ve said hello to her on several occasions, her English is superb and she’s very sociable. Interesting woman, my little neighbor.

Thai Food Surprise: Essence Of Chicken

When I was fasting for my lower GI last month, a friend got me a few bottles of “Essence of Chicken.” I’m not sure they sell this product anywhere else in the world, I don’t do research. The idea is, a chicken, in a really small bottle. “Drink it!” she enthused, “you will not be hungry!”

The ingredients are:

Essence of chicken: 92.60%
Cordyceps: 5.80%
Liquorice: 1.60%

No preservatives

Which begs the question: what exactly is “essence of chicken?”

The bottles are forty-two milliliters, and the stuff is really, really vile. The taste is indescribable, vaguely chicken like but medicinal and horrible, no effort was made to make this stuff palatable.

It’s true, though, that after you drink one, you don’t feel like eating anymore.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Date Still Wrong, Sorry

It is no longer Wednesday, December 16th here. Maybe California time. In Thailand it's Thursday morning.

Hindi No More

Ok, I found the setting.


Just checking for Hindi on the title line. Ooops, still there.

वहत नो

The picture below belatedly loaded, so that's good.

The dates showing on the posts are now accurate, by the way. One of the changes that I made while looking for solutions, no doubt. Accurate, as in, today is actually Wednesday, December 16th locally. Before this I was posting on Philadelphia time, or thereabouts.

Still with the Hindi, I see. That may be a challenge.

थे पिक्चर ऑफ़ थे डे

Another problem, I fear. The above machine language is a photo, as in, "your photo has been loaded." Oh, dear! What shall I do now?

Make that two problems, the headings are still in Hindi.

This computer stuff is more fun than a barrel of monkeys!

The picture, by the way, is me singing a traditional Thai folk song, "Da Mong Da." ("Eye to Eye") At our office seminar/party in Kanchanaburi. I remember the song from my Peace Corps days, but I had forgotten the words, so I had another Ajan write them down for me in phonetic English. It went ok. I didn't win the contest, but I got a nice Ramkhamhaeng Faculty of Law canvas briefcase and a pink towel for my participation. Really, I have the best job in Thailand.

रंदोम ओह, अ न्यू प्रॉब्लम

Ok, it will import text again. I went into the tools and lowered all of the security settings. Maybe I was being hysterical a minute ago, complaining about our mutual benefactor, Microsoft, but maybe not.

My current favorite is "Windows Genuine Advantage." Help us! Help us to help you! Let us help you to identify counterfeit software on your computer! Oh, like that's a good idea. What happens next? "Windows has deleted certain software on your computer . . . by the way, you are under arrest."

But, a new problem. Why did it translate the heading of this post into Hindi?

Impending Doom Dreams

In my late forties, early fifties, I had many dreams about giant waves, getting bigger and closer, and finally engulfing whatever beach structure I was in at the time. Sometimes it was a domicile, sometimes it was a commercial structure, sometimes there were other people, sometimes I was alone, but every time there were the giant waves, approaching doom, inexorable, finally winning out and destroying the structure and me, I remember the repeating locations and the taste of fear and salt water. Impending doom dreams.

I had one last week, the first one in quite a while, but with a twist. This time, the approaching doom was one big wave, but it was stopped, frozen in place, like one of those old Ando Hiroshige woodblock prints of typhoon waves, with the same little, hook-shaped licks of water coming off the front.

The building this time was my own domicile, not of my choice, I was thinking that it was dangerously close to the edge of the ocean, at the bottom of a shallow hill street on a low bluff on a narrow piece of Pacific beach. My entire family was there, my two sons were both about ten years old, a little strange, there’s actually eight years separating them, but it was a dream after all. My sons are often ten years old in my dreams, that’s right about the time that you lose control of children, sons anyway.

The giant wave was getting closer, inch by inch, growing in size to impossible, giant proportions, looming over the house, and us, me. This was an impending doom dream, a “Sword of Damocles” dream, and the meaning was clear. At my age, there is always doom hanging over me, and all of us, and the range of possible outcomes becomes more-or-less all bad.

It’s all doom, but maybe doom is all any of us have really, at any age. Maybe it’s all just doom, writ large, the human condition.

But this wave was stopped, as though the doom were conditional.

Is doom conditional?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Microsoft Makes Our Lives A Dream Come True!

Microsoft, the accidentally successful corporate giant, is again impudently pulling at my tits with a silly grin on its face. "We've updated everything! Now you have Internet Explorer Eight! Everything is coming up roses!"

Except that now all of the settings are changed, and the whole thing resists understanding, and new settings change themselves back on their own accord, and connectivity is threatened, and the translate this page function is disabled, and this window will not import text.

Microsoft is proof of the absence of an interventionist God. Every day, people all over the world beg the invisible power to destroy Microsoft, and yet Microsoft endures.

By the way, please don't recommend that I switch to Firefox. I tried, but it wouldn't download. Could it be that Microsoft code interferes with that choice too?

Testing, One, Two, Three . . .

Testing . . .

Monday, December 14, 2009

The River Kwai, Near The Famous Bridge

The top pic is some regular floating domiciles, if you wonder who lives there, well, I do too.

The next two pictures show floating restaurants and party boats along the most crowded section of the river near the bridge. The tow-boat of my own party boat is shown in both pix. The driver was very skilled. We were a double-party-boat, and he dragged us very handily through the narrow confines of the channel.

Down below somewhere is some of the information that you may require to put these pictures into context. It was a seminar weekend . . . we had some fun along the way . . . there's a picture of the lunch that we enjoyed down there somewhere.

Thai People Love L. A. Too

Notice the plate on this lovely vehicle. Thai's love L.A. too, as anyone who actually lives in L.A. knows. They love it so much, the Thai's that live there, that they call it, "Jangwat jet-sip jet," "Province number 77." (Thailand proper has 76 provinces.)

This is the delivery vehicle for a chain of restaurants featuring Vietnamese food; I caught it making a delivery at the Udorn Thani airport. Udorn is a very cosmopolitan place, with a certain amount of irony involved. There are a lot of Lao people, lots of Chinese people, and many Vietnamese as well, Udorn is up in that corner of Thailand that is handy to all of those places, and the irony part is that the big U.S. airbase from the Vietnam War era was near Udorn too, so it was and has always been something of a magnet for Americans married to Thai women too.

For one thing, I can tell you that the local Vietnamese food is fabulous. My high-public-official driver took me to a little Vietnamese breakfast place and we had everything that he thought was good on the menu, and it was all delicious. Then, for lunch, he arranged for a meal at a place that served the stuff pictured on this vehicle. All very good, and lots of fun.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What Is A Wald?

This car was spotted in the parking lot of my hotel in Udorn. What, pray tell, is a Wald? Some kind of hot-rodded Mazda, or Datsun, or something? I don't recognize it.

Nice car, though.

Fun And Teaching In Udorn Thani

Udorn Thani is one of the biggest cities in Isan, the huge, dry eastern stepchild of Thailand. On Saturday I taught a class out there.

The nice man in the orange shirt was my student, and my help-mate. He picked me up at the airport on Friday, and drove me back and forth to the class on Saturday, the class was in an adjoining province (Nong Bua Lamphu). Then he picked me up for breakfast on Sunday, a royal feast of all of the good things on the menu of a nice little Vietnamese restaurant. The lad in the photo is his son, a wonderful boy with great English skills, most rare in these parts. They were most kind to me.

It happens that my help-mate is the sub-mayor of Udorn, the number two elected official in this very important city. Mine was a class for the masters' degree in law; he's a lawyer working on a second degree, and the sub-mayor.

The other picture is of me and a very nice young, but not too young, lady who would love to have a Farang boyfriend. Any volunteers?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

And Darkness Fell Over An Unsuspecting World

My Aunt Mary died today. I just sent her a letter the other day, it can’t have arrived yet. I hope that my cousins read it, and know how much I loved their mom. I just got her Christmas card today! Today! One hour before the tragic e-mail! With a twenty-dollar bill taped in it! Have a treat on me! And me, sixty-one years old! Still her little nephew!

No offense to the living, but she was by far and away my favorite relative, one of only two whose blood I was proud to have coursing in my veins. And she was a symbol to me as well, proof that adversity could be triumphed over, proof that fate could be defeated, not only defeated, by smashed utterly, trampled in the dust of a world of one’s own making. She was a God.

There are heroes among us, and today one fewer in their number. When some people die, it can be said: good riddance. When some people die, it can be said: their suffering is over. When some people die, it can be said: maybe they can be happy now. When some people die, like my (redacted, but it rhymes with “smother my jaw”), their own sister can stand at the casket and say: maybe now you won’t have to be mad at everybody all the time anymore. But when some people die, everybody who knew them is shattered, and wonders how it will be possible to go on, and a light goes out in the world, an un-replaceable calculus is removed from the board, and the entire game is poorer for it, forever.

And as if to mock me, the setting sun, a rare display in my environs, the vast copper disk, fading into cloud cover, carrying away the souls of the faithful departed, replaced by the pathetic moon, a sad reminder of what we have lost.

Would that I had more to offer her memory than the tear stained blog post of a moron. She was everything to me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Happy Birthday To Thailand's Beloved King

Thai's really love the King, and his birthday is a big deal over here. Every government building, most shops and restaurants, and lots of houses are decorated with flags and lights and big pictures of the King. The TV and newspapers are full of tributes, like for instance in the newspapers big companies take out full page ads of birthday wishes and testimonials.

The King is a ubiquitous presence for the rest of the year too, but it is more festive and showey at his birthday. Everyday, all year, the King's picture is in every classroom, every government building, and every domicile, including mine. It's like a benign personality cult, based in love of the guy. I admire the King myself. He has had only the one wife and family, with no hint of scandal, and he has always worked hard and supported research on water usage and food production, and other good causes. Those were virtuous choices.

So Happy Birthday to the King, and many happy returns!
December 5th

Light And Sound Show At The Bridge On The River Kwai

The show started off with a birthday salute to the King, it was his birthday, December 5th. There were thousands of people on both sides of the river and we all sang two "King" songs. Then the show, with the theme of the years of Japanese occupation and the building of the bridge and the associated railway.

The show culminated with a huge mock air-raid, complete with searchlights in the sky, a Japanese patrol boat in the river, and squibs all around to show bomb blasts in the river. One poor "stunt-man" was set on fire, ran half way across the bridge, then jumped into the river. A couple of sound clips from the movie "Bridge on the River Kwai" were played, and then a silent moment with the playing of taps accompanied by the release of twelve Thai "fire balloons." The Japanese wished to keep the Thai's happy, so they tried to make the whole experience easy for the local population, prefering to import slave labor from neighboring Burma, Malaysia and Indonesia, but it was still a hardship for the Thai's, as was the entire experience of the war.

The steam locomotive may have been a surviving Japanese vehicle, along with a few period rail cars.

I was pretty lucky to catch this show, it's only put on ten days every year. Thanks again to my university, Ramkhamhaeng. This trip was a seminar weekend for the Faculty of Law. I have the best job in Thailand, and I know it.

Detroit Garage Punk Napster Treasures

This is the Gories, and they don’t take no mess. When they jump on you baby, they’ll stay in your dress. A Detroit band, try and find a copy of “Queenie,” that’s the first cut I heard, and I was sold, baby, sold.

Another fine cut:

The White Stripes get all of the play, but the Gories and Bantam Rooster were the Rock Gods of this Detroit genre. I didn’t see a really good Bantam Rooster cut on You Tube, look for “Deal Me In.”

The Detroit Cobras weren’t bad either. I found ALL of these bands, the White Stripes included, on the late, much lamented Napster, right before it was shut down by the “adults.” Napster, the real, OG Napster, was the greatest technological advance in music since the invention of the piano forte, and you can quote me on that. Its destruction was the greatest tragedy of the modern era of corporate usurpation.

And stupidly counter-productive it was, too. Anybody who couldn’t figure out a way to make money from a site that had fourteen million declared members, with several million on line at any given time, was among the stupidest sons-of-bitches in the history of the human race, and that’s saying something.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to Soulphisticate, whose Napster list was an inspiration to me.

My Crosses To Bear

On my recent seminar weekend in Kanchanaburi, I was forced to endure the company of lots of beautiful Thai women, and required to consume large quantities of delicious Thai food. This is my life, these are my crosses to bear.

Have A Christmas Poem, Please

The Second Coming

Jesus would be arrested.
Jesus would represent himself, but he would be convicted, even though the jury loved him, because he would be charged with a strict-liability, status crime.
Jesus would be pardoned by politicians who wanted to get on his good side.
Jesus would whip the skin off of certain fat, sleek-pelted preachers.
Jesus would live to a ripe old age because nobody cared.
Jesus wouldn’t drive cars, but he would operate boats with great enthusiasm.
Jesus would enjoy flying, with and without aircraft.
Jesus would love modern alcoholic inventions like Limoncello, also, the cinema.
Jesus would do stand up comedy, and he would kill.
Jesus would vote for Barak Obama, and after Barry was elected Jesus would clear a good deal of dead wood out of the Supreme Court the old fashioned way, by sending angels to see them with bad news involving pillars of salt.
Jesus would shake his head bemusedly and retire to a developing country where he would teach without salary every language that ever was.

Response to something in Literary Kicks, about November, 2008

“You’ve Got To Lose.”

Women are trouble, it’s been true for a long time. Way before Tina, Ike knew it, and we all find out sooner or later.

This partial quote is from “You’ve Got to Lose,” a Jackie Brentsen song, produced and with the band of the great innovator, Ike Turner:

“When God made a woman,
He made her from a man,
He gave her five senses,
That man can’t understand.

You’ve got to lose,
You can’t win all the time,
You know there’s trouble up the road,
Further on down the line.”

Monday, December 7, 2009

Magical Kenya!

"Magical Kenya!" is the slogan for television ads from the Tourist Board of Kenya in a perhaps misguided effort to make people the world over want to go there. Magical Kenya indeed, news about the power of magic and witchcraft in Kenya is commonplace, like the following Internet news article:

NAIROBI, Kenya — The mistaken belief that albino body parts have magical powers has driven thousands of Africa's albinos into hiding, fearful of losing their lives and limbs to unscrupulous dealers who can make up to $75,000 selling a complete dismembered set. (Huffington Post, with reference to a United Nations report.)

Evidently, the left leg of an albino is a particularly prized possession among Kenyans who do not wish to leave their luck to chance.

The Bridge On The River Kwai

This is the bridge itself, the very bridge built by Allied POW's and slave labor from various countries under "Japanese supervision" during The Great Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere War, or whatever the Japanese called it. It's a great tourist draw now in what is otherwise a very, very poor corner of Thailand.

Floating Snack Shop at the Bridge On The River Kwai

More pix of the Bridge itself soon. This part of the river is full of party boats, river taxis, all kinds of floating traffic, and one true thing about Thai's is that they always need their snacks!

Asians Love Mercedes Benz

These were our two tour buses on the trip to Kanchanaburi, the Felix River Kwai Resort. You will note that they are as identical as two tour buses can be. Owned by two brothers, that's my guess. They are both Scania buses, very new, and very nice. But one brother wanted a distinction for his bus, that's my guess. That's my guess as to why one bus was plastered with the legend "Mercedes Benz."

Asians love Mercedes Benz.

Thai Craftsmen Are Proud

Thai craftsmen are proud of their work, and justifiably so. Among other products that are routinely signed by the artisan are huge, wooden elephants.

This one was carved by a guy named Wanit whose nickname is "Dragon."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Nothing Sells Like Sex

Just looking for ideas here, trying to boost readership. I've posted this before, a lovely painting, photographed in a temple, depicting a scene from a Northern Thai myth. Don't remember the story? Ask me nice, and I'll tell it again.

It's a nice image though, no?

The Joys Of Asian Cable Television

I watch golf tournaments where none of the players make me feel particularly bad about my own golf game. Nobody makes those magic shots like Phil M. or Tiger, nobody’s putting for eagle, no! There’s lots of, oops! bet you wish you had that one back! Good luck finding that one! and the every popular, put a little too much on that one, didn’t we!

One good thing: I get to watch Japanese war movies glorifying the WWII Japanese soldiers and sailors. They don’t show those in America! I enjoy the old Thai movies too, from the old days, like the Seventies. Boy, if you think Thai people are poor now, just watch these guys and girls follow a buffalo around a wet field. Like grainy old home movies, 16mm probably, lousy sound, natural or available light, but great stories and powerful historical documents.

There’s always lots of fascinating sports that I know nothing about. Rugby, and Rugby League, which I’m given to believe is a completely different thing, and Cricket, what they’re doing out there I have no idea, except that they have some kind of bat, and they’re trying to hit the ball, after that it all goes dark. Aussie Football is a trip, but there’s surprisingly little of that, I wish there were more. Badminton is cool, and there’s always Ping Pong, very entertaining, at least if women are playing.

I get a French channel, TV5 Monde or something. The depressing thing is that after five years in Thailand I can better understand spoken French than spoken Thai, unless the Thai person speaks very slowly and talks about familiar subjects, which never happens on television. And I never studied French, or even particularly cared for the sound of it, and I have only my fabulous English vocabulary and two years of high school Latin to assist me, but honestly French has a familiar ring to it now, after five years of listening to Asian languages, and Spanish is positively homey, I wish I had a channel for that.

I thank God on a regular basis, and take it as proof of a benevolent God, that I do not get Fox News. I sometimes stay at hotels that have Fox News, and even limited exposure threatens my health.

CNN Asia is full of local news, China and so forth, and mercifully short of the details of American politics, although I do enjoy Larry King sometimes. The BBC is erudite and somewhat droll, but not always to my taste, me being a tattooed OG hooligan and all, and knowing nothing about the British system of chartered accountancy.

Thai television is full of soap operas, too many to count and difficult to distinguish from one another. Everybody is rich, everybody is beautiful, everybody is either very, very good or very, very bad. In other words, they’re a lot like American soap operas, except that there’s like fifty of them, and they’re on all day and all night. (A couple of them are Korean, probably the same ones that are on in Los Angeles.) Thai news programs cannot really tell you anything, this is Asia, they could be sued for libel if they told you anything. There’s a show like “The View,” with four beautiful Thai women who get very serious about whatever it is that they’re talking about, you couldn’t tell by me. There’s an entire channel dedicated to the Royal Family, and they are kept busy detailing the day’s appearances and dedications, and the health of the King, whom I love, ask me about it some time. There’s a channel for the Red Shirts, and a Channel for the Yellow Shirts, those are fun, monochromatic fun, polarized politics at it’s color-coded finest, makes me feel right at home.

My own cable is pretty good for movies, all things considered. It’s HBO and their etceteras, and I also have MGM and Turner Classic Movies. There are lots of lesser movie channels in Asia, and I see them when I travel, and you can’t believe the movies that they dig up to fill their schedules. Fifteen minutes of who-done-what-and-ran six years ago is enough to make me thank my lucky stars.

All of this treasure cost me over two thousand Baht a month, about sixty dollars, which is a lot of money to me, and a fortune to most Thais, but without it I’d be back to watching VCD’s dubbed in Thai because real DVD’s in English are too expensive. So it’s all good.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

All Of The Dim Sum Gods At Once

This is a nice little dim sum restaurant in Nakorn Si Tammarat; I had breakfast here once. This is the shrine area, divided into three parts: the left is Chinese deities; the middle is Thai Buddhist images; the right is Hindu gods.

This gesturing to all of the Gods is typical in Thailand, and especially so in the south.

The dim sum was only so-so, but you could eat for about a dollar fifty a head, including Nescafe.

Our America

President Obama is on my TV as I write, the big Afghanistan speech. It’s near the end, and he’s talking about our country. “We . . .” he’s talking about us, and our country.

Peace Corps volunteers got a nice mention, as part of America’s effort to spread an idea around the world. Mr. Obama is a Democratic President, and it is important to note that his “idea” of America is still a little different than the Republican’s idea.

We hear a lot of complaining these days, people who say that the two parties in America have been joined into one. Ok, there’s been some confluence there. But when the Republicans talk about America, they still mean American power as represented by the Armed forces, the big multi-national corporations, and rampant free-market clepto-capitalism, the gangster America. For the Democrats, there’s some of that, with more reference to ordinary American workers, small business, families, our freedoms, and our better natures. The difference may have become blurred, but there’s still a difference.

I remain a committed Democrat, a Yellow-Dog-Blue-Collar Democrat, although it is a little frustrating sometimes. All politicians suck up to The Money these days, but the Democrats are the “big tent” party, more tolerant of diversity and eccentricity. They are the party that more accepts the world’s process of growing with time. They are much more reality based than their Republican counterparts, who seek on one hand to maintain privilege and on the other hand seek to return to an even more privileged past. (Privilege for rich white people, which even rich white people should reject, if they know what’s good for them. Remember the guillotine.) Resisting progress is juvenile, counter-productive and stupid. As Salvatore Dali said, “never attempt to be modern. It is the one thing that you cannot avoid.” Modernity happens. So I’m still a Democrat. Diversity and eccentricity are facts, no use resisting those, and the world grows with time, and that’s ok.

When I talk about America to the foreigners who surround me, or to my classes, I talk about the America of my dreams, the American Dream, the middle class America where families (and others) are free to pursue their happiness, which usually means working some kind of job and living a modest lifestyle. Where the government, out of fairness, provides mechanisms to level the playing field, to mitigate the vagaries of luck. I speak lovingly about the Constitution, and the Separation of Powers, Equal Protection, Due Process and all that. I imagine the America of my youth, in a simpler time, the post-war decades before, let’s say, Watergate. Sure, there were problems, you remember them too, but a lot was still in order. The New Deal covenant between business and labor was still sacred: you do our work, and make us prosperous, and we’ll take care of you. Doctors, and lawyers, and accountants, were professionals, and that meant exercising self restraint and working towards an idealized common good, the full flowering of fiduciary duty. It’s a beautiful dream.

So now we have President Obama, saddled with all of the baggage that the Executive Branch has picked up over the last few decades, the “unitary executive,” bloated with emergency powers, and huge bureaucracies, for fighting wars and the Soviets, topics for another time. And he still finds time to mention the Peace Corps as an important part of our efforts to bring our great American Idea to the world. I hope that it is still an idea that we can be proud of.

Mr. Fred's Poetry Corner: What Do Women Want?

What Do Women Want?
February 1, 2008

Women want
A man with clean hands,
And close cropped finger-nails,
This last is most important to women.
No one wants a scratched up back,
Or anything for that matter.

Women want men who have jobs,
That’s my experience anyway,
Unless the man is a poet,
Says the venerable C.B.,
Poets get so much pussy
They can hardly stand it,
At least on the printed page.

Women want men
With clean personal habits,
It only stands to reason.
But upon reflection I must confess,
I was a filthy beggar when my woman clove unto me.

Women, young women,
Want cell phones with cameras,
And Honda Wave motorcycles.
But if they’re poor enough,
Four or five thousand Baht a month
Will do it, and you’ll get yours, oh yes,
And laughed at behind your back too,
Like who could give a shit.

Women of a certain age want
What any woman wants,
But not to have it anymore, only
To remember it, fondly, if you’re lucky,
If you can call that luck,
And I’m not sure of my feelings on the subject.

Women want to be treated
Like the Queens that they are,
Or thrown around like sparing partners,
Want presents and consideration,
Or to be taken for granted and mocked in their presence,
Want to be provided for,
Or perhaps made to provide,
Want to be made secure
Or enticed to throw security to the four winds
And blow this pop stand altogether,
It’s hard to tell, really.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

New Hit Counter

Although I have mightily enjoyed talking into the mirror for the last two years, I really need to think about getting more readers. Hence, the new hit counter.

Now what? More research is necessary.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Please See . . .

Please see the comments on the second post below, entitled "Attention Suckers!" which include a site for a nice You Tube vid called, "Goodnight Keith Moon," and my comment on the great man.

CNN Asia Update

CNN Asia is a lot easier to take than the American version. There’s a lot less of this really annoying, polarized American politics that’s going around now. Plus, the weather women are really, really hot.

Jenny Harrison may seem a little broad in the beam at first glance, but give her time, she grows on you. Jennifer Delgado is a hit right out of the box.

Jenny Harrison

Jennifer Delgdo

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Attention, Suckers!

This is from the big Bangkok airport, I got it from the great site,

I've seen this stuff out there myself. The idea is to confuse travelers and ex-pats about the dates on their papers, the better to charge fines for overstaying.

Innumerable, Impenetrable Problems

Understanding the Twenty-First Century is really an unsupportable burden. Take Sarah Palin (please).

The shear number of people in the world today insure that there will be plenty of weird new ideas around, and that there will be plenty of gullible people to go along with them. The new instant communications environment not only assists these ideas in spreading, but also insures that they will come into contention. The new digital technologies enable huge new corporate structures to control this information, including cultural and artistic information, for their own benefit, and for the good of their benefactors. These problems are so numerous, and so complex, that they represent a storm tossed ocean on which we are lost and alone, carried along by unknown forces, in the dark.

Throw in global poverty, climate change, all of the various shortages and mis-allocations, the “twenty-four hour news cycle,” pollution, and the commercialization of virtually everything, and you have quite a little list of difficult problems.

Some of these problems exist in full view, like radical religious fundamentalism (mostly Christian and Muslim), political polarization, and the dramatic drop-off in privacy and freedom in my own country, the United States. Some are obscure and seem almost quaint, like Google’s ongoing attempt to seize the entirety of world literature for its own financial benefit.*

Our lives are affected by these things, but understanding them even a little bit is a real challenge, even for highly educated people, and doing something about them is virtually impossible, an exercise in futility.

One overriding problem is that the people involved with these things are very effective at hiding their true intentions. Like the Google thing, “Google Book Search,” they claim that their intention is benign, merely to preserve the corpus of world literature for future generations. And politicians, who talk about values and freedom while their real program is just the opposite.

Politicians in developed countries could band together to identify, analyze and try to mitigate some of these problems. Instead, they devote themselves to parochial side issues and self interest. It’s a problem.

Not all of the radical religious fundamentalism is in full view, not by a long shot. Do us both a favor and check out Sarah Palin’s connection with something called Christian Reconstructionism, also known as Dominionism, or Dominion Theology. Her long term church in Alaska is a hot-bed of it, and her own involvement is clear. Dominionism has gone nationwide, and it’s a problem. You can read what it’s all about here:

These folks have some strange ideas, based, not surprisingly, in revealed scripture as interpreted by themselves. Ideas like mass executions by “biblical means” of fornicators (mostly women), juvenile delinquents, homosexuals, adherents of other religions, apostates, and disobedient children, even disobedient adult children. Slavery is cool with them, as a gentle alternative to execution. They believe that they have been charged by God with the responsibility to administer the entire earth in God’s name and according to God’s law. They want to take over the United States, and lots of infrastructure is in place already. Go ahead! Read about it!

My father told me one time that the future would be the same as the past, only dirtier. He couldn’t have foreseen the digital revolution that would give us cell phones and the internet, etc, so the reality of the future is much more sinister and horrible.

As usual, I offer no solutions, and precious little information, and merely wish us all a merry, Bon Chance!

*Google and the New Digital Future, by Robert Darnton, New York Review of Books, available now on their website, free.

Bangkok Christmas Tree

The women who put up this Christmas tree had an aunt growing up who was married to a foreigner and saw trees at her house every year. They decided that Christmas trees were cool, and now they put one up every year.

It's a nice tree, a pretty good quality artificial tree, with nice lights (four cycle), pretty ornaments, a stocking, a flower or two, a garland, and an angel at the top. No meaning, they're just a couple of Buddhist Thai women who like Christmas trees.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Nakorn Si Tammarat: English Abuse Alert

As you get off the beaten path over here the state of English goes downhill fast. Signage in Nakorn Si Tammarat featured the following “discretionary” spellings:



Bothroom (at a school)

Crap Trapping Tools (at a museum)

Shrim (same museum)

I don’t make a science of such searches, so, as usual, I’m just scratching the surface. For a scientific investigation of such things, you can always check

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Ramkhamhaeng

Ramkhamhaeng is my university over here; the original was a great king in the Sukothai period, something like seven hundred years ago. He gets the credit for the modern Thai alphabet, about the wonderfulness of which a difference of opinion is possible.

Today is November 26th, the thirty-eighth anniversary of the founding of the university. It’s been a wild success, we now have, get this, seven-hundred-and-fifty-thousand students, at twenty-five campuses around Thailand. Every April we award something like forty-five thousand degrees. Old Paw Khun Ramkhamhaeng would be proud.

We had a nice little ceremony this morning, called a “Pi-tee-bang-suan,” in which we summoned the spirit of Ramkhamhaeng and invited the king to take some food with us. I mean, we didn’t actually eat anything, but there was an impressive table of fruit offered to the spirit, along with a lot of chanting by a big group of monks, some gongs were banged, and horns were blown.

Hundreds of us were seated in tents around the ring-shaped parking lot that surrounds the mound on which presides the seated statue of Ramkhamhaeng. I had a good view; lots of the seats were blocked by the mound itself. There were great numbers of photographers, official, semi-official, informal and at least one bona-fide news cameraman. There was a Muslim contingent who sat a little off to one side. In the midst of near constant chanting, the Muslim would occasionally break into song, with amplification, one of those wailing “call to prayer” Muslim songs, competing with the monks, or complimenting them. Lots of self-important big-wigs in their elaborate white uniforms offered food, and finally several groups of kids in costumes danced.

I didn’t take any pix myself, but not to worry, I’ll remember it.

My Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving in Thailand, the fourth Thursday in November. It won’t be Thanksgiving in America until tomorrow, since y’all live slightly in the past and all.

I had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner, alone. Here’s the menu:

Half a rotisserie chicken, Gai Aupsutorn Boran (kind of marinated and rubbed);

Pistachio Nuts (Tong Garden brand);

Dragon Fruit; and

Peter Vella “Classic Red” California wine (a Cabernet blend that cannot speak its name).

So if you read this on Thanksgiving, you have one more thing to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


That Kentucky census worker killed himself, I'm pretty sure that it wasn't because he hated Fed's. I got sucked up in the hype on that one. Mea culpa.

Fred Who?

From last week, your every increasingly humble correspondent on the taxiway at Nakorn Si Tammarat "International" Airport. (Occasional flights from Malaysia.)

The picture doesn't really do me justice, I'm really thinner and more handsome. I like this shirt for traveling because it has big pockets, and Thailand is generally too hot for jackets. The pants too, hell, I dress for comfort! (As the Romans used to say, "the guilty flee, when no man pursueth.")

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thailand Is A Winter Wonderland!

The Winter here has officially begun. It gets down to about seventy degrees overnight in Bangkok now. This will last for another six or seven weeks, so I'll enjoy the very pleasant sleeping weather while I can.

It still gets up to the low nineties during the day, the middle of the day. But it's all very moderate, and comfortable. I'm always grateful at this time of year, grateful for the reprieve from the heat, yes, but grateful mostly because it never, ever really gets cold, which is, let's face it, much harder to take than a little heat.

The Stupa Garden At Wat Phra Mahatat

The big stupa here is impressive, and very old. You can never be too sure how old something is in Thailand, because time is not important here. The literature says that this temple complex was "possibly" built during the Ayuthya Period, based on the architecture. It was seven or eight hundred years ago anyway.

These are Indian style, bell-shaped stupas.

The big one is surrounded by an ocean of smaller ones. They're individualized with dedications, some have pictures of the dearly departed one. So I think they're memorials purchased by families, or the loved one himself, in life.

Say Hello To Lulu And Lala

These are the three front people for a big traveling show from Isan. The guy is pretty charismatic, he sings and leads the band, and he and the girls do bits. The girls, Lulu and Lala, are a pair of regular Lucille Ball's, very, very funny and totally shameless about looking silly.

Like for instance, a bit about an air-hostess with limited English skills who is clumsily looking for a Farang boyfriend, approaching guys on the plane saying things like, "hello, how are you? do you want coffee? I am fine, oh! my God!"

Nakorn Si Tammarat's Multi-Cultural Origins

This is on the grounds of Wat Phra Mahatat in NST, way down south in Thailand. This is a mother and her son, in front of a boat that represents their boat trip to the area from India about eight hundred years ago. I'm not sure what they accomplished to become so famous, and for so long.

The remote history of the area, like going back almost two thousand years, includes trade migrations from India, Vietnam, Malaysia and China, with lots of cultural remnants along the way. It's really a fascinating place. Lots of Mosques, museums full of evidence of a vigorous ceramic trade, a Hindu temple or two, and the usual diversity-friendly Thai Buddhism.

Restaurant Review: Bang Bao

Bang Bao is a modest restaurant in Nakorn Si Tammarat, serving typical Southern Thai style Muslim food, stuff like roti, beef or chicken curry, kao muk gai, and chicken satay. It's easy to eat here for less than two dollars a head, including iced tea or coffee. The staff is efficient and friendly, and everything is delicious. My highest recommendation, and Nakorn Si Tammarat is worth a visit too.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Please Be Patient

Lots of column inches of new, so feel free to scan.

Mr. Fred's Poetry Corner: My Father

(Something autobiographical perhaps?)

My Father

My father, a complex man, still alive as of this writing.
Likes music, if you can call it that, opera mostly,
Gilbert and Sullivan, a favorite, not a good sign that.
The nicest thing he ever said to me:
“You know? I’ve noticed that the records you play are a lot better than the crap I hear on the radio.” Not a rock fan, generally. Jazz he found annoying.

A reader too, complex stuff, the classics.
Thomas Hardy, the whole boring lot of them.
Was known to read Thomas Mann in German back in the day, laboriously but with obvious interest, he might still, when nobody is looking.
Showing off? Probably, to the only significant other, himself.

Not exactly a fan of homosexuals, but tolerant in his old fashioned way.
“Who cares, it’s not a big deal. If Walt Whitman came through that door right now
I’d run up and give him a hug.”
I had queer friends, he was unfailingly gracious, maybe he didn’t care at all,
At least he wasn’t willing to throw away all of the wondrous gifts of homo artists down through history, odds are that’s where it started, the tolerance, seemed to have grown into a general acceptance. I guess that’s a good thing.

He was a good provider, money anyway, brought home the bacon.
Handsome? I don’t know, he takes a good picture.
Unfailingly charming, with other people at least,
And sometimes charming at home too, he was, although the other effort must have left him somewhat debilitated, from all indications.

He didn’t need our validation, I see that now, got more than enough at work.
Not work, his “Career,” an engineer, loved burning coal, built power-plants, boilers big as city blocks, driving in Jersey he’d point them out, “see the black smoke over there? number two boiler, see the other two? clear as a bell. No one ever figured out why number two burns black.”

We’d love to have seen more of him, but he was a busy man after all.
I remember one time after he retired, I was at his house for some reason and the phone rang, the old kind with the wire, you had to stand right there to talk.
My mother, may her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace, amen, answered the phone, she was kind of excited,
My father took the call, it was an engineer in Finland, no less, they were designing a power generating facility that was to burn peat, not the best fuel, but cheap and they had a lot of it, he’d met my father somewhere or other, Spain? China? and he wanted to bounce some ideas off him, they talked for about forty minutes.

Do I sound proud? I am, I admit it, but not inordinately so.
We’d love to have seen more of him, but we had limited interest to him,
We’d overstayed our welcome, just a hysterical woman and two mere children, he had things to do, places to go, people to see. My mother-in-law was convinced that he had a second family to attend to. That I doubt, the family part, he’d had that up to here, the family part anyway.

A man of many talents, he can eat any chili you hand him like normal people eat cherries, and he likes them all too.
Never known to sing, never played an instrument, all sport was denied him by fate (except to watch others play).
The drafting table was his chess board, drawings that in their execution would weigh a quarter of a million tons, and burn clear, it was to be hoped.

He’s still alive, as of this writing. Lives in New Mexico now, a long story.
I still make the pilgrimage sometimes, went last month, ten time zones.
He lives alone, drives every day, cooks, reads, watches TV, he’s eighty-seven.
We both remember everything, but we never, ever compare notes about anything except newspaper humorists from the Twenties and Thirties, the Penn Relays, German verbs, poets, what we’re drinking these days, winners of track medals at the1968 Olympics, the old Gillette Friday Night Fights, especially Gene Fulmer and Willie Pep, cars, anything to keep us smiling, like two old school chums, you’d hardly know we’re related except for the resemblance.

Glenn Beck Wants To Know

Why should Black Americans self identify as African-Americans? Glenn Beck wants to know, asking a studio full of hand-picked minority conservatives. Why not, he asks disingenuously, just as Americans? After all, he, Glenn Beck, is just American.

Like it was their idea, like simply identifying as “Americans” was a choice that they could make.

Well, Glenn, it’s not their choice. Blacks are always identified as such. Black Republicans; Black Conservatives; Black, Black, Black. We do it, Glenn, you and me, we White people.

Myself, I find it onerous, and I would prefer a colorless world.

Maybe “American” is not an option, but I don’t find African-American very satisfying. After all, I don’t feel comfortable identifying as a “European-American.” It’s overly broad, it includes twenty-something countries that I have no connection with at all. I’m ok, though, with “Irish-American,” because most of my blood came from that country, and I celebrated those holidays and Saints growing up, and I heard those stories, and my progenitors suffered from being identified as “Irish” in the New York City labor market. Black Americans don’t have those luxuries. Most Black Americans don’t have the certain knowledge of what country or culture their families were taken from. Calling them “African-American” just highlights this failure to preserve the information. I find it offensive.

“Black” is cool. After “Negro,” and “Colored” were rejected as unfairly negative, Black Americans in the Sixties set on “Black.” I thought that “Black Americans” was fine, I was agreeing with them, I went with it, and I’m sticking with it. Black American culture has very little to do with Africa. Africans don’t even particularly like Black Americans. Black Americans, largely denied any expression of their cultures or traditions, created a new life in America, with a unique culture and traditions of their own. It’s American, and it’s Black. That’s all there is to it.

I live in Bangkok, and I can look at a Black man fifty yards away and tell you if he’s American or African. I like the Africans well enough, but I love the Americans. They’re my people, I value their contributions to my culture, my education, to our country. Black American culture and my culture, they’re not the same thing, but they’re like those charts with overlapping circles. This part over here is Black; this part over here is mine; this area in the middle is ours.

Glenn Beck is an idiot, and I resent every moment that he occupies my consciousness. I don’t know why someone like him should even be admitted to these discussions. He put in his two cents, and I came across it, so here’s mine. “African-American” degrades you, my Black friends. Your culture is an expression of your experience, which, for better or worse, has put you in the forefront of the shared culture of the entire world. You may have come from Africa, but now you belong to the world, at the cutting edge. You did it yourselves, in your new country, and it has been a spectacular success. The rest of us owe you a great debt of gratitude.

Some day, and I will not live to see it, we will all be simply “Americans.” In the meantime, Americans can self-identify in any way that makes them comfortable, but I will continue to call my Black brothers and sisters “Black Americans.”

A Nice Up-Country Kitchen

This is my friend's kitchen. Semi-outdoors, Thailand is generally too hot to have a kitchen that is actually inside the house. Not, perhaps, a typical gourmet kitchen, but she's a great cook, and I can tell you that this kitchen regularly turns out some fantastic food.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Something In The Wind

Why wait until 2012? Check the date on the last post to this blog.

Maybe something happened, and nobody told us.

Merry Christmas!

I took one look at this picture and thought: that's my Christmas card this year! I include it here now because Christmas is a long ways off, plenty long enough for me to forget three times and remember only twice.

It Was The Transistor, Stupid

I’ve been revisiting my opinions about a recent, particularly massive cultural-technological shift, the shift from analog to digital storage of information. It’s a dark picture.

Not just hippie rock-and-rollers complaining about “cold” CD’s replacing “warm” analog delivery systems; not just weird privacy aberrations like the NSA preserving for all time every single communication in the world; not just the difficulty of controlling the image captured by a computerized digital camera that thinks for itself; not just watching classic films that have been beautified by colorization and sanitized by the removal of all cigarette smoking. Although these examples illustrate how annoying the new digital world is, they don’t scratch the surface of the problem.

Digital has made a mockery of copyright. Digital has rendered art itself a lost dream of permanence. Digital has enhanced the power of governments and corporations to criminalize simple, innocent acts by everyday, law abiding citizens. Modernity cannot be resisted, and technological progress cannot be stopped, but more must be done to insure that personal freedoms are protected, and that the very culture of the world is not completely subjugated to government paranoia and corporate greed.

This is a huge issue, raised here in passing fashion. Did it ring any bells out there? Maybe I’m just getting old and cranky, but there needs to be a dialog about this.

It all started with the transistor.

Friday, November 13, 2009


The dry air, the setting sun reflecting back into the sky off the Pacific, it all makes for intense colors in the sunsets. The "Western Sky," I'm always impressed when I get back to it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Illustrious Navy Career

(Please read after first reading "Veterans Day, 2009," below)

Someone, an old friend by all the evidence, asked me in a comment about the circumstances that led to my early discharge from military service. He mentions a letter that I wrote, which may have played a small part. Here, in brief, are the players and the action:

The Personnel Officer

Every base and ship has a personnel officer. The job was held on my base by a nice young Navy Reserve lieutenant from Connecticut. He was cool, we could talk, and sometimes I’d stop in to say hi. My base was considered easy duty, and most of the sailors and marines stationed there had already done hard time somewhere else. At some point I noticed that guys from my base who had been assigned right out of boot camp, guys like me, guys who had two years to go after an eighteen month gig on that base, were being assigned to Vietnam for very disagreeable things, including gunboats on the Mekong River. Remember “Apocalypse Now?” As in, “shithead’s dead! Ceely, man the fifty!”

Well I stopped in to share my feelings on the subject with Mr., I forget his name now, let’s say Mr. Williams. “Mr. Williams,” I explained, “I see that this shit is happening, and I just want you to know that if I get orders for Vietnam after this, all the Navy will ever see of me again is my ass, going out that door.” This is a direct quote, I remember it like it was yesterday, I can remember the light in the room, and the old manual typewriters. “Are you sure that you want to be telling me this?” Mr. Williams was trying to protect me from myself, a very nice guy. “I just don’t want any surprises,” I explained, “the Navy should know how I feel.”

The Lutheran Chaplin

My job was very easy, and I often had a couple of hours to kill in the afternoon. Sometimes I’d head over to the Chaplin’s office for a chat about comparative religion, or Christian theology. I avoided the Catholic Chaplin, I’d had enough of those people. I liked the Lutheran Chaplin, though, he was cool, we could talk.

Actually, I think he was the one who first suggested to the base commander that this kid has no business being in the service.

The Base Doctor

Also for want of things to occupy the day, I often went to morning sick call. My appetite was bad, and I alternately had trouble sleeping or slept too much. They, the service in general, so failed to appreciate the situation in those days that when I told them I was having trouble sleeping the doctor gave me a nice bottle of Seconal. I don’t really remember the base doctor, but somehow that office too discovered that I was not a good candidate for success in the military.

The Troubles

Most of the personnel on my base, maybe in the service in general, were country boys, lots of Southerners, and at the time I was a wildly chauvinistic, slightly nutsy New York City wisenheimer. There was a small Black contingent, sailors and marines, and I got along with them just fine. With the White guys, not so much.

I was in the library one time, listening to records by myself, they had a great listening room with a really great stereo, and a couple of hayseeds came in. I gave them a friendly greeting and bade them sit and listen, the first Jimi Hendrix album was on. After a minute the one guy asks me, so, what’s that he’s playing? I told him it was all guitars. He looked at me with real venom and said, “Don’t fuck with me boy, I know what guitars sound like.” I tried to be patient, oh, I said, it’s an electric guitar. They left, angry.

But the Black guys, I got along great with them. So much so that it led to really violent fights on a couple of occasions, with the Good Old Boys threatening me and one or two Black guys coming to my defense.

That whole thing marked my days as a sailor, I can tell you.

The Base Security Officer

This was a civilian employee of a Federal agency that shall remain nameless. My base was very sensitive, not the usual Navy base, or a normal military base at all. Everyone who was stationed on the base had to have a Top Secret Clearance, Federal, from this spook security officer. (Not spook as in Black.)

I’d been writing letters to other guys in the service that I’d seen in letters columns in underground newspapers, and the term “Military Underground” was in circulation. There was nothing subversive about it, not really, mostly it was stuff like, “wow, I’m on the Bon Homme Richard and aircraft carriers are so happening, we got grass and everything!”

So the spook called me in for a chat about this. We talked mostly about what cameras we liked, what film had the color we liked. He was cool, we could talk. But I was way off the program that they were looking for, that’s for certain.

Finally I wrote a letter to the East Village Other. I was feeling sorry for myself, the holidays were approaching, and I vented in a four or five page letter. It was all very juvenile. The famous line was, “my mind is slipping down my spine and when it reaches my ass I’ll die.” An oddly inspired bit, that. So the spook called me back in and showed me the letter in the paper, he had a copy. “Yeah,” I told him, “that’s me.” It wasn’t long after that till I became Navy history.

So the whole thing sums up: I had no military bearing; I was hostile to authority; and I failed to adjust to military life. And the Navy, having experience with such things, figured it all out pretty damn quick. It’s not such a terrible condemnation, I can live with it. If I’d been smart I’d have gotten out of the whole thing in the first place.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day, 2009

Let’s hear it for all the veterans out there! All of them? Sure, let’s not parse out the praise, pick and choose, look for genuine heroes . . . they also serve who only stand and wait, or work in the supply chain somewhere, or drive panel trucks in Las Vegas, Nevada. That last was my job.

Honestly, I was one of the least successful members in the long, distinguished history of the Armed Forces of the United States of America. I completely lacked military bearing, was generally hostile to authority, and totally failed to adjust to military life. I can honestly say, though, that I joined the United States Navy of my own free will during a serious, killing war, the Vietnam War, and that at the end of my service I received an Honorable Discharge with all of the benefits that attach thereto.

I only lasted six months before the Navy asked me nicely if I would mind accepting an Honorable Discharge in return for a promise to leave them alone. I was slightly conflicted: the offer was a good one, and I was happy to leave, but I was a nineteen year old boy and part of me didn’t like the rejection. They let me keep some of the clothes, and made it clear that I had no further duty to report for anything, don’t call us, and we probably won’t call you.

But I did not shirk my duty to my country in its time of need. I joined. I always did my job and stood my watches. So I’m a veteran, a veteran of a foreign war, no less, even though I never made it into the theatre of war. I don’t expect a lot of credit for it, but if anyone were to kindly include me in the general appreciation of veterans on this day I would feel very good about that.

I add my sincere gratitude to anyone who has served in any branch of the military, not only to those who risked their lives at the point of the spear, but also to all of those who helped to hold the spear, who replaced the spear if it were broken, and who helped to transport the spear to the firing line. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Strangely Good Luck Motorcycle In Bangkok

In America a motorcycle with this license plate would be the worst of luck in most social circles. In Thailand, though, it is a "nine," as in, six plus six plus six is eighteen, which adds up to nine, and nine is the lucky number, so this license plate is a blessing, very auspicious and lucky. My own motorcycle is lucky, license number 810, a nine.

Seven is lucky in America, and thirteen is unlucky; eight is lucky in China. Nine is lucky in Thailand because the current King has really been good luck for the country and he's Rama the Ninth. I'll be that there are countries in which any number that you can think of is lucky, or otherwise. So they're all lucky, I guess.