Friday, February 27, 2009

Rock and Roll Doctor: Little Feat Live

Lowell George was the dude there for a while, and Little Feat was the band. I took my dad to see them at the Roxy one time, on comps, we sat way in front. He got a beer accidently thrown on him, he though it was a great rock and roll experience.

One of my co-workers at King Karol Records back in New York once said of Little Feat's music, "it's an intellectual challenge, and you can masterbate to it." I'm not endorsing the remark, but I know what he meant.

The Myth Of The Rich, White-Skinned Young Thai Family

I live in a very nice condo building that is way too expensive for almost any Thais outside of BKK. There’s key-card entry and key-card elevators, 24 hour security everywhere, a huge cleaning staff, a beautiful pool, and nice spa facilities. My condo has a great shower, a big refrigerator, smoke alarms and a sprinkler system. I have a good job, the rent would represent two decent salaries out in the countryside. It’s not typical.

A young Thai family is depicted on my key-card. Mom and dad are about thirty-five; there’s one daughter about thirteen; and a son about nine or ten. They all have perfect black hair and perfect white clothes, they are all staggeringly beautiful, and they all have skin that is as white as a sheet of loose-leaf.

They are the new look of prosperity in Thailand. Skin color is very important here. It is possible to be too thin, but you cannot be too white.

Most Thais by far fall into a pleasant range of copper colored, high-yellow skin, but there is some kind of unarticulated bag-test at work. Beyond a certain point of color density, a Thai is considered to be “see dam.” (“Black”) A woman who is considered black can never be thought of as pretty, no matter how fabulous her face and figure may be. The opposite is also true, a woman with very white skin is thought beautiful, quite independently of her actual qualifications for the accolade.

This is an age old prejudice, but it is now constantly reinforced by the modern media propaganda machine. Virtually all movie stars and popular singers are white skinned, and lots of magazine space and TV time are devoted to these stars. All of the ads accompanying this media feature white skinned young people too, prosperous looking white skinned young people.

Thai TV shows a lot of local soap operas, family dramas. The families depicted live in mansions and drive Mercedes and BMW automobiles, and they all have fabulous clothes and white skin. You could be forgiven if you were led to believe that Thais were all rich, and that they all had white skin.

(Back in the real world, the illusion breaks down pretty quickly, even in BKK, which is generally much more prosperous than the rest of the country. For Thailand in general, beautiful copper skin predominates, and most people lead simple, happy lives, untroubled by luxury. Lots of Thais, though, are bothered by their insufficiently pale skin. The shelves everywhere are filed with “whitening” products, a large percentage of any type of product that is used on the skin is so designated. I’ve done some reading up on the phenomenon and, although there may be some short term lightening of the skin, long term use can result in dramatic darkening. A perfect storm of chemistry and marketing.)

This can’t be good for Thai society. Thailand is still full of villages where most of the population works in the fields and has virtually no money. They seem pretty happy though, I’ve been out there and sometimes I wonder if they realize that they’re poor. They work with their families and friends, get finished pretty early, go home and take a nice, cool bucket-shower, and then cook up some great food. The cooking and eating are usually done in some kind of extended family groups, and I can tell you that it can be a laugh riot and the food is delicious. By nine o’clock or so it’s time to wash down the fighting-cocks and turn in.

Students who grow up constantly bombarded by images of prosperous, white skinned young Thai families with exquisite clothes and driving Volvos and having servants may develop unreasonable expectations for their own lives. I wonder if they’ll be as happy with the country life as their parents still are. Given the state of education out in the sticks, the country life is where they’ll end up. They'll be stuck down on the farm, even after they've seen Paree.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Good Deeds Of The Law Faculty

The law faculty of my university made merit today by bringing some money to a local wat and performing a common Thai ritual.

Nice temple. Good murals of the Buddha's life.

First we walked three times around the temple itself. Some students were up front with a couple of drums and gongs, a couple of girls were dancing.

You can't really see the outside surface, but it was all marble, which is rare. Inside too.

We had envelopes to make donations, and you had to write your name, address, and the amount of your donation. I erred on the high side, and gave a grand (in Baht, about thirty dollars). Later I found out that most of the donations were a couple of hundred Baht. People did notice, though, and I'm sure that it'll get around. So it's all good.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My New Friends, I Hope

The pretty woman with the child is the wife of my friend Choophong. The pretty woman on the left's name is Jum, and she is standing next to her husband, Stuart.

I just met Jum and Stuart, and boy, I like them a lot. I like Choophong, Somjai and the little Princess Pannatorn too, also a lot.

Stuart's an Irishman, and a real gentleman. All of them are very smart and decent; good people.

Hopefully, I can re-connect with my once-formidable powers of friendship, and get to know them better, and keep them close forever.

Bobby Jindal: The Republican Who Would Be Obama

I don’t write about politics much. For one thing, I don’t find it that interesting. More importantly, politics is well covered already by people who have a lot more talent and energy for it than I do. They do a great job, no one needs my two-cents to help them understand politics. I prefer to keep to topics that I feel strongly about.

Today I discovered that I feel strongly about Bobby Jindal. Just having read about him, and reading a couple of quotes, I was already leaning against him. Like his recent posturing over, and rejection of, Louisiana’s share of the bail-out money for unemployment insurance. I thought that was cruel, partisan and stupid, like cutting off other people’s noses to spite someone’s face. Today I actually saw him deliver an important speech, and it became official on the spot, I fucking hate him.

It was the Republican “response” to President Obama’s faux State of the Union speech. After a bad start he just wasted a lot of time and air on discredited Republican talking-points, self-serving autobiography and outright lies. Jindal’s no great public speaker, that’s for sure. I could give him a run for his money myself, and that’s my definition of “slightly above mediocre.”

Never under-estimating the gullibility of their electorate, these Republicans keep repeating that they are the party of limited government, personal responsibility and conservative fiscal policy. Mr. Governor Jindal used these actual words, like they were cut in stone somewhere. Sure, make that limited government authority over corporations, as in “states rights,” the “right to work,” “Internet responsibility,” and “limited regulation;” and let’s have some personal responsibility, as in you’re on your own, you get sick after working for thirty years at something and the heck with you, go ask somebody at the church if your kids are hungry, and just forget that operation right now, and no, you can’t sleep on that park bench.

That any Republican can still have the unmitigated gall to even mention the words “fiscal” and “conservative” in the same sentence defies credence. Return with me now to those days of recent yore, when a Republican president and a Republican congress squandered a running budget surplus, shamelessly channeled potential government tax revenues and no-bid contracts to their friends and contributors, started an un-necessary and disastrous trillion-dollar-plus war on false pretenses, and enabled our banking professionals to give up their fiduciary duties and turn to outright piracy. We all watched it happen, and we remember it all, and we all know who did it, and why.

Bobby Jindal was around for all of that, and he remembers it just fine. He was even in congress for some of it, before he ran back to the briar patch, I mean bayou patch. Today he was just speechifying, spin-doctoring. Rush Limbo’s audience numbers convince these guys that it’s all still working, that somebody still believes them. Don’t forget, lots of us listen to Rush to laugh at how pompous and stupid he is, and especially to consider how stupid you’d have to be to think he was right.

Governor Bobby delivered all of this crap in a reedy little voice with a stupid grin on his face. He delivered this authorized version of the usual pay-no-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain bullshit in the condescending manner of a fellow whose time in the Little Pond has convinced him that he is a Big Fish. Like a semi-talented high school debater who has yet to face really talented opposition.

The absolutely worst moments:

1. When he repeated that meme about “sending our children the bill” for the stimulus package. All Republicans have done since Reagan was to take the money for themselves and their friends and send the bill to our children. They have shamelessly inflated the national debt at every opportunity, blaming it on “Communism,” or “9-11,” all the while making sure that the money-rain falls on the right people, the right industries, the right “class.” Just look at any national debt chart if you don’t believe me. Christ-on-a-crutch, just look at the last eight years.

2. When he went on and on about how Louisiana had gotten over that Katrina mess on its own, by self-help, without a big government welfare bailout. “Private citizens with their own little boats . . . Bobby Jindal’s here! Let’s go rescue people!” We watch TV, Bobby, Louisiana got lots of federal money. Like it could be otherwise! How could the fed’s not help out in a case like that? Is Bobby saying that he wishes America were a country where your little corner of the place could get hit by some act of God like Hurricane Katrina, or a huge earthquake, or an explosion of Mt. Saint Helen, and the federal government could just say, go on dudes, do your thing, we admire your courage and self-reliance?

Bobby Jindal is ugly, he dresses funny, he’s a horrible speaker, and if he believes half of the things that he says about government and religion he’s borderline insane. He’s a no-talent who is being humored by the Republican party strictly because of his brown skin and his (apparent) lack of ethics (criminal) convictions.

Good luck, boys and girls. With rising stars like Jindal and Sarah Palin, a front man like Limbo, and nothing but the same old crazy ideas . . . well, you figure it out.

Monday, February 23, 2009

I May Give Up Fortune Tellers

I had my fortune told the other day, and I died again. Up in (her) right-hand corner was a card with a guy impaled on like eight swords. When she got to it, she just kind of stopped. When I pressed her on it ("that one looks bad," I said), she just stumbled through something like, we all die, or something like that. But the card had not made her happy. The best she could do was, "maybe you'll just have an accident."

Last month, something similar from a palm reader. I have a giant scar in my left palm, and my right palm has that Duputren's, the bumpy hardening of the facia under the skin, also called "Viking's Disease," so my palms freaked her out from the start. She told me I'd die in Thailand, but she didn't say when.

Joe Cuba Died Last Week

Joe Cuba and the Sextet took a lot of stuff and made it better, and they had a lot of fun doing it. Man, I had some friends from that Newyorican crowd, and they had more fun than anybody, I can tell you. "Latin Boogaloo," some called Joe's music.

One thing's for sure, "I'll Never Go Back To Georgia" was never this much fun.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Death in Thailand

This is from a couple of years ago, when I was still optical-illusion-young as a Peace Corps volunteer:

Peace Corps had advised us to avoid the southernmost three provinces of Thailand at all costs due to the threat of sectarian violence. Terrorists is what we’d heard, I don’t know myself but I’d heard all about the cops and teachers getting shot and/or blown up, usually by someone “riding pillion” on a motorcycle, and some local people had experienced misadventure at the hands of the Thai military. Honestly, it all sounded good to me, death at the hands of terrorists that is, very romantic, and certainly it seemed to be my best shot at fame. All of my descendents for all time would recall with pride old Frederick who was killed by terrorists in Southeast Asia while serving as a fifty seven year old Peace Corps volunteer who had left his comfortable lawyer job in Los Angeles to devote himself to helping the poor, who then killed him. I’m sure that for several years anyway people would Google one thing or another and come across the story and most of them would think the whole thing was admirable. I would almost have paid to set it up.

The manner of one’s death is very important. Consider, if you die in a car accident, people will always tend to blame it on you. Oh, he must have had a sneezing fit, or, even better, he was always looking at some girl’s ass instead of the road. If you die from a heart attack, you shouldn’t have let yourself get that fat. Lung cancer? You dirty smoker, you. I think the best way to go is in a commercial jetliner crash, the bigger the plane the better. Not only is it fate, pure and simple, but it also tells people that you had places to go and the money to get there. Poor guy, I guess it was his time.

Well, whatever. I can’t decide whether I want an open casket or not. Closed, with an attractive photograph nearby is probably best. Embalmed, definitely, I don’t want no damn surprises. I know I want a funeral, and I know I want it catered. I think I’ll be wanting a band, too. Stand the coffin off in a corner, that’s a great idea I got from a Spike Milligan book I read one time. And please cremate me as soon as possible. I mean, give away some organs but please, I don’t want to be anybody’s science experiment down the line. Anybody who gets buried will eventually be revisited to make room for an overpass, or give physical evidence for some reason, or maybe even just for fun. Like for a TV show. “This was an average man in every way, the poor dental work indicates that he was a member of the lower working class, now let’s see what the facial reconstructionist has to say. Oh, he was ugly as well.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Submarine v. Submarine In The Atlantic

In the news today, a collision between nuclear submarines from the nations of England and France. I can easily imagine how this could happen.

Witness the following radio conversation from about fifteen years ago:

Station 1: American warship to signal bearing (numbers given), please alter your course to bearing (given).

Station 2: Unable to comply, American warship.

Station 1: American warship to signal bearing (given), this is a military imperative, alter your course to bearing (given).

Station 2: American warship, I say again, unable to comply.

Station 1: This is the U.S.S. Forrest Gump*, the largest warship afloat anywhere in the world, escorted by one cruiser, two destroyers and two support ships, and you are ordered, at risk of hostile action, to alter course immediately.

Station 2: I wish I could help you sir, but this is a lighthouse.

Ah! The subtlety of the military mind! Or, the lack of it.

*It wasn’t really called the Forrest Gump. I made that part up.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My Religious Failure To Thrive

I have always been a lucky guy, I understand that. And one of my greatest bits of luck has been that all attempts at instilling religion into me failed utterly.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. My family may not have been deep believers in anything but the generally negative character of life, but they were observant, my mother’s Irish Catholic family especially. One of my mother’s sisters was a nun, one of the good ones, I might add. I was sentenced to Catholic school at the age of five, and I served twelve years for the crime of being born. There was a lot of religious instruction, and I received all of the appropriate sacraments. None of it took. It was as though I had been immunized against supernaturalism.

I was not otherwise contaminated by common sense. My resistance to religious inculcation stood alone in my otherwise foolhardy existence. My generally faulty bullshit-detector worked extremely well when it came to religion.

Maybe it was the cartoonish Baltimore Catechism. Heaven was depicted with stairs on which were engraved words like “Faith,” and “Good Deeds.” God had a beard and a desk, several heavenly people had desks, and there were books, and angels, with wings, it was like a courthouse with bird-men. There was a hell, with fire and disagreeable looking devils. None of it looked very otherworldly at all. It all looked and sounded, in fact, suspiciously like my day-to-day life, like my fight-starting, dime-grubbing, so-called friends, like the demanding, frustrated, always dangerous nuns, like the mixed-bag of more-or-less failed adults in my circle, like the imperious priests. Heaven didn’t look like too much fun, and I was kind of in hell already.

As a teenager, I decided that it was all so unlikely, all of that supernaturalism, that I didn’t really need to worry about it. Even with my severely challenged self-esteem, I was ready to face any possible judgment. I was, I am, a good person. If anyone was going to heaven, it’d be me. Later on I came to hope that there was a hell, because if there was a hell, there’d be a heaven too, and I was going to heaven, I remain sure, and from there I could observe the poor bastards down in hell. Don’t believe me? Maybe Mr. Saint Thomas Aquinas can convince you: “That the saints may enjoy their beatitude and the grace of God more abundantly, they are permitted to see the punishment of the damned in hell.” (In Summa Theologica)

Sometimes I wish there were a God that answered prayer, but mostly I am content to live without one. I wish the religion inspired murderers of the world agreed with me.

And if all of that were not sufficiently flippant, I’ll play us out with a poem:

Somewhere in Heaven

Imagine when upon my sad demise,
After years of cynicism, thought wise,
I found myself in heaven among friends,
Was welcomed to a party without end.

Bright without assistance from the sun,
The temperature is always seventy-one,
No time, no space, but only here and now,
No worried minds, and no more knitted brows.

I was not like the one who had succumbed,
Looked not the aged wreck I had become,
Tattoos intact, I was to youth restored,
And reassured that I’d be never bored.

Remembered from my Bible, yes I read,
That poor guy, Lazarus, when he was dead,
Saint Peter took him to a balcony,
Where he, in hell, the rich could clearly see.

This broad veranda’s now my second home,
There’s time the rest of heaven to be shown,
I always have a cool drink in my hand,
And love to scan below perditions lands.

One day Saint Peter gave my hand a shake,
Declined a drink, said, “I’m just on a break.”
But took my earnest offer of a seat,
Said, “Freddy, we’re all friends, just call me Pete.”

Through heaven’s lens we both could plainly see,
All hell-bound souls, could find them instantly,
And Satan too could we closely observe,
He tortured those poor souls with fearsome verve.

“He must be very angry, all this time,”
But Pete just smiled, he took a different line,
“He’s not so bad a sort,” I heard him say,
“You should see his apartment, take your breath away!

There’s air-con there, and a much better view,
Than this one, here spread out in front of you,
He has the Platinum Package, big TV,
His friends go down to see him frequently.”

“I thought, the war in heaven, and that God,
You know, it hurt His feelings, took it hard.”
“No, all that stuff was over long ago,
But we’ve still got the system, don’t you know.”

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Big Wat In Sakon Nakorn

This is a newly constructed temple to house the Wat's big attraction: a Buddha footprint. The temple is called Wat Bratat Cherm Chom, the "bratat" wats contain a relic of the Buddha, as in Wat Bratat Choe Hae in my little northern town, which has a piece of Buddha's elbow and some hair.

Cherm Chom doesn't have anything like that, but the story goes that the Buddha actually visited this area. That qualifies the temple to display a "Buddha Footprint," which is typically a large piece of marble with the footprint of a twenty-five foot tall man cut into it.

This is the temple for worship purposes, it's right next to the footprint one. Very nice detail in the decorations.

Uncle Tom No. 9

There’s a good, cheap local vodka here called “Uncle Tom.” Recently, the brand introduced a premium version called “Uncle Tom No. 9,” which comes in a bottle sincerely copied from the Absolut brand, including the self-praise part in beautiful, italic script.

“This spirit was distilled from Thai rice that has been 6,000 ago and be continuously improved the quality. It is considered the best rice in the world. We were especially prepared Thai rice, pure water and finest distilled. Uncle Tom No. 9 is clarity and smoothness.”

I don’t mean to poke fun, or maybe I do, but isn’t Thailand the cutest thing? The vodka’s pretty good too.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Diane Feinstein Under The Influence

So, my California buddies . . . were you thinking that Diane Feinstein was your friend?
This from

Is Diane Feinstein trying to sneak draconian internet control legislation into the stimulus bill? It sure looks that way.
The Register:
US Senator Dianne Feinstein hopes to update President Barack Obama's $838bn economic stimulus package so that American ISPs can deter child pornography, copyright infringement, and other unlawful activity by way of "reasonable network management."

Clearly, a lobbyist whispering in Feinstein's ear has taken Comcast's now famous euphemism even further into the realm of nonsense.

According to Public Knowledge, Feinstein's network management amendment did not find a home in the stimulus bill that landed on the Senate floor. But lobbyists speaking with the Washington DC-based internet watchdog said that California's senior Senator is now hoping to insert this language via conference committee - a House-Senate pow-wow were bill disputes are resolved.

"This is the most backdoor of all the backdoor ways of doing things," Public Knowledge's Art Brodsky told The Reg. "Conference committees are notorious for being the most opaque of all legislative processes."

This is unacceptable for any of you who value a free and open internet, which I assume is 99.9% of C&L readers. Please contact your representatives and urge them to fight back against this shady backdoor violation of the spirit of the internet.

I’m back. This conference committee stuff should be done away with altogether. In 1997, a relatively innocuous Education Omnibus Bill was stuffed with changes to the Bankruptcy Laws that had been dictated by the banks. Those changes took we, I was one at the time, Bankruptcy Law practitioners quite by surprise. There were only two weeks between the first time they showed up in the Congressional Record, which, to my knowledge, no one reads every day, and when the bill was signed into law. It cost me, yes me, personally, $20,000, to settle a resultant lawsuit filed by a client who was affected.

And the Internet should stay free, don’t you think? Or should we hand over everything of value to the corporations just because they pay off our elected representatives? No libel intended, Diane, I know you’re too smart to take mere money. But what did they offer you?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Some Kind Of Big Cat

I don't know what this thing is, but it's big. I had seen a photograph and I figured it was like an ocelot or something, but it's much bigger than that, approaching leopard proportions. The Sappraiwan Resort has two of them in a good sized paddock with nice play structures, and the animals look clean, healthy and well fed. Happy? I don't know. They did not seem thrilled to have company.

Elephants Are Good Luck In Thailand

This very well behaved family of elephants belongs to the Sappraiwan Resort in Pisanolok. The mahoots set them up out front a couple of times a day, and you can buy bananas to feed them.

The mahoots are from a local hill tribe, the Gariang. Generally speaking, being a mahoot is not a great job, and being from a hill tribe usually puts you in a low demographic. I found out, though, that all of the mahoots at this hotel live here cost free and provide their families with a good living, including lots of money in the bank. The Gariang are Catholics, and the children go to a local missionary school. My little group stopped by, it was a nice church with out-buildings and a school. "St. Nickolas." The Gariang children therefore speak good English, which will get them better jobs in the future. So much for cliches.

Traveling Around In Thailand

Buses go everywhere in Thailand, it’s all very easy really. And anywhere you want to go, anywhere at all, there are ways to get there from wherever the bus lets you off. It’s all cheap and relatively convenient, and you could do it too, honest.

From the bus stations there is always a local transportation network of some kind. There may be actual taxis, but probably not. More likely there will be tuk-tuks, three-wheelers with a bench behind the driver, some all enclosed and some home-made from motorcycles; or song-tao, pick-up trucks with two rows of benches in the bed; or motorcycle taxis; or three-wheeled bicycle taxis; or just some guy with a pick-up or a car. If worst comes to worst, someone at the station will call their cousin, who will leave work in the field to come and drive you somewhere.

When I show up at a station there’s always someone to ask me, “where you go?” At first I was very leery of these guys, it’s almost always guys. I drove cabs in New York, and it made me suspicious of anyone hustling rides at a bus station. In America, none of these guys are your friends, they all want to charge you a hundred dollars to go from La Guardia to Manhattan. My experience in Thailand is that they are all just trying to be helpful. (Except at the big airport in Bangkok, and there you can always get a meter cab.) They know you need to go somewhere, and maybe they can take you, and that helps both of you. And it’s almost always for the same fare that they would charge a Thai person.

For me, it’s a little easier, I admit. If I want a hotel, they’ll talk to me a little and find out how much I want to spend and what kind of place I need. This they can only do in Thai, so you they might just take to the best hotel in town, which you probably want anyway. Me, they ask, “do you want to swim?” “Do you want Farang TV?” Then they take me to the perfect place. I’m sure that the hotel kicks-them-back a few bucks, but they don’t ask for it from me. You, they might take to the hotel that gives them the best commission. You’ll be happy, don’t worry.

Not speaking Thai, you’ll still have some kind of guide book or something else written down that you can point to. Thais are not famously great English speakers, but almost everybody can sound out the A,B,C’s.

Hotel wise, I’ve stayed in lots of low-end places and I’ve almost always been comfortable. I say “almost,” there’s a cheap place in Bangkok that is popular with Peace Corps volunteers where the bad smell really put me off my food. By low-end I mean down to six dollars or so for a “Guest House” room with a fan, no phone or TV, and a bare-bones private bathroom, meaning small, and the shower and sink drain onto the floor, but I’ve never seen one with a squat toilet, all western style thrones. I think if you go down to three dollars maybe there’s a squat toilet, and maybe no windows or screens either, but no one would suggest that I stay there and there’s always something better.

Thailand is a wonderful place to travel around. It’s all very exciting and new, but it’s all very safe and hospitable too. The food, even from ramshackle restaurants or food carts, is safe to eat. Even the police are non-threatening: if you happen to get caught breaking the law they’ll be happy to “settle-out-of-court,” but they never set up foreigners to make money off of them.

My advice would always be to avoid the touristy places, who needs that shit anyway? What, you want to come to Asia to go to KFC?

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Vietnam Era Communist Insurgency In Thailand

I always knew that there had been one, but I had thought that it was very small and confined to a small area, deep in the Northern mountains. A few years ago I visited a mountain village that was so remote . . . how remote was it Freddy? It was so remote that the inhabitants were not really sure if it was in the province of Nan or the province of Phrae. There were caves nearby that had been used by communist insurgents, I didn’t take the hike to see them but I’ve seen caves in that area, they are deep and solid. In the 1970’s the area was so red that the present government, to be on the safe side, still maintains a permanent presence of fifteen soldiers, one truck, and a helicopter-pad. But the whole thing was much more widespread than I had dreamed.

Last weekend I traveled to a hilly region very near the central valley “Rice Bowl” of Thailand to visit a preserved communist encampment; an impromptu field cemetery for cremations; some battle sites; and a bizarre Antonio-Gaudi-like cluster of buildings that serves as a memorial to communist soldiers who died in the fighting. My guide/interpreter/sign-reader was perfectly suited to the task: she’d been a university student during the demonstrations which sent many students to the hills to join the communist movement, and she’d been a young teacher in the countryside thereafter who had been subject to the whims and entreaties for assistance of both sides. She remembered everything, and she was a great source of information.

The political situation then was ripe for insurgency: a bad economy; trouble everywhere in the region; a “President-for-Life” style strongman, an army general and self-styled “Marshall” who ran the country like it was his personal fiefdom and who planned to keep the entire thing in his family through inter-marriage with the families of lesser bosses.

There was the usual talk of “workers” and “farmers,” but most of the grunt work seems to have been done by students from the better universities. There was overseas involvement, not much from Vietnam, but from a bigger country to the north, not Russia, do the math. There was bombing, including napalm, and lots of running gun fights back and forth across the area. Lots of innocent people got caught in the middle. It lasted a long time. I need to read more about it.

The importance of history is hard to underestimate. The danger that cleptocracy and megalomania will lead to violent resistance from below can be witnessed in Thai society today, on a more limited scale and in a much more progressive way, to be sure, but it can be witnessed in events like the recent takeover of Thailand’s biggest international airport. Takeovers and large demonstrations are violent acts in the pocket of a vest.

We in America also have lessons from history that speak to us today with great authority. I hope that someone is paying attention.

The Geneva Conventions

“We will follow the Geneva Conventions.” It is a fact, though, that the Geneva Conventions are a lot like the Bible. People tend to pick-and-choose exactly what it is necessary to follow.

To my knowledge, the Geneva Conventions classify the Browning M1A2 Model 1918, 50 Caliber machine gun as an anti-aircraft weapon, and forbid its use against personnel. You can, however, witness its use against combatants in daily use today if you watch TV news. In the Vietnam conflict, American forces grafted four of them together to make “quad-fifties,” which were ubiquitously used for perimeter defense. In the Pacific during WWII, the Marines routinely stripped them out of junked airplanes and used them against Japanese troops. American troops love them, with good reason. They have a kill-range of about a mile, and used against soldiers attacking en mass they will blow through human beings a few at a time. I never remember any Geneva-Convention-based objections to their use against troops.

The “fifty,” land mines, white-phosphorous, napalm, cluster-bombs, these things aren’t going anywhere. They work, and they save lives, at least in the forces that employ them. Let’s worry more about preventing armed conflict in the first place.

Being 60

Lots of my friends and I are having to figure out this whole thing of being sixty-years-old. No one can know what it’s going to be like. It comes to everyone as a surprise.

It’s like touching the electrical mains for the first time. No one could have told you what it would feel like, and you could not have guessed.

“It’s like electricity, but lots of it.”

“It’s like the musical note “A,” two steps below middle-“C,” at 500 decibels per square inch.”

“It’s like purple.”

So we’re sixty: what’s it like?

It’s bloody annoying, that’s what it is.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Dear D'munder,

I just spent another twenty minutes trying to comply with your request to delete your comment from an old blog post, and, to the best of my knowledge, it can't be done. I found it, finally, and I jerked it in every direction that I could think of and no-go.

If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

Further Hilarity Drawn From Old Hilarious Movies

Another recommendation from the Easy Spinner . . .

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

So, I’m Depressed. So What?

I say I’m depressed. Not right now, about a particular thing, but depressed, period. But what does that mean?

Most essentially, in the first place, I inherited from my mother and her mother a hyper-active panic response. There’s a little place at the stem of the brain that controls the “fight or flee” response. Theirs, and mine, err on the side of great caution and tend to panic quickly, and frequently. It can be in response to something appropriate, like some kind of emergency, or it can be to something ordinary, like an electric bill that seems a little high.

Secondly, I, like many people in my milieu growing up, spent most of my time afraid of one thing or another. This left me with fear as a default position.

There is a chemical reality to each of these conditions. Maybe other people, maybe you, find it easy to maintain an even keel in life. I, on the other hand, am constantly responding to things with inappropriate chemical reactions that leave me with shaking hands, a tightening in the stomach, a whistling in my ears, red cheeks, a pounding heart, general tremors, near tears, with uncomfortable, deeply negative ideation.

In blogging, I have read, you should get to the point in two hundred words or less. That was about two hundred words.

So at this point in time I am depressed, as usual, but now I am also in a blind funk, due to the fact that fate has been twisting my nipples with great impudence for over a month now. It has all left me desperately trying to find reasonable responses to the preposterously disrespectful input coming from numerous directions. And “reasonable” is not something that I am good at when life presents anything like aggression, or contention, or condescension, or weird, otherworldly ambiguity.

So wish me luck, my friends, dealing with this bullshit tomorrow, and in the days to come.

Monday, February 2, 2009

My Personal Chat With Lord Jesus

I have always been disposed to wonder about our world. Not, generally, wondering about how great our world is, no, more like wondering how it got so ruinously bad, or what purpose could possibly be served by it being so terrible. The instant events occurred when I was nineteen years old.

I was in the U.S. Navy at the time. I was proud to be in the Navy of Stephen Decatur and Admiral Halsey, but my pride of place was somewhat overshadowed by the facts of the Vietnam War and my complete lack of military bearing. I lived in a room with one other nineteen year old on a land base where I worked as a delivery driver, some indication of the Navy’s confidence in me.

We were allowed to drink beer in the E.M. Club (“Enlisted Men’s”) even though we were in a state (Nevada) with a drinking age of 21. Most people don’t understand how important alcohol is to keeping soldiers and sailors happy, but the Navy did. Plus, any evening that we were not on the watch list we were allowed to go into town (Las Vegas). Most people in Vegas thought it was discourteous to refuse drinks on the basis of age to active duty servicemen who were willing to pay for them. So there was drinking.

I had a buzz one night and turned in about 11: p.m. I say, “turned in,” but I had quite the little case of insomnia at the time and “turning in” was more like killing the lights, sitting up at the end of the bed, and smoking cigarettes, 20 cents a pack, $1.90 for a carton, wondering how I got into this mess, or sometimes considering topics slightly more challenging. My room-mate came in after a while, dead drunk. He was a slightly built and slightly educated farm boy from Iowa who had no prior experience of drinking. He greeted me with obscenities, collapsed on the bed and rolled over, passing out in his clothes, shoes included.

I remember thinking, what kind of life is this? I quietly spun off in the direction of more philosophical thoughts; after a while I moved onto the theological. I began to wish, as I sometimes did, that life had a purpose and that God answered prayer, like I had been taught at school. All of this, all of it, was completely silent, and I was totally awake, sitting up, soberer than most judges. Finally, I flippantly thought to myself, ok, Mr. Jesus, how about it? what is all this shit about? Offering any free advice these days?

Thereupon my room-mate sat up and faced me with his feet on the floor. He no longer sounded drunk, and he addressed me directly with greater content and organization than he had ever displayed before, and never did again. He explained to me quite patiently that although I was “charming,” he made it sound like some kind of a disease, I would never amount to anything, because life required more than that. I clearly remember him saying, “you’ll always get along, but you’ll never be happy.” Then he rolled back over and passed out again, still in his clothes and shoes. The lights had been out all this time, and I’d been silent through the whole thing. The next day he remembered nothing, and was all the way back to his dip-shit self.

Did Jesus talk to me through that idiot that night in Las Vegas long ago? Some people would have thought so. I just figured that he was sick of my condescending bullshit and decided to give me the verbal finger at just the opportune moment.

YouTube - Free - Ride on a Pony

Free always had a style. The very simple parts dovetailed together without embellishments. All four of them, in my opinion, had some real guts for White people.

This cut comes after they were thunderstruck by the Band's album, "From Big Pink." They look different, and the songs took on an entirely different character.

Under-rated band.

YouTube - Free - Ride on a Pony

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Vietnamese Monk In Thailand

This week I was in Sakon Nakorn for a couple of days of R’n’R before teaching a class in neighboring Nakon Panom. I rode around town in bicycle taxis, shopped here and there, passed on eating dog (which is available at some restaurants and markets here), and visited the two temples that were recommended in the guide book. One of them was a kind of museum to a famous dead Phra Ajan (“Monk Teacher”).

It was very nice. The museum part was a modern building with bio’s and artifacts, lots of daily-use items, including spittoons, all very simple but belonging to the monk. It’s still a teaching-temple. I got there in the middle of a day-long series of outdoor lectures by the current teaching monk. All of the participants were dressed all in white and sat respectfully in a deeply shaded grove. The place was beautifully landscaped.

One very friendly monk came over to talk to me and my guide on this occasion. He was very chatty, speaking almost non-stop in Thai and fair English. He was seventy-two years old, he stood about 5’ 2.” He said some very surprising things. He said he had some special medicine that would enable him to live 1,000 years, I wished him good luck with that.

He also praised communism and suggested that what Thailand really needed was communism. He highly praised the communist government of Lao (the temple itself was a very beautiful Lao style temple, see picture above, coincidence? I wondered). Then he went into high-gear amazement and started praising the American CIA! He called them “friends” and said it would be great if they came to Thailand.

Later my guide told me that he was Vietnamese, and that his Thai wasn’t much better than his English, heavy accent. So I figure he was one of ours during the troubles and came to Thailand afterwards, maybe after some re-education, given his praise for communism.

He seemed like a nice guy, but it may have been in the manner of the nice Chinese guy in “The Manchurian Candidate” who taught the American soldiers to kill each other when they saw the Queen of Hearts.

The Difficulty Of Speaking Slowly And Simply

It is a fact that only people who are highly educated and/or highly sensitive to language can speak slowly and use only simple language. Other people always speak in their normal manner, in any situation, and confronted with someone who fails to understand them all they can think to do is speak more loudly.

I confront this problem all the time, especially people of the “other” type.

In Sakon Nakorn on Thursday, I got a call from the guy who would pick me up and drive me to my class on Saturday. I knew what the call was about, because I heard the words for “pick-up” and “teach.” Beyond that I didn’t understand a word the guy said. He could understand me pretty well, and he got frustrated because I seemed to be asking the same simple questions over and over.

I wanted him to say, slowly, “I will pick you up on Saturday at 7:00 am,” which I could have understood very well, but what he said was more like:

“so, I’ll swing by the hotel about an hour before your class, I might be a little late, I have to pick up another professor at the airport, but we’ve got plenty of time, you’d be surprised, the road is pretty good and on Saturday there won’t be much traffic, so maybe 7:30, but don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to eat before class.”

And he said it very, very fast.

I must have asked him twenty times to speak slowly and use simple words, but the response was always a hurricane of vernacular. Even if I asked, in painfully slow, simple Thai, “you pick me up what day?” he would respond in volumes instead of just saying, “Saturday.” Finally we got there, and I repeated, for clarity, “So, you will pick me up on Saturday, at 7:00 o’clock, right?” He answered like, duh! that’s what I’ve been saying for ten minutes!

Some people are just unreasonable.

YouTube - I Know You Got Soul (Bobby Byrd)

Soul Brother Number One-And-A-Half! When I was criminally abusing Napster, Bobby Byrd had nothing at all in the for-sale catalog and drew few results on any searches. Evidently he made something of a comeback before he died last year. I hope he made some money.

And let's remember that James Brown, although he could be very hard on mere band members, always remembered his friends.

YouTube - I Know You Got Soul (Bobby Byrd)