Monday, August 31, 2009

My Worldwide Dream Of Avarice

No, not world peace, I was sleeping for this one. Napping to be precise.

In the dream, I got a phone call from friends in the Philippines, someone had been hurt, or worse, in an accident on a dangerous freighter at sea, and they needed a lawyer. This set off a fever dream of avarice: could I take the case? No, I’m inactive. Who could I refer the case too? For the referral fee, that is. Let’s see, it’s Admiralty Law, what’s the jurisdiction, where was the ship registered, where did the accident take place, who can I ask? Could I take a fee-split if I were on the inactive list, or would I need to reactivate first? There could be money in it, and in the dream I wanted a piece of the action.

Referral fees are a great thing for lawyers in California. Get the first call, and farm the case out to someone with talent, and you’re down for about twenty-five percent of the eventual attorney’s fee. I got $1,800 for a phone call one time (after about a year). For a great case it can easily run to tens of thousands of dollars.

The closest that I came to a big hit was a very nice medical malpractice case that would’ve been a dunk if the woman had spoken to me three weeks earlier. She had three years to file and she waited three years and three weeks to talk to a lawyer. I called it around but the pro’s figured that she’d irrevocably blown the statue. That was frustrating.

It’s a funny business, that lawyering.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Comments In Unsupported Alphabets?

I'm getting comments that appear as a row of tiny, vertical rectangles. Can anyone tell me how that happens?

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Google Chrome didn't take hold, it's not showing anywhere and I'm still being guided by MSIE.

I have it on good authority that what I really need is Mozilla Firefox. Whether it's a dentist or my friend Jorge, I try to listen to my scientists, they took the time to educate themselves after all, it's the least that I can do.

I'll give it a go. I tried Mozilla once before and there were firewall settings issues, but my scientist is available for follow up questions, so I should be ok.

Mr. Fred’s Computer Adventure

You-Tube told me, on a banner, that my current web browser would not be supported by them in the near future, or something to that effect. So, being in many ways that are not political quite conservative, I chose to go for Internet Explorer Eight, I’m pretty sure that was it, the words on the button, that is, because I was running Internet Explorer Seven already, I’m pretty sure, so I thought it might be the easiest way to go. The Microsoft website was very attractive, blue mostly, and I hit some buttons before I realized that it was telling me that I needed a CD or something, I’m not very good at any of this. Overextended, I retreated to seek greener pastures.

I went back to the You-Tube and tried the Google Chrome button, that went much better. The download was smooth, which is a wonderful metaphor for happiness in old age. It was suggested that I should also download a new Adobe Flash Player. The New York Times website has been telling me that for weeks now, but somehow I trust Google, I don’t know why, there’s something about them I like, maybe it’s the holiday logos. That went well too.

I restarted the computer out of habit, maybe that’s an old fashioned concept upon downloading new software, Google certainly didn’t tell me that it was important. Now I’m about to go and explore my new Google internet experience. Wish me luck.

P.S. Everything is still on Internet Explorer. Do I need to change another setting somewhere? A preference? Time will tell.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thailand Is A Good Marching Country

Different countries have very different abilities to march. Soldiers in Europe are great at it, great attitude and precision; soldiers in Africa, South America and the Middle East don’t seem to get it; Asia is a mixed bag. America? Our combat-soldiers line up ok but then they tend to stroll insouciantly. That’s ok, when they get where they’re going they do a great job. Marines are a different story, they march as beautifully as any troops in the world.

Thai soldiers are great at it. There’s a huge parade for the King’s birthday every year, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch, with companies representing each of the Thai armed forces wearing ceremonial uniforms, great pomp and circumstance.

You know those stationary sentries who guard important sites? Like that famous place in England where the changing of the guard is a big tourist attraction? They do that great in Thailand too. It’s a high point of a visit to Wat Pra Kaew, the old Royal Palace complex with the most elaborate temples around. The ceremonial guards stand as still and serene as cigar store Indians. A perfect presentation.

I’ve seen the ceremonial guards outside the Royal Palace in Malaysia, they stand around like bored teenagers, fidgeting. They did the day that I was there anyway.

I attribute this Thai ability to the great pride that all Thais take in their country, their culture and their King. This is a great place, and Thai people know it.

Re: Stupidity And Academic Jargon

Academics love to confuse us with their little self-invented languages, like trekkies speaking Klingon at a Star Trek convention. But like the Great Man said (in this case, Salvadore Dali):

"When the expression of an artist collides with the mind of a beholder and produces a dull thud, it remains to be established which of the two is at fault."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mr. Fred's Poetry Corner: Let Us Pray

Almighty God, We Pray

Almighty God, please save us from the beautiful,
With their terrible certainty,
And their feeling of entitlement,
Bless them with self-awareness Lord,
That they may more graciously bear Your gift.

God, our Father, in your wisdom and mercy,
Please save us from the smart people,
Shield us from their condescension, the constant,
Condemning glances, let me just once
Put salt on my eggs without some genius
Scoring another silent point for himself
And condemning me to stupidity,
Silently predicting my early death.

Oh! Sum Of All Mysteries! Find a way to help us,
Hear our prayers! Our need is great! Please!
Stay not Your hand! Do something to save us from the rich!
They breathe up all the air, eat all the food,
And generally give You all the credit for their success,
Our babies die, we fight their wars, we struggle so,
Our hour of need! Save us Lord, from the rich.

Almighty God, our special prayer,
Protect us from Thy favorites, the good,
We love them too, complaining but a little
Of their demands on our behavior,
Their very existence shames us, and ours them,
By our goodness.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Stupidity, Explained

Occidental College is a nice little place, nestled in a beautiful little valley in Eagle Rock, California (next to Pasadena). They are now offering a course in Stupidity. Here’s the catalog entry:

180. STUPIDITY. Stupidity is neither ignorance nor organicity, but rather, a corollary of knowing and an element of normalcy, the double of intelligence rather than its opposite. It is an artifact of our nature as finite beings and one of the most powerful determinants of human destiny. Stupidity is always the name of the Other, and it is the sign of the feminine. This course in Critical Psychology follows the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, Gilles Deleuze, and most recently, Avital Ronell, in a philosophical examination of those operations and technologies that we conduct in order to render ourselves uncomprehending. Stupidity, which has been evicted from the philosophical premises and dumbed down by psychometric psychology, has returned in the postmodern discourse against Nation, Self, and Truth and makes itself felt in political life ranging from the presidency to Beevis and Butthead. This course examines stupidity.

This might all be a joke, but I don’t think so.

The Ritual

No, not that ritual. My life. I ritualize my life to the greatest degree possible. It’s a control thing, keeping control. Over the course of a day, it can’t be done, unless you’re some kind of hermit, but of a morning I manage.

Living alone helps. My morning ritual is complete. I try to leave myself a couple of hours between waking and entering the outside world, and during that time my actions are virtually identical everyday. The same actions, in the same sequence, the same breakfast, the same products, exactly, and in the same order. The content of the web changes from day to day, but I check the same websites in the same order: Huffington Post; my blog; my e-mail; You Are Dumb dot net; the New York Times; The Nation (an English language BKK daily); Accuweather BKK; then back to Huffington Post to watch some clips of comedy or news. Then an evacuation, a shower, maybe a shave, and get dressed and go.

It’s all very comforting. It helps me get ready for the complete loss of control that we call the world-at-large.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Quiet Beach Interlude On Ko Samui

This was literally the view from the front door of our "Villa." The room rate sounds like a fortune in Thai Baht but it was only a little more than a Best Western on the way to New Mexico.

That's the restaurant over beyond the pool. Very nice, cheap for Samui, we had lunch there everyday. One night we had dinner too, they set up right on the beach, very romantic. The other three nights we went to "Prego," an up-scale Italian place up the block at the Amari Palm Reef Resort. Amari hotels are way expensive, but the restaurant was going for the volume, great food at prices that actually were reasonable, not just described in the ads as reasonable. Thank you Chef Marco!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

William S. Burroughs Explains It All

Burroughs’ books may not be everybody’s cup of tea, I understand that. But he was a brilliant, no bull-shit analyst of modern life, that’s for sure. This example is from a 1961 interview that appeared in the Journal for the Protection of All Beings, a periodical edited by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (fellow Beat or Beat-Wannabe, depends on your point of view):

BURROUGHS ON POLITICAL CONFLICTS: “Political conflicts are merely surface manifestations. If conflicts arise you may be sure that certain powers intend to keep this conflict under operation since they hope to profit from the situation. To concern yourself with surface political conflicts is to make the mistake of the bull in the ring, you are charging the cloth. That is what politics is for, to teach you the cloth. Just as the bullfighter teaches the bull, teaches him to follow, obey the cloth.”

“The Cloth . . .” Family Values, the War on Terror, Socialism, Law and Order . . . keep your eyes on the cloth!

I’ve Lost My Marbles

I’m pretty sure they’re still in the drawer, nine time zones away. Still in one of my old socks, very old, a little boy’s sock from 1952 or so. Lots of them are typical Fifties cat’s-eyes, but lots of them are the older milky white with colored swirls variety. Some are beautiful. I remember playing marbles with them, a circle drawn in the dirt, real Little Rascals stuff. I miss them.

I have a box of old coins too. As a boy, I got a box of Indian-head pennies that had belonged to my pre-deceased maternal grandfather. They came in a very old woman’s nylon stocking box, which fell apart from boyish rough handling; now they’re in a Flagg Brother’s sock box, with lots of additions. Some interesting examples that I got from my paternal grandfather, a giant penny from 1849, it’s almost as big as a manhole cover, a worn out silver half-dime from about the same time, some others. Some silver dollars that I picked up along the line; some silver coins from my own era that I added myself. I miss them.

I’ve always been quite the little hoarder, a vest-pocket Collier brother, I tend to keep the things that are mine if at all possible. Old cameras and cell phones, my own useful items at one time. Poor toilet training, no doubt. I added lots of junk store treasures along the way. Of magazines there are a great number, and comics, all now in sleeves and archive boxes, a great number, a great lot of books. I miss them.

I miss my records. Oh, sure, I have lots of CD’s, but they’re with me in spirit on my computer as I write. (Oh shit, now the record companies will come after me for using my own CD’s illegally.) I miss the records though, the real mechanical contrivances made from vinyl, almost four thousand all together. Original Elvis 45’s, Eddie Cochran’s “Sitting in the Balcony,” lots of old singles, up through LP’s from all eras. I should have a radio show, or, more like, I should have the energy to have a radio show and then do something else with it. Either way, I miss the records.

I was missing my guitars before this current, enforced absence. An unfortunate household accident while cleaning a dangerous ice-chest had previously eliminated one of my more important fretting fingertips. I’ll get back to it someday, I’m no Django Reinhardt, but I’ll figure it out somehow. They’re a beautiful bunch of guitars, though. I miss them.

I have some nice chatchkas there too, far away. A Sigmund and the Sea Monsters lunch box for instance, an Army Barbie and Ken set in the original “Desert Storm” package. Great stuff. I miss my car, and my house, and my now grown up but still very sweet children. I miss my life.

A life lesson, I suppose, life is loss. It’s all still there, I checked in March of this year. My family is still surrounded by me, my stuff. They seem to tolerate it very well, it’s a good sized house. Better than they tolerate me, in person. The stuff hardly annoys them at all.

I have to admit, it hasn’t been all bad, this separation. I was beginning to feel like the archivist of my own life, an unpaid museum administrator. I went through the usual stages of loss, like someone had died, or a marriage had ended. Blah, blah, rage, blah, acceptance, blah, I’d have to look it up to get the whole list. I’ve compensated, and I really don’t miss the stuff so much anymore. It’s freeing in lots of ways.

Anyway, you can’t take it with you.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Students

Here I am, looking insufferably pleased with myself, surrounded by several of my students. Yes, they are as cheerful and pleasant as they seem in the picture.

All of my students are really a joy to teach, I must say.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Thank You, Dear Readers

It came to my attention the other day that 840 people have checked my profile herein. It reminded me that you are out there, and, my dear readers, let me say that I love you.

I write this thing: 1) for the feeling of accomplishment inherent in writing it; 2) to avoid working on my novel; 3) to concentrate on something besides constant worrying; and 4) in a lame-ass attempt to make a connection with the outside world. I need your help to accomplish number four, and I appreciate it.

Thanks for your time.

Calling Doctor House

My wife’s favorite show is “House.” I like it too, I like Hugh Laurie, I always loved Fry & Laurie’s droll English humor, and he was a great Bertie Wooster (again with Mr. Fry). It does not surprise me that someone our age could be so taken with this show.

The show itself is consistently entertaining, but there’s a much greater attraction at work here. Each episode is the story of heroic, brilliant doctors solving almost impenetrable medical problems that present in patients who vary from rich to indigent. All of the problems are neatly solved in one hour, and there never seems to be any mention at all of billing. The no billing part, that’s the miraculous aspect.

Are you an American citizen, dear reader? Do you happen to live in that God besotted country? Can you imagine a universe in which difficult medical problems can be handled with such aplomb, without reference to money? A universe without the need for healthy people to worry about coming down with something that will wipe them out and ruin their families, probably in addition to killing them? A universe, at least, that is not commonly known as “France?”

It is comforting to vacation in a dream world where doctors are dedicated, helpful professionals; where severe medical afflictions are not financial deal-breakers; where medical providers are not money hungry “death panels;” where life is a child’s fantasy of hope.

So, we watch House.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Movie Review: The Battle of Okinawa

Japanese, on my Asian Movie channel. In Japanese, Thai dub available on the menu, letterboxed and full length. Late Sixties is my guess, maybe early Seventies, Tatsuya Nakadai is about forty-five, I recognize lots of the actors from Samurai movies.

This one is a typically heroic-kind-hearted-Japanese-soldiers-vs.-cruel-overpowering-Americans movie. The Japanese soldiers are unfailingly kind to the Okinawans, who in turn are unfailingly loyal to the Japanese. All of this steps far from the path of reality, much like Japanese textbooks of the post-war years, and our own Twenty-First-Century years too for that matter. Only the citizens of what is now Belarus, and maybe the Ukraine, can claim to have suffered in those war years like the Okinawans suffered during the Japanese occupation and subsequent American invasion of their little island. Japanese actions, and Japanese policy, were the most direct causes of this suffering. Slave labor and human shields mostly, and encouraged to commit suicide rather than fall into the hands of the hated Americans.

It’s true though, I’ve said it before, that those Japanese soldiers were the most durable, the bravest, the most tolerant of horrible conditions, the most generally effective dogface riflemen in any theatre of that war. The officers not so much.

No effort is made to humanize the American soldiers, although many are portrayed as very courageous in the cave-bound scenes of hand-to-hand combat. No reference is made to the amazement felt by Japanese soldiers and Okinawan citizens alike upon being taken by the Americans, taken, wide-eyed and unbelieving, and given food, water, cigarettes and medical care. The point of surrender or capture was admittedly a different story, with a lot of what was referred to in Vietnam as “kill them all, let God sort them out.” But those were terrible days, and the soldiers on all sides deserve a little consideration before the all too easy condemnation now served up as a reflex.

A nicely made movie with a lot to recommend it.

No Faith To Lose

I have no faith in the religious meaning of the word, but it’s not something that I lost along the way. Let me explain.

Religion works in two ways: it means to provide its adherents with an explanation of their own place in existence, and it imposes a system of rules, some procedural and many relating to so-called morality. Long before anyone tried to indoctrinate me into the presenting religion I had provided most of this framework for myself. (Self-aggrandizement alert: warning! more to follow!)

Certainly, I was the subject of religious interest from an early age. I was baptized as an infant, and I was also, in the quasi-religious manner of the Christians of the time, circumcised. I started kindergarten in a Roman Catholic grammar school before the age of five, and that is where the religious processing began in earnest. Before that my mother and various relatives had taken me along to church services and taught me simple prayers, “now I lay me down to sleep,” etc. I’d been told that God loved me, and that a particularized Guardian Angel followed me around. I well remember thinking that it was all a bit interesting, but that it had an unlikely ring to it and never seemed to have any bearing on the world that I lived in. I admit that I hedged my bets for a while and did some rote praying.

I recall a prior understanding that I was alive, and some consideration of what that meant. I was alive, along with my parents and family and neighbors, and we could all still see each other and talk together. Other family members existed only in photographs or in other people’s present conversations in the past tense. They were dead. I did not dwell on this, I simply observed that they had been alive but were not any longer. Death seemed very final, nothing in any of these conversations ever suggested that the lost family members carried on somewhere in a transformed state or lived in some religious paradise.

So I greeted my first Catechism lessons about heaven and hell with the cynicism that I had learned from my family. Plus, it seemed to make more sense that “Pop Pop” and the rest were simply gone. It was obvious that vast numbers of people had already died, along with all of the dinosaurs, another interesting phenomenon to a four year old, and that no one had ever heard from any of them again.

I make no claims to great intelligence or unique insight. I think that I was merely doing what children do, trying to make sense of the world, the better to survive it. I believe that I had also developed my system of personal ethics, the moral system with which I still approach the world, also before I arrived at school.

It is now common knowledge that babies are great observers of human behavior. Professional scientists show babies various tableau played out with hand puppets or dolls, and they register the babies physical reactions. Then they test the babies’ approval rating for the various dolls. Babies can see very well when a doll is in distress, and they are very interested to see whether a newly introduced doll will help the distressed doll or impede it in some way.

In this way babies judge the people that they see around them. They seek out and shamelessly cultivate the people whom they believe can help them, currying favor with delighted smiles and gurgles. They are innately aware that they need the help.

Being assured by science that I behaved that way as a baby, and having considered the matter at some length, I am convinced that I never abandoned the behavior. Perhaps that too is a common experience. Growing children and even adults, as well as babies, need help in this life, and it remains important to identify not only those who will provide the help, but also to spot those wreckers who will more likely impede us.

Back to the subject of my own personal morality. I flatteringly believe that in that pre-verbal miasma I decided that it was good to help people and bad to impede them, and that I decided at some point to be one of the good people, to offer assistance whenever the opportunity presented itself, and to deny myself the guilty pleasure of impeding others.

I will not include here the beautiful catalog of my good deeds, nor will I detail the loving, empathetic behavior that I have generally displayed to my fellows. Except for the times when I was losing my temper, or being abrasive, just for fun, that happened too. I have not been perfect, and I have disappointed people in many ways, but I fear no judgment on the subject of my virtue. The path that I chose, and have walked, is righteous.

I shamelessly take the full credit for this, because: 1) my extensive religious upbringing never emphasized love and empathy, but rather guilt and fear; 2) my parents, and many other family members, were not loving people and never offered much in the way of assistance or encouragement; 3) my teachers, with few exceptions, were cruel; 4) most of my childhood friends were even crueler; and 5) the world at large, of course, is horrible.

But there’s nothing supernatural about it, there never has been. No religious training ever took root in me. I had solved the moral equation myself, and religion, and each of them, seemed to have nothing to add. So, it is not true in my case to say that I lost my faith at some point. I never had any faith to lose.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Just Hangin' With The Tube

Just chillin' with some You Tube vid's, came across something that illustrates a point:

One of my supporters reminded me of this great song recently, I was revisiting it. On the "related" list was another version, I gave it a try. Someone had taken the album track and set it to a fabulously inventive video creation.

That's You Tube . . . why don't I take this song that belongs to someone else and create something ultra-personal and entertaining in the privacy of my own home, and then post it on You Tube?

Please take a minute to thank the Lord of your choice for You Tube.

Friday, August 7, 2009

It's Awkward

I've hawked this site before:

Now they're including awkward stories as well. Many revolve around marriage announcements.

When my wife and I decided to get married, we went to her house and my house to spread the good news. At her house, her mother was horrified speechless, she hated me and thought that my entire family was crazy. Her father tried to reason with us. He sounded world-weary and beaten down, bitterly disappointed. "Everything is so expensive now," he went on, "why don't you wait until the prices come down." This was the middle of 1969, the very beginning of an inflationary spiral that went on until the Reagan recessions when things topped out at about three times the prices at the time of our marriage announcement.

Things were a lot less dramatic at my house. My parents just laughed, they thought the whole thing was hilarious, as in, we'll wake up tomorrow and discover that this whole thing was a joke, as in, didn't we see this on the Honeymooners? We just gave them a thanks for listening and turned on our heels, leaving for greener pastures.

Families are a mixed blessing.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Ever Popular Cool Website Alert!

I love Boing! Boing! Extraordinary in every way. Found this link today:

The web is amazing, like access to 10,000 new magazines everyday. Dig it while it lasts!

Mortality Alert: John Hughes

Some youngster (only 59) mentioned in a comment that the sometimes quite entertaining film director, John Hughes has recently bought the farm.

This is a nice little montage from some of his films to the theme of "Teenage Wasteland."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Reiko “Baby Doll” Murayama v. Linda Cooper

I’m a little ambivalent about women’s boxing, but this fight was a no-nonsense sporting event. Both women have heart and skills. Both obviously took the whole thing very seriously, and both were very good sports about it. The problem lies with boxing in general in this post-Muhammad Ali, post-Ray Leonard boxing milieu.

Boxing suffers from the worst announcing by far in all of sports. The fights may not actually be fixed, but the announcers always come in with a script from the money guys about who is preferred by them to come out on top. This fight was no different. It’s all about grooming particular fighters for future, big money fights, actual respective talent notwithstanding.

The women were pretty evenly matched, but Ms. Murayama was way ahead on my card. (Yes I like Asian women, but Ms. Cooper is also racially interesting, so that part of the match up was a draw.) Reiko was more aggressive, landed more punches, and usually controlled the action. In spite of this reality, the announcers wouldn’t shut up about Linda Cooper.

If Ms. Cooper landed a punch, it was trumpeted as a game changer, a round winner, a sign that a knockout was near. During the long stretches when Reiko’s gloves were in Ms. Cooper’s face or ribs, and Ms. Cooper was covering up with her back to the ropes and her eyes puffing up, the announcers quietly talked about Ms. Cooper’s great chances for an exciting title fight, or how young and strong she is, or how popular she is in Las Vegas, where she lives. (Ms. Murayama hails from Tokyo.)

Ms. Cooper’s corner did not share the announcers sunny disposition. After the first round, her corner man yelled in her face, “what’s wrong! wake up!” Before the last round, they begged her to get busy and go for a knock out or else, “you better get out there and throw one fucking punch!” They were watching the real fight while the announcers were off in Cloud-Cuckoo-Land.

The last round was all Reiko, all the time, but all we got from the announcers was the occasional “nice combination from Cooper.”

The decision? Linda Cooper in a majority decision, one card was a tie, so we know that the judges feed at the same trough as the announcers.

Why do I even watch boxing anymore? The boxers still take it seriously, and the result is still in doubt, it hasn’t quite become Professional Wrestling with boxing gloves. So I can take the action seriously, and boxing is as serious and personal as sports gets.

Everything else about the sport, though, has gone the way of all flesh: corrupt.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Liability Alert: Som Tam; Larb; Gai Yang

This is a pretty typical rig in Thailand. This nice couple rides around everyday stopping every now and then to yell, "Som Tam!," "Gai Yang!," providing a valuable service to the community in the smallish Gulf of Siam place where they live.

One can't help but notice the propane bottle up front, providing a nice place to cook larb, an Isan dish made of ground pork, pig skin, some vegetables, a little pig blood, and some God knows what, but it's delicious. A the back, out of sight, is a charcoal grill for cooking chicken on sticks, or, more accurately, in this case, the less agreeable and cheaper pieces of a chicken pressed between a split piece of bamboo. The wife makes Som Tam, the "spicy papaya salad" that you may have seen on Thai menus in L.A. and elsewhere. It's all delicious by the way, from personal experience.

One day I saw them traipsing their daughter along on their rounds, oblivious to the danger of riding around on a motor-cyclized-restaurant including two hot cooking areas.