Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Nick Cave/Shane MacGowan - What A Wonderful World

I just sang this one the other day myself, Karaokeed my bony ass off at a very nice Christmas party. I'm not sure what to make of this version. I run through the entire list of question words without any answer words springing to mind. But that's the Twenty-First-Century for you. Everywhere you turn, it's surprise, surprise, surprise.

World English Extravaganza

I am proctoring tests this week, which is always fun. These are “re-tests,” a second bite at the apple for students who failed the final the first time around. One of the tests today was an English test, EN 305, some kind of writing class.

By now I have a lot of experience of what they call “World English.” Listening to it, reading it, even speaking it on occasion if I think that I can help my listener by simplifying the verbs and leaving out the prepositions, which leaves you with sentences like “he go market.” It’s always fun.

For this test, the students could choose between seven subjects to write a short essay about. That’s technically a mistake, ending a sentence with a preposition, but we native-speakers make mistakes all the time too. Besides, “. . . seven subjects about which to write a short essay” sounds like shit on a stick. One must be flexible.

The most popular subject choice was, “Characteristics of a Good Mother,” almost to the exclusion of all others. One test came in very fast, always a bad sign. The essay was very, very short. The sentences were, let’s say, interesting. How’s this: “She don’t smoking and going out everyday.” At least it had a period though. In this brief essay there were sentences with periods, some without, and some with periods as big as bowling balls, perhaps for emphasis. The sentiments expressed were sweet. The conclusion was, “Everyone should accept her mother, during she live and take care her.” I think so too.

These poor students, English grammar sure kicks most of them to the curb. Articles are especially hard. They are either missing or inserted on the chance that they may be required. There are none in Thai, hence the confusion. Someone told me last week that many of our students are choosing to study Russian these days, and the terror of articles could be a reason. Russian has none either, as in the exchange: “what is?” “is pencil.” (“Shto eto?” “Eto karandash.”) In my university German classes, if we left out an article the professor would admonish us that we were not studying Russian, sometimes prefacing this remark with a shouted, “where is my weapon!!!”

Myself, I can’t imagine a Thai student wanting to study Russian. I mean, why would they? Love of Russian cinema? I certainly can’t imagine any Thai wanting to go there, and any Russian that you are likely to meet outside of Russia probably speaks English. Maybe for jobs in the tourist business, or talking to one of the very popular Russian prostitutes.

One student chose the topic: “Compare Marriage with Living Together.” She added a sub-title: “Marriage is more disaster than live-in relationships.” This was a good little essay too, heartfelt and very direct. She described some of the things that disturbed her about marriage, like all that fighting, lying, and the cheating, and she observed that most people these days just get divorced anyway after a while. She felt that one would be better off to take all of that time wasted on anniversary parties and family gatherings and devote it instead to building a business. The essay was compelling. She might not know it, but I think she’d make a great wife.

There was a part two of the test, but it was way too hard for all of them. “Summarize the following essay in two paragraphs.” The essay was about breathing meditation, which is something that all Thais know a little about. They may not do it, but they’ve heard about it, and depending on where they went to school they were more or less forced to do it. It was a long, windy essay. On one test, part two consisted of two sentences, one of which was, “In this essay dissessed about breathing meditation is a way to be people to do for relaxaion.” The word “dissessed” appeared in the other sentence too, so it wasn’t a typo.

This job is sure fun.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Not Ignoring Christmas

No, not me, no Grinch I. It's a wonderful opportunity to say thanks to everybody who helped me through another year. Including you, my readers.

So thanks! And Happy Birthday, Mr. Nazz! Many happy returns, for all of us.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cool Blog Alert: We Are Respectable Negroes

Second alert; first review, actually. This is a wonderfully erudite and important blog that concerns itself mostly with race relations in America. Sometimes the focus is historical; other posts discuss the current situation, the facts-on-the-ground as we speak. I would say that it is critical reading for Americans in general, and I can tell you that it is very entertaining if, like me, you find the inter-racial aspect of our culture fascinating.

Regular readers know where I stand on Black/White relations, and I won’t go back over that here.

The blog writer is a professor (Sociology?) at an American university, East Coast I think. He teaches classes that feature a large measure of race relations (probably in addition to the usual survey courses). From the writing, it is clear that he is highly intelligent at least, there’s a good chance that he skirts the line of brilliance. He maintains a down-to-earth character in his writing for the site, and he is never preachy. His point of view regarding race relations in America is clear, but it is always tempered by a measure of academic detachment and he never stoops to ad hominum attacks. He sounds like a nice guy; I address him in my comments as Professor.

You can really learn things from the Professor. In a post about “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell,” he made a great point about the historical experience of other excluded groups with military service, including but not limited to Black Americans. Military service, don’t you see, is an accepted pathway to a group being fully accepted as citizens. Denying homosexuals the right to serve was (is?) a way to keep them marginalized. Never thought of it that way, Professor, thanks for that.

Any inter-racial discussion, and especially one that concern the racial issue itself, can be problematic. We on the different sides of it see the issue through different filters. Some of them innocently, because of our differing racial identities and experiences; some culpably, either by choice, accident, or default. This can severely complicate communication, even between individuals who agree on the general outlines of a thing.

The comments on the site are very lively. One thing that becomes obvious is that you can find a racial component in any controversy at all, it’s easy in fact. Whether they are real or imagined is another story. I’ll try to keep my personal experience out of it, that’s a whole other post, but indulge me in one personal example. When I was young and beautiful, I belonged to a big gym in Los Angeles. I enjoyed swimming in the pool. One day a group of youngish Black guys were at the pool. They were very loud, boisterous even, and they casually violated the “no diving” policy, organizing races among themselves. They were disruptive. I admit that my first reaction was: they can hardly fucking swim, they need to have races? My first reaction was: this is a Black thing. I quickly realized, however, that they were athletes of some kind. These guys were in great shape, nothing that can be casually achieved, they were on some kind of team together. So it was an Athlete thing, really, a similarly acquainted White crew would have behaved the same. The racial component was illusory. This happens a lot, to people on either side of the issue.

That communications thing can be tough. As a younger man I was very free in my expression, and I got into trouble all the time talking to my Black friends and acquaintances, and yes I had both. Too often the races approach each other with apparent friendliness but with a threshold issue foremost in mind. This can variously be, “is this a ‘safe’ Black man?” or “is this a White Devil?” There were times when I was cast too quickly onto the White Devil pile. I never felt like I belonged there, but it’s never my call, is it? Leave the balls and strikes to the umpire, I always say.

The Professor takes a very generous view of these things, he seems to be a most forgiving man. A man with a mission, it seems. Not a mission to find fault, or to vent anger, but to provide a forum for discussion of an issue of major importance to us all, Black/White relations in America. It’s a lot of work, and he does it very well. I have a lot of respect for the man, and I appreciate his efforts.

I believe that it is a family issue in America, unlike similar issues anywhere else. Black Americans are not an immigrant group, not some well-focused tribe of recent arrivals. They alone do not know their own history, beyond “African” and “American.” They did not become Americans by choice, but they are the most American element in our racial-cultural tapestry. Germany, England and Ireland are full of people almost exactly like me, but American Blacks are unique in all the world. They are unique, and wonderful, and they are ours. There are people who need to better understand this fact, and I would hope that the Professor's blog is helping them.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Marianne Rosenberg - Er gehört zu mir 1975

The 1975 Euro-Song Contest winner, a real "Abba killer." I just needed to practice my German a little.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Captain Beefheart - Clear Spot

You can read the below post to find out how I feel about this.

Don Van Vliet Has Left The Building

Mr. Van Vliet, whose music as Captain Beefheart has thrilled dozens of musicologists and assorted weirdoes since the mid-Sixties, has crossed the river, he has returned to the Cosmic Mother, to wit, he has died. I am one of the weirdoes, I love the guy. A sweet man, and a transcendental artist in two media, may he rest in peace. He has earned it, not like most people.

Don leaves a vast catalog of fabulous music in a long string of albums and lots of live bootlegs. I use the term “fabulous” advisedly. Much of it was considered “difficult.” But a bit of it was quite accessible, considered by some critics to be attempts at being commercial. Somehow I can’t imagine Don trying to make a commercial success. His influences were so broad that it just came out that way sometimes. This morning I described one of the “commercial” cuts as “cosmic wind blowing through the Temple of Reverb.” (“Zig Zag Heart.”) How commercial does that sound to you?

He did not walk the earth like you and me, he did not look out onto the vistas that present themselves to us. Whatever he did, he was channeling the eternal truth, which was where he lived. I met him one time while I was working for the long defunct record store chain “Licorice Pizza” in Los Angeles in the late Seventies. He was totally charming, and very polite, but distinctly other-worldly. He appeared not as a conventional human being, but rather like some kind of homunculus that had been inserted into our society by powers that we don’t understand. I asked him to sign the back of my white, short sleeved dress shirt, as big as possible, with a magic marker that I provided. He was very gracious, and happily acted like my request had really made his day. He flattered me that it was a pretty original idea and he told me to be careful not to wash it off, I told him not to worry. I still have the shirt. On that occasion he appeared comfortable in our world, but not quite of it. Some of the other guys had him sign albums, they’re probably on e-bay as we speak.

There are artists whose work we can appreciate without fully understanding it. My usual example is the Sixteenth Century Netherlandish artist, Hieronymus Bosch. Bosch is known for a great number of large religious paintings, used as alter pieces at the time. The compositions take the form of biblical allegories, they are encyclopedic depictions of things like “The Last Judgment,” or “Paradise.” They are disquieting, they are populated by strange beings and demons, and they can be very odd and sometimes horrific. They were commissioned at great cost by the church and painted at a time when the memory of the Black Plague was still relatively fresh in people’s minds, and death and the after-life were great concerns to people of that time. Within a hundred years or so they were consigned to museums because the churches, and their adherents, began to feel that the paintings were a bit too much. The great Art Historian, Bernard Berenson, in his still taught work, “Early Netherlandish Painting,” left Bosch out altogether, noting that “this, too high for my wit, I prefer to omit.” Artists like Captain Beefheart, and the Japanese musician Cornelius, have a similar effect on people.

What can the earthbound music writers really say about Beef? Most of them stick to safe endorsements of “Trout Mask Replica,” an obscure but obviously successful intellectual exercise, while they refer to “fallow periods” with releases of those more “commercial” efforts. I don’t think they get it at all, and they are not as secure in their critical faculties as Mr. Berenson was. At least he acknowledged his failure to understand.

For my money, “Clear Spot” is the high-water mark. Sure you can dance to it, but it’s an intellectual challenge as well. Not that I’m any expert, and I do feel a little sheepish about criticizing the critics, I just know what I like, and I like Captain Beefheart. I’m sorry that he died, and I hope that he didn’t suffer too much. The worlds of music and painting will miss him, if they take any notice at all. It’s a shame too, the man was a saint, and his music certainly puts the lie to the crap that sells.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Self Criticism

Sure, I repeat myself. But doesn't Tony Bennett sing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" every night?

The Victory Of The Paranoid Style

There’s a great old article you can still find on the Net: The Paranoid Style in American Politics, by Richard Hofstadter. It was originally a lecture at Oxford, reprinted in Harper’s Magazine in 1964.

Great stuff, great ideas. The style is very adaptable, it has showed up as full-throated hysteria over Masons (the Bavarian Illuminati!), Catholics (rampant Popery!), European monarchs (those Hapsburgs!), international bankers, gold-gamblers, immigrants (those Catholics again!), munitions manufacturers, progressives, communists, and socialists. Surprise! It’s back! Hofstadter characterized it as paranoid, not because its adherents are “certifiable lunatics” in the clinical sense, but rather because it “evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” that typifies the style.

There is the irrational, nebulous character of the menace that presents itself; the leap from some reasonably factual basis into the sheerest fantasy; the implacable, almost supernatural power of the enemy. The style has existed for ages. In the 1950’s it showed itself in the right wing extremism of McCarthyism and the John Birch Society.

Mainstream conservatism in those days was much more of a centrist concept, more disposed to operate within the accepted patterns of democratic, representative politics. The Goldwater crew, William F. Buckley, et al. These conservatives kept the Birchers pushed to the fringes of discourse, and they finally carried the day with the election of Ronald Reagan as president, the “Reagan Revolution.”

Those fringe elements have recently surged back into the limelight, the whole Tea Party thing especially (there are others so infected). We can blame the mainstream conservatives for this, it was they who pushed the center so far to the right and have shouted so long and loud about how the government is the real problem. I can get pretty paranoid myself when confronted with their hubris, distortions and lies. “Lower taxes! Less government regulation! Free markets! Smaller government! States rights!” In a pig’s eye.

That’s what the mainstreamers talk about in public anyway. What they really want is to reduce the Federal Government to “something that is small enough to drown in a bathtub.” I forget who said that, it was back in the Reagan era. The real agenda, of course, is corporatism, the ascendency of the big corporations. Figuring that out is basic police work: who benefits? The talk of “States Rights” is a distraction. If the Fed’s are powerless, who has the juice to restrain the corporations? No one.

Now these new Tea Party, far-right paranoids are back with a vengeance. They may have been encouraged by the mainstream conservatives, and certain politicians and news media outlets, but in large measure the movement is spontaneous explosion of the paranoid style. They do frequently parrot the Republican Party line about lower taxes and smaller government, etc, but they often take the ball a lot further down the field, far enough that they are beginning to scare the bejezzus out of the mainstreamers.

What do they want? Certainly they are not being rational. They seem to demand that our government cut them off from important benefits, like Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance. They complain that President Obama has raised their taxes (he has actually lowered them), that he wants to take their guns (nothing like that has happened, nor is it contemplated), they seem incensed that he has taken small steps to make it easier for them to afford health care. They long for a return to “Constitutional Governance,” but it is never clear what they mean by this. Certainly they never mention either of the two, great Constitutional errors of our time: corporate personhood and the unitary executive.

When these new paranoids gather it is like some giant zombie party. No one seems to be able to say what they want (beyond freedom!), or what they believe in (beyond America!). It’s all unfocused rage at someone who is taking away their freedom (!!!). Looking at the crowds, and listening to them, “they” are under-educated, uninformed, relatively prosperous White Americans.

Something, indeed, is being taken from them. What they are losing, and who is doing the taking, are good questions, fit subjects for debate. Obama? Immigrants (again)? Socialists? Liberals? No, no, no and no. Look again, people! And “you” are helping them.

It’s a great article, you should look it up. It reads like it was written this morning.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Television Little Johnny Jewel, Pts. 1 & 2

Some really wonderful music happened in the Seventies. Somehow, some of the practitioners got some really, really good ideas and went way out there following them, with little or no thought of commercial potential.

This Television was a blessing.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Glimpses Of Parallel Universes

Those cosmologists, what a bunch of dreamers they are. All that talk of a multiverse, some potentially limitless number of parallel universes, alternate universes, alternate realities, based on quantum mechanics and populated by wild ideas like “string theory,” it’s hard to take them seriously sometimes. They must have been hovering too long over strange mathematics, we think. Got themselves hypnotized. But they keep coming up with the weirdest ideas. You and I could exist on an infinite number of Earths, and every action could result in an infinite number of outcomes. Could any of this be remotely true?

I meet people sometimes that tempt me to think that it might just be true after all. They say things, believe things, that make me think that they must be living in one of those alternate realities, they must be looking out over vistas that would be strange to me. For example, today I attended a big meeting of the Faculty of Law at my university in Bangkok. We’re implementing a version of the European Qualifications Framework, but that’s another story. The presenter was a member of the Faculty of Humanities, an education professor I think. She might as well have been a visitor from an alien reality.

At one point she asserted that all of our students could speak and understand English very well. I don’t have to trust my own limited hearing comprehension of Thai to know that she said this, my neighbors immediately turned to me and said things like, do you believe it? is that your experience? We had a good laugh.

Because that is not my experience at all. “Our students,” and there are 850,000 of them (eight hundred and fifty thousand, that’s not a misprint), mostly cannot speak English at all beyond some salutations and a couple of hundred words at best. Tales from a parallel universe indeed, I wondered what the weather was like on her planet.

It’s the same in the U.S. now. I read things everyday about politics and the economy and I wonder, what planet are they from? Are they talking about my America? My President Obama? Or do they live in some glorified Star Trek episode where something went very, very wrong, and everything came out a little bent.

You can read the truth, it’s out there, but somehow it is all but drowned out by the same bizarre falsehoods, rumors, innuendo, and slander. The explosion of the deficit, for example, is actually due to 1) the wars; 2) the Bush tax cuts; and 3) the recession, but you will mostly hear that it is due to the criminal socialism of President Obama. It is frequently blamed on “Obamacare,” which hasn’t even started to kick in yet.

Social Security and Medicare, which almost everybody agrees are good things when they need them, are consistently demonized as the twin agents of the end of the world. In truth, Social Security is fine, the trust fund is healthy, at some point decades from now it might, might run into a small glitch. Medicare could run into trouble sooner, ten or twenty years, but it’s certainly not bankrupting us now.

All of the shrill voices that are warning about some kind of impending socialist Armageddon are wrong, comically wrong, and it makes me wonder sometimes: what’s the weather like on their planet? The impending Armageddon is real, but it has nothing at all to do with President Obama’s imagined socialism, nothing even to do with budget deficits, or trade deficits, and certainly nothing to do with the pittance that Social Security pays to old people who have worked for America for a lifetime and paid into the system that, if they are lucky, allows them to either pay their rent or buy food, but not both. Our Armageddon is due to the current ascendance of the rich, big business, the big banks, and our venal, corrupt, self-serving so-called elected officials, who sell us out for a few measly tens of millions of dollars, which is peanuts to the people who thereby purchase the rights to pull their strings.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

More Borrowed Material: Findings

This column appears in Harpers Magazine and can be read on the web site. It's good stuff, very droll.

November 29, 2:16 PM · From the June 2010 issue of Harpers Magazine
By Rafil Kroll-Zaidi
Scientists performed surgery on the hoods of cobras to determine how ribs turned into hood bones and rib muscles turned into hooding muscles. A number of the snakes awoke from anesthesia during the surgery, which the scientists found “disconcerting.” An escaped monocled cobra in Germany succumbed to exhaustion after being caught by double-sided tape. After the roof collapsed on a rabbit show in Nyköping, Sweden, many of the rabbits—including British giants, dwarf hotots, Himalayans, and lionheads—mated amid the ruins. A young Floridian bald eagle was recovering after being struck by a golf ball. The Poultry Research Unit at Mississippi State University reported success in more efficiently heating the houses of broiler chickens. The Welsh planned to continue killing their badgers. Greek researchers tracked brown bears who rub against telephone poles and occasionally gnaw through them. Zoologists revealed the existence of an Amazonian leech with giant teeth, tiny genitalia, and a preference for living in people’s noses. Otolaryngologists placed gyroscopes in the mouths of dolphins and on the horns of bulls. Researchers discovered that horned-frog tadpoles scream in distress. “We have,” said the lead researcher, “definitely underestimated their abilities.”

British researchers were using bee hotels to train bees as bomb sniffers, and biomaterials scientists reported progress in their quest to produce bee silk. Beewolves use antibiotics. The southern cuckoo bumblebee was seen in Scotland for the first time in fifty years. Bumblebees have the fastest color vision of any animal, and sociable queen bees have bigger mushroom bodies in their brains than do solitary queens. Swarming decisions among large honeybees are determined by an oligarchy, and flocking decisions among pigeons are determined by prestige-weighted votes. Earthworms travel in herds. The medial prefrontal cortices of women who claim not to care about body image are activated by photos of unfamiliar fat women. Male fallow deer groan “honestly.” Mother birds warn unhatched chicks about the quality of their lives-to-be. Entomologists described the technique whereby masked birch caterpillars proclaim leaf ownership. British minorities who have many supportive relatives are likelier to fear death. Alzheimer’s sufferers who are made happy retain those feelings even after they no longer remember why they are happy.

Engineers found that lightning encourages the growth of mushrooms, physicists suspected a parity violation of the strong force, and geologists suggested that Earth’s magnetic poles were once at the equator. Lava lamps should work on Jupiter. Astronomers photographed an eclipse of the star Epsilon Aurigae, attributing the occultation to “a thin disc of opaque dust trailed by a massive and unseen companion.” An island claimed by both Bangladesh and India vanished into the ocean. China and Nepal agreed on the height of Mt. Everest. War was making Iraqi children shorter. People who feel powerful underestimate the time it will take them to complete a given task, and great apes understand that they sometimes make bad choices. Studies of humankind’s original states—in China, Egypt, the Indus Valley, Mesopotamia, and Peru—suggest that the emergence of bureaucracy catalyzed predatory imperial expansion. Archaeologists in Italy unearthed a 1,700-year-old, 1,000-pound lead coffin whose contents remain unknown.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Obama Derangement Syndrome And The Curse Of Interesting Times

I received this Huffington Post blog in my e-mail the other day, a friend of mine had forwarded it to me. Some of it might be a bit overstated, but I agree with it in all material respects. I’ve read similar ideas in more scholarly sources, but this one really hammers it home, in partisan style.

That’s the point, “partisan.” There are two sides to this argument, but they are so far removed from one another that the middle ground has disappeared altogether. You can skim the HuffPost blog, but please check my additional comments below:

Obama Will Triumph -- So Will America
By Frank Schaeffer

Before he'd served even one year President Obama lost the support
of the easily distracted left and engendered the white hot rage of
the hate-filled right. But some of us, from all walks of life and
ideological backgrounds -- including this white, straight, 57-year-
old, former religious right wing agitator, now progressive writer
and (given my background as the son of a famous evangelical leader)
this unlikely Obama supporter -- are sticking with our President.
Why?-- because he is succeeding.
We faithful Obama supporters still trust our initial impression of
him as a great, good and uniquely qualified man to lead us.

Obama's steady supporters will be proved right. Obama's critics
will be remembered as easily panicked and prematurely discouraged
at best and shriveled hate mongers at worst.

The Context of the Obama Presidency

Not since the days of the rise of fascism in Europe , the Second
World War and the Depression has any president faced more
adversity. Not since the Civil War has any president led a more
bitterly divided country. Not since the introduction of racial
integration has any president faced a more consistently short-
sighted and willfully ignorant opposition - from both the right
and left.

As the President's poll numbers have fallen so has his support from
some on the left that were hailing him as a Messiah not long ago;
all those lefty websites and commentators that were falling all
over themselves on behalf of our first black president during the
2008 election.

The left's lack of faith has become a self-fulfilling "prophecy"--
snipe at the President and then watch the poll numbers fall and
then pretend you didn't have anything to do with it!

Here is what Obama faced when he took office-- none of which was
his fault:

# An ideologically divided country to the point that America was
really two countries

# Two wars; one that was mishandled from the start, the other that
was unnecessary and immoral

# The worst economic crisis since the depression

# America 's standing in the world at the lowest point in history

# A country that had been misled into accepting the use of torture
of prisoners of war

# A health care system in free fall

# An educational system in free fall

# A global environmental crisis of history-altering proportions
(about which the Bush administration and the Republicans had done

# An impasse between culture warriors from the right and left

# A huge financial deficit inherited from the terminally
irresponsible Bush administration.

And those were only some of the problems sitting on the
President's desk!

"Help" from the Right?

What did the Republicans and the religious right, libertarians and
half-baked conspiracy theorists -- that is what the Republicans
were reduced to by the time Obama took office -- do to "help" our
new president (and our country) succeed? They claimed that he
wasn't a real American, didn't have an American birth certificate,
wasn't born here, was secretly a Muslim, was white-hating "racist",
was secretly a communist, was actually the Anti-Christ, (!) and was
a reincarnation of Hitler and wanted "death panels" to kill the

They not-so-subtly called for his assassination through the not-so-
subtle use of vile signs held at their rallies and even a bumper
sticker quoting Psalm 109:8. They organized "tea parties" to sound
off against imagined insults and all government in general and
gathered to howl at the moon. They were led by insurance industry
lobbyists and deranged (but well financed) "commentators" from
Glenn Beck to Rush Limbaugh.

The utterly discredited Roman Catholic bishops teamed up with the
utterly discredited evangelical leaders to denounce a president who
was trying to actually do something about the poor, the
environment, to diminish the number of abortions through
compassionate programs to help women and to care for the sick! And
in Congress the Republican leadership only knew one word: "No!"

In other words the reactionary white, rube, uneducated, crazy
American far right,combined with the educated but obtuse
neoconservative war mongers, religious right shills for big
business, libertarian Fed Reserve-hating gold bug, gun-loving
crazies, child-molesting acquiescent "bishops", frontier loons and
evangelical gay-hating flakes found one thing to briefly unite
them: their desire to stop an uppity black man from succeeding at
all costs!

"Help" from the Left?

What did the left do to help their newly elected president? Some of
them excoriated the President because they disagreed with the bad
choices he was being forced to make regarding a war in Afghanistan
that he'd inherited from the worst president in modern history!

Others stood up and bravely proclaimed that the President's
economic policies had "failed" before the President even instituted
them! Others said that since all gay rights battles had not been
fully won within virtually minutes of the President taking office,
they'd been "betrayed"! (Never mind that Obama's vocal support to
the gay community is stronger than any other president's has been.
Never mind that he signed a new hate crimes law!)

Those that had stood in transfixed legions weeping with beatific
emotion on election night turned into an angry mob saying how
"disappointed" they were that they'd not all immediately been
translated to heaven the moment Obama stepped into the White House!
Where was the "change"? Contrary to their expectations they were
still mere mortals!

And the legion of young new supporters was too busy texting to pay
attention for longer than a nanosecond. "Governing"?! What the hell
does that word, uh, like mean?"

The President's critics left and right all had one thing in common:
impatience laced with little-to-no sense of history (let alone
reality) thrown in for good measure. Then of course there were the
white, snide know-it-all commentators/talking heads who just
couldn't imagine that maybe, just maybe they weren't as smart as
they thought they were and certainly not as smart as their
president. He hadn't consulted them, had he? So he must be wrong!

The Obama critics' ideological ideas defined their idea of reality
rather than reality defining their ideas-say, about what is
possible in one year in office after the hand that the President
had been dealt by fate, or to be exact by the American idiot nation
that voted Bush into office. twice!

Meanwhile back in the reality-based community - in just 12 short
months -- President Obama:

#Continued to draw down the misbegotten war in Iraq
(But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Thoughtfully and decisively picked the best of several bad choices
regarding the war in Afghanistan
(But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Gave a major precedent-setting speech supporting gay rights
(But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Restored America 's image around the globe
(But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Banned torture of American prisoners
(But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Stopped the free fall of the American economy
(But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Put the USA squarely back in the bilateral international community
(But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Put the USA squarely into the middle of the international effort
to halt global warming
(But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Stood up for educational reform
(But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Won a Nobel peace prize
(But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Moved the trial of terrorists back into the American judicial
system of checks and balances
(But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Did what had to be done to start the slow, torturous and almost
impossible process of health care reform that 7 presidents had
failed to even begin
(But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Responded to hatred from the right and left with measured good
humor and patience
(But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Stopped the free fall of job losses
(But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Showed immense personal courage in the face of an armed and
dangerous far right opposition that included the sort of disgusting
people that show up at public meetings carrying loaded weapons and
carrying Timothy McVeigh-inspired signs about the "blood of
tyrants" needing to "water the tree of liberty".
(But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

#Showed that he could not only make the tough military choices but
explain and defend them brilliantly
(But that wasn't good enough for his critics)

Other than those "disappointing" accomplishments -- IN ONE YEAR --
President Obama "failed"! Other than that he didn't "live up to

Who actually has failed...

...are the Americans that can't see the beginning of a miracle of
national rebirth right under their jaded noses. Who failed are the
smart ass ideologues of the left and right who began rooting for
this President to fail so that they could be proved right in their
dire and morbid predictions. Who failed are the movers and shakers
behind our obscenely dumb news cycles that have turned "news" into
just more stupid entertainment for an entertainment-besotted
infantile country.

Here's the good news: President Obama is succeeding without the
help of his lefty "supporters" or hate-filled Republican detractors!

The Future Looks Good

After Obama has served two full terms, (and he will), after his
wisdom in moving deliberately and cautiously with great subtlety on
all fronts -- with a canny and calculating eye to the possible
succeeds, (it will), after the economy is booming and new industries
are burgeoning, (they will be), after the doomsayers are all proved
not just wrong but silly: let the record show that not all
Americans were panicked into thinking the sky was falling.

Just because we didn't get everything we wanted in the first short
and fraught year Obama was in office not all of us gave up. Some of
us stayed the course. And we will be proved right.


I forwarded this e-mail to my entire list, the first time that I have ever taken that action. I feel strongly that President Obama has not gotten a decent break from the American electorate. “Not a real American?” “Not a Christian?” “A far-left ideologue?” “No birth certificate?” Poh-leez, those are nightmares that some people really need to wake up from. He’s not perfect, I’m not on that team either, but he is clearly a decent man who is trying his best to perform well in a difficult job. And he's doing a pretty good job.

Here’s a response that I got after sending out the post:

I rally do not know what happened to that fun loving kid we all liked. Perhaps reading swill like this trite nonsense has turned you into a different person . It's a shame Freddy, but I think our friendship is ended and it has ended right now. I wish you well and perhaps one day you will open your eyes., Please drop me from your mailing list, as I have dropped you"

This was from a guy that I have known since I was fourteen or so. We re-connected on the Internet a few years ago and since then we have enjoyed a pleasant, mutually supportive relationship that included an agreement to disagree on political matters. Just the idea that someone would express such positive opinions about President Obama, and not pull any punches in condemning the rabid, let’s face it, rabid anti-Obama crowd, was enough to make him abandon his friend. I still love the guy, and I hope that at some point he settles down and we can go on with our friendship.

This is all interesting stuff, as in “the curse of living in interesting times.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Howard Tate - Ain't Nobody Home

Read along with the below post.

This one is Howard with a full wind in his sails, from the days when we were young, and everything was easy.

Get It While You Can- Howard Tate

A recent anonymous commentor hipped me to the fact that Howard is still alive and that he's working again. The album or two that he released in 1967-68 were real top-drawer stuff, but other people got the hits. This one was a hit by Janis Joplin. So Howard was kind of the male Evie Sands, the set-up man, Evie called herself the greatest demo singer of all time, even though her's and Howard's were full-blown releases.

Great song; great sentiment. And true

The Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra Rocks

Last week a student of mine invited me to go with him and his “uncle” to see a concert at Mahidol University (“mah-hee-don”), a relatively recently established place, the arts university of Thailand. I thought that it was to be a student presentation, but it turned out to be the very Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra itself. And they were very, very good.

Not that I am a connoisseur or anything, but I like classical music and I’ve heard a certain amount of it, good, bad and indifferent. I know a little bit about the composers, and the various periods of time. The orchestra numbered a little over fifty musicians all together, with a couple of Japanese women playing violin, a couple of Chinese in there somewhere, a couple of Farang sprinkled around, and the remainder being Thai men and women. The conductor on this occasion was a Polish dude, and I say dude advisedly, he was a thirty-seven year old guy with long, flowing hair that he flipped around artfully. He wore a black peasant shirt, maybe because the major piece was Beethoven’s Sixth, “Pastorale,” and his whole look was very Rasputin.

They played a couple of light things to warm up, and then moved into two piano concertos featuring a guest soloist. (One Beethoven, one Chopin.) The piano soloist was an impossibly short, scrawny, twelve-year-old Malaysian kid with hands the size of a Barbie doll’s. Man, was he good. He hit the Beethoven right over the fence, and it was a tough one, Beethoven was quite the show-off, he was, after all, the Jimi Hendrix/John Coltrane of his day. No sheet music either, all memorized. The Chopin piece was also very impressive, but I did get the impression a couple of times that his left hand wasn’t one hundred percent sure what his right hand was doing at that moment. I don’t know if the problem was his or mine, like I said, I’m no expert.

His name was Tongku Ahmed Isfan, you can catch him on You-Tube. His sister and his father were in attendance. His dad looked like a really nice guy, proud as punch.

The First Violinist was a Thai man, not overly young. (The Thai members of the orchestra were generally young, twenties maybe.) His habit was to sometimes check the line of his bow, the same way a pool player might check the line of his cue. I wondered if he really thought that it would suddenly go warped on him, probably it was a nervous habit. He should have been checking his bow-tie, which stood consistently at ten minutes to four o’clock.

My only complaint was the perfume. I’m pretty sure that it was the women in the orchestra, as soon as they came out on stage my nose went on high alert and I got my allergic throat tickle with dry coughing response. We were in the third row, center. I spent the rest of the concert with my handkerchief pressed against my nose and mouth. But one cannot expect the entire world to cooperate with one’s own requirements, so this is not a complaint, not exactly.

The “uncle,” by the way, turned out to be a very nice woman of a certain age. The vocabulary of family relationships can be tough to master. Maybe my student was trying to set me up, he brought a date along for himself. The “uncle” drove us part way, and afterward she took us to her brother’s Vietnamese restaurant.

I’d recommend the orchestra to anybody who likes this kind of thing. I’d recommend the restaurant too, everything was delicious and inexpensive, but I couldn’t tell you the name or exactly where it was. I do remember the “uncle’s” name, but I did not ask for her phone number. I just gave my card, that’s my smooth move. So far it has never come to anything, but one can dream.

American Music Awards

I saw part of the American Music Awards show last night, although there was no profit in it. Based on what I saw, my question is: why was Miley Cirus on my television?

Is this some kind of wonderful, Twenty-First-Century joke to which I am not privy? Or was there some kind of wonderful, Twenty-First-Century talent at work that I do not have the tools to understand? I was genuinely relieved to realize that all I had to do to make it stop was turn off the TV, and I silently thanked God that making it stop was so simple. It was pure, unalloyed torture.

I know that she isn't the worst thing masquerading as music these days, I probably don't even hear the worst of it. I live on the dark side of the moon, so to speak, so I miss a lot. Luckily, in many cases. But music is such a great gift, it is a terrible sin to abuse it so.

And people complain about little things like TSA groping! People, please, there are forces of true evil at work here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Come to Mubadala!

On my CNN Asia I am daily subjected to advertising that wants me to relocate my business in Mubadala. Where and what is Mubadala, I wondered.

It seems that Mubadala is the Mubadala Development Something-Or-Other, a state owned company in Abu Dabbi. If I can't spell Abu Dabbi properly, it's because I don't care at all about Abu Dabbi. And I have no desire to even visit a place where I could probably be arrested for eating a ham sandwich. I have even less desire, statistically approaching zero actually, to have sex for only "five chundred dollars" with Russian prostitutes who are little more than slaves.

The advertisements on Asian cable TV are truly annoying. They are mostly for luxury goods and services or investment advice. I am not in those markets, and the fact that the prevalent business model these days is to cater to the super-rich is the most truly annoying thing of all.

Mubadala, and the Twenty-First Century in general, are annoying.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Lawyer's Apology

America, please accept my humble apology for the behavior of the lawyers who are currently prosecuting foreclosure cases while knowing full well that the banks lack the paperwork to properly back up their claims.

It takes a lot of nerve to go to court and argue to a judge that what you have is really the equivalent of what the law says that you need, arguing that the judge should find that you've met your burden of proof, even though you haven't, and who needs that smelly old original note anyway? I'd hate to try it, and if I were the judge, I pity the fool who would try it with me.

I apologize as a lawyer in good standing (California). Someone else will need to come forward to apologize for the judges.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"Decision Points"

George "What? Me Worry?" Bush's book comes out next week. Good luck with that.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Thai "Caesar" Salad

Thailand is a great place. You can get your Caesar Salad with whatever kind of dressing you want! Tonight I had the choice of "Salad Cream" or "Thousand Island." The Salad Cream is so horrible that it was an easy choice.

This was a delivery-order from a place called "The Pizza Company." The pizza itself is kind of Domino's equivalent. The menu drafters know what they're talking about, but it doesn't always filter down to the actual food preparers.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Randy Newman - A Few Words in Defense of Our Country

I came across this one posted to the blog of my ex-friend and still beloved David E. It may have been David that hipped me to Rands in the first place, long ago and far away. Randy is great, and not just in that Pixar-soundtrack sense of great. I love him.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

R.I.P., Still, Leonard Ceeley

Just watching "A Day at the Races" here, with sixth or seventh billed Leonard Ceeley playing a crooked business adviser. (Marx Brothers, 1937) I looked him up on the IMDB.com, and the results were pretty thin.

He was born Leon Seeley out in England somewhere. Changing the spelling from the "S" to the "C" must be one for the books. He was in America by 1924, and he appeared in seven Broadway shows between then and 1934, plus an understudy turn in 1955. He was only in two other movies besides "Races," plus a TV show in 1950. He died in L.A. in 1977.

When I was a kid, I would "read" the dictionary, look up one word and find other words in the definition to look up. The internet is like that. I came across an Old School Hip-Hop jam by Leonard Seeley's Heritage, which can't be a coincidence, I mean can it? It's called "Feel It," from 1981, on Zoo York Recordz (sic), distributed by CBS.

By page seven on the Google the results were getting even thinner, but I did come across a letter written to Life Magazine in 1961 by Leonard Ceeley of Los Angeles. He comments on an interview with William Faulkner that had appeared in the magazine. He quotes Faulkner as saying things in the interview like "there ain't much to it . . ." and "like I say . . ." While allowing that Falkner might have actually said these things, he speculates that TV cigarette commercials may have "weakened the whole structure of good taste in literary expression." You figure it out.

By page ten I was finding stuff like the number of people in the UK who are named "Leonard Seely," which is three.

Leonard is pretty good in the movie. He got a lot of screen time and he had a good sense of physical comedy.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Joe Cocker "The Letter" in live 1970 (MAD DOGS & ENGLISHMEN)

This was a great act. I suppose that a debate about Joe Cocker's singing ability is possible, but about the band there is no doubt. They were a great outfit, one of the greatest.

Is Joe a great singer? I don't know. Could he sell a song? Yes. Could he carry an audience? Yes. On occasion, could he bring a tear to your eye? Yes. So I guess he had a license to sing.

Tight Rope / Leon Russell

One of my favorite non-singers, featured above and here on his own, the great Leon Russel, with one of his great songs, from one of his great albums.

I like a lot of non-singers. Chet Baker; Don Van Vliet; Eno; Jimi Hendrix. Enthusiasm and sincerity will take you far in the singing business.

Friday, October 29, 2010

God Hates Dr. Phil!

Watch for the signs. The “God Hates Fags” crowd will certainly turn against Dr. Phil after his recent appearance on “Anderson Cooper's 360.” The topic was the recent spate of young homosexuals committing suicide after various mockings and bullyings.

I do not generally associate Dr. Phil with the voice of reason, but on this occasion he was wonderfully clear, and unequivocal, and, well, downright courageous. Homosexuality is absolutely not a choice! The days when someone could make that assertion without being proven a fool are long gone. Home must always be a “soft spot to land,” and parents must love their children unconditionally, and upon discovering that a child is homosexual, a parent must make this unconditional love clear to them. If fate assigns to a child a homosexual identity, it is the duty of a parent to accept it with humility, as it is with other fates. Christianity that condemns homosexuality is not very Christian at all. Thus spake Dr. Phil.

I have long considered Dr. Phil to be a glad-handing faker of the Self-Improvement school of pop-psychology. I have little patience for this kind of glib time-wasting myself. So I found it very interesting to see Dr. Phil taking such a firm stand on the correct side of this issue, interesting and admirable. He chose not to play it safe and speak to his base.

It is possible that he felt safe because most of the Bible-thumpers never watch CNN. He has, however, risen in my eyes, and was never expected to do so.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No Sitting

The sign in the pictures says, "No Sitting"(hahm nang). But the area is full of well used looking seats. Does the sign mean, "don't sit on this shelf that already full of stuff?" I chose to err on the safe side, and remained standing to watch the nice video presentation.

This was a horticultural center dedicated to Thai herbal medicine, out in Rayong province. It was very nice.

What's Wrong With This Picture? What Happened To My Country?

I was raised in America in the Fifties and Sixties and believe me when I tell you that it was not a perfect place full of blessed people living together in peace and harmony. There were problems, and there was bullshit aplenty, and don't forget all of the injustice going on, and there were wars too, one pretty stupid and the other just a little less so. But . . .

There was a lot to it that was really, really wonderful, in retrospect.

Income inequality was rather low. The rich were certainly rich, and they were happy, but they paid their fair share of taxes. There was a large, healthy middle-class, fueled by labor unions, fair labor practices, and a sensible tax code. Other than the a fore alluded to problems, society was somewhat more civilized. Don't laugh! Professionals like accountants and lawyers knew that there were limits to unethical personal interest and acted accordingly. Students had fist fights, but did not shoot each other. Doctors generally acted responsibly and didn't worry about being sued. Politicians, many of whom I hated, restrained themselves both in their campaigns and in their corruption, and sometimes they actually cooperated with each other for the good of the country. National media responsibly reported the news, and I'm talking about all of the major TV outlets and thousands of honest newspapers. Privacy was important, and citizens could travel at will unimpaired, and communicate freely without fear of being overheard.

Let's not bring homosexuals into this limited discussion. They're situation was not great then, and it is not great now. I wish them luck.

The point is, problems were being addressed, and there was reason to believe that society was making progress, and that maybe our children, or our children's children, would reach the promise land.

But now! All of a sudden it is all uncivilized, all the time. Everyone is working harder, for less money, with fewer or no benefits, because of deregulation and the crushing of the unions. There's more money around, because of the huge leap in the productivity of workers over the last thirty years, but all of the benefit of it has gone to the top two percent of the rich because of a weird new tax code. No one's retirement is secure; no one's health care is secure. Professionals prostitute themselves to the rich in the hopes that some of the money will fall on them, and fall it does, and ethics be damned. News reporting is a joke, TV is full of time wasting rumor mongering and sensationalistic star stroking, the newspapers that remain are choking on their own bile, in their death throws, and the internet is a mixed blessing, where people can pick and chose among outlets that will tell them what they already believe to be true. Politicians avail themselves of any teat that presents itself, with no thought to the public welfare, and fight zero-sum battles with their opponents where there is no compromise and no thought to their constituents.

Raise the black flag! It's every man for himself.

The sad part for me arises from the fact that I teach American Legal Institutions, LW 420, at Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok, which covers American government, the court system, some of the features of the Common Law, with reference to some aspects of American society. I have to keep it relatively uncomplicated, my students have a limited command of English. So per force I teach the Disney version of America. I teach them how it's suppose to be, how we always hoped that it would be.

So I teach them that when America was founded, we modified the English laws to protect the have-nots from the haves. Explaining that these laws have recently been evolving to favor the haves over the have-nots is beyond the scope of my class. That's the way America is going, since the Reagan era. This is a blog, not a scholarly essay, and I don't have the time or the energy for details.

And I always describe Americans are generally tolerant and cooperative people, which I believe is true, although not, perhaps, to the extent that I describe. I think that Americans are generally a live-and-let-live kind of folks, but as I follow events these days I am forced to wonder where all of this hate comes from today, hatred of Liberals, who did so much to make us happy, hatred of homosexuals, who don't hurt anybody after all, hatred of progressives, as though returning to some pre-New-Deal Dickensian horrorshow would be a good thing, hatred of Democrats, who have, on balance, been closer to the real values of America since the World War I era, and performed better in office, hatred of Blacks, who have done so much to make America livable and never asked for much, hatred of immigrants, which in America is a weird kind of self-hatred, the list goes on. Irrational, teeth-gnashing hatred.

I don't allude to these things in my class, preferring to keep everything light. The America of my class is a wonderful thing, it is the America of my dreams. It just serves to remind me of what we are missing. Too bad, really. It would be a nice place to live in.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The House's Blessings

Those marks on the doors are Buddhist symbols for blessing the house. You hire a couple of monks, and they come to the house, make the markings, lead a little prayer meeting, eat some lunch, and collect their fee. It's one of the ways that the temples make money, and I think it's way better, and probably cheaper, than fortune telling.

Almost A Hundred In Rayong

This very nice old lady is ninety-six years old, and it was great to meet her. We had a couple of nice chats, which always surprises me, my Thai is not that good. She's virtually blind, she put her face about two inches from mine to see me, and she doesn't get around that good, but she's happy, and socially engaged. She's amazed to still be alive, she told me, "I'm almost a hundred!" like she could hardly believe it herself.

This was at the Rayong house, see below.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Nice Traditional Custom House In Rayong, Thailand

I stayed at this house over the weekend. It's the home of the cousin of a friend of mine, and he invited me along for the visit. The house is in Rayong, a little in from the gulf, on a nice, high spot that caught a lot of the breeze, so the temperatures were moderate with no need for air-con.

Land in the area goes for $45,000 for three acres. The house is all custom, they bought up sixteen old teak houses and had the wood reconditioned and used for this construction. The building cost between 200 and 250 thousand dollars. The family gets their money from a factory (near the house, it's an industrial/agricultural area), a big stand of rubber trees, and a couple of acres of tapioca.

It was a good time.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ray Bradbury Interview Raises Unpleasant Memories

I love those “Art of Fiction” interviews with authors that appear in the Paris Review. Some are chock full of great ideas about writing, really insightful stuff based on lifetimes of reading and writing, and some are fascinating mostly because the authors are delusional in some amusing way. They are almost never boring, though. This Ray Bradbury interview from earlier this year is one of the good ones.

I was very interested to find out that he shared my juvenile love of magazines, along with my inability to actually afford them, and that he also shared my solution to the problem, which was to steal them. But with a twist, as befits the great man. He claims that he carefully replaced them in the racks when he was done reading them. I suppose that it’s possible that he is telling the truth, however unlikely that seems. In my case it never occurred to me to put them back, and even if it had, my powers of risk-assessment would have led me to shit-can the idea immediately.

Over the years I filled my room with vast stacks of magazines and paper-backs, and I read them all, and cherished them. Most of them, but not all, had been shoplifted. I would purchase things on a regular basis at the places that I stole from, so that my appearance at the racks would be seen as a good thing, a normal occurrence with a business purpose. Sometimes I would buy and steal things in the same visit. I was pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. I was never caught.

Much later in my life, my mother suggested that my allowance while in high school had been twenty dollars a week or more, that being in addition to any money for going to school and having lunch. This was such a wild fiction that I had a good laugh about it at her expense. Twenty dollars was a fortune then, in those days of coins made from actual silver, when an entire large pizza cost about a dollar. Later on I wondered if perhaps she had gotten this notion while considering the value of the contents of my room at that time, and had rejected the obvious conclusion that her son was a thief. My real allowance at the time was rather low, and I spent most of it on records, which were much harder to steal. I had to save up a while to get the records.

All of this led me to a distressing memory. I left home for the Navy a couple of weeks before my nineteenth birthday, and my room was in its full flower when I left. My room was about fifteen by fifteen feet; my sister’s room was more like nine by twelve feet. Nothing was ever said about changing anything. When I returned from boot camp ten weeks later, our rooms had been switched, which was as it should be, it was only fair to my sister, the big room was much nicer. But all of my stuff was gone. Only the records survived the holocaust. Not only the magazines and paperbacks were gone, ill gotten or otherwise, but also the comic books, and things like my baseball gloves and stamp collections, even my bicycle was gone from the garage. Without a word, and it was never to be discussed in any way.

How they must hate me, I thought, how relieved they must be that I am gone.

The laugh was on them, though, because the Navy saw fit to honorably discharge me after only six months, having realized that I lacked military potential. It was like Catch 22 in reverse: I wasn’t trying to get out, so they discharged me. It was an amicable split, my service was categorized as honorable and appreciated. Back at home, I got my old room back, no discussion of that either. I had given up shoplifting by this time.

It is unfortunate that these things retain their ability to hurt over time. After all, it was eight presidents ago, and four or five popes, and that’s a lot of world’s fairs and rodeos under the bridge. I don’t dwell on the past, honestly! but the Bradbury interview reminded me.

Oh, and Bradbury had a lot of interesting things to say about education and writing too, I enjoyed the interview very much. He probably did return those magazines, he sounds like a really nice guy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Glenn Beck, Assisted

Mr. Beck did something annoying recently . . . alert the media! In a gratuitous attack on the entire concept of evolution, he sealed his argument with the statement that he had never seen a "half man, half monkey."

Here's one true thing that I, in my limited wisdom, can tell you for sure: humans did not evolve from monkeys. There is no genius in this assertion, because it is a simple fact, obvious to educated people and ignoramuses alike, that humans and monkeys currently inhabit the earth.

Humans and monkeys, and apes, all modern animals with lots of shared DNA, evolved from a common group of ancestors that are described as "lemur like creatures," something like umpteen million years ago. In the fullness of time, we became us, and the monkeys became monkeys, and I suppose the modern lemurs became themselves.

I am happy to be of service.

Udorn Hotel Experience: The President

I stayed at the Hotel President out in Udorn, and I'd recommend it to anybody. A very new place, with nice carpet and beautiful tile jobs everywhere, tasteful appointments, a fabulous free breakfast (with an egg station!), good cable TV, a shower almost as good as the one in my (rented) condo (which is the single best shower in Thailand), free pick-up and delivery to and from the airport, and more than adequate beds and pillows. That is was clean goes without saying. I have never wanted for cleanliness in any hotel that I've stayed at in Thailand, no matter how cheap, and I've gone down to six bucks. The President was twenty-eight dollars, regular price anyway, I got a discount, the price for prof's of my university was twenty-one.

I always say that in Thailand, everything is a party. Work; funerals; classes; shopping; cooking; actual parties; it's all party-time, all the time. This is usually a good thing, usually. On Sunday, I took a slow day which included a nap in the afternoon, and during my nap the staff made up the neighboring room. The party thing was in full force.

I have never heard such heavy foot-falls outside of a Godzilla movie, and they went on for the entire half-hour duration of the room cleaning. So did the loud clinking of bottles and/or glasses. A part of room cleaning is replacing the two, free bottles of water in the mini-bar, and the various glasses in the room, but constant clinking for a half-hour seemed like too much. They seemed to be moving around all of the room furniture, with lots of banging and dragging going on. Then there was the shouted conversation, with much laughter, at loud volume, seemingly at long distance, as though the speakers were cleaning different rooms at the time.

And mysteriously, a frequent sound as though heavy, uninsulated wire were being pulled through conduit. I have no idea what that was.

In general, though, the President was an excellent hotel experience, in every way. I'd recommend it to anybody.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Recent Trip To Udorn

If you ever get out to Udorn Thani, in Eastern Thailand, of a morning you should tell the tuk-tuk driver to take you to the King Restaurant, or maybe it's the King Ocha. It's a Vietnamese place, for some reason there are lots of Vietnamese in Udorn. It's great.

I was there to teach a class, and as usual, my students made me feel welcome. On my free day, two of them took me and another prof up to a World Heritage Site about forty miles away, Ban Chiang, where the locals started smelting copper four or five thousand years ago. Nice to know that the people in the area have always been on the friendly side, all of the evidence shows very little, if any weapons production, at these Thai sites it was all tools and ornaments.

The proscriptions at the museum were just amazing. "No smoking," of course, and "no touching," "no food or drink," those can be seen anywhere. "No bags," okay, and "no photo," we're still on familiar ground. Then came, "no firearms or explosives," and "no cooking," as though "no food or drink" were insufficient, and then came, "no fire making," which I think was gilding the lily a little bit. And "no writing or drawing," with a little hand holding a pencil hovering over a notebook on the sign. That one I'd never seen before, and I've visited a lot of museums in my time.

It's a nice place, Udorn. Lots of Farang "son-in-laws." A good hospital or two. Good, cheap restaurants, low rents. I like it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Religion, Tested

This quiz has made the rounds, it's from the Pew something-or-other. This text is copied from a Nicholas Kristoff opinion in the New York Times. It's fun stuff.

1. Which holy book stipulates that a girl who does not bleed on her wedding night should be stoned to death?
a. Koran
b. Old Testament
c. (Hindu) Upanishads

2. Which holy text declares: “Let there be no compulsion in religion”?
a. Koran
b. Gospel of Matthew
c. Letter of Paul to the Romans

3. The terrorists who pioneered the suicide vest in modern times, and the use of women in terror attacks, were affiliated with which major religion?
a. Islam
b. Christianity
c. Hinduism

4. "Every child is touched by the devil as soon as he is born and this contact makes him cry. Excepted are Mary and her Son.” This verse is from:
a. Letters of Paul to the Corinthians
b. The Book of Revelation
c. An Islamic hadith, or religious tale

5. Which holy text is sympathetic to slavery?
a. Old Testament
b. New Testament
c. Koran

6. In the New Testament, Jesus’ views of homosexuality are:
a. strongly condemnatory
b. forgiving
c. never mentioned

7. Which holy text urges responding to evil with kindness, saying: “repel the evil deed with one which is better.”
a. Gospel of Luke
b. Book of Isaiah
c. Koran

8. Which religious figure preaches tolerance by suggesting that God looks after all peoples and leads them all to their promised lands?
a. Muhammad
b. Amos
c. Jesus

9. Which of these religious leaders was a polygamist?
a. Jacob
b. King David
c. Muhammad

10. What characterizes Muhammad’s behavior toward the Jews of his time?
a. He killed them.
b. He married one.
c. He praised them as a chosen people.

11. Which holy scripture urges that the "little ones" of the enemy be dashed against the stones?
a. Book of Psalms
b. Koran
c. Leviticus

12. Which holy scripture suggests beating wives who misbehave?
a. Koran
b. Letters of Paul to the Corinthians
c. Book of Judges

13. Which religious leader is quoted as commanding women to be silent during services?
a. The first Dalai Lama
b. St. Paul
c. Muhammad

1. b. Deuteronomy 22:21.
2. a. Koran, 2:256. But other sections of the Koran do describe coercion.
3. c. Most early suicide bombings were by Tamil Hindus (some secular) in Sri Lanka and India.
4. c. Hadith. Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet to be revered.
5. All of the above.
6. c. Other parts of the New and Old Testaments object to homosexuality, but there’s no indication of Jesus’ views.
7. c. Koran, 41:34. Jesus says much the same thing in different words.
8. b. Amos 9:7
9. all of them
10. all of these. Muhammad’s Jewish wife was seized in battle, which undermines the spirit of the gesture. By some accounts he had a second Jewish wife as well.
11. a. Psalm 137
12. a. Koran 4:34
13. b. St. Paul, both in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, but many scholars believe that neither section was actually written by Paul.

The world of revealed scripture is full of surprises, most of them disagreeable.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Junior Brown - Sugar Foot Rag

Hendrix with a hat! And no, I ain't drunk, posting all this music. I'm just having some fun, and can't keep from sharing! It's all about the love, my faithful double-dozen.

I love Junior Brown. It might be the "Sugar Foot Rag," but he can't help dropping in lots of Jimi Hendrix quotes. He can't help it! He'd stop if he could! It's the fun thing, some of these guys are just having so much fun that they can't help themselves. Jeff Beck was, maybe still is, like that. Back when, he'd go into a solo and go so far off the material that the band would get lost and just stop, he'd be playing the Theme From Deliverance or something. I love the fun thing.

Jimmy Bryant - Sugar Foot Rag

Pardon me for sharing, but this guy should be much more famous. Not colorful enough, I guess.

Of all things, I worked with his (last of several) wife in a Los Angeles law office. He was dead already at the time. We, she and I, went to see Les Paul in a club one time, and Les greeted her from a distance, "hey! Mrs. Bryant! How ya doing!" They had a nice chat, this was about 1992.

You want speed and clarity! I got your speed and clarity! And he was doing it drunk too, just so you feel even worse about being so showed up.

The Damned New Rose

Kind of commercial for these guys, they usually hung out further back from the Goldilocks zone (produced by Nick Lowe, I'm pretty sure).

Can we all agree? Greatest band name: The Damned. Greatest album name: Damned, Damned, Damned.

The Suicide Machines - What I Like About You

For me, it's all about the cover versions. Is it a great song? What happens when somebody else does it. Is it a great band? What happens when they cover a song that's been done to death already. The truth lies in the cover versions.

I love this tune by the what's-their-names, but this version really kills!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Party Dancing In Pitsanalok, Thailand

This was after a while, when everybody was a little lit. At about the half way mark, a lady enters the dance area and indicates to her husband that I'm taking video. They're a nice couple, very country, neighbors of my teacher buddy, the guy in whose honor the retirement party was being thrown.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Robert Gordon with Link Wray -Way I Walk

See Cramps cut below, but I like this one too, and it boosts the Seventies-as-fun argument.

Cramps at Napa Mental Hospital

The Sixties get all the play, but you can have it all. The Seventies were a lot more fun.

The English Are Not Like You And Me

I met an Englishman on a visit to a temple fair in Pitsanalok, Thailand a couple of weeks ago. He wasn’t shy, and he got right down to the business of explaining to me in detail why so many people around the world don’t like the English. That was not his intention, to be sure, but the effect was the same.

He lives, he told me, “much of the year” in Thailand, while spending “most of his time traveling” around Asia and the world. His trophy girlfriend was nearby, she was about twenty-five or thirty years younger than his fifty-five or so. I never actually met her, she never said anything, she was standing by awaiting instructions or something. He has a “big house” in Pai, in the province of Mae Hong Son, which is very nice, and a “new” Toyota Camry Hybrid, which, he explained, was “quite expensive here.” Then he got to the meat of his argument.

He had stopped bothering to speak with Thais, he explained, because “they have nothing at all to say.” They are very backward, he went on, there’s no real manufacturing here, they can’t do anything but grow rice and pick fruit, so “they have nothing on their minds.” He maintained that his Thai language was “quite good,” although I never heard him use it. I told him that I found Thais to be delightful, resourceful people, and very interesting, which he allowed was probably due to the fact that I was working with them, and so we had more in common. The comment was intended sarcastically.

He cast aspersions on Thai politics, and I responded that I stay judiciously away from those discussions. I allowed that I would occasionally complain about my own country if the situation called for it. That really struck a chord.

“Never run down your country in front of them!” He almost shouted it. He was no fan of America, he was speaking generally. Thais, he felt, were all certain that Thailand was a lousy place and were equally certain that any developed country was much, much better. He reasoned that if one complained about one’s own, developed country, Thais would get the idea that the developed country was a dump too, and that it carried a status that was very close to Thailand’s. According to his logic, this would allow the Thai to believe that he was as good as you, which the Englishman obviously felt would be a fate worse than death.

“They’re all very status conscious, you know.” Yes, I thought, much like the English. This fellow had just spent a large part of the first five minutes of our conversation establishing his status as higher than mine, with the house, the car, and the traveling all over the world.

But he seemed so insecure in this status, didn’t he? Maybe he’d started out as a working class lad back in some ancient industrial backwater of Great Britain. Maybe his family was Irish. What secret was tormenting his soul, if indeed he has one? Was he struggling desperately to escape his low-status origins?

Probably not. England is a status conscious country, it’s important to those people, in all situations, to find out who is better than whom. The moment an Englishman opens his mouth, other Englishmen peg him immediately by his accent. Upper-class Englishmen are very anxious to do this, it’s like performing a service to society, it’s like they consider it a form of noblesse oblige.

An upper-class Englishman, or, these days, a merely rich Englishman (I’m not sure what category my temple friend was in), looks down not only on most of his own countrymen, but also, with all available distain, on all of the other peoples of the world. “The wogs begin at Calais.” Many Thais have noticed that Englishmen look down on them, treat them like simpletons. Thai women have told me: I like American men . . . English men look down me, talk bad me. Bangkok taxi drivers have told me: America very good . . . English people not polite. I smile and commiserate, the English look down on me all the time, like this guy in question, and always have, on the simple basis that I am an American, a Colonial, and an Irish-American at that.

To paraphrase: Americans are friendly, but often not polite; the English are polite, but generally not friendly.

So this Englishman at the temple annoyed me, so what? He wasn’t the first. In groups they are even worse, they’re liable to start talking about you like you weren’t even there. That’s surreal, when that happens.

You know, my name is English, the “Ceely” bit. The man who brought it to America was Robert Ceely, no middle initial, “just Bob Ceely,” born in London in about 1845. This Robert Ceely married an Irish girl in New York, Mary Desmond, and had a couple of children, including my grandfather, Robert Emmet Ceely, named after the Irish patriot as a concession to her having married an Englishman. Mary died young, probably in childbirth, which was something of a local custom in New York at the time.

My mother’s entire lineage, almost to a person, was Irish. I notice that my Irish relatives always expressed a love of Ireland and celebrated Irish things. Even after 100 years, if they became prosperous, they’d try to swing a vacation in Ireland. The Ceelys? I don’t recall any one of them ever mentioning England in a positive way or going back for the simple purpose of seeing it again. It was more like, good riddance. This anti-English fetish of mine could be a race-memory.

Americans are a mongrel race, thank God. This might be the genesis of the distaste that the Old-World upper-crust has for us. The English are bad; the rest of them aren’t much better. I’m as mongrel as anybody, notwithstanding my English name and the preponderance of Irish in my blood. Americans are not a breed, like being English, or Austrian, or Japanese. One of my grandmothers was born in New York of parents who were both born in Germany. Even my mother’s family included one person foreign to Ireland, a Swiss man. If your family has been in America longer than mine, your blood is probably more mixed by the experience. So perhaps by the old rules we are all low-society by definition. Being happy, though, is the best revenge, and this stuck-up prig of an Englishman that so annoyed me at the temple was anything but happy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Definition Of Marriage

"Marriage is a union between a man and a woman with the aim of procreation." That's the way I learned it at law school, twenty years ago.

People bitching and moaning about gay marriage leave out the last part, the procreation part, which is a problem they don't even know that they have. The financial benefits accruing to marriage exist to assist families with children. So the procreation part is important.

Why should we let homosexuals get married? I mean, beyond the simple fact that it makes sense and seems fair? If they want families, which many of them do, that's another great reason to let them get married.

And if you are a social reactionary who is against homosexual marriage, according to the above definition, shouldn't you also be against people over the age of procreation getting married? Why should two sixty-somethings get married and get the societal perks? Or is companionship, or love, enough for them but not for homosexuals?

If some people would forget about what manipulative so-called social conservatives and self-serving values politicians are shouting in their ears, and think for themselves, this wouldn't even be an issue.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lucio Battisti - Ma è un Canto Brasileiro

Driving through the fog on San Vicente in Santa Monica, with the headlights behind the Brazilian Pepper Trees, partaking of the sacrament, listening to this on a cassette on the Alpine, I was pretty sure that I had arrived, but little did I know, I was only half-way to nowhere.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Party Girls, Teacher's Retirement Party, Pitsanalok, Thailand

This was a nice party for a friend of mine, a grade school art teacher out in the woods in Pitsanalok. The band was these two girls and the keyboard player seen here, plus another guy singer.

The food was good too, and it was a drinking crowd, there was a bottle of Hong Thong Thai whiskey on every table, with more to back that up. (I can't drink the stuff, it's made from rice, very sweet. Luckily, I B'd my own B.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I Love The Smell Of Spam In The Morning

Evidently, the videos connected with YouTube generate spam comments. Interesting.

Long Boat Race In Pitsanalok, Thailand

Unless you have experienced it, you have no idea how LOUD Thailand is. The announcers in this video will give you some idea. In the malls; markets; the ubiquitous festivals; schools; parties; loud, loud, loud. It's no surprise at all that hearing loss is epidemic in Thailand. It's like living in the first row of a Who concert.

The teams in these races represent provinces in the big Central Valley of Thailand: Singburi; Sakon Nakorn; Sukothai; Pichit; Pitsanalok (the host). Different regions have their own meets. I saw coverage of the Isan meet in Sisaket on the TV news.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Another Honda Dash In Bangkok

Mine was red, but this one is just like it. I've probably seen them before without knowing it, they look a lot like the later, four-stroke model Honda Nova (technically, the Dash is a "Nova Dash.")

It's a 100 cc, water-cooled two-stroke, with a six speed close-ratio gearbox.

Notice the nice, after-market rear-set pegs with the extended shifter pedal. The narrow gauge tires are a hipster add-on in Thailand, they lower the whole thing. Believe me when I tell you, this little bike, which you could pick up and throw into the back of your car with little trouble, is fast, fast, fast. Up to about sixty MPH, that is, but till then you're keeping up with almost anything.

The Old Man Store

It's in a neighborhood mall on the southern fringe of Bangkok. I have no idea why they named it "Old Man." It's more of a cowboy clothes place, great selection of bandannas, which are important accessories (i.e., sweat mops)in this tropical paradise.

The owner is a nice woman who speaks English very well. After a while I found out that her husband runs the guitar store two spaces down, where I had just passed a good time talking to him (his English was almost as good as hers).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Please Consider The Monk

The second post down is dear to my heart. It's bloody poignant is what it is, and I'd certainly appreciate it if you would be so kind as to read it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Top Fifteen Albums You Can List In A Hurry

Someone on Facebook asked for lists of fifteen albums that came right off the top of our heads, no excess thinking or planning. Not like a “desert island” list, but albums that were important, or indispensable, or some such thing. So here goes:

“Exile on Main Street,” The Rolling Stones;

“Girls Talk,” Dave Edmonds;

“London Calling,” The Clash;

“So What?” Miles Davis;

“The Sound of Music By . . .” Pizzicato 5 (technically a CD);

“16 All Time Greatest Hits,” Bo Diddley;

“There’s a Riot Going On,” Sly and the Family Stone;

“Blond on Blond,” Bob Dylan;

“Pet Sounds,” The Beach Boys;

“Flow Motion,” Can;

“Here Come the Warm Jets,” Eno;

“White Light/White Heat,” The Velvet Underground;

“After the Gold Rush,” Neil Young;

“Eli and the Thirteenth Confession,” Laura Nyro; and

“For Your Pleasure,” Roxy Music.

I consider all of these albums, vinyl except for the P5 CD, to have been musically important, very ambitious, and artistically successful upon their release. (No offense meant to Beatles fans, but your discomfort is noted in advance! There should probably be more jazz too. But this is only me, no cosmic truth implied.)

The Old Monk At Wat Yo Tin On The Cha Prayao River In Bangkok

I went today with a couple of friends to visit an old monk in difficult straights. He’s eighty-one-years-old, but he looks a hundred. He broke a hip about a year ago, but did not obtain proper care, or a replacement, because he was considered too old. Considered thusly by whom, I do not know (could be the order, an insurance company, the government authority, a hospital, who knows?). One way or the other, the poor geezer is in constant pain.

Somehow, my friends became aware of this guy, and they have kind of adopted him. He can’t make the alms rounds, can’t get around at all, and has no money, and neither his fellows, his temple, nor his order seem inclined to offer much help, so the poor dude was actually hungry and miserable. He’s skin and bones, and he’s in despair, as it turns out.

I’d never seen a monk’s cell before, and it’s pretty interesting. Half of the small space is taken up by an alter, with a lot of bronze figures of the Buddha, some of old monks, a few candlesticks covered in melted wax, some devotional basins of various sizes, and a plate of offerings that looks like it is replenished on a regular basis (a tray with small plates of rice, pieces of fruit and what looks like kimchee, plus a small glass of water). There’s a mat against one wall that has an unspeakable cover on it and a few small, unspeakable pillows. Against the wall with the door is a unit with shelves and drawers, which has some ancient books on it, and a antique, non-functioning TV. Next to the mat is a low shelf with prayer accoutrement and a small radio that has always been on when we got there (this was my second trip). Talk radio. There’s a fan aimed at the mat, that’s always been on too.

My friends stop by a couple of times a week with some food and personal items. Some relatively non-perishable items, plus a hot, take-out lunch, a package of candles and some incense sticks in case he wants to fire up his alter. The routine goes like this: we enter the ground floor of a building, where there is a narrow hall along the front wall and three doors on the opposite wall; we kick off our shoes and someone knocks on the monk’s door and then pokes her head in; we are invited in, and he pulls himself to a seated posture and makes himself decent (he’s been lying stripped to the waist, so he puts on more of a typical robe set up); we kneel facing the mat; he blesses the new candles, and one of my friend lights a few while the monk is dressing; there’s some conversation (he never addresses me, but I can hear that he asks questions about me and seems to tolerate my presence well); the monk leads us in some prayers; the monk accepts our gifts, which are placed on the corner of a blessed cloth and pushed forward by all of us simultaneously while he holds the cloth; the monk takes up his prayer screen and holds it in front of his face while he pronounces some blessings over us. Finally, there is some more serious conversation between the monk and the more adventurous of my friends. She’s a straight talker, suffering herself (breast cancer), and they have five minutes of a heart to heart. Then we go.

In the heart to heart today the monk told my friend that he was probably going to kill himself, so she shouldn’t be too surprised and don’t worry about it. Very matter-of-fact. This raised no eyebrows, upon the revelation or thereafter.

That’s life, I suppose.