Saturday, January 30, 2010

Guilt And Shame In Southeast Asia

There are things that I feel guilty about, in fact it’s getting to be an impressive list, I’ve had so long to work on it. And shame, well, I’m no stranger to shame either. I have done things that I am embarrassed about, things that no man should ever do, like learn to sing the entire theme song to “Friends,” that was last year.

I read a book long ago that compared guilt and shame, European style guilt v. Asian style shame, guilt culture v. shame culture. It was very illuminating, I wish I could give you the title. One of the main examples was a comparison of the behavior of Germany to the behavior of Japan after World War II. Germany accepted guilt for the acts committed on her behalf, apologized, made reparations, and took steps to insure that it would not happen again, such as including the real facts in its education curricula. Japan, on the contrary, did nothing, preferring to act as though nothing had happened, and if it had happened, it was someone else’s fault, and Japan was just one of the victims.

In the guilt culture of Germany, acceptance, acknowledgement, and atonement equaled expiation; in the shame culture of Japan, even accepting that anything untoward had happened would lead to shame, for entire families, and shame is forever, so take this stony silence and like it, all you dead Chinese, all you sword-practice-dummies, all you casually murdered Filipinos, all you Korean kidnapped sex-slaves, all of y’all go take a walk!

We still remember what the Germans and the Japanese did in the Thirties and Forties, but we give the Germans some credit for sharing our horror of it and dealing with it, dealing with reality. The West is more disposed to accept reality and deal with it; Asia, not so much.

I witnessed a motorcycle accident yesterday in my Bangkok neighborhood. I was walking along the main drag, in the direction of the traffic, when I heard something behind me and was suddenly being passed by pieces of motorcycle sliding down the road. I turned back to look, and there was this guy struggling to his feet near the downed motorcycle, pointing down the road, no doubt indicating the car that had clipped him. He looked like he was trying to will it to stop, and he made some attempts to induce other drivers to chase after them. Pretty soon it was too late for that and they were safely gone.

I don’t know how this accident fits into the above discussion, but I have a feeling that it does somehow. Probably a money thing, more than anything else, if the guy stops maybe he’ll be on the hook for some money. Car insurance is mandatory here, but like everything that has been mandated in the Thai legislature, enforcement is spotty. No, the errant driver just split, not having been caught equaled no shame, and a penny saved is a penny earned, so it turned out to be a good day!

Asia is a different world, and there is more at work here than a little savings of money and the avoidance of taking responsibility. The borders of right and wrong are also stretched in this milieu.

Like cheating on tests. I have taught at every level in Thailand, literally from Kindergarten to graduate school, and I have never encountered any reticence to cheat on tests. Grammar school students are shameless, they will copy entire tests from their equally ignorant neighbor, in fact, clusters of five or six of them will hand in identical tests with identical, hysterically wrong answers. They don’t find anything wrong with the behavior. High schoolers either, except that there they may be clever enough to change a word here and there, more experienced at cheating, no doubt.

What could be wrong with cheating on a test? No one got hurt, and I was just helping myself, where’s the harm?

I didn’t do much cheating in high school, and none at all in grammar school or in higher education. Once, in sophomore year of high school, I was in with a group who got the World History test in advance. The teacher was the coach of the basketball team, and one of the team members had stolen a copy, a good friend of mine was on the team. So the group of us all got like ninety five percent on the test, and it was a tough test too. We never got caught, but even so I felt pretty guilty about it. Well beyond any fear of being caught.

Maybe something like an injury hit-and-run accident, or war crimes, is wrong, but bringing the shame of it back home to the family is more wrong. What about the cheating? I’m pretty sure that’s not considered wrong at all. Same goes for plagiarizing graduate papers, “everybody does it!”

I don’t even understand my own culture, so I guess it’s safe to say that Asia will always be a mystery to me.

Mr. Fred's Poetry Corner: Somewhere In Heaven

A little light verse for your enjoyment! No extra charge!

Somewhere in Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Thai Muslims

Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, but there are lots of Muslims too. The largest numbers are in the old peninsula trading centers, Phuket island, Songkla, Nakorn Si Tammarat, the south; there's a large Muslim community in BKK, and my neighborhood is the main location. But there are Muslims all over Thailand.

These two friends of mine in the pictures are Muslim. Khun Anchuda illustrates an interesting point: not all Thai Muslim women dress the same. There's a wide range of dress, from standard modern, like Anchuda, through head-scarf to completely veiled. Men, too. Ajan (Prof) Apichai is typical, nothing in his dress identifies him as a Muslim, but some guys wear the beards, and little hats, and man-dresses.

It was interesting to me that in both cases, other Thai's were quick to tell me with a smile, he (she) is Muslim! If there's any discrimination, I don't see it.

In the deep south, adjacent to Malaysia, there's some political violence, and the disgruntled population is Muslim, but it's not a Muslim problem. They speak Malay and are culturally Malay, the area was part of Malaysia until about a hundred years ago. There's very high unemployment among the Malay speaking population. That's the source of the problems.

Thai's are pretty level headed about religion. If you're a good person, and play the smile game, it's all good.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Is It Is, Or Is It Ain't Spam?

I'm getting comments like, "I enjoy reading about this subject. I like your blog style. I want to read more." Sometimes there is a link, so that's spam for sure; sometimes there's no apparent link, so I'm left wondering.

Are these generalized expressions of interest spam?

Whatever. I've been a little pre-occupied for a few days, but I'll be back in the entertaining you business tomorrow or the next day.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Welcome, And Good Luck

I've noticed lots of visitors these days, and thanks for that. May I suggest that you page back a little bit to "older posts," there's some interesting stuff there, at least I think it's interesting.

And isn't that what blogging is all about? Things that are interesting to me?

On that subject, your comments are always interesting to me, so you may be sure that you have an appreciative reader of your two cents, kindly offered.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Corporate Persons Win Big

I'd like to write something pungent and/or helpful in light of today's Supreme Court endorsement of unlimited corporate money in American elections, but I don't have the heart.

Money, which has always talked, will now talk in the billions, and more than bullshit will be walking. The curse of even more interesting times. Good luck with that.

The only winners will be the companies that produce political attack ads. Business opportunity alert!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Boomer Nostalgia: The Neighbor’s Barbeque

My neighbor in College Point had a back yard with one enormous tree; about thirty percent of the open space was devoted to his well-manicured roses. He loved to barbeque too, he was a fireman, and it is well documented that many men become firemen because they are very fond of fire.

There was a nice little collection of home-made Adirondack chairs, and a home-made Knock Hockey set up too, for us boys. Watching him start the barbeque was a thrill, and anyone who once witnessed the ceremony will never forget it. He would make a big pyramid of coals in a standard metal barbeque and douse it with a huge volume of ordinary gasoline. He would then warn everyone to keep a “safe” distance, he did this in the theatrical style of a stage illusionist. Once he had everyone’s attention, he would take three or four stick matches, strike them, and throw them about five feet into the barbeque, all in one graceful motion. The resulting ignition sounded like a space shuttle lift off and created a column of fire about ten feet tall.

I am not aware of any injuries that may have resulted from these displays, although the environmental impact must have been considerable. Those were simpler times!

My New Favorite Sentence Of My Own

“Anyone who achieves a certain age becomes the archivist of their own lives, but rarely have the artifacts appeared so archaic to young people.”

Good Old Analog Me

Here’s to the old analog world! The hand-written and mechanically reproduced world that existed before computerized digitization.

It was a simpler time, and it was my time for a long time. In my grammar school, we all had our fountain pens in our shirt pockets, and Handwriting was a full subject. An early job of mine was “Accounting Clerk B” at Random House in Manhattan. We did the cost accounting for the book runs, invoices would come in and we would make hand-written entries in the permanent records, with those fountain pens again, running the new totals on electro-mechanical adding machines. It all seems very Dickens now.

I made similar entries on things called “Cardex” systems, tracking parts inventories in factories, or the contents of a warehouse.

Does anyone else fondly remember the old library “Card Catalogs?” Vast collections of wooden drawers containing typed cards for all of the books in the library, with multiple cards for each book alphabetized by author, title, and subject. I loved browsing through these monuments to librarians’ dedication. I still think of them as the height of analog technology. Not only lovable, but easy to use and very practical. Many times, you are not quite sure of what you are looking for in a library, and in a card catalog you could go to that area and just look around. This is much harder to do in modern, computerized library systems, if it can be done at all.

My own personal property is still predominantly analog. Sure, I have CD’s, but not in numbers anything like my vinyl LP records, plus the 45’s. Lots of old magazines and comics, photographs with negatives and color slides. Cassette tapes, even though they are mostly so degraded now that they don’t play right anymore. I no longer have a reel to reel tape recorder, but I still have some of the old tape reels. Anyone who achieves a certain age becomes the archivist of their own lives, but rarely have the artifacts appeared so archaic to young people.

At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, digital is the Anti-Christ! I don’t wish to debate the sound quality of LP’s v. CD’s, and I kind of like the convenience of digital cameras, but digital has qualities that threaten creativity and copyright. If you released a mechanically reproduced music product, it was almost impossible to modify it in the future, you were married to the released version. Digital music can be so easily revisited that you can release re-mixes on a monthly basis if you want to. Which one is the “real” version? Photographs can no longer be trusted, they can be limitlessly manipulated and each version is totally believable. Even books now cannot be trusted for authenticity. Hemmingway? Through what filter? Classic movies? Where are the cigarettes? I seem to remember a lot of smoking. I am certain that within twenty years the number one box office heart throb will be Steve McQueen. Staring, maybe, in an “Avatar” sequel, why not? Or “Bullit II,” now in 3D! Late Sixties San Francisco, in all of it’s digital glory.

Oh, that really was curmudgeonly. It sounds like that old Saturday Night Live bit, with the old guy going on and on. I don’t really object to the progress involved, you can’t fight progress and modernity. I just think that there are ethical problems involved that are not being sufficiently addressed.

Thailand Cable TV: Russian TV

Hotels in the touristy areas feature cable channels in languages that many of their guests have in common. So you’ll find lots of Korean and Japanese channels, English of course (CNN, BBC, movies, TV series), I’ve seen Dutch TV (in Rayong), occasionally German, and last month I came across Russian TV (in Kanchanaburi).

The Russian TV was a mostly English language cable channel originating in Russia somewhere, Moscow I think. Many of the presenters were native English speakers, but the level of English ability of the on-the-scene correspondents was very high, great accents almost all the way around.

Much of it was Johnny-One-Note: the news cycle that day was a fire in a nightclub in Perm that killed about a hundred people. (Stage fireworks, the usual.) There were other subjects, though, and a lot of it was about America. The articles and shows about American government or foreign policy were a little bit on the skeptical side, worried about American hegemonistic practices, with a lot of world-weary oh, been there, done that, thrown in, particularly regarding Afghanistan. It wasn’t Cold War style hostility, but it wasn’t very positive either. One could expect that, I suppose.

Articles about American people, however, were unremittingly positive, remarkably so. There were man-in-the-street interviews from New York and other American cities, and the citizenry was presented as being diverse, informed, friendly and quite sensible. They could have spun this stuff any way they wanted to, and they chose a very good spin. Maybe the American military was viewed cynically, but individual soldiers were presented fairly and with gentle affection. It was a wonderful thing to behold.

I was reminded of the portrayal of individual Russians on American TV during the height of the cold war. Recall that it was very sympathetic and positive. Sitcoms sometimes had stories where a Russian in America for some reason would have an adventure with the stars of the show. Sure, there would be minders, apparatchiks who were cruel and officious, but the run-of-the-mill Russians themselves, musicians, athletes, scientists, were very likable and friendly. Many movies had these themes too, I’m thinking about “The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!” Mutual suspicion quickly turned to affection in that movie, and by the end, the citizens of the small town in Maine were helping the Russian submarine to escape the American military.

So maybe we can all get along.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Good Stuff At Amazing Discounts

Looking back over my vast production, I must say that I am very pleased to have offered you, my beloved double-dozen, some good reading at below fire-sale prices, which is to say, free. Some of this stuff, maybe even a lot of it, has been really good reading.

Well, I haven’t made a nickel on it, nor do I want to, actually.

I’d like to have more readers, but the main point is, I enjoy writing it, and I think that it’s good for me to do so. What else should I do? More chess problems? Take up yoga? Finish the novel that no one would ever read? Do those number problems that add up to nine? Sadooko or something? Crossword puzzles? Read even more than I do already? Waste time socializing?

I write about some big ideas, and I try to keep the posts to four hundred words or so, and that, I can tell you, is not always easy. To be concise, and still make sense, and not be overly conclusive, in other words, to include something to support what I say, is not particularly easy. It is just the kind of mental exercise that doctors say is important when one has reached my stage of life. Use it or lose it!

It is also true, as I tell my students, that unless you can make sense of something in writing, you don’t really understand it. Becoming familiar with something in your own mind is easy; being able to explain it to someone else is harder; hardest of all is explaining it in writing so that it makes sense to the reader. So when I write about something, I’m helping myself to understand it.

And who benefits from this? Besides me, that is? You, dear reader. This is the treasure that I share with you. Your continuing readership is my reward, all eighteen or twenty of you. I love you all.

Dwight D. Eisenhower and Eric Hoffer: Strange Bedfellows

Imagine, if you will, President Eisenhower channeling Eric Hoffer, the “Stevedore Philosopher.” It actually happened in a letter that the president wrote in response to a private citizen who had complained of “uncertainty” in the face of his difficulties in understanding the politics of the Cold War.

(Max Blumenthal, “Ike’s Other Warning,” Int’l Herald Tribune, no doubt re-printed from somewhere else.)

Wow! Imagine people complaining about the quaint, relatively benign uncertainties of 1959! Confronted with the complexities of our own age, their heads would explode. Much like heads are exploding all around us as I write.

Ike’s point, and Hoffer’s, was that many people, faced with high levels of anxiety inducing uncertainty, retreat into a fortress of other-directed absolute certainty, which may take the form of totalitarianism or religion.

From Ike’s letter, paraphrasing Hoffer: “. . . dictatorial systems make one contribution to their people which leads them to tend to support such systems – freedom from the necessity of informing themselves and making up their own minds concerning these tremendous complex and difficult questions.”

Ike called this the desire for insulation from the pressures of a free society.

Anybody else see this happening in our own time? All of these Tea-Bagging fools and religious fundamentalists want that same return to certainty, to normalcy, they want freedom from this terrible democratic burden of engaging in discussion, trying to figure these things out, trying to find compromises that are acceptable to everybody.

I see people turning to anti-democratic, authoritarian political methodologies, although they may not actually realize what they’re doing. The Tea-Baggers are, after all, just stooges of Corporate-Crypto-Fascism. They demand that government take away their safety-nets, stop collecting taxes, impose draconian security measures, and give those terrorists hell. Who benefits from all of this? Not the Tea-Baggers, that’s for sure. So who benefits? You may have guessed it: the big corporations.

I see people turning to religion, usually the mindless brands that are short on theology and good works, and long on brainless adherence to simple slogans and political directives from their so-called ministers.

History is very good at repeating itself. In the last century, high levels of uncertainty in Europe, coupled with the failure of government institutions, led to the rise of fascism, with all of that associated unpleasantness. Who can be sure that it won’t happen again? Closer to home?

The Ex-Presidents

Two ex-presidents have been recruited to lead the efforts to assist the Haitian people after their unfortunate brush with natural selection. One of them is all over the TV, raising money, unloading planes, being charming, saying sensible, compassionate things, being, in general, a mensch and a real leader.

The other one, I haven’t seen him yet. Maybe he’ll hit his stride soon, but if he does, it’ll be the first time. And it is, after all, the football playoff season.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Boomer Nostalgia: The Million Dollar Movie

Many of us who remember the Fifties are really just trying to remember them, they’re not really clear to us anymore. We’re struggling to remember our own experiences, and fit them in to what we can remember or read about the details of that long-ago world. (Insert clever, facetious remark about getting older.)

I remember the Million Dollar Movie, but it’s hard to believe that I am remembering it correctly. Did they really show the same movie twice every evening from Monday to Friday, and then three times a day on Saturday and Sunday? The same movie? Sixteen times in the same week? How could they do that? That’s what they did, though, on WOR, channel nine in New York, in the Fifties.

I know that I watched King Kong five or six times in the same week. I remember sitting in Mrs. Lepkeoger’s third grade class dreaming about the movie, and trying to recreate it in my imagination shot by shot, line by line, after I’d seen it a few times. That was 1956, I know that we had a TV then, but it’s hard to believe that I could watch King Kong from seven to eight thirty every weeknight, night after night. What were my parents doing? I know that my father stopped coming home from work at some point, began coming home very late every night, or travelling for days, and thinking about the Million Dollar Movie I suppose that it had happened already when King Kong was showing. But I know he came home sometimes, I know that in ’56 I could still ask him to pick me up a copy of some rock and roll record that I’d heard on the radio. And what about my mother? Did she just watch King Kong with me? Over and over again? My little sister was about four years old, what was she doing? It was a smallish apartment. Boy, I still love that movie.

My little family drama was very ordinary, but it’s amazing to think that a New York City television station, in the Fifties, thought that it was a good idea to show the same movie all week, and kept to that schedule for many years, and made money doing it.

American Cultural Highlights: Courtney Love’s New Tattoos

I’m tempted to say: what was she thinking? But I think it’s been clear for a long time that she doesn’t think at all.

The new flower tat’s, though, is it just me? Or do they just look like buboes, the telltale signs of the Bubonic Plague?

Late Night Wars

Months ago I thought of a post about Conan O’Brian’s Tonight show gig, but I never wrote it up. It’s all much more interesting these days though.

I loved the old late, late Conan show, and I watched it every chance I got, usually if it were rebroadcast on Comedy Central. That was one funny-ass show. When Conan took over the Tonight Show, I thought that he really toned down, and I wondered if it were because: 1) he was trying to fit into the traditional “middle-of-the-road” tone of the tonight show; or 2) NBC was telling him to become more like Johnny and Jay, more safe, more mainstream. The later was more my guess.

Either way, since all of this late night shuffle has been going on, Conan has been strangely unshackled, suddenly funnier, more himself. Too bad it’s not meant to last.

I don’t feel sorry for any of them, they’ll all be fine. That’s as long as Letterman doesn’t laugh himself to death about the whole thing. It’s too bad, though, that we never had a chance to have a real Conan O’Brian Show at 11:30 every night. That would’ve been a good show.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The New Christianity

I hate the Twenty-First Century, so much of it is completely annoying. Take, for instance, the new, modernized, muscular, no bullshit Christianity, the Christianity of the football field, the boxing ring, the war zone. Thank you, Jesus! (Raises eyes and points to heaven.) Thank you for that crippling tackle, for that knock-out punch, for that well timed air strike (with almost no collateral damage). The most public piety in America these days is seen on the playing fields of sports, violent or otherwise, or on actual battlefields.

This is a major perversion of Christian values.

Another aspect of this new Christianity is the marginalization of good works in favor of an emphasis on “taking Jesus Christ as your personal savior and doing His Will,” which doesn’t seem to feature good works anymore. Now “His Will” is more likely to be expressed as voting for reactionary politicians; opposing civil rights for certain oppressed groups (like immigrants and homosexuals); lowering taxes; opposing anything that helps the poor or the less fortunate; cleaning up the culture at large; deregulating business; or even, God forbid, seizing dominion over entire countries and imposing something called God’s law. For “His Will,” of course, read “following instructions from self-appointed earthly plenipotentiaries.”

Jesus would weep.

The Price Of Admission To This Life

Bob Hamm, Robert Hamm, Robert H. Hamm, I think that it was “H,” for Harry. I should remember, because those middle initials are important in America, where every Tom, Dick and Harry is named John, Robert or William, and family names repeat pretty damn quick too.

Bob died this week. No details are available, but Bob was not well, and men in his family died famously young. Bob was a little over 60, like me.

We met when we were both 17, and in our first year of college. We met in Communications 101, the mandatory speech class where we were supposed to lose our Nu Yawk accents, which was intended to make us more employable after graduation. All students had to take the class in their first semester, I guess they figured that it would take four years to lose it all together.

Our first assignment was to pick something, anything, and read it in front of the class. Most of the students read something very ordinary and boring. Me, though, I read the Preface to the Picture of Dorian Grey, which is a bold conception of the artistic dilemma, and Bob read something about disagreeable Aztec Gods. On this basis, we connected immediately.

For anyone who may have been at my wedding, Bob was my best man. No one present will ever forget his toast to the groom. It was a long Hindu prayer, delivered in the original Sanskrit. Then he explained it in English, something about a cucumber and a vine, it took about five minutes. He was completely serious the whole time, most of my relatives found it somewhat confusing.

Against all odds, we both went on to long term marriages and raised a total of five relatively well adjusted children. Most of this was accomplished at a great distance, but we stayed in touch, sometimes barely.

I’ll miss him.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Obscene Luxury Made Even More Obscene

Asian cable television is largely supported by advertising for luxury goods and services. I may have complained, I mean blogged about this before, I find it very annoying to have this evil, tasteless dreck shoved in my face, and the actors playing the rich clientele, you could just strangle them, with their self-satisfied, idiotic grins.

It hurts my feelings to see these pretend rich people get served gourmet food by fawning air hostesses and tucked into their flat beds with four-hundred-count Egyptian cotton sheets in first class of some airline from a country where Filipino maids make a hundred dollars a month to work 24/7 and get burned with cigarettes if the car is not sufficiently polished before six a.m.

Oh! Lin Ping is waking up! No, he’s just rolling over.

The luxury ads in magazines are different. They’re easier to avoid, I don’t read those luxury oriented magazines anyway, so I don’t have to decide which multi-million dollar wrist watch makes me even sicker than the others. But I do watch CNN and BBC, and it’s all luxury, luxury, luxury.

And these days it’s luxury alternating with the news of the earthquake in Haiti. Man, those people are poor, bereft really, innocent of owning anything beyond a couple of tank tops, some shorts, and a pair of flip-flops. These days they’re all sleeping outdoors, worried about their next meal, and down to just the one tank top, one pair of shorts and lucky if they got out with the flip-flops. Oooh, look at that woman down there! I can only see her head, she’s covered in the debris of a block wall, can we get this shot? I’d say that she was dead, based on the blood around her ears, eyes, nose and mouth, and the fact that she’s not moving. We’ll be right back! After this message about a trophy wife who stops the motorcade to go shopping at Hetiard!

The contrast is sickening. If I feel that way, imagine how the really poor people feel. Even American workers will probably start to get the message eventually. That sucking sound you hear is all of the money rushing to the top one percent. Income inequality is the real global threat for the Twenty-First Century. Think about it.

Lin Ping Reality Channel

Oh! The wonders of Asian cable television! Whenever life gets too exciting, I can always check in with the Lin Ping Reality Channel and see what’s up with Lin, the giant panda. Generally, he’s taking a nap.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Aroi, Mai Peng: Mr. Meng’s!

My new favorite restaurant, Mr. Meng’s! “Aroi, mai peng,” means delicious, not expensive. (Forget the tones, you can figure them out on your own.) It’s a chain of some kind, I’m not sure where it originated. I only know of one location, Centron (Central) World in Bang Na, Bangkok.

It’s the first time I ever ate what is called “soft shelled crab.” When I had seen it previously on menus in America, or otherwheres, I always thought, sure, soft shell, but it’s a crab! How soft can it be! At Mr. Meng’s, his happy, smiling face reassured me that it would be ok. And it was! Soft shelled crab over noodles with yellow curry, delicious, 98 Baht, about three dollars. The most expensive thing on the menu. Like Arnold said, Ah’ll Be Back.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

And When I Die

If I die in Thailand, I predict that it will be in the act of trying to flag down a bus. This is not based on any vision or insight, I’m no Depak Chopra, but it’s a good guess based on what they call “reality on the ground.”

The big streets of Bangkok are full of buses of all sizes, colors and shapes. The main drag that runs in front of my condo has about thirty, maybe thirty five bus lines running on it. That’s not counting variations within one bus line. Like the 71: there are blue ones and red ones in full size, and a green shortie. The shorties only do a portion of the route, not the full length; I believe that the red and green ones are two different companies. There are also air-con and non-air-con, with different prices and sometimes different colors, occasionally a shocking pink 71 goes by, maybe that one has Karaoke.

Buses do not routinely make all the stops. Someone at the stop must flag down the bus. That’s where the potential for death raises its ugly head.

There are nice, comfortable seats beneath a shelter at my bus stop, but you can’t really sit down. From the seats, you can’t see the buses coming. So everybody is lined up at the curb, scanning the distance like hungry dogs waiting for someone to come home. If you see your bus coming, you must begin gesturing at the driver. This is not always easy.

Traffic is usually pretty heavy, and if it’s slow for some reason, and a whole gaggle of buses comes up the road at the same time, some of the drivers will swing out into the “fast” lanes way before the stop, way before they could see anybody trying to flag them down, maybe way before you could see the number on the bus. So there’s the looking through other buses trying to see the numbers, and then the figuring out a way to get the bus to stop.

There can be a certain amount of entering the traffic involved in this process. I can tell you, if I have been waiting for an hour, and one of my buses has already by-passed the stop, I become quite the daredevil in my desperate attempt to get that thing to stop.

So if you hear that Khun Fred has been killed by traffic in Bangkok, please do not assume that I was walking home from a bar dead drunk. The odds are that I was just trying to get some bus driver’s attention, trying to get somewhere. Places to go, you know, people to see, I have a life after all.


Shout out to Libramoon: thanks for the thoughtful comment, and for reading!

All Praise To Microsoft!

As far as I can tell, the greatest inovation of the Techno-God Microsoft in it's fabulous gift to mankind, Internet Explorer 8, is that you can no longer cut-and-paste to and from the internet search line.

For our own safety, I'm sure.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

It Was Don Covey

"Have Mercy," I'm pretty sure that it was Don Covey (I prefer not doing actual research).


People ask me: have you been to Australia?

In a way, I’m sure that it’s nice. Australians are not stupid, so there must be some decent food. The beaches look nice, although I am not a beach guy, no, no, no. (There are only three things that I don’t like about the beach: the sun; the sand; and the water. Give me a nice lake, anytime.)

It’s all so out-door-sey though, which I find anathema, and besides, it all looks so familiar to me. I lived in California for thirty years, and isn’t Australia just one, huge circular California, except full of foreigners? I’m pretty sure that staying indoors in Australia is almost the same as staying indoors in California.

So I’ll stay in Thailand, but I’m sure that Australia’s nice!

Jimi, Heaven’s Baby Boy, We Miss You

Jimi Hendrix couldn’t get arrested in the Black community. Before he had made any money, there weren’t fifty Black folk in America who gave a damn about Jimi Hendrix, and almost all of them were his siblings, his father, his aunts, his uncles and his cousins, and some of them weren’t too sure about him either.

Bear in mind, his musical accomplishments were already great. Great back ups for the Isley Brothers, and others; great session work, including those amazing licks for “Have Mercy,” by What’s-His-Name (it’ll come to me).

For a long time, no one understood Jimi. My favorite story was told by Les Paul, who got it, big time. Les was visiting in a jazz club in Jersey City, or Newark, in the middle of the day, probably collecting on a bet or something, but he had to run, he had a meeting in Manhattan. He remembered, though, something he’d heard in the background, music that had really caught his attention. So after the meeting, he called his friend at the club and asked, what was that I heard? Oh, he was told, some Black kid auditioning, I can’t use him, he way out there. Yeah, it was Jimi, and that was the consensus, we can’t use him. All Jimi got from Black people was kicked out of the band because his shoes weren’t sufficiently shined.

Then he started hanging out with White people, who got it. Chas Chandler took him over to England, and the whole scene fell out, they couldn’t believe it. I read about it in English trade magazines, like “Melody Maker,” and “Rave.” (Imagine! Calling Rave a Trade Magazine!) As soon as I could, I bought the first American 45, “The Wind Cries Mary,” b/w “Purple Haze.” Me and my friends played “The Wind Cries Mary” a few times, and we were pretty speechless about it, we’d heard about that cut in the magazines and it was really beyond our expectations. There were about seven of us, several of us played the electric guitar or bass, one drummer, and several of us were in bands, we thought we were pretty hip. Finally we turned it over, and we just went fucking crazy, we must have played “Purple Haze” seven times in a row. Sure, we were a little loaded, but wow, Black, White or Puerto Rican, we got it.

Tunes like “Castles Made of Sand,” and “Wait Until Tomorrow,” Black people didn’t get, period. And they didn’t get the look of it all. They thought that it was some kind of Urkle stuff, pre-Urkle, but just some Black nerd trying to be funny, and they thought he wasn’t a very good singer. But we got it, and we thought he sang just fine, and we totally loved it, we loved Jimi.

Then Jimi started to make money. That changed people’s minds. All of a New York Minute, Black people were hanging around telling him, Jimi! you need to be helping a brother out! why you got these White boys in the band! it’s a Blood thing! Things went downhill from there, and Jimi died. I never thought about the Black angle at all until much later, long, long after he was dead. Dead. I hate to say it even now.

Jimi broke the cardinal hipster rule, one of the two. The first one is: don’t get caught (attention, Robert Downey, Jr.); the second is: don’t OD.

Other than that, he was PERFECT.

Thailand: The Air Conditioner

Thailand is hot, Thailand wrote the book on hot. In April, most years, it’s so hot that it makes us all delirious, Thai’s, Farang, Puerto Ricans, everybody. Walk around in the sun, especially if you’re carrying something, like a briefcase, anything, and you get dizzy, you might start having hallucinations. There are three seasons in Thailand: Hot; Dangerously Hot; and Hot with Rain.

I have discovered that I have a much different behavior pattern with the air conditioner than most Thai’s. When Thai people get home from work, they’re just happy to get out of the sun. Thai people sweat much less than we Farang. When they get home, they don’t put the air on right away, maybe they run a fan or two. Air conditioning costs money, electricity is expensive. But then, when they go to bed, they put the air on and sleep in the coolness.

Me? When I get home, I can’t wait to put the air on. I get the domicile down to about twenty degrees, Centigrade, and I enjoy walking around, sitting around, in the beautiful cool, no shirt on. Then when I go to bed, I turn the air off. Most of the year I admit that I run a fan while I sleep, but it’s not a money thing.

After all, I’m not digging any ditches, I’m not moving around at all. I had an epiphany in my first year in Thailand. My wife and I were living in a rented house that had no air conditioner, and my wife thought that the fan made too much noise, so that was that, we had no fan on. One night I woke up, and as I was thinking wow, it’s nice and cool, I realized that I was sweating up a storm, it was running off of me in every direction that was down. But I was cool. It’s that old evaporative cooling, that’s what sweat is for!

So now, when it’s really hot, I don’t care, I don’t need no air con. I have my fan, if it’s really hot, and if there’s some real sweating to be done, I sleep on top of a “towel blanket,” which may be a Thai innovation. No sense in staining the sheets. But I’m fine, I’m cool.

Children v. Economism

Everyone agrees that children deserve our consideration. They’re innocent, after all, they did nothing to create whatever weird situation they find themselves in. And society owes children a duty of care, they are our children, we must care for them. Everyone agrees.

Social scientists agree that early childhood intervention programs work very well. Pilot programs like Head Start offer real benefits not only to at-risk children, but also to society at large, benefits like reduced incidence of welfare dependence and imprisonment and higher levels of education and performance in the work force. It’s all true; it can be statistically proven.*

Medical professionals have proven that significant adversity in early childhood directly affects brain development, causing disastrously malformed brain architecture which leads to lifelong medical problems, not only cognitively and emotionally, but also physically, in the form of heart disease, diabetes and God knows what else.*

So that’s three very good reasons for society invest in early intervention programs designed to identify and help children. So why isn’t more being done?


Tony Judt gave a nice lecture recently at NYU, which was then printed as an article in the New York Review of Books, called “What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy.” You can read the whole thing here ARTICLE

Mr. Judt does a great job of describing what he calls “economism,” which is basically “the invocation of economics in all discussions of public affairs.” Who cares if it’s right or wrong? Does it benefit gross domestic product? Will it contribute to growth? “This propensity to avoid moral considerations, to restrict ourselves to issues of profit and loss-economic questions in the narrowest sense-is not an instinctive condition. It is an acquired taste.” Acquired how? Maybe the precious few people who would benefit from such a crass policy had something to do with it, just maybe. We lawyers try to follow the money when we are figuring out why something happened.

Affirmative projects designed to help children to become productive citizens just don’t make the cut, econimistically. Must we spend this money today? No, although it’s a good idea, and a “good” thing to do. Somehow it makes more sense to modern politicians to save the money now and spend more later on prisons and medical care.

Is it the old American Individualism? Let them stand on their own feet! I did it! Let them do it for themselves! Could be in the angles somewhere.

Even classical economists were afraid that modern society would go in this direction. One early economist of commercial capitalism, the Marquis de Condorcet (I’d never heard of him either), was afraid that capitalism would go viral, and that “liberty will be no more, in the eyes of an avid nation, than the necessary condition for the security of financial operations.” Sound familiar? Could happen and is, you could say.

What is all this worshipping of money anyway? By people who don’t have any, that is? Why do people want to keep their tax money for themselves? Why does the average person abhor regulation? Why do people with no capitol hate the capitol gains tax? It’s easy! Because they’re all going to get great ideas, and make great investments, and get super-rich themselves almost immediately! It almost makes sense: if Glenn Beck can do it, maybe they can too.

Another oldie-but-goodie, Adam Smith, warned way in the way-back that this “disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition . . . is . . . the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.” Wow, that one came true as well!

So now that we inhabit, have created with our own hands actually, this corrupt, unfeeling, immoral, dare I say, unchristian future that we were so clearly warned about, what happens now?

Not a lot of discretionary spending to improve the lives of children, that’s my guess.

*For the full skinny on these points, see Mobilizing Science to Revitalize Early Childhood Policy

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

My Relatively Bug Free Tropical Paradise

When the Peace Corps said go to Thailand, I was expecting it to some kind of Asian Florida. I’d been to Florida lots of times, and I had always been very impressed with the sheer numbers of bugs, and with their size, variety and hyper-aggressive natures. For those of you who have never been, when you buy corn flakes in Florida the inside packaging is this heavy, multilayered foil/plastic hybrid. This is to keep out bugs. Even then it’s a good idea to keep the cereal in Tupperware after you open the package. Even then the bugs, some as big as your finger, will be looking around your house for weak spots. Outside, you’re surrounded, outnumbered, and outgunned, it’s like the Alamo with palm trees. I prepared myself for the worst.

But it never happened. Thailand is rather shy of bugs, it seems to me. It’s the tropics, the average temperatures are even a little higher than Florida, but there is no amazing bug army running around. Cereal comes in a typical, lightweight inside wrapper, and I can keep a box of corn flakes in my kitchen cabinet, with the top rolled down and secured by a bulldog clip, for weeks with not so much as an ant expressing interest. Oh, I get some ants looking around, but their efforts seem disorganized and ineffective.

The Thai mosquitoes are fully mobilized, and do a good job, but otherwise the bug cadre must be a great disappointment to Mother Nature. Flies? I remember a much greater volume of flies in New York and Los Angeles.

Another solid good-point for Thailand.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The English

I'm sure that I heard it one time, or was it in a dream?

Englishmen are polite, but not friendly; Americans are friendly, but not polite.

I meet a lot of Englishmen over here, and whether I heard it, or dreamed it, or thought it up, it's true.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Like the guy said on that show long ago: I love it when a plan comes together!

Testing, 1, 2, 3

Links like the Andre Williams YouTube jem below used to light up as clickable links (that's my story and I'm sticking to it). Now, no. So I went to the woodshed and tried to learn something. Let's see how it went . . .


Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Zero Decade

It’s a mystery to me. A decade of zero job growth; the ongoing destruction of the middle class; two, count ‘em, two wildly expensive, completely unnecessary wars for crude and pipeline rights; grotesque budgetary deficits; the politics of NO, unless it’s corporations that are asking; our Constitutional rights thrown away willy nilly; weird, hypocritical, pseudo-religious aberrations; Family Values pitched by public bathroom toe-tappers; income disparity in America equal to China, and growing. And yet, people still take the Republican party seriously and talk about their possible resurgence in congress next year.

How can one political party do so much damage, and so little good, for so long, and still have any hope of success in electoral politics? It’s the power of propaganda, and let’s please recall, although the Nazis had really hip propaganda, and the coolest uniforms by far, all they really accomplished for their constituents was the destruction of almost every man made structure in Germany and the deaths of nine and a half million of their own citizens. The Nazis were elected too, and it was a big mistake. Are we going to repeat it?

It’s a free country. You can vote for them if you wish. If black is your color, and zero is your number, go ahead, vote for them. Let them finish their work. It’s your funeral.

Spam Comment Explosion!

There's been a wild increase in the number of spam "comments" on this site. I find it, like I find most things, interesting. Some of it is very creative, comments like: I find this post interesting and I'd like to read more about this subject. There's generally more information on my e-mail notification, which helps to identify the spam nature of it all. There must be some spammer advantage to having the comment posted.

The weirdest,and my favorites, are the comments that consist of a ten line paragraph of web addresses. What's that about?

I am doing my best to delete (reject) these things before they can do any harm.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Forgotten Heroes Of Rock And Roll: Andre "Mr. Rhythm" Williams

"Jailbait" and "Bacon Fat" are around on CD compilations in their original, early Sixties form, and they're great, great, great. Andre was a musical Jack Of All Trades and sometimes recording artist. He never left the scene, as witnessed by this video recorded in Germany in 2006. It's the bomb, the intro alone is worth the price:

Andre did great work with the Gories, and there are a lot of great new Andre Williams cuts out there. Check out "Pussy Stank, But So Do Marijuana," also on YouTube. Look for "The Black Godfather" for true enjoyment.

Boomer Nostalgia: Boot Camp

I was in the United States Navy. The entire tale is beyond the scope of this post, but I can tell you that I was proud to join that great organization. On August 2, 1967 I arrived at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center for basic training, ten weeks of non-stop singing and dancing. I wouldn’t say that it was easy, and it would be wrong to say that it was technically fun, but I didn’t mind any of it at the time, and looking back over the years it has only gotten better.

The best part was that physically it was very demanding and I was gratified to learn that I could do absolutely everything that was asked of me. Among other things, the day that we learned to fold our clothes we all found out that we could do a lot more push ups than we thought we could do. The whole lesson took three or four hours, and by the time it was over we had done over two hundred push ups, more or less, depending on our innate clothes-folding abilities.

Our drill instructor told us at some point: you may not like me, but you will remember my name for the rest of your natural lives. He was right. He was Boson’s Mate First Class Richard Passion. On ships, boson’s mates run work crews and drive the motor launches. The main requirement for the job is that you must be able to kick the living shit out of anybody on the ship if the situation calls for it. Except maybe a couple of the Gunner’s Mates, at the time the war between the bosons and the gunners was the stuff of legend. We were pretty sure that Dick Passion could handle us, any of us, three or four at a time, if the situation called for it.

Oh, the usual stuff, the screamed abuse, the sleep deprivation, the polishing of the insides of the wall heaters, the marching to exhaustion, the standing all the way at attention for long periods of time, the all too realistic fire-fighting training (featuring tear gas! A USN innovation!) We did all the usual stuff.

After two weeks, we were getting into the routine but we were all really run down. Most of us had colds or something, so they scheduled a bi-cillin shot, some kind of double strength penicillin, for all of us. After the shots they marched us out to a field and we learned the “Ninety-Six Count Physical Exercise Drill,” where you kind of hold your old, inoperative M1 Garand (nine and half pounds) in both hands and move it up, down and sideways ninety-six times. We went on for hours, including long periods holding a particular position. I remember it very well, it was my nineteenth birthday, and by the time we were done we were too tired to eat dinner, but our colds were gone.

After five weeks or so we were into the routine, we were all running at peak efficiency and felt like we were doing ok. One weekday afternoon they took us to get Yellow Fever shots at about two or three o’clock. After that we were marched back to our barracks with nothing else on the schedule for that day. We took this as a bad sign, and boy, were we right. Within an hour we all had fevers, we were dizzy, and nauseous, and we were very, very tired, in fact we were all asleep by five pm. They even let us sleep late the next day, until about seven o’clock, out of the kindness of their hearts.

More of the usual stuff, the fighting and getting even in the last week, learning how to swim in water that was covered with burning oil, the weird batteries of military tests, getting our assignments. Did you know that you can take a pair of cotton pants, tie knots in both legs at the ankles, grab them by the waist and slam them into the water, and the air trapped in the legs makes a damn good life preserver? I got through the entire ten weeks without any “chits being pulled” (demerits requiring punishment), I lost some weight, I was in the best shape of my life, and I was insufferably pleased with myself.

For me, it was all downhill after that. The routine existence that followed displayed my tight, tight wiring and brought out my natural hostility to authority, and within another few months it was decided that I had failed to adjust to military life. I got an honorable discharge, no hard feelings, it just didn’t work out. But in a strange way I really did enjoy boot camp.