Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pee-Mai Temple In Korat, Thailand

Not many Farang tourists here. I did see one guy with his Thai wife and their daughter, about fifteen years old, and another guy of the alone-for-a-reason variety.

These old-school, multi-religious temples are really where it's at though. Buddhist, Hindu, Animist, let's include everybody! What if we added something Christian, a little Sun Worshiping, please tell me: what's the difference? It's only fair to give each its due. Polytheists are the most peaceful people in the world. And God is God after all, the names don't matter.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wat Pee-Mai, Again

Another view of that multi-religious temple in Pee-Mai, Korat Province, Thailand. And dig those clouds. Plenty of clouds this year, but not much rain to speak of in this agricultural area. The whole place is as dry as a bone, and the rice crop is suffering, not to mention all of the small time rice farmers who depend on it.

BBC News From Cloud Cuckoo Land

Watching the news on the BBC in America it is easy to think that it is a very fair, balanced presentation of the news. I certainly thought that it was more substantive and less prejudice-driven than the other news presentations, with the possible exception of National Educational Television and National Public Radio. Now I believe that the BBC only seemed fair in the way that a slightly fat person seems to be rather thin when viewed in the midst of some really, really fat people.

I am sure that my misconception had its genesis in my general lack of expertise in the subject matter of most BBC news articles. I don’t know much about the Niger Delta, not much at all, so if they report about that area, I have only the tone of the reporting to use in judging its veracity. So I may be subjected to a technique similar to that employed by a practicing lawyer, who may mask his absence of knowledge on a particular subject with a massively confident tone of voice.

Over the weekend, however, I saw on BBC Asia a half-hour presentation about the recent political difficulties here in Thailand. You may recall that a group called “The Red Shirts” spent over a month raising sincere hell in Bangkok. They sounded for all the world like the North Korean media, talking about “seas of fire,” “fighting to the last man,” and constantly referring to that hypothetical “last drop of blood,” and they were in fact armed, and did in fact kill policemen, soldiers and unsympathetic Thai civilians with firearms and grenades. They made exorbitant demands, and changed their demands as soon as they were met; they disrupted the business life of the city by seizing and fortifying key intersections of the city; they invaded and caused the evacuation of the biggest, most important hospital in Bangkok; and the ultimate dénouement of the demonstrations was accompanied by looting and fire-setting. I can tell you that they had a stated agenda, at least one hidden agenda, and a sub-text or two as well. It was a subject that was worth covering, but almost none of this was addressed by the BBC.

Thailand is a country of interest. Consider Kyrgyzstan, which is a country of five million people, a country where no one goes, a country that is on the crossroads to nowhere. Now compare Thailand, a country of sixty-five million people, heavily dependant on tourism and with a large ex-patriot population, a country that is right in the middle of the action in the most populous region of the world. Thailand is an important place.

So what about the BBC’s coverage of the recent upheaval? This particular piece followed the pattern that was set during their coverage as the events unfolded. For thirty minutes, they spoke only to “Red Shirt” representatives, they took only the dimmest view of each and every action taken by the current government (describing as “unconstitutional” actions taken by the Thai government which occurred over the last few years), they criticized only the Thai armed forces (for using “deadly force” against “unarmed civilians”), and they took as much of the script as it was humanly possible directly from “Red Shirt” talking points.

As it happens, one of the more extensively interviewed Thais was a man who is known to me. I first met him two years ago, and I know him pretty well. I know him to be very active on the Red Shirt side of Thai politics, although this was not mentioned by the BBC. Very active, did I say? Active enough to try to get me involved as a Red Shirt, and not on a volunteer basis either. His statements in this BBC interview were anti-government and pro-Red Shirt in equal measure, heavily spin-doctored, and distinctly divorced from reality. He has a quiet, dignified demeanor though, and speaks perfect, un-accented English after decades working for international news agencies, and his statements were not challenged.

So then, whence the BBC? I’ll never view them in the same way, that’s for sure. After this “in depth report,” there are only so many conclusions to be made. Either:

1. BBC first chooses sides and then reports on that basis;

2. BBC will believe any bullshit story that they hear;

3. BBC looks at a story and tries to find the single richest man involved, and then they make him the winner (a long story, not addressed above);

4. BBC approaches a story by doing a little bit of shallow reporting, talking only to a few people who were very easy to find and talk to, and then they spin a fairy tale around the meager results; or

5. BBC was paid to broadcast this piece, which was essentially an advertisement for the Red Shirts.

Another great German word: Wolkencuckucksheim. “Cloud Cuckoo Land.” Where the BBC seems to live.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Khun Fred Loves His Vehicles

I photographed this car in Pee-Mai, which is a nice little town by the way. Also, I should mention that the girls in Korat are very beautiful.

Check the scale of this car with reference to the nearby Civic and the Mitsubishi in the back. This car was tiny, like look way down on the top of the roof tiny, like I don't think I could possibly get into it tiny.

Anybody have any guesses about the make? I saw no clues.

The Site Is Called Pee-Mai, But Don't Ask Me What It Means

Went out teaching to a place that is variously called "Korat" or "Nakorn Rachasima," out in Isan. This is a thousand year old ruin of a temple built by the then-ascendant Cambodian kingdom. It's one of those all-religions-at-once temples, with elements of Buddhism, Hinduism, Animism, that Rama Cycle stuff with the monkey warriors, and some straightforward penis/vagina worship ("lingus" and "yoni") I had to take a shitty little bus fifty kilometers outside of the provincial capitol, but I was feeling adventurous. It went fine, as always.

The nearby museum was very nice, good signage in English and Thai. They couldn't say what "Pee-Mai" meant, though, beyond saying that it meant the same thing as "Viyanand," whatever that means.

Lunch was delicious. Thirty Baht (a dollar). A big plate of chicken and rice (the rice cooked in chicken soup, a special thing).

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rare Breed Sighting In BKK

This is an MZ two-stroke. I'm pretty sure that they were built in Checkoslovakia, when there was such a thing. It's the only MZ I've ever seen, in Thailand or anywhere else.

Sometimes I feel like a bird watcher, but for bikes.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

"Taxi Driver To The Stars . . ."

My profile includes the description: Taxi driver to the stars (a couple of them, anyway). On another occasion I came THIS CLOSE to getting John Lennon in the car. I had driven down Eighth or Ninth Avenue (which one goes down? Ninth?) and turned left onto something in the forties. Right before I got to the corner, another cab cut in front of me and into the block. Sure enough, somebody was hailing a cab in the middle of the block. As I passed, I saw a few people approaching the cab, one of them was Lennon.

I never regretted missing out on the privilege, though. In those years, Seventy Three, Seventy Four, he was mostly famous for throwing up in restaurants, and cabs too, no doubt.

Joe DiMaggio was quiet, but a total pleasure, I loved the guy. Ronald McDonald was the best. Very friendly, interesting, and a good tipper. Did I tell you he was gay?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Travoltas - Alright

A little further afield . . .

To show that I don't only live in the past. Sometimes I live in the more-recent past!

These guys are Dutch, I'm pretty sure. Maybe I should look it up? The band is probably defunct by now, but they live on through You-Tube.


I usually don't get carried away missing things, but today all I could think about was: I miss my Graham Central Station albums!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Movie Review: Imperial Navy

Toho Studios, Japanese. Fairly recent.

I happen to be a fan of the Imperial Japanese Navy. It was a great outfit. The big admirals not so much, they were an odd mixture of overly confident and strangely timid, but in the lower ranks, particularly in the destroyer and cruiser divisions, the crews were superb and they got great results. Great ships too, beautiful and effective.

This is a typical “heroic Japanese warriors” movie, with lots of good special effects of the miniature variety. Lots of sea battles, fleets going here and there, lots of planes. Mostly being blown up, as the movie progresses from the very brief happy-time on to Midway and beyond. It was quite the little Gotterdammerung by the end.

In the beginning, everyone except Admiral Yamamoto is very enthusiastic. You remember him, quoted frequently as having said, “we have awoken a sleeping giant, and filled him with a terrible resolve.” Truer words . . .

Pearly Harbor goes reasonably well, and it is beautifully presented. The Japanese are a fatalistic people though, and the most beautiful scenes in the movie are devoted to the destruction of Japanese capitol ships late in the war, having left port on impossible, suicidal missions, and been caught on the open sea by planes from one or more of Halsey’s 45 aircraft carriers. One carrier goes down in a beautiful red sunset, amidst its own smoke and fire, with the captain and an admiral tied to the ship’s wheel, after launching a three plane Kamikaze mission that includes one of the main characters, who dies having flashbacks of his marriage, already bloody in his half-smashed plane. “Death and Glory” pornography.

Culminating, as do many of these movies, with the sinking of the super-battleship Yamato. The Japanese are the “Yamato People,” and this ship, to an almost supernatural degree, represented the hopes of the Japanese people. It did, and continues to, personify them. During the Battle of Okinawa, the Yamato sailed into the jaws of the huge American fleet without benefit of escort or air cover, and was almost immediately discovered and sunk. This mass-suicide masquerading as bravery is celebrated in great detail not only here, but in “The Battle of Okinawa,” and “Yamato.” There are probably more. The ship was even revived in an animated sci-fi version, “Space Cruiser Yamato” or something like that.

For my sensibilities, this kind of sentimental crap does not do justice to the memories of the millions of soldiers and sailors who got sucked up in all of that Japanese militarism and fought so effectively and bravely. They had little or no choice but to go along, and they did yeoman service in a losing cause. It’s not my culture, though, and this movie tribute probably suits them to a tee. Hats off to them for demonstrating such great courage and perseverance, even if it was a fool’s mission.

Oh, the review . . . worth watching, I suppose. There’s plenty of good action and even the family background stuff is picturesque and entertaining. Only some scenes of the admirals being haughty and supercilious annoyed me, and that’s just me.

An Odd Feature Of Thai Architecture

This is the central atrium of the new immigration building in Bangkok. It is a great example of a peculiar feature of Thai architecture: vast, open, wasted spaces. The photo shows exactly half of this useless, football-field-sized area.

I say "immigration building," that's how I know it. There are actually lots of government offices located here. Next time I'll remember to write down some of the stranger ministry names.

Alert The Media!!!

Urgent media alert! John Goodman now merely very, very fat!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

It's Gonna Work Out Fine - Ike and Tina Turner

1961 was the year of Camelot and all of that, that Vaughn Meader comedy albumn, "The First Family." It all seemed very modern, and safe.

And now, my customary pitch for Ike Turner as one of the "Founding Fathers of Rock and Roll." Ike was the man (references to small behavior problems are unnecessary). He produced this cut, played the guitar, and it's his band, this was a hugely productive period for him, after more than ten years in the business, including the "first rock and roll record," "Rocket 88" by Ricky Berentsen.

Tina? Tina's okay, but let's face it, were it not for Ike, Tina would be remembered locally as that really rude waitress down at the dinner.

Wat Bang Na Nawt on the Cha Prayao River, Bangkok

This was filmed on the Buddhist holiday of Vikasha Bucha, which is either the birthday, or the anniversary of the death, or both, of Mr. Buddha, for whom I have enormous respect. Virtually everybody in Thailand visits the temple on this day, myself included. Sometimes I put the little gold-foil squares on the statues; this time I passed.

Most people seek good luck in something; I usually just offer a gentle thank you to any greater power that may be listening. I have no great expectations, but just in case. This is the same temple in the video a ways down, the one with the animals in it.

Mr. Fred’s Wonderland Of Earthly Delights

A fictitious character recently informed me, and I now believe, that it is our attitude towards the various happenstances of life that controls the outcomes. Whatever may happen, whatever mistakes we may make, our attitude is the defining factor. To paraphrase without attribution, we may chose the right attitude, or the wrong one, one that is constructive, or one that is self-destructive. I found this to be a remarkable insight into our lives here on earth, and the basic assumption certainly worked very well for the character who espoused it. Conversely, the failure to follow this advice certainly doomed the character to whom the advice was given. The worked-very-well side of that conversation had much more appeal for me.

It was quite the little epiphany, sitting on a nice, air-conditioned bus in heavy Bangkok traffic, reading a scholarly article that the New York Review of Books website had generously allowed me to download free. I had recently read all five of the novels that were the subject of the article, and I profited from the “reviewer’s” analysis of the title character. Reading the books, I admired the character’s panache, and his willingness to do whatever was required to retrieve bad situations, but I felt that I was merely observing his successes. The article made me realize that I could adopt the character’s techniques to my own life.

I started smiling, and I couldn’t stop. It would be possible, I realized, for me to cast the entire experience of my life in positive terms, and then believe it. I could invent new, wonderfully positive and helpful attitudes to almost everything that has ever happened to me, and substitute them for my customary negative and self-condemnatory ones. What a remarkable idea! And well within the capabilities of the human brain, which is much more flexible than we give it credit for.

What a wonderful opportunity! The fascinating prospect of re-inventing my entire life, no, not re-inventing, re-interpreting. It all happened just like it did, after all, but my understanding of what it all meant was terribly, terribly wrong. Not to worry, though, there’s plenty of time. I can’t wait to discover how this re-evaluation of my past might affect my future. It’s just possible that I have always been a success, but that I have never known it. I have always felt like a lucky man, but perhaps I am even more lucky that I have realized.

What a wonderful adventure!

English In Its Mysteries

I see lots of interesting English over here in the Land of Smiles. Sometimes it’s mere misapplications of simple English words; sometimes coincidental usages, which language teachers call “false friends” (in German, “also” means “thusly,” and “fast” means “almost”); and sometimes there are really strange juxtapositions.

Of the first variety, the other day I saw an apartment building named “The Twin Tower.” So for one thing, there was only the one of it, as in THE Twin Tower; for another thing, it was only five stories tall, hardly qualifying as a tower. The building’s footprint covered a large area, further diminishing its “tower” pretensions.

Of the second, there is a complex near me called “Nasa-Vegas,” consisting of a hotel and a large building of serviced apartments and shops. It has nothing to do, of course, with either NASA or Las Vegas. I’m pretty sure the derivation is Malaysian, I’ve seen similar words in that language, and mine is a largely Muslim neighborhood of BKK.

An example of the third variety delivers the punch line herein. There’s a hotel in BKK called the A*ana, name obscured to protect the guilty. The interesting part is the large signage on the premises. Written large on the side of the building is “Jesus Loves You,” leading you in one direction. Below that, dragging you back to reality, is a large neon sign announcing, “Massage, 24 Hours.” This is not my first time in the big city, I know what that means, and it has precious little to do with massage.

Ah, the small joys of travel!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Abject Failure Of The Business Model Of Governance

It is the norm these days for public policy issues to be decided on a purely cost/benefit basis. Would the policy be efficient? Would there be monetary savings? What would it cost? Is the benefit “worth it?” Governments have moved away from acting on big issues in the way that most benefits their constituents. Now it's all about the money.

A related phenomenon has been the rise of the CEO politician. The model for this was George W. Bush, Harvard MBA and “experienced businessman.” Never mind that he was consistently a miserable failure in business. He knew how to run things! He knew how to get things done! He was the “Decider!” We saw how that worked out.

Now we have Cara Carleton S. “Carly” Fiorina raising the bar on this nonsense. While “W” was a small time failure, more of a Keystone Cops kind of failure, Ms. Fiorina's failure was written large: she ruined a hugely successful, hugely big company, H.P. She did, however, get rich doing it, as is our custom, so now she has a large budget for mischief. Like running for the United States Senate in the State of California.

Her claims to entitlement are entirely based on her business experience, with no reference to any desire for societal progress, understanding Political Science or History, wanting to help the middle-class (or, God forbid, the poor, whom no one even wants to talk about), avoiding the devastating mistakes of the past, or achieving a more just society. She's all about the efficiency.

Please believe me, there is a place for efficiency. If you are running a company, or if you are the head of a household, efficiency is very important. Especially in the company; inefficiency was the reason H.P. got rid of Carly. Running a country, though, the overriding goal should be doing what is good for the country. (Thanks for the health care, Mr. Obama!)

One instance of something that a government must do to work for the public good is restrain corporations from being too efficient. Like B.P., whose corporate policy has been to maximize profits at the expense of safety by the avoidance of regulation and the willful disregard of legal oversight.

From Frank Rich's June 4th, 2010 column in the New York Times:

<<“This [government officials being gentle with B.P.] is baffling, and then some, given BP’s atrocious record prior to this catastrophe. In the last three years, according to the Center for Public Integrity, BP accounted for “97 percent of all flagrant violations found in the refining industry by government safety inspectors” — including 760 citations for “egregious, willful” violations (compared with only eight at the two oil companies that tied for second place). Hayward’s predecessor at BP, ousted in a sex-and-blackmail scandal in 2007, had placed cost-cutting (and ever more obscene profits) over safety, culminating in the BP Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 and injured 170 in 2005. Last October The Times uncovered documents revealing that BP had still failed to address hundreds of safety hazards at that refinery in the four years after the explosion, prompting the largest fine in the history of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (The fine, $87 million, was no doubt regarded as petty cash by a company whose profit reached nearly $17 billion last year.)”>>

Wow, seventeen-billion-dollars in one calendar year, now that's efficiency! But is it the kind of philosophy that we want to guide our country with?

We would do better to reject this crop of businessmen would-be politicians, and try to find some statesmen instead (for the job of statesman, after all, it makes some sense). We should also reject the monetarist approach to solving statesmanlike problems. America is a country, damn it, run it like one!

[EXCLUSIVE VANDALIZED] SMRT C151 047-048 Graffiti Drawing - Departing Ke...

Now this is truly shocking.

Singapore, by the way, recently liberalized their long standing total ban of all chewing gum, all the time. You can do things like that in a police state. They recently broke down and legalized Nicorette chewing gum, and Nicorette only, and only with a doctor's prescription. That's the way it goes in Singapore: anywhere you go, anywhere you look, there's a policeman there, and you're probably breaking the law.

Not to mention the Gurkhas! Those Nepalese soldiers that achieved fame and fortune in the British army, and now serve with pride in Singapore. They're quite a sight, with their machine-pistols, those campaign hats that fold up on the right side, and their Kukris (huge beheading knives). I was sleeping on a bench in the Singapore airport one time, about three a.m., and somebody rocked me awake. There stood an airport policeman and a Gurkha, complete with all of the above mentioned regalia. It was fine, I could sleep there, they just wanted to check to see if I was alright. This is one of the reasons that I always wear a jacket and tie when I travel by air, you never know when being "respectable" will come in handy.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Tom Wright’s Street-Legal Bumper Cars

Tom Wright&#8217;s Street-Legal Bumper Cars

This is a first! I get those forwarded jokes/religious exhortations/weirdisms/cutsy stuff/odes to friendship, we all do. But I never forwarded one onto my blog before. But these cars are great, and it was a great idea to make them, and it's great that someone saved the cars from doom.

Enjoy! There are better pictures around, I'll let you find them.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Al And Tipper Go The Way Of All Flesh

So now no less than the Gores are suffering through one of those "relationships change" situations. It's discouraging.

I began to worry about my own chances of survival when Howard Stern got divorced. What chance do the rest of us have, I wondered, if his wife could zotz him for being annoying, in spite of the fact that by being annoying he earns many millions of dollars every year, and had been annoying, and earning the big bucks, for a long time? I thought that the last straw was Howch talking on air about a sensitive aspect of their sex lives, but there must have been more. Boy, share out a good portion of that money to me and you can say on air anything at all about me, I'll smile and take the money. Howard's wife took the money for years, thus ratifying the behavior in my view. I guess in the end she took a huge chunk of money and lost the annoyance.

Al Gore can certainly be annoying, but I guess we don't know the half of it. Wives get the inside story. Howard too, he's totally annoying, but Allison knew the whole story from that unique perspective.

Take note, girls! Marry us at your peril, because we are all obviously very, very annoying.