Monday, February 28, 2011

Blogs v. Notebooks

What's the difference between a blog and notebooks that you fill up and then keep in a box somewhere?

Not too bloody much, but at least some people read the blog, and that's a start. (And I guess it's easier to find than a box in someone's closet, and harder to lose.)

It Wasn't My Bus

The day I returned from Buriram was a very, very good day. Mostly because it wasn't my bus in the ditch.

Traffic stopped at one point. I thought it was some kind of police or military check point, there are a lot of those now, what with all of the Yellow Shirts, Red Shirts, and good, old fashioned meth smugglers. They usually don't detain the buses, but they snarl up traffic pretty good. When we got to the intersection though, I noticed all of the emergency vehicles, and finally saw the bus in the ditch.

It was a perfect fit, so it was hard to see until you were right on top of it, until I was looking right down on the blue, orange and white side of the bus with the windows staring up. Lots of guys with back-boards were crawling down to the bus. It didn't look like they'd opened it up yet. That was a real mess right there.

But it wasn't me, and I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving. Regular readers may know that I am not a conventionally religious man, probably I seem more like a blasphemer. But I do pray sometimes. No, I never ask for anything, I'm absolutely certain that there is no God that answers prayer. But God . . . who knows? It's so hard to be certain. So maybe I'm hedging my bets, but I do say a prayer of thanks on occasion, thanks for some blessing, some good luck, like this time, it not being my bus in the ditch.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Grateful, Respectful Students

This was my classroom out in Buriram. A little grander than most, the stage and the ceiling a little higher, the room a little nicer. I gave them my usual four-hour lecture for the class, "English for Lawyers." The lesson was just about typical. A nice bunch, very respectful. Some of them, designated by the group no doubt, took me and another ajan out to a nice dinner. It was delicious, and they were fun to hang out with.

All of the aspects of status in Thailand work in my favor, it's great. High education is high status, and I have a doctorate. Lawyers are high status. To be "mature" is high status. The more mature the better. Teachers are high status, and I am a university teacher. My job pays well, and to be prosperous is high status. Not to mention that everyone assumes that I am rich in America, and rich is very, very high status. My good works count for nothing. Form over function, as usual. It's a little frustrating, but I'll take the status any way that I can get it.

Let's Hear It For Unions!!!

I was raised in New York City, so it may come as no surprise to you that I am a Yellow Dog Democrat and a Blue Collar union fanatic. When I was a boy, a Republican couldn't get arrested in New York, and most of my friends' fathers were in unions. I've been in lots of unions myself, in amongst my fifty-odd jobs. Some of those unions even did me some good.

There's a lot of pressure on unions now, a new round of union busting. Funny stuff, though. Recall that the great communicator, Ronald Reagan, was a big time union buster. Those air-traffic controllers and etc. Strange, he was also the only president in United States history to actually have been in a union, the Screen Actors Guild, of which he was the president for six terms. He was so flexible, that one, so situational. Hypocritical, you might say. While he was acting to destroy unions in our own country he was saying things about Solidarity in Poland like, "the most elemental human right . . . the right to belong to a free trade union." Slicker than Slick Willie, that one.

Now there's Mike Huckabee, the most dangerous man in America. He doesn't seem to know anything when they ask him questions in his many TV appearances. Asked: what would you do in Afghanistan, he says, "I don't know." He says that a lot, the poor guy doesn't seem to know shit from shoe polish. He knows about unions though. He told Greta Van Sustren last week that "unions have broken the bank . . ." and need to be knocked down a peg. He believes that the current asshole governor of Wisconsin is on the right track.

So who's done more for you in your working life? Unions or Mike Huckabee? Down south, how's that right-to-work stuff working out for you? Like that forty-hour-week? That overtime? How many sick days do you get? Remember your health benefits? Want them back? Retirement, wow, that's some nostalgia right there. Remember who your friends are. The unions are your friends.*

*If you make over $100,000 a year, please disregard this post.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Countryside Temple In Buriram

Just a little sherbet to clear my pallet after the post below.

This is the working temple for the community that grew up around Prasit Wat Muang Tam, the thousand year old site appearing in pictures a page or two down. I didn't go in, but it appears typical. It's a small community surrounded by huge rice fields, so almost certainly most of the attendees of this temple are farmers. So this is the real Thailand. I recommend it highly.

What Planet Is This?

The news from America makes me physically ill almost everyday, but some days are worse than others, much worse.

I teach my Thai law students the Disney version of the American system, the dream version, and when I speak of Americans themselves the picture is equally rosy. You know, like, the laws are applied equally, and for most people race and religion are not issues. We all get along fine. If only it were so.

I know, re-posting is so declasse, but bear with me:

Courtesy of the Daily Kos:

Fox Nation's Gorilla Story Stirs Racist Frenzy

Today on the Fox Nation web site, they posted a story on the popularity of some new videos of a gorilla walking upright like a man. That seems like it should be an innocuous little animal tale with a precocious jungle creature imitating human behavior. But this is Fox Nation we're talking about.

This is the sort of item that Fox Nation posts fully aware of the dog-whistle effect it will have on its readers: a community of dimwits that is simply incapable of masking the open hostility and racism that is at the core of their putrid souls. Here is a sampling of the comments to be found attached to the article:

1preacher: Yea, I could see where this Gorilla evolved from obama's family.

amveteran: This is a true knuckle dragger. Reminds me of Al Sharpton.

winterhawk: Just as I thought, that's buckwheat's daddy.

flyinjohn23: Not only that....He got himself one of those Hiawian Birth Certificates over the internet all on his own too.

1preacher: Because I said that this was obama's mother, that is racist? Not following that one.

hawk1052: Shelia Jackson Lee, comes to mind.

armed: is the one in the background carrying a teleprompter and throwing tater tots at the other one.

And if that isn't bad enough, there were at least 13 comments that the Fox Nationalists "flagged for review." If the examples above made it past their decency filter, we can only imagine how disgusting were the comments that were removed were. And in addition to the overt racism, there was also an abundance of derogatory and idiotic remarks regarding evolution and the intelligence of liberals.

These people are sick and beyond pathetic. And Fox News knows exactly what they are doing by throwing this chum in the tank. This isn't the first time that Fox Nation's readers behaved so atrociously. Last year they posted feverishly about how they wished the President were dead.

The bigots at Fox are surely comfortable with this sort of hatred. We learned last summer that only 1.38% of Fox's audience is African American (compared to about 20% each for CNN and MSNBC). So they probably don't think they have much to lose by being racist jerkwads. Just their humanity, and they don't have much of that to begin with.

End of Kos re-post.

I checked those comments on the original site, it's true. The greatest minds of our time should immediately devote themselves to the question: what in God's name is going on here?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Yet Another Yamaha 250

For my money, this is still the hot set-up over here. It's a Yamaha 250 single, done up in fine, 1960's Cafe Racer style. This one was in Buriram, the provincial capitol. The "pudding bowl" helmet is a nice Sixties touch.

Religion 101

In a recent post I used the God question as a comparison point. A friend commented that all speculation about God is a waste of time. Mostly I agree with him, but really it’s kind of fun sometimes and it’s not as difficult as people make it out to be. The problem for most people is that the answers are not what we would have them be. That’s why they labor over the questions, instead of accepting the obvious answers. They’re looking for better answers.

I’m only thinking of this subject now because I’m reading Huston Smith’s “The World’s Religions.” It’s the real “Religion 101,” with lively writing and an admirably neutral tone. He seems very impressed with the awe and mystery of religion, and all of them.

He describes at one point the “speculative” feature of religions. We are encouraged to speculate, he says, about questions like “where do we come from? where do we go? why are we here?” I hate to tell you, these are the easy questions.

Here’s what I think.

Where do we come from? We come from our parents, and so forth, and all of us, every living one of us, have been here pretty much forever, an endless chain of procreation, all the way back to the first cell that became “alive” as opposed to “inanimate,” uninterrupted by death. Obviously, duh! or else we wouldn’t be here.

Don’t like that answer? Maybe you prefer what I call “the Myth of Individuality.” You may think that you are unique, but really you’re not that special. Even if you don’t know them, they’re out there, the people just like you, sharing your genes and blood, looking like you, sharing your DNA. There’s nothing at all unique about you. Get over it. Two plus two is four, whether you write it in pen, pencil or crayon.

Where do we go? When we die, he means, when we get old, get sick, and finally just up and die. We don’t go anywhere, we stay right where we were, or where they put us, whether it’s in the ground or up the chimney. But what about our precious consciousness? That’s still here too, in the form of other people from whom we are indistinguishable. I know, that individuality thing is a compelling illusion, but like I said, give it up.

Why are we here? This one is deceptively easy. We are here totally by accident, there’s no reason at all! And nothing that we ever do means anything! Nothing at all! Does that upset you? Are you worried about right and wrong? The often predicted breakdown of order? Don’t worry, there are other, better reasons to keep order in the world. Order makes things more pleasant, and less dangerous, and everybody that was ever born loved pleasant, and shied away from dangerous. We’ll be fine without meaning.

Notice that I have answered these questions as they relate to us, we mere human beings. If these questions are applied to the universe as a whole, or whatever the ultimate sum of everything is being called these days, they become unanswerable, and shall probably remain so far, far into the future, if not forever. That’s a real mystery right there, an impenetrable mystery that you may join me in referring to as “God.” No further discussion or speculation is required.

So there it is! I am happy to have provided this service for you, finally making all of this clear. And in 604 words too! How’s that for economy! Don’t thank me. Just make a donation to the charity of your choice.

The Classical Musician's Choice

Over the weekend I attended another concert of the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra. They really are very good. This week they warmed up with some indifferent new music and finished with a wonderful rendition of Dvorak's "New World" symphony. This bad boy was parked outside.

After the show, a guy in a tux started it up. My student Apiwat recognized him as one of the double-bass players. He made his way through the parking lot in impressive fashion and disappeared into traffic.

It's a Honda, by the way, a "Steed," I think. I don't think they sell them looking like this, not by a long shot.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Nakorn Sawan Dragon Park

Nakorn Sawan is a very Chinese-Thai town. There are pix and vid's from NS a couple of pages back, the Chinese New Year parade and the party of the family of my student. For them, the patriarch came to Thailand by coming down the river system. He was going to BKK but when he stopped at Nakorn Sawan he figured, this looks good, I'll stay here. Him and lots of other Chinese.

So there's a lot of Chinese imagery all over town, like this nice group of dragons in a big city park.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Am I Black Enough For you?

There is a huge to-do on the 'Net these days that had its genesis in Herman Cain's speech at a recent Conservative conclave. A blogger with some notoriety took offense, quite reasonably, at his conservative posturing and his condescending attitude towards his fellow American Blacks. The blogger pulled no punches, comparing Cain's antics to Minstrel shows and calling him "the monkey in the window." This resulted in a real "tempest in a tea-spoon," with Conservatives accusing the blogger of racism, using some disagreeable terms themselves.

To be Black. Maybe I don't know so much about it, as my friend Terry explained to me back in the day, holding me by my coat and dangling me off the ground. But I know that it must be a terrible thing for a Black American to be considered insufficiently Black by other Black Americans. Who are the real Blacks?

President Obama, for instance. Is he really Black? Is he Black enough? He has a White mom, and his dad was born in Africa. What does he know of our home-grown Black experience? All of that negativity, all of that shared hardship?

Well, he sure wasn't White enough for the White people, and he still isn't. If he isn't Black enough for the Black people, where does that leave him? I'll tell you where: Black. All of his life, he has been perceived as Black, treated as Black. He's paid those dues like anyone else in his situation, his situation in the mirror.

I agree with the blogger in every material way. Mr. Cain, and his Black Conservative cohorts, are a stain on Black America, having sold their souls to a movement that uses them for political capitol while not so secretly finding them deficient based on the color of their skin. For fame, or money, they kowtow to the Conservative powers that be.

These are the "Queen Bees" that I learned about in Sociology class. Sure, I'm Black, but I'm somehow better than those other Blacks. I'm a bee, sure, but I'm a Queen Bee. It's a schande. They reject their own Blackness. Maybe their question to their Conservative buddies is: am I White enough for you?

Want to see some reasonable discussion of the reality of the modern American Black experience? Check out the blogger at "We Are Respectable Negroes." What do I know? But I know that these are important issues, and I know that our current leaders are allowing the issue to fester in a swamp of misplaced emphases.

TV Time

Oh! Happy days! American Idol and Glee today.

Re: American Idol . . . hard to believe that Steven Tyler's band first hit thirty-five years ago. Hard to believe because I was already an adult, married with children. But the show, new judges notwithstanding, it's still strangely compelling.

Re: Glee . . . is it just me, or is Kurt the worst dressed gay man in the entire world? Honestly, I don't even know what season I'm watching. My TV guide is so screwed up, and Glee is on two different channels, several times a week on each. I'm happy for it though, every time I find it.

More Buriram

Another couple of pix from the Buriram historical sites.

The province of Buriram is kind of a punchline in Thailand. It's famous for the great number of "Farang son-in-laws." The provincial capitol was a tiny, quiet town that featured lots of Westerners married to Thai women.

I didn't get any pictures to prove that point, however, so all I can offer is another couple of pix of old masonry.

Compared To The God Question

The God question occupied some of my time today, between my nap and a few hours wrestling with some particularly challenging Engrish in a paper that I’m editing. I never get far with the God question, honestly I don’t think there’s any real dealing with it, but it did take me somewhere interesting.

We wrestle with lots of questions everyday, everything from deep subjects like race relations and modern relationships to mundane bullshit like the economy and taxes and taking care of those less fortunate than us. Can we all agree that compared to the God question, everything else starts to look pretty elementary?

We need to ask ourselves: how many of these questions are we going to let totally kick our asses? The God question has our number, no bout adout it, but shouldn’t we do better with some of the simpler stuff?

I was in the hospital one time. I was lucky to get there fast enough to get the help that I needed, but it was something that could easily have killed me if things had gone a little differently, and I was in bad shape for a couple of days. Day one I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, but on the second day I shook it off. I reminded myself that I was going to live, and I asked myself: are you a man or are you a mouse? That’s what we need to ask ourselves about these accessible, solvable questions. Are we men, who can be reasonable and deal with these things, or are we mice, condemned to endless, ineffective bloviation. I’m including you girls here too, you know, “men” as in “mankind.”

We may never figure out where we came from, or why we’re here, but I’m confident that if we try we can figure out how to structure a fair and effective health care system in America, just for example. Other countries have done it, sufficient to prove that the problem is amenable to solution. We can take them one at a time.

Come on, it’ll be fun! And easier than trying to discover the nature of God.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

shinya kimura @ chabott engineering

Did I mention, this guy is great?

Brasat Muang Tam, Buriram, Thailand

This one is down in the flats, near the "mountain" temple Panom Rung. The water feature appearing in this video is unique in my experience. Those "four corners" pools. The whole temple had water channels everywhere, around the buildings, across the building entrances, water was a big part of their worship.

From what I hear, the entire Angor Wat complex in Cambodia was an elaborate water puzzle. It was designed so that during the rainy season everything would fill up, water surrounding everything, water for luck, water showing the power of the king. This here temple is Angor Wat Junior.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More Signage

The signs for "no sitting," and "no entry," were in Thai and English. Then I came across this nice new brick sitting on a very uneven wall of one of the structures. It says, "no climbing," only in Thai.

I guess they trust the tourists not to start climbing up every wall that looks climbable. The Thai students? Not so much trust there.

Panom Rung Signage

The signage here was pretty good, with descriptions in English for my convenience. The second to the last sentence here is the winner.

Hindu Imagery At Panom Rung

Not much remains of the carved imagery at this site. It's all Hindu, that was the hot set up around here before Buddhism took hold. (And it remains in the background, peeking through frequently in the more recent Thai Buddhist imagery.) So it's all Shiva this and Rama that, and the ever popular Krishna, stories of all those Gods having fights over essentially nothing and then riding off on a bull with their consort.

A lot of nice schoolchildren were visiting while I was there. They brightened up the pictures considerably.

Prasit Panom Rung, The Mountain Temple

This is a very impressive site, constructed between the tenth and thirteenth centuries. I love pictures of people taking pictures, and I'm partial to this one of monks taking pictures of monks.

This is out in Isan, the province of Buriram. It's very close to the Cambodian border, and lots of the locals are ethnically Cambodian, speaking little or no Thai. If they speak anything besides Cambodian it's liable to be the local Isan language. About half of Thais speak one of the local dialects with their families and friends.

With all of the current troubles with Cambodia, people were a little jumpy. We were close enough to Cambodia to see it from the hill, certainly within artillery range. At one point a siren went off, and I wasn't the only one who perked up and started looking around.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Modern Mimic Of An Ancient HIndu Site In Thailand

Never seen one of these either, but a horse-soldier guardian makes more sense than the creature below. The four compass points for this, what is it, it'll come to me, are guarded by these horse things, monkey-warriors (like the Ramayana story), bird-warriors (the Garuda), and lion-warriors (not sure about them).

This structure is in downtown Buriram. It mirrors the Hindu imagery of the nearby 10th to 13th Century historical sites.

Incidentally, this area of Thailand was part of the Khmer empire for a long time, long ago. There'll be more from the historical sites in the next couple of days. A similar site in neighboring Si Saket is much in the news these days, you can look it up.

A Mythological Oddity

I'd never seen this one before, but it showed up a couple of times in Buriram this weekend. Rather ugly, is it not?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Farang-Thai Love Affairs: Nothing New Under The Sun

I recently re-read “Lord Jim,” Joseph Conrad’s great novel about a young English merchant marine officer who hides himself in Asia to escape an embarrassing incident in his past. He finds love eventually, and it got me thinking about these things, the escaping, the re-inventing, the falling in love. There’s a lot of it all going on to this day.

For me, the re-invention part is the most apt comparison. My reasons for coming to Asia were more about jobs and the low cost of living, so I was not consciously attempting to re-invent myself. The new surroundings did provide me with a new self-image, however, somewhat more positive, based on my status as a university professor and the profound distance from my past “achievements.” Whereas Americans may judge me harshly, Thais are in no position to judge me at all.

The “love” part is always interesting to me. I’ve seen so much of it by now, American or European men with Thai women. There are some happy stories, to be sure, of age-appropriate couples who can communicate well and obviously love each other. It is, however, not always thus.

Conrad’s character Marlowe writes of having seen a lot of it too, and says, “. . . the majority of us don’t believe them to be stories of love at all. For the most part we look upon them as stories of opportunities: episodes of passion at best, or perhaps only of youth and temptation, doomed to forgetfulness in the end, even if they pass through the reality of tenderness and regret.”

Doomed, indeed, many of the love stories that I have seen. I think of all men as being part dog, and I sometimes warn young women of this fact. Some men are only a little bit puppy; others more like a decent, mature dog; some are mostly wolf. There are many of these wolves in Thailand, come for the lavish availability of attractive women that are ripe for exploitation.

Thais in general, and Thai women in particular, are in no position to evaluate the character of a Western man who appears in their midst. Barriers of language and culture prevent understanding. If the Westerner seems prosperous, as most of us do, and if he is polite and cheerful, many Thai women, especially poor women, feel like they have made a great catch. They want what all women want, a little security, somebody to be nice to them, and maybe even some prosperity for their children.

Conrad, and Marlowe, again: “What notions she may have formed of the outside world is to me inconceivable . . . her lover came to her from there, gifted with irresistible seductions; but what would become of her if he should return to these inconceivable regions that always seem to claim back their own?”

It happens a lot, the reclaiming. On many occasions I have been introduced to very attractive young women with one or two half-Western children in tow, a woman that was presented to me by family or friends as needing a husband. The father of the children had gone back to Britain or Germany, or America, and if he had sent any money at all it had stopped almost immediately.

Oh, there are the happy stories, and a lot of them. If one goes to any village in the countryside one can find Westerners who love their Thai wives and children, and who are good to their neighbors, and to the monks, men who have learned to speak Thai and have made themselves quite popular.

Overall, though, it is no surprise to me that many Thais don’t care much for Farang.

Chinese New Year Parade Nakorn Sawan, Thailand

A nice marching band in cool cowboy hats from the big parade in Nakorn Sawan, Thailand. This was a huge affair, sixty floats and bands, and they marched around the entire town for hours. This was Saturday night; on Sunday they did it all again, even bigger, with ninety bands and floats, marching around from seven in the morning until almost six p.m.

I love the way they naturally resort to "at ease" whenever they stop.

Great Chinese New Years Party In Nakorn Sawan

Of the three young people, the one on the left was in my class on Saturday. He volunteered to drive me back to the hotel, and on the way he invited me to his family's holiday party. Luckily for me, I accepted. It was a great time, and a really nice family. This is a picture of him with his younger sister and brother. He's a great guy, smart as a whip and personable as all get out.

The grandmother is in the middle picture. She's eighty-seven years old. She had at least six children, I'm not sure that I understood the genealogy right. All of her children have families, and they were all at the party. Grandma, and the rest of her generation, were from China.

Most interestingly, the four foreigners are all exchange students living with various elements of this extended family. The way it was explained to me, they like to have exchange students around because: 1) English is important and it's nice to practice with a pleasant young person; and 2) it's just fun all around. These guys are, left to right, from Mexico, Canada, Germany and America.

Hotel Review: The Mai Hom Hotel In Nakorn Sawan, Thailand

After the post below, I would be remiss if I failed to point out that the Mai Hom Hotel was really, really nice. A bargain too, at about twenty-six bucks a night for a double, including a good breakfast. Even less for me, with my Ramkhamhaeng University discount.

It was a brand, spanking new building. The bed and the pillows were very comfortable. There was a big Samsung flat screen hanging on the wall, with a hook-up to one of the good cable companies, seventy channels or so. Full sized refrigerator (with only the two free bottles of water. There was a low priced snack bar in the lobby instead of a "mini-bar" situation). Good air-con, and an alert cleaning staff (especially if, like me, you leave forty Baht on the pillow everyday). The restaurant was open till late, with lots of great stuff and everything prices at a buck or two.

The bathroom was useful in every detail, while also being interesting in a Thai way. The toilet and fixtures were all American Standard, with a Thai twist. In the sink, there was the usual set up of one faucet, cold water only, and if you turned the handle the entire fixture rotated in that direction as well. The toilet flushed fine, as long as you held the handle down for the twelve seconds or so that it took the water to wash out the bottom. I'm sure that the float wasn't set right. Thai construction people are generalists, they do everything, so you don't get the benefit of a real plumber to install bathroom fixtures. Hot water availability was good, which is better than fair, which would be okay in itself.

So if you're ever in Nakorn Sawan, it's a good place to stay.

The Not-A-Good-Smell Hotel

My buddy Professor Kamtorn drove me up to Nakorn Sawan last week, we were both teaching classes on the weekend. Actually, we were teaching in Uthai Thani, the province next door, but Kamtorn told me that Uthai had only one good hotel and it was a high priced resort, out of our price range. He said the last time he stayed in the so-called decent hotel in town, the bed was so old and played-out that he had to finally sleep on the floor. So we went to a good, new hotel that he knew of in neighboring Nakorn Sawan.

We got there and I read the sign for the hotel, it was the first time I’d seen the name of the place. I got a strange vibe from it. In the lobby, I saw a bigger sign and thought about it some more. I was reading this in Thai, and my Thai spelling is not so great, with the forty-four consonants and the high, middle and low class, and the twenty-four odd vowels, and the little tricks that when I ask about them the answer is, “oh, it’s a Sanskrit word.” (“san-sa-krit”) It was the “hotel mai hawm.” I was substantially correct in my reading of that. So I thought that the name of the hotel was the “not a good smell hotel.”

But I had run afoul of the very variable tone markers. With a “mai-A” tone marker it would have been “not good smell;” with the “mai-toh,” the tone was high, and it meant “wood good smell.”

In the brochure, in the “ABC’s” version of the name, however, it was unambiguous: the Mai Hom Hotel. Which, when you read it out, means “the not-a-good-smell hotel.”

Cool Vehicle Update: A Volks And Two Hondas To Go

These old Vee-Dubs are very popular over here. This one is more than thirty years old, but it's in great shape, with a happening luggage rack and some nice after-market chrome trim. I'm told that in Thailand they still go for a fortune in this condition.

The orange hot-rod-Honda is interesting, mostly because it's the monk color. Usually, Thai people avoid this color in clothing and everything else. This one has the faux graphite hood and nice wheels. I also appreciate the "Thrasher" magazine sticker on the gas cap. A no-go-showboat, odds are.

The other one: I'm just a sucker for these mid-nineties Accord bodies, that was a great shape right there. Who knows what's under the hood? Might be a great ride.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mr. Fred's Poetry Corner: Brooklyn '65

One of mine, from a couple of years ago. I know, poetry! Uggh! But it's only once is a while. Quit your complaining!

Brooklyn ‘65

Cold and clear the drafty old sedan,
Cigarette smoke, some friends and rock and roll
For company on this boring weekday night,
Let’s go to New York and play a game
Of ‘Bang the Poor Old Unsuspecting Bum.’”

Lots of gas in the tank, a good choice
For some good clean urban fun to break
The tedium of another week in school,
It runs good too, the tires almost new,
Maybe we should take them before we dump it.

Tony in the back seat rolling up a joint,
He spent his last five dollars on a bag,
No sweat, later we’ll all help him out,
Get some White Castle after all this beer
And reefer makes us hungry.

Across the old bridge, the city lights
Subdued, light traffic, the commerce slowed,
The City devoted now to fun,
After mid-night, music, restaurants, bars,
Time enough tomorrow to make money.

People in New York have lots of bad habits,
Like crossing the street, they never stand back,
Drivers know the deal, go straight,
No slowing, no stopping, the guy will cross
When we’ve passed him and cleared the way.

“There’s a guy!” now cheerful, “Bobby, get him.”
“Not too fast, Shithead, like the last fuckin’ time.”
An overcoat and wild hair, crossing right to left,
Waiting for his chance, but too far out,
Slower now, and swinging out the door . . . Poom/Bang!

“I missed it Tony! Did you see his face?”
“Yeah! It lit up like a Christmas Tree!”
Another hour or so, Canal, the Bowery,
Bobby took a turn at the wheel, four doors
And they Christened three of them.

NOTE: Of course I was an angel myself. Don't try this at home!

Chedi Luang Grounds Chiang Mai Thailand

This is the front gate area of the Chedi Luang complex in Chiang Mai, with the facade of the main temple, a nice bus, some monks and a tattooed European woman tourist. I've been to this place so many times, I guess I just forgot this trip to take pix of the more exciting stuff.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Dialogs Of Race Relations, And The Difficulties Thereof

My new favorite blog has me thinking about these matters. That would be “We Are Respectable Negroes.” I posted something about it recently, I suppose that I am expanding on that post herein.

My wife and I were attending university in our mid-twenties, returning to our studies after a break for getting married and having a son. She had a student aid job, working as a secretary for the Human Relations branch of the Sociology Department. We were at Queens College of the City University of New York, one of the most working class campuses of that very working class institution, which had no dormitories, no football team, and no fraternities or sororities, almost all of the students were working class kids taking public transportation to school. Her duties took her to a retreat called a “Human Interaction Laboratory,” and I went along. While there I went to a session on inter-racial relations.

I had always found Black/White dialog easy, and I was happy for the opportunity to represent. I didn’t think that I was the prime example of open-mindedness, but I felt like my overall attitude was pretty good. On this occasion, I was the only White person in the room. The conversation started out with a question directed at me, “where are the White people?” All I could do was point out that I was there, and I couldn’t really speak for anyone else. Which leads me to my first point: the people who would most benefit from such discussions are rarely present.

There are problems with any kind of inter-racial dialog. “Prejudice” is generally perceived to be a negative emotion. To be “prejudiced” is to have already made up one’s mind about something, to “pre-judge,” which is not a good thing. But the truth is, most people are to some degree prejudiced when it comes to racial matters. Most people have opinions about the other races, more or less strongly held. These can be innocuous, like “Asians are lousy drivers,” or they can be more problematic, like “Italian men are criminals,” or “Blacks are dirty,” or “White people are racists.” Strong prejudices make dialog impossible.

Even well intentioned people can suffer from “prejudice light.” It’s enough to prevent real dialog from taking place at all. People may enter a new dialog with someone of the other race with a threshold question that is related to their own prejudices. They seek to discover, as soon as possible, if this person is what their prejudice tells them is a “typical” representative of that race. If the question is answered in the affirmative, the dialog is effectively over.

All races are guilty of this. No race is immune. Many Whites hold the conviction that Blacks automatically think ill of them, withholding approval and true fellowship on purely racial grounds. Or worse, they may feel strongly that most Blacks are culturally or morally inferior to White people. If the Black person offers any evidence at all, however slim, to support this prejudice, whoops! dialog over.

Blacks are equally guilty of this litmus-testing style. Many Blacks are convinced that Whites are contemptuous of their habits and their culture at best, and probably hold White supremacist views besides. In a very friendly manner, my delightfully personable new Black friend may be seeking confirmation of my bonafides.

A stereotype is set up, and the threshold question is, “does this person fit the stereotype?” It is disturbingly easy for most people to find evidence that the answer is, “yes.” Prejudice, even of a weaker variety, is a powerful mindset. Babies will be thrown out with bathwater.

Evidence is a funny thing. Lawyers know that “truth” is an impossible goal in a court inquiry. So it’s not so much “what does the evidence show,” as it is “what will the jury think that the evidence shows?” Different juries will come to different conclusions, based upon their prejudices. With no reference to truth, decisions will be made and then cut in stone.

There are so many aspects to this problem, honestly I don’t have the heart or the talent to tackle it in some systematic way. Just my usual shallow, unfocused rambling. This is a blog, not the New York Review of Books. I just want to make two points:

1. This shit is important. We live together, we serve together in the American military, we work together, our families are blended. People have value, all people. Strong prejudices and all generalizations must be eliminated as far as is possible. The weaker prejudices require our greater awareness, so that we may show a little smile when that filter is automatically engaged, and know that we are judging when no judgment is really called for; and

2. This shit is hard. We have, in America, a long history of torturous race relations, from the truly horrific to mere benign neglect and everything in between. The big groups, White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, all have calcified positions that must be challenged, at least, and shattered if at all possible. And let’s not forget the poor American Indians, who have probably suffered more than any other group. Every group has sub-groups with their own grievances and prejudices. It’s complicated.

The current climate of the discussion is not good. That there are many so-called minorities represented at the top levels of our government does not mean that the problems of racism are behind us. We are not in any meaningful way “post-racial.” Those who are most likely to allege “post-racism” are also most likely to show up at a demonstration holding a sign displaying a banana eating monkey in the White House.

So please, if you love me, consider these things, and when the opportunity presents itself, walk a mile in the other guy’s moccasins, and do something gentle. And if you think that you know someone’s heart, based on thin evidence, in the immortal words of Oliver Cromwell, “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, please consider that you may be wrong.”

Shinya Kimura kicks his Spike

I love a guy who's got a mind all his own, and Shinya's in a class by himself. Stay with the video, he does get the thing running. Sounds great, too.

"I don't make drawings," he has said elsewhere. So he builds these things like G. Simenon wrote his novels: get a couple of ideas for a start; get going with the building; see where it takes you.

What a talent! I hope that he's making a living.

Papa Was A Rascal

New Orleans music: the gift that keeps on giving! A generous font of God's love, if you will.

I love these guys. 'Fess, Champion Jack Dupree, Archibald, Dr. John, Pine Top Perkins, man, those guys can (could) play. I suppose Professor Longhair is my favorite, but Booker is right up there.

Mostly self-taught ear-players by the way. Some interviewer asked 'Fess one time, so Professor, what key do you like to play in? "Well," said the maestro, "I probably plays in all of 'em."

Chiang Mai Zoo Ovaltine Festival

Last month in Chiang Mai I visited the zoo, where I saw this great Ovaltine extravaganza. "Ovaltine" is impossible to say in Thai, it comes out "oh-wan-deen."

Kind of crass, and typically way too loud, there's still something endearing about this presentation. Maybe it's that Mistress of Ceremonies, she seems enthusiastic.