Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Inter-City Bus In Thailand

One of our fine inter-city tour buses, a Scania. This one was about eight bucks for a five hour, three hundred kilometer or so ride from Pitsanalok to BKK, with a nice boxed lunch included. But no movie! Amazing really, I don't remember ever taking a bus ride of this duration before with no movie.

For Thais, sleeping on a bus is as easy as falling off a log. Usually, half of the people on the bus are asleep before the bus leaves the terminal, as is this nice woman here.

That's my bald head back there, by the way. (Photo: Lech)

A Good Sized Monitor Lizard In Bangkok

My buddy Goska being fascinated by a rather exotic element of the local food chain on some klong somewhere in BKK. (Picture by her husband, Lech)

Twenty-First Century Problems

When I consider the world’s problems, I get a feeling that is somewhere between a bad toothache and the ten seconds after you lock your car door with the keys inside. It’s a melancholy thing, made up in equal parts of pain and longing.

Some of the world’s problems are easy to see; some are hidden behind many levels of difficulty and novelty. So much has changed in our world, and so quickly, that our familiar methodologies for problem solving are frequently overmatched. Take money, for instance. Money was like longitude and latitude, an imaginary system that enabled us to order a particular reality. Money ordered the equivalence, the value relationship, between anything and everything within the four corners of the economy. It worked very well for a long time, but the new reality of the 21st Century has placed a huge strain on the belief system that we know as “money.”

If you don’t believe me, I guess that you are not surprised at all when Google buys up an unknown start-up of dubious profitability for billions of dollars.

Our modern problems with money are not limited to vagaries of valuation. A particular bugaboo of mine is “economism,” which is the current tendency to value any idea by the application of cost/benefit analysis. I learned this verbal formulation in an article by the late, much lamented Tony Judt. The real nature of the problem is that for so many of society’s needs there is no marketable advantage to be found, or the advantage is so abstract and prospective as to render it speculative. This is perhaps especially true regarding infrastructure projects, which can be fabulously expensive. Certainly a project like the Hoover Dam was important, and many great benefits have ensued, but how could those benefits have been accurately predicted in advance? And what profit-based corporate entity could have managed the project? The benefits were so widespread, diverse and unpredictable, how could they have made back their money?

Economism has led us to over-value people who have managed to get rich. This over-emphasis is also applied to large corporations. The feeling seems to be that they are the engines of society, they understand money and profits, only they create value, and that if we will only nurture and protect them the rest of society will be fine. If Wall Street and the monied classes are well disposed, Main Street will somehow be okay. Those who propose this logic are, of course, rich people and large corporations, or their agents. The arguments are dubious, and the historical record does not support them, so maybe illogic is a better word.

Economism has also led us to under-value the security and well-being of our more run-of-the-mill citizens (the people who actually run the mills). So now we are subjected everyday to illogic on a grand scale. Social Security and Medicare must be privatized (they are performing okay and providing great societal benefits, so the reason must be that someone wants to transfer the benefits from citizens to business interests). Fire department services, unemployment compensation, libraries, safe work places, public housing, nutrition assistance, clean water . . . you must be joking, haven’t you noticed that we have no money? But somehow we can do anything we want to militarily, and many military things simultaneously is okay too. And a huge and constantly expanding national security apparatus. Plenty of money for all that. How does that work? Oh, the business interests again.

My meandering instinct is coming up again, I can feel it! Yes! The single, overarching problem that blankets all of the others is that we have been abandoned to our fate by our elected officials. We, the country, the world, the known universe, have seen our interests jettisoned by those that we trusted to administer the world for our benefit. And in return for a pittance too, a very small fraction of the money that is now flowing in rivers upward to the few. It makes me feel so cheap to have been sold out for next to nothing, a few pieces of silver. They could at least have held out for real money, maybe 7.5 percent of the total take, you’d think that their slavish devotion to the people that pay them would be worth that.

Here’s an aspect of the new problems with money: the age old perceived reality of money is keeping society from reaching its potential. The prosperous classes, and the politicians and the corporations, are raking off a considerable percentage of a good deal of money, and it is enough to enable them to buy just about anything they want. Lots of them already have more money than they could ever spend. So they’re happy with the size of the overall pie right now, when in fact it could be expanded greatly through the judicious application of new technologies, and new knowledge, and through the more effective exploitation of our vast human potential. For the power-elite though, there’s no incentive, they have too much already, and they like things just the way they are.

Thank God only six people will ever read this, more than that and I might begin to worry for my safety. There’s no need though, I’m not important enough. These days, most people who fail to get the logic of “my country as Wall Street plus an underclass” are seen as demented mumblers, like someone standing on a street corner with a sign that says, “Soon, A Cleansing.” Even the so-called Democrats are on the tit, and prefer to keep the money coming in. If the monied interests get worried, somebody might have an accident. But I’m not important enough to worry them.

I know, this was déjà vu all over again for some of you, but I have always maintained that a good joke was worth retelling. And I needed something to do for a while. So sue me!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Even More Of More Vehicles Than You Really Need To See

Bicycle taxi in Pitsanalok. These guys work hard for their money.

Lech gets the picture credit. He's a much better photographer than me. I'm too shy about getting in people's faces, but Lech just keeps the camera at the ready and shoots, shoots, shoots, with such a serious look on his face that people probably think he's from the U.N. or something. Well, good for him, and good for me too, because they're all on my computer now!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ronald MacDonald In Bangkok

A very polite Ronald MacDonald, and two very polite Polish tourists in my BKK neighborhood.

Did I mention that I had Ronald MacDonald in my cab one time? I picked him up in Astoria, near his mom's house. Very nice guy. He ran the whole thing down for me, he was the Ronald for the Middle Atlantic states, there were six or seven all together. This one was homosexual, by the way, not that there's anything wrong with that.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Percy Mayfield - Hit the Road Jack - 1984

The great Percey Mayfield, whom some people call "The Poet of the Blues." At least that's what Billie Vera said, on his terrific KCRW radio show in the late '80's, when he was just on the cusp of selling out. That's another story, but Percey, he's the real deal.

He wrote this song, and the demo is included on compilation CD's, and it's killer. I love the party thing here, Percey makes himself a drink while he's singing the song, Kahlua, scotch, milk and splash of tap water. The 'Tube has lots of his good stuff. Check out "Life is Suicide."

You go, Percey, you go 'head on, wherever you are. You had it, and you shared it, and I love it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pitsanalok, Thailand

These were taken by my friend, Lech Lewandoski. He and his wife, my buddy Goska, are here visiting from Poland. Nobody here can say "goshka," so all of my Thai friends are calling her Margaretta. Lech is a great photographer, I appreciate his generous permission to use his stuff (with full credit!).

The age old question: vehicles or temples? I lean towards the vehicles myself, as you know.

The vehicle is a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi; the temple is Wat Yai.

Magic mushroom’s positive effects lasting over a year, say researchers | The Raw Story

Magic mushroom’s positive effects lasting over a year, say researchers | The Raw Story

Aw, hell, I could have told them that.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cool Vehicles Alert: June Update

The three-wheeler is a motorcycle taxi in Petchabun, north-central Thailand. This one's been around the block a few times. I'm pretty sure that people just rip apart some old rolling stock and whip these things out themselves, each one has different frame geometry. Different regions of Thailand have different solutions to the problem of local transportation. This kind of rig is common in Central Thailand, but you won't find them everywhere.

The bicycle I came across in a small market town in the countryside of Pitsanalok. Now isn't that a nice paint job? I'm pretty sure that the element connecting the steering head to the handle bars was a home-fabricated custom job. A custom ride without going broke, that shows a lot of class.

The Efficacy Of Prayer

Also in Pitsanalok, I revisited the local big temple, called, appropriately, Wat Yai (“big temple”). The nave was filled with people offering prayers, usually accompanied by lotus flowers, joss sticks and a candle. I couldn’t help wondering what they were praying for. I’m fascinated by prayer, and I usually come to the same conclusion, in varying degrees, depending on my mood.

In my opinion, prayers in which the supplicant asks the perceived deity for something, or for some favor, are at best useless and at worst counterproductive. If nothing and no one hears the prayers, well then it is just embarrassing. If indeed some deity hears the prayers, they may be an affront to that deity. If the prayers are for a benefit to the supplicant, they are selfish and should certainly be found wanting; if they are for a benefit to someone other than the supplicant, they may be somewhat more worthy, but the point remains that God, if God there is, already knows what will happen, has already quite made up his mind, and probably does not wish to be bothered.

My opinion regarding prayers of thanksgiving, however, has risen over the years, and today I’m in a generous mood. These may actually be useful, by any set of rules that may apply to the two parties that are connected by the prayer.

If there is a God who hears prayers, these prayers will almost certainly be found worthy. Indeed, if God is as human as he is generally portrayed to be, future benefit may accrue to those who regularly express their gratitude.

Even in the absence of God, prayers of thanks may have their utility. At the very minimum, they focus the attention of the obeisant on his own good fortune. There is real profit in this. One can compare one’s own experience to that of others and meditate on one’s relative good fortune. Anyone who has lived more than a painful month after being born has, after all, something to be thankful for. Anyone who has made it to adulthood in good health is very fortunate indeed. To have gone further in good health, and to have experienced the joys of marriage and child rearing, is, strictly speaking, a dream of avarice. A little appreciation is in order.

So pray, by all means. Pray to acknowledge something greater than yourself; or pray in gratitude for your blessings; or pray for assistance in discovering the futility of grudges and vendettas. Those things are fine, according to me, the self-appointed expert in these matters. But pray to receive the things that you desire at your peril. At best, it appears a bit foolish, and at worst, it may be a sin in the eyes of the real expert.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Thanks, Carey

One of my blogging buddies has posted a very nice testimonial to me, and I must say that my gratitude for his kind words is quite overwhelming. It is, I think, the first time that anyone has put sustained pen to paper about me, with all the negativity deleted, and I am flattered beyond words. I was pretty sure that I'd have to wait until I was dead to get that, and even then I wasn't sure it would ever come.

The blog is at:


The post is, "Thailand, Fred and Me: Who's That Knocking At My Door?"

God knows that I try desperately to please, and regular readers know that I am a certified, pathological approval junkie, but I know that sometimes it's hard to cut through the accompanying doom and gloom. Carey's words are validating, and that's a real blessing.

(Two of my law prof's went to the movies one time. They were at a mall where you had to get your parking ticket stamped for free parking. As they were leaving the lot, the driver turned to the other prof and said, "validation?" The prof replied, "you are a good teacher, and everyone likes you!" True story.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Maybe I'm Russian

Russian proverbs can seem very strange to Americans. They seem a little on the negative side, perhaps overly cynical. They make a lot of sense to me though.

I learned in grammar school to keep my head down and never to draw attention to myself. I learned this from experts, the Sisters of St. Dominic. The Russians have proverbs addressing the issue of living in an authoritarian environment:

"The nail that stands up gets smashed down."


"The tallest wheat stalk bends first."

There's another Russian proverb that makes sense to me:

"Let it be worse; let it be ours."

I'll let you fill in the blanks on that one.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Hello Kitty!

I see these "Hello Kitty" vehicles from time to time, and I like them well enough. I do, however, prefer the really tricked out "Doremon" cars.

Tourists In Paradise

My guests, visiting from Poland, against the background of the spirit houses of the museum mentioned in the post below.

The Cost Of Doing Business

There’s a nice folklore museum in Pitsanalok called the Sergeant Major Doctor Tawee Museum of Thai Folklore. Khun Sgt. Maj. Dr. Tawee is a nice guy, he raised the money and started the place when he retired from the Royal Thai Army.

There are many rooms of things to see. Lots of hand-crafted gizmos made from rattan or bamboo for use in catching fish, or birds, or snakes; recreations of rooms that were the usual thing in countryside houses long ago; pictures of modern people wearing traditional costumes from various periods. I’d been there before, but my favorite observation on this visit was the “bribes” to be paid for various services back in the day.

The “bribe” refers not to the fee owed to the practitioner, but rather to the offering that must accompany the task. I made note of two of them:

A. Upon the Castration of a Bull:

To the castrator. This display was accompanied by many photos of a bull under powerful duress. The offering was to consist of:

1. One bottle of whiskey;
2. One half of one coconut;
3. Three joss sticks;
4. One candle;
5. Three betel nuts;
6. Three cigarettes; and
7. Twelve Baht.

B. Upon the Birth of a Baby:

To the midwife. This display featured a nice recreation of a birthing room. The offering was:

1. Three betel nuts;
2. Three bananas;
3. Three joss sticks;
4. Three cigarettes;
5. One “small” bottle of whiskey; and
6. One Baht, fifty Satang.

One “bribe” seems to outweigh the other, but I offer no comment on that.

Down On The Farm In Pitsanalok

Visited some of my country-mouse buddies last week, in Pitsanalok. I wanted to give my Polish visitors a taste of the real Thailand. I like Bangkok well enough, but big cities tend to be much the same.

I think they had fun, and my P'lok friends sure appreciated the exciting company. Lunch was great. I, being the oldest, got the only chair. My friends really love all of the fruit here. Poland is still a little bit behind the curve, fresh fruit wise, and of course the tropical fruit is a novelty.

Sukothai Motorcycle Taxi Ride

I love the tropic sky, and the rice fields in Sukothai are among the most beautiful in Thailand. There's something about the countryside here, something really special.

This is in the neighborhood of the Sri Satchanarai Historical Park, which is very nice but I don't recommend it unless you can go in your own car. I had to walk over three kilometers before I saw this motorcycle taxi guy, and Sukothai is a very hot place. It was just a fluke that I saw him at all, his was the only one I saw all day. I flagged him down like my life depended on it, and now that I think of it, it may have. The driver was a nice guy, and pretty smart too. I told him what I needed, and asked him how much. "Arai gaw dai!" he said, like whatever you think is fair. I've heard this before. I, like many others before me, probably paid him more than he would have asked for. And it was worth it, there's nothing like getting help when you need it.

But all's well that ends well, and I survived another adventure in the Thailight Zone.

Not Even Close To A Book Review: The Death Instinct

By Jed Rubenfeld, a great read, by the way.

But I only want to share one particularly wonderful sentence with you. At one point, a Washington blowhard gives a press conference to New York reporters. After a statement featuring convoluted logic and tortured syntax, the writer offers that:

"Pencils hung frozen in midair as comprehension sought in vain to work its way through this declaration."

That's a good one, it is.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I'm Fine, Thank You

I'm a little bit short of time right now, I have company and they are running my bony ass ragged.

The company is a very nice couple from Poland, I love them very much. We're spending a lot of time running around, and it's a far cry from my usual schedule of one day of having something to do, followed by one day taking it easy.

But I've got some nice vid's and pix, and I'll be putting them up soon.