Monday, February 24, 2020
On Feb. 15th I had Nico hitting this song out of the park. Here's Bjork giving it a shot. Tough song. I think that Bjork is too theatrical in general, and it really doesn't work for this song. And she gets no points from me for changing up the lyrics to completely change the character of the song. Like Piet Mondrian, or Jackson Pollack, or James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, no thanks, boys and girls. Some people try to hard and ruin the pudding.
Saturday, February 22, 2020
Al Green is a much deeper artist than he gets credit for. In the post below I bring up the fact that the black canon includes songs where the singer claims powers over women that are either extreme or supernatural, while also including songs where the singer feels powerless and despairs of ever getting the girl. Leave it to Al Green to combine the two.
Here, the singer cheerfully explains his wonderful powers over the natural world, but by the end of the song he admits that he cannot even get this girl's phone number. These early Al Green albums were a welcome revival of the (drummer) Al Jackson driven Memphis sound, reborn on Hi Records and produced by Willie Mitchell.
Friday, February 21, 2020
An interesting aspect of these blues records is the mix of attitudes displayed by the singer. Many songs display supreme confidence, maybe even supernatural ability. "I'm a Man," "I Just Wanna Make Love to You," "Backdoor Man." Then there are a lot of songs like this one, where the singer is longing for the woman while not holding out much hope for success.
There is an abundance of talent in this genre, these first-generation urban blues records. So many great bands, and instrumental geniuses playing inexpensive instruments. A broad range of emotional content, all clearly connected to direct experience. Bragging, despair, forlorn hope. It's an anthropologist's dream.
You could see this one coming a mile away, long before debate season. Now we're into the primaries, and anyone's negative predictions about the Democrats are proving to be solid, take them to the bank, right on. The Democrats, as usual, seem to be trying to lose.
Michael Bloomberg has, inevitably, entered the race. Getting to know him has, predictably, led to most people hating him. Little Mike is, like the earth itself, much more attractive the farther away you are standing. We are discovering at a rapid pace every horrible thing that Mike has ever said and done. Running big enterprises, including New York City, requires the assistance of many thousands of people, and it seems like each of them has an anecdote or two that will hurt Mike's campaign. As it always is, the main question is, “do they like you?” Trump and Bloomberg are both disagreeable billionaires, but people like Trump, so whatever he does or says is aces with his many fans. People like Trump because he's goofy and he says funny things and moves his hands like a crazy man and, most of all, because he tells them what they want to hear. They want to hear, “bing, bong, bang!” and comforting lies. Trump lies without compunction, and when he's called on the lies, he just says, “who cares?” People don't like Bloomberg. He is smug and condescending, and if he has ever said anything funny, I haven't heard about it. Trump says, “I love the low educated,” while Mike says, “people who like guns are stupid.” Or substitute, “people with no money,” or people in lots of categories. Stupid, stupid, stupid. That's no way to make friends.
But Mike Bloomberg has sixty-one billion dollars, so don't count him out. Well, do count him out, because he's out. If he uses that money to defeat the other Dems and get the nomination, Trump will wipe the floor with him.
The other Democrats are falling all over themselves trying to get ahead of Bernie. It's hard to tell who hates Bernie more, Republicans or Democrats. Mainstream Democrats, think of them as Hillary Democrats, really, really hate Bernie, but the pretend progressive Democrats hate Bernie just as much. Or more! I think Bernie would have the best chance of winning against Trump, but I doubt if he'll get the chance. They're busy stacking the deck against Bernie as we speak. They've done it before, and they'll do it again. Then Trump can wipe the floor with Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttegieg. I love Elizabeth Warren myself, but then I don't have anything against academics, coastal elites, Harvard University, women, or people who are smarter than me. American voters have proven to my satisfaction that they hate all of those things with a passion.
I think it's safe to give Sleepy Joe his hall-pass and send him down to the nurse's office for a nap. (Someone should warn the nurse that Joe can get a bit handsy.) Is Amy Klobuchar roaring up on the outside? That's probably a trick of the light. Trump would wipe the floor with her too.
It's too bad that Kamala Harris is out of it. I'd pay good money to see her in a debate with Trump. She'd give him a heart attack on the spot, and we'd be done with this phase of the nightmare.
The only bright spot here is that most Americans seem genuinely unconcerned with Mayor Pete's sexuality. I think that's great. Homosexuals were invisible until the mid-1970s, they had to be. They were well and truly out by the 1980s though, and it was the first time most Americans realized that they were surrounded by gay men and women that they knew and loved. Cousins, aunts and uncles, friends, nieces and nephews, old school chums, work-mates, sons and daughters, beloved teachers, police and soldiers, neighbors, somewhere around ten percent of everybody. And most people seem to have taken that opportunity to say, “oh!” and get with the program. The smudge on all of that positivity is the nature of the Trump electorate. They've got more than their share of the Leviticus crowd in there. They're still ready to line homosexuals up against the wall and shoot them, no matter how bright, charming, religious, and polite they are. It would be a shame to supercharge homophobia in the way that Obama's presidency supercharged racism.
Another presidential election, another year in hell. I don't know how many more of these I can stand.
Saturday, February 15, 2020
There are several great truths in this song. Nico reflects them all nicely.
That's all I have to say on the matter. Many of the truths that are the foundations of our world are unpleasant, and the gentleman does not go about shouting them from rooftops.
Friday, February 14, 2020
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Monday, February 10, 2020
There was a joke long ago. “In California, you can be killed by some stranger, for no reason at all!” Another guy says, “yeah, in New York you can get killed by a stranger, BUT HE'LL HAVE A REASON.”
It turns out that the reason for this terrible event in Korat can be easily understood.
As a general rule, I do not complain about my country of residence. For one thing, it's a little bit like a marriage. No one is completely delighted with every single thing that their spouse does around the house. If your goal is a happy marriage, but your wife leaves the top off of the toothpaste, you just keep your mouth shut about it. That's my habit here, as a resident alien. If I see something about Thailand that could use some fine tuning, I keep quiet. I came to Thailand as an American Peace Corps volunteer, and there was no part of our program that sounded like, “fix the place.” Besides, I'm a foreigner. What do I know about how to run Thailand? Thais have been doing a fine job of running Thailand for thousands of years. It has sometimes been the case that a Thai custom that was at first annoying to me turned out to have good reasoning behind it. So I keep my mouth shut and my eyes open. This is their country, and Thai people know best.
Yes, there is a “but” coming.
The other day, one of Thailand's little annoyances overflowed into a huge explosion of violence. Guns were involved, lots of guns. Twenty people were killed, was it twenty people? About forty people got shot, so maybe a couple more have succumbed to their wounds. May the dead rest in peace, and may the living overcome their terrible experience. There was one shooter, and he too was killed by gunfire. Events like this are common in America now, but this was very, very unusual for Thailand.
What was it that drove this young man over the edge? The New York Times quoted Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha saying that the young shooter was driven to that extreme reaction by the behavior of a real estate agent of some kind in a land deal involving the agent and the shooter. The shooter, a young sergeant in the Royal Thai Army, believed that the agent owed him some money. He believed, in other words, that he had been scammed somehow. And he wanted the money back.
Two people accompanied the agent at their final meeting. When the young soldier demanded his money, I've heard that the agent's response was, “ask a judge.” That answer was not acceptable to the soldier, and he shot all three of them. Then he stopped by his base and loaded up on weapons, including two M-60 light infantry machine guns. That is a very serious weapon, based upon the old German MG-42, nicknamed “Hitler's Buzzsaw.” He killed another soldier in the process, so this scam had produced in him an anger that had gone global, no longer being limited to the people who had scammed him in the first place.
As is now the custom around the world, the young soldier posted updates on Facebook. “Nobody can escape death. Rich from cheating and taking advantage of people . . . Do they think they can take money to spend in Hell?” (As quoted by the New York Times.)
In a strange coincidence, this Thai problem of scams and thefts committed by people in positions of some authority has been much on my mind, because I was the victim of such a scam very recently, in December 2019. It was a lawyer who stole the money from me, and a good deal of money it was. I had a matter that I wanted to take care of, and I asked a school colleague if he could suggest a lawyer, perhaps a former student of ours, who could handle it. We are both on the law faculty. He did recommend someone, and we set up a meeting. We spoke in a blend of Thai and English, my colleague served as interpreter, and I wrote notes to show in plain language what I wanted done. We all understood what was needed. The lawyer quoted me a price, and it was right in the ball park. The price included the normal and proper fee to be paid to the ministry, which is about $3,000 (95,000 baht). I said okay.
At our next meeting, the lawyer took care of some preliminary documentation, and I turned over the money. Thereafter, she simply said that the job was done. There are more details, but I'll gloss over them here. It became obvious that the lawyer had no idea what she was doing, beyond tricking me into handing over some money. She was so oblivious to the laws and procedures involved that she agreed to accompany me to a branch of the ministry where an official with three stars on her shoulder explained to the lawyer that she had done nothing useful, and that no work at all had been done on the matter that she had been paid for. Outside the office, the lawyer sheepishly apologized to me and my colleague, and she agreed to return the unearned fees.
That's the last that anyone has heard from her. I have sent her two letters, but I'm sure it's all a big laugh to her. No responses, of course. Like the dead real estate agent, the lawyer is smiling and saying, “ask a judge.” Like the young soldier, I am not happy with that answer, but like the young soldier, what can I do? Nothing, legally. Neither the soldier nor I have any practicable remedy under Thai law.
I have heard of various lawsuits over the years involving my colleagues on the law faculty. They wend their way through the courts at a snail's pace, ten or fifteen years is not uncommon. Nothing seems to be happening for years at a time. Neither are the police of any assistance in these situations. Like the police in America, they will nod their heads and say, “that's a civil matter,” i.e., “ask the judge.” In America, of course, I could simply take the lawyer to Small Claims Court, because the amount in question is less than $5,000, but this is not America. I know Thais who have spent years in court fighting over a couple of thousand dollars, with appeals and everything.
No, here it seems to be viewed like that land agent, or that lawyer, stole that money from the soldier and I fair and square, and so we should just get over it. This is frustrating, as was dramatically demonstrated by that soldier in Korat the other day. I am not a threat to inflict violence on people just because they scammed me out of some money, because I know very clearly that resorting to violence can only make matters worse for the victim of the scam. It does no good for anybody. But we have seen in America that many people, faced with one frustration too many in what may be a life full of frustration and disappointment, snap in the way that this young soldier snapped. He was drawing a line. He decided that he would no longer stand still for the cheating, lying, thieves of the world. Whatever the consequences, he was passing judgment and inflicting punishment on those who wronged him, and he was doing it now, with a pistol. Then he really went to some dark place. Did he decide that the entire world was at fault? Who can say. Whatever he was thinking, he went off the deep end all together and shot up a lot of innocent people down at the Korat Terminal 21.
I love Thailand, and, as I mentioned above, I am not one of the Farang who came to Thailand to complain. I have spent my sixteen years in Thailand teaching, helping Thai English teachers, and counseling my students to guide them to a better life. I have never been political. But in this one matter, may I suggest to my hosts, from my shaky perch as a foreigner, that better remedies are needed when lawyers, agents, or others in a position of trust, take advantage of Thai people, or foreigners, and just help themselves to handfuls of money simply because they know that they can get away with it.
I know that there are many Thai people in the same situation as that young soldier. They have lost some money, or property, or some other advantage, to some clever Thai with good connections, and when they ask for the money back, the clever boy just smiles and tells them, “ask a judge!” I pray that no one will look at what this young soldier has done and find wisdom there, because there was none. I pray that such a terrible thing never happens again in my beloved “Land of Smiles.”
Wednesday, February 5, 2020
One of the features of clinical depression is that while it may cruise along at a constant level for some considerable time, the arrival of an individual event with serious depression potential can cause the entire back-catalog of depression events to spring back into clear focus. The things simmering in the dark corners may suddenly become vivid, Technicolor nightmares. All of them, simultaneously!
I feel somewhat sheepish about the post of February 3rd, below, but I'm not removing it. I don't believe in removing things in circumstances like this. I felt it; I wrote it; about eight people read it; let's all deal with it.
Maybe our current political scenario will all work out okay, even though it does seem like the wrong wooden block has been removed, and the entire Jenga tower is surrendering to gravity, even as we speak.
Monday, February 3, 2020
How did I get so lucky? Mr. Lucky, to hit the fucking jackpot, and find the one woman that I could love like crazy for forty years, raise two nice children with, a woman who would then kick me out, and then tell me to stay out in a myriad of sarcastic, hurtful ways, for years, until I finally gave up and filed for divorce. Cruel to be kind! (Pace, Nick Lowe.) Lucky, because that was exactly what I needed, probably, to be abandoned, like my parents had abandoned me before her. And quite a few friends, too. I asked for it, no doubt. My White Whale, my Moby-Dick, abandonment. I chased it! And it hit just when it would hurt the most. Perfect timing! When it's was too late to recover. Past retirement age! I married a genius. Thanks, honey. Perfect. She shoots! She scores! Touche, M.F.
But I made it easy, didn't I? What a sap. Right up to the end, when we were still together, I'd wake up and look over and think, how did I get so lucky! This fabulous woman loves me and sleeps with me every night! And what's worse, I still love you. I still dream about us. I just hope that you're happy, although I don't think that you are. Happiness isn't for everybody, don't you a agree? Your interests lie elsewhere, I think. Whatever turns you on. Bon chance, mon cheri. But thanks for everything. It was great while it lasted.
Saturday, February 1, 2020
Regular readers will have noticed that I have been trying to either lay off the politics all together, or just peck around the corners in an attempt to avoid the elephant in the room. Some of that was due to fatigue brought on by the daily avalanche of misdeeds, idiocy, and irredeemable malfeasance in office that pours forth from our American governments at all levels and from all political parties in our fantastic, still new and exciting 21st Century. That fatigue may be replaced by renewed interest, however, now that America has had her Reichstag Fire Moment.
Our so-called elected officials have chosen this as the moment to pull back all of the curtains and make visible their true natures. Like the Nazis burning their own parliament building, it is as though Mr. Hyde has finally realized that there is no need to ever change back into Dr. Jekyll. The American electorate has expressed its undying willingness to vote for and channel money to Mr. Hyde in spite of the trail of rape, ruin, and destruction that he leaves in his wake. They seem to like it! God knows that it's a shame, but the American electorate is apparently much stupider than it had generally been given credit for.
One third of Americans are very enthusiastic about this destruction of their prosperity and their freedom; they are as wildly happy about the new National Conservatism as drunken teenagers at an end-of-summer beach bonfire. Another third have either not noticed, or are choosing to wait this one out and see what happens. One third, God bless them, are genuinely distressed by the coup that we just witnessed in Washington, but they are somehow unable to raise themselves off of their couches to do anything about it. The French would be setting cars on fire.
Most of the latter third are still hoping that the situation can be saved by some mechanism of good, old-fashioned democracy, like voting or something. How quaint is that? Cute, and quaint. On the one hand, they believe that it is still the early 20th Century, when democratic norms were still in effect, and on the other hand, they are sure that some great new tool of the Internet/ Smart Phone age will turn this terrible thing around. Each of these three groups is a poor, dead thing in the hands of our new bosses.
This is a political situation that could once again become of interest, but not in a good way. Wrapped in the flag, and carrying the cross of Calvary. Wasn't that how it was supposed to happen? Whoever said that was pretty close, actually.
So, How Goes It With Mr. Fred?
Mr. Fred still believes in giving people a chance to prove their good intentions, instead of judging them immediately to be the self-dealing criminals that they almost certainly are, and often turn out to be after it's too late. Sometimes, the price that he pays is merely emotional; sometimes, there is a loss of cash involved. Honestly, the last good jolt suffered as a result of this Pollyanna foolishness will probably close the door on this overgenerous nature. He tried, though, he really did. If a line is now drawn, it is only after a lifetime of supernatural forbearance. In the use of the term, “lifetime,” there is no exaggeration. Mr. Fred has been mistreated, abused, and let-down by people since he was a babe in those awful cloth diapers that were the norm at the time. Mr. Fred's misplaced forbearance for certain people lasted for their entire lifetimes. But hey, if humans in general are unworthy little shits, whose fault is that? It is not, I suggest to you, Mr. Fred's fault. So fuck 'em. The living and the dead. Fuck 'em all.
Mr. Fred remains, sure and steady, perched in the thick of his far-away brier batch. His health is good. He is officially old, bald, fat, and happy. He tries to keep himself as thoroughly distracted as possible with music, reading, and the Internet. He is reading more novels than had been the custom. For many years, he tended to read history and general non-fiction, but those things have lost some of their gloss as distractions. Novels, entire invented worlds, are intended to carry you away from the world that you wake up in, and they still do a wonderful job of it. He's even read some classic science fiction, including Babel-17, by Samuel R. Delany, after decades of ignoring the entire genre. If the world situation sinks even further into chaos, Mr. Fred may be forced to resort to writing a novel to avoid confronting the horror of reality.
(Best wishes to you all. May your efforts to process and deal with the exigencies of modern life bring you comfort and happiness. Keep track of the foods that may disappear from our diets, and enjoy their consumption while you may. Remember your reusable bags! Keep a shelf or two of analog books handy in case the Internet goes down permanently. Try not to worry too much, because, after all, there isn't much you can do about anything.)