Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Democrats Breaking Bad

It's time for the Democrats to screw the pooch again!

Trick question: how can you reliably beat the Democrats in a national election? Answer: release numerous polls showing them way ahead. Hillary was way ahead in the polls right up to the election, which she lost. The Dems saw those polls and shut down in safe mode. We got this! All we have to do is not make a mistake! Who needs to visit swing states? We got this! I wouldn't be surprised if the Trump people were planting the polls showing him losing to multiple Democrats. I'd be surprised if anyone told him about it, but it would be a great idea coming from his handlers. (What a job that must be! “Here's a cheeseburger Mr. President. Oh look! Fox and Friends is on!”)

We are also witnessing the repeat of the DNC struggle to lose by rejecting progressive candidates who would actually have a chance of winning in favor of middle-of-the-road centrist candidates. Hillary was a nightmare candidate, let's face it. She's a mediocre public speaker at best; she's awkward in any public setting; and no one liked her. I kind of liked her, but I had serious reservations. I was not in the least surprised that she lost. The war against Bernie Sanders is back in full swing, even worse, in full view. The Dems are somehow terrified of Elizabeth Warren as well, and I'm sure some of them would feint at the mention of Mayor Pete. They like Cory Booker, who is a wolf in sheep's clothing if ever there were one. They like Kirsten Gillebrand, the very definition of “plain vanilla.” And even though they've known him for forty years, they like Joe Biden! Go figure! Those last three are lose, lose, and lose.

But Biden beats Trump hands-down in all of the polls! Biden v. Trump is a Trump walk over out here in the real world. Polls, schmolls, Biden v. Trump and every single Trump fan comes out and votes while every voter under thirty-five years old stays home and takes a nap in between gig jobs.

How could the Dems win? I feel like I did every time some procrastinator came into my law office asking for help six months after the statute of limitations had run. Then it was, “if only you'd come to see me sooner.” Now it's, “if only you had taken the free advice that I offered you after the loss in 2016 (or at least the suggestions I made after the partial victory in 2018).”

If you think he's bad now, just wait and see how it goes after he wins next year. I hope that I'm wrong, but I think the odds are in his favor. If he gets a second term, it will be his favorite phrase all over again, “all options are on the table.” He's making all of the generals rich, and junior officers aren't going to do anything. Don't expect our police to be the ones to save democracy. Local politicians are very easy to arrest on Federal charges. The rich love him and when he makes his move they will cheerfully flood the TV with propaganda. Is that old fashioned? TV? Okay, they'll flood whatever is reaching people these days. Trump, whom we have deigned to consider a fool, could burn the entire playhouse down. American democracy has been slowly disappearing since the Patriot Act was signed anyway. Add the 2000 election, the lies and corruption of the Bush II years, the eight year assault on the democratic process when Obama was president (“the year of the eight Justices”), the Russians and Facebook and the voting machines and the FBI in 2016. All it needs now is one small push and American democracy is going right over the cliff.

You'd better get back to the TV, or Facebook. The lies are stacking up waiting for you. Handle with care! Whatever your politics are, remember your history: when it all goes wrong, everybody gets hurt. 

the aztex - i said move

Release date, May, 1967. Considering that and other fine points, how remarkable is this record? The garage sound was already widespread, with teenagers learning to play as they went, playing loud and going nuts with everything they were listening to. The fuzz-box was already all over the place. When did bands start to add snippets from spoken word sci-fi records? Was the spoken word Batman record fragment that opens this cut something new? 

That this and other records like it were the motivation behind the surf-punk revival in the 1990s can be said with confidence. Add massive reverb and you have Man or Astroman? 

I met a great friend of mine in L.A., in 1976. That was Norman. He was from Cleveland, and he had a very unique record collection. Many of us liked the German trance-rock/ free-rock bands, from Kraftwerk to Guru Guru, but Norman had copies of the Kraftwerk stuff in several languages. I already had friends who had one or two sound-effects records in their collections, I had a couple myself, but Norman had thirty or forty of the things. He also liked stereo demonstration records. He had a lot of movie soundtracks too, mostly sci-fi or horror, or anything by Ennio Morricone. He was the only guy that I knew who also had multiple spoken-word sci-fi records, actors reading stories from Amazing Science Fiction magazine or something, with sound effects. He was the first person that I ever knew who used these things in mix tapes as bumpers in between songs. Norman loved bands like the Aztex, so I'd bet that he had this record. I know that he loved the Sonics, and Davie Allen and the Arrows, in a similar vein. 

Tracing all of these innovations is not easy. I'll leave the hard work to real musicologists. 

Monday, June 17, 2019

A Near Death Experience Disguised As A Vacation

We had arrived at Peace Corps central in Thailand in early January, 2004. Eight weeks of training and it was off to our site. Christmas of that year brought us some slack time, and we decided to take a vacation. We had traveled around the country quite a bit by then, helping out with English camps and attending training seminars, and I had learned enough Thai to get by in simple situations. There was a big Christmas break at the schools that we were assigned to. Okay, three weeks of time on our hands, where should we go?

We had heard a lot about Ko Phi Phi, Phi Phi Island, out in the Andaman Sea not too far from Phuket. People raved about it, how beautiful it was, what a unique and amazing place, etc. Our teaching site was in the northern mountains; why not take a beach vacation in southern Thailand? We came this close to going (holds thumb and index finger very close together).

As we were considering it, we realized that it was high-season. Which is good, because it's the best weather of the year in Thailand, not as blazing hot as usual and no rain, but which is also bad, because everything is expensive and crowded. Prices are double or more in high season. We had received another offer in the meantime, an essentially free option. We decided to take that option instead. One of our fellow volunteers was staying at his site for the holidays, but he had a great invitation for Christmas dinner and his friends said that we were welcome to come along. We had more than a year to go on our Peace Corps hitch, so we figured there was plenty of time for the islands. Let's go for the merry Christmas!

The dinner was totally American style, and totally delicious. The hosts were a very nice couple, he a Texan in his early 70s, she Thai in her late 60s. She had lived in Texas for about twenty-five years, mostly with her first husband. When he died, she continued to attend their church, because that's where her friends were. That's where she met her second husband, a widower. When he retired, they moved back to her home province in Thailand. She had extensive experience with turkey dinners, complete in every detail. It's not easy finding turkeys in Thailand, and even harder is finding someone with an oven. She had both. There were ten or twelve of us altogether, and it was a great time.

On December 27, 2004, about to board the bus to return to our site, we heard about the tsunami that hit coastlines around the Andaman Sea on December 26th. The underwater earthquake that generated the tsunami registered between 9.1 and 9.3 on the Richter Scale. That is one hellacious earthquake. Many countries were hit by the waves, as far away as Madagascar, and many people were killed. Even the early estimates of the dead and injured were shocking, and the numbers went up over time as more detailed reports came in. A few hundred were killed on little Phi Phi Island, including many vacationing foreigners. Something like 8,000 people died in Thailand alone. Thailand has a long west coast along the Andaman Sea, with many popular beach vacation spots. Total deaths for all affected countries were over 200,000.

All of that must have been terrible for the most affected parties, and the horror of it was not lost on us. I don't want to appear to be minimizing any of that suffering, whether of victims, survivors, or their families. It was also, however, a sobering experience for myself and my wife, now ex-wife. A casual, apparently meaningless decision to take the other fork in the road for that simple vacation would have put us into either the dead or the missing category. On Phi Phi, there is really nowhere to go, and on that day there was no warning. The odds are good that we would have become statistics.

Six or seven years later I visited Ko Phi Phi. I was in neighboring Phuket, also an island, teaching a class for two weeks, and one of my students was a big shot at one of the tour boat companies. He comp'd me. It really is a beautiful little island. Half of it rises straight out of the sea, exposed rock mostly covered in vegetation, to a height of about five hundred feet. There is no one and nothing but nature on that part of the island. Then there is a nice, curved section of beach behind a bay, with a touristy area of shops and guest houses that runs for a few hundred feet. and the remainder of the island is tall hills covered by inhospitable forested areas. Bays focus waves of all kinds, including tsunamis. (Surfers seek out bays because the waves are bigger.) It's a perfect tsunami trap.

This is probably the most abstract of my near-death experiences, but it is, nonetheless, one of the scariest of the bunch.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Korean-Americans Can Speak Together in Korean If They Feel Like It

The world is full of ex-pats, short for ex-patriots, meaning people who take up residence in countries other than their native land. I, for example, am an ex-pat. I live in South East Asia, and it's been so long now that babies that were born the year that I left America are now in high school. I have achieved some facility with the language of my adopted country, but you wouldn't call it fluency. In fact, “my Thai, she's a broke.” I talk to natives all the time, and it usually goes okay. Sometimes not great, but usually okay. It takes a native that is willing to grace me with some patience and speak slowly so that I have any hope of keeping up. Luckily, my country of residence is full of such people, and I deeply appreciate their kindness and their hospitality.

America could learn a lot from my adopted country.

When I sit down for coffee at the local Dunkin Donuts with an American friend, we speak English. We are surrounded by natives, and no one seems to care, or even notice. It's not uncommon, after all, for people here to speak to each other in English. This is in Bangkok, so you might think that no one notices because Bangkok is a big, cosmopolitan city. It's true, there are so many foreigners here that hearing other languages is very common. Even in the countryside, though, it's not a problem. More people would notice, but they would notice out of a sense of interest. Just for entertainment, they might come over and ask a simple question in Thai. Not to test us so much as looking for an exciting opportunity to talk to a foreigner. Even in Bangkok, I get this from Taxi drivers all the time. When I explain where I'm going, in Thai and hitting most of the tones correctly, the drivers will often ask me a simple question to check my hearing comprehension. If I answer, they might smile and start a conversation. At the end of these rides, I sometimes wai (the Thai bow) and say, “thank you, teacher.” That gets a laugh. It's all very casual. Diversity is a fact of life here. Thailand has been a crossroads country for three thousand years.

Diversity is a fact of life in America, too, but somehow the message has not sunk in.

I saw a video very recently about someone yelling at two young women in a mall cafeteria because they were not speaking “American.” We've all seen these videos, “this is America! We speak American!” One of the women told the language police in perfect, native English that she was an American, and that she could speak English perfectly well, but she was Korean-American and her cousin was visiting the family from Korea. That's not enough for people anymore. The harangue went on. “We speak American here!” It's gotten so bad that many Americans are hostile to any fellow American who speaks more than one language. Like they must be spies or something.

More recently, my wife and I were having lunch in a small restaurant in our very diverse Bangkok neighborhood. (It's predominantly Thai Buddhist, but there are many mosques and many, many Thai and ex-pat Muslims in my neighborhood. It's been a Muslim neighborhood for over one hundred years.) We speak together in a combination of Thai and English, mostly English, to be fair. We go to this shop all the time, and no one has ever said anything, or seemed to notice. Certainly the owners and the staff don't care, because we always smile and say, “thank you!” and I always put a nice tip in the jar. The other day three men came in after us and they were speaking together in Korean. After glancing at the menu, which was in Thai, one of the men leaned over and very politely asked us about what we were having, because it looked delicious, and he also had a couple of questions about the menu. Koreans speak loudly, so there's no doubt that it's not Thai. Plus, one fellow was speaking to me in English. Still, no one even looks up.

I see videos from time to time that end with, “go back to your own country!” or, “go back where you came from!” I've seen and read about incidents where some “American patriot” will randomly demand to see proof that someone who appears foreign “belongs here.” In fifteen years in Thailand I've never heard anything remotely like that sentiment.

There is an ill will towards foreigners growing in America, and it is nurtured by political groups and religious organizations who wish to drive wedges between Americans who may have slight variations in their backgrounds. This ill will is directed not only towards actual foreigners, aliens with or without visas, but also towards American citizens who may speak more than one language, who may be recent arrivals or the children of recent arrivals, or it may be directed at established groups of American citizens like black Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, or, through some bizarre misapprehension, Indian Americans (not to be confused with American Indians, who are also still persecuted). The guilty political groups want votes, which they will trade for money. The guilty religious groups want money and political power. In the meantime, gullible Americans are making total assholes of themselves, usually while someone is filming them with a cell phone. It's sickening.

America really does have a lot to learn from Thailand on this subject. Thais are a very diverse people who live comfortably under the umbrella of Thai language and culture. The same could be said of America, except for the comfortable part. The coastal states, and the Blue states in general, make a good show of accepting diversity. But the great heartland of America can't even get along with their racial and religious equivalents in the Blue states. Those Red state people, and, to be fair, many people in Blue states, seem to hate everybody!

This is a terrible situation, and there's no quick fix for it. Maybe we should consider electing politicians who will try to make things better, not worse.

Chuck Brown - Run Joe

This Go-Go is downright infectious. 

Saturday, June 8, 2019


Question: how many ingredients are there in butter? Ha! Trick question! There's only one ingredient in butter. No, the only ingredient is not, “butter,” it's milk. (Salted butter has two ingredients, milk and salt.)

There was was a five year period not long ago when I was living the bachelor lifestyle, and I did almost all of my shopping in convenience stores. I ate lunch at school or on the soi. (That's shorthand for any small restaurant in a Thai neighborhood.) There was a Family Mart in my building, and I always stopped in on the way home. I could buy most of what I needed there. My dinners followed a pretty close pattern of sandwiches or eggs, with the occasional pizza delivery in the mix. I bought my butter in the convenience store, and I bought the one brand that they had. It seemed okay; it tasted like butter. The company was Australian, and the butter was “product of Australia,” and it was certainly not expensive at about $3 for 400 grams (a bit less than a pound). I'd cut it into thirds and put two in the freezer and one in a Tupperware. I didn't give it much thought.

One day, unwrapping a new package, I idly looked at the ingredients. There were about ten, several of which looked like industrial products. The first ingredient was, “butter oil.” It all looked very suspicious. I read up on the modern varieties of butter-like products and decided that I'd be better served by finding some real butter.

The mall supermarket had a couple of brands, and checking the ingredients, sure enough, “Milk; Salt.” There was a brand from Denmark called Lurpak that cost about $5 for 200 grams (close to half a pound). There were a couple of other brands, but the Lurpak was fine. I still buy it. Is this a prudent course of action? The Lurpak costs almost three times as much as the ersatz butter. Of course, it's fine, go ahead. It's not a bank-breaker. It's not like I'm baking pies and croissants here. A package lasts me quite a while.

If my father were reading this, he would take it as further proof that I am a reckless spendthrift. He would disinherit me! Oh, wait. He already did that.

This butter is a small matter, but it is illustrative of one of the founding principles of my family life when my first wife and I were raising our boys. We were never rich, not by a long shot, and when my boys were small, we weren't even particularly prosperous. In almost every category of food and drink, we had no chance of indulging in the top-shelf products. In some instances, though, even a very moderate budget can support the day-to-day use of the best special products from around the world. My ex-wife was in complete agreement on the subject.

Like real maple syrup from Canada. We always ate together as much as possible, dinner every evening and at least one special breakfast on the weekend. That could be bacon and eggs, or something like pancakes or waffles or French toast. At first the real maple syrup seems like a wild expense. The sugar-syrup substitute was about a buck, maybe a little more, and the premium maple syrup was about $5. That bottle lasted a long time, though. So as an annual expense, what did it come to? An extra $10 or $15? The four of us loved it, and we enjoyed the hell out of it. We weren't rich, but the maple syrup in our house was as good as that in any house in America, including the White House.

Same with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. The Kraft imitation is particularly odious once you've tasted the real thing. We always had the real stuff. We cooked a lot of Italian food, eggplant and chicken Parmesan, lasagna, baked ziti, steak pizzaiola. The Kraft was probably under a dollar then, and the jar lasted a while. The Reggiano was available in whatever quantity suited your needs. I usually got a tub, a small, lidded plastic tub, that cost under $4. It was quite a bit of grated cheese to look at it, and it lasted a long time. Here too, on an annualized basis it was a no brainer. Buy it!

My parents were eating dinner at our house one time. We saw them almost every year; either we'd fly to New York or they'd come out to L.A. My father loved Italian food, and he loved the Parmesan cheese, too. So he's looking at the package, smelling the cheese, he held it up and looked at it from the bottom. Then he put it down without taking any. I asked him, “everything okay, dad?” He gave me that look and said, “did you know that that cheese costs almost $20 per pound?” Sure, I said, but that tub only cost four dollars and it'll last us a few months. He just shook his head in disappointment and ate his spaghetti and meat balls, without cheese. He couldn't bring himself to eat cheese that expensive. He thought that I was crazy.

The only luxury item that I indulge in these days is medicine. Luckily, it's all affordable so far. We eat in restaurants frequently, but where we live those are very affordable as well. At the house, well, there's the matter of the Danish butter. That disappears into the annual budget just like the other things did. We have French toast or pancakes sometimes, but my wife found the real maple syrup too sweet for her taste, so we stick with the sugar syrup. “Shake Cheese?” It's a very rare Thai person who will knowingly eat any cheese at all, and my wife is no exception. The European cheeses at the mall are ridiculously expensive, too expensive for me to consider just for myself. You have to draw the line. There's a jar of Kraft in our refrigerator. I'm getting used to it.


Another Excello hit from the CD "Uptown Down South." This is a Nashville record from 1967. It's amazing to consider just how much music changed in the mid-1960s, and how fast. All of it, across time zones and genres. Not all necessarily good changes, I suppose (see, Jazz). All hell was breaking loose all over the world, but recording studios were using new technology to turn out a steady stream of hits.