Sunday, November 30, 2008

Birthday Wishes for My King

Yes, he's my King too. We Americans are not big kingsters, but the King has earned my respect as I have come to understand his style and his life. He is a good man with a long record of hard work and selfless devotion to Thailand. That's "selfless," as in, he never got rich off of it. That's a rare claim-to-fame, these days.

December 5th is his birthday. Please join me in wishing him a happy day in the midst of all of this nonsense that's going on now. And many happy returns of the day, for all of our sakes.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Uncle Mustache, Redux

“Oh! You are killing my people! You are killing my people!”

This is the mantra of the killer-elite-anarchists of the Twenty-First Century. This was their excuse for killing some poor, stupid drunken surfers in Bali; their excuse for blowing up timid bird sellers in Bagdad; their rationale for spilling the guts of little girls who have the nerve to go to school in the ‘Stan; now an excuse for killing unknown whatevers in Bombay, India. Big men, tough guys, “you are killing my people!” Self-aggrandizing numbskulls, delusional would-be martyrs, smarter than you and me, know-it-all wonder-men of some stupid cause or other.

If they tried this in the Uncle Mustache universe, the J. Steel terror machine would establish their identities and demand a horrific vengeance. With just a finger left from self immolation, he would know who they were, and he would find their families and kill them all, the bomber’s brothers and sisters, his children, nieces and nephews, his aunts, uncles and cousins, and, most especially, and slowly, with pictures, his wife, mother and father. And let them try to get someone to do it again, knowing what would happen to a score or two of those left alive. Uncle Joe wrote the book on “everybody in your house ‘gonna get killed.” Just ask the Columbians, that shit works, big time.

But me? I’m a man of peace. For me, maybe somebody in the middle ground of revenge logic, like maybe Lyndon Johnson.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Indian Pundits

Depak Chopra weighed in about the whole Mumbai/Bombay thing on CNN. As usual, he was one hundred percent sure of himself.

Depak was in a New York cab one time from JFK to a hotel in Manhattan. On the way out of the airport, the driver asked him to put his seat belt on. He informed the driver, with absolute certainty, that he had seen the manner of his death, and it was not to occur in a New York taxi. The driver looked back over his shoulder and said, “and so, have you also seen whether or not I’m going to get a two hundred and fifty dollar ticket because you don’t have your seat belt on?”

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Nong Chaeng

Please e-mail me at


You can find the damnedest things in newspapers. James Carroll wrote this for the Boston Globe:

“. . . [H]ome is the moral center of the universe. The political philosopher Michael Walzer observes that a hotel room can offer safety and comfort, but it is not a home because it fails to offer “the dense moral culture” that locates a person in time and space. Home, in everything from familiar furniture to the clutter of mementos to the imperfections of chipped dinnerware, is a visible manifestation of the golden tie between past and present; between choices made long ago and consequences that present new choices to this day. Life is not a series of unconnected episodes, but a flowing drama, across generations and phases, driven by intense emotions, which are understood only in the tranquility of familiar rooms. Home is not just the stage on which the human drama plays out, but is the character against whom all other characters find their measure . . .

Home is the cosmic center, the secure spot on the earth from which men and women venture forth, and from which children test themselves.”

He was talking about the housing crisis, but I think he’s onto something bigger here, don’t you?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mr. Fred Makes It Easy For You

Only one person was going to St. Ives.

What Would Joseph Stalin Do?

Faced with intractable problems like Somali pirates, we must ask ourselves: how much do our much vaunted Peace and Love values mean to us? Must we really be full-time Liberals? Maybe we need to inject a little Uncle Mustache into the proceedings.

Sometimes when contemplating seriously fucked up situations like this, I ask myself, what would Joe Stalin do? Love him or hate him, that was a man who could make the tough decisions. He could cut right through the bullshit and achieve permanent solutions to complex problems within five or ten years. Somali pirates? Negatively impacting Uncle Joe’s world? Let’s see.

It can’t be so hard to identify the villages that the pirates come from. Why not take entire villages into “protective custody?” Move them lock, stock and barrel to somewhere, somewhere less comfortable, somewhere far away, somewhere cold, somewhere non-Muslim. They’ll be shipped back when “it’s safe,” i.e., when there’s no more piracy. The pirates, in Uncle Joe’s unilateral world they’d all be shot in the back of the head within moments of being taken into custody.

These guys don’t have much to lose. Just look at their clothes, and their old, banged up AK-47’s. And those boats! What a fleet of wrecks! The question is, how can we give them something to lose? How can we make them beg us to forgive them, make them demand execution in return for something that we can give them, or take away?

Old Joe Steel would identify lots of entire countries these days that needed to be processed out, broken up, done away with. Entire cultures that needed to be trans-acculturated to another place, or places, preferably in another time zone, teach them another language and sentence them to death if they speak the old one, give them a new culture and make sure that they like it.

So what I really mean is, thank god Joe and his friends are gone, and let’s always remember that however bad things seem to be, they could be much, much worse.

English Is a Cursing Language

Many languages, including, I believe, Thai, do not routinely include a lot of what is called bad language, or cursing, in their ordinary discourse. Thai is a very polite language, and most Thai’s consider cursing to be bad form, encouraging disharmony. I understand this.

European languages differ widely on the subject of cursing. German, for instance, is a very poor cursing language. “Halt’s Maul,” (hold your muzzle) is a very bad thing to say to someone. “Pass auf,” (watch out) is rude enough to start a fight. The “Maul” comment compares the victim of the bad language to a dog, and both forgo the usual polite character of German. “Halten Sie Ihrer Mund,” or “Passen Sie auf,” might be a little better, at least they are in the form of polite German, and without the dog reference. A German would only use the short, impolite form when addressing a prisoner, or maybe an idiot. Or if he were trying to start a fight.

Italian is the gold standard of cursing. They are the grandmasters of cursing. Some of it is totally blasphemous, like “Madona brahaiola,” (The Madona shoots up [heroin]). Some is graphically obscene, like “vate a’ fare un culo,” more usually rendered, “va’ f’an’gul,” (go get fucked in the ass). I love the simple beauty of “porco dio,” (pig god), or “porca miseria!” (pig misery!). They also like to compare each other, or their families, to vegetables or the lesser animals. But it’s all just casual conversation to the Italians, they don’t say these things in anger, it’s all good fun. Not like Germans, who reach for their knives at lesser offences.

The French and the Spanish really mean business. Cursing in those languages is personal, hateful, and mean spirited. Look it up.

English is more like the Italian style. The bad words are used as much for emphasis as anything else, as in “that was the biggest fucking fish I’ve ever seen!” No one’s day should be ruined by a little sprinkling of bad words into casual English. It’s just a small part of our vast arsenal of words.

So please forgive me if I occasionally indulge in a little cursing herein.

“Jelly Bellies”

There is an American candy called “jelly beans,” a simple, sugary confection popular at the Easter holiday due to their resemblance to eggs. “Jelly Bellies” are a particular brand of “gourmet jelly beans” popularized by Ronald Reagan during his presidency.

The subject of the “jelly belly” came up in the comment section recently, this time in derogatory reference to my figure. Someone thought that it was important to point out my jelly belly as proof of my prosperity. Well, I happen to be sixty years old, and it happens dear commenter, get over it. If you’re my age, it has happened to you too, if you still eat every day, as sure as you’re born.

I offer this explanation because the term caused some confusion among my Thai readers.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Stopped Clock Is Big In Thailand

The iconography of the stopped clock is the same in Thailand as it is in Europe (America). Time, baby, it runs out . . . yours is running out right now!
This fine example of a Chinese standing clock with a fine German mechanism, stopped, is from a Bratat something or other in Pechabun Province. Bratat is the prefix for a temple that has a Buddha relic. It's just like the Catholics: if you added up all of the pieces of the true cross you could build a fucking hotel; if you added up all of the pieces of Buddha's bones you could build a woolly mammoth, maybe two.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Greetings, Good and Gentle Readers

Plenty of good stuff near the top here. Have fun! And don't forget to comment.

Some Bangkok Birds

Some very nice little swallow-tailed kites fly around outside my condo. They are compact, small winged birds, not great flyers in the sense of gracefully covering long distance. They are, however, highly maneuverable, and they kind of mill around a small area of the sky making frequent, sudden changes of direction. Feeding on flying insects, no doubt. They look for all the world like tiny Mig-15’s, and if six or eight of them are up there at the same time it looks like a Korean War aerial dogfight.

There are no roosters in my neighborhood to announce the day. That role is taken up by the Common Koel, the notorious Nok Gao Wow. These are enormous coo-coo’s, of all things, fifteen inches long. I saw a female in a cage one time and it still gives me nightmares. The beak on that one was a long, crooked powerful thing, and her eyes were wide with anger. Females are leopard spotted. The males are black. Their call is a powerful, two-note whistle, sometimes given only once, but sometimes given in a series of ascending keys that take on a quite hysterical tone, and not a funny hysterical either, more like the bird has suddenly gone completely mad. These are ground feeders, everything that they can find, up to and including small vertebrates.

Occasional hawks, some drab things that look like huge parrots camouflaged for night fighting, the usual sparrows, etc. Plus, of course, the ubiquitous Rock Dove, the common pigeon. No surprise, they’re everywhere.

Freddy Got His Gun

“Johnny Got His Gun” is a wonderful little anti-war polemic by Dalton Trumbo. It’s a fast read, mostly depressing. Mr. Trumbo was one of the Hollywood notaries blacklisted in the McCarthy era for being a Communist, or a Socialist, or insufficiently warlike, or whatever was really on the minds of those House Un-American Activities Committee sons-of-sea-cooks.

The unfortunate protagonist in “Johnny Got His Gun” is a GI from WWI for whom Dr. Nobel’s invention of TNT was a mixed blessing. Make that an unambiguous curse. Dr. Nobel’s genius greatly enhanced the effectiveness of all explosive weapons, such as bombs and artillery shells, and by extension all projectile weapons, such as rifle and machine gun bullets. WWI was the first great flowering of Dr. Nobel’s art. The exponential increase in fire power deprived Johnny of his arms, his legs, his face, and his vocal cords. If memory serves, he finishes out the book tapping Morse Code with his head, nursery rhymes or something, he’s quite insane by then.

My life is a flippant, self-serving, totally inapt analogy to Johnny. I also have been separated from most of my accoutrement. He was deprived of the continued use of actual limbs, while I must suffer to live what passes for my daily life deprived of:

1. 99% of my recorded musical recourses, which even a fool could have seen were very important to me;

2. I am reduced to about twenty books, half of which I own only to enable myself to communicate such ideas as “please fix my printer;”

3. I possess ten or fifteen color Xerox copies of covers of some of the magazines that I actually possess in their entirety in another time zone, thousands of magazines representing six decades of American culture that I can read whenever I feel like it if I happen to be there, which I am not;

4. I have to “hand” one semi-acceptable flat-top, acoustic guitar, Takamine made in Indonesia, and no electric guitars, and no bass guitars at all, and no amplifiers, while in the other time zone I have a half-dozen of great guitars (well, four and a couple of mediocrities) and four amplifiers, two of which are surpassingly excellent;

5. I am deprived of 99% of my recorded video recourses, most of what I have on hand is material that I am only half interested in and in languages that I do not understand at that;

6. I am forced to go forth every day dressed like a beggar, because almost all of my decent clothes are in the other time zone, many days I just hold my breath and pretend that I am on my way to a rock fight or a mud-wrestling contest; and

7. I am deprived the enjoyment of my car, which is a classic, luxury hot-rod of the first order, in like-new condition, a rocket on Pirelli P-2000’s, a transcendent joy to drive.

I am generally healthy, and as such, of course, I have no right to complain. I will sleep soundly tonight in my own bed, the mattress of which had a price tag the equivalent of three or four decent months salaries in this country. I have a new Hitachi refrigerator full of food and all of my clothes, such as they are, are properly laundered (by me) and properly stowed (Navy style). Things could be much worse. But, please note, everything is relative.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Some Quality Tourist Time

My friend Choophong took this picture of me with his wife and daughter. Choophong is a dear man, he worries that I may be lonely, all by myself and so far from home. He also worries that his English could really use some quality time with a native-speaker. For me, the result is some quality time with Choophong's lovely family.
On this day we were visiting the Summer Palace (it's always Summer here, so the place was in use all year) of Rama V, the Great King Chulalongkorn. What a lunch we had, oiy!

Thai-Light-Zone: Pardon Me, Have You Seen My Adolescence?

Someone said that Americans keep their dogs in a permanent state of adolescence. It makes sense, actually. American dogs cannot run free, they cannot procreate, they never need to look for their own food. They are our pampered little four legged trophy dogs, constantly wagging their little tails and begging for our affection, and a handout of course.

Dogs in Thailand on the other hand are fully adult. They live a dog’s life everyday. Most of them fend for themselves without any help or interference from the local humans. They display bland, world weary expressions as they wander their appointed rounds: places they found food once, places where humans are cooking, places where students eat lunch or snacks, places where other dogs spend lots of time, places of exceptionally deep shade, places with good garbage.

They are amazingly adult. They will run up a side street where there is little traffic and come to a comfortable stop upon arriving at a main street. Looking first right (Thais drive on the left) and then looking left, then looking right again, they walk safely across the street. If you run past a dog, or ride past on a bicycle, the dog will simply give you a little look without much interest. The dog looks at you just to make sure you are not about to drop some food or hand out a snack. A sleeping dog may open only one eye to see you.

You almost never see an experienced mother dog in America. In Thailand it is common to see dogs that look like the wolf mother of Romulus and Remus, teats almost dragging on the ground, well traveled pudenda dragging open at the rear. They have wonderfully wise expressions, for dogs I mean. They have seen it all, scrounged food for four or five, populated the earth and lived to tell about it.

These Thai dogs know what not to do as well. They know exactly what the humans will or will not tolerate. If one approaches in an unacceptable manner all the human needs to do is cock his foot as if to throw a kick. That dog will retreat ten feet in one second and stop whatever it was that he was doing. Reaching back as if to throw a rock works pretty good too. If they go too far they’re liable to be picked up bodily and thrown into a tree. That gets their attention and keeps it: wow, I’ll never do that again.

One thing for sure, the mating behavior of sexually intact, independently living, chronologically and emotionally mature dogs is a revelation for an urban American more accustomed to aging puppies. That’s a whole ‘nother story.

The situation is reversed as regarding our human offspring. In America children must learn to “stand on their own feet” from a very early age. They must learn to sit in restraints and like it because no one has the time to carry them. They must learn to play by themselves even if their parents are close at hand because, please try to understand, the parents have a lot to do. They must learn to get up early and get fed and dressed and left at an institution all day because mom and dad need to get to work, bring home the bacon. They must learn to like television.

American children are made to work alone on thousands of projects throughout their schooling. Don’t look at him! I asked you! They are encouraged to leave home and go to live at universities far from home. They are expected to have created their own independent life before their twenty-fifth birthdays.

In Thailand this demand for independence is turned on its head. All children are encouraged to work together on most school projects. Ideally, one’s children will never leave the family home, they will get married and have their own children and live their lives as part of a big extended family. Babies are held at all times for about the first eighteen months of their lives. You heard me right, held in someone’s arms almost without a break for about eighteen months.

In some families this togetherness thing is carried to extremes. In some instances Thai children are maintained in a permanent state of adolescence well into their chronological adulthood. If their parents are particularly long lived this state may extend into the child’s old age. This phenomenon manifests itself in all financial demographics. In poor families, one or more children may be needed in the family house on a full time basis, perhaps to care for a handicapped family member or work in the family enterprise making baskets or dying fabrics. Marriage would only add mouths to feed, or maybe there’s just not enough room. In rich families one or more children may just never be inclined to leave such a perfect set up. They don’t work hard, if at all; they always have a nearly new car to use; they always have money in their pockets; they are well dressed; they are fully equipped with the latest electronic gadgets. Where else could they live like that?

In many cases there is a domineering mom or dad involved. See what happened to your sister when she got married? I just don’t want the same thing to happen to you. This can lead to adults with successful professional careers living after work in shorts and t-shirts watching television with mom everyday. Plenty of money to spend on travel and leisure and no adult responsibilities outside of work. I don’t know whether to cry or to wish that I were so lucky.

These perpetual teenagers have the same immature characteristics as the American dogs do, if I may be permitted such a gross analogy. Their smiles are genuine but lack the cynical edge that personal responsibility brings. They are certainly smart enough but they lack wisdom. They don’t worry about eating; they simply wait to be fed. They never become fully formed adults; they remain two-dimensional caricatures until and unless life or common sense steps in and thrusts full responsibility on them.

(I wrote this a couple of years ago. It needs more of a conclusion, don't you think?)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Picture of the Day: The Floating Restaurant

A very nice one too, in Kachanaburi, picture taken from the "Bridge Over the River Kwai."

Thai-Light-Zone: The Purposeful Stride

Looking out my favorite window a moment ago I saw a young woman with a purposeful stride. This is very unusual in Thailand, where virtually all women walk in such a manner as to be stationary and moving forward in almost equal measure.

She being almost one hundred yards away, and five stories below, I had no chance to jog up next to her and satisfy my curiosity as to how she learned to walk that way, not that I would ever do such a thing. Probably grew up in New York or something.

I’m Grading Tests (LA-500: English for Lawyers)

Mildly entertaining are the following responses on a multiple-choice test:

Which of the following is a defense to murder? (Suicide)

In the absence of an emergency, if a doctor who is drunk at the time operates on a person, the doctor has (merely made a mistake).

Both of these answers were fairly common, reflecting Asian values, no doubt.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mr. Fred's Poetry Corner: The Failure of Alcohol

Oh, go on. You know you love it.

Alcohol is a sadly inadequate drug.
The destruction that it brings
Is far out of proportion to its meager gifts.

It has nothing of the majesty
And distraction of LSD,
Which has no calories,
And leaves behind no destruction
At all, but only misunderstood insight.
Or, even better, mushrooms,
Which deliver something similar
Without the tightness in the throat,
Or the vaguely technological sense of menace.
Both are predictable to the minute,
And back to school or work tomorrow
With a clear head and no dyspepsia.

Alcohol is an aperitif, and a good one,
But standing alone it is
An inconstant friend of limited utility.
Alcohol is available, and socially acceptable,
Those are its chief advantages.

Marijuana, what a mystery
Its rejection by super-ego second-guessers.
Practically free, it should be,
And easy on the throat, and the heart.
Smoke it daily for twenty or thirty years
And the first one of the day still gets you off,
Skip a day and nothing happens at all.
Coffee is much more addictive,
Although, I admit, coffee has its attractions.

Thanks are due to researchers
Who have provided medical practitioners
With new drugs that can enthrall their patients,
And that, applied with professional care,
Will ensure years of further billing.
I would not recommend that anyone
Take Xanax every day, as recommended,
That’s a fool’s game,
But on a fifteen hour plane trip,
After a meal and a few drinks,
Even better, watch a movie first too,
Three or four Xanax and it’s lights out,
Sitting upright with no regard,
Sleeping like a baby in his crib.

Overindulgence in alcohol on a plane
Only brings frequent, clumsy trips to the bathroom.

The worst indictment of all:
Alcohol, in a solitary existence,
Brings only exacerbated bouts of crying,
And limits one’s ability
To read serious literature
Or solve chess problems.

November 13, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Picture of the Day: Cool Bike

Not all cool bikes have motors. Note the good use of the ubiquitous blue PVC pipe for the uprights in the back.

Thai-Light-Zone: Wednesday

Before I had ever taught English I thought that it was a very accessible, rather simple language. Teaching it I became convinced very quickly that it is actually very difficult. Take the spelling, please.

With grammar or high school students I always start off a lesson with a five or six minute exercise in sheer fun. One technique is to take a couple of words and make cards for each individual letter, stand along the front of the room the appropriate number of “volunteers,” shuffle well and give them all a card, then have the students tell them how to move around to make the words. One day, the first word was Wednesday.

The interest here came from the nature of their misapprehension. They knew pretty soon that the word was Wednesday, but they spelled it wrong, and then they spelled it wrong again. To be fair, though, I had to admit that their spellings made as much sense as the proper spelling, maybe more. Here are their first two efforts:

1. Wendseday

2. Wedensday

Pretty good, I’d say, and I did. English spelling is diabolical.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Picture of the Day: the Assembly

Every day, at every school in Thailand, all of the students line up at about eight o'clock for the raising of the Thai flag and the singing of the impossibly difficult Thai National Anthem.
At this school, a student is chosen each day to lead the anthem. Almost none of them can really follow the weirdly circumvoluted melody all the way through. It's kind of entertaining. When, once in a great while, a student really nails the entire thing it's a wonderful surprise.

Get Your Kicks

I love a site called “Literary Kicks.” All of the content is great, and a feature called “Action Poetry” is a wonderful outlet for obscure poets, part time poets, wannabe poets, and, my own mediocre offerings notwithstanding, some unpublished but highly talented poets.

First open; then go to the upper right and hit the “back,” as in Action Poetry is back! The next screen is always incomplete on my computer, I need to hit refresh to bring up the entire thing. I always have something in the current list, and if you want to go to a complete list of my postings you can click my name.

I am very happy to be amongst the regulars. We comment on each others poems, write poems in response, and engage in general logrolling. Some friendships are developed over time, e-mails are exchanged. It’s a very social experience, for me it is anyway.

So, if you want to read more of my scribblings, this is the place to do it until I can put together my mighty edifice of a super-blog.


I write these things quickly, with little time for fact checking. I know a little bit about a lot of things, and for the most part my recall of things is pretty reliable. But . . .

I recently learned that Butch O'Hare died flying a Hellcat in the first attempt to fly air cover for a U.S. carrier at night, ignominiously shot down by a Betty, no less. I had been certain, as sure as I am of my name, that he died flying a Lightning in a daylight air battle.

This discovery will make me more careful, but since this is the Internet, and a blog no less, you should take it all with a grain of salt.

Reasonably Entertaining Old Journal Entries

Many people don't know the sad saga of my gone, but not forgotten left middle fingertip. So here's a catch up:

October 30, 2005
Phrae, Thailand
1,140 words

Events Overtake Mr. Fred

One of the classical (Greek) theories of comedy is that anything bad that happens to someone else instead of the viewer is funny. Someone slips on a banana peel . . . boy, I bet that hurt! In much the same spirit, here’s a hysterical story about Mr. Fred’s adventures in the Kingdom.

Thailand is a land of limited liability. America has been stripped of all dangerous products. Sorry kids, no lawn darts for you. Build with only safety glass, please. Safe electrical products, safe power tools, safe, safe, safe. By the same token, if something does happen someone must be responsible. Fall out of a roller coaster? They had a duty! They breached it! You were hurt! They must pay! None of this is true in Thailand.

In Thailand, if you are hurt at a tourist attraction it is considered to be your own fault: you were not careful enough. Didn’t you see that muddy floor? No one else fell and broke their arm. If you are brave enough to go para-sailing or speed boating or riding hanging from cables in a rain forest don’t expect any sympathy if you get dumped or flipped. You’re lucky if the concessionaire calls the hospital for you, he has to get back to work, make a living. There’s no one to sue; in Thailand you are left to your own devices and all risks are assumed by you.

With regard to products this is a mixed blessing. Some dangerous products work very, very well. Too well in many cases. Like super glue, you can still get that REAL super glue here, the kind where you can glue your hand to your chest if your not careful, or glue your eye shut for good. And drain cleaner, the stuff here will take out any clog at all plus a thirty-second of an inch all around the pipe, no fooling around.

So it was a shock, but not a surprise, when I discovered an incredibly sharp edge where I least expected one on an ice chest I was cleaning recently. Real hard plastic, so sharp you could hardly run your finger over it. And it closed on a fixed line with huge leverage behind it, the entire weight of the heavy cover. At the hinge side, no less, leverage like a pair of bolt cutters. Right where any unsuspecting Peace Corps volunteer could put one of his fingers. And let the cover drop. And cut a piece of a valuable finger clean off.

Boy, that was one of those “can I please buy back the last ten seconds during which I did something very, very stupid?” moments. At first I though I had just jammed it, you know, like in a car door, and the worst thing is that you might lose a fingernail. But the nail was the only thing I didn’t lose, the nail was fine, still is. The nail was sticking out half an inch past where the finger tip used to be; the new “tip” was as flat as the top of a soup can, flowing blood. Oh, I wish I had a picture of my face when I first saw that, that absence of a fingertip on my left middle finger, that bloody stump of a finger important to forming any guitar chord you ever heard of, on any one of my seven, count ’em, seven guitars.

“Ann, come immediately!” I screamed with my head thrown back. Something needed to be organized, and I was indisposed. When Ann did not immediately burst out of the door of the house I added, “not fast enough!” Ann had that look, that “what did the baby do now?” look, the same look she had when I pulled her away from a favorite TV show to drive me to the hospital when my appendix burst.

We quickly arranged a trip to the emergency room. Ann said, “should I come with you?” I said, “oh, you’ll have to make those decisions for now.” A Thai doctor turned out to be a good choice for this type of wound, they see lots of strange machete mutilations here. Very Thai, though, certainly too Thai to tell you when he was going to suddenly hurt you real bad. “You will feel this,” they say, American doctors say, and you know to brace yourself for the pain. I didn’t want to look, so my head was turned away when the doc and a couple of nurses were getting started. He chose not to tell me before he jammed the local anesthetic injection into the stump, I jumped a foot off the bed. The next couple of jabs weren’t so bad, I expected those. Then they cleaned it up and cauterized it, a faint cooking smell. After the shots I didn’t feel a thing, and I mean from then on; I never had any pain at all with the healing. I mean, if I jammed it into something it hurt briefly, but just lying there in the bandage it never hurt at all. “You’re lucky,” the doctor said much later, “you have a high pain threshold.”

I did, however, have a low gross-out threshold. I didn’t look at it for two weeks, “mai ow hen, c’ap.” (“I don’t want to see.”) I had to go every day for three weeks to get it cleaned and re-bandaged. It was always a pleasure, the nurses were all typically pretty, cheerful, graceful Thai women. The nurses loved me, I never complained, just smiled and said thank you. They practiced their English. The worst part was wondering: what will it end up looking like? Will it take guitar string pressure? Will it get infected? How long will it take to heal? Will I finally lose the nail? Where does the bone end . . . will the tip be too thin?

It’s two months later now, and it looks as though everything will settle down just fine. It’s already a fingertip to look at it, about three-eighths of an inch abbreviated. The nail is fine. I can type on the new fingertip, although it does still feel weird. In the meantime I have finally made sense of open tuning and can play guitar just fine without it. A forced excursion into the land of slide. I was never versatile anyway. I played songs at an English camp this week. It should be fine for all purposes in a couple of months.

Any lessons learned? Probably not. This case is probably what lawyers call “limited to it’s own fact pattern.” When washing out an ice chest it is important to take your time, focus on what you are doing, and don’t think about ten other things while your doing it. You should be fine.


No, it will never be fine again. A couple of years later, it's still hyperascthesic and not much use for guitar playing (bass guitar is a little better, I can use the flat part of the fingertip).

I had a procedure from a decent American Ortho, a "V-Y Projection" or something. It did a little good, it put a little more meat over the bone tip, stopped the worst of the cupping of the fingernail. Once you rip up a fingertip, however, it's kind of over, Johnny.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Magic Johnson Is Not Who You Think

Magic Johnson is on Larry King. Evidently, he is still on the list of important Blacks to be consulted when something happens that is of interest to Black folk. This is always interesting to me, because, with the parting of only a very thin layer of fog, it’s easy to see that Magic is probably a murderer.

Oh! Slander! Beloved Magic!

I don’t mean in the same sense as one who would make a plan, dress appropriately, arm himself, and set off to his ex-wife’s house intending to kill her. That’s first degree murder, that’s bad stuff. But there is also second degree murder, among the definitions of which is homicide resulting from gross recklessness, behavior that anyone with half a brain should have known might result in the death of another, behavior like firing a gun into a family home. You may not have intended to kill anyone, but by god if someone is killed by the shot your ass is going to prison. And you earned the bid, too, nothing unfair about it.

Back in Magic’s salad days, the late 1980’s, Magic was famous for throwing parties for his friends at his Los Angeles mansion. I forget the little pet names they had for the mansion, or the parties, or the special sex rooms in the house, it was all very pre-Freudian and cute, little pet names for everything. These were sex parties, there were great numbers of women there, and they knew why they were there, they were available. I’m no puritan, I don’t condemn sex, not in any way in which two or three people are involved in a loving relationship, even a temporary relationship. But I do condemn brainless sex with multiple partners on a regular basis, when no one even knows each other’s names, and riding bareback no less, because these were real men after all, not inclined to take showers wearing raincoats. That’s just foolishness, and in the time of AIDS it was (is) reckless behavior with no regard for the safety of themselves or others.

In the Reagan/Bush era it was fashionable to think that AIDS was a disease of homosexuals and junkies, but everyone knew already that the wives and girlfriends of the homo’s and junkies were contracting the disease, and passing it along through heterosexual contact. Stupidity is not a defense to firing a gun into a house; it should not be a defense here. Magic got AIDS from one of the women at those parties, and could anyone believe for a minute that he didn’t pass it on to other women before he finally discovered that he was infected? If any of those subsequently infected women has died, that’s a strong case for a murder charge based on his reckless disregard for their safety.

What would I do if I met him? Smile and shake his hand, probably. He’s rich, after all. Everybody likes rich people.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Enjoying Political Diversity, for a Change

All of this thinking and writing, thinking and writing, and the resulting dialog with many new friends who are generous with their comments, has wonderfully clarified the American electorate for me. That and this election, of course.

I find that most people who espouse political beliefs that are somewhat different than mine are actually very close to me on most issues. I suppose that I am just a liberal, in spite of my sub rosa radical tendencies, and liberal and conservative are really just the two sides of smack dab in the middle. This is real people that I'm talking about, workaday guys and girls like me and mine. And R.C., and my wonderful cousin V.L., I am having a great time finding the middle ground where we all can agree.

I still think that the Republican Party is a biblical curse on America's sainted landscape, having descended into the mania of New Deal unwinding reactionary greed mongering. Republicans have become the party of BIG GOVERNMENT INTERFERING IN PEOPLE'S LIVES, a warrantless phone tapping search and seizure nightmare, jailing people with no recourse, invading other countries because the 8-Ball told them something might happen next year, telling us what we can and cannot do in private, standing between us and our doctors with a long list of do's and don'ts, and all the while building more and more levels of government and spending more and more money that we don't have, and spending it for their own benefit at that. But most people who consider themselves conservatives are actually very reasonable. They have friends and relatives who may be homosexual but they don't seem to mind very much. They would only be happy if stem cell research could help them or theirs out of a tight spot. If some woman in the neighborhood got pregnant and decided in a timely and reasonable fashion to have an abortion, they wouldn't think that it was any of their business. They tolerate racial and religious diversity very well. They are actually good people, just like me, god bless them, and God bless them too.

This election has shown us where the middle is in America, and it has reminded us that most of us live there, together. What a wonderful showing of strength in the face of a satanic effort to divide us. I congratulate the wonderful American people.

And hard-core Republicans? Sixty four percent of whom think that Sarah Palin should run for president in 2012? Adios, MF's. It's cold out there in the political wilderness.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Favorite Picture

This picture always cheers me up.
English Camp, Song District, Phrae, 2004

Winning Ohio

“No Republican has ever been elected without carrying Ohio.” Check.

Virginia for Obama; West Virginia for McCain: an inversion of the sides taken in the Civil War. Alabama; Georgia; Texas; Mississippi; for McCain. Bill Bennett referred to the “Confederate States” vs. the “Union States.” At first I thought he meant it as in “union states” vs. “right-to-work” (i.e., anti labor union) states. Either way, he was right, and his friends will give him shit for this comment.

The McCain “party” in Phoenix had their news connection cut early. Too depressing.

John Bolton was on BBC with an American psephologist, a poll chaser; an English professor-duffus historian; and some guy who was never spoken to and who never said anything. A pretty blond commentator in another location suggested that Sarah Palin hurt McCain with independents, without whom he could not win. Bolton sprung forward, with his index finger outstretched in total attack mode, sharpened teeth mercifully hidden beneath his walrus mustache. “He needed her to solidify his base! And she has! Do you think he could have won without his base!” (Ergo: John McCain had no base. Does Bolton know what a “voter base” is? It’s the voters who would vote for a yellow dog if you nominated him. To Bolton, evidently, the Republican base would only vote for a yellow dog if Sarah Palin was holding the leash.)

McCain has Lindsey Graham with him to keep him upbeat . . . that’s my idea of depressing. He is awaiting the results in the Barry Goldwater Suite of the Phoenix Biltmore Hotel. That’s just pre-Freudian and sad.

CNN had these screens that they could touch and colors would flip and numbers would flash, all of this without drugs. It was all “hypotheticals,” and one guy was way into it, it was like his screens, John King I think. I’m sure that this was very confusing to lots of people who were having trouble just keeping up with the reality of the situation. I believe that this showed admirable confidence in the generally literal-minded American people. Unfounded, probably.

I love Barney Frank, but he’s really more of a bass player, he’s not a lead singer. That non-descript man in the Senate, is it Harry something? He shouldn’t even be on stage, put him in charge of the fan club or something. Nancy Pelosi is like Grace Slick: she looks ok, and she’s a pretty good singer, but no one likes her anyway. This team needs a tough-love clean-sweep with a wire brush.

Joe Lieberman’s fate: life at the limits of the patience of the Democratic Party, and proof that people in Connecticut aren’t as smart as they think.

“Republicans will be looking to re-create 1994,” as a step to re-creating 1900, no doubt.

“We’re going to win in Pennsylvania! We’re going to win the election on Tuesday!” Throwing air-punches like an ill-constructed animatronic device of a mean spirited, fading old tough guy.

Bolton is making a list of things over which “we’ll see them in court.” Number one is: Virginia doesn’t count absentee ballots unless they could affect the race.

Let’s count the states that can be relied upon to follow macho flag waving supported by outright lies. This is the dream world: no issues; no fact-checking; no memory, what? me worry?

The Colorado GOP chief, rubbing his hands together gleefully, says that the worst thing that could happen to the Democrats would be the presidency and large majorities of both houses of congress. He promises perpetual, total war based upon the Democrats’ impending “failure to deliver.” This is the logic of criminals and the insane. Having destroyed the country, many Republicans are secretly relieved to see the Democrats in a position where in only two or four years they can be blamed for the entire thing.

McCain’s concession speech has been well received, and to be fair he kept it on a surprisingly gracious note with only some little digs like, “he’s my president, and I’ll support him, but we’re Americans! We never quit!” On the whole, however, McCain’s concession speech was self aggrandizing and maudlin. His audience was decidedly not gracious. They heartily booed Joe Biden, and repeatedly chanted “John-Mac-Cain!” and “U-S-A!”

The remains of the so-called right wing conservative branch of the Republican Party should be banished so far out into the political wilderness that their horses die of thirst. I say this for the good of America, and for the good of the Republican Party, out of love.

My Guitars

I made a fundamental mistake when I was “learning” how to play guitars: I learned with my ears and my hands, and I never used my brain to figure out what was actually happening. For me it was all ear-training and muscle memory.

Go ahead, ask me, what are the chords to “Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night.” How the fuck to I know? I think I play it in “D.” Whenever I wanted to play it, I’d take twenty or thirty seconds to figure it out all over again, or, remember it, if you will. Then I’d turn it over to my fingers, and it was music, and it came out fine. I could play fifty songs, no problem. I couldn’t tell you shit about them, especially the ones with 6th’s and 9th’s and major 7th’s and like that, but I could play them.

So after I stupidly cut the business end of my left middle finger off, cleaning out an ice chest in preparation for a party, my life is all about the love, bringing happiness to other people, after I had so mutilated myself I couldn’t play shit. How could I play the songs? I never knew shit about the songs! My fingers could play the songs, and now the most important one was gone!

When I pick up a guitar now it’s almost like starting all over again. Worse than that, I must un-learn over forty years of muscle memory. There are worse fates in the scheme of things, but it’s certainly annoying.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Very Cool Comment on Spin Easy Time!

. . . on “Sadly the Case,” see below. I doubt if any of the books mentioned in the comment contain places or deeds that interest me much.

My most amazing meal in Thailand was up around Kachanaburi, on my way back “home” from the WWII bridge thing. I got out of a van and had to figure out how to get to the train station, and since it was lunch time I pulled up a chair in a wall-less noodle shack. There was the usual shock at seeing a Farang off the beaten path, and the usual relief when it became apparent that I could speak a little Thai. I ordered a bowl of noodle soup, and was disagreeably surprised to find that in this small city lots and lots of pig blood was a key ingredient. I never say anything when this kind of thing happens, I try to be a good guest. It was ok anyway, it tasted good if you didn’t think about the probably uncooked blood too much. Lots of people wanted to talk, I mean in some places when a Farang speaks Thai, however poorly, it’s like a talking dog just ordered a drink in a bar. One guy was fully dressed up as an American cowboy, boots, jeans, pearl-buttoned cowboy shirt, American Indian turquoise jewelry and belt buckle. He spoke twenty words of English, but we had some fun. He had a nice little cowpoke with him, also with the cowboy clothes. He got done before I did, and when he left he paid for my lunch too. Nice fellow.

My favorite golf course is Penmar in West Los Angeles. It’s the most used golf course in the world, no lie. It’s a nine hole “goat path,” that’s the term of endearment in L.A., straight, flat and easy. From first light until lights out they sent out groups of five players so close together that someone is blasting into you for the entire round. Here’s the good part: you almost always play with strangers, and the strangers can be very, very interesting. I played with a ninety-something guy who made cracking sounds and cries of pain every time he took a shot. He had a good straight game, but short. He was playing with a beautiful forty-something blond. I knew a guy there who played everyday and who was a very good golfer. He carried three clubs in a shitty little bag, he bought the entire kit for five dollars or less when he retired. He had a two-wood, a five-iron, and a sand-wedge, he putted with the five, and boy were the young athletic, competitive guys pissed when he beat them. I played with Len Sheridan one time. He came on as a single and just introduced himself as “Len.” He was a goofy sort of guy, very friendly, about seventy years old. After a few holes during which I noticed that he had a huge leather tour bag that said “TOYOTA” in letters that could be read from space I blurted out, Oh! you’re Len Sheridan! (Len Sheridan Toyota, one of the biggest Toyota dealers in California.) He about swallowed his gum, he was very impressed with my powers of deduction.

No, I am an unusual tourist. I stay away from the big temples, I like to go to the small markets outside of town, the ones where poor people shop for their daily bread, often in the form of bugs, or rubbery little, bitter as hell sea urchins from the rice paddies, or frogs, some of which can be of very impressive size, crucified on these split bamboo crosses and grilled. They don’t have those at the hotel restaurant.

Here’s a poem for you, I know you all love my poems:

Death and Venice

Now I lay me down to sleep,

Venice, before it sinks,
Would top the short list, I’d say,
Better hurry now,
Time being what it is, like money:
Once spent, gone like a summer’s breeze.

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

The no-go list is long,
The couldn’t-give-a-shit list is
Vast and unwieldy, but then,
Who gives a shit?

So, Venice then, but expensive now,
Euros, I’ve never even seen one!
And so many time zones!
Think of the jet lag!
Six weeks anyway, to make it worthwhile,
See the Berninis.

And if I die before I wake,

Too old now to look for work as a sex-toy,
And not inclined to submit to the tremors of actual work.

But I’ve seen the Alps,
And Greenland, from a plane, it’s white,
Some kind of joke, I guess,
And I saw the Ramones, and Jimi,
And way too many rude All-Stars to name,
Or even count, in clubs as small as your apartment,
And who needs more museums?
Once you’ve been to the Met?
And the Modern?
One hundred times? Each? At least?
And the Frick for good luck?

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

And I’ve seen things,
And done things,
That if you’ve seen them too,
And done them,
Then we should have a secret handshake!
The elite! The lucky few!
I salute you!

I’ve seen the sun, our sun, shine
On waters far and wide, and battlefields,
And a concentration camp!
The real kind, no ersatz bullshit where no one died,
Saw the showers, stood in them!
And the industrial crematorium, and the dissecting tables,
Wow! This dumb fuck swallowed a wedding ring!
What an impressive pile of ashes they had!
And a room, a big room, filled with children’s shoes,
Filled to a height of five feet,
The cute-beyond-cute of horrors.

But Venice,
Venice haunts me,
Who’ll die first?
Me or Venice?
Time is our enemy,
Passing inexorably,
Leaving only
History in its wake.

April 20, 2008

Congratulations Are in Order!

Let's hear it for Mr. Radical-Terrorist-Abortionist-America-Hating-Friend-Of-Criminals! Chicago, a city to which I could not be more indifferent, is obviously a good place to learn politics.

I know a good tailor in Columbia who makes beautiful bulletproof clothing, even t-shirts!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Unitary Executive Theory

After the election we can look forward to a proper airing of issues that were considered too difficult for voters to grasp. The most important of these is the Unitary Executive Theory.

This boondoggle was first formulated by the Reagan Justice Department under Edwin Meese. It was an expansion of the power of the Executive Branch of government to control policy through its authority over Administrative Agencies.

Under the W. Bush administration the theory was expanded to put the president as far as possible beyond the control of Congress or the Constitution. Dark Lord Cheney, and his minion, the activist and deeply reactionary Professor Yoo, posited an almost imperial presidency. Their importance may diminish soon, but they leave in their wake four Supreme Court Justices who support their new version of the Unitary Executive.

One of the first formulators in the Meese office, Federalist Society founder Steven Calabresi, now writes:

“The cost of the bad legal advice that he received is that Bush has discredited the theory of the unitary executive by associating it not with presidential authority to remove and direct subordinate executive officials but with implied, inherent foreign policy powers, some of which, at least, the president simply does not possess.”

Which is to say that the president, with the backing of one short of an unbeatable majority on the Supreme Court, has been wielding unconstitutional power for several years now.

Tomorrow, there will either be a president elect who wishes to continue the expansion of the Unitary Executive and will veto any effort to investigate abuses by the Bush administration, or a president elect who (it is to be hoped) wishes to return to constitutional equilibrium and oversea the aforementioned investigations. And America will within a year or two have a President and a Supreme Court that believes that Congress is just a powerless showpiece, or a President and a Supreme Court that believes in the Constitutional balance of power that had been in effect for two hundred years until the Bush administration got a hold of it.

This sure has my intestines in a twist, and I don’t think that I’m the only one.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Wives' Neighborhood

Yesterday I took a trip with my buddy Choophong and his family to visit the recreational palace, the out of town get away mini-Versaille, of the great king, Rama Five. It was all very impressive, but my favorite part was this large collection of nondescript but nice houses tucked over in a wooded corner of the large, park like property. It was the wives' neighborhood.
It was house after modest house, each bearing signage naming the occupant. They had titles which had meanings like, "Main Wife," "Wife with Children," even "(Mere) Concubine but with fully accepted Royal Children." One slightly bigger house listed five wives names, the "bull-pen" I suppose.
Rama Five was a busy guy on the wife scene. He had lots of them, and lots of children, no less than seventy four sons alone. That was in the second half of the Nineteenth Century.
This kind of thing is the rationale that Thai men offer even in these late days for having more than one wife. In Thailand, if you can support a second wife, you know, put her in her own house and pay the bills, most people think it's ok. The women don't like it, no surprise, but for men with money it's a way of showing off.
How do you feel about that, said the doctor?

Sadly the Case

I should go swimming more, the pool is really nice. I’m not an action kind of guy, though, I’m more about stasis. Oh, I can get a lot done, especially if I’m getting paid, biff, bam, boom, one task after the other. But once I’m done with the things that really must be done I tend to do something that is fun and can be done while sitting quietly.

It is sadly the case that given the choice between doing something, and doing nothing, I’ll probably choose to do nothing. But doing nothing isn’t really one of the options, is it?

Even retired, one needs to do something. Getting up; washing; eating; evacuating; sitting still; eating again; taking a nap; eating yet again, god it all gets so old, all of this eating; watching TV; sleeping; it would only be two or three days before the soul would cry out for mercy and something to do. Life requires that something be done.

There are always hobbies. One can devote oneself to golf. Golf has a noble social aspect, and the impossibility of mastering it gives it a long term appeal for many people. Golf also has result-motivation. Myself, I get result-motivation from writing, reading and writing, with maybe a little TV thrown in. It may look like the quiet tranquility of the tomb to some people, but sometimes, if the writing is good, or if I read and understand something meaningful, I feel very productive.

One recent Sunday, by ten o’clock in the morning I had written a thousand good words, after edit, and done a load of wash besides. I’d also had my breakfast of choice: two cups of coffee (Maconna instant, with two packs of Equal and a little whole milk), a bowl of corn flakes (Kellogg’s) with orange flavored drinkable yoghurt (Dutch Mill), and a cigarette (Marlboro Menthol, no lights, please, I smoke three or four a day). I almost went back to sleep for the rest of the day, the daylight hours anyway. It was too early to start drinking; drinking is only fun for a couple of hours, after that it becomes tedious.

It occurs to me that someday I may wish that I had done more while I still had the strength, but I doubt it. I’ve never been ambitious, nor have I ever been overly impressed by the accomplishments of my fellows, even of famous overachievers. My accomplishments in sixty years so far would look fine as a total for an eighty year lifespan, I’m just a run-of-the-mill human, after all. “The Accomplishments of Run –of-the-Mill Humans” is not so impressive a book.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dangerous Political Times

One hundred hours left before polls start to close on the presidential election of 2008. There are many possible results: Democratic President and Republican or semi-Republican congress; Democratic President and congress; Republican President and congress, etc. All of these possible outcomes are fraught with danger, and whatever happens on election day, there will be no peace.

The only positive sign is that in 2008 an honorable Democratic Party campaign gained real traction and pulled ahead of the now customary Republican tactics of racial division, disingenuous religiosity, fear mongering and outright lies (see: “Willie Horton”). Americans seem finally to have recognized that while Oz, seen majestically surrounded by smoke, fire and colored lights, promises all comers their hearts’ desires, there is a man behind the curtain who is only interested in creating the illusion and ensuring his continuing prosperity.

In the event, though, that Mr. Obama wins on Tuesday, The Republicans will continue their campaign of wrecking as though nothing had happened at all. We know this from bitter experience: recall the eight years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. Zero cooperation from the Republicans and a constant stream of lies and innuendo culminating in a failed attempt to impeach Clinton for, what was it, lying about something insignificant that any gentleman could be forgiven for lying about? (“I did not have sex with that woman.”) Nothing at all came of any of the substantive charges. The biggest effort to destroy Clinton was “Whitewater,” a particularly ridiculous effort to prove that the Clintons, poor as church mice after a lifetime of public service in Little Rock, Arkansas, somehow improperly benefited from a land deal to the tune of about $60,000.

There’s a big difference this year. Bill Clinton followed George Herbert Walker Bush as president. That Mr. Bush was a competent politician and an intelligent man with an inclination to caution. He handed Mr. Clinton an America that was essentially in good shape. If victorious, Mr. Obama will follow George Walker Bush, now generally considered to be an idiot, who with his comical clique of yes-men has ruined every aspect of American security and prosperity. Everyone is familiar with the list, and I will not repeat it here.

We have major obstacles to overcome, major problems to solve, major worldwide debacles to unwind. George W. Bush has made America a laughing stock around the world. He has taken Al Quida style terrorism, which was an insignificant problem in the scheme of things, and helped them to increase their numbers, spread their influence, and create a respected world wide brand opposing the presence of American troops in the Dar Islam, the Middle-East.

If Mr. Obama is elected, he will get no help with the work that needs to be done from the Republicans. You just watch, be prepared for a final round in the desperate struggle for America’s soul that has been going on since Nixon was fired. Don’t expect a return to civil discourse, a pipe dream that is getting some play these days. Expect in stead a vicious outpouring of bile about the usual suspects: Liberals! Homosexual Agendas! Activist Judges! Abortions! Radical Agendas! Victories! Taxing! Spending! And expect the Republican Party to continue their crusade against the New Deal, against Social Security, against the Middle-Class, against “socialist” medical care programs, against anything that limits in any way the ability of their corporate whore-meisters to make money and give some to them.

Whoever is elected, my friends, chaos is coming.