Tuesday, January 27, 2009

CNN Is Chasing BBC’s Tail In Asia.

CNN Asia has obviously decided that accents are very important. What other excuse could there be for the fact that almost all on-air personalities have British accents.

I have always been fascinated by accents, being able to tell where someone is from because they insert an ‘r’ in the middle of the word ‘warsh.’ (Indiana) My own natural accent is Working Class Queens, which not only tells people where I’m from but also suggests to many people that I have a poor education. If I’m not careful, I sound a lot like the guys in those World War II movies that were always named “Brooklyn,” or maybe “Nutsy.” They were good Marines, but they were always un-gelernte and kind of crazy. They usually died.

Until I was nineteen, I didn’t even know that I had an accent. I just thought that the rest of the country spoke too slowly. For a long time, I didn’t care. When later in life I became a lawyer I worked at mastering the conventional version of the English language, I learned to speak slowly and correctly, even pronouncing the ‘r’s,’ which was a sacrifice because they still hurt my throat.

I court, I sounded like a good American news announcer. Unless I detected a New York accent in the judge, that is. There was a guy on the bench of the Superior Court in downtown L.A., Joseph something-or-other, and he had an accent like a Brooklyn tug-boat captain, in his court I let it all hang out. “Ahh, your ‘ahner, ‘der’s more ‘dan one way to look at ‘dis ‘ting.” He never seemed to notice.

On the other hand, in America, when people hear what seems to be a British accent they automatically think that the person is highly intelligent and well educated. Well, CNN obviously believes that’s true. CNN Asia is trying to out-do the BBC in British accents. English White men; lots of Indian women; it’s a monument to the British Empire.

This is very sad, because as I have blogged before the English speak a version, or versions is more like it, of the language that they made famous which many people around the world find very difficult to understand. Even the BBC kind of acknowledges this: their own announcers now speak a very neutral brand of English, one could dare to call it “CNN English.”

Another of life’s minor annoyances, brought to you by Spin Easy Time!

Mr. Fred's Poetry Corner: The Longing

(I have always spent too much time thinking about God, which has been demonstrated over the centuries to be a great waste of time.)

I most fail to see
How anyone could believe
In a benevolent God,
What logic could entice a person
To believe in a God of mercy,
Unless that person were so put-upon
And desperate, and had cried
Out for mercy so intensely,
That the God of their wishes
Finally appeared.

Human history is rich in mystery,
And in fact, the march
Of human learning has only enlarged
The zone of mystery,
So perhaps it is not surprising
That we should give the mystery a name,
God, the supreme master of all mysteries,
But wither the leap from mystery
To mercy? A dream of avarice,
A conscious rejection of learning,
Reduced to faith.

My most fervent wish,
And certainly an affront to God,
Is that there could be, for us,
A God that answered prayer,
That rewarded goodness,
A God of mercy, aware
Of human suffering,
A God like me,
That would enable a more peaceful world,
That would reward
Forbearance and empathy,
And welcome us fondly
When our work was done.

January 21, 2009, with genuine longing

Monday, January 26, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mr. Fred Tries Something New

Holding my breath, quite afraid to do something wrong and make the nuns mad, or God forbid, make my parents mad, afraid to break something, I suck up my gut and muster all of the courage that I can, and refer you to the following:


God Is What Is, But What?

I have been tormented from an early age by a wonderment concerning God. Before my teenage years, I had come to some quite independent notions on the subject. I had the advantage of being raised in the Roman Catholic faith, a faith system that drives its more inquisitive young practitioners away due to its unremittingly secular focus, money, authority etc.

I have recently promoted “god” to “God” on my own initiative. Whatever it is, it exists, and it is worthy of respect. Even if it is only a mystery at the end of the universe.

As part of this recurring consideration of life, the universe and everything, I am reading “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. I just started, so no reasoned examination of the work may yet be forthcoming. It may never be: Dawkins has a much more capacious mind than I do, and has inquired further than it will ever be my inclination to do. But I have read enough to recommend the work. So far I have learned that I am a “deistic atheist,” not a “theistic atheist.”

Even if it is only to learn more about our “Founding Fathers,” the book is a good read. For most of them, religion was a toxic waste to be handled with great care. Even mild-mannered Ben Franklin said that “lighthouses are much more useful than churches.” Not, by far, the “Christian Nation” that today’s moronic adherents blandly claim. Relax, I don’t mean you, keep reading.

I make more allowances for faith than Dawkins does. I respect it in people who possess it, as long as it does not become a fever to them, and as long as it does not make them want to kill me, or force me into thrall to their ideas.

I have therefore a great respect and affection for many members of the various mainline Christian sects, the Presbyterians, more so the Episcopalians, and including the Church of Christ and most Baptist sects. Even the Catholics I tolerate pretty well, there are many who evince a genuinely Christian and compassionate lifestyle. It’s just to the cultists that I deny my affections, the mega-church fanatics who substitute hate and fear for love, the “God Hates Fags” crowd, the “you’re not going to heaven” crowd.

But God, it’s all about God. Let’s all love God, and ourselves, and each other.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I just deleted an incoming comment. So it does happen.

Come on, boys and girls, play nice.

President Obama’s Call To Service

President Obama, in his inaugural address, spoke about service to America. Does he have a license to ask us to provide such service? I think so, and I’ll tell you why.

Does anyone now remember when then President Bush II made a big speech about all American citizens needing to do more volunteering? It was in his first year, before you-know-what happened, when he was most famous for the line, “it’s your money!” and his main policy goal was the destruction of Social Security. He suggested that all American citizens, over the course of their lifetimes, should plan to volunteer 4,000 hours of their time to work for good causes. That’s two years, full time.

I was so furious that I was on the verge of gnawing my fists. Here was a lazy minded son of privilege who had never, to my knowledge, ever volunteered for anything in his life. A man who seemed to have energy only for self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. A man who seemed to be devoid of empathy in the manner of a common brick: totally. And with that stupid grin he tells us that we, on the other hand, need to plan two years of our working life for unpaid service to America. Yes, I hate him, you might as well know it.

Obama’s request of us was more artful and less specific, but is he in a better position to ask us in the first place? Yes.

Think about this: I know some lawyers in Los Angeles who eschew big money work, preferring to devote their careers to law in the public interest. They work for organizations which provide legal services to people who otherwise could not afford the assistance of counsel. Some of these lawyers are extremely talented, and many did in fact have successful careers in the big money work before switching to public interest. I have often characterized their efforts as having a large volunteer component, i.e., if you take the large salary that they could command in for-profit legal work, and subtract the salary that they are paid for the public interest work, the remainder is the value of their volunteer work for a given year. For purposes of simple mathematics, let’s say that they could make twice as much money but choose not to. So they are providing six months of volunteer service every year. That’s a thousand hours per year, and some of these people have been at it for a long time. They are the heroes of service to America.

President Obama was the head of the law review at the law school of Harvard University. When he graduated, he had a clear shot at a hugely lucrative career for a big city, big money law firm. But he went to work for law in the public interest. He paid for his lavishly expensive education himself, and he only finished paying off the student loans a few years ago. He made a great sacrifice in the hope of helping people less fortunate than himself.

So yes, Obama has a license to suggest that we, too, consider offering some service to America. Try it, you might like it.

My Favorite Thai Restaurant

It's a fishing-park restaurant, lots of individual, straw roofed pavilions around a central reservoior full of fish. If you like, they'll lend you a pole and you can catch your own fish for them to cook. These restaurants are very popular in Thailand. This one is simply called, in English, "Fishing Park."

You may have noticed the heavy coats. This picture was taken in the third week of January, 2009, when this province in a more business as usual winter would have gotten hot again already. "Global Climate Change" is making some places hotter, and some places cooler, and some places, like France, both. Thailand could stand to be a little cooler, so it should work out ok for Thailand.

House Numbers in Thailand

Hearing that a culture employs an alphabet with forty four consonants and over twenty vowels, you may be forgiven to suspect that the culture enjoys complexity. Discovering how they number the houses for postal purposes may convince you once and for all.

Major streets get names. From city to city, these are somewhat duplicative. Every city has a “Charoen Muang Street,” and most have a “Ratchadamnon Street.” All over Thailand there are streets named for the same major kings. Onto the major streets are hung “Soi,” side streets to the major street. For instance, I live on Soi 44 of Ramkhamhaeng Street. One side of the street takes Soi with even numbers, the other side is odd. They start at the point of origin of the big street. The Soi are not evenly spaced, so across the street from Soi 44 is Soi 73; there just happened to be more side streets over there. The same side street, running between two major streets, may be Soi 43 of one and Soi 122 of the other.

Soi can be confusing enough, but the postal identification numbers have little to do with the Soi. A house ID has a number, or two numbers separated by a slash. In the fractionalized numbers, the bottom number represents a later construction on the property. The numbers are assigned in the order in which the houses were built, take a moment to digest that.

Then comes the name or number, or both, for the local neighborhood (Moo), then the name of a larger neighborhood (Tambun), and finally the name of a district (Amphur).

So good luck finding anything. The mailmen are so local that they know everybody, so they do ok.

The Picture Of The Excellent Barber

This is the excellent barber referred to in the post, infra.

My Thai Barber

I like this guy. The first time that I visited his shop, almost five years ago, I may have been the first Farang ever to clear the door. I said hello and sat down, I was number four or five for a haircut, the joint was jumping. I was brand new in Thailand and I could hardly introduce myself, maybe say a couple of things in terrible sounding Thai. Everyone was interested though, and I explained my presence to the other customers as well as I could.

Cut my hair? I could say, “I want a hair cut,” but that was it. That simple statement is always met with many questions. I assume that they’re asking me how I want it cut, so I usually say, in Thai, “whatever,” which was all I could muster at the time. Now I sometimes say, “make me handsome.” He gave me a generic haircut. It was fine, I don’t care about haircuts, hair grows back, it doesn’t matter.

“How much?” I asked, “taowerai?” He started to say forty, “see . . ,” but changed to twenty, “yee-sip-Baht,” the usual price. He was going to charge me double, but he’d heard me talk to the other patrons and knew that I lived around the corner and realized that I would be back and would know that I had been charged “Farang price.” I gave him thirty Baht, as I always did thereafter, and he always got an expression like, Farang are crazy, paying too much like it was fun.

Every time that I have seen him prior to this trip he was dressed very conservatively, as a young man, casually but very conservatively, and his hair was a very conventional young man’s hair cut. This trip, and it’s been six months since I’ve seen him, he had blossomed. You can see his hair, now flowing and waved and frosted, and I can tell you that his blouse was fancy and lace trimmed. I’m happy for him. I could see that he was gay from the beginning; maybe he was shy, or thought that it would be bad for business. This time he seemed more comfortable with himself.

My Thai has improved, and on this occasion we could have quite a nice little conversation. I think we were both very happy to see each other, and happy that we could have more of a conversation. I gave him forty Baht this time and barely resisted giving him a hug. He made the same look, like Farang are crazy, throwing money away.

I asked him if I could take a picture, and he was delighted. He even took off his surgical mask.

I like BKK, but I love my little Northern town. It’s nice to be known by so many people and to be greeted warmly in so many shops.

The Gao-Gao-Gao Gaow

Nine (‘gao’) is the lucky number in Thailand, and there is a species of inter-city bus called the “999,” which is of course three times as lucky. The little bus on the ticket actually bears the legend, “99,999.” They are typically very new buses with a limited number of big, comfortable seats and better bathrooms. They cost about fifty percent more than a first class bus, and they make better time because they make fewer stops. I usually go back and forth from BKK on a first class bus from a company called “Piriya-tour,” they’re the best. They were sold out, though, so I went with the Gao-Gao-Gao.

Last year was tough for Thai transportation companies, all the world’s transportation companies really. Gas prices were through the roof most of the year. Obviously some adjustments were made.

My bus was not the usual glossy new Scania tour bus. It was a 999 from a couple of generations ago, a double decker MAN. Usually, these older buses are transformed into mere first class buses, but something had kept this one on the premium line. Each way, the extra money for the ticket is over two hundred Baht, which is a decent days pay here. Times are tough. The ride in this thing was certainly tough, and bouncy. Thai mechanics are great, but Thai’s in general believe that shock absorbers are a lifetime item.

Me and one other passenger were put on the bottom level, so we had plenty of room. The TV didn’t work, but it was just as well. It was one of those Thai revenge movies, where something goes homicidally wrong in the very beginning and then everyone goes on a revenge spree for the rest of the movie, under cover of very serious music.

At first I had the impression that the bus had been used to transport goats, or that the driver’s dog had lived in my seat for a month or two, but I soon realized that I was smelling the bathroom, the door to which was right behind my seat.

Very soon the stewardess took the seat in front of me and threw it back into full recline. On these “luxury” buses that means that the top of her head was within a few inches of my nose. It also means that it became almost impossible for me to get up, as the seat back in this position almost touched the arms of my chair. I put back my seat to relieve the pressure on my face, and checked to be sure that I could raise the seat arm rests in case of emergency. Yes, so at least I would not be trapped if there were a fire.

A common human ritual that I find strange is the violent flipping around that many people do in preparation for sleep, and sure enough, the stewardess flipped around for quite a while with athletic vigor. She was driving the prone seat back into my knees in the process. It only hurt if she happened to catch me with the tray table. After apparently falling asleep, she almost immediately began to flip around again. In her calm moments I could tell that she was fast asleep, her breathing was regular and quiet, and she made no voluntary movements. I thought that maybe she was having seizures, but it was not my day to watch her so I let it go. Maybe she was having nightmares.

The trip took forever too. The bus had been more than a half hour late, and it made quite a few stops that were some distance from the highway. It took a full nine hours, usually it’s more like seven, seven and a half. Everything else went fine, though. I found my way to a distant ticket window and purchased a ticket for next week’s teaching excursion, and the first taxi driver that I approached was fine with taking me to my distant neighborhood.

The last ‘gaow’ in the title, by the way, is Thai for ‘old.’ Old people are ‘gaeh,’ but old things are ‘gaow,’ it’s a little longer than the sound of the 9.

My Apology To The Strokes

Long ago I spent six or eight years in the record-and-tape business. I was exposed to a lot of hype, it was the age of hype, the virtual laboratory of hype. I became, I’m afraid, somewhat cynical.

So when the Strokes were new, my reaction was much like that of Keith Richards to Nirvana: oh, young guys? long hair? yeah, I know about that.

Well, more than a couple of years after stealing four Strokes songs from the old Napster, I think that they are the cat’s pajamas. First opportunity I get, I’m going to buy some Strokes product.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Nightmare

I have a recurring nightmare in which no one cares about the great Roman generals, or the misapplied abuse being heaped on Prince Harry, and my poor little blog is read only by the same four or five people who endlessly war with one another through comments under an extensive web of nommes de guerre.

Then I realize that I am awake and it is not a dream.

Ukrainian Princess

Wow. The Prime Minister of the Ukraine dresses like princess what's-her-name played by Natalie Portman in the Star Wars prequels.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Synchronize your watches: this post was actually put up at ten after seven, p.m., on Saturday, January 17th, Thai time.

Coming Soon

Drama, pathos, beauty, comedy, deep, deep tragedy, and the continuing riotous inhumanity that passes for human existence, all coming soon at Spin Easy Time!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Just a heads-up. Got a little something going in the comments to "Please God, Save Us From The Kindly People."

Monday, January 12, 2009

If I Were Bernie Madoff's Judge

Sure, Bernie Madoff has a right to bail, like anybody else, subject to the same considerations. But if I’m the judge, it all goes a little differently:

1. Is he a flight risk? As far as I’m concerned, anyone with untold millions of dollars stashed in places that no one has any idea about is a flight risk. No bail based on this one.

2. Connections to the community? Bernie’s connection to the community is the connection of a vampire to the neck of the victim. No bail.

3. Harm to the community? Great emotional harm to the people who lost millions and now have to watch him come and go freely from his penthouse, the one that they paid for. Great harm in encouraging other crooks by showing them how they’ll be treated with kid gloves after they get caught, if they even get caught. No bail.

But money talks, and bullshit walks. As usual.

Poor Harry, Redux

I discovered today that after a few years of lieutenanting in the English army, in harms way, Harry is moving on to a five year gig as an ocean rescue helicopter pilot.

I’m telling you, if this is what the guy wants to do with his time, help lots of people, do hard jobs for his country, instead of just sitting around drinking cocktails and getting laid like, well, like a handsome young royal, well then he can call me any god-damned thing he wants, hell, he can call me a Paki if he wants to, he can call me an Ami, he can call me a lazy-minded-underachiever, he can call me a blotchy-paunchy-bald old man, he can call me an Irish-American blighter, I don’t even care if he calls me a tattooed-fuck-up.

The boy is working hard, and getting good results. Leave him alone.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – Old Man River

This is this weeks You-Tube eureka moment. At some point, I figured the video was about to break all the way out, and I wasn’t disappointed. Neither will you be.

Jay’s the real deal. He could do anything. Check out “Mystery Train,” the movie, for a chance to see Jay tear the house down in a red suit.

Poor Harry, He Said, Surprising Himself

No royal lover, I, but I am a compassionate man. This tendency to empathize extends to the English royal family, or the British royal family, or whatever they are, when it comes to Prince Harry. I have shared their relief on more than one occasion that it is Prince William who will wear the crown if all goes well. Prince Harry will have no trouble filling the role performed by Princess Margaret in the present administration, the role of the black sheep.

Poor Harry made the papers again this week. Oh, it’s terrible, said the papers, those horrible racial slurs that he used on his friends! So I checked the tapes.

First he refers to a fellow soldier, evidently a Pakistani, as a Paki. This one is a total mystery to me. In Europe, they refer to Americans as “Ami’s,” and I don’t remember anyone having a problem with it. I mean, he pronounced it very gently, not like “and over here is our filthy Paki scum friend.” The Pakistani guy received a sword from the Queen upon graduation as the “highest performing overseas candidate.” I think that’s much more condescending.

Then he goes on to say that a soldier who has a rag of some kind around his head looks like a “rag-head.” As in, he has a rag around his head. I don’t get this one either. People who wrap rags around their heads should expect it.

Let’s not get too excited about the naked exercise of using certain words. Look at the actions of a person. In the video, Prince Harry seems always to be interacting with these fellow officer candidates in a very relaxed, friendly manner. Plus, in the ensuing years he seems to have served as an officer in the British army with honor and in a very serious manner. And not just on some parade ground somewhere, out within the range of the guns.

Also in the video, during an exercise he appears to be taking a phone call from the Queen, and he is kind of flippant about it. Look, he’s the Prince of England, he can take any phone calls he wants, for one thing, and the Queen is his grandma, which argues against lese majeste. Kind of sweet, I think, putting his friends at ease with a little self-mockery.

He’s also flippant about an exercise in which he must give a set of orders in thirty seconds, and uses the word “shit.” I have read thousands of pages of combat memoirs written by British veterans, starting when I was ten years old with “Praise the Lord, and Pass the Ammunition,” and let me tell you, they can be a flippant bunch. They refer to it as “wit” over there, and they seem to value it highly.

And the direct answer to the question about his ginger pubes was just heartwarming. What’s all the fuss about?

The Good And Bad Luck Of Pra Lor

In Northern Thailand, the nine top-most provinces in the north-west are the former Lanna Kingdom. All of their folk-stories are sad; everyone dies at the end. Generally speaking, the female protagonists get pregnant, so we listeners are sure that they had sex.

Pra Lor is a prince of one of the city-states back in the (Lanna) day, and he and two local princesses fall in love. They all run away together, and sure enough, both princesses get pregnant. The kings involved are full of righteous indignation, and send soldiers to kill them all. They are killed with arrows in such a way that they are all attached together and still standing after they die.

He's still a big hero up there, for reasons that I will leave up to you.

A Little Bit Of Clarity

There is no class on the sixteenth, whatever some people think. I will teach in Petchabun on the twenty-fourth, not the seventeenth. There will be class on the twenty-third, and the building will be open, just like my students said but contrary to what the professors and the cleaning lady told me (classes in some bigger buildings will be cancelled, I hope that the cleaning lady catches up with this because she and I work in a smaller building and they'll dock her if she stays home).

I will teach in Nakorn Panhom on the thirty-first, not next month. The actual graduation, with all the buildings being closed up tight for security reasons, is the week of the twenty-sixth, and there will be no class. I will sit in the first row, the Professors' row, for graduation on the twenty-seventh. The week of the nineteenth is only the second week of practice.

I have achieved this level of understanding as of today, the twelfth.

So now I can plan my side-trips! I love this job.

The Very Old Thai Couple

This old couple is in the running for the most successful procreational unit in the world. Grandpa is now eighty-four; Grandma is eighty. They had fifteen children together, eight girls and seven boys. And those children now have lots of children of their own, and so forth. I didn't hammer it down all the way, but it's a lot of offspring.
Also in the picture are two of their daughters, and two grand-daughters, plus the King, a fortuitous accident. A son-in-law explained it all to me: back in those days there was no television and no electric lights, so when it got dark people went to bed and, well, things happened.
Their age is another story. Almost nobody in Thailand gets this old. They both seem pretty healthy too, Grandma in spite of a couple of by-pass operations. Grandpa still smokes cigarettes, even, though very few at this point. The helpful son-in-law explained to me that out in Surin, way out in the woods where they live, lots of people make it to ninety and beyond. He attributed this to the lack of chemicals in the food.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Please God, Save Us From The Kindly People

The kindly people of the world want to stop the violence in Gaza, without reference to reality of any kind, without reference to history, with reference only to their immediate need for kindliness . . .

The kindly people of the world, who hate war so much that they would have it stopped wherever they find it, or, more likely, are shown it, without reference to underlying reality . . .

The kindly people of the world, who find terrible things on CNN to which they object, who want peace of mind for the oppressed individuals they find on their TV’s, with no inclination to look for oppressed people elsewhere . . .

The kindly people of the world who want prosperity for children, at least those children who have come to their attention, it’s a big, wide wonderful world after all, one cannot be expected to consider all of the children whose lives may require our attention . . .

The kindly people of the world, full of imperatives, full of non-negotiable demands, full of great ideas that obviously must be implemented immediately, filled with love for all of God’s children, filled with the conviction that their lives are validated by a universal love for all mankind, filed with a sick, stupid, delusional belief that they are incontestably correct in their assessments of everything that they see, and that the entire world should be bent to their will because they are kindly . . .

God, in your wisdom and mercy, save us from the kindly people of the world.

Thai-Light-Zone: Scheduling

It always surprises me that the trains generally run very much on time in Thailand. It’s surprising because nothing else seems to happen according to plan.

Plan? What plan? It’s not so much the failure of a schedule to obtain, it’s the general failure to plan in the first place. Either that, or someone somewhere plans something and doesn’t tell anyone else about it, someone that may be involved in the plan.

It is Friday, January 9, 2009, or 2552 if you are a Buddhist, and this term my class meets on Friday. Last evening, one of my students called me and asked me if there was class today. I saw no reason why not, and I devote a lot of energy to keeping up with such things. She said she’d make it if she could. She was not alone in her uncertainty: only four students out of eleven showed up for today’s class. Plus one new recruit who transferred in after missing four meetings.

There was no class last week or the week before because the school was devoted to re-testing. My university, alone in Thailand, offers those poor souls who fail a final a chance to take a second bite at the apple in the middle of the next semester. This week, me and thirty-seven percent of my students thought there was class. Next week the entire class schedule is cancelled because the week is devoted to inter-school sports events. After that it gets real hazy.

One of the professors, and the cleaning lady, among others, plus my reading of the schedule (albeit, through the fog of Passa Thai), told me that the week of January nineteenth the entire school was closed, and the time would be devoted to commencement. If the cleaning lady believes that she will be locked out of the entire building for a week, I tend to believe her, because she is a poor woman and really needs to be paid, and she was very careful in our conversation to make sure that I had the schedule correct. She made me take out my book so we could make notes. The school, I was told, would in fact be locked down, no access to any of the buildings, because the commencement would be presided over by Princess Chakri Srindkorn, the “Good Princess,” beloved of Thai people, and Chinese people as well for that matter. Honest to god, her birthday is almost a holiday in China. My wife and fellow Peace Corps veteran loves the woman too, and I love her as well. So, security.

I was concomitantly told that normal classes would resume in the week of the twenty-sixth of January. Please note that I was told this by: 1) a professor; 2) a research assistant who speaks great English and watches out for me; and 3) the cleaning lady, Khun Amara. We’d be back to normal, they all said it, the week of the twenty-sixth.

My students, the four (five) that showed up today, had a different idea. They had the understanding that the week of the nineteenth was only the lead-up to commencement, the “rehearsal,” the practice period. I remember from last year that there was a lot of standing around in rented gowns, holding giant Doremon dolls and lots of flowers, taking pictures, on days that degrees were not handed out. Maybe that’s it. They said that the actual commencement, with the closed buildings and all, was actually the week of the twenty-sixth, so no class. They thought that there’d be regular class on Friday, the twenty-third. That’s not what I heard.

It gets even weirder. A couple of months ago I got a rough schedule of my teaching assignments at remote campuses. All that the professors involved could tell me then was that I would teach at Petchabun province sometime in January and Nakorn Panom province sometime in February. Last week, one of the professors involved suggested that I would go to Petchabun on January seventeenth and Nakorn Panom on January thirty-first. Well, here it is January ninth and still no one can tell me for sure.

But it’s all good, and I’ll tell you why. There’s two sides to every coin, we all know that. And in Thailand, on the one side, you have this delirious lack of precision in timing and scheduling, which can be a hassle sometimes for a man like me who lived in New York City until he was twenty-seven years old and who, as a result, became accustomed to knowing where he was expected to be at any given time and then actually showing up there and then. On the other side, you have the comforting, gentle style, the forgiving nature of Thai-Time, which makes life less demanding and more welcoming.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Global Climate Change

"Global Warming" misses the point. The climate is changing; some places are getting warmer, some colder, and some are doing both. This is Olympia, Washington, which the kindhearted, beautiful, and funnier than Robin Williams woman in the photo now calls, "Snowlympia."

Ode To Spin Easy Time

No, I’m not thinking about folding up my tent just yet. I’m just wondering about this whole blog thing. (Can you imagine? Microsoft Word still thinks that there is no such word as “blog?”)

Wandering into a magazine store as big as Dallas, with multiple-millions of titles on display, would closely approximate the reality of the Internet. Of the almost countless number, a large portion are blogs. Blogs about politics, animal husbandry, philatelism, defunct soft drink companies, anorexia nervosa, pro- and con, vampirism (“in our midst!”), Singapore lounge bands from the 1960’s, entertainers of every stripe, amateur pornography, all sides of every earthly conflict, past, present and future, ferrets as pets, and just any old thing you could think of, and lots of things that you’d never imagine in a million years. Most, though, are really about the personal experiences of one person, the blogger.

I am having fun writing Spin Easy Time. I am a lawyer, a teacher, and a writer, so obviously I am in love with my own voice and feel like I have a lot to say. I don’t harbor any illusions, though, about this blog being particularly wonderful. It’s all about me, and it suffers from the quality of the source material.

Maybe I should look around more, read more of other people’s musings. I am absolutely sure that many of them, probably thousands of them, are super-entertaining, many rising to the level of great art. It’s just mathematics: there are so many, there must be some Milton’s and some Blake’s out there. Not easy to find the great ones though.

So, gentle reader, while you are waiting for the great ones to come into focus, I offer my special thanks to everyone who has found this one, and my extravagant tearful gratitude to any readers who think kindly of it and/or me.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Obama Style

Lots of talk these days about bipartisanship and optimism, but I flatter myself to think that I understand what is really going on.

Macro or micro, life is life. It is never a good idea to throw over the table and start a knife fight just because you happened to catch someone cheating at cards. Much better, I believe, to simply reach under the table, press the tip of your knife against the femoral artery of the cheater, and say with a smile, “I think we should take a re-deal on this mess, and let the pot ride.”

A certain diabolical political faction in our country likes to play rough, but nobody likes to get cut. Better for Obama to keep every word of the public intercourse sweet and light, and keep the unleashing of holy hell and horrific recriminations sub rosa.

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

This is in a great riverside restaurant in Bang Pa In, a little north of BKK and on the same river. Everything at this place is the best, and a table full of food costs about fifteen dollars. You should try it some time.

Our Debt to the English

Oh! Who will teach the English to speak the beautiful English language so that the rest of us might actually understand them? The poor English are oblivious to the fact that their efforts at speech are incomprehensible to the majority of English speakers around the world. Even the relatively neutral, jargon free English of semi-educated, middle class Englishmen is hard to follow. English speakers on the Continent have plenty of trouble, and the poor Asians have a heck of a time.

The English also seem oblivious to the fact that most people in England speak some kind of local dialect that is hard even for other Englishmen to understand. Why was it so funny when Peter Sellers and the Goon Squad satirized the wild regional shifts in pronunciation? Because they were so wild and counterintuitive, that’s why. They virtually satirized themselves. Even in serious news it all sounded like a joke: I recall a murderer who was apprehended after he sent a taped message to the police. Sending a taped message is always a big mistake, but it is particularly so if your speech features a pattern of clipping and dropped letters common only to a few miles of the English coastline just South of Scotland.

Are there any real rules to govern the sound of English? What about “received pronunciation,” that supernaturally weird construct of the BBC and the so-called public schools? God, I hope not. “BBC Waow’d,” indeed.

But I am not the expert here. I am no linguist, no ivory tower academic. I am just a semi-educated California lawyer who makes a living sometimes speaking, writing, reading and listening to the English language. If I am very careful I can speak very correct, clear uninflected English, every word enunciated, every letter pronounced. If I am not careful, I speak with a strong regional accent myself, a particularly vulgar working class New York accent that even other Americans have trouble keeping up with. I love the English language, though, and I have some experience teaching a willing world to speak and understand it. In the classroom my attitude is, if I could understand it, you said it correctly. It’s all about communication.

That’s why it’s so important that the English learn to speak our beautiful language. They have much to say, probably, that the rest of us may want to hear but cannot understand. Especially English comedians. Over the years I have discussed this problem with many Europeans. Recently I found myself staying in a guest house in a relatively undeveloped tourist spot in Western Thailand. Bamboo shacks floating on the river, very nice, with a small common room/restaurant nearby. It was sold out, filled up with tourists from Holland, France, Israel and some Germanic or Nordic country that was never mentioned and no one asked. There were no English or American tourists, except me that is. Everyone, the Thai staff included, communicated in English. There was no discussion, no planning session, it was just assumed that communication would be accomplished in English. No one sounded remotely like an Englishman. We were speaking what I call “world English,” and if it sounds a little like Midwestern, CNN American English well don’t look at me, water seeks it’s own level.

I spoke at some length with an extravagantly beautiful Dutch couple who finally explained to me in grateful terms that my English was very easy to hear and understand. Wow, they told me, trying to keep up with Englishmen gives us fits.

The problem is, the English did the hard work of putting this language together in the first place and it’s a shame that they cannot fully participate in the enjoyment of it now that it is widely spoken all around the world. The world owes a fabulous debt of gratitude to England for serving as the laboratory where this wonderful language was cultivated. And it wasn’t easy, mind you. If England were not so easily conquered, and if she had not been so repeatedly conquered, modern English would not exist.

Recall with me now a land long ago, and far away, with nothing but the foul weather to remind us of the England of today, a land the Romans called Britannia or something. There was Britannia, and Hibernia, and maybe Caledonia, lots of Druids and blue painted Celts and a language, maybe a few languages, that are now forgotten, except maybe in Connaught, way out in Kick-Stone, Ireland. “Let them go to hell or Connaught,” said the Lord Protector while protecting the Irish from their own prosperity. The Romans came, saw and conquered the peoples of Britannia. South of Hadrian’s Wall anyway, something told them that civilization should stop somewhere just North of the Midlands. The Romans brought with them, and imposed on the locals, their own wonderfully versatile and comprehensive language, a language in which one could discuss more than superstition and crop rotation. Soon the aristocrats spoke Latin, and everyone else spoke Latinized whatever they spoke before.

Before too long the storied isle attracted the attention of some Germans. These were the Angles and the Saxons, two Germanic tribes who had grown tired of the company of other Germans and discovered that the farmland and weather in Britain were marginally better than in central Germany. These were the original Anglo-Saxons, and it was then that Britain became England, when the Germans conquered it, that is. They brought with them a harsh language now called Old English, with a sound system more like modern Dutch or, god forbid, Swiss German, along with their typically Germanic myths, like Beowulf, and the words for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Throughout this period the coastal regions of England were subjected to frequent exploitation by wayfaring Vikings, another group of Germans who found the weather in England marginally better than in their usual homelands. Many English coastal cities began life as Viking settlements, and many Vikings married local girls and a lot of Viking words entered the vocabulary as well.

The most successful Vikings of all were the Norsemen, the “Normans,” a group of upwardly mobile Germanic French-speakers. The Normans had first conquered France, a major undertaking, and before too long turned a longing eye toward England for reasons that are lost to us. The Normans conquered England in 1066 or so and conquered Ireland about 100 years later and they did such a good job of it that they are still on both islands. Norman French became the official language of the law, commerce and taxation in what was still called England. Before the arrival of the Normans, the English people spoke a primitive language suitable only for cursing your neighbor’s farm animals; within several hundred years after the Norman’s arrival the “English Language” had been transformed into the Modern English of the King James Bible and Shakespeare. Some trick, that, and I salute the Norman’s great work in this area.

The English language, having been born, reborn, and reborn a couple of more times through repeated conquest, developed the most humble willingness to change to meet new demands and to accept new words uncomplainingly from any source at all, from the Ukraine to Indonesia and beyond. This is the greatest strength of English, the genesis of its fabulous treasure trove of words. The vocabulary of English dwarfs all other languages, known or supposed. Spelling English can be a chore, but the syntax is a model of simplicity. The basic building block, the simple declarative sentence, written into simple paragraphs building one on the other, enables the writer to communicate great ideas in clear, linear form.

Having been conquered in turn by most of the world, England produced a truly international language, a language which today is the clear choice as lingua franca for a grateful world. And now, we must take it full circle and return the knowledge of this great language to the people of its island home. Only then can we repay our great debt to the longsuffering people of England. That is if they ever want to speak with anyone who lives further away than the nearest pub.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Dangers of Tribalism

We in the Western Democracies tend to shake our heads condescendingly about tribalism. The various Middle-Eastern and Central-Asian conflicts; the Tamils v. the Buddhists in Sri Lanka; religion based conflicts. We yearn for random applications of reason.

Africa we openly laugh at. That a tribe in a postage-stamp sized country that no one could find on a map should decide to actually kill all members of a competing tribe just seems ridiculous. But are we so pure that we can criticize?

The same tensions exist in Belgium, for instance. The only difference is that the Flemings and the Walloons show admirable restraint in the way they weaponize their differences. In Canada, the same.

Larry King last week featured a bunch of UFO-logists. One of them suggested that governments try to cover up UFO information because they are afraid that we will all develop an “Earthling” identity if it is shown that there are beings from some other planet out there. This comment may not have been as foolish as it first sounds.

When I was a young, abrasive, working-class pseudo-intellectual, I sprung a wild plan for world peace on my unsuspecting friends. We should, I posited, secretly destroy six or eight second rung cities around the world and blame it on Mars. As a result of this interplanetary Pearl Harbor, we could mount a campaign against the Red Planet that would force all of the peoples of the earth to work together for their mutual salvation. All very “wag the dog,” with lots of manufactured news headlines, bogus evidence, and some continuing attacks. The desired result would be that “we” would defeat the Martians and then “we” would need to rebuild our planet with effective “planetary defenses” and much enhanced cooperation between all nations.

Tribal, schmeibel. Why can’t we just get along?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Truck in Thailand

Thailand is a little bit like Cuba in that a vehicle, once constituted as a conveyance, will be maintined ad virtuus emortalis as a convenance. This old hulk is parked outside of a small, a very small shop in the very small provence of Amnat Cheroen in very poor eastern border region of Thailand (very small and poor as in, the entire provence has only one traffic light).
Within six weeks it will be up and running and looking like new, or thereabouts. It will be sold, and it will be back serving the local economy.

The Fifteen Greatest Roman Generals

Don’t take my word for it. I got these names from a book by a real historian, I forget his name right now, the book is nine time zones away. In roughly chronological order:

1. Quintus Fabius Maximus (“Cunctator”) 217 B.C. “The Delayer;” the shield of Rome.

2. Marcus Claudius Marcellus. The sword of Rome; killed Britomarus in individual combat; started turning the tide against Hannibal.

3. Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus. 209 B.C. Captured New Carthage; defeated Hasdrubal at Ilipa; ended Second Punic War.

4. Lucius Aemilius Paullus. 170 B.C. Conquered Macedonia; battle of Phdna; defeated Antiochus the Great and Perseus.

5. Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus Numantinus. 140 B.C. Careful preparation, close supervision and controlled boldness; ended Third Punic War.

6. Caius Marius. 110 B.C. Defeated Germanic tribes the Chimbri, Teutones and Ambrones; reformed the army.

7. Quintus Sertorius. Noted for speed, secrecy and misdirection; Civil Wars.

8. Cnaeus Pompeius Magnus. Young, rich and unconventional; Civil War v. Sertorius; defeated Mediterranean pirates.

9. Caius Julius Ceasar. Aggressive and flexible; battle of Alesia v. Vercingatorix in Gaul; Civil War.

10. Claudius Germanicus Caesar. Adopted son of Tiberius; biological son of Drusus.

11. Cnaeus Domitius Corbulo. Reformed the Roman army to become the new Imperial army; fought in Germany and Armenia.

12. Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus. 70 A.D. Son of Vespasian; siege of Jerusalem.

13. Marcus Ulpius Traianus “Trajan.” 103 A.D. Dacian wars.

14. Julian the Apostate. 356 A.D. Tough wins against Germanic tribes invading Gaul.

15. Belisarius. 550 A.D. Wars against Persia; created a “Medieval army” for Rome.

If I commanded a battle fleet in outer space, I’d name the big warships after these guys.

Pre-Blogging Depression Mongering

“The world’s fastest growing emerging financial market . . .” Pardon my hilarity. Places that no one had heard of twenty or thirty years ago now have high powered marketing on all of the major networks, acting like they have something to be proud of besides prize falcons. What has happened?

I know what year it is, I’m not actually delusional, but when I watch TV I wonder, by what mechanism has everything that I thought that I knew gone irrevocably away?

From time to time I try to anchor myself by reading old journal entries. I don’t have the best memory, so it’s all new to me, déjà vu all over again. Here’s one I came across today:

September 6, 2007

What’s the disconnect here? Am I riding another self-piloted self-immolation here? Another emotional Kamikaze attack on myself?

Why am I even discussing any of this? To be, or not to be, that’s the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to undergo the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to sleep, to sleep perchance to dream. “Aye, there’s the rub,” said the great man.

But this is the Twenty First of the centuries of the great Augustus, another new age, an age that has conquered God and ripped fate from the grasp of chance, an age that has left irony far behind, an age that has slaughtered innocence in its bed, an ass-over-head world where knowing anything is considered stupid, an age of gum-clicking non-entities advertising their stupidity to an adoring world, a new, vomitous age, where honesty is un-ethical and poverty is a capitol crime.

Satan, that piker, managed for centuries to haunt the dreams of the pious, who flattered themselves to think that they possessed something that Satan wanted: a soul. Now the only thing of value in the world is money, and Satan was swept away with God in the same garbage pail and replaced by an army of Satans who suck, suck, suck anything of value out of the world and then view it privately for purposes of self-aggrandizement, touch it, lick it, lick the hoods of their collections of fine automobiles, talentlessly play Jimi’s strats, fondle the baseballs hit out of various stadia by the Babe, all in the privacy of their own vaults, like Scrooge McDuck, but without the jokes.

(The rest is way too frighteningly dark to recall with any comfort, so I’ll stop here. I wish that I had stopped reading. But it’s good to know, as though I could forget, that I didn’t just get depressed yesterday.)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Thai-Light-Zone: The Scaffolding

We saw this from our hotel in Amnat Charoen, a province way out East in Issan that is so poor that there is literally only one traffic light in the entire province.
It looks to me like six wooden casement windows in two groups of three, opened all the way, with one by six's balanced on the tops of each group and a long two by six set to cover the long space in between. This genius is using it all as a scaffold to paint some hard to reach spots.
He was out there for quite a while, moving from end to end. We thought that it was a supremely bad idea, but to be fair the boards and the windows held up fine.
This in a country where all workers assume the risk of injury on the job.
But I shouldn't be surprised, really. I have always thought that Thai workers did a very good, solid job on whatever it was that they were making. These windows were hung up there to last.