Friday, October 29, 2010

God Hates Dr. Phil!

Watch for the signs. The “God Hates Fags” crowd will certainly turn against Dr. Phil after his recent appearance on “Anderson Cooper's 360.” The topic was the recent spate of young homosexuals committing suicide after various mockings and bullyings.

I do not generally associate Dr. Phil with the voice of reason, but on this occasion he was wonderfully clear, and unequivocal, and, well, downright courageous. Homosexuality is absolutely not a choice! The days when someone could make that assertion without being proven a fool are long gone. Home must always be a “soft spot to land,” and parents must love their children unconditionally, and upon discovering that a child is homosexual, a parent must make this unconditional love clear to them. If fate assigns to a child a homosexual identity, it is the duty of a parent to accept it with humility, as it is with other fates. Christianity that condemns homosexuality is not very Christian at all. Thus spake Dr. Phil.

I have long considered Dr. Phil to be a glad-handing faker of the Self-Improvement school of pop-psychology. I have little patience for this kind of glib time-wasting myself. So I found it very interesting to see Dr. Phil taking such a firm stand on the correct side of this issue, interesting and admirable. He chose not to play it safe and speak to his base.

It is possible that he felt safe because most of the Bible-thumpers never watch CNN. He has, however, risen in my eyes, and was never expected to do so.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No Sitting

The sign in the pictures says, "No Sitting"(hahm nang). But the area is full of well used looking seats. Does the sign mean, "don't sit on this shelf that already full of stuff?" I chose to err on the safe side, and remained standing to watch the nice video presentation.

This was a horticultural center dedicated to Thai herbal medicine, out in Rayong province. It was very nice.

What's Wrong With This Picture? What Happened To My Country?

I was raised in America in the Fifties and Sixties and believe me when I tell you that it was not a perfect place full of blessed people living together in peace and harmony. There were problems, and there was bullshit aplenty, and don't forget all of the injustice going on, and there were wars too, one pretty stupid and the other just a little less so. But . . .

There was a lot to it that was really, really wonderful, in retrospect.

Income inequality was rather low. The rich were certainly rich, and they were happy, but they paid their fair share of taxes. There was a large, healthy middle-class, fueled by labor unions, fair labor practices, and a sensible tax code. Other than the a fore alluded to problems, society was somewhat more civilized. Don't laugh! Professionals like accountants and lawyers knew that there were limits to unethical personal interest and acted accordingly. Students had fist fights, but did not shoot each other. Doctors generally acted responsibly and didn't worry about being sued. Politicians, many of whom I hated, restrained themselves both in their campaigns and in their corruption, and sometimes they actually cooperated with each other for the good of the country. National media responsibly reported the news, and I'm talking about all of the major TV outlets and thousands of honest newspapers. Privacy was important, and citizens could travel at will unimpaired, and communicate freely without fear of being overheard.

Let's not bring homosexuals into this limited discussion. They're situation was not great then, and it is not great now. I wish them luck.

The point is, problems were being addressed, and there was reason to believe that society was making progress, and that maybe our children, or our children's children, would reach the promise land.

But now! All of a sudden it is all uncivilized, all the time. Everyone is working harder, for less money, with fewer or no benefits, because of deregulation and the crushing of the unions. There's more money around, because of the huge leap in the productivity of workers over the last thirty years, but all of the benefit of it has gone to the top two percent of the rich because of a weird new tax code. No one's retirement is secure; no one's health care is secure. Professionals prostitute themselves to the rich in the hopes that some of the money will fall on them, and fall it does, and ethics be damned. News reporting is a joke, TV is full of time wasting rumor mongering and sensationalistic star stroking, the newspapers that remain are choking on their own bile, in their death throws, and the internet is a mixed blessing, where people can pick and chose among outlets that will tell them what they already believe to be true. Politicians avail themselves of any teat that presents itself, with no thought to the public welfare, and fight zero-sum battles with their opponents where there is no compromise and no thought to their constituents.

Raise the black flag! It's every man for himself.

The sad part for me arises from the fact that I teach American Legal Institutions, LW 420, at Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok, which covers American government, the court system, some of the features of the Common Law, with reference to some aspects of American society. I have to keep it relatively uncomplicated, my students have a limited command of English. So per force I teach the Disney version of America. I teach them how it's suppose to be, how we always hoped that it would be.

So I teach them that when America was founded, we modified the English laws to protect the have-nots from the haves. Explaining that these laws have recently been evolving to favor the haves over the have-nots is beyond the scope of my class. That's the way America is going, since the Reagan era. This is a blog, not a scholarly essay, and I don't have the time or the energy for details.

And I always describe Americans are generally tolerant and cooperative people, which I believe is true, although not, perhaps, to the extent that I describe. I think that Americans are generally a live-and-let-live kind of folks, but as I follow events these days I am forced to wonder where all of this hate comes from today, hatred of Liberals, who did so much to make us happy, hatred of homosexuals, who don't hurt anybody after all, hatred of progressives, as though returning to some pre-New-Deal Dickensian horrorshow would be a good thing, hatred of Democrats, who have, on balance, been closer to the real values of America since the World War I era, and performed better in office, hatred of Blacks, who have done so much to make America livable and never asked for much, hatred of immigrants, which in America is a weird kind of self-hatred, the list goes on. Irrational, teeth-gnashing hatred.

I don't allude to these things in my class, preferring to keep everything light. The America of my class is a wonderful thing, it is the America of my dreams. It just serves to remind me of what we are missing. Too bad, really. It would be a nice place to live in.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The House's Blessings

Those marks on the doors are Buddhist symbols for blessing the house. You hire a couple of monks, and they come to the house, make the markings, lead a little prayer meeting, eat some lunch, and collect their fee. It's one of the ways that the temples make money, and I think it's way better, and probably cheaper, than fortune telling.

Almost A Hundred In Rayong

This very nice old lady is ninety-six years old, and it was great to meet her. We had a couple of nice chats, which always surprises me, my Thai is not that good. She's virtually blind, she put her face about two inches from mine to see me, and she doesn't get around that good, but she's happy, and socially engaged. She's amazed to still be alive, she told me, "I'm almost a hundred!" like she could hardly believe it herself.

This was at the Rayong house, see below.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Nice Traditional Custom House In Rayong, Thailand

I stayed at this house over the weekend. It's the home of the cousin of a friend of mine, and he invited me along for the visit. The house is in Rayong, a little in from the gulf, on a nice, high spot that caught a lot of the breeze, so the temperatures were moderate with no need for air-con.

Land in the area goes for $45,000 for three acres. The house is all custom, they bought up sixteen old teak houses and had the wood reconditioned and used for this construction. The building cost between 200 and 250 thousand dollars. The family gets their money from a factory (near the house, it's an industrial/agricultural area), a big stand of rubber trees, and a couple of acres of tapioca.

It was a good time.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ray Bradbury Interview Raises Unpleasant Memories

I love those “Art of Fiction” interviews with authors that appear in the Paris Review. Some are chock full of great ideas about writing, really insightful stuff based on lifetimes of reading and writing, and some are fascinating mostly because the authors are delusional in some amusing way. They are almost never boring, though. This Ray Bradbury interview from earlier this year is one of the good ones.

I was very interested to find out that he shared my juvenile love of magazines, along with my inability to actually afford them, and that he also shared my solution to the problem, which was to steal them. But with a twist, as befits the great man. He claims that he carefully replaced them in the racks when he was done reading them. I suppose that it’s possible that he is telling the truth, however unlikely that seems. In my case it never occurred to me to put them back, and even if it had, my powers of risk-assessment would have led me to shit-can the idea immediately.

Over the years I filled my room with vast stacks of magazines and paper-backs, and I read them all, and cherished them. Most of them, but not all, had been shoplifted. I would purchase things on a regular basis at the places that I stole from, so that my appearance at the racks would be seen as a good thing, a normal occurrence with a business purpose. Sometimes I would buy and steal things in the same visit. I was pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. I was never caught.

Much later in my life, my mother suggested that my allowance while in high school had been twenty dollars a week or more, that being in addition to any money for going to school and having lunch. This was such a wild fiction that I had a good laugh about it at her expense. Twenty dollars was a fortune then, in those days of coins made from actual silver, when an entire large pizza cost about a dollar. Later on I wondered if perhaps she had gotten this notion while considering the value of the contents of my room at that time, and had rejected the obvious conclusion that her son was a thief. My real allowance at the time was rather low, and I spent most of it on records, which were much harder to steal. I had to save up a while to get the records.

All of this led me to a distressing memory. I left home for the Navy a couple of weeks before my nineteenth birthday, and my room was in its full flower when I left. My room was about fifteen by fifteen feet; my sister’s room was more like nine by twelve feet. Nothing was ever said about changing anything. When I returned from boot camp ten weeks later, our rooms had been switched, which was as it should be, it was only fair to my sister, the big room was much nicer. But all of my stuff was gone. Only the records survived the holocaust. Not only the magazines and paperbacks were gone, ill gotten or otherwise, but also the comic books, and things like my baseball gloves and stamp collections, even my bicycle was gone from the garage. Without a word, and it was never to be discussed in any way.

How they must hate me, I thought, how relieved they must be that I am gone.

The laugh was on them, though, because the Navy saw fit to honorably discharge me after only six months, having realized that I lacked military potential. It was like Catch 22 in reverse: I wasn’t trying to get out, so they discharged me. It was an amicable split, my service was categorized as honorable and appreciated. Back at home, I got my old room back, no discussion of that either. I had given up shoplifting by this time.

It is unfortunate that these things retain their ability to hurt over time. After all, it was eight presidents ago, and four or five popes, and that’s a lot of world’s fairs and rodeos under the bridge. I don’t dwell on the past, honestly! but the Bradbury interview reminded me.

Oh, and Bradbury had a lot of interesting things to say about education and writing too, I enjoyed the interview very much. He probably did return those magazines, he sounds like a really nice guy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Glenn Beck, Assisted

Mr. Beck did something annoying recently . . . alert the media! In a gratuitous attack on the entire concept of evolution, he sealed his argument with the statement that he had never seen a "half man, half monkey."

Here's one true thing that I, in my limited wisdom, can tell you for sure: humans did not evolve from monkeys. There is no genius in this assertion, because it is a simple fact, obvious to educated people and ignoramuses alike, that humans and monkeys currently inhabit the earth.

Humans and monkeys, and apes, all modern animals with lots of shared DNA, evolved from a common group of ancestors that are described as "lemur like creatures," something like umpteen million years ago. In the fullness of time, we became us, and the monkeys became monkeys, and I suppose the modern lemurs became themselves.

I am happy to be of service.

Udorn Hotel Experience: The President

I stayed at the Hotel President out in Udorn, and I'd recommend it to anybody. A very new place, with nice carpet and beautiful tile jobs everywhere, tasteful appointments, a fabulous free breakfast (with an egg station!), good cable TV, a shower almost as good as the one in my (rented) condo (which is the single best shower in Thailand), free pick-up and delivery to and from the airport, and more than adequate beds and pillows. That is was clean goes without saying. I have never wanted for cleanliness in any hotel that I've stayed at in Thailand, no matter how cheap, and I've gone down to six bucks. The President was twenty-eight dollars, regular price anyway, I got a discount, the price for prof's of my university was twenty-one.

I always say that in Thailand, everything is a party. Work; funerals; classes; shopping; cooking; actual parties; it's all party-time, all the time. This is usually a good thing, usually. On Sunday, I took a slow day which included a nap in the afternoon, and during my nap the staff made up the neighboring room. The party thing was in full force.

I have never heard such heavy foot-falls outside of a Godzilla movie, and they went on for the entire half-hour duration of the room cleaning. So did the loud clinking of bottles and/or glasses. A part of room cleaning is replacing the two, free bottles of water in the mini-bar, and the various glasses in the room, but constant clinking for a half-hour seemed like too much. They seemed to be moving around all of the room furniture, with lots of banging and dragging going on. Then there was the shouted conversation, with much laughter, at loud volume, seemingly at long distance, as though the speakers were cleaning different rooms at the time.

And mysteriously, a frequent sound as though heavy, uninsulated wire were being pulled through conduit. I have no idea what that was.

In general, though, the President was an excellent hotel experience, in every way. I'd recommend it to anybody.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Recent Trip To Udorn

If you ever get out to Udorn Thani, in Eastern Thailand, of a morning you should tell the tuk-tuk driver to take you to the King Restaurant, or maybe it's the King Ocha. It's a Vietnamese place, for some reason there are lots of Vietnamese in Udorn. It's great.

I was there to teach a class, and as usual, my students made me feel welcome. On my free day, two of them took me and another prof up to a World Heritage Site about forty miles away, Ban Chiang, where the locals started smelting copper four or five thousand years ago. Nice to know that the people in the area have always been on the friendly side, all of the evidence shows very little, if any weapons production, at these Thai sites it was all tools and ornaments.

The proscriptions at the museum were just amazing. "No smoking," of course, and "no touching," "no food or drink," those can be seen anywhere. "No bags," okay, and "no photo," we're still on familiar ground. Then came, "no firearms or explosives," and "no cooking," as though "no food or drink" were insufficient, and then came, "no fire making," which I think was gilding the lily a little bit. And "no writing or drawing," with a little hand holding a pencil hovering over a notebook on the sign. That one I'd never seen before, and I've visited a lot of museums in my time.

It's a nice place, Udorn. Lots of Farang "son-in-laws." A good hospital or two. Good, cheap restaurants, low rents. I like it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Religion, Tested

This quiz has made the rounds, it's from the Pew something-or-other. This text is copied from a Nicholas Kristoff opinion in the New York Times. It's fun stuff.

1. Which holy book stipulates that a girl who does not bleed on her wedding night should be stoned to death?
a. Koran
b. Old Testament
c. (Hindu) Upanishads

2. Which holy text declares: “Let there be no compulsion in religion”?
a. Koran
b. Gospel of Matthew
c. Letter of Paul to the Romans

3. The terrorists who pioneered the suicide vest in modern times, and the use of women in terror attacks, were affiliated with which major religion?
a. Islam
b. Christianity
c. Hinduism

4. "Every child is touched by the devil as soon as he is born and this contact makes him cry. Excepted are Mary and her Son.” This verse is from:
a. Letters of Paul to the Corinthians
b. The Book of Revelation
c. An Islamic hadith, or religious tale

5. Which holy text is sympathetic to slavery?
a. Old Testament
b. New Testament
c. Koran

6. In the New Testament, Jesus’ views of homosexuality are:
a. strongly condemnatory
b. forgiving
c. never mentioned

7. Which holy text urges responding to evil with kindness, saying: “repel the evil deed with one which is better.”
a. Gospel of Luke
b. Book of Isaiah
c. Koran

8. Which religious figure preaches tolerance by suggesting that God looks after all peoples and leads them all to their promised lands?
a. Muhammad
b. Amos
c. Jesus

9. Which of these religious leaders was a polygamist?
a. Jacob
b. King David
c. Muhammad

10. What characterizes Muhammad’s behavior toward the Jews of his time?
a. He killed them.
b. He married one.
c. He praised them as a chosen people.

11. Which holy scripture urges that the "little ones" of the enemy be dashed against the stones?
a. Book of Psalms
b. Koran
c. Leviticus

12. Which holy scripture suggests beating wives who misbehave?
a. Koran
b. Letters of Paul to the Corinthians
c. Book of Judges

13. Which religious leader is quoted as commanding women to be silent during services?
a. The first Dalai Lama
b. St. Paul
c. Muhammad

1. b. Deuteronomy 22:21.
2. a. Koran, 2:256. But other sections of the Koran do describe coercion.
3. c. Most early suicide bombings were by Tamil Hindus (some secular) in Sri Lanka and India.
4. c. Hadith. Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet to be revered.
5. All of the above.
6. c. Other parts of the New and Old Testaments object to homosexuality, but there’s no indication of Jesus’ views.
7. c. Koran, 41:34. Jesus says much the same thing in different words.
8. b. Amos 9:7
9. all of them
10. all of these. Muhammad’s Jewish wife was seized in battle, which undermines the spirit of the gesture. By some accounts he had a second Jewish wife as well.
11. a. Psalm 137
12. a. Koran 4:34
13. b. St. Paul, both in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, but many scholars believe that neither section was actually written by Paul.

The world of revealed scripture is full of surprises, most of them disagreeable.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Junior Brown - Sugar Foot Rag

Hendrix with a hat! And no, I ain't drunk, posting all this music. I'm just having some fun, and can't keep from sharing! It's all about the love, my faithful double-dozen.

I love Junior Brown. It might be the "Sugar Foot Rag," but he can't help dropping in lots of Jimi Hendrix quotes. He can't help it! He'd stop if he could! It's the fun thing, some of these guys are just having so much fun that they can't help themselves. Jeff Beck was, maybe still is, like that. Back when, he'd go into a solo and go so far off the material that the band would get lost and just stop, he'd be playing the Theme From Deliverance or something. I love the fun thing.

Jimmy Bryant - Sugar Foot Rag

Pardon me for sharing, but this guy should be much more famous. Not colorful enough, I guess.

Of all things, I worked with his (last of several) wife in a Los Angeles law office. He was dead already at the time. We, she and I, went to see Les Paul in a club one time, and Les greeted her from a distance, "hey! Mrs. Bryant! How ya doing!" They had a nice chat, this was about 1992.

You want speed and clarity! I got your speed and clarity! And he was doing it drunk too, just so you feel even worse about being so showed up.

The Damned New Rose

Kind of commercial for these guys, they usually hung out further back from the Goldilocks zone (produced by Nick Lowe, I'm pretty sure).

Can we all agree? Greatest band name: The Damned. Greatest album name: Damned, Damned, Damned.

The Suicide Machines - What I Like About You

For me, it's all about the cover versions. Is it a great song? What happens when somebody else does it. Is it a great band? What happens when they cover a song that's been done to death already. The truth lies in the cover versions.

I love this tune by the what's-their-names, but this version really kills!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Party Dancing In Pitsanalok, Thailand

This was after a while, when everybody was a little lit. At about the half way mark, a lady enters the dance area and indicates to her husband that I'm taking video. They're a nice couple, very country, neighbors of my teacher buddy, the guy in whose honor the retirement party was being thrown.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Robert Gordon with Link Wray -Way I Walk

See Cramps cut below, but I like this one too, and it boosts the Seventies-as-fun argument.

Cramps at Napa Mental Hospital

The Sixties get all the play, but you can have it all. The Seventies were a lot more fun.

The English Are Not Like You And Me

I met an Englishman on a visit to a temple fair in Pitsanalok, Thailand a couple of weeks ago. He wasn’t shy, and he got right down to the business of explaining to me in detail why so many people around the world don’t like the English. That was not his intention, to be sure, but the effect was the same.

He lives, he told me, “much of the year” in Thailand, while spending “most of his time traveling” around Asia and the world. His trophy girlfriend was nearby, she was about twenty-five or thirty years younger than his fifty-five or so. I never actually met her, she never said anything, she was standing by awaiting instructions or something. He has a “big house” in Pai, in the province of Mae Hong Son, which is very nice, and a “new” Toyota Camry Hybrid, which, he explained, was “quite expensive here.” Then he got to the meat of his argument.

He had stopped bothering to speak with Thais, he explained, because “they have nothing at all to say.” They are very backward, he went on, there’s no real manufacturing here, they can’t do anything but grow rice and pick fruit, so “they have nothing on their minds.” He maintained that his Thai language was “quite good,” although I never heard him use it. I told him that I found Thais to be delightful, resourceful people, and very interesting, which he allowed was probably due to the fact that I was working with them, and so we had more in common. The comment was intended sarcastically.

He cast aspersions on Thai politics, and I responded that I stay judiciously away from those discussions. I allowed that I would occasionally complain about my own country if the situation called for it. That really struck a chord.

“Never run down your country in front of them!” He almost shouted it. He was no fan of America, he was speaking generally. Thais, he felt, were all certain that Thailand was a lousy place and were equally certain that any developed country was much, much better. He reasoned that if one complained about one’s own, developed country, Thais would get the idea that the developed country was a dump too, and that it carried a status that was very close to Thailand’s. According to his logic, this would allow the Thai to believe that he was as good as you, which the Englishman obviously felt would be a fate worse than death.

“They’re all very status conscious, you know.” Yes, I thought, much like the English. This fellow had just spent a large part of the first five minutes of our conversation establishing his status as higher than mine, with the house, the car, and the traveling all over the world.

But he seemed so insecure in this status, didn’t he? Maybe he’d started out as a working class lad back in some ancient industrial backwater of Great Britain. Maybe his family was Irish. What secret was tormenting his soul, if indeed he has one? Was he struggling desperately to escape his low-status origins?

Probably not. England is a status conscious country, it’s important to those people, in all situations, to find out who is better than whom. The moment an Englishman opens his mouth, other Englishmen peg him immediately by his accent. Upper-class Englishmen are very anxious to do this, it’s like performing a service to society, it’s like they consider it a form of noblesse oblige.

An upper-class Englishman, or, these days, a merely rich Englishman (I’m not sure what category my temple friend was in), looks down not only on most of his own countrymen, but also, with all available distain, on all of the other peoples of the world. “The wogs begin at Calais.” Many Thais have noticed that Englishmen look down on them, treat them like simpletons. Thai women have told me: I like American men . . . English men look down me, talk bad me. Bangkok taxi drivers have told me: America very good . . . English people not polite. I smile and commiserate, the English look down on me all the time, like this guy in question, and always have, on the simple basis that I am an American, a Colonial, and an Irish-American at that.

To paraphrase: Americans are friendly, but often not polite; the English are polite, but generally not friendly.

So this Englishman at the temple annoyed me, so what? He wasn’t the first. In groups they are even worse, they’re liable to start talking about you like you weren’t even there. That’s surreal, when that happens.

You know, my name is English, the “Ceely” bit. The man who brought it to America was Robert Ceely, no middle initial, “just Bob Ceely,” born in London in about 1845. This Robert Ceely married an Irish girl in New York, Mary Desmond, and had a couple of children, including my grandfather, Robert Emmet Ceely, named after the Irish patriot as a concession to her having married an Englishman. Mary died young, probably in childbirth, which was something of a local custom in New York at the time.

My mother’s entire lineage, almost to a person, was Irish. I notice that my Irish relatives always expressed a love of Ireland and celebrated Irish things. Even after 100 years, if they became prosperous, they’d try to swing a vacation in Ireland. The Ceelys? I don’t recall any one of them ever mentioning England in a positive way or going back for the simple purpose of seeing it again. It was more like, good riddance. This anti-English fetish of mine could be a race-memory.

Americans are a mongrel race, thank God. This might be the genesis of the distaste that the Old-World upper-crust has for us. The English are bad; the rest of them aren’t much better. I’m as mongrel as anybody, notwithstanding my English name and the preponderance of Irish in my blood. Americans are not a breed, like being English, or Austrian, or Japanese. One of my grandmothers was born in New York of parents who were both born in Germany. Even my mother’s family included one person foreign to Ireland, a Swiss man. If your family has been in America longer than mine, your blood is probably more mixed by the experience. So perhaps by the old rules we are all low-society by definition. Being happy, though, is the best revenge, and this stuck-up prig of an Englishman that so annoyed me at the temple was anything but happy.