Thursday, May 31, 2018

Ayer Cale Eno Nico - heartbreak hotel

From the album, "June 1, 1974." Party time! Most people were busy listening to the smiley two-bit crap they heard on the radio. Nothing particularly wrong with that, God bless them. They missed a lot of the good stuff, though. 

The Juan Garcia Esquivel Cult In Southern California

My little family and I moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. Our goals in doing so were many. The goals for my wife and me anyway, my first son was five at the time and his goals were still very simple. We moved for the better weather, of course, but there was more too it.

We moved to get away from our parents, for one thing. My father-in-law was an almost inoffensive man, but the other three were perfect devils. Moving three thousand miles away from them was like taking off tight shoes. I had my own reasons for moving, reasons unstated at the time. In New York, I had too many friends that reinforced my bad habits. It was way too easy to buy just any old damn thing that we fancied. There were too many distractions, and my friends and I were weak to temptation. I had a nice little family, so why not try to cooperate with that good fortune? Maybe devote more time to that enterprise, instead of wasting it on frivolity? That was the idea anyway.

My only marketable skill at the time was a deep familiarity with the entire catalog of commercially available recorded music. Rock, pop, jazz, classical, the entire Phonolog. Prices, labels, the ways of the business, the whole thing. So I ended up working in the central warehouse for a chain of twenty-nine record stores. It's defunct now, so I can give you the name without endangering anyone's privacy or peace of mind. It was the Licorice Pizza chain. They had the most generous “no hassle” return policy of all time, so there was a constant flow of returned records. I bounced around the place for a few months and then ended up in returns to vendors.

It wasn't a bad job. The turnover was high, so within a year or so I was running the department and supervising about half a dozen guys and girls. It was fun, actually, way too much fun, you could say. All of a sudden, I was working with almost fifty people who all shared my bad habits. Free access to the main rock and roll clubs every night, with two free drinks no less. Hippies parked their vans outside during our breaks to sell us things. My wife and I got away from our parents, we got our terrific weather, we got a much better school and neighborhood environment for our son, but frivolity was still my middle name. It worked out okay, so no worries. In fact, a lot of good came of it.

My musical tastes at the time were a bit off center. I was already listening to the full range of German free rock and trance music; I enjoyed computer music (yes, there already was such a thing); I owned some soundtrack records; I was buying and listening to music from several African countries; the English and American acts that I loved were considered odd and had, with few exceptions, little commercial potential; I was in the process of discovering Japanese rock; and to my the amazement of my friends from coast to coast, I also loved ABBA and Dolly Parton. In New York I was considered a weirdo; in Los Angeles it was all socially acceptable.

All of a sudden I had friends who liked most of those things, and who also enjoyed listening to sound effects records; old stereo demonstration records; Italian pop music; and that strange electronic lounge jazz that was in the mix during the late 1950s and early 1960s. I had two friends who loved Juan Garcia Esquivel, and those records appealed to me as well. I got hold of a couple at a used record store and played them back at the house.

In the meantime, two friends from New York had also migrated to L.A., coming to rest in an apartment in Hollywood. They were over one Saturday, and I casually put on one of the Esquivel records. One guy knew immediately what it was, and he went into shock.

Where did you get that?”

I told him about my friends, and purchasing the record locally. “So,” he marveled, “there's an Esquivel cult in Southern California.” He made it sound like a terrible prospect.

The three of us were trying to figure out this new culture that now surrounded us, so at first my friend tried to make sense of it by making it a California thing. We were trying to understand Californians, who appeared to us in many ways quite sophisticated and in other ways extremely naive; sometimes having a well developed ascetic sense and other times seeming mentally deranged. Then I broke the news to my friend that the offending Esquivel fans were transplants from Cleveland, Ohio.

Ohio! Round at the ends and hi in the middle! I explained to them that it was not so strange. It was common knowledge in the record selling business that the Ohio/Ann Arbor axis was where the biggest fans and purchasers of Kraut Rock lived. The local bands could also be distinctly odd. How big a leap is it from Destroy All Monsters! and Pere Ubu to Esquivel? Especially for guys who were already deeply involved with Ennio Morricone and Henry Mancini?

The world is often a strange place, and connecting the dots can be interesting. Thank God, I suppose. It would be a deadly dull place otherwise. Second moral: it's good to have interesting friends from whom you can learn new things.

Esquivel - Surfboard

Get the full story right upstairs in the subsequent post . . . 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Frankie Lee Sims - Wine And Gin Bounce

Another early cut from Frankie Lee. I'd say something nice about it, but I just don't have it in me today. Tomorrow will be better. Some days, not often, but it happens, I wish that I was still drinking. 

Good to listen to it, though. Thanks, Frankie Lee! And RIP while you're at it. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

I Have Seen The Future, And It's Probably Chinese

The entire world situation is changing rapidly. Each night we go to sleep in one world, and the next morning we wake up in another. It's all happening that quickly. This situation is about to get even worse. We are standing on the verge of new computing technologies that will make modern super-computers look like that thing that controls the thermostat in your refrigerator now. (Quantum computing, anyone?) I'd like to think that the United States is at the forefront of this new technology, but we're not standing out there on our own anymore. There are six or eight countries out there with us, and as soon as the computer revolution hits, it will quickly lead to advances in dozens of other areas. Things are about to get interesting.

As usual, I am pessimistic about all of this.

America is still the most powerful country in the world. Any of our competitors will cheerfully admit this. We have by far the most powerful and capable military; we are still in the lead in terms of GDP and GNP; the dollar is still the world's reserve currency and the currency that matters in all important transactions in the world; we have a large and growing population that is relatively well educated and capable; and we are still, in many ways, a wealthy country.*

The ice under this position, however, is becoming thin and beginning to make crackling noises. Very soon we may no longer be able to say that we could stand off and destroy the rest of the world single- handedly. Of course we are still capable of pushing anyone in the world around with our vast military, but it is frightfully expensive to maintain such a force and deploying it in anger costs even more. The day is coming when that will no longer even be an option.

America's greatest danger is that the country has been run by idiots for over thirty years now. This unfunny circus of clowns took the treasure that was handed to them and left it out in the rain to melt away.

Once we exerted tacit control over most of the world through the use of soft-power, which is very effective and often very economical. Soft-power consists of humanitarian assistance; favorable trade relationships; fraternal votes in various world bodies; cultural ties and exchanges; close diplomatic relations; infrastructure construction projects; low or no interest loans; medical training; even something as simple as the United States Peace Corps! We have squandered much of that option with ill-advised military adventures that all turned out badly in terms of political results and returns on investment. Beyond that, our current bosses feel like it is better to save the money and not bother with soft-power solutions. The single-minded goal of the American government for some time now has been to channel all of the money to the super-rich, through the agency of the large corporations and the banks, and to some of our government officials. (Corruption is still discouraged among our police and low-ranking public officials, but for our higher ranking government officials, including high ranking military officers, corruption, insider trading, bribery, cronyism, self-dealing, and even outright theft, are considered perks of their high status.)

We started out on this road to democracy with flawed but essentially good intentions long ago, but we have clearly taken our eyes off of the ball. We are losing our democracy, our cooperative way of life, and our place in the world, and a disturbingly small number of Americans seem to so much as notice, much less care. Most people seem more interested in denying homosexuals the right to marry than in protecting the rights of American citizens to probable cause, Habeas Corpus, freedom from unlawful searches and seizures, privacy, and due process of law, to name a few.

Did I say “idiots?” Our current President Professor Doctor Terror From The Outer Darkness and the crew of mediocrities that trail along behind him are placing all of their faith in military power just as the world has learned to be suitably unimpressed by the knowledge that two giant American aircraft carriers are parked several hundred miles off their coasts. So what, pray tell? Ditto by reminders that we have several tens of thousands of immediately deliverable nuclear warheads. Unimpressed. So what?

For decades our influence around the world was second to none, but now everything has changed.

Enter, China

China's response to all of this lazy-minded complacency and negligent self-degradation has been to work together, generate hundreds of great ideas, and implement all of them. Their accomplishments go well beyond what could be expected of any authoritarian government. They have managed to regain their peoples' affections after decades of horrible abuse. The 1950s, 1960s, and up into the 1970s were a nightmarish time for the long-suffering Chinese people. But they are a durable race, and they seem to have come through it okay. Beginning with Deng Xiaoping in the mid-1970s, the Chinese communists have managed to rehabilitate their image domestically while retaining total control of everything. In an amazing feat of legerdemain, they have convinced everyone that they are a positive force in the life of the Chinese nation. It has been the most amazing political success since the unification of Germany by Otto von Bismark in the late Nineteenth Century.

Domestically, they have raised huge numbers of people out of poverty, literally hundreds of millions of people; they have enabled a growing, broad-based prosperity, including a large new middle-class; they have raised the standard of living for just about every one of their one billion plus people; and they have successfully integrated their diverse regions and populations. They have done all of this while enhancing state control over all aspects of peoples' lives by the generous application of technological advances that had been invented elsewhere. It is a stunning achievement.

Internationally, their successes are hardly less remarkable. Their methods include bullying; vast infrastructure expansion; intimidation; targeted money lending; actual assistance; traditional forms of soft-power; and good old-fashioned out-performance. They have built up a modern military on the sly and on the cheap, and they have vastly extended the range of their influence in the world both militarily and economically. My congratulations, sirs!

The Future

You could say that it's easier for a government to get things done if the country is under tight authoritarian control, but the United States government certainly has almost equivalent power to act as it sees fit. It should be obvious that they do pretty much what they want, no matter what we, the people, might prefer. If they listened to us, far fewer things would be specifically criminalized, and far fewer people would be incarcerated. Not to mention that our Constitutional rights would still receive the respect that was once considered critical to the American way of life if our wishes were to be considered. Instead, our rights have been whittled down to nothing. Those things resulted from a political agenda that was generated at the top of the American power structure, very much in the manner of authoritarians.

The problem is that our new idiot bosses don't seem to have any plan, or even any ideas in particular. They are perfectly content to let everything rot while they line the pockets of themselves and their rich friends. (That's a joke! The rich consider our bosses a bunch of useful monkeys who will do anything for a few peanuts.) They control the American population by fear while we helplessly watch our security and prosperity evaporate. Control by the fear of police violence, fines and civil forfeitures, loss of our precious credit rating, and the nebulous terrors of immigrants, atheists, homosexuals, and, God help me, THE BLACKS!

America is in a state of impending societal collapse, but our elected officials and our super-rich ringmasters reassure us that everything is fine! And they can prove it: just look at that Dow Jones Index! All of that funny money is in the right bank accounts in the Bahamas, so don't you worry, boys and girls. All is right with the world. Just figure out how much medicine you can afford and spread it out over the entire month. That's if you're lucky enough to afford your medicine at all.

Americans are successfully distracted by President Admiral-General Rich Kid Asshole's comedy routine, the cast of idiots that support him, and arguing over the status of English as “America's official language.” (Here's a hint, you bunch of Rubes: everybody who comes to America learns English. This new crowd is learning it just as fast as your Grandparents did. And by the way, most of you could use a little work on your grammar and vocabulary, so stop throwing stones in your glass houses.)

This collapse will be a terrible thing when it happens. If they manage to ruin the dollar itself, you'll be able to hear my screaming wherever on the earth you may happen to be. Just give me another ten years or so and I'll be spared having to witness the end. By then I will have been overtaken by the poor design of the human body. Do what you want to in the meantime. I'll try to keep busy over here in my brier patch. Careful! Watch out for those thorns!

    *It is important to note that the wealth of the United States is now acutely focused in a very narrow range of the population. The same wealth, spread over a much wider base of the population, would enhance the security of more Americans and therefore make America a much stronger country. That was the situation in the great years of the Middle Class America, the 1950s, 1960s, and most of the 1970s. That broad-based prosperity, and the resulting strength, is now lost.

Just A Photo

Here's a photo of a mysterious and beautiful tool of some kind. I'm not even sure where I came across it, even though I took the photo in March. The shape is almost organic, isn't it? I like it a lot. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

America's Flawed Democracy

I teach a class called “American Legal Institutions” at a Thai university, and we often generate some discussion of democracy in general. I explain that the right to vote is important, but it’s not the most important thing. That would be your democratic institutions, everything from schools and local police up to courts, laws, civil liberties, and the branches of government. For younger democracies, I stress two aspects of democracy:

1.   No democracy ever appeared fully formed and perfect in every way. Countries set out on the path of wanting a democracy and then they must figure it out as they go. They must continually fine-tune their democracy to work better and provide more security for its citizens. This process may take a while; and
2.   Having achieved a good, working democracy, a country needs to be constantly vigilant in safeguarding the progress that they have made. Democracies often slip away or disappear suddenly. All democracies must be constantly on guard against the erosion of their hard-won achievements.

An outfit called the Economist Intelligence Unit keeps a Democracy Index that ranks 167 of the world’s countries on the strength or absence of their democracies.* The most recent one is from 2017. I read about it in some click-bait from Fortune Magazine that I came across on social media, and I went over to check with Professor Google about the whole thing. There’s a lot there, including the entire list with numerical rankings.

The nations are grouped into only four categories, as follows:

1.   Full Democracy;
2.   Flawed Democracy;
3.   Hybrid Regime; and
4.   Authoritarian Regime.

That keeps it simple. If you asked 100 Americans on the street, at least 99 of them would say that America was a full democracy, but that, unfortunately, is no longer true. The click bait was “America has been demoted to the status of flawed democracy.” 

The “Full Democracy” section included nineteen countries, including the usual suspects and a couple of surprises. Malta is, I suppose, a European country so that’s not so surprising, but Uruguay is in there too, the only South American country to get that honor. Mauritius is in there as well. I’ll admit that I hadn’t know much about Mauritius, but checking a bit one discovers that it is a fine place, deserving of its “Full Democracy” status.

Let that sink in for a moment. Uruguay, Malta, Mauritius, South Korea, and sixteen other countries, scored higher in democracy than the United States. 

The United States came in at number twenty-one, close to the top of the Flawed Democracies. There are some European countries in there as well, including France and Italy. Also in the Flawed Democracy category were the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. I live in South East Asia so I always check for my ASEAN neighbors.  

The criteria for numerical assessment were as follows:

1.   Electoral Process and Pluralism;
2.   Functioning Government;
3.   Political Participation;
4.   Political Culture; and
5.   Civil Liberties.

There’s another good “man in the street” question for Americans, “of all of the world’s countries, where does America stand in terms of civil liberties?” Those are our cherished freedoms! They are the reason that we fought two wars with the British in the first place! They are enshrined in our precious Constitution! Must be at the top, right?

Well, no. Not only did all of the nineteen Full Democracies score higher than the United States, but seventeen of the Flawed Democracies also scored higher. Only four countries scored a perfect ten, being New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, and Australia. America scored a measly eight point two (8.2). Thirty-six countries all together outscored the United States in Civil Liberties.

This information was not compiled by the much reviled mainstream media, nor was it the result of suspect research at some liberal think-tank. The Economist Magazine is a British publication that is firmly conservative in its outlook. Fortune Magazine is an American publication that stands well to the right of center. Neither of these magazines has a liberal bone in its body.

And this was the 2017 list! It is a safe bet that America’s Civil Liberties score will be lower on the next list. How could it be otherwise? The courts are busy chipping away at our rights and the police have become overly fond of body-slamming jay-walkers, choking people for asking, “why am I being arrested?” and shooting black Americans at the slightest pretext, or often for no apparent reason at all. They’ve grown so fond of shooting the black people that they’re shooting the white folk now too. (The blacks, of course, get the worst of it. For them, being deaf is now a capital crime subject to immediate extrajudicial process.)

The list is long, so America has a long way to slip before it joins the “Hybrid Regimes” near the bottom. We are a nation of go-getters though, so I have a hunch that we’ll make it. The way that things are going, I’m confident that we can tank our numbers in all five categories within five years, definitely by 2025.

U.S.A.!!! U.S.A.!!! The Shining City on the Hill! It was a nice place there for a while, but all dreams fade away before breakfast.

*North Korea was the anchor man in this class ranking.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Curtis Mayfield - Here But I'm Gone

I had to come across this whole LP by accident, because I really do go through life all the way on the oblivious side. I read the story of the recording through tears, so I'm not sure if I'm remembering it clearly. It might be best if you looked it up for yourself. 

Curtis is criminally underrated. He's one of the giants, really. He made a living though, and he does get a lot of credit, so there's that. Man, Curtis falling off of that stage was a bad day for all of us. I miss him. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Marianne Rosenberg - Er gehört zu mir 1975

Earlier today I managed to confuse Marianne Rosenberg and Mireille Mathieu in my now slightly easier than it had been to confuse so-called mind. So let's get this straight. 

Mireille Mathieu is French, but she does sing some nice songs in German. Music is a difficult trade, and one follows the money. Have some fun some time and search "ABBA German." Or "ABBA French" for that matter. Those are some very nice versions, and I'm certain that they brought in an extra couple of bucks. 

Mireille Mathieu La Mer

While I am not a fan of French music in general, there are some gems in there. And not like just like Ute Lemper or something, she's a nice German woman who sings in French occasionally, for the variety of it. 

Mireille Matheiu's got a great voice, and this is a very nice song. We're all familiar with the English version, so you'll all recognize the melody. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

The English Are In The News Again

Another marriage between an officially-in-line-to-the-throne Royal Prince of England and an American divorcee is in the news this week. It won't be quite the splash that his uncle the Crown Prince Edward and the American divorcee Wallis Simpson made back in the 1930s, but splash it will. Why this should be true is a question for the ages.

The English hold a dark fascination for some Americans, and probably for many of their former colonials in far flung Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as well. Not to mention the various coffee-colored former English colonials all around the world. I say that with love and a touch of sarcasm, directed at the English, and not my fellow ex-colonials. Some of them are probably fascinated as well. “The English,” I hesitate even to even type the word anymore, because the line between the English and the British and mere “citizens of the United Kingdom” is so nebulous these days, important, evidently, only to fans of Brexit and football. Who were the English anyway, and are there any left in the world at this point?

They were the big show there for a while. It's quite an interesting story, because upon examination it turns out that the English came on the scene fairly late in “British” history, and left fairly early. The Romans quietly took over the more accessible parts of the British Isles in the first century, A.D., and what they found there was a variety of waring Celtic tribes. Didn't they call it, “Britannia?” The parts that the Romans took over look suspiciously like “England” when drawn on a map. The parts that the Romans didn't bother with remained in the hands of some of the Celtic peoples, the Welsh, the Scots, and the Irish. The Romans left their Brits speaking a very Latinized version of whatever they had been speaking before the Romans arrived.

The Romans finally abandoned the place at some point, and the void was quickly filed by some Germans. The Angles and the Saxons, two big tribes who had somehow discovered that the weather was slightly better on the largest British Isle. They brought their language and grafted it onto the existing Latinized mess, and the result was Olde English, which you and I would be hard pressed to make heads or tails of. This was in the days of King Arthur and the Round Table, a semi-mythical time that is also known as the “Dark Ages.”

This went on for only a few hundred years before another group of continentals became covetous of the English weather and farmland. That was the Normans, who were, first and foremost, French, but had originally been some kind of Vikings, “Northmen.” Europe was in a state of some flux there for one or two thousand years.

That was 1066 A.D., the title of a great book by W.C. Seller and R.J. Yeatman, “1066 and All That.” Look it up! It's still on Amazon. The Normans took over all of the Anglo-Saxon parts of the island, and Celtic Wales as well, and even some parts of Ireland, and they stayed for a long time. In fact, they're still there. The Normans spoke French, and that turns out to have been a great bit of luck for the entire world. With the Normans firmly in charge, all governing and record keeping was done in French, and over time the French language crowded out most of the Olde English. This is why we still refer to many legal documents with two words, like, “Final Will and Testament.” The “will” part is the Germanic word; the “testament” part is the French word.

In 1066, if you had landed somehow anywhere in England, you wouldn't have understood a word that anyone said to you, and you would hardly have been able to read a word that anyone wrote down. By 1600 A.D., you would be able to converse with anyone and we had the King James Bible and the works of William Shakespeare, which most people can still read. Go ahead and take a moment, you can thanks the French for that.

So really, the English themselves only came to the island in about the year 500 A.D., and they had been thoroughly taken over and supplanted by about 1100 A.D. They still get an awful lot of credit for what followed, and I'm not sure that they deserve much of that credit at all.

Now our Prince Harry is married to the American divorcee, Meghan Markle, and I certainly wish them the best of luck. The family as a whole seem like a bunch of cold fish, including big brother William, who is, after all, being groomed for the throne. One day he'll be the owner and keeper of all of the swans on the upper Thames and all of the sturgeon in the English Channel! And, lest we forget, the magisterial ruler of the Isles of Mann and White. Responsibility like that sobers a person. Harry, to his credit, actually seems to have some blood running in his veins, and red blood at that. He seems to have a human personality, God bless him. If this were a fairy tale, and I were the aging king, I might give our Harry the golden ring and hand him the crown. He seems to have the common touch; he gets along with the full range of income demographics; and he certainly didn't shirk his nobless oblige duty to do military service at the tip of the spear. Good for Harry! Yeah, I'd hand him the prize.

But let's just say “good luck! Pip-pip! Cheerio! Long life and happiness!” Harry and Meghan, go forth and multiply! I'll bet that our Harry is quite happy to be as removed from the throne as he is.

It's a lot of work, after all, being the king, or even being close to the job, so his life will be much easier at some remove from the throne. And the Royal Family has enough income to go around, so Harry's yearly share of the take will still be a prince's ransom. (Yes, I just said that.) His children will have titles and incomes of their own. This could be a story with a very happy ending.

Or he could end up disgraced somehow like his uncle Edward, making appearances on the modern equivalent of the Merv Griffin Show, wearing the most beautiful custom made suits in the world and being the first person in fashion-conscious New York City to wear tinted aviator glasses while not flying an airplane. That's not Harry's style, though. He'd more likely show up getting high with snowboarders in Aspen. We'll have to wait and see how that all turns out.

Honestly, the entire race rose and fell without my input, so I expect that they will continue to do fine without my help. Or not, upon reflection, since the entire enterprise seems to be on the verge of falling apart. I suppose that I do wish them well, because there are many people in the English part of the British Isles with whom I could trace back common ancestors very easily. Hail and fair well, Ceely cousins! As comedic as your situation often strikes me, it's nothing personal. May you be among the lucky ones in this time of trouble.

Cartoon predicts the future more than 60 years ago. This is amazing insi...

There's only one comment required for this cartoon, beyond that it was and is a wonderful statement of what makes America great. Or what made America great, anyway.

The narrator mentions repeatedly that America was made great by "cooperation between capital, management, and labor." It's very sad to note that that kind of cooperation is no longer visible in American society, nor possible in today's political climate. Nor is it likely to return in the foreseeable future.

That, my dears, is sad.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Should Thais Consider Spaces Between Words?

Thai is a continuous language, which means that every sentence consists of all of its component words pressed right up against one another with no spaces in between. There are two spaces between sentences. Thais seem to favor long sentences, so a paragraph presents a huge block of almost all letters with very few spaces. This works better than you would imagine, at least for native speakers.

There is a big controversy going on now about the optimal number of spaces after a period in an English paragraph. The arguments between those who favor using only one space, and those who would prefer to use two spaces, are really quite furious, with a considerable amount of name calling on both sides. So let's agree that the idea of spaces in general is worthy of our consideration.

No less a light than Benjamin Franklin weighed in on the subject. I read one time, and it just might be true, that he suggested that English, too, should give up the spaces between words. He was a printer, after all, and he would appreciate the economy of it. That, by the way, is also the big argument of the “one space” crowd: it saves paper.

Not separating words with spaces is not as foolish as it sounds. If you have a good enough vocabulary to know all of the words in the piece, your brain can find them with very little trouble. Watch what happens when I render a long sentence without spaces or punctuation (have I mentioned that Thai has no capital letters, and no punctuation, either?):


Microsoft Word treats the sentences as though there were one word, so I could not accurately recreate the effect of a Thai paragraph. And note that Thai books arranged on the page so that words are not broken up between two lines, i.e., they are carried over in one piece to the next line. But you get the idea. It might take you a bit of effort to get used to it, but after a few days you'd be reading fine. Like the Thais do. They get along fine without spaces between every word.

It's time for my standard disclaimer about foreigners in Thailand: I did not come to Thailand to give the Thai people advice! Thai style in all of its manifestations is just fine with me! I am here to learn from you, my wonderful Thai friends, not to bother you all the time with suggestions!

And please note, I am not in any way suggesting that Thais give up their own alphabet. No, don't change that! King Ramkhamhaeng gave us that alphabet, and it's a good one. When I started learning Thai I was just grateful that there was an alphabet. The real nightmare is having to learn five-thousand pictograms in order to read Chinese. Thank God that Thai has an alphabet! It's a good one, too. In some ways it's better than the ABCs. There are only twenty six letter in the Roman alphabet, and it isn't enough. There are more sounds than that. Think of the vowels, there are only five (or six) vowels in English. So this “A,” what sound does it make? There are a few alternatives there. Thai has forty-four consonants, and another twenty-two or so vowels. (No one is really sure about the number of vowels in Thai.) So there are letters to go with almost any sound that you can think of. And you can learn the Thai alphabet without too much trouble. About six weeks should do it, working at it every day with a pencil in your hand, some paper on the table, and a neighborhood teenager to help you with pronunciation. That's how it went for me, anyway.

But maybe spaces are worth considering. The one space versus two after a period argument had taken place mostly in the abstract, but recently academics at a few institutions have been applying the scientific method to the problem. They are discovering that having two spaces after every period has advantages for reading speed and comprehension. The brain can more easily see the end of the sentence coming. I myself prefer the two space method, but I think that owes mainly to the fact that as an adult I took a three credit course called “Secretarial 101.” That was in the days of the IBM Selectric typewriter, before computers. We learned to type, sure, but we also learned a great deal about formatting business documents. Two spaces after a period, period. There was no doubt in our teacher's mind. By now I only use one space, but that's only because I hate to get yelled at. The one space people are more aggressive and prone to ad hominem attacks.

If two spaces after a period can assist in reading speed and comprehension in English, maybe putting spaces in between Thai words could assist Thai readers as well.

I can guarantee you that it would assist foreigners who are learning to read Thai. When I read Thai, the first thing that I do is go through the text with a pencil and mark the spaces between the words as best I can. My demarcation is never entirely accurate, because there are complications.

Most Thai words are either monosyllabic, that is, they consist of one syllable, or they are compound words consisting of more than one monosyllabic word. There are a vastly greater number of monosyllabic words than there are syllables, because of the available tones. There are five tones in Thai, with long and short versions of each. That's ten right there, and it gets even worse. There are at least fourteen words made from the syllable “kaow.” If you know the Thai alphabet, and the tone markers, and a handful of rules, you can correctly pronounce any Thai word on the page. Almost any word, anyway. The problem is that when you are looking at the unbroken strings of words on the page, what you are really looking at are unbroken strings of syllables. If you are Thai, and you have a good vocabulary, the words still kind of jump out at you. The learner is not so lucky.

Take the following word for example:


This is the Thai word, “mai-mee-crai,” meaning “nobody.” The first time that I came across this word while reading, I put my pencil marks in between the mai, the mee, and the crai, because each of those syllables was a word that I recognized.

Mai is the designator for the negative, like our no, or not, etc.
Mee means to have, to have something.
Crai is the question word for who.

So I'm looking at this sentence trying to figure out how to fit “no have who” into the meaning of it. It took a minute for context to inform me that it meant nobody. Having the word “mai-mee-crai” set off by spaces would have helped me enormously.

Just for fun, let's assume that the spaces in between words would be totally superfluous for Thai people reading newspapers, or for any kind of casual reading at all. They know all of the words, they have time to spare, they're accustomed to reading that way, God bless them. But please allow me to suggest that in more stressful and demanding reading situations the spaces might come in handy.

Consider the reading that becomes necessary in academic and professional situations. The volume of material that must be examined can grow to impossible proportions. Notice that I used the term, “examined.” Many times, for lawyers, or doctors, or other professionals, there is just too much to actually read, word for word. There are not enough hours in the day to read everything that is contained in those seventy-five boxes. But you must be able to find the good stuff, by whatever means necessary. At law school, they knew that this situation was coming for all of us, so they intentionally assigned so much reading that we could not possibly read all of it. They wanted us to learn to go fast. You do this by scanning, or by skimming. “Scanning” is where you look over each paragraph trying to spot certain key-words that are known to you. “Skimming” is when you look at the material paragraph by paragraph trying to quickly establish whether that entire page is worthy of an additional expenditure of time. Both scanning and skimming would be slowed down to a crawl by paragraphs that had no spaces between the words. At that point, the practice of continuous writing becomes unsustainable.

Putting spaces in between Thai words would not be so great a change, all things considered. Look at the ways in which the countries surrounding Thailand have modified their reading habits over time. Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines all had alphabets that were similar to the Thai. All were derived from models imported from India, and were lost in the colonial period. Thailand was very lucky to have escaped the yoke of colonialism. I'm just saying that those alphabets were lost without too much inconvenience for the Malays, the Sumatrans, or the Filipinos. And how about those Communists up in Lao? They mercilessly streamlined the Lao alphabet. They not only got rid of all of the duplication, they got rid of the raw-rua entirely! No more “R” sound! People didn't use it anyway! Languages change over time, and usually the goal is to simplify things. If you asked Vietnamese people on the street how they felt about their current use of a modified Roman alphabet, I'm sure that it would take them a minute to figure out what you meant. Then, I'm sure, no one would say that it would be better to go back to the various systems of trying to render Vietnamese words in Chinese characters that were used over the centuries. The alphabet is working just fine, thanks.

Yes, all languages change over time, with the goal of simplicity. I'd almost bet that within one hundred years American English will consist entirely of emojis.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Tales Of The Law Office: The Hump

My so-called career in the law began in 1988, with the first three years consisting of law school (with one summer interning at a public interest outfit and one year clerking for a family law office). I actually enjoyed law school, although it was rather stressful. They keep you under considerable pressure to prepare you for the work that is to follow.

I passed the California Bar Exam on my first try and then practiced law in Los Angeles for the next twelve years. I worked for two law offices as a law clerk, and two others as an associate, but most of the time I was a solo practitioner.

For the first two years on my own I made court appearances for other lawyers. I knew a couple of lawyers who paid others to appear for them, and I called all of my contacts to develop a list. There was enough work to keep me busy, and with the overhead low it was paying the bills. I spent that time getting my feet wet and learning the business. After two years I felt like it was time to get an office and find my own clients.

The solo practice was a lot of work. It's much more important to be a good businessman than to be a good lawyer. You need to put butts in the seats without going broke doing it. That can be a real trick. Having incurred serious overhead, I had to continue to make some appearances for others. I implemented a marketing plan, which included direct mail and print ads.

I started spending good money every month, doing the work on the direct mail part of it my myself. I was working about sixty hours a week. It brought in a considerable amount of paying work, but the overhead was frightful. When my accountant did my taxes for that year, I ended up with a net income of $36.00 (thirty-six dollars). That was for the year. It must qualify as the lowest hourly earnings of all time.

But let's get to the hump part. Over the course of a few years, I dropped the direct mail as too expensive and refined my approach to print advertising. The trick there, as everywhere, is to keep the expenses as low as possible while generating enough calls. I realized that there were niches in the cultural landscape of Los Angeles that had their own book stores and newspapers. I focused on the two biggest examples: homosexuals and Christians. Both groups had multiple bookstores dedicated to their particular clientele, and there were multiple free newspapers available at each location. I started advertising in them all. Small column ads were almost free, $12 or so. In this way I kept the overhead manageable and began to make a living. I say, “a living,” what I really mean is that I was bringing home about the same as a decent apprentice plumber with a union card. Okay, we live and we learn, at least the graphs were trending upward.

Here's where I got to the hump. I was still “solo” in every sense of the word. I did everything myself. I made all of the appearances; I prepared all the documents; I kept all of the records; I answered the phone; I managed the marketing scheme; I paid all of the bills; I maintained the computer with its precious specialized programs; and I tried to get around a bit to schmooze other attorneys for ideas and referrals. I was still working about sixty hours per week, and the hourly pay computation was not encouraging. That, and the stress was killing me.

Sitting down with pencil and paper, I worked out what it would take to get a secretary for the office. Even a barely qualified secretary would require a salary about the same as what I was taking home. A real legal secretary would require a lot more. Even a real paralegal would take a bigger bite. So in terms of the rough math, let's say that I was billing about $75,000 per year, with overhead of about $40,000. In order to support an increase in the overhead to $80,000 (doubling the overhead), I would need to at least double the billings to $150,000. That would take more marketing, and more rent for the secretary's work space, and the Social Security etc. for the employee, so let's figure the billings would need to climb to about $200,000. In all that, I'd be lucky to increase my income by enough to justify the extra stress and effort.

The difficulties of getting over this hump were vast, and success was uncertain. The alternative was to continue licking every stamp myself and killing myself for a smallish salary. At that point, I asked around and got myself hired by a small insurance defense firm as an associate. My overhead disappeared, and my salary went up considerably. The hours per week stayed about the same.

This is, of course, the Disney version of the whole enterprise. Within a few years my wife (at the time) approached me with the idea of joining the Peace Corps to get off of the hamster wheel for a couple of years. We were accepted into that noble program, and we were assigned to a small agricultural province in a remote corner of Thailand. I've never gone back to the rat-race. After the Peace Corps I ended up returning to Thailand, and I'm still here. I have been teaching law and legal English at a big Thai university for over ten years by now, and I guess that I should stop complaining about my decision to go to law school, because that law degree did facilitate the great luck of getting my present job.

As for any young people who may be thinking of a career in the law, just be careful. It's not like it appears on TV. I have known quite a few lawyers who were very successful. Those men and women made millions of dollars in most years and supported large offices. I have also knows quite a few for whom the necessary aggression, bravado, and stress-management were not a good fit. That group generally fails to thrive in the law, or hangs on by it's fingernails because the alternatives seem even less comfortable. I know lawyers who drive Uber at night. Most lawyers are in the middle somewhere. They soldier away at it year after year, become accustomed to the stress and learn to tolerate it, and they find a way to put the mask on and off quickly so that they can have a normal family life and some friends. Bear in mind that that large group in the middle earns about as much as a licensed union plumber. There are only a few lawyers cashing those million dollar checks, and most of them seem to be on TV.

But who knows? If being a lawyer is your dream, go for it. Keep the student loans as low as you can manage, and don't expect anything to be easy. There are people still making a go of it. Maybe you'll be one of the lucky ones.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Big General Purpose Kawasaki In Bangkok

This beast calls itself a Kawasaki z900 RS. That is a vast hunk of motorcycle here in Thailand, where anything over about 175 cc is considered a “big bike.”

Isn't it a beauty? We used to call a bike like this a “general purpose” model. It's nimble enough in traffic to use as a daily-rider; it's comfortable enough that you can ride it all four hundred miles north to San Francisco in one day; the riding position is back and low enough that you could race it at Laguna Seca; you could probably even ride it across the occasional open field if the situation called for it. General purpose. Those bullet bikes can get pretty uncomfortable in traffic, or after a few hundred miles of mostly highway.

You don't need all of those Ninja body panels and the super-low riding position under about 120 mph anyway. This bike has nice flat bars and rear-set foot pegs, but not low enough to hurt your feelings. 

How fast would it be? People used to ask me that about my Yamaha 650 Seca, which was a similarly laid out general purpose bike. My answer was always, “I don't know.” I had had it up to 100 mph a few times, and that was fast enough for me. Regarding acceleration, this Kawi would have what I call, “the speed of thought.” If you're going forty, and your mind forms the thought, “go seventy-five,” bang! You're there. Zero to fifty or sixty would only be a negligible few seconds, and the acceleration would practically throw you off the back of the bike.

Man, if I were thirty years younger, I'd buy one of these. Oh, and I'd have to be back living in California. There's no place over here to ride a bike like this. But it's a beauty, that's for sure. If I owned one, I'd drain the fluids and park it in my living room. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Left Hand Of God

There are times in life when we can feel, almost see, the hand of God reaching through the clouds and creating miracles, or at least mysteries, in the world around us. Those are moments that I cherish.

I’m proctoring tests this week, and that is always a time that is rich in mystery and wonder. It provides me with an intense immersion in Thai language, because there are usually no English speakers around to make me lazily speak only English. And consider the test takers. Tests are always a time of stress, and it is always interesting to observe people under stress. (Particularly when you are not under stress yourself.) I actually calculated the other day just how much proctoring I’ve done at my current job. Ten years, five test sessions every year, two long, two short, about twenty-five days per year, so then, 250 days all together of proctoring tests. It’s been interesting. That should surprise no one who knows me.

One thing that I habitually do is gauge the incidence of left-handedness in the room. This is on a session by session basis, two sessions per day. The big pattern is that the incidence of left-handedness has been going down over the last ten years. There are occasional spikes, however, and this current four-day session is one of them.

On the first day I noticed more left handers than I had become accustomed to. I chalked this up to the subject matter: mathematics and accounting. For some reason, those two subjects attract more than the average number of left-handed people. On the second day, yesterday, all hell broke loose.

For the afternoon session, with no math or accounting in sight, it came to pass that the number three seat in rows one, two, three, four, five, and six, were all left handed. Different subjects for odd and even rows, all seats assigned strictly by student number, and yet six students in a row, crosswise, were left handed. It was like waking up in a mirror-world. To make matters more bizarre, anywhere that I stood in my side of the room, I could look around and find a few lefties immediately.

Alive with excitement and wonderment at this once in a lifetime vision, I sought to share this information with my new friends. “Look! Seat number three! Six in a row! All left-handed!” I got that now all too typical reaction: a slight smile of bemusement at the silly things that Farang find interesting. First there’s a, “so what?” moment as the Thais realize what you are talking about, and this is followed by a more profound, “so what?” when they realize that you think that this stuff is fascinating.

Today the occurrence of lefties was hardly noticeable, as has become the norm in recent years. But even Mr. Jesus did not multiply loaves and fishes every day. Yesterday was some kind of mysterious, dare I say miraculous, event. I witnessed the left hand of God come through the clouds and create something unusual. I may have been the only one to notice, but that alone does not make me crazy. It really happened! I swear!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Charles Wright band - Loveland.wmv

This is a great L.A. Soul band from the early 1970s. Their big hit was "Express Yourself," but their work is very good altogether. History isn't fair, so many great acts get a bit lost in the shuffle. Nice to remember, though, and give credit where credit is due. 

Google's Search Algorithms

. . . are strange. I just word-searched "fred ceely blog," just to see if people could find it that way.

The answer is: yes, people can find it that way. The strange part was the photos under "Images Fred Ceely Blog." There were a lot of them, but it was hard to find any connection. There was one photo of someone who was in the Peace Corps with me, the same volunteer group in Thailand. I know him pretty well, the group trained together and was always doing things together. There was one photo of a man that I don't know at all but who looked suspiciously like I did in my early forties, complete with goatee. There were photos of civil rights events in the 1960s, which I suppose could be included because I write about race relations sometimes. I suppose. Other than that, I'm really not sure what the algorithm was thinking. They do think, don't they?

But people can find the blog. That's good.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The New Post-Evil America

Earlier today I read about a nice looking, normal appearing woman who was defending our new practice of separating families prior to deportation. She kind of casually said that it was no big deal, being no different from the established practice of removing children from the home when their parents are arrested for other crimes. This defense of apparent evil came from the head of the Department of Homeland Security.

My first thought was that this woman was herself evil, and that her defense of those evil acts was an even greater act of evil. But then I wondered. Her statement was very offhand, it didn’t seem that she had actually given the matter much thought. I had the feeling that she had been taught this answer, and that she had used it previously whenever the question came up. I doubt if she could discuss the issue any further, and I would find it impossible to believe that it represented her own well-considered position on the matter. It was just something that they were doing; she had provided the answer that had been formulated for that question.

I believe that more substance than that is required for something to rise to the level of true evil.

Our Post-Civilized World

Everything now is Post-Modern. That is, subsequent to that which was modern. The word is associated with the work done in the mid- to late-Twentieth Century in multiple disciplines, notably architecture and criticism.

We live in a world that is famously Post-Ironic. That is, it is no longer easy to separate the earnest from the ironic; they have blended together into a big, gray middle.

Much of the world is moving into a Post-God posture. I would suggest that this happens anywhere that religion has manifestly ceased to function as an organizing or a motivating factor for a critical portion of the population. Much of Europe and the Western Democracies in general are now in this situation, not to mention entire countries and cultures in Asia.

Some places are specifically Post-Christianity. As is the case in much of Northern Europe, this happens when people substitute an unspecified “higher power” for Christ or the God of the Old Testament.

Many societies are becoming Post-Marriage. The lower classes are dropping out of the entire marriage option. Why bother? It will just complicate things down the line, and it will doubtless add unmanageable expenses at some point, and all without doing much to repay the effort in the meantime. So fuck it, if you want a baby, just have the baby. Firmly in the Post-Marriage column are the women with strong drives for careers and earning the big bucks.

The whole world may be Post-National any second now. Western nations are diluting their brands and losing their identities as they seek to become more modern and diverse. Other countries are Balkanizing as local ethnic groups seek more autonomy. This last bit includes places like the United Kingdom and Belgium, and that’s before you even get to the places in Asia, Africa, and South America that no one knows or cares anything about.

What’s the surprise if this delightful “totally new every fifteen minutes” world of ours decides to shit-can the entire idea of evil? We’re obviously past worrying about goodness, so can evil be far behind?

Our Exciting Post-Evil President

Our fabulously coifed and very determined looking president does numerous awful things every day. As do many prominent members of congress, like the current party bosses, Mitch McConnel and Paul Ryan. As do all of the heads of Federal agencies that were appointed by this president. This group of Republicans, with the active or passive help of many Democrats, is working feverishly to destroy our democratic institutions from the ground up, and all of them. Everything from the public schools, to our university system, to our police forces and our military, to our judicial system, from the Supreme Court right down to local Workmen’s Compensation Boards, to our scientific establishment, and every social program from Section 8 housing and food stamps up to Social Security, all of it is being degraded rapidly every day in preparation for doing away with all of it entirely. Certainly, Mr. Fred, that must represent true evil. Don’t you think?

I’m not so sure anymore.

I don’t see any clear reasoning behind any of this wanton destruction. Even the obvious greed component doesn’t seem focused or reasonable. Anyone can see that the value of what is being destroyed is infinitely greater than the usable benefit that anyone of the wreckers could hope to gain by their actions.

The greed is real, and it is a big motivation in this orgy of destruction, but there does not seem to be any philosophy at its foundation.

Regarding Trump, there is no conventional reason that he is doing these terrible things, just like there was no conventional reason that he wanted to have sex with all of those women. My guess is that Trump is more gratified by the control that he feels when he pays the women off, or humiliates them in various ways, or grabs them by the pussy just because he can. The dynamic favors power and control; everything else is incidental. Trump takes on too much debt, and assumes risks that are too great, to convince me that even the money is important to him. It’s the power and control.

Regarding the McConnels and the Ryans of the cast, it often seems that their primary motivation is simple destruction. Like pyromaniacs, they obtain gratification from reducing something of value to a pile of ashes. The New Deal, Obama’s legacy, destroy! Destroy! They move forward into destruction like a pack of Daleks on Dr. Who. The money that they are accumulating for themselves is inconsequential in today’s financial matrix. A billion dollars is the buy-in to play at the big-boy’s table, and they are hopelessly short of that. They would be lucky to die with fifty million dollars as an estate, and even Willard Romney laughs at that. Today, in fact, the number of people that would laugh at your billion dollars is shockingly large. If you are not at least closing in on one-hundred-billion dollars, you might as well be flying economy.

Trading in mere destruction, either as a control marker or for its own sake, seems like a low bar for the identification of true evil. I believe that evil would require a motivating philosophy based firmly in immorality. This bad behavior that we are suffering with today seems more like amorality. Amoral means “the absence of, indifference towards, or disregard for morality.” Doesn’t that sound about right?

Put me down for Post-Evil.

The Nazis were evil. The Soviets were evil. This vampire clique hanging on our necks is more like a child who smashes his friend’s toys with a hammer out of pure spite. It’s bad, people are suffering, we may lose our hard-won American way of life, but calling it evil is giving it too much credit.

It’s just bloody stupid is what it is.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

A Re-Named Mall In West Los Angeles

In March of this year I visited the Westfield Mall, which I had known for decades as the Fox Hills Mall. It’s located adjacent to the old Hughes Airport site, between Ladera Heights (the “Black Beverly Hills”), Westchester, and a nameless Los Angeles zip code, only about a mile from the ocean. It’s a nice area, and a nice mall.

It had been about twenty years since I had last visited this mall. It was still the Fox Hills Mall at the time. The only reason that I visited on this occasion was that it was in between where I was at about thirty minutes past noon and the Hertz office where I needed to return my rented car at about 6:30 pm. The weather was threatening rain, and I needed an indoor mall where I could open-endedly kill time, a place where there would always be a handy bathroom and plenty of food and coffee availabilities.

It was always an interesting mall, and it still is. My home of thirty years was close by; this was by far the closest mall to our house. The clientele from the beginning was predominantly black, due to Ladera Heights being the closest residential area. That would be prosperous black. Ladera Heights is what we called in old New York a “mirror neighborhood.” That means that when you drive through it you see only a typical up-scale neighborhood, with very nice homes and landscaping, with Volvos and BMWs in the driveways. Only later do you discover that the residents are black. Black attorneys, doctors, executives, CPAs, etc. For this reason, my wife and I casually referred to the mall as “the Black Hills Mall.” By now this appellation is too crude for mixed company, but we were a young couple from working class Queens and we certainly didn’t mean any harm or disparagement. In fact, the blackness of the mall was an attraction for us.

We saw the diversity as a positive for two reasons. First, we had two young sons in tow at the time and we both believed that it was important to give them some understanding of, and familiarity with, our black fellow-Americans outside of the sports or entertainment settings. Sure, there were some blacks living close to our house, but not close enough to do us any good, and there were black kids at their schools, in low concentrations, and I had black friends, but that’s different. Those are family friends! We thought it was good for our boys to see the many family groups and friend groups of all black Americans at our mall.

Secondly, it was fascinating. Here’s the thing, white people, even racially progressive white people, don’t get many chances to closely observe black Americans in black settings. That’s unless they are big fans of jazz clubs or something. That mall was, and still is, a black setting. It’s home turf. America is still a place where black Americans must constantly be on guard for the inherent dangers of being black. In a black setting, our black friends can relax a bit, they can just be themselves, you know, drop the mask.

The Fox Hills Mall, now the Westfield Mall, still fulfills this purpose. Long ago it was more like 70% black, 15% white, and 15% Hispanic, with some Asians thrown in, mostly Japanese- or Filipino-Americans. It’s still more than 50% black, and the white number is still down around 15%. Now there are more Asians and Hispanics, and a good sprinkling of Middle-Easterners. It’s still diversity central, and totally fascinating.

I was there for more than four hours. Upon arrival I set up shop at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in the center of the mall. (Iced Matcha Latte, $4.55 plus tax, $5.20.) I was there a long time, reading mostly in my new book to avoid draining the battery on my Kindle before I even got to the airport. Reading, and observing. Later I moved to the food area and got a piece of pizza from Sbarro, which was surprisingly good.

One thing that I miss in Thailand is black Americans. There are lots of black faces in my Bangkok neighborhood, but they are almost all Africans. I've gotten along very well with a few of them, but we have little in common. Most of them are students at one of the local international universities. I rarely see an American black, and then, even if I’m sure about the identification, you can’t just start walking up to people and saying, “are you American? Man, you guys are super-rare over here!” I have one black friend in Bangkok, whom I have known for long enough that he has come to trust me, but he’s a part-timer in Thailand. He’s the most successfully retired person that I know, and after a career with the Los Angeles Unified School System he divides his time between a residential hotel in Thailand, his house in Hawaii, his townhouse in Arizona (to attend ASU football games, he’s an alumnus), and Los Angeles, where some of his doctors practice and he still owns property.

Let me wrap this up on that note of borderline-self-congratulation. It was nice to see that mall again and roll those good memories over in my mind. And Eddie, good luck with that volcano, buddy. But they don’t call it the “Big Island” for nothing, so I’m thinking that you’re probably okay. (And check your e-mail! Damnit, your friends are worried about you!)