Sunday, November 29, 2020
Saturday, November 28, 2020
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Turning loss into victory has always been a popular human pastime. No one likes to lose, but there are ways to turn a loss around and make it start to look like a win. You will need an attractive lie, preferably a vaguely plausible lie, and you will need a huge chorus of supporters who will tirelessly repeat that lie until it has enough support to defeat the truth of the matter. This technique works surprisingly well.
The Civil War
Reputable historians, and all well-informed and open minded Americans, agree that the Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery. The contemporaneous written record lavishly proves that the break-away states were taking that treasonous action for the simple reason that they refused not only to give up their slaves on the spot, but also refused to admit that there was any possible future in which they would ever give up their slaves. They also insisted that human chattel slavery would follow any western expansion of the states that were doing the expanding. The new Confederate States of America, having seceded from the Union, wrote themselves a fine new constitution that clearly betrayed their true goals in creating a new “confederacy.” It was almost exactly the same as the United States Constitution, except for some new language permanently installing slavery as the everlasting law of their new land. All writings in support of secession, and all transcripts of speeches in support of secession, stress that the whole enterprise had the goal of preserving the property rights of slave holders and protecting the white people from those uncivilized (and enslaved) Africans. It's very hard to argue that there was any other cause for the war of secession.
But they came up with one after they lost! The famous “Lost Cause” mythology arose not long after the disastrous loss of the Confederate military to the Union forces. The Lost Cause holds that slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War. No, it was really about states' rights! Adherents described the war as a war of aggression started by the Union (the north) with the object of denying the southern states their Constitutional rights as sovereign entities! The southern states were only protecting themselves! Slavery, in this beautifully constructed lie, was a peripheral issue at best. “Certainly we all knew that the institution of slavery was dying on its own anyway! There was no reason to rush it!” The Confederate States were still stuck with the loss, but it wasn't their fault! The Union was to blame for the whole thing! They have managed to sell this bullshit story to the entire Old South by now, and even as they continue to abuse their black population, they do so under the banner of states' rights.
The Treaty of Versailles
By 1918, World War I was going very badly for the Germans. America was in it with both feet, and German armies were being pushed back across every mile of the western front. German civilians were suffering terrible deprivations from the years long blockade, and deaths from hunger were increasing. It was the German generals themselves who petitioned the Kaiser to sue for peace. The Treaty of Versailles just made everything worse. Although it did manage to stop the shooting in the short term, it contained in its pages enough powder to blow the entire continent to hell in only twenty short years. How much worse did Versailles make things? See, “World War II.”
The Germans did not like losing WWI. They do not like losing in general. In fact, they may like losing less than almost all of the other peoples of the earth. The German military felt like they were being saddled with a loss that had never really happened! They argued loudly that they were “never defeated on the battlefield,” and a lot of people listened. The lie that they came up with to explain why they had never lost was a work of art.
Everything sounds better in German! Unscrupulous politicians and social agitators came up with “die Dolchstosslegende.” This literally means “the dagger thrust legend,” and is usually translated as the “stabbed in the back” theory. Germany, the German people and the German Army, had not lost the war at all! They were “stabbed in the back” by a rather long list of internal enemies. This grievance grew in strength through the 1920s, which were a very difficult time in Germany. I'll let you look it up yourself. The list of enemies changed along with the wishes of whomever was putting the list together. When the Nazis came along, they really ran with this lie. By the time they were done with it, Versailles and the downfall of Germany had been intentionally caused by Bolsheviks, bankers, communists, capitalists, internationalists, liberals, and, of course, the Jews.
Massaging away embarrassing loses, and turning those negatives into positives, is very common. It is an art that is still practiced around the world. Something very much like the Dolchstosslegende happened after the Vietnam War. That story goes like this: the United States government, and the U.S. Military, were never defeated by little Vietnam. We were stabbed in the back by those fucking hippies, students, and liberal college professors. Another big lie is about to come to prominence as we speak.
The Biden Presidency is Illegitimate!
As I have been saying for many years now, the real problem in America is the Republican party. They find someone that they think will serve their purposes as a figurehead and go about their business back in the dark corners of American politics. Reagan was a Godsend, and his empty head and stupid smile were the cornerstones of all of our problems today. The Republicans adopted the tactics of politics as total war during the Clinton years, and they have never looked back. Trump was spectacularly successful as a distraction while the Republicans were fulfilling almost their entire wish list out in the hallways. Trump, a brash, petulant ignoramus of a man, a brainless oaf who shouted off his head for his entire time in office, kept all attention on himself while the men behind the curtain were hard at work ruining everything that America had built over the two preceding centuries. And then he lost his bid for reelection. How he is taking that loss is a matter best left to psychiatrists. The real question is, “how are the Republicans taking it?”
They are going with the “loss as victory” idea that I described above. They are formulating a “big lie” that will allow them to keep all of their opponents off-balance for the next four years. For the next four years they will be filling the airwaves and the Intertubes with innuendo about the fraud and malice that caused the election to be stolen from good President Trump. Trump will be helping them, of course, in any remunerative way that he can, hoping either to be elected again in 2024 or at least to serve as kingmaker in that election cycle. He just wants the spotlight, and the money. Any criminal prosecutions of Trump, in either Federal or state courts, will only feed this narrative. (Civil suits will do little to damage the brand, and do nothing to keep Trump off of the money train.) It goes without saying that the Republicans will also be doing every single thing that man can devise to obstruct and oppose anything that Biden or any Democrats want to accomplish. I expect that no appointments will be ratified, no judges will be appointed, and if the Republicans keep control of the Senate, you can forget any legislation passing.
The Republicans will be fine. Their formula has a great track record of success over time. It matters little who is in the White House or in control of congress. I sincerely doubt if they care if Trump lives or dies. If he lives, they will wave shiny objects in front of him and he will do their bidding; if he dies, he will die a hero and become a martyr to his cult.
I feel obliged to mention also that any practicable scenario for the next ten or twenty years includes no hope for avoiding some level of climate collapse. At some point, one must assume, the fire will engulf the house and the television will blink out. That may get a reaction from the inhabitants. Whether the awakening comes in time to avoid the worst, I will not be alive to see. When the end comes, we Baby Boomers will be gone, and somewhere, some twenty-something will raise his fist to the burning sky and say, “those fucking Baby Boomers! They got the best of everything!”
Saturday, November 21, 2020
Saturday, November 14, 2020
Thursday, November 12, 2020
We had a big flood year in Thailand in 2011. The end of the rainy season comes in October or November, and by then in 2011 the outlet of every river to wherever it led had spread out over the land in a flood that reminded us all of what the term “flood plain” means. The Chao Praya River runs straight into and through Bangkok, on it's way to the Gulf of Siam. That's a big river all the time, and in 2011 in flooded many low-lying areas of the city. That means most of the city, because most of the city stands at elevations of about two to four meters.* Whole urban areas near the river were hip deep in water, and I mean entire neighborhoods, every street, and the ground floor of every building, whether store, workshop, or domicile, hip deep. It took more than a week for those flood waters to go down. It was a terrible imposition on the good nature of Thai people.
The news was there to record it. People wading or boating around, trying to keep the babies dry and fed, trying to save what they could of their possessions. If you saw them on TV in your own country, you would probably be surprised to see that almost all of the people on camera looked happy, there were big smiles all around. You might be tempted to believe that those smiles were genuine, and to think that those people were used to such things and were simply carrying on with their happy lives. I had broken the code by then and knew better.
That smile does not carry the same meaning that a similarly beaming smile carries in America. Thais love to smile, but the smile can carry different meanings in different situations. That smiling, soaking wet Thai woman is miserable, and she is in the midst of a family tragedy, but she smiles because she doesn't want us to worry about her. She is saying, I'll be fine! Don't let my misery harsh your mellow! Her smile is part of the miracle of living in a country where most people care as much about other people's feelings as they do about their own. The group comes first in traditional Thai culture; how can individuals be happy unless the group is happy?
This phenomenon was explained to me by a Korean friend in Los Angeles before I had come to Thailand. Call it the miracle of being a hyphenated American, because normally you would not expect someone who was culturally Korean to know anything about happiness. We were both lawyers, and my friend had come to California with his parents when he was about seven years old. Being American, and curious, he had thought about the relative happiness of the various national cultures that he saw around him in L.A. His idea was that Koreans were so severe and so narrowly oriented and Thais were so warm and community oriented due to the differences in the size of the rice fields in Korea and Thailand.
The rice fields in Thailand are huge, fertile, and spectacularly productive. How huge are they, Johnny? Like bigger than Rhode Island. Many provinces are capable of growing three rice crops annually. The fields are so big that there are many villages in the midst of the rice field, villages of considerable size. For thousands of years, Thai families have lived and worked together in these villages. Thai boys and girls have grown up together, worked together, and families have intermarried. Some move away, and new people may arrive, but one thing remains constant: the village lives and breathes as one organism. Everyone wakes up when the cocks crow; everyone sweeps the floor and has some breakfast; everyone walks to work in the field together; everyone takes their breaks at the same time, or the same position of the sun; everyone walks home together; everyone takes a bath and cleans up; extended families cook together and eat together; and when it gets dark, everyone goes to sleep because candles are very expensive.
In those Thai villages, everyone knew one another; families were connected by marriage; and the rhythm of everyone's life was the same. If bad-blood arose between individuals, or, God forbid, families, you all had to see each other tomorrow, probably all day, certainly at work. The only answer was to avoid conflict and always consider the effect of one's actions on the group. It's still like that in half of Thailand.
In Korea, on the other hand, the rice fields were rather small. Korea is a mountainous country. A few families farmed a rice field, and the next field was over the hill somewhere. And, my friend said, “these people didn't like the people over the hill.”
I can see this same priority given to community welfare at work this year, as Thailand battles the multiple crises created by the COVID situation. In Thailand, as in America, people were told to wear masks, keep some social distance, and wash their hands frequently. The difference has been that here in Thailand people actually did what they were told. During the lock-down phase, businesses were closed and the streets were empty. Thais are still wearing masks. This response by average folks is another fine example of Thais helping each other and cooperating. We all benefited by doing what we were told, without cutting corners or complaining. Compare Thailand's statistics with those of America. Americans are showing an amazing lack of concern for other people's health, or even for their own health. If this thing were the Black Plague, the entire population of America would be dead already.
It has been hard, though, even in Thailand. All non-essential businesses were closed in the initial shutdown, and it lasted a long time. Many of those businesses couldn't survive three months or more with no income. Tourists disappeared completely, and that put another huge group of businesses down for the count. That was a lot of lost jobs, with all of the same ripple effects that are being felt anywhere in the path of COVID.
I took a day-trip last week to teach a class at a remote campus in a normally busy tourist destination, and it was a ghost-town. Over the entire trip, I saw one Farang. I've seen TV news spots with film of the big tourist destinations, and they are empty. No traffic on the roads, and almost all of the stores and businesses are boarded up with “Kai/ Chow” signs on them (“sale or rent”). That's a huge job loss. Where did everybody go? How are they coping with it all? I'll get to that.
The official ghost-greeter at the airport that I traveled to was a Boeing 747, painted in gray primer, in the process of being stripped for parts. This was at one of those Thai airports where the runway is so short that even landing a smallish Airbus or a Boeing 737 is like landing on an aircraft carrier. They slam the plane down on the first five feet of the runway, reverse the engines immediately, and jam on the brakes. I don't know how they got the 747 up to the terminal, but there it was, parked at the last gate. One thing for sure, it's not taking off again. All of the engines have already been removed, and the wings looked like maybe some of the avionics had been torn out as well. It was an eerie sight. Planes arriving and departing were on the empty side, and the historical sites, usually bustling with foreign and domestic tourists, were empty. It's like this all over.
We don't notice it in Bangkok. It's still seems like a crowded city. But businesses are suffering, and many mall stores are boarded up and gone. The taxi drivers complain freely about it to anyone who will listen, and I love talking to taxi drivers. (They are my best teachers!) Their income is suffering. Hotels, empty. How many people have lost their jobs? Who knows. That problem is less visible in Thailand than it would be in America.
When someone in America loses a job, it's a major crisis. No money, so they are unable to pay the rent. And they have nowhere to go! Maybe they get some unemployment, or COVID relief, to help them hold on, but even in America it's not enough. There were some gestures at COVID relief in Thailand, but not enough to do much good. Here, that person simply abandons their apartment and goes home to the countryside. There will almost always be a “back home” to return to, and a family member who will take them in. They may be sleeping on the floor, but they will have a roof over their heads and meals to eat. They'll smile about it, too. Don't worry about me! It'll be better next year. Maybe I should go back to school!
It's wonderful to watch this community cooperation up close, but I'm sure that this year has really challenged the system. We, all of us here in Thailand, have been very lucky with the disease itself, but the side-effects have been dire and they will be with us for a long time to come. The Thai government did a great job of knocking down the virus and saving lives, and for that they have my respect and my appreciation. The effort was organized quickly and well, and everyone from hospitals to local community groups joined in to respond effectively to the threat. The government is still doing what they can to mitigate the economic impact of the disease, but much of that is not within their control. I also appreciate the fact that the Thai government is not rushing “solutions” that would lead to more sickness and death in the Thai population. They're playing that one way on the safe side, which I think it great.
We are all hoping for a vaccine solution to the pandemic sooner rather than later. When a vaccine becomes available, I'll bet you five baht that I'll have another reason to be glad that I live in Thailand. In a place like America, the vaccine will give people another reason to hate capitalism. When companies have the rights to a product that everyone wants as soon as possible, they won't be in the mood to give it away. My guess is that the process in Thailand will be more orderly and more affordable.
*My own condo is in an area that is a full nine meters above sea level. This was not a conscious decision on my part; it happens to be a short walk to my university, and near to my medical providers (and my favorite mall). A lucky accident, I'd call it. I will, of course, take all of the good luck that I can find, wherever I may find it.
Saturday, November 7, 2020
The judgment of history on the Trump presidency will come quickly. History, nothing if not prudent, will wait until the dust settles, so its judgment will be another few months in coming. The judgment has been prepared, however, and will be ready for delivery within days of Biden being sworn in as president.
Trump will be president until Biden's inauguration, and the odds are that Trump will not suddenly become docile and spend this interval idly. There is more mischief to be made in the areas of legislation and regulation, and more executive orders to be signed, and there are pardons to issue, and scores to settle, so Trump will be busy.
The transition to a Biden presidency will not be orderly, but it will occur on time. Trump will not cooperate, but he will leave, if only to avoid the spectacle of him being dragged out by his elevator shoes. My hunch is that Melania will have left already, “to be in New York for the start of Barron's first semester at a new school.” Another hunch is that Donald and Melania will never live together again. I'll bet that the Don has already consulted with every killer divorce attorney in New York, to contaminate them (like Tony Soprano), but Melania can always import somebody. I hear that Robert Kaufman is still working (California bar number 34683). Kaufman didn't buy that mansion on a high, forested bluff overlooking the Pacific with lottery winnings. He earned it.
Once he's out of office, the true ghosting will begin. Some prosecutions may make the news, and Trump will keep on shouting into a bucket, but most people will just want him to be gone. Many of his fans should start soon to feel like they are waking up from a dream, a disagreeable dream, and they'll start wishing him gone too. Like dogs feel after you come home and see the destroyed couch cushions. The look on the dog's face tells the story. It was fun while it lasted, but now I wish that I hadn't done it.
Then will come the judgment of history. It will be as short as a telegram:
“Trump was an asshole.”
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
Many languages around the world name certain birds for their calls. This is true in English, and it is also true in Thai. The different languages hear the same bird-call and render it in their languages in a manner that may be quite dissimilar.
The bird of instant impression has a range that includes parts of India, the southern edge of China, all of South East Asia, extending to the northern reaches of Australia. In English we have named the bird a koel, after its call, and in Thai, it is named a gow-wow, also after its call. It is a two note call, and to my enthusiastic but amateurish musical ear it sounds like a first and a fifth, like, “one-five...one-five.” I don't have a piano handy, or I'd describe it more definitively. I think “gow-wow” comes closer to mimicking the urgency of it than “koel” does. It is an insistent call, usually repeated between two and five times in quick succession, and modulating up about one step each time. It is, I believe, a mating call. Hence the urgency.
The Koels in Australia are called either Eastern Koels, or Pacific Koels. All of the ones north of Australia are known, in English, as Asian Koels. In Thai, they are called, “Nok Gow-Wow.” (“Bird, gow-wow.") They are a good sized bird, somewhere between a Blue Jay and a Crow. The males are black, with bright red irises. The females are kind of a mint-brown, and heavily speckled. They have very long tail feathers, noticeably long in flight. They have sturdy beaks, with a raptor like hook at the end.
To me, they will always be the sound of Thailand.
The call of the Gow-Wow is very loud, and it really carries over distance. I came to Thailand with the Peace Corps, at the tender age of fifty-five. All Peace Corps travel must be on American owned carriers, so we flew United to Tokyo, waited around for about eight hours, and then took a Northwest Orient flight to Bangkok. It was the first week in January. We got in after midnight, went through some kind of official process, piled onto buses and drove to our training site, arriving at our hotel after four a.m. We were told to report downstairs to begin our training at 8:00 o'clock.
Not having slept for about thirty-five hours, I slept like a dead man until my travel alarm went off. (No smart-phones in those days, only sixteen years ago.) I heard the strange sound as soon as I was awake. I walked out onto the balcony, and without the windows closed and the air-con on it sounded very loud for a bird. It was clearly a bird, though. A bird that was completely unfamiliar to me.
The hotel was one of the many called “the Riverside Hotel.” There is always a river nearby in Thailand, and half of the hotels and restaurants that are located on a river bank are named, “Riverside.” Those river banks are the favorite habitats for the Gow-Wows. I asked one of the Peace Corps staff about it within a few days. There is a considerable permanent staff of Thais working for Peace Corps. I speculated that it must be a pretty large bird, but she said, no, it's quite small. It was years before I saw one. All I knew was the call, and it took me years even to figure out that it was in my “Birds of Thailand” as a Common Koel, a name that is no longer used.
My arrival was timed just right to meet the Gow-Wow. They are only here from late October to February or so. I guess they come down temporarily from China when it gets cold up there. November to February is the “Cold Season,” aka, “the Winter,” in Thailand, but that's really some kind of in-joke. Thailand is hot all year. (There are three seasons in Thailand: hot, very hot, and hot with rain.)
Now that I love Thailand, and am completely acclimatized to the tropical lifestyle, I look forward to October and waking up to the sound of the Gow-Wows. For one thing, it means that the rain will stop and temperatures will be moderating presently. They are shy birds, and generally stay out of sight, but evidently they wake up at dawn's first dim light feeling frisky. Like I say, they make a powerful noise for a bird about the size of a pigeon. It is, for me, a wonderful and welcoming sound, the sound of being in Thailand.
I can duplicate the call of the Gow-Wow exactly, and I can tell you that it has a powerful effect on bird populations that are unfamiliar with it. I visited my “home” in Los Angeles ten years in a row, and my neighborhood there is full of big trees and a large, various bird population. There's even a flock of those Argentinian Green Parrots. Birds make a territorial display right before twilight. One or two of the stronger young males will fly out of their tree directly to a spot that is both high and highly visible. Like a television antenna, or an electrical wire. The neighborhood has some bad-ass birds in it. Lots of California Jays, lots of crows, lots of those huge, black California Ravens. They're all out there, big and small, doing their display. As darkness approaches, after they all have each other's attention, they fly in a straight line to their tree. They are announcing that this is where WE live, this is OUR tree. I love to watch this whole show from my back yard. Just for fun, I would sometimes give a loud Gow-Wow call, or several in a row. It created a furor among the assembled birds! Even the Crows and Ravens looks back and forth nervously. As I mentioned, it is a loud, powerful call.
The Sound of Thailand.
Monday, November 2, 2020
Tomorrow is election day! Every election day since 1960 has elicited in me a strong mixture of interest, excitement, and a frisson of danger. No one wants to see a president Nixon, a president Reagan, a president W. Bush. (Yes, I was strangely okay with Presidents Gerald Ford and H.W. Bush.) Only one election, however, rose in my estimation to the level of existential threat, and that was the last one. I had little enthusiasm for Hillary, but I was desperately afraid of Trump. For reasons that have been obvious since at least the late 1980s, I believed that Trump could be an extremely dangerous choice. Accent on the frisson.
After four years, we can take that statement out of the subjunctive and into the declarative. This election carries an even greater danger. Trump was, and remains, a profound threat to everything that makes America America. We're in a steep slide towards the mediocre, the undemocratic, the dictatorial, and four more years will put us on a par with Belarus.
There has been only one positive result of Trump's service: everyone in America can now clearly see the true nature and desires of the so-called Republican party. Those reactionary, anti-American, anti-worker, anti-woman, racist, Republican bastards have taken off their masks. That sea of doughy old white faces laughs unashamedly now as they pass tax cuts for their wealthy masters and tear up Federal regulations wholesale. Fiscal conservatives my ass. Small government and states' rights my ass. Family values my bony old white ass. They are the party of theft and corruption. The party of debt-slavery and corporate ascendancy. The party of limitless surveillance, endless incarceration, and totalitarian oligarchy.
The Democrats are better, by a narrow but clear margin. That much is clear in the statistics over the last five decades. During Democratic administrations, budget deficits have gone down, the national debt has increased at a slower pace, job creation has been much stronger, and working people's home budgets have been more secure. The truth is that both parties have failed us. The Democrats could have done a lot better. The Republicans could not have done any worse.
No one could imagine “worse” than the last four years.
“Republican” either has, or will soon become, a terrible curse in America. “Be careful, my child,” parents will say to their children, “the Republicans are hovering nearby to ambush foolish children.”
Who will be the face of the future Republican party? They are not exactly well stocked with sympathetic candidates to put forward in future elections. What are the names that have been coming up most often?
Donald J. Trump, Jr., and Ivana Marie Trump. (I refuse to call these rich-kid legacies by their nicknames. “Ivanka” carries the same weight with me as did “Mitt” and “JEB.”)
I kid you not. Signs have begun to show up at Trump rallies, saying, “Don Jr. in 2024.” It is fascinating to me that talk of Junior running for high office is appearing simultaneously with photos of Junior under the obvious influence of powerful drugs. Have you ever seen a photo of Junior with his children? There are quite a few of them, and they are his children, but the photos that I've seen look more like kidnappings. The children look like hostages.
Ivana Marie knows enough to keep her children well out of sight. She herself is interesting only as a creature of the medical arts. It's always hard to predict how those implants will age. In recent photos, the implant in Ivana Marie's chin looks like it's trying to burst the skin.
If anyone has mentioned Eric, I have not seen it. I don't see why not, though. He wouldn't be any worse than the other two. No one seems to be considering Tiffany either. I shudder to think what form Barron's future involvement in human society might take. Under his mother's guiding hand, he might aim much higher than the presidency of the United States, or whatever it will be called by then.
Yes, tomorrow is election day. Whatever happens, it will probably be a new experience for all of us. May God have mercy on our souls.