Tube Junkie


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For as long as I can remember I have been a sucker for electronic gadgets. I was about nine when the transistor was invented. Before then, everything used tubes. The local dime store had a tube testing machine, and I found that I could collect old radio and televisions from the neighbors that no longer worked and find out which tubes were burnt out. Even though I couldn’t buy the replacement tubes, I could tell someone else how to fix the set.

We also had an X ray machine at the local shoe store that allowed you to see the bones in your feet. The salesmen would chase me away when they found me playing with it.

In the sixties, everything electronic began to change rapidly. Printed circuit boards containing semi-conductors don’t have the same panache that wires and tubes had. I began to lose interest. The more I learned…

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Inspiration or Compulsion?


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Do nothing. Be sure to rest afterwards.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is nothing at all. It’s often more difficult to sit still than to run around in a flurry of activity. If you do manage to stop all activity, a loud voice will enter your head and chastise you for being lazy, a loser, a washout. If you can resist that voice, then you might surprise yourself with inner peace and an occasional unanticipated inspiration.

I’ve considered myself a writer for almost fifty years now, and in the times I’ve lived with women, especially when there were small children around, I’ve never been able to convince a woman that sitting in front of a keyboard and staring off into space is “writing.” To them, writing was pecking away at the keys.

A typewriter made a lot more noise than a computer keyboard, and so the act of writing…

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The Bully in the Schoolyard


Endure and thrive

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When you have a group of five thirteen-year old boys, they have a collective mental age of about eight. The larger the group, the lower the mental age. They have the same ability to discern right from wrong, appropriate from inappropriate as someone five years younger than their physical age.

I was just watching a group of such boys playing at the swimming pool and they kept getting into my lane, but I realized that none of them could be reasoned with, because they didn’t know why they were doing what they were doing. They were simply following the group. When a group of boys lights a homeless person on fire, and you ask them individually why they did it, they will say “because Joe said it was a good idea.” And if you then ask “why didn’t you object?” they’ll say, “I don’t know. Seemed like a good idea…

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Nowhere to Go and Nothing to Do


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We didn’t hear or see any explosions. Our first clue was when the Internet went down. A few minutes later we noticed no cell phone service. There was no reason to panic, it might have been a storm. When we checked the TV, some stations were still on the air. They were playing movies and game shows. But no news.

They say that people ninety miles from the big cities could hear the booms. People in Rockford, Illinois could hear the bombs explode in Chicago. They were deep. prolonged booms, but not terribly loud at that distance. Those who had been looking in that direction saw flashes, but not everybody was looking that way. Most people were indoors.

It turns out that it wasn’t a big attack, like the one we had all learned to expect from Russia. Only four cities were targeted. LA, New York, Chicago and Washington. Only a few bombs per city. No one knew who was behind it, or whether President Trump was still alive. Many people hoped he wasn’t.

It took a week before regular radio and television broadcasting resumed. Light entertainment predominated. News was a somber affair. White men wearing jacket and tie intoned facts and figures like funeral directors. There was still no report on the status of the President, nor most members of government. By now, cellphone service had resumed in many places, but not all. The Internet was still down.

At night, bands of orange light flickered overhead like the northern lights. There was a smell like burning wires. It became very hot for about a week, then smoke filled the sky and the temperature plummeted. Even though it was mid-summer, we had to wear jackets during the day. The plants that had survived the hot spell, soon withered and died in the cold gloom. Farmers threw in the towel.

We who lived in rural America paid the price for having let our towns decline. Now there was no getting away to the city. Gas prices went up by a factor of twenty, and there were road blocks on most major highways, so there was no where to go and nothing to do in town.

Those towns big enough to have a Wal Mart didn’t suffer much for the first month, but after that the shelves had been picked clean. Since everything Wal-Mart sells was made in China anyway, and because the prices of those items had doubled during the trade war, people were already used to getting by with less. Now they were going to have to get even more resourceful.

The hunger came on more quickly than anyone realized. After only six weeks there were food shortages. After eight weeks, people were starting to die. At first it was the young, old, and infirm who succumbed, but after three months, mornings found bodies stacked during the night on almost every street corner.

Nobody was ever certain who had attacked us, and why. The theory most people accepted was that it had started with a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, and then somehow had spread to Israel, Iran, North Korea, and finally to us. Since no missiles had been fired at us, it was thought that the bombs had already been in place, on the ground, waiting to be detonated at a later date. But as to who put them there or pressed the trigger, no one knew for certain.

After a year, things started to get better. It turns out that almost no on in Washington survived. Leaders from others states were brought in. There was a lot of talk of retaliation, but nothing was ever done because we didn’t know who to invade or bomb. You can’t just bomb everyone. We’ve tried that in the past, and it doesn’t work. Or maybe it gets you where we are today.

Secret Scenic Motorcycle Route


It’s not as well known as the Mae Hong Son loop, or the Samoeng Loop, but it’s a real beauty. In fact, almost nobody knows about it.  A winding Highway 1346 that runs straight south from almost Fang to Phrao. Oh my. I’d done it once before a few years ago, and sort of remembered some of it. Today I took the big bike, and managed to drop it twice while stopping to take photos. Was unable to right it by myself, and had to have the help of people who stopped just to do that.

The turning radius is a lot longer than I’m used to on the scooter, the bike is much taller and heavier, and the boxes on the side make it hard to stand it up. It’s sort of like trying to get a horse to stand up that can’t bend it’s legs.  With the saddle boxes on the side, the wheels are sticking straight out and you can’t get under the bike and close to the wheels to right it. At least I couldn’t. I’m not as nimble or as strong as I used to be

There were two police traffic stops on the one-hour right, to catch methamphetamine being transported from the Burma border. The Burmese army makes it, then gets impoverished hill-tribe people to risk their lives driving it down to Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Every week in the papers there are stories of shootouts with police and army, and trucks stopping with little men running off into the forest. Then they confiscate two million more methamphetamine tablets. Maybe it’s like in America, where the mice eat the marijuana in police custody. Maybe those tablets just magically find their way back into circulation.

The other unknown beauty road within a few hours of Chiang Mai is the road from Chiang Dao to Wiang Pa Pao. It meets the above mentioned road in Phrao.

 

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Lock-Down


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You’ll have to stay put until something can be established. As long as no one is certain what’s going on, or can reasonably describe what happened, we’re going into lock-down mode. All exits will be sealed until further notice.

People don’t just turn into liquid and flow down the street. Babies don’t spontaneously combust. Sure, unusual things can happen, but then the burden of proof is greater. No one is going to believe you were taken up to Heaven, met Jesus, and then came back down to Earth to tell us all about it. At least they won’t believe it unless you can start showing some miraculous proof.

Miraculous proof is all that we require. Oh, and promotion. Nothing matters without proper promotion. In a better world the important and true would rise to the top, but not here. On this miserable rock bathed in a veil of tears, if it hasn’t gone viral, it simply hasn’t gone anywhere.

What you witnessed may or may not have happened. You might be deluded. Many deluded people aren’t aware of their condition. Look at our President. Just because you fervently believe in something doesn’t mean it exists. Artistic types make stuff up all the time. Some are quite convincing, but everything they invent is conjured up out of thin air.

These are not necessarily bad people who invent things that don’t actually exist. They might be benevolent, caring, imaginative, and supportive of creativity in others. They might also be pathological liars. We who are inclined of give the benefit of doubt are potential victims of this latter group.

And so for the time being we must seal or borders. We must suspect that everyone has a malevolent purpose. Their intentions are to do us harm. “What would Jesus do?” you ask. He would do what we are doing. He would hunker down.

“But” you protest “the Jesus I met in Heaven after I had been swept up to kneel at his feet would embrace even the most snarky of us.” Maybe. But we are not Jesus.

We are simply your neighbors who are trying to make the best of a bad situation. We did not cause this calamity, but we are trying to minimize the negative outcomes. Maybe there won’t be any. Indeed, we could be making a mountain out of a molehill. But someone did testify that he saw another person liquefy and that other person has not been seen since. There is a noticeable smell in the air, like burnt toast, except it smells a bit like burnt rubber and burnt toast. There is also a dog that won’t stop barking, but no one has been able to find the dog. So we are confused and anxious. We will batten down the hatches until the storm has passed.

DOWN THE DRAIN


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What happens, happens. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we’re in control, but we’re not. Not even close. Things will work out the way they’re going to. We could assume, the way they’re supposed to, but that implies there’s somebody else in charge who knows what’s best.

Recent evidence suggests that’s probably not the case.

The catastrophic and sudden collapse of our government took everyone by surprise, even those who hastened its demise. Trump never expected to win, and when he did, it shocked everyone, even Trump. Well, that shock was nothing compared to the sudden realization that we had lost every bit of democracy and benevolent rule we once enjoyed. Thugs were now fully in charge, and they seemed to enjoy their thuggery.

It was like watching Clockwork Orange, only it was real, and instead of England, it was America. Now there were no longer simple hints of anti-intellectualism, but a full-blown assault on intelligence and reasoning. Truth was an outdated concept. There was only belief and submission to the state. What Mussolini had hinted at, Trump had accomplished.

People had to pretend to be stupid in order to escape being targeted. Suddenly we became a nation of good old boys, Stepford Wives, grinning hayseeds. Rumors of lynchings spread, but none were reported by Fox News. The official face of America, at least the one you could see on TV, looked like the Mormons were in charge. You simply couldn’t be too white.

Homosexuals, intellectuals, people of color, and immigrants all kept their heads down. Better to blend in than to attract attention. Maybe this was just a phase we were going through. Maybe this would soon blow over. Somebody pointed out that’s how the rich Jews felt when they didn’t abandon their homes in Poland, Belgium and France. When they didn’t get out while the going was good.

The startling fact was that no one was making this happen. This wasn’t a conspiracy, a plot by the Deep State, this was simply mob rule. The Madness of Crowds. When 330,000,000 people decide to swerve, it’s a change with momentum behind it. Maybe unstoppable momentum.

The fact that the friendly neighborhood policeman had been replaced by a hormone-hopped hulk dressed in camouflage and body armor hadn’t really caused alarm until now. Now there were unmarked buses with blacked out windows moving about, taking somebody somewhere. Rumors spread that the FEMA camps were filling.

Popular entertainment and broadcast journalism simply ignored the phenomena. Movies starring superheros continued to be made and distributed. Sometimes that’s all you could find at your local cinema. Nobody complained, at least not out loud. Studios and cinema owners were happy because audiences kept coming. Not just teenagers, even adults thronged to view empty spectacle.

The last symphony orchestras and dance companies folded quickly and quietly. Universities shut down programs that didn’t attract grant funding. Since most jobs had already been sent abroad, there wasn’t much for most young people to do. Almost half of the people under thirty were in drug treatment or prison.

And this was just the beginning.

It got worse.

It wasn’t just America that was in crisis. Europe was roiling with social unrest. Huge numbers of immigrants were no longer even the least bit welcome in their host countries, and yet they had nowhere to go. You can’t very well send someone back to Kenya or Nigeria who spent his life savings traveling across Niger and Libya to board a rubber raft to take his chances crossing the Mediterranean to get to Sicily and then up to France where he hoped to hop across the English channel and take his seat on a cardboard box next to the homeless in London. You can’t simply send them home. There are too many of them, and besides, they’d just return.

All of a sudden, any progress mankind seemed to have made or have been making disappeared. We were heading down, straight down, swirling down some sort of cosmic drain, and the process seemed to be accelerating. Some people offered solutions, but nothing stuck. Some people claimed to know who was at fault, but a strange lethargy took over, and no meaningful actions were taken.

Then the plague started. It moved with lightening speed, killing half the population of China in a week. India and Africa were next. No one was certain how many had died, because the scope and scale were unheard of. The first peaceful use of nuclear weapons was to incinerate huge mounds of bodies. Burial was unthinkable. Disposal at sea unacceptable.

With so many dead, the support structures of these countries collapsed as well, leading to waves of subsequent deaths to to famine and cholera. All borders were closed. Air travel ceased.

For some reason, only the United States and Western Europe seemed to have been spared, but then their turn came. Fatality rates of eighty percent. Much higher than Ebola.

By now the rich and powerful had long ago disappeared into hidden bunkers. Since they were hiding they weren’t communicating with anyone, so no one was sure they had survived.

Someone who still managed to reach an audience compared the collapse of civilization to a motor that had been allowed to fall into disrepair. At first it wobbled, groaned, screeched, and finally ground to a halt. No amount of kicking or prodding got it running again.

The collapse of the power grid, food distribution, water treatment, and transportation continued. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.

Capitalism still functioned to provide for people who could pay for goods and services, even though the prices were sky high and selection severely limited.

By now, the only restaurants were owned a a conglomerate of Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Bayer, Pepsico, and Nestle. Their favorite locations were the food courts of shopping malls, where they could have ten or fifteen various outlets with different names and themes, but all basically serving the same food under different labels.

Most of it was pizza or bread of some kind holding a meat of dubious origin. The drinks were artificially sweetened and mildly radioactive. Each featured several large-screen televisions which also served as surveillance cameras.

Finally, Donald Trump surfaced. He or someone resembling him appeared on the only television channel still working, Fox and Friends. He blamed Obama and Hillary Clinton for what had happened, and claimed that if people had only trusted and respected him, we would by now have been enjoying the great future he had planned for us.

Then the picture went dark and food court patrons who had been watching continued to stare at the dark screen for a very long time because they had no where else to go.