PURE VITRIOL


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I’m retired and for that reason have few demands on my time. I’m free to waste countless hours trolling through Facebook posts and sifting through thousands of pictures served up by Google image searches to find some to post on Facebook and caption, often to the delight of friends and strangers. But lately I’ve gotten a markedly different reaction to some of the YouTube posts I’ve shared.

I don’t remember how I got started watching these “it’s all a conspiracy” videos, but I’ve seen many in the last few weeks. Most of them are produced by people as lonely and disconnected as me, recording an echoey voice-over in their best fake Rod Serling voice, but others are quite well done, and heavily researched. This is especially true about those that deal with the Kennedy Assassination and 9/11. I’ve found some great ones that demand my full attention and reward me with a completely new explanation for these events, as well as an appreciation for the danger inherent in believing the official explanations offered by my own government.

When I post these on Facebook, I don’t usually even comment on them. It’s just one more item I’ve tossed into the stream that seems to go by more quickly as the number of “friends” I have increases. But the reaction I’m getting from some of these “friends” startles me. Pure vitriol. Rabid scorn. Threats to un-friend me.

Why such a departure from the customary lethargic likes? What button have I pushed? My critics attack everything about these videos, often focusing on production quality, as if that mattered in comparison to the depth of the subject matter. If the World Trade Center buildings were wired for demolition by agents of our own government, it seems that is a heck of a lot more important than the quality of the microphone used to interview firemen after the event.

I imagine within the next thirty years the truth will come to light about these events, and a consensus belief will emerge. It’s been forty years since the fall of Saigon and the end of our debacle in Viet Nam, and almost everybody by now agrees that war was a tragic mistake, as was the eight-year carpet bombing of nearby Laos, a country with no army to defend itself. The amount of unexploded ordinance still on the ground in Laos is shocking, and we are finally starting to feel shocked after our forty-year bout of amnesia and indifference.

So when we finally do realize that the Warren Commission report on Kennedy’s assassination was written by the man most probably responsible for the event, and that the myriad of facts surrounding the destruction of the twin towers had little or nothing to do with Arab terrorists, we’ll probably do something about it, though it will be too late to punish any but the longest-lived perpetrators. By that time the Bush family will be happily ensconced in their Paraguay ranch and the Cheneys and Rumsfelds will be but a bitter memory. Everyone will have forgiven Colin Powell, saying he was a good guy who had been given bad information.

I think the intense reaction to these posts of mine comes from the fact that nobody wants to think about it anymore, because it might require action, uncovering old wounds, changing the way we elect our governments, and that sounds like a lot of work. Far easier to make fun of the whistle-blowers, with their silly YouTube documentaries and calls to action. Lump them all together with the World Will End on September 23rd When A Giant Comet Strikes and Obama is a Shape Shifter videos.

By the way, it’s obvious that few of these YouTube posts have any original content, but are simply the conspiracy equivalent of rock videos, with snippets of horror movies mashed together interspersed with a few words here and there. They most often resemble History or Sci-Fi channel programs, except there is no premise, no discourse, no train of thought to follow. There is no script. They’re simply designed to get the least sophisticated of us to watch for a few minutes, in order to earn their “creators” ad revenue from Google.

I guess I’m a sucker for any old bald weirdo in a Montana trailer playing Dan Rather and giving us the straight dope on some problem he thinks we need to know about. Most of the time the camera is way too close (because it’s also the microphone) and I’ve seen one where the camera was sitting on guy’s chest and it rose and fell with his breathing.

Laos bombed by the U.S.


http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/08/laos/allman-text?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=Social&utm_content=link_fb20150718ngm-laos&utm_campaign=Content&sf11097960=1

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• There were more than 580,000 bombing missions on Laos from 1964 to 1973 during the Vietnam War.
• That’s equivalent to one bombing mission every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years.
• Over two million tons of ordnance was dropped on the country, with up to 30 per cent failing to explode as designed.
• More than 270 million cluster munitions (or ‘bombies’, as they are known locally) were used; up to 80 million failed to detonate, remaining live and in the ground after the end of the war.
• Approximately 25 per cent of the country’s villages are contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO).
• All 17 provinces suffer from UXO contamination.
• More than 50,000 people were killed or injured as a result of UXO accidents from 1964 to 2008.
• From the end of the war in 1974 to 2008, more than 20,000 people were killed or injured as a result of UXO accidents.
• There have been approximately 300 new casualties annually over the last decade.
• Over the last decade 40 per cent of total casualties were children.

When our carpet bombing of Laos was happening it was a secret war, and no one was authorized to talk about it. Later, after our defeat in Viet Nam, nobody wanted to think or hear about it.

I recently spent eight days in Northern Laos and was struck by the sweet nature and good cheer of the people I met. I’d like to go back and visit the most heavily bombed areas in the south of the country.

check out this animated map. It’s quite moving. The Vietnamese had an army and an air force of sorts that could fight back, but Laos was largely undefended. There are already NGO’s involved in the removal of UXO (un-exploded ordinance,) but the problem is so great that any attention brought to it would not be a bad thing.

A meandering scooter ride in north Thailand


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Took another three day trip, a ramble on the motor scooter, heading God Knows Where, but knowing that it’s all going to be good, because this is Northern Thailand. On our trust steed, the one year-old Honda PCX150, we headed due north.

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Got as far as Fang, which is up near where the mountain range that forms the Burma border comes in from both the west and the north. Went to a shining gold temple up in the hills and tried to relax by meditating. Couldn’t calm down very well after five hours of driving, but found myself amazed by this ultra-modern temple, one that looked more like a spaceship in a fifties Sci-Fi movie than a standard Thai, Buddhist temple. I kept expecting Michael Rennie from the 1951 movie The Day The World Stood Still appear. There were these big crystal balls about 500 centimeters in diameter surrounding this very large glass bell. In a Christian church you would call it the altar, but I don’t know what you would call it here.

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We went into the hills as sun was setting, and noticed that the people who live there are shorter and darker than the Thai people who live in Fang. Maybe they have come from Burma.

The next day we went to a National Park for the Fang Hot Springs, and there was a sign saying the baths would be closed from July 10 to 25, but using Thai numbers for the dates, which was odd, and is often a sneaky way to keep things from foreigners. They also disregarded my Thai drivers license as proof of residence and tried to charge me eight times what they charged my Thai friend Wipa for admission. She talked them down to only four times. Then we drove around and found the place was closed. There was no hot water at this hot springs!

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The big treasure of the trip was the road that ran from Chai Prakhan straight south to Phrao. Amazing scenery, wonderful two-lane blacktop road running along the ridges of mountain valleys. When you get to Phrao, it meets the highway that goes west to Chiang Dao, and the scenery remains spectacular all the way into that town.

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Huay Tung Tao Resevoir and Park on a summer day


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Today was another beautiful summer day, much cooler than before now that the rainy season seems to be upon us.  We went to the reservoir, which was shockingly low, and my attempt to swim outside the roped in swimming area was immediately rebuffed by two men in a boat.  They didn’t used to have this, but apparently there was a drowning a month ago, and now they’ve forbidden swimming in general.  Well, no big loss.  It was just nice to have the option.  I still have the olympic sized pool at 700 year stadium, just down the road.

But the trees and foliage were scintillating this afternoon.  The light had a strange polarized quality, like it sometimes does before an eclipse. Everything seemed unnaturally beautiful, the way scenes projected in my mind’s eye do when I awake from a dream.

Restless and Discontented


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NO MATTER HOW GOOD THINGS GET, THERE’S STILL ROOM FOR DISSATISFACTION

Meet a hypothetical man on a plane flying to the wrong place with the wrong woman for the wrong reasons.

He’s going to Milan, the Serbian woman traveling with him is very beautiful, and all his expenses are being paid because he’s traveling on business.  Trouble is, he would rather be in Paris, travelling with a Lebanese beauty he just met, and he hates the work is being paid to do.  He would rather be on vacation.

Even though the airline has bumped him up to Business Class, he resents the fact that those in First Class have it better than him.  And least for the next few hours, he will stew in chronic dissatisfaction, keenly aware of the second-rate nature of his experience. As much as he tries to determine who is to blame, he cannot accurately attribute it to any one person or agency. His attempts to enjoy the movies available to him come to naught. He flips through all the selections, watching only minutes of each.  He cannot relax enough to focus on any one movie.  Even though he knows it’s probably not the case, he has a sneaking suspicion that the passengers in first class have access to better movies than these in front of him.  He is sure they can see movies that have not yet been released.

For some unknown reason, the less he does for his employer, the more he is valued.  The more cynical he becomes about the company and his role on it, the greater his bonuses.  He may well be on his way to an early vice-presidency. But not a day goes by when he doesn’t consider handing in his resignation.

The woman he is with spends most of her time resisting the offers of men who want her in a variety of ways for a myriad of services. In her presence he finds it all but impossible to not imagine himself with someone else.  Anyone else.  Again, the more aloof he becomes, the more she tries to please him.  He has that effect on people, and it doesn’t bring him or anyone else an ounce of happiness.

NAN, ALMOST LAOS BUT STILL IN THAILAND


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this last picture is a depiction of Buddhist hell from a temple in Nan.  The usual non-stop torture for all eternity thing.

NAN, BIG AND BEAUTIFUL

The almost un-inhabited province of Nan lies five hours east of Chiang Mai.  It’s very mountainous, as is neighboring Laos, and it’s no picnic getting  there, and the roads all run the wrong direction, blocked by the mountains that lead up to Chiang Rai.  It took us five and a half hours by bus to get there, but nine hours of travel to get home, for all the buses were full.  A minivan took us to Denchai train station, and then the next morning we were able to take a train to Chiang Mai.

But Nan province is worth the trip.  Thai roads are so much better than Lao roads there is no comparison.  The people look very much like Lao people, tall, lighter-skinned and at least to this Caucasian, more Chinese-looking. The trip we took involved renting a motor-scooter in Nan city and then riding up to Pua, spending the night as the only guests at a large resort, and then moving on the next morning to Bo Klua, passing through glorious mountains and chilly fog. I’ve got to remember to be more careful when I rent motor scooters from guest houses. Ours had no rear brake and shook violently when going faster than 35 miles per hour.

The last two hours of the trip back to Nan were gradually more and more disappointing, as clear-cutting of the forest in order to grow corn makes the mountains look like Thai boys with the summer haircut that is now popular, bushy on top and shaved on the sides.

No Birds Can Be Heard


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Laos is the Paraguay of Southeast Asia.  It’s terribly poor with awful roads and the public transportation system tests the mettle of anyone brave or foolish enough to use it. The bus we rode on from Vientiene to Luang Prabang was proudly marked VIP in letters three feet tall, but the air-conditioning was no match for the temperature outside and it had no bathroom. Most of our time we could not ride busses but rather found ourselves crammed into twelve-passenger minivans, and these had no air conditioning at all.

Mostly mountainous, Laos is thickly forested at least for the time being, which made the lack of birds all the more puzzling.  In my week in Northern Laos, I never heard a bird call or sing.  There simply weren’t any for they had all been eaten long ago.  In order to add poultry to their diet they now raise plenty of chickens and ducks. I saw a man happily herding about twenty ducklings down the highway, laughing while traffic stacked up behind him. Like most of the countries I visit, roosters began crowing before dawn, but there were no bird songs, calls or tweets. I suppose they keep ducks because of the rice paddies.

The people I met in the countryside seemed happy and relaxed.  Lots of young mothers with babies.  Intact, large families, eating meals together with both men and women taking turns holding the baby. Like Northern Thailand, Laos is home to any number of ethnic groups, what we call “hilltribes” in Thailand, living in impoverished villages in houses that looked like chicken coops, but they seemed pretty happy, too.  Children would wave and laugh as we drove by on our rented motor scooter.

In such a tranquil setting, it seems hard to imagine that Laos is the most heavily bombed place on earth. We dropped more explosives on Laos than were dropped by the Allies in all of the Second World War. For eight years we spent about eight billion dollars in dropping explosives onto what we called the “Ho Chi Minh trail.”  We were not at war with Laos (for that matter, we weren’t officially at war with Viet Nam either) but nevertheless we bombed them daily.  Even when truces caused us to pause our bombing of Viet Nam, we continued bombing Laos.  As we drove through one area, I noticed that each farm house had a fish pond nearby.  The little ponds were scattered about randomly.  I imagined hard-working farmers digging these ponds until I realized they were bomb craters!

There is still a lot of unexploded ordinance around, especially cluster bombs, which resulted in shiny little balls that Laotian children have been warned not to play with.  There are even a few five-hundred pound bombs lying in the mud, waiting to detonate when a farmer plows his field or walks through the woods. The mechanics of explosives resist corrosion. Heck, there is unexploded ordinance from the First World War still giving French farmers trouble in fields near Verdun.

When our campaign of fiery persuasion finally ended, Laos became a communist state about the same time Vietnam did, in 1975.  Vietnam has since prospered, but I’m afraid Laos has not been as lucky.  Vietnam has the ocean, but Laos is land-locked and extremely mountainous. The Chinese are encouraging the Laotians to cut down their forests so they can practice monoculture, and to damn their rivers so they can build hydro-electric dams and sell the energy to China, but I’m hoping these measures will meet some resistance.

Out of my eight days in the country, I think we spent 22 hours in travel. I seem to have a knack of picking the worst itinerary possible when planning my trips.  I look at a map and think, “well, it only looks like sixty miles.  Can’t take more than a couple of hours.” Then I find that it takes half a day to go that distance, and inside a hot, crowded mini-van, that half-day is spent lurching from side to side down roads so irregular they defy description.

One such morning our companions were two girls, aged about 14 and 11, who were headed back to their home town because their mother had just died.  She was 35. Even though Laotian is closely related to Thai, I was never able to understand the cause of her death. After a preliminary and obligatory display of sadness, the sisters entertained all of us by shrieking with laughter each time the van bottomed out on an especially deep pothole.

It’s a wonderful thing when people can hold onto joy despite their problems. And it was a joyous moment the afternoon we crossed the border back to Thailand where busses were air-conditioned, the roads paved, and my ATM card started working again.  The next morning at our hotel in Chiang Rai, I heard birds in the tree outside our window welcome the dawn.

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/08/laos/allman-text?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=Social&utm_content=link_fb20150718ngm-laos&utm_campaign=Content&sf11097960=1