WINNERS KEEP ON WINNING


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Losers rarely climb out of the hole they find themselves in. Often this is because they haven’t finished digging. The longer we stay stuck, the harder it is to see what’s holding us back. The more we keep winning, the harder it is to understand why we’re enjoying such good luck.

In most cases, there are forces at work which we undervalue. Looks, race, hair color, eye color, straight teeth, pleasant speaking voice, good personality, all matter more than high intelligence or moral character. Look at our politicians for examples.

Definite turn-offs. A hint of desperation. The glimmer of mental illness around the eyes. Bad nerves, jitters, bouncing leg under the table. Forced enthusiasm.

Going to a prestige school matters more than what you learned there. Who you know matters more than anything. You meet people at a prestige school who will go on to be very successful. You can reconnect with them after graduation and let them know you’re “available.” But by all means, don’t act desperate.

When I was a child my father was out of work for a long time, and during that period I happened to watch a televised version of the drama “Death of a Salesman.” The excellent Lee J. Cobb played Willie Loman. It was, as was intended, heartbreaking, but held special resonance for me. The scene where goes to one of his son’s friends and begs for a job almost made me swoon with nausea.

Better to not risk too much too late in life. What seems adventurous and fun-loving in a twenty-year old seems reckless and foolish for a forty-year old. For a sixty-year old, the scope of acceptable behavior narrows dramatically. By seventy, people begin to suspect dementia.

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Is The Fat Lady Singing?


Vintage Creepy Clowns (10)

 

There are days when everything is simply too much. You don’t feel well enough to tackle a new project and the outstanding tasks seem onerous. It would be nice simply to take a day-long nap, but you know that won’t pan out either, because if you sleep all day you’ll toss and turn all night.

Today is one of those days. My headache is mild enough for me to forget to take an aspirin when I pass my the medicine cabinet, and the act of retracing my steps feels prohibitive. I have no appetite. I sip water.

Could this be it? Am I dying? Dengue? Brain tumor? There are no cures for these so there’s no point in bothering to get a proper diagnosis.

I could read but then I’d have to sit upright and pay attention.

After two days of this I go to a hospital clinic. A blood test confirms I don’t have dengue. They give me a shot to relieve my muscle pain.  The whole thing costs twice as much as I thought it would. It’s still about what a deductible would have been if I’d been in the states and insured. It was worth it to know that I don’t have anything seriously wrong with me.

When I feel better, I’ll get back to playing the piano, writing, cruising around on my motorcycle and taking pictures. Those are my only jobs nowadays.

 

 

 

Stupid And Proud Of It


 

 

The first time I was exposed to the idea of “alternative news” was the Police Gazette magazine in our local barbershop. This was in the nineteen-fifties, a time when World War II was not that distant a memory. Every month the headline would concern Hitler found alive in Argentina, Brazil or Paraguay. Flying Saucers were also big on their list, and scantily-clad women in high heels attended secret parties in remote locations visited only by the super-rich.

About ten years later, when I was in college I discovered the National Enquirer, and its deranged cousin the Weekly World News. By this time, I had traveled to Mexico and realized that they had long proudly hosted a national press that catered to the functionally illiterate. You could buy comic books for adults, and books of photographed dramatic scenes that were the printed equivalent of soap operas. All these publications reflected a reality that America had largely bypassed and now downplayed, the division of our populace into varying classes based on education and literacy.

During the 1960’s,  children we would watch Three Stooges films played on television, and there was one episode where Moe played Hitler, and they showed a map of the world. They held on this map for minutes, giving the audience time to read all the funny place names. It took me seconds to read them, but back in the 1940’s, the average Three Stooges viewer needed more time. A lot more time.

Today we have Trump Supporters, the Deplorables, a group of proud anti-intellectuals who ape the Fascist leanings of their Orange leader, the modern-day Mussolini. They sneer at higher education and liberal values,  making 1970’s TV’s Archie Bunker look like Noam Chomsky. They laugh at “snowflakes” and those who expect our nation to be kind to the weak and dispense justice to the poor. The only interest one can be proud to claim is enlightened self-interest. Dick Cheney had it and look at him, now he’s a billionaire!

This will not end well. The deliberate embrace of the stupid, the transparently false, the celebration of belief over fact, the whole-hearted crassness that allows us to treat our allies and enemies alike as inconsequential suckers will turn on us. We will pay for our arrogance and stupidity. Or I suppose I should say, “we will pay for their arrogance and stupidity.” Because we already are.

 

 

here’s is a five-minute recording of the author reading this essay

Who Do I Have to Blow to Get a Cup of Coffee Around Here?


Our plan for today was simple. We would find an air-conditioned train down the coast, ride for a few hours and then rest at an interesting small city. But all the trains were full because it’s the day after the coronation of the new king. So we bought the only ticket we could, on a third-class train that was full to the breaking point. People were standing in the aisles. It was very hot and humid. We rode for two hours and then when we stopped at a fair-sized town, we bailed. Our tickets had only cost a dollar for the two of us.

I really needed a cup of coffee. They hadn’t had a coffee shop at the new Bangkok train station, which is under construction and due to be completed in a couple of years if they’re lucky. Well, there was one but it was closed. Thai coffee shops are often closed early in the morning. They think of coffee as something you drink later in the day, when you take a break from shopping. This city we got off in, Nakornpatom has only one coffee shop, butt it too was closed. There are ample opportunities to drink instant coffee, but I would rather drink sewage than that swill.

I don’t know if it’s the heat or the caffeine withdrawal but I’m not feeling well. We got a cheap hotel room next to the train station and I slept for two hours. I went outside to find a cup of coffee and walked for half an hour in incredible heat. Finally, I found a coffee cart with a real espresso machine.

In everywhere but here, there are too many coffee shops. Ten years ago, when I first arrived in Thailand, there were almost none. The coffee changed my mood. I began to look on the bright side. There is an amazing temple right downtown, that looks like something out of the set for the movie The Wizard of Oz, and a lot of 1960’s futuristic architecture that promises to make for interesting photography once the sun gets much lower in the sky.

WHEN THE SHIT HITS THE FAN, WHAT WILL IT SMELL LIKE?


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The ever-rising use of anti-fungicides on crops is driving the evolution of fungi capable of resisting all known drugs. Candida auris, a variant that is spreading rapidly in various parts of the world, is estimated to kill ten million people by the year 2050.

Here, the New York Times describes an outbreak in April, 2019:

hospital workers used a special device to spray aerosolized hydrogen peroxide around a room used for a patient with C. auris, the theory being that the vapor would scour each nook and cranny. They left the device going for a week. Then they put a “settle plate” in the middle of the room with a gel at the bottom that would serve as a place for any surviving microbes to grow, Dr. Rhodes said. Only one organism grew back. C. auris.

It was spreading, but word of it was not. The hospital, a specialty lung and heart center that draws wealthy patients from the Middle East and around Europe, alerted the British government and told infected patients, but made no public announcement.

There was no need to put out a news release during the outbreak,” said Oliver Wilkinson, a spokesman for the hospital.

This hushed panic is playing out in hospitals around the world. Individual institutions and national, state and local governments have been reluctant to publicize outbreaks of resistant infections, arguing there is no point in scaring patients — or prospective ones.”

So it’s spreading rapidly in many parts of the globe, and nobody wants to talk about it.

We’re all aware that Armageddon may be just around the corner, but we don’t know where to look, and even if we were looking the in the right direction, we may not see it. If there is a nuclear exchange between warring countries, or even a “dirty bomb” attack, spreading radioactivity from a conventional explosive encased by anything from radioactive waste to pure plutonium, most of us will not directly witness this event. Those who do will probably not be around to talk about it. We all will, however, feel the effects for years afterwards.

Even so, most disasters are harder to directly observe than one would assume. Most of us first witness a flood via a “road closed” sign and a policeman waving his torch to tell us to keep moving. Our first sign of a global catastrophe might be the ATM not working. The Internet might be down, or dramatically slow. Our cellphones might not work. Hours later, we might begin to hear rumors and then official announcements, explaining what happened and what we were supposed to do in response.

I was in Argentina when the currency suddenly devalued in 2001. Without warning (except that the higher-ups in government had advanced notice to send their savings abroad) bank accounts that had been equally denominated in dollars and pesos were now only available in pesos. Within a few months, the peso was devalued by four hundred percent. Withdrawals at banks were limited to twenty dollars per day, then ten, then five. The government declared a “bank holiday” to announce all this. Beware of sudden government-announced holidays.

If there is a enormous plague outbreak, or a nuclear war, you can bet the first thing that will happen is travel will become restricted. You will need official permission to go most places. Visa-on-arrival will disappear. Currency withdrawals will be closely monitored and limited.

In an attempt to quell panic, these changes will be announced as “temporary” but will soon prove to be permanent. After the Patriot Act became law following the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001, many freedoms we took for granted were suspended and then eliminated. Most of us didn’t notice.

The fact most of us are reluctant to consider is that there’s a good chance at sometime in our lifetimes we’re going to face a catastrophe, and the governmental sources which we depend upon will fail us. If they are able to do anything at all they will, as happened in Argentina, take care of their own first.

There but for the grace of God go I


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This evening I was getting a foot massage on the promenade that runs along the beach here in Prachuap Khiri Khan, a small city in the South of Thailand. I was amicably chatting with the ladies who intermittently called out to prospective customers who walked or cycled by. Then a Caucasian man who looked to be my age cycled up and stopped directly across the street. I expected them to call out to him but they didn’t. I noted that he was probably exactly my age. They said “he’s a bad drunk. He has no friends and no girlfriend and he’s always alone. Nobody wants him around.”

I kept watching him, and from this distance couldn’t tell if he was inebriated. He certainly wasn’t being overtly obnoxious. But he was alone, smoking cigarette after cigarette and looking like he was just about to come to a decision about something. He sat there for the duration of my massage, and when I left he was still there, staring at the middle of the road, as dusk gathered around us.

It was one of those “there but for the grace of God go I,” moments.

What if…?


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What if the world we already inhabit were a thousand times more amazing than we can appreciate? Could be that we’re surrounded by good luck, magic, unimaginable opportunity, and fantastic wealth, but we can’t see it.  Not yet. If we could adjust out thinking all this opportunity and wealth would come into view.

 

Maybe the solution to our temporary blindness is to give up. Stop trying to figure things out, make things happen, control outcomes. get people to like us or think we’re important. Just stop it. Wait a few days and see what happens.

 

Something will happen. Things will change, maybe for the better, perhaps quickly.

 

It’s worth a try. We can always go back to our old ways. Struggling to manage our lives as best we can, to squeeze the last drop of advantage out of every situation. The reason such actions haven’t brought pleasure or satisfaction so far might lie in the fact that contentment doesn’t arise from having advantage. Getting ahead is not getting happy.