Democracy Is Rare to Non-Existent


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I live in Thailand, a country whose last government was abruptly dissolved by a military coup. The current prime minister is the general who led the coup. When he learned that tourists would find their travel insurance voided by staying in a country under military rule, he had the parliament filled with yes-men and members of the military, who quickly elected him prime minister. He promised elections would come as soon as possible, but that was four and a half years ago.

Is the United States a democracy? Hard to tell. How about Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Venezuela, Brazil. Guess it depends on whom you talk to. I would be more comfortable describing northern European countries as democracies than most African, Asian or Latin American countries. Money talks everywhere, but in some places it fairly screams.

The idea behind Democracy was a noble one. One person, one vote. Anybody could rise the top and be elected to high office. In the United States, it costs approximately twenty-five million dollars to secure a seat in the Senate. Senators earn $175,000 a year. Makes you wonder who they’re working for.

Maybe we should stop pretending and get real. We like to use the word terrorist to describe groups of people who don’t have well-equipped standing armies. We give Israel three and a half billion dollars a year in military aid. The Palestinians throw rocks. Guess whom we call terrorists?

 

 

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Boring Blogs


 

 

 

I just discovered an old American who also lives in Thailand who writes a blog. So do I. He’s an even better writer than me, his output is voluminous, and he illustrates it with many good photographs, just as I do. He’s nine years older than I am and has had a varied and interesting life, just like me. I tried to read his blog and became overwhelmed by the sheer mass of it. His entries are thousands of words long. He’s been writing this blog for twelve years! It’s as thick and dense as War and Peace!

No, even I who have so much in common with my blogster elder brother couldn’t scratch the surface of his retirement output. I’m afraid I too have become a tiresome old fart. I’m the garrulous grandpa you meet at a family barbecue or social event and eventually make an excuse to distance yourself from because he won’t stop talking.

Most blogs I try to read are written by young people, twenty and thirtysomethings who are usually drifting around the planet on their parents’ dime, writing about their travels. I can’t read their blogs, either. The points they make are obvious and sophomoric.

Young people also write a lot of “lifestyle” blogs where they opine about the rules of success or building good “relationships.” When I read that last word, I know it’s time to move on.

When I hear the word “relationship” I brace myself for “couples counseling,” and “intimacy.”

What have we become? Tiresome boors who can’t even enjoy the leisure and privilege we grew into, surrounded by billions of people who have to defecate outside and carry water and firewood back to their hovel.

We peck away at our laptops with great purpose and then divert ourselves by watching Netflix.

An Absurdly Beautiful Day


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the ruined temple next door to our house

 

The weather is perfect. There’s a soft drone of crickets and insects who live in the grass. The Goldfish have already gobbled the food I gave them.  It’s late enough in the morning that the roosters have calmed down. A lone dog barks in the distance. A few cars pass by on the road outside.

 

If I can’t be happy today, when can I be happy? I’m not under criminal investigation. Nobody’s suing me. I don’t owe anybody money. I’m in good health, after a breakfast with friends I’ll probably go swimming and then get a massage.

 

 

No Regrets


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What do I really enjoy doing? Writing and Acting. Why don’t I do more of it? Because it’s hard and nobody’s paying me to do it.

How much time do I have left in this lifetime? Dunno, maybe fifteen or twenty years. Why don’t I spend that time writing and acting? Because it’s hard and nobody’s paying me to do it.

How absurd. People who work in hospice say that just before death, almost everyone tells whoever is within earshot (and it may just be a whisper) that they wish they had done what they really wanted to do with their life rather than what other people expected them to do. It’s a continual lament by concert pianists who ended up working in offices, oil painters who worked in department stores, poets who taught school.

I guess if ever there was a time to do the things I really want to do, it’s today.

“Waking up to who you are involves letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.” – Alan Watts

Euphoric Recall


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Euphoric Recall is the nostalgic version of Wishful Thinking. Only remembering the good parts is an understandable survival mechanism, but it doesn’t lend itself well to realistic decision making. It does a better job setting goals, but tends to minimize the difficulty in reaching them. It’s a great way to motivate a crowd, but a bad way to get through hard times, because the person who was once so enraptured now tends to fall prey to disillusion.

Who wants to grovel in world full of tedious reality checks when one could skip among the clouds? When Coleridge was having his opium dream about Kubla Kahn it took someone knocking on the door in order to convey a mundane message to spoil the whole fantastic vision. I’d rather be damned for being an enthusiast than praised for being a pragmatist.

The first explorers took to the seas with a minimum of technological support and a lot of wishful thinking. It’s hard to navigate when your map contains fanciful drawings of imaginary beasts and the text “here lie monsters.” They left port anyway, and even though half the crew often perished before the ship found its way home, everybody was in high spirits on the day they took off for parts unknown.

We are all doing this every day we’re alive, but we don’t realize it or admit it to ourselves, because it would be too upsetting.

I’m living in Thailand, a country with the highest motorcycle road fatality rate in the world, and yet the only vehicles I own are motorcycles. I like to think I’m well aware of the risk I take every time I leave home, but I’m not really, for habituation makes me drift into denial. “Sure, maybe it will happen someday, but not today,” I tell myself, or better yet, I simply don’t think about the possibility of dying at all.

I’m like Captain Cook heading toward Tahiti with a crew of drunks and enough provisions to last a few weeks.

In fact, no matter how much insurance we think we have to guide our actions, we’re all just flying blind. As Helen Keller said “The reason no one experiences security is because it doesn’t exist. Life is either an exciting adventure or it is nothing.” If a woman born deaf, dumb and blind can say that, I suppose I can, too.

These Foolish Things


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Martin Luther wrote this to a friend in 1530: “Whenever the devil harasses you thus, seek the company of men, or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, aye, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles.”

 

As a boy on New Year’s Eve 1912, nine year-old Louis Armstrong snuck into his mother’s bedroom and borrowed a pistol from the pocket of one of her customers. His mother was a prostitute, his father had abandoned the family, and they lived in a rooming house in the Red Light district. Armstrong fired the gun at midnight to celebrate the New Year, but lucky for all of us a policeman happened to be standing nearby and arrested young Louis. A judge sent him to the Colored Waif’s Home. On the way there the driver said “Don’t look so sad, son. This is a good place. We have a band. What instrument would you like to play?” Armstrong’s eyes brightened. “The drums!” he said. “Well, we’ve already got plenty of drummers, but we need someone to play the bugle when we raise and lower the flag. You think that might interest you?”

 

Within a few years Louis Armstrong was playing trumpet in New Orleans brothels He was in the right place at the right time for it was there and then that Jazz pretty much took shape. He is certainly the person most responsible for its popularity across the globe. Bing Crosby, who was the most popular singer of the day said that he thought Armstrong was the best singer alive.

 

Billie Holiday sang like Armstrong played the trumpet. Jimi Hendrix said he wanted to play the guitar the way Little Richard used his voice.

 

In 1955 in New Orleans, Little Richard pretty much single-handedly invented Rock and Roll in much the same kind of way Armstrong had forty years earlier. His first big hit was a sanitized version of a dirty song he had been singing for years to entertain the kind of people he hung out with, prostitutes, drug dealers, and petty criminals.

 

Until he sang at a high school talent show, nobody at Hume High noticed Elvis. Before his appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, the Hillbilly Cat had been driving a truck. Elvis told interviewers that his singing idol was Dean Martin. Dino had obviously modeled much of his style on the crooning of Bing.

 

The real mystery is where did Bing come from?

 

Bing was not born in a brothel in New Orleans, but to an Irish working class family in Spokane, Washington. He was well-educated and briefly attended law school before deciding to drop out and become a musician. He played the drums pretty well, but his crooning and his intelligent use of the newly developed microphone was what set his apart from his peers.

 

Within a few months of arriving in Los Angeles he was the talk of the town. He easily transitioned from microphone to motion picture camera, and led the way for Sinatra and Presley to do the same. Even though modern day listeners think of him as a square, Bing thought of himself as a proto-hipster.

 

In retrospect, all these developments seem unlikely. Culture and new ideas leap in unpredictable spasms.Until Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, Bing Crosby’s Christmas album was the highest selling album in history. Quincy Jones produced Thriller and it turns out he and Ray Charles had been roommates in Seattle, after the blind pianist arrived after getting as far away from Florida as he could by Greyhound Bus.

 

Decca records rejected the Beatles, deciding they had little to offer. George Martin proved otherwise. Aretha Franklin really took off artistically when Jerry Wexler of Atlantic records understood and appreciated the real depth of her talent. Otis Redding was working as a chauffeur when he wrote and recorded “Respect.”  Two years later Aretha had the mega hit, but Otis did it proud, as well. Marvin Gaye was a session drummer at Motown in Detroit when one day he filled in for an absent singer.

 

There’s a line in the Bible, “God chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.”  Even if you don’t believe in God or the Bible, you’ve got to admit that the delightful surprises Fate unleashes as it twists and writhes its way through Space and Time give us cause for hope. Nobody has any idea of what’s really going on. We might as well expect to be pleasantly surprised.

 

Time to Get Serious


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All  this laughing  through tears isn’t going to get our grandchildren a better world in which to live. Some serious bad stuff is going down and somebody somewhere is going to have to take a stand to stop it.

The first step involves naming. It’s not just Fox News or CNN, it’s corporate lying. It’s not just quirky candidates, it’s pathological narcissism and limitless greed. Rather that a little deal, it’s a big mess, and the costs to clean it up will prove staggering.

Serious people used to be valued, at least in certain positions. Now everybody has to be entertaining first and then maybe capable of taking action when conditions are right, but you can’t blame them too harshly because doing the right thing can sometimes be a tough call. In general, there’s a general feeling of impotence and hopelessness that has trickled down from top to bottom. Facts don’t matter as much as beliefs. Judge me on my intentions, not my actions. Cut me some slack!

It’s amazing what some people were able to accomplish back before foolishness and whimsy became a way of life for most public figures. Now everybody’s a comedian and nothing good seems to be coming down the pike. I’d like to believe that we haven’t all turned into characters from a Seth Rogan comedy, but maybe I’m fooling myself.Maybe we really are all self-absorbed dimwits and will get exactly what we deserve.