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.

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.

 

It’s a Trump World Out There


VIP’s Only Need Apply

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In the Florence Train station, the waiting rooms were reserved for VIP gold card members of some business or other. So even though I was wearing a suit, I had to sit on the floor of the train station, as there were no benches. Benches would just encourage the homeless to congregate. There are a lot of African men milling around with nothing to do. If there were benches, they would probably sit on them.

Here in the Delhi airport, the only WI-fi can be found by going to a “lounge,” from a hotel or airline. If you’re not flying business class, that costs $20. It’s a Trump world out there. Non VIP’s are left to their own devices.

You are, however, forced to march through the confusing illusions of the Duty Free shops when you make your way to your departure gate. These are the airport equivalent of Pleasure Island, where bad boys are turned into Donkeys in the Pinocchio story. It’s easy to lose your way in the Duty Free arcade, because all mention of your flight has temporarily disappeared. They do this for the same reason they don’t put clocks in casinos. They want you lost in a dream. They’re the Dream weavers.

The African men who seem so out of place came to Italy to pursue a dream. Even if they are simply beggars in Europe, they’re better off than living where they were. They made a perilous journey by sea to get as far as they’ve gotten. There’s a well-worn route by rubber raft from Libya to Sicily.

I am reminded of Hillary Clinton’s comment “we came, we saw, he died, (Snort)” She was referring to the death of Ghadaffi, who died having rebar shoved up his rectum by a mob urged on by the U.S. and with the approval of the Madam Secretary of State. It’s a Trump world out there.