Democracy is Rare to Non-Existent

untitled

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?

Advertisements

Time-Out For Naughty Pictures

 

 

I tried to post two vintage 1920’s pictures of naked women on Facebook and was blocked from using that service for three days for violating their “Community Agreements.” A computer ratted me out, recognizing nipples. In my three day fast, I’ve been prohibited from sharing likes, posting new items, or sharing the posts of others. I feel like a citizens band radio addict who’s had his microphone impounded.

I wish I could say my time-out has fostered a mini-renaissance in writing and reading, but it hasn’t. I guess this proves that what’s left of my attention span is permanently fractured, reduced to fragile shards that cannot be swept up and reassembled. There’s nobody home anymore.

My menagerie of funny photos cries out from my desktop folder, demanding to be shared with the hypothetical thousands of “friends” I have. Since I post too much every day, no one has noticed my absence. This is what it will be like when I finally die. My Facebook feed won’t feel any different to most users, my blog subscribers will simply no longer receive emails about new posts, and it may take several years until anyone notices that I’m no longer at the helm. Pictures I’ve unearthed of silent era starlets and corny 1950’s ads will be discovered long after my ashes have been absorbed by the nearest palm tree here in sunny Thailand.

Almost No Regrets

43522954_10156232608498557_6399929681142874112_n

 

Regrets are Folly, but…

If I had to live my live over again, I would have found gainful employment early and stuck with a job long enough to save for retirement. I would have never borrowed money. Compound interest works in your favor if you let it. It works against you if you borrow.

I would have retired at fifty and spent less of my time working for others. I guess I never really felt like I was working for others, and others probably never felt that way either, which explains why so few of my work experiences ended on a high note. I’ve been fired a lot.

I would have never married anyone for “practical reasons” or because she wanted us to get married. Which means I would have never married. I’m definitely happy to have had the children I have, and would have taken care of them as well as I did, maybe even better, had I not married.

These regrets are minimal, not terribly important, because the good fortune I’ve experienced has far outweighed them in importance. My health is good, I’m living in an affordable place and want for nothing.

Going Solo

46482334_2032878160129022_6240053629538009088_n.jpg

 

The Internet has grown in power and sophistication, tracking potential customers for those looking to find them by linking ads and emails to searches and browsing history. The other day I came across an article about a new form of LSD, called LSD-1. that is not illegal. When I next checked my email, there was an offer from a Chinese pharmaceutical firm who could supply me with this product. I didn’t even have to search for it. They had monitored my browsing.

They also included a map showing my location and asked me to confirm that the blue dot was indeed floating above my house. It was. Then I was offered an overhead shot of my property. There was my motorcycle, right where I had parked it. Apparently, it was a live shot from a tiny drone.

They sent me another email informing me that an attractive young woman who worked for their firm lived nearby, and would be willing to ingest this substance with me, serving as “tripmaster,” in case I wanted to avail myself of this service. They included a picture of a comely Chinese girl in her twenties.

I ordered the legal LSD, which arrived in a week or so in an unmarked black plastic envelope. There were enough doses for quite a party, but I decided to try this experiment alone, so I only took the medium suggested dose, chewing and swallowing two tiny squares of blotter paper.

I had recently purchased a video camera that I normally used to document my motorcycle riding. In case of an accident, the playback might prove useful to show to the police or an insurance adjustor. Once switched on, it ran for twelve hours and then recycled the memory, rolling over the beginning footage. I decided this might be fun to to document my psychedelic voyage, the first one I had embarked upon in almost forty years. Since it was permanently mounted to my motorcycle helmet, I wore that. I also felt the desire to be free of most clothing, so I wore a caftan I’d picked up in my travels to the Middle East.

After about an hour I was definitely tripping. It was a pleasant feeling. Colors were brighter, people seemed witty and kind. Even the most mundane scenes were photogenic. I was glad the camera was recording all this, so I could refresh my memory later, even though I didn’t expect the video to capture the profound beauty I was now witnessing.

I was sitting in a patch of weeds and flowers that grow near my house, when a man and woman appeared coming through a gate that led to a nearby vacant lot. They were dressed identically, in togas. I thought that odd, but since everything seemed odd at the time, it didn’t really stop me in my tracks. I was going with the flow.

As the day was hot and getting warmer, I invited them inside my house for a cool drink. All I had was water, which seemed perfect at this time, for anything sweet or caffeinated would have been too much. Too artificial.

We talked for hours. They seemed as delighted by my company as I was by theirs.

Later, when I viewed the video footage of that time, I could hear my voice clearly engaged in the conversation I remembered, but the field of view only showed a blank wall in front of me.

I guess LSD-1 really works. Maybe next time I’ll ask the Chinese girl to trip with me. I still have some of those blotter pieces left over.

Keep Your Head Down

42788059_2223498097974528_8049928916514635776_n

 

What will the future hold for most of us? Decline, usually slow but sometimes rapid. Anger, blame, disillusionment. At least that’s the way it feels for most Americans and Brits. But does everybody feel this way? Do people in the third world feel as gloomy about their prospects as do we Facebook-addicted first-worlders?

If you don’t have much to begin with, you don’t have much to lose. If you’ve never enjoyed even the semblance of benign governance, then anything that doesn’t involve outright extortion and oppression feels like business as usual.

Banana republics and tinpot dictatorships keep most of their citizens dirt poor and allow a very few to get away with fiscal murder. Since there was never any semblance of a level playing field, the poor and uneducated don’t assume there’s a chance they can improve their lot. Hard work will simply exhaust you. If you do manage to accumulate wealth, your neighbors will envy you and someone, maybe someone in uniform, will take it away from you. So don’t make waves. Keep your head down, and your eyes to the ground.

Most of us have every reason to be grateful for the level of comfort we already enjoy. Life is not a shit sandwich for most of the people I come into contact with. Here in Thailand, which is in many ways like America was sixty years ago, they have a show on TV that is very much like Queen for a Day. Poor people with insurmountable problems come on and tell their sad story. The twist here is that the show requires them to sing in a talent contest and then guess a lucky number. If the judges are lenient and they guess correctly, they win a few hundred dollars. If not, they go away with a box of laundry soap.

This is a Buddhist country, and there is a strong belief in karma underlying the societal ranking. If you are poor, maybe you deserve your status based on your actions in your previous life, so you might as well practice humility and acceptance. The peasant class doesn’t seem to be chronically outraged by their lot. The men who stoop to plant rice, the women who sit patiently for hours a day at a market stall, tend to smile easily. Maybe the men get drunk and beat their wives when they get home, but since I don’t live in a poor village, I don’t see it.

It’s just assumed that the rich will act like the world owes them a living. Nobody is scandalized when the son of a rich man doesn’t have to pay for his crimes. His father pays a large amount to the victim’s family. The son may go into the monastery for a few months and have his head shaved for a photo op. If his family is really, really rich, like the heir to the Red Bull fortune who drove his Lamborghini over a policeman who was attempting to get him to stop, then dragged the body under the car all the way home, he won’t even have to appear in court.

This is the way it is in much of the world. Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East. They don’t pretend it’s otherwise. They have no tradition of a free press or democratic governance, for that would allow dissent and discourse, so those are quickly quashed. There’s too much at stake to risk it. Take the lid off that kettle and who knows what might leap out.

Hidden Kingdom of Lamphun

IMG_4382

 

Well, it’s not really hidden, it’s just been overshadowed by the more dramatic mountains to the west. Usually I go down 108 to Chom Ton, then to either Doi Inthanon or Hot, on my way to do the four-day ride called the Mae Hong Son loop. This time I took my new “big bike” 500 cc Honda, straight south, down 106, through Lamphun city and then on my way to Tak.

 

I never made it to Tak. It’s too far. But the scenery down 106 is a delight. Spent the night in Li, then headed back up a smaller road, 1184, reconnecting with 106 just south of Pa Song. No traffic at all! Lumyai farms mostly, and rice. Some corn, but not as much as up north.

 

Actually, it’s more fun to ride a motorcycle on Lamphun’s winding two-lane blacktop roads in good repair than torturous hairpin turns up and down steep mountains. Reminds me of the Gold Country of Northern California where I first learned to ride 38 years ago.

 

41991286_2182741968681812_7336437649244160000_oIMG_3608untitled