Saturday, February 28, 2009

Looks Like Pete Kelly was Right

Situations like this are why I try to qualify everything I say. The world is complex. I think we like sports because at the end of the game, things are resolved. There's a winner and a loser. Decided. But the rest of life isn't that simple. And with the various drug and other scandals in sports, sports isn't that simple either. Thus making categorical statements can easily lead to foot-in-mouth disease.

Unbeknownst to me, when I posted about the BP-ARCO charter on February 2, Dermot Cole had the previous day published an article in the Fairbanks Newsminer on the same topic. But he'd done a lot more checking of the facts. (Thanks to the person who emailed me that article.)

The charter does not spell out an expiration date for the contribution plan and the other commitments.

The document does have language, however, which says that as of this month, no one can go to court and allege that charter is being violated.

It amounts to a backhanded expiration date.

After Jan. 15, 2009, there can be “no action alleging a failure of performance,” the charter says.

BP and ConocoPhillips will continue to make contributions to the university and other causes in the years ahead, as they value the good will this engenders.

But it’s worth pointing out that their recent change in policy is linked to the 10-year expiration of the charter agreement. . .
I have asked Attorney General Talis Colberg for clarification on the issue and for his view of the significance of the expiration date on the various elements in the charter.

The agreement says that while the state could have brought legal action to enforce the environmental stipulations, the provisions on Alaska Hire and charitable giving are “corporate citizenship commitments to the Alaskan community at large.”

“The parties do not intend for these other commitments of Section II to be enforced by lawsuits and no right of action is created with respect to them,” the charter says.

In a second post on this topic, I was way too emphatic on this. But I'm glad to see that I did put this qualifier in there:
Maybe I'm wrong, but what was the point of the State signing an agreement with the oil companies outlining conditions for BP's purchase of ARCO if the conditions are not mandatory?
I still find it strange that the then Governor, Tony Knowles, would agree to something that isn't enforceable. But I have no idea of what all was going on in the negotiations over this. Perhaps the oil companies flat out refused to sign the agreement without that clause.

I, of course, should have read the whole charter carefully. But at least I wrote at the time:
But we were in high gear preparing to go to Thailand and what with the traveling and getting into things here, I didn't get around to posting that agreement. (It's down below) I haven't had a chance to study the whole charter, but I expect there is plenty to chew on. [emphasis added]

For the time being, let's just look at the part that discusses community charitable contributions:

Lesson for next time: Even if you can't read the whole document, you can at least use the search feature to see if your key terms (in this case "charitable") show up again somewhere else in the document.

So, Conoco-Philips folks, when your blog bot got you to the previous posts, why didn't you just make a comment to clarify things?

So, sorry Pete, I was wrong and you were right on this.

Sommersturm at CMU Film Space

We already heard about Film Space last year - free Saturday night films at the art building at Chiang Mai University - but somehow we never made it there. It's not far - a ten minute bike ride - so we decided to go tonight. So I googled to see what was on tonight and found Thomatfilms a blog that covers what's playing in Chiang Mai. Thai doesn't have a final 's' sound, so they substitute a 't' sound if there is an 's' at the end of a word. So I'm guessing Thom is punning that with at films. Bi-lingual jokes are fun.

This yellow car was parked in front of the Design Center. I'm guessing it's a piece of student art. From Thomatfilms we learned:

During February, Film Space presents “The Month of Iron Hoofter.” March is “The Month of Bad Luck Money.”

Film Space is to the right and in the back of the CMU Art Museum, in the Media Arts and Design building across from the ballet school. Now that the weather is cool, they are resuming their rooftop showings, weather permitting. You might want to bring something to sit on or lie on. A contribution is requested in the donation box at the entrance – you should leave 20 baht. Well worth supporting.

At Film Space Saturday, February 28: Sommersturm / Summer Storm (2004) by Marco Kreuzpaintner – 98 mins – Germany, Comedy/ Drama/ Romance.

Fourth and last in the “Hoofter” series: gay love in Germany. Tobi and Achim have been best friends for years. As cox and oarsman, they have helped their team win several rowing cups in the past and are now looking forward to the big regatta in the countryside. But this trip is no summer camp anymore and the first problems soon arise. As Achim’s relationship with his girlfriend grows more serious, Tobi starts to realize that his feelings for Achim run deeper than he’s willing to admit to himself.

There's a little restaurant - Din Dee - run by a Japanese woman right there too, with a great space. It's a round, earth building. There's something about being in a round room that feels right to me.

After dinner, it was almost dark, and a sliver of a moon hung over the mountains and you could see Wat Doi Suthep lit up on the mountain.

We were looking forward to watching the film up on the roof, but something was wrong with the sound, so it was going to be in a room. Which turned out to be air conditioned, something we haven't experienced much. Evenings have generally been cool and we like using the electric fan rather than air conditioning anyway. But they did turn it off near the end of the movie and it slowly warmed up, so that when we went out if felt nice and cool outside.

My first reaction watching the film was, "Was this still a problem in Germany in 2004?" Well, probably the story was written ten years before it came out and there was a gay rowing team called the Queerstrokes, so some folks were a little more out than others. But anti-gay stuff is just part of all attacks on people who are different from the norm, by people who need to pick on someone else to cover their own insecurities. And coming to terms with sexuality - straight or gay - is scary for most people.

The movie was nicely done, nearly all the characters were likable, even the ones who weren't at first, showed some decent views of themselves. And the only thing I could see that would have gotten it its R rating were bare female breasts. Unless gay automatically rates an R.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Birding with Tony Ball

Warning - no really good bird shots. But we did see lots of interesting birds.

G & W had told us about going out birding with Tony Ball (the blog's not current, but there is a lot in the archives and the contact info is current) and after looking him up on the internet, I knew this was the right person to go out with. He's been in Chiang Mai studying birds for 17 [20] years. And G had sent my Crested Serpent Eagle picture to Tony for verification.

Birding guides change everything. They know the spots where the birds are most likely to be, they know the names of the birds. Otherwise, we're wandering hit and miss, thumbing through the bird book trying to figure out whether it really was a kind of bulbul, and if so, which one. That's not to say all our unguided birding in Chiang Mai has been a waste. Not at all. Today we already knew a fair number of birds, but Tony confirmed some things and expanded our knowledge and sightings enormously. And he was identifying so many by their calls as well.

We got picked up at 6:30 - after getting a call through on skype to wish my mother a happy birthday - by Tony and his driver for today, Tik (I think - correct me Tony if I got it really wrong.) And about 15 minutes later we were on the side of the road looking at birds. We walked down the path above a ways. We saw lots of birds, few that were close enough to even try to get photos off. Besides, I was so busy with my binoculars.

One of the highlights of the morning was the hoopoe. When we spent the year in Hong Kong 20 years ago, the Hong Kong bird book had a hoopoe on the cover, but I didn't really believe that they really existed. They are so bizarre looking. But we did eventually get to see some live hoopoes in the grass at the Taj Mahal. So it was a surprise pleasure to see another hoopoe today. There's a dot a little more than halfway between the sun and the bottom of the picture above. It's a speck really. That's the hoopoe flying off.

This is why I didn't take too many pictures. You really can't tell that this is a green bee eater, with a long extra feather sticking out way past his tail. But it is.

Then after a while, we ended at Tony's breakfast tree where the table was set and we had breakfast watching - Tony don't read this, they're all jumbling together - the tailorbird, the yellow vented flower pecker, and I think this is also where I got a second look at the . . . uh oh. I can't find the name of that green bird with the orange above the bill. (Found it copying from the bird list - Golden-fronted Leafbird.) Among others.

Here's another spot we watched for a while.

Then we headed back to Tony's clubhouse where we had some water by the pool while Tony went through the bird list and ticked off the birds we saw and also marked which ones we only heard. You can double click on the pictures of Tony to enlarge them. The barn swallow and its reflection is from today. The drongo in the lower left, well we saw some, but this picture is from India.

OK, for Catherine, Dianne, and the other birders:

  1. Little Heron
  2. Shikra
  3. Rufous-winged buzzard
  4. Chinese Francolin (heard only)
  5. White-breasted Waterhen
  6. Common Moorhen
  7. Red-wattled Lapwing
  8. Spotted Dove
  9. Zebra Dove
  10. Plaintive Cuckoo
  11. Common Koel
  12. Greater Coucal
  13. Asian Barred Owlet (heard)
  14. White-throated Kingfisher
  15. Green Bee-eater
  16. Hoopoe
  17. Lineated Barbet
  18. Coppersmith Barbet
  19. Rufous Woodpecker (heard)
  20. Asian Palm-Swift
  21. Barn Swallow
  22. Wire-tailed Swallow - very cool
  23. Rufous-winged Bushlark
  24. Richard's Pipit (Paddyfield Pipit)
  25. White Wagtail
  26. Common Iora - also neat little bird
  27. Golden-fronted Leafbird (ah, this is the one I was looking for above)
  28. Black-crested Bulbul - always a favorite with its black crested head and bright yellow body
  29. Red-whiskered Bulbul - these are really very common, but still strking birds
  30. Sooty-headed Bulbul
  31. Stripe-throated Bulbul (heard)
  32. Streak-eared Bulbul - I'm pretty sure these are the ones we've been seeing from our balcony but couldn't identify for sure
  33. Black Drongo
  34. Rufous Treepie (heard)
  35. Striped Tit-Babbler
  36. Chestnut-capped Babbler (heard)
  37. White-crested Laughing Thrush (heard)
  38. Inornate Warbler (Yellow-browed Warbler)
  39. Plain Prinia (heard)
  40. Common Tailorbird
  41. Oriental Magpie-Robin
  42. Stonechat - another neat little bird
  43. Pied Bushchat
  44. Red-throated flycatcher
  45. Ashy Wood-Swallow
  46. Burmese Shrike - striking little bird Tony knew just where this one was hanging out
  47. Black-collared Starling
  48. White-vented Mynah
  49. Common Mynah
  50. Olive-backed Sunbird
  51. Purple Sunbird - another of my favorites today
  52. Yellow-vented Flowerpecker
  53. Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
  54. Plain-backed Sparrow
  55. Scaly-breasted Munia
So that's 47 seen and 8 more heard. We couldn't resist buying Tony's two CD's of Birds of Thailand Songs and Calls. All in all, a very satisfying day. Makes us eager to get out there again and see what we can see on our own.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

LOL in Thai

Instead of LOL on their emails, Thais write 55555.

In Thai, 5 is pronounced "Ha" with a falling tone, as if you were emphatically saying "No!"

Earthal Eclipse?

[Friday, February 27, 2009, 11 am Thai time]

My son sent me a link to slashdot, which linked to the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency site with this picture of what they call a Lunar Eclipse. (There's lots of other good stuff there including diagrams.) This was taken from the moon with the earth blocking the sun. There's also this link to a video of the event. Be patient, it is all black at the beginning.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) successfully took moving images of the precise Earth rise moment when the Earth looked like a diamond ring using the onboard high definition camera (HDTV) of the lunar explorer "KAGUYA" (SELENE) on February 10, 2009 (Japan Standard Time, all the following dates and times are Japan Standard Time.) The moment came when a penumbral lunar eclipse occurred and sunlight was covered by the Earth. During that time, since the view of the Sun from the KAGUYA was mostly covered by the Earth, the KAGUYA observed that the Earth looked like a diamond ring. This is the first time that this phenomenon was shot from the Moon.

Moonconnection compares a lunar eclipse to a solar eclipse and says that:
A "lunar eclipse" and a "solar eclipse" refer to events involving three celestial bodies: the Sun ("solar"), the moon ("lunar"), and the Earth. A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth passes between the Moon and the Sun, and the Earth's shadow obscures the moon or a portion of it. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, blocking all or a portion of the Sun. [emphasis added]

But this is a new event, at least for humans. OK, it fits their lunar eclipse definition because the earth is between the sun and the moon. But it fits a solar eclipse because the sun, not the moon, is blocked.

It goes on to say that:

A lunar eclipse occurs at night and a solar eclipse occurs during the day.
From the perspective of the moon, it was day, except for when the earth blocked the sun.

I say we find a unique name for this sort of eclipse. I first thought earthal (though I think that sounds clunky, I couldn't find a synonym for 'earth' that sounded better, except maybe "Gaian"). Since the sun is blocked by the earth, maybe this should be a "Gaian Solar Eclipse."

But there would also be a time when, watching from the moon, the moon's shadow blocks out the earth (is it big enough to make a total eclipse?) Since the earth would blocked in this case, this could be a Gaian Eclipse.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Chiang Mai 'Snow'

The other day there were little sprinklings of snow as I rode home on my bike as the Payom tree blossoms drifted down to the ground. This was a tree that I really hadn't paid any attention to, but with it snowing for a couple of days, they suddenly all called attention to themselves.
'We're here, even right in front of your building and you've never even looked at us. Well, we're going to get your attention now. You'll see us all over town and see how many of us there are. Now start paying attention." And the blossoms drifted down as I stood there.

In Alaska we have relatively few different types of native trees. A few more that have been introduced by gardeners. But here there are so many, many different kinds of plants and trees. As well as birds, butterflies, other insects, fish, and animals.

So, Alaskans, you should all be able to distinguish birch, spruce, poplar, aspen, willow, and cottonwood, wild mountain ash. At least. We can hold off on the varieties of these and other trees, but these are the basics around Anchorage, I think.

Anyway, my snow tree is called ต้นพยอม or Payom Tree. I wasn't completely sure if I had this right, so I googled it. Here's what google translation gave me:

[Note 2: I see on my screen, the translated table doesn't quite fit so a lot is cut off. If you have the same problem, that just means you have to go to the original link - the translated one or the original Thai links below]

Note: I've written it in English a little differently than they do. Payom vs. Paiam.
This picture is from the translated website.
You can also check the original Thai website.

Certainly not reach the exalted woman cherish.
Most often sad hand chest fever.
But certainly not difficult to watch นา Paiam guards.
Wood is a high สอย be presumptuous to take.

(Versify rule the world: Her Majesty's Department of Discovery Edcha prince bow).

ชื่อพฤกษาศาสตร์ Botanical names.

ชื่อไทยพื้นเมือง Thai native title.

วงศ์ Family.

วรรณคดีที่กล่าวถึง Literature mentioned.

ประโยชน์ ้ ้ benefits.

ลักษณะ Characteristics.

Shorea roxburghii G. Don. Shorea roxburghii G. Don.

พยอมทองขะยอม ยอม เซียง I accept accept accept ขะ gold เซี fight.


มหาเวสสันดรชาดกลิลิตพระลอ โคลงโลกนิติ อิเหนา Lilit Phra Maha Vessantara fable versify Allan Law Aiehna world.

เป็นไม้เศรษฐกิจและเปลือกนำไปใส่ในเครื่องหมักดองเพื่อกันบูดใช้ฟอกหนังได้ Economy and a wooden shell to put in pickled กัน to use tanning has spoiled.

เป็นไม้ต้นขนาดใหญ่ลำต้นตรง A large tree trunk straight. เปลือกเป็นสีน้ำตาล Shell is brown. ใบเป็นใบเลี้ยงเดี่ยวมนรีขอบขนาน ที่ปลายใบมน หรือแหลมเป็นติ่งเล็ก ๆ คล้ายใบรังดอกมีสีขาวนวล Form a single cotyledon and parallel to the edge of re-form the end of a promontory or projection small leafy nest flower color is ivory. ออกเป็นช่อตามปลายกิ่ง Panicle late into the limb. แตกช่อเป็นระย้ามีกลิ่น หอม ผลมีลักษณะเป็นรูปกระสวย Panicle is Raiga a different aroma characteristics of a spindle image.

This is one of the posts I've had sitting here for a couple of days and it is much easier to post than the second part of the Rural Issues post or others I'd like to post. So this is a little filler while I work on the others.

Rural Alaska Issues - Part 1

[Wednesday, February 25, 2009 4pm]

I know, what am I doing writing this when I should be working. Well, these issues are related to work and I'm writing this after talking to my boss over a late lunch about rural Alaska and rural Thailand and how problems are being approached in both places.

The other day the Governor of Alaska flew out to rural Alaska with Franklin Graham to deliver food to Alaska villagers who are doing poorly this winter as they were stuck with the high summer oil prices to keep them warm this winter and the economic depression is also affecting them. Furthermore, for many villages, the salmon harvest this year has been significantly lower, hitting them hard in the pocketbook (for those who commercial fish) and in the pantry (for those who subsistence fish.) See Phil's story about the Kenai and Yukon rivers. (My sense is that Phil has a good handle on these issues, though I'd like to see a bit more backup material.)

Some Alaskan bloggers seem to be reacting to what I'd call 'fighting words' on this topic, rather than trying to push the discussion further. We need to get more people into the same room and talk past the (often legitimate) anger and posturing until they see they have more to gain by understanding each other, that we are all Alaskans whether we live in villages or cities. While in the short run, one group's gain may be at the expense of the other group, ultimately, what happens to one group affects the other group. (I have to think about that. Is that just a nice phrase or is it true? Perhaps it isn't true. Perhaps some groups can do fine while other groups are screwed. I guess that's the same as affecting the others. That would make an interesting topic for Talk of Alaska, Steve. Can the cities be healthy if the villages are not?) Moving right along . . .

Alaska Dispatch praised the Governor for speaking from the heart and taking on issues that other politicians have ignored - the lack of jobs, the alcoholism and other social problems in rural Alaska.

Then AD was soundly thrashed by Celtic Diva (Is Alaska Dispatch Kidding?) who liberally quotes Writing Raven's complaints

You can only be thoughtful if you've met with the people from the communities and listened to them. Palin is calling for a change in leadership - with who? What are these leaders doing wrong? Who are they? When has she talked to them? And she gave NO solutions except to say these youth should think about leaving. So the solution is "leave the village"? She can't be a spark to "real dialogue" when she's never taken part in a dialogue! The dialogue has been going on, but Palin doesn't care to be part of it.
Phil, at Progressive Alaska, took a more measured approach to this. (Has anyone else noticed that Phil is toning down the hyperbole that's often blemished his past posts, and using his vast knowledge of Alaska to give more context and thought to issues?) He at least recognized that Tony Hopfinger of Alaska Dispatch has spent time in Alaska villages - most notably Wales - and has written some very thoughtful and probing pieces on the dilemmas of village life and how things got to be this way. Tony has given a lot of thought to this topic, serious, soul-searching thought, even if you disagree with his saying something positive about the Governor. (I hesitated to link to Phil's post because it might look like a mutual admiration society, so ignore the link back here, and just look at what he says about Tony and about the Alaska economy.)

I think that Tony and Amanda's piece is a little thin, but I also know that he's not writing from ignorance. That said, Writing Raven also makes important points - we need more Alaska Native bloggers who can write from a perspective that both understands the villages and the cities. But I'd like to see us rethinking the issues and finding new ways to talk about where people in Alaska live. We have to look at more than two options 1) Keep the Villages 2) Leave the Villages. Many people in the villages - as Tony and Amanda at Alaska Dispatch point out - are hurting. But that doesn't mean that moving them into the cities is going to improve their lives either. There are other ways to look at and think about this situation. As the President said this morning (sorry, it was on about 9:30 am here)

The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and our universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth.
(I'll take 'entrepreneurs' to mean social and artistic entrepreneurs and not just people looking to make a buck.)

What I like about Phil's piece is that he puts the immediate crisis into the context of how Outsiders have disturbed the ecosystem that blessed the Yukon and Kuskokwim Delta with abundant salmon for millenia. He doesn't blast Tony and Amanda (and the Governor et al) with sarcasm here, but looks to the economic infrastructure and argues that:

Alaska survives by taking life, power and value from outside of the towns and cities, and bringing those things to market.

In ways that enrich those in the cities and Outside of Alaska and often leave the villagers impoverished.

I'm going to grind to a pause here because I realized that I was now ready to start writing what I wanted to write about, and that all this so far was intro. I'll try to get up another post soon - my perspective will be as one watching this from Northern Thailand, from an office in an organization that helps poor, rural Thai farmers. I see a very vigorous and heartening effort here to reach into small villages - both ethnic Thai and ethnic minority - to help farmers deal with the impacts of multinational corporations and free trade agreements that are radically altering Thai life. That's what I want to talk about with the rural Alaska situation in mind.

Part 2.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Red Shirts Yellow Shirts

[Wed. Feb. 25, 2009, 9am Thai Time]
Monday, E suggested we go eat at the Buddhist Vegetarian place. She'd passed it on the way to work and it was open. It had been closed for three or four months. We got there and the buffet didn't have much selection and there were only a few people there. But some friends of E came over to talk. I got the gist of what they were talking about but when they left I checked with E to make sure I got it right.

Saturday night there had been a gay pride parade scheduled for Chiang Mai. But a group of red shirts had showed up and told them that this was not part of Thai tradition and that they should pack up. They decided to listen to that and canceled the parade.

The reason the restaurant had been closed so long is that they had gone down to Bangkok to feed the protesters who had shut down the airport. So we were in a Yellow shirt place. The red shirt group supports former Prime Minister Thaksin who is trying to come back to Thailand and become prime minister again. The yellow shirts support the current government. Things were falling into place. When we had our anniversary dinner, some of the people were late because the street had been closed and there were people marching. Well, it turns out that was a red shirt demonstration. So far we haven't seen anything ourselves. But E only partially joking suggested that it might not be safe to eat at this restaurant because the red shirts knew it was a yellow shirt place.

In my experience, while there has always been a certain level of interpersonal violence in Thailand, this seems like a different sort of turn of events. I'm not sure. I've been more focused on other things.

There was also news of two different Westerners killed in the South recently, and just the other day a foreigner's head was found in a plastic bag hung from a bridge in Bangkok. I suspect that was grisly enough it made the US papers. But none of this, as I said, has been visible to us in our daily lives.
After lunch at this place, which is free if you only get rice and one other item, you wash your own dishes. E laughed as we were leaving and I noted that the foreigner in the top picture was wearing a red shirt in a yellow restaurant.

Start of a Busy, Productive Day

This is the morning view from our bed. Today was relatively clear compared to last week and the temperature seemed cooler than it's been. You can see the outline of Doi (Mt.) Suthep in the background.

I'd been asked early last week if J would be able to come teach English at work. (She done that some last year.) This year they had a Karen villager who'd gotten a scholarship to to to the Asian Rural Institute in Japan for nine months training. Only about 30 people are selected for this from all of Asia and (I think) Africa each year. Although the program is in Japan, the work is in English. We didn't know how good his English was, but he did have, we were told, a Bachelors Degree which means he's studied English.

So, today, J set up class in our building for her one student, who turned out to be smart as could be and whose English, while not fluent, is already fairly good, by Thai standards. She began with some vocabulary from the Asian Rural Institute website on the assumption he needs to know some of their most frequently used words.

Here's S just before class started. He was already excited to be getting some serious help with his English. He leaves for Japan at the end of March.

Meanwhile our 30 days comes up again in two weeks, so the weekend after next, we're headed to Hanoi so we can pick up another 30 days in our passports for Thailand. By the end of that 30 days, it will be time to go back home to Anchorage. Air Asia, while inconvenient in some ways, has really inexpensive fares. Ours wasn't the best deal we heard about, but the two us fly from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and then to Hanoi (these are booked and treated as totally separate trips) for under $400.

There are lots of other interesting stories from the last few days, but they'll have to wait.

Bike Ride to Hang Dong 2 - Furniture World

[Tuesday, February 24, 2009, 10pm Thai time]

Lots happening, way behind blogging. Let me finish the bike trip from last Saturday. We arrived in Hang Dong about 12:30pm and there was a huge furniture store so we stopped to look around. When I say "store" it certainly wasn't like a furniture store in Anchorage or elsewhere in the US. It was mostly very open buildings and a lot of stuff was actually outside. It was really more like a museum.We parked our bikes next to the Chinese room and as we walked around a delightful woman discretely began talking to us, explaining what we were looking at.
And inviting us to see other parts. Soon she was back with a tray and a couple of cold sealed cups of water.

At this point, seeing the whole front - India now - I was overwhelmed at the kinds of stuff they had.

There was door after door after door. These two are Chinese, and these are the insides. There were Indian doors and Pakistani doors as well. Not to mention windows. Part of me is wondering whether these are from places that were demolished for high rises or whether they just bought them off of people's houses.

If I were a US interior decorator, I'd spend a lot of time in Hang Dong and simply convince my clients that the wait was well worth what you got. Things weren't not terribly expensive at all. Some of the elaborate Indian doors - not those above - she said were 27,000 Baht - about $755. You could pay that much for a door at Home Depot and not get anything nearly as exciting as these. Of course, the catch is the shipping costs. We didn't get into that since I wasn't buying a door.

Here was a small display under a corrugated steel roof of how you might furnish your room. If we had a room that big.

These men are guarding the Burmese room.

And then there was the room of mostly Indian lamps. Here's is where we broke down. Two small hanging lamp shades for over our dining room table. They assured us they'd pack them so they wouldn't break and we could carry them on to the plane But even if we didn't carry them on they wouldn't break. We'll figure this all out when we get home. Will the work over the dining room table? We'll see.

These are Pakistani beds. There were lots and lots of them.
Here's our host. She apologized that she couldn't speak English - her parents were very poor and couldn't afford school for her beyond a couple of years. But she was so charming and such a great host - very Thai in that regard. As you can guess, this place covered a lot of land.

Bathroom sink anyone? The water worked.

And there were little things too, like drawer pulls, door handles, hat and clothes hooks, and things I wasn't sure about. We bought some drawer pulls too. I have no idea what we're going to do with them, but we'll figures something out.

Here is part of the front of the store that faces the street. As you can see, this place is called the Golden Triangle and you can visit their website yourself. And order an Indian door or a Chinese door, or maybe have a Thai door made. My guess is that most of the website is the Chiang Mai store, not the Hang Dong. As you can see it is a little slicker presentation than here. And while she didn't teach me the pricing code on the stickers until we were in the last room we looked at, the prices she did quote me seemed to be much less than what is on the website. If you were really going to buy a few large items, you could pay for your trip to Thailand and more in the savings you'd get. And the selection is sooooooo much greater.

After the Golden Triangle, we were overloaded. We rode our bikes a little way, but stopped for lunch where we saw the Elvis and the King picture. This was on a street that turned off from the main road and was furniture store after beautiful furniture store. I'm not sure how far it went. Our host had suggested we ride out to a place called Baan Tawai that was 3 km away. We'd had our quota of furniture for the day, but I can imagine there were stores the whole way. Not sure though. There was a whole complex of buildings - most still empty - that looked like it was going to be a furniture store city. Above I peeked into a lamp store that wasn't open.

Here you can see just a small glimpse of this newly built set of shops - as far as the eye could see in the picture - most still empty.

And I couldn't help but take this picture of the exquisity wood doors on this brand new - well I'm guessing it's a house - in the middle of this area with all the storefronts. Well, on second thought, maybe those doors open up into a store, with the house on top. As I say, this would be an interior decorators dream trip.

Now, let's talk about beauty and consumption. We are in a phase of our lives when we are trying to get rid of things, not take in new things. We aren't the sort of people who economists say make the economy work. And I think we have to have a new level of equilibrium in our economy so that we don't keep wasting so many resources just to package the things we buy, let alone the resources for the things themselves. We try to limit our purchases to things that have practical use, that we need, and that bring aesthetic pleasure. I think beautiful things are probably calming. But we want things that are seriously beautiful and will continue to bring that satisfaction for years and years. So, our temporary fix of a dining room lamp, a Japanese paper globe that has some tears in it now, is in need of replacement. So the two lampshades, theoretically, are a purchase that has a practical use and one that we have a need for. Whether we will be able to get enough light inside these lampshades and then out into the room is another questions. But for us this was like walking through a museum of of beautiful pieces of art, pieces that also happened to have price tags.

We biked back to the Golden Triangle, picked up our purchases, crossed the street and hailed a yellow song thaew. The driver got out, climbed up to the roof, untied the giant bungee cord, and I passed up the two bikes and he put them in place and tied them down. In 20 minutes we were in downtown Chiang Mai, and biked the rest of the way home.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Checkered Swan at the Stevens Trial?

[Monday, Feb. 23, 2oo9, 12:12 am Thai time]

Suppose you were at Potter Marsh last summer and you saw the bird above. You might say, "Hey, look, there's a swan." We don't see swans every day, but they do pass through Potter Marsh regularly and it makes sense when we see them there. But suppose you saw the next scene.

"Whoa!" you might say, "A black swan, here in Alaska? What's going on?" We know there are black swans - even if we didn't take philosophy - but in Alaska? You start scratching your head - this is unusual, but it's possible. But suppose you see the next bird.

"Hey, I know that black swans exist, but this just can't be."

When watching the Ted Stevens trial from afar, there are two situations that cause me to react as though I'm seeing a black, or even a checkered, swan - that is, things that cause me to take special notice and say, "Something isn't right."

  1. Prosecution Bungling

    Four prosecution attorneys have been found in contempt of court by Judge Sullivan. (One was later excused since he'd just begun to work on the case.) As Cliff Groh, an Alaskan attorney who attended the trial wrote on his blog
    . . . today’s action is both a very big deal and another sign of [Judge Sullivan's] fury at the prosecutor’s conduct. As the Associated Press and the Washington Times reported, it is unusual for a judge to hold a prosecutor in contempt and very unusual to hold a federal prosecutor in contempt.

    This follows a series of screwups by the Prosecution regarding information withheld and for which they were scolded by the judge.

    OK, so attorneys can make mistakes. But hold on. In the three previous trials of Alaskan politicians held in Anchorage that have come from the same FBI investigation, the four Prosecuting attorneys were on top of every detail. They knew every fact and only occasionally had to look up the number of an exhibit even.

    But when the venue for the Stevens trial was set for Washington, DC, not Alaska, it came with a new lead Prosecutor, Brenda Morris, and apparently closer oversight from the Public Integrity Section (PIN) of the Justice Department, where the cases have been based. (Two of the attorneys at the Alaska trials - Nicholas Marsh and Andrew Sullivan - were from PIN and the other two were Alaska Federal Prosecutors Joseph Bottini and James Goeke.) The attorneys ruled in contempt include the new lead prosecutor Brenda Morris who is also the Deputy Director of PIN and PIN Director William Welch, but NOT the four attorneys who got the three convictions in Alaska.

    And then we get the announcement last week that the whole Prosecution team has been replaced - even the four attorneys who have been working these cases for several years and know all the details and were NOT ruled in contempt of court - by
    Paul O'Brien, chief of the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, David Jaffe, deputy chief of the Domestic Security Section, and William Stuckwisch, senior trial attorney in the Fraud Section.
    The defendant has been convicted after years of work in developing the case. And now we have three new attorneys brought in to finish the trial in the 11th inning? Relief pitchers with a fresh arm work in baseball, but relief attorneys? Maybe they don't need to know all the details of the case, they just have to clean up the questions of why the Prosecution's mishandling shouldn't lead to a mistrial. But getting rid of all the attorneys who know about the trial?

  2. FBI Agent files complaint against lead FBI agent in Alaska investigation

    FBI Special Agent Chad Joy filed a complaint against the lead agent in this investigation Mary Beth Kepner. I've put up several extensive posts analyzing the claims in Joy's complaints - Let's Get Real and What Does the Internal FBI Complaint Tell Us? You can see the second, less redacted version of Joy's complaint here. The Anchorage Daily News just recently published Richard Mauer and Lisa Demer's "Key Players Contest FBI Whistle-blower Allegations" confirming the suspicions I raised about Joy's complaint.

    The black swan here, maybe even the checkered swan, is that Joy even filed the complaint in the first place. As I've discussed in a previous post, law enforcement officers tend not to squeal on their colleagues. While I questioned the use of the term Code of Silence because it suggests some level of honor, I found plenty of evidence that law enforcement officers often cover for their colleagues even when they are committing serious crimes that compromise their mission.

    It's odd enough that Joy would file a complaint. What pushes this from black swan to checkered swan territory for me is the fact that none of Joy's complaints about Kepner are about clear, serious transgressions that are routinely covered up - like abusing suspects, taking bribes, or using drugs on the job. These were mostly administrative discretion judgment calls - did Kepner share too much information with undercover sources, and things like that.

    Why would he file a complaint about things like that? I hazarded a guess that perhaps he was excessively rule oriented and the Mauer/Demer piece does say he was brought in to the case because he was good with numbers. But it is still very bizarre for a rookie agent to file against a 17 year veteran over discretionary calls.

So how do we explain these black swans at Potter Marsh and possibly even a checkered swan sighting? Behavioral psychologists explain behavior by looking at what reinforces that behavior. Economists use their own term - incentives. So what are the incentives here? Who benefits from the clouds over the FBI investigation and the Prosecution team meltdown?
  1. The most obvious incentive for the Defense here is to get Stevens' conviction dismissed and have a new trial, or better yet, no new trial.

  2. Another incentive for Stevens is to prevent the indictment and trial of his son, Ben Stevens, who has been one of the targets of the investigation and whom many think is the next in line to be tried.

By creating the appearance that the FBI investigation was corrupted and that the Prosecutors have illegally and intentionally mishandled evidence and witnesses in order to get their conviction of Stevens, the Stevens Defense team could possibly pull off both those goals.

We know that Stevens is a fierce competitor. He's famous for his Incredible Hulk tie and his corresponding temper. He's been known as Senator for Life long enough now that he clearly sees any question about his actions as an unwarranted personal attack. He feels he's innocent, and presumably wants to also protect his 'innocent' son. The Huffington Post reported after the conviction
Unbowed, even defiant, Stevens accused prosecutors of blatant misconduct and said, "I will fight this unjust verdict with every ounce of energy I have."

We also know that the Bush Administration Justice Department Republicans were not a single unified group.
[T[he firing of eight Republican U.S. attorneys last Dec. 7 [2006], in an episode that some of its victims have already taken to calling the "Pearl Harbor Day Massacre
by the Republican Bush Administration was one sign.

More related to the Stevens case was the appointment of Alaska Federal Prosecutor Nelson Cohen in 2006. Normally, when an Alaska Prosecutor is appointed by the Justice Department, the Alaska delegation is consulted. But not in 2006. The FBI investigation into Alaska political corruption was about two years old already and Ben Stevens, if not Ted Stevens too, were known to be targets. Clearly, there were Republicans who were not averse to taking on the senior Republican US Senator and they had enough clout to get this appointment made behind Senator Stevens' (and Senator Murkowski's) back.
"I am just furious at the way the attorney general handled this," the aide quoted Stevens as saying.

But a former Alaska U.S. attorney, Mike Spaan, now in private practice here, said he believes Cohen has a strong background in Alaska and is a "top-notch guy."

"I am confident Nelson knows Alaska. I'm not remotely upset about it," Spaan said. From Richard Mauer's ADN article.

But battles are won and lost in a war. Is the Stevens trial one more of those battles? Is it possible that some pro-Stevens folks got into the Prosecution team and helped disrupt the previously well oiled machine that got the Alaska convictions? Did the Defense get hints of Joy's discontent and find ways to push him into the extraordinary move of filing a formal complaint over such ambiguous issues?

There are, of course, other explanations for the black swan we see. Brenda Morris, perhaps, just wasn't capable of handling the case. Perhaps she was called to head the prosecution because they thought an African-American female leading the prosecution before a mostly female and African-American jury would be a good move. Perhaps the high-powered, well paid Stevens Defense team was a more formidable foe for the Prosecution than what the Prosecutors faced in Alaska.

Perhaps Chad Joy was just compulsive about the rules and in his eyes, Kepner had crossed the line once too often, and/or working for a highly successful, female boss was just too much for him.

One of the issues here - the Prosecution bungling and Joy's complaint - might have been like seeing a black swan at Potter Marsh. Highly unusual, but possible. But both the extreme Prosecution mishandling together with the rookie FBI agent squealing on his senior partner happening on a case of this level pushes this into the checkered swan category for me. Something is fishy. Both of these together didn't just happen. This didn't just fall into the Defense's lap.

My guess is that there's more to this. Joy's complaint alone, by a rookie FBI agent against a 17 year veteran over issues of administrative discretion - is like seeing a checkered swan. I don't see this happening without people intentionally working to pull this case apart from the inside.

David Whitney, in an August 8, 1994 ADN article, quotes Stevens on how Stevens lobbied (you may need UAA id for this link) for Alaskan statehood:

"I had made a study on each member of the Senate and this goes on now into '57, '58 whether they were Rotarians or Kiwanians or Catholics or Baptists and veterans or loggers, the whole thing," Stevens said in the 1977 interview.

"And we'd assigned these Alaskans to go talk to individual members of the Senate and split them down on the basis of people that had something in common with them," he said.

"We were violating the law . . . we were lobbying from the executive branch, and there's been a statute against that for a long time," Stevens said. "We more or less, I would say, masterminded the House and Senate attack from the executive branch."
What was to stop Stevens or his supporters now from studying each member of the FBI and Prosecution team and trying to find a crack the way he did in the statehood lobbying campaign? He certainly had a bigger personal stake now than in the statehood battle. And he didn't seem very contrite over breaking the law in the interview. Perhaps Joy was one of those cracks. And perhaps there were people willing to help in the Justice Department. I have no evidence to prove any of this, except the appearance of a couple of black swans, maybe even a checkered swan, that call for some sort of explanation.

We've been reluctant to question the motives of people like Stevens for years. But we've had a couple years of events that suggest that caution was misplaced. Maybe I'm totally wrong, but it wouldn't hurt, at this point, to check it out. And I'm sure that the people on the inside, people whose case has been fouled, have a lot of ideas about what might have happened.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bike Ride to Hang Dong 1

Yesterday, we took a leisurely bike ride to Hang Dong south of Chiang Mai about 15 km if you go directly on the main road. I've driven by there a few times on trips with work to villages, but never had a chance to stop. The weather's gotten warmer in the last week and so we decided to go before it gets too hot at all. I don't think we achieved the second goal. The weather was in the mid 90s yesterday. My inernal thermostat seems to have adjusted well. We weren't totally sure how to get there - the maps are a little vague unless you take the main highway. We wanted to start along the canal road which is near us and has much less traffic. So, it was a time of discovery.

We helped an Israeli, who stopped us near my office, to get to the main road where he could catch a song thaew, then rode on past Wat Ramphoeng which is as far down that way I've been.

We passed through a little village, where we stopped for some bottles of cold water, then past a huge sports field then found ourselves out on the canal road.

I've passed this strange building several times in a car. We were on the other side of he canal so we didn't have a chance to figure out what it was.

We made it down to the local neighborhood market where we took the opportunity to get in the shade. J got an iced tea at this stand and I chose a strawberry smoothie.

While waiting for my smoothie I snapped this shot of brown rice. The top price is per liter, the bottom price per kilo. One dollar equals almost 36 baht these days.

We'd been vaguely hoping to find the University of Chiang Mai's Agricultural Campus which I'd been told was a nice place to bike, but we ended up on the main road too soon. But we did find a part of it and went in to check out some of the animals. When I approached the ostriches, they all came over - thinking, I guess, I had food. The deer already had food so didn't pay attention to me. But the whole flock of sheep came over to see me from out in the field. You can see that the hazy season is back. You can barely make out the mountains in the background.

Biking limits how far you can go, but it also means you see a lot more in the places you do go by. This place was growing lots of different types of trees, presumably they are for sale.

And, of course, on a bike, it is much easier to stop at the ice cream stand - well this one was a side car on a motorcycle - and have some home made ice cream. The ice cream man told us we could cut over on the road over the bridge and get into Hang Dong on more rural roads, which we did. I'll post our adventure in Furniture World later.