Monday, March 31, 2008

Time's getting short

We need to do another border run this week, so I can't go with the office on their exchange trip to the Northeast of Thailand. Also was able to change my return ticket from Bangkok to Taipei to Singapore to Taipei. And I just booked my ticket to Singapore. Tiger Airways that J took to Singapore, doesn't have any flight to Chiang Mai after today. So there are no non-stop flights to Singapore from Chiang Mai. Air Asia makes you book each leg separately on line.

I accidentally booked the 11am flight instead of the 8am flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, so I get to Singapore at 8pm instead of 3pm. Bummer. And it looks like luggage is severely restricted. Double bummer. But it's only about $150.

All the AJWS volunteers met with visiting New York rep, Dorcus, last night for dinner.

It was a chance to talk and catch up on what everyone is doing. A chance I didn't completely take advantage of. I got to meet an AJWS staff member I didn't know about and her former Peace Corps husband - who, it turned out, taught a year at the new university in Kamphaengphet.

After dinner we walked a little bit to get some ice cream. I had one of the best I've ever had - mango-blueberry sorbet. MMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Things Cool Off

Boy, things really changed in the last two days. While I realize you Alaska folk think 75ºF is hot, it's like the temperature dropped from 30ºF to 5ºF. It feels deliciously cool, even though the humidity went up. We had thunder and some rain today. About the second time we've seen rain in six weeks. After highs over 100ºF all week and lows in the high 80s, 64ºF seems downright chilly.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Saturday Afternoon Walk 5 - Signs

In case you needed anything while we're here, just let us know. .

(Exchange is about 32 Baht/$1US, so 500 Baht is about $13.)

Saturday Afternoon Walk 4 - Motorcycles, Song Thaews and Bus Stops

Transportation is an issue in Chiang Mai. I've already posted about the difficulties of walking. The basic form of transportation is the motorcycle as you can see by this video I took while we were eating our sticky rice. The AJWS handbook is very clear: No motorcycles. The Peace Corps has the same rule. When I was a volunteer at least there was no prohibition against riding on the back, you just couldn't have your own. Now, if you are caught on a motorcycle you are sent home.

But one of the AJWS volunteers we met last year had a motorcycle, so I was wondering how strictly it was enforced. One volunteer had heard a staff member say, you really need one in Chiang Mai. But she changed her mind when a young volunteer from another NGO was killed recently in a motorcycle accident. And last night we saw a sign in a shop asking for blood for a young foreigner who'd been in a motorcycle accident. So that is two foreigners we know of in the six weeks we've been here. And when Dorcus - the New York AJWS staff person who oversees Thailand - came by Friday (all four volunteers are meeting with her for dinner tonight) to the office, she reiterated - No Motorcycles.

Transportation is a problem. The easiest form of transportation is the Song Thaew. That literally means two rows and you can see one of the two rows in the picture of the Song Thaew at the bus stop, with the sign broken and hanging.

They are fairly cheap - 15-30 baht per person most places in Chiang Mai (about 32 B to the dollar). More if you book it private or at night. It seems the song thaew drivers who hang around tourist areas expect higher prices also. But there is also the bus. I know there's a bus because there's a website with a map. I've even seen the white buses pass now and again. But I've yet to see an actual bus stop near where we live. I have no idea what their schedule is. (The link above says 'schedule' but there is only a map.)

So as we walked I kept an eye out for bus stops. You can see two typical bus stops. (One with the back of the song thaew above.) Damaged and it seems that way for a long time. Someone gave me the best explanation the other day. The Song Thaew mafia doesn't want a good bus system. Sounds like a plausible explanation to me. But I did find a long range public transit plan that was written by Chiang Mai University faculty that essentially says buses are going to have to be used or traffic will become unbearable. I also found a plan

for a Chiang Mai subway system. Note that this is on a real estate website and all the lines go nicely out into the suburbs where western style subdivisions have been and are being built.

And as I was trying to find the mass transit plan website again, I found this two year long chat room discussion about mass transit in Chiang Mai. (only a few entries per year from 2004 to 2007) I also found the main transit website (the map above is linked from the website, but not back to the main transit website. Struggling through the Thai, I haven't found anything about how often they run, bus stops, or fares.)

So, in the end we use what I all the song thaw (sounds like the tow in towel) transportation system at lot. (Song means two, thaw means feet.) And when I go to work I use my bike. Last night, after some time in the night market we caught a song thaew back. (sounds a lot like foot - thaw - but with the (m)eow sound a cat makes.)

Saturday Afternoon Walk 3 - Grilled Sticky Rice and Temple Doors

We passed a couple of temples.

Variations on a temple door.

Grilled sticky rice.
First they make the sticky rice. Then they add sugar and coconut milk and the banana (it's in the middle of the rice.) Then they shape it and wrapped it in the banana leaves and grill it. Other times it has black or red bean instead of banana. I think I've seen banana leaf strips for sale at Sagaya's. Let's see if I can make these when we get home.

Saturday Afternoon Walk 2 - Weather Change

As we the through campus shortcut, I realized something was different. It just felt different, familiar. Some combination of temperature and humidity and smells was taking me back 40 years. I looked up. There were actual clouds in the sky, not haze. It was a strange deja vu, due clearly, to some atmospheric condition that took me back to how it felt in Thailand long ago.

Here are some seed pods on campus.

One thing on our list today was to see if I could get a connector so I can go directly from my MacBook to the projector. By chance we passed a Mac store we didn't know was there. 1000 Baht - about $30. We were headed for the giant discount computer place and I wanted to check the price online first. The computer place didn't have it, but got some dvd's to save some of the video and make more space on my Mac, and I got stickon Thai letters for the keyboard. I have checked on the connector and there are various issues mentioned on line so I'll wait til I get back home. Oh, it was $25 online, but not sure it was exactly the same connector.

Saturday Afternoon Walk 1 - Night Market Setup

After spending a hot, lazy day reading, studying Thai, blogging at home, we took off for a walk about 4pm. As we got down to Thanon (road) Suthep, the main road south of the University and near our apartment, we walked along where they were setting up for the night market. The tables were still empty as they were getting things ready.

All the spoons and forks and chopsticks and the dishes washed and ready for the evening crowds.

And the spice racks.

All I could get from the person there is that this ancient machine is for ice. Shaving it? Crush it? Not sure. Didn't seem like it was worth bothering them further to find out exactly.

Friday, March 28, 2008


The bug post was a way for me to avoid posting about Fitna, but I realize I can't avoid it. This is a post that I probably shouldn't post at this stage. I don't thnk I've gotten my ideas straight. But I also don't think I have the emotional energy to work on it much more for now. Plus, the Engaging Muslim series in Wendy Williamson Auditorium will have another speaker on Sunday March 30, at 2pm so it seems timely to get this out now.

I got an email this morning. It began:
Dear Volunteer Corps Southeast

We are writing to inform you of a controversial anti-Koran short film that has just been posted to the internet and the security risks associated with it. Given that there is increased risk we ask that you monitor the internet to keep abreast of developments around this story. If you do not have access to the internet, please make sure that we can reach you by phone in case there is a flare-up connected to the film.

So I, of course, had to find the film on the internet and watch it. Then I read more posts about it, including an interview with Geertz Wilders the Dutch member of parliament who produced the film.

Do I feel threatened? No, not at all. I'm in Northern Thailand. I'm more worried about getting hit by a car or motorcycle as I walk home up the dark, narrow street we live on. Maybe if I were in Southern Thailand where there is a Muslim anti-Thai government movement (and has been since I was here 40 years ago, but then they called it Communist). But I also realize that I got this email because I'm a volunteer for the American Jewish World Service.

And then there are the ironies of modern technology. On this website that features this anti-Muslim film that was predicted to cause mass riots and violence, we find Google Ads for How to How to Convert to Islam and Muslim Marriage Bureau.

But all this chatter on my part is me avoiding the main issue. The movie itself takes a few quotes from the Koran and then has clips of Muslim speakers telling their followers to kill non-believers, which Wilders thinks proves that the Koran promotes a "Fascist" ideology.

I'm not an Islamic scholar and I simply do not have enough information to come to a valid conclusion. Radical Catholic Mom had a link the other day to an article about a Coptic Priest who broadcasts to the Arabic speaking world in Arabic about the Koran and challenges Islamic clerics to refute his claims that the Koran advocates some hateful ideas and practices. That seems a better approach to me. (Though I'm assuming the writers of this piece want their subject to look good and I don't know what others say about him.) In contrast Wilders' movie is aimed at the Western world, warning that Muslims intend to take over the world and destroy democracy. And that now is the time to take action. I can't help but note that the website also says with no apparent irony,
As self-proclaimed “defender of free speech” and critic of Islam, he has sought to ban the Koran in the Netherlands because he believes it to be in conflict with Dutch law.
I'm stalling here, because I still haven't distilled out the key issues. Forget Fitna the film, but watch the Fox News Interviews - with a skeptical ear. I don't agree with Wilders conclusions, but as he goes along, he raises issues that must be addressed. The fears of people are what take us to war. I think the fears of the Dutch people, which have made Wilders one of the most popular Dutch politicians, must be considered, because that is what they act on. But I would also argue that the fears and despair of many Muslims are what causes them to act with hate as well.

While Wilders begins talking about the Koran as the source of problems, he eventually starts talking about the Dutch system as the problem. While he claims that the Dutch have done everything reasonable to assimilate Muslims, the Muslims have refused to go along. (If you had fled your homeland, say because you couldn't find work or support your family, and your new homeland happened to be Islamic, would you just switch to using Arabic at home and start your Islam conversion classes?)

Like Americans were taught about the melting pot for years in school, Wilders' idea is that the immigrants should become thoroughly Dutch citizens. Even if this was what they wanted, even it they could just do that, I suspect (and I have had discussions with European 'ethnic' students who were studying in Anchorage the past two summers) that many Dutch Muslims would say the Dutch don't accept them. I believe Wilders believes what he says about the Dutch making efforts to integrate the Muslims. The problem is that it is from a "the Dutch way is right and yours is wrong" perspective. After all, if yours was right, why are you here? Not an unreasonable question. Except the reasons people are there are complex, as were the reasons so many Dutch left Holland for the North America since the 18th Century.

Changing to a different part of this topic, radical Islam is about power and powerlessness.

Young men everywhere want to identify with the strong hero who saves the world.

Young Muslim men in the Middle East and elsewhere have seen themselves as powerless. The West has the power. The ideas and cultures of Islam are portrayed in the world media and in the global distribution of wealth as powerless and backward. It wasn't long ago that Muslims had respect in the world. I would note that it was only after I graduated from college - it was never in my history classes - that I learned that the Ottoman Empire (1299–1922)

[a]t the height of its power (16th–17th century)... spanned three continents, controlling much of Southeastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, stretching from the Strait of Gibraltar (and, in 1553, the Atlantic coast of Morocco beyond Gibraltar) in the west to the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf in the east, from the edge of Austria, Slovakia and parts of Ukraine in the north to Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and Yemen in the south. The Ottoman Empire contained 29 provinces, in addition to the tributary principalities of Moldavia, Transylvania, and Wallachia.

The empire was at the centre of interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries. The Ottoman Empire was, in many respects, an Islamic successor to earlier Mediterranean empires — namely the Roman and Byzantine empires. (more a Wikipedia)

But today's world has been thoroughly dominated by non-Muslims and the Muslim world, despite its oil and some very rich elite, lives in relative physical poverty compared to the West. This contrast gets exacerbated when people immigrate to Western Europe.

And remember, much of this immigration was instigated by governments who needed laborers in post WW II Europe, and in the case of Germany they invited Gastarbeiter (Guest Workers), first from Italy and Greece, and then from Turkey. But, until recently, their grandchildren, born in Germany to parents who were born in Germany, could not get German citizenship. I can't go into all of this because I don't have time and I don't know all of it. My point is simply that this is not the black and white (Dutch have been wonderful hosts and the Muslims have abused our hospitality) story Wilders portrays.

When I was a student in Europe in the mid 60s, you almost never saw a non-white face. If you did they were either students or guest workers. In those days Europeans could smugly criticize the US for its handling of American blacks. But now the face of Europe has radically changed. If immigration is an issue in the US, it is a much more potent issue in Europe where the influx of people with very different world views has been swift and threatening to what had been far more homogeneously populated countries than the US. The fear that their way of life is being taken away is quite understandable. But globalization works both ways, not simply bringing European ideas to Africa, Asia, and South America, but African, Asian, and South American people, as well as resources, to Europe. Europe and the US cannot change the lives of others without having our lives changed as well.

The questions I'm trying to articulate revolve around the different world views, the different stories people have. But so many things are intertwined. Here are some of the factors that seem to be involved:
  • The heritage of colonialism. The extent to which the European empires - the British, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Belgian, the French, and the German - play in all this is difficult to quantify factor. The Muslim immigrant population in UK, for instance, is hugely made up of people from former colonies. I think this is true of France and Spain as well. See the film Days of Glory/Indigenes to get a sense of the betrayal that North Africans felt in France
  • Economic dominance of the West. While the political controls of the colonial empires were mostly dissolved in the 1960s, the economic control of the former colonies continued. Shell is a Dutch oil company, for example.
  • Feelings of powerlessness. How much of the problem stems from the feelings of powerlessness and resentment of peoples subject to Euro-American economic, political, and military control of much of the world?
  • Factors of Islam? What is it about Islam that it produces a violent reaction, whereas Buddhist and Hindu reaction are different? Is this a feature of Islam as Wilder claims, or is it a feature of people taking advantage of of the despair, who offer a native solution - Islam - to the powerless young men of the Islamic world?

    Or is it something about Arabic cultures? Malaysian and Indonesian Muslims seem to operate differently. Certainly Americans would respond with violence if their nation were invaded. We celebrate the violence of the Boston Tea Party in our history books. And Christianity used violence in the Crusades, in the conquering of the Amricas. And the Old Testemant, the holy book of Jews and one of two books of Christians, holds its share of violence and the destruction of people who do not worship the Jews' god.
  • Dutch treatment of immigrants. Wilders himself has strong words about how the Dutch system exacerbates the problem. How much of the problem (in Holland) is the Dutch response to immigration and welfare? It appears that their approach was to treat the immigrants as though they had Dutch values and now they are resentful that the immigrants didn't respond as Dutch citizens would have.

I don't know the answers. As you can see, I'm still struggling to figure out the questions.

Perhaps people going to hear Dr. Ingrid Mattson, President of the Islamic Society of North America, speak at Wendy Williamson Auditorium Sunday, March 30, as part of APU's Engaging Muslims program can raise these questions and have a real candid, yet respectful discussion.

Bug Intruder

It was evening a few days ago. A large insect was attached to the outside of our living room screen. The problem with not having manual control of the focus shows up in situations like this. The camera kept focusing on the screen, not what was lurking behind it.

From outside, it was too dark to get the bug clearly. The flash was too bright. So, I decided to have fun with the pictures. My limited technical resources here include iphoto and keynote.

My guess is that this critter had not completed his metamorphosis from the larval to adult stage.

The Intruder Scoping out its Prey

Yam (rhymes with Tom) for Sale

These Karen shoulder bags were brought into the office just now. They are for sale for between 120 Baht and 150 Baht. I thought I'd put them up here and see if there was anyone who wanted to buy one - I hope for a little more.

They were made by children in the village as a way to raise money for school fees. If someone wants to buy one or more of them - there are three in the office now - let me kow and we can figure out how to work out the payment somehow.

If you can wait, I can get them to you when I get back to the US in May. Or we can could mail them from here, we'll just add shipping charges.

My boss understands the potential power of having a blog - in fact we set one up experimentally. You can see it in my profile. There is only one post. But Bing asked me to help him set one up too. He's put up a poem he wrote for his grandmother who died when I first got here. I'm hoping that as he gets good at it and will be able to write for the organization's post. Go to his blog and leave a comment. Tell him you'd like him to translate the poems into English.

So let's see if there is power here to sell some shoulder bags. Any bidders?

Here are some pictures of village kids. These are not the kids who made the bags, but you get the idea. These are poor kids who live in a fairly traditional hill tribe culture. The bags were made by similar kids.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Traini's Back In

It seems my mid town vote matters after all. According to an ADN story by Kyle Hopkins, the Supreme Court has decided that Traini is eligible to run.

I've already written on this extensively. It's unfortunate that the only way, apparently, to clarify the ambiguity in the law, was to legally challenge someone running for office for an 'extra' term. I've looked at the Municipal Charter and at the Muni's hired attorney's opinion, and think that he shouldn't have been eligible. But the reasoning Kyle reports the SC used - when there is a doubt in the law, interpret for the candidate - does make some sense too.

The decision clarifies this for future races, which is good and was clearly necessary. Unless the charter is changed again, 'term' does not mean 'partial term.'

I'm sure all this put a damper on Traini's campaign - as Kyle's post says - and Traini may challenge the election if he loses. I still think it is contrary to the spirit of the term limits. He will have served, if he wins and completes his term, more than nine years.

Voting - Thanks to Persistence of Lupe Marroquin,

People are quick to complain and slow to praise public servants. I want to thank Lupe Marroquin of the Municipal Clerk's office for her persistence in getting us our absentee ballots here in Thailand. Here's a picture of me voting long distance.

It wasn't easy. First, I didn't know what fax machine to use. At our apartment building they said I couldn't fax out of Thailand. (To send in the applications) When I asked at the office though, Ew smiled and pointed at a box. She'd just bought a new fax machine. We set it up and managed to send in the applications. But I wasn't so sure about getting a fax back. It would be night here when they faxed. Would the electricity to the fax be on? Would the paper jam?

I emailed to check they got the applications. They had, but they were getting busy signals. At the apartment the fax at the main desk was out of toner and they had to order from Bangkok. Then, there was a knock on the apartment door, and someone from the front desk had brought up an old fax machine to use in our apartment.

Lupe checked the internet and figured out that she needed to drop the zero in our phone number when calling from overseas. She got through to the Thai recording I warned her about, but then there was a second recording and she hung up. I faxed from the office to the fax in the apartment the next day. It worked. I emailed Lupe that the second recording just said, "Wait a sec."

That night about 11pm, the phone rang, and the fax began to spit out a long scroll of paper with our ballots printed on it. So, today I took them to the office and faxed them back. People were a little amazed that I could vote by fax.

It does say on the form, "I am voluntarily waiving a portion of my right to a secret ballot..." But when I saw that in the picture you could see how I voted, I redacted the photo. I don't have to give up that much of my right to a secret ballot.

So, thanks again Lupe for being so persistent in getting our ballots to us. I know you were working from home at 6am when you emailed me you'd try again. That's the kind of service that you aren't paid for, but which is great to get.

Now, the rest of you Anchorage readers, go vote in the Municipal elections.

Payroll, Pool, Pancake

What I manage to post up here is just a small fraction of what's happening. J's Thai classes have ended. AUA - American University Alumni - was teaching Thai and English in Bangkok 40 years ago already. But it is summer break and they postponed Thai classes to fill their classrooms with Thais wanting to learn English. There's a much bigger demand. Meanwhile, they also have classes at the University which is much closer. But J liked her teacher so much she continued at AUA. I still want to go in and have a diagnostic test and get some Thai lessons appropriate to where I am. Clearly I'm picking up lots each week, but I could do this faster with help.

So, when we were at the Fire Break Ceremony Sunday, J was asked to give English lessons in the office and she came in Tuesday and yesterday (Thursday). They were in another room but I heard a lot of laughing. J's a great teacher and I know they had a good time and learned. Ew came out speaking only in English, something she's never done with me before. Yes, words here and there, but never whole sentences. It's all there, but the speaking experience is missing.

Yesterday after the lesson Ew drove J and me to lunch. Then we dropped J off at the Chiang Mai University (Chaw Maw for short) swimming pool and we went on to the bank to do the payroll.

Last night J and I walked down to the Vietnamese restaurant. The air conditioning was set low enough to be unobtrusive, but eventually I realized how comfortable it was. It's been in the high 90's every day, and recently the evenings have NOT been getting cooler. But the humidity was down in the 30% range, so I don't get all wet.

They call this a Vietnamese pancake on the menu, but it is much, much more than that. And it comes with this huge collection of vegetables. For the Alaskans who have been drooling over the food pictures, you can order this at Ray's on Spenard across the street from Chilkoots. Steve Heimel introduced me to this when he met with my class last fall.

And for you coffee fanatics, you'll be pleased to know you can satisfy your cravings with no problem in Thailand. Coffee shops are everywhere, particularly in tourist areas and here around the university. You can double click the picture to enlarge it.

It's about 32 Baht to the dollar.

Bert Hoak - Running for Assembly

My curiosity was piqued reading the ADN description of Assembly Candidate Bert Hoak's time in Cambodia. So I googled a little. It looks like Hoak got his 15 minutes of fame running a book store in Cambodia.

There's also a Hoak's Lakeshore restaurant in Buffalo, New York that was owned by a Bert Hoak who could have been Bert's father.

I shouldn't be surprised that we have so many people with such interesting life experiences in Anchorage. There is no doubt he would make an interesting addition on the Anchorage Assembly. Having watched real life and death issues in person in Cambodia, this isn't a man who's likely to get caught up in the pettiness that can sometimes be the Anchorage Assembly. This isn't an endorsement, I only know a few tidbits about him. But this is a man I'd like to take to dinner and have a long conversation with when I get back home.

From we have these observations from Hoak originally written on a mailing list:
Although my opinions on Cambodia are by no means unique, my observations were made from a perspective that was unique. Unlike many others, I continued on after the completion of the UNTAC mission and was daily witness to the rapid decline of Cambodia...socially, politically, and environmentally. The business that I operated dealt with clientele that included NGO, tourists and professional travelers, journalists, academicians, and diplomats. It was common for our clientele to share their experiences from throughout Cambodia. I know of no other who had the benefit of such a such a unique vantage.

The pain, the suffering continues. In spite of Cambodia being the highest per capita recipient of foreign aid -- for more than five years. The deforestation spite of foreign aid. The drug network spite of foreign aid. The Human Rights abuses, the killing of journalists, editors, dissidents and others continues, and will continue, in spite of foreign aid. Our continued aid will only serve to prop up a despotic prolong the prolong the ecological devastation, even to the point of no return.

Again and again we hear that foreign aid should be continued so that we can have some influence on the "government" of Cambodia, or as [Australian] Ambassador [Tony] Kevin states it: "By remaining engaged (continuing foreign aid) outside governments and agencies have some leverage on RGC behaviour....that by withdrawing, that leverage is lost."

I lived and worked in Cambodia for almost five years. Throughout that time there were repeated and continuous instances of murder, atrocities, ecological rape, and the violation of even the most basic Human Rights...not to even mention the abject terror that the rural Cambodian comes to expect in Cambodia today.

Throughout those years I waited...together with millions of Cambodians, waited for the international community to act, to make some stand, to give some sign of hope that the outside world would not sit idly by while Cambodia again slides into despotism.

A July 1997 New York Times article says about Hoak:

Many of those who are leaving are people like Mr. Hoak who volunteered to help the United Nations prepare for elections and stayed on to make Cambodia a second home.

Bert's Books became a landmark, the only good English-language bookshop in town, where browsers could pull a dusty paperback from the shelves and sit on the roof looking out across the Tonle Sap River at the palm trees and fishing villages on the opposite bank.

Housed in what was once a brothel, Bert's Books also became a popular guesthouse, where a single room with bath and extra-large bed could be had for $6 a night.

There's even mention of him in the scholarly journal Human Rights Quarterly, but UAA's electronic data base only goes back to Volume 17 and the article is in Volume 16. The google snippet says:

work of the United Nations Volunteers-people like the Alaskan, Bert Hoak, ...

And one more in the same vein as the NY Times piece dated July 1997 from geocities:

Mr Hoak, 46, has worked in Cambodia for five years, including a stint with the United Nations and as owner of the well-known Bert's Bookshop, Guest House and Restaurant, a popular meeting place for travellers and resident expats.

Clutching visa applications for himself, his Cambodian wife and their young son, Mr Hoak said they were going to his hometown of Buffalo, New York, after watching this nation go from bad to worse.

"I came here in 1992 as a United Nations volunteer to work in the election" which resulted in a seemingly absurd power-sharing arrangement between two prime ministers, Hun San and his now self-exiled rival, Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

"I witnessed sexual excesses" by UN personnel during preparations for the 1993 poll, said Mr Hoak, referring to widespread complaints that some of the international "peace-keeping forces" harassed Cambodian women and enjoyed trysts with prostitutes.

Nevertheless, after the UN spent nearly $3 billion (90 billion baht) to stage the elections, Mr Hoak stayed on and opened his riverside "cerebral hostelry" three years ago, attracting backpackers, aid workers and professionals who strolled through the neighbourhood's squalor to munch cheap food, swap tales and search his stacks for fine literature.

Looking for other tidbits, I found Hoak's Lakeshore restaurant in Buffalo, New York (Hoak's home town.) I don't know how many Bert Hoaks there are, maybe this was Dad's place. The link has the menu.

In 1949, two brothers, Edward and Bertrand Hoak, purchased what was to become Hoaks restaurant. The restaurant was opened in November of 1949. Gus Hoak and Gus Sr., Pop Hoak, added their wit and personality to the everday operation of the young business in 1955. Eds sons purchased the business from Bert in 1977. The restaurant offers a lovely view of the Buffalo skyline and the Canadian shore, whih is only surpassed by the beautiful sunsets. We are constantly striving to maintain the fine tradition and quality of service and food which has made Hoaks a familiar name to those seeking a friendly family amosphere. Banquet rooms available. Download our banquet menu here.

Yes, Running Can Make You High

That was a NY Times headline today.

It was just the other day I said to J. one thing I'm really looking forward to when we get back is running again. Between dogs and the heat and my schedule, I've only run once. I'm having a good time, sleep like a log every night, etc. But I do miss running.
Researchers in Germany, using advances in neuroscience, report in the current issue of the journal Cerebral Cortex that the folk belief is true: Running does elicit a flood of endorphins in the brain. The endorphins are associated with mood changes, and the more endorphins a runner’s body pumps out, the greater the effect.
I don't run more than 35-50 minutes usually (they studied runners after a two hour run), and I certainly don't get euphoric, but I generally feel much better overall when I run regularly. Now, I do get about 20 minutes of biking - a few minutes up hill on the way home - each day, and we walk in the evening to dinner and around, but it just isn't the same.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Fire Break Ceremony 5 - Saying Hello in a Karen Language

Most, if not all, of the people at the ceremony could speak Thai so I got to talk pretty easily to a number of people. But Karen is their first language - well one of the Karen languages, I'm not sure which one. Here is our first Karen language lesson - it's a short 19 second video.

Wikipedia doesn't have much about this language:
The Karen languages are members of the Tibeto-Burman group of the Sino-Tibetan language family. The three main branches are Sgaw, Pwo, and Pa'o; they are not considered to be mutually intelligible (Lewis 1984). Karenni (also known Kayah or Red Karen) and Kayan (also known as Padaung) are related to the Sgaw branch. They are almost unique among the Tibeto-Burman languages in having a Subject Verb Object word order; other than Karen and Bai, Tibeto-Burman languages feature a Subject Object Verb order [8]. This is likely due to influence from neighboring Mon and Tai languages (Matisoff 1991).

[Later: Another site says that Sqaw and Pwo are the only two that have a written language and these folks said they could write in their language. So that limits it down to those two. Someone in the office said their language was "Bakayaw" but that is in Thai.]

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Land Reform in Northern Thailand

My job here is supposed to be about helping with management issues, but I do need to understand what the organization does to help out. Plus, one of my functions is to help with networking with related organizations. As part of that, I've been checking the internet for information on sustainable farming, land reform, etc. in Northern Thailand.

I've talked about land reform issues before, always with the disclaimer that I don't really understand very much about the context and details. The same disclaimer applies here.

As I got to work today, there was a large group of people in the compound, many villagers of a hill tribe group I didn't recognize. I was told they were Palong. (I'm having trouble finding non-tourist oriented websites that discuss the hill-tribes, this one seems relatively neutral.) Further questioning of people at the office revealed that a ruling on a land dispute from 2547 (it's now 2551, that that would have been 2004) was handed down this morning and these villagers were found to have violated law when they occupied the land around 2500. There was a meeting going on in the meeting room and I asked if I could listen in. It turned out that Mi - who sometimes uses the other desk in my office - was running the meeting. He invited me in, and later during a break said I could take pictures, but I pushed for him to ask the people in the room first before I did.

The talk was of how many rai (.4 acres) of land, money, number of families. It is so easy to slip into filling in the missing details with my own preconceptions, but I'm trying hard not to let that happen and focus on the objective things I know or what people tell me. Even then I have to double, even triple check to make sure I understood the Thai correctly.

Our brains naturally try to make sense of things and put them into context. My most immediately related brain cells clicked onto what I know about when American Indians' land was made available for sale. Outsiders could buy the land destroying the community and unity of the tribes. People were tempted with quick cash, and as some tribe members sold their land, the tribes soon became alienated from the land. Is that what was happening here? It sounded like they were talking about selling prices and that Mi was talking about the necessity of the group holding together. But maybe I was imagining all that. I'll try to talk to him after they end the meeting today.

Later: So before pushing the publish post button I went back out and asked more questions. The court found that they occupied the land illegally, but they will be able to stay on the land. They've been there over 40 years and there really is no place for them to go. Furthermore, the land belongs to the government, not to corporations or other individuals who are trying to claim ownership of the land. So, I asked, if they get to stay on the land, why are they appealing? Answer: So that they are not ruled to have violated the law. My informants are gone and so I can't ask the other questions I still have. I'm assuming this is in hopes of setting precedence for other land disputes, but I'm not sure.

In my networking internet search, I did find this report on land reform in Northern Thailand which matches the issues I wrote about earlier. Then I was trying to give some context to the land conflict issues and this report does that. Here's an excerpt:

Misappropriation of land in Baan Hong district
As the economy grew in the late 1980s and early 1990s, financiers began looking for secure long-term investments for their accumulating capital and found that buying up rural land areas was an ideal investment. Such land could be acquired cheaply, issued with title, with every likelihood in the economic climate of the times that it would swiftly rise in value. In Lamphun province, titles for extensive areas of land were issued during the height of the economic growth period in 1990-1993 without the knowledge of local communities who became aware of the alienation of their community lands only when fences started appearing in the fields.

The land conflict I witnessed before was in Lamphun and this sounds very much like that situation. (It turns out that it should sound familiar because it was written by two people - one Thai, one foreign - who worked here in the past. But no one here even knows this English report about their work exists. So, one thing it turns out I'm helping out with is putting together a set of articles in English that relate to what they are doing. A few people here can read these with difficulty, but if they have volunteers like me, they should get these to bring them up to speed a little faster.)

The entire 15,000 râi in Baan Hong District described above, that was previously held in common by local communities and that was supposed to be allocated to local people, is now titled under the names of non-resident companies and wealthy individuals from outside the community. Local farmers have vigorously challenged the legality of the title deeds. Villagers state there was no notice of intention to survey the area and issue title either posted in the village or announced over the village loudspeaker. Research into the title deeds shows that many were issued on the basis of incomplete survey information, sometimes under false names, and from non-existent or long dead sellers (in at least one case, the space for the name and address of the seller was simply left blank).
Thus, villagers in Baan Hong were prohibited from using their community land, around which fences were constructed in or around 1990. Seeing such fences and boundary markers appearing in the lands they had traditionally claimed for village use, people from Sritia village rose up in protest at the illegal transfer of this land to outsiders. A youth leader involved in the protests was shot and killed by unknown gunmen.

I realize that you could say, OK, that's one side of the story and it seems a little extreme. My sense is that in the past (and I did work in rural Thailand forty years ago so my sense isn't totally imaginary), poor farmers, particularly hill tribes, had no power whatsoever and if they got to the courts they were sure to lose. And today's decision was only partially in favor of the villagers and wasn't filed by people who were claiming to own their land. So things that happened until recently were pretty blatant because those in power never expected to be challenged. But local activists, supported by international NGOs have come onto the scene to help the victims.
My organization, the Northern Development Federation, is working with the farmers to secure the rights to the land. The people in the pictures above and in the Chiang Dao series of posts are the people whose rights to the land they farm - and in many cases for a couple of generations - are challenged.

Sorry Hillary, You Need to Cool it or Drop Out

Saw Hillary Clinton's response on CNN to the criticism (that I wrote on yesterday) of her embellishing her story about 'running from the plane under fire' in Bosnia. I think she needs a good night's sleep, maybe two. She's so focused on becoming president that she's forgotten the long term goal - getting the country back on the right track, best accomplished, if you're a Democrat, by electing a Democrat.

All of us can be nice when things are fine and people are friendly. Our true character comes out when we are under pressure. Clearly Mrs. Clinton was under pressure. But still, this was clearly choreographed by her handlers as well. So we can't just say she's under stress. Changing the topic is a classic response to attack. But bringing back up the stuff about Obama's pastor to distract from her own crisis only turns off Democrats who range from dismay to disgust by her embellishment.

OK, a brief detour here a second. Is embellishment just another euphemism for lie? I don't think so - it's allowing for more than just 'lie' as the explanation.

I've learned from my wife over the years, that I'm on the extreme end of focusing on the literal truth of content in a conversation. For me, conversation is about getting information passed from one person to another. For some people, the content is irrelevant because conversation is about human interaction. If there is lapse in the conversation, it is all right to totally make things up to keep the communication going. Someone I won't name (not my wife), once asked at a large dinner at her home, if someone wanted mustard. When I answered I did, she got all flustered and said, "We don't have any." I've come to understand that she was "being a good hostess" in her eyes. This is not about lying or telling the truth, because the content is irrelevant to the purpose of making people comfortable.

Most people are somewhere in between on that continuum. Content and communication are both important and the balance varies depending on the context. Talking with your buddies about the fish you caught or the basket you shot from midcourt is about camaraderie and allows for embellishment. What a comedian says on stage, we understand to be fiction. When we testifying as a witness in court we're supposed to be telling just the truth.

So, it is reasonable for Clinton to have filled in some details that maybe didn't happen. Given all the briefings she had about the dangers, her brain may have actually merged the briefings with the actual event. Or maybe the first time she embellished a little on this story it got a good response so she kept embellishing. This is natural. I imagine most people reading this are conscious of doing this themselves. My brain doesn't work that way. I may remember things and relate them incorrectly, but if I am conscious that I'm straying from the facts, I stop and correct myself immediately. It's not some superior moral position that deserves credit, it's just how my brain works.

But when we are talking about a possible US president, I want someone whose brain is good at separating fact from fiction if that was the problem. I want the president to remember as close to the truth as humanly possible her interactions with other world leaders. And when she does make things up (say as part of high stakes negotiation strategy like nuclear weapons in North Korea), I don't want it to be something that can be so easily discovered to be false as this. And if the president is found out in a lie, I want a her to respond the way Mr. Obama responded to criticism of his pastor. With intelligence and class.

Mrs. Clinton seems to be so narrowly focused on winning that nothing else matters. A truly presidential candidate would recognize that the stake for the Democrats and the nation will be much higher in November. If she doesn't win the nomination, Mr. Obama will. Not a disaster for her cause. It seems to me this has gotten too personal a goal from Mrs. Clinton. As a Democrat, her highest goal should be that a Democrat wins in November. What she's doing now is counterproductive. It's making her look bad and when you throw mud, it inevitably gets the the target dirty too.

Now, I'm not sure I buy into the argument that what she says against Mr. Obama will only help Mr. McCain. All this stuff will be brought up in the final campaign whether Mrs. Clinton raises it or not. And if she is discredited, then quoting her on this will only convince the convinced. A united front would certainly strengthen things, but the Republicans don't need the Clinton campaign to talk trash about Mr. Obama.

Mrs. Clinton, I think the honorable courses of action open to you are these:
  1. Continue your campaign with the knowledge that you might not win and that's ok. Focus on the programs you think are critical and what you would do if elected. Try to influence the eventual winner to adopt your ideas. When talking about Mr. Obama and his policies, remember that he may be the Democratic candidate and possibly the president. Say things that reflect well on you as a person and as Democratic presidential candidate and that will help the party elect whomever is nominated. Don't let the media push you into a food fight with Mr. Obama
  2. You already recognize that you are fighting from behind. Step back and also recognize that each day this campaign goes on, it costs the Democrats money and time they could use in the fight against Mr. McCain. If you can't be president, certainly it would be better for you to have Mr. Obama president than Mr. McCain, wouldn't it? With this knowledge, you could announce that you are withdrawing for the sake of the party and the nation. It would prove wrong the people who are saying you will do anything to win and make you look much more like a statesperson.

Hillary's "Millions of words a day"

CNN's website says that in explaining the difference between her description of running from a plane in Bosnia under fire in 1996 and the video of her walking normally from that plane:

Clinton told the paper's editorial board it was a "minor blip." Video Watch how Clinton described her trip »

"I say a lot of things -- millions of words a day -- so if I misspoke, that was just a misstatement," she said.

Millions of words a day? Could that be? So, I read out loud from the CNN piece for 5 seconds. I read seven words in five seconds.

12 X 7 = 84 words a minute.
60X 84 = 5040 words an hour
5040 X 24 = 120,960 [per day]

So, if she spoke non=stop for 24 hours, it still wouldn't be close to a million. OK, I know she doesn't count the words and this was simply a wild guess, but it's nice to know that someone who could be our president has a sense for numbers, not just so that she would realize it was probably impossible to say millions of words a minute [day]. But so when other large numbers are used, we can have confidence that she understands them and the implications.

More disturbing is the suggestion that because she talks all day, it's ok to 'misspeak' once in a while, because that would just be a 'misstatement.' Since we now know that she doesn't use millions of words a day, does that change anything? What is the difference between a misstatement and a lie? In this case painting a picture of running from a plane under fire when in fact she walked off, and according to the picture, she and Chelsea stopped to talk to a little girl.

Wouldn't a mother remember whether she put her daughter into a life threatening situation? I'd like to know if possibly there was some other flight when she came under fire. If there isn't some other flight she might have confused this one with - and she didn't mention one in her defense apparently - then this is all disturbing indeed. Embellishing one's stories may be ok for fishers, but it isn't ok for presidential candidates.

Or am I falling victim to anti-Clinton non-stories being leaked to the press?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Clinton - Obama Feud a Media Creation?

I caught a CNN piece this morning about how things are getting down and dirty in the Democratic primary. But as I listened to their examples of the dirt, it seemed to me mostly minor. It seemed more likely that CNN is doing its best to keep up ratings by creating the impression of a nasty fight between the two.

Example 1:
Sen. Hillary Clinton says Barack Obama's camp is spreading false information about her positions.

Example 2:
Obama described Clinton's anger as "tactical" and defended his campaign.

These are hardly fighting words. But it appears that CNN and the others are doing their best to make it seem that the two are engaged in something that will keep viewers glued to their tvs.

OK, someone might point out that they also got into Carville's Judas statement about Richardson's endorsement of Obama. But Carville and Richardson aren't even the candidates.

CNN's website sets it up for you to see them fight. They have their story - Obama and Clinton fight it out - then they pull out the clips, no matter how weak, that support their story:

Taking a mocking swipe at the Illinois senator's campaign style, Clinton said people want actions and not words. Video Watch Clinton mock Obama »

Meanwhile, Obama railed on Clinton for supporting NAFTA when her husband was president. Video Watch the latest on the back-and-forth »

This is politics as reality tv. Actually that would be fine with me if they focused on what was important instead of just the how things affect the race.

It seems that Stanley Fish at the New York Times is thinking the same things I am

This denouncing and renouncing game is simply not serious. It is a media-staged theater, produced not in response to genuine concerns – no one thinks that Obama is unpatriotic or that Clinton is a racist or that McCain is a right-wing bigot – but in response to the needs of a news cycle. First you do the outrage (did you see what X said?), then you put the question to the candidate (do you hereby denounce and renounce?), then you have a debate on the answer (Did he go far enough? Has she shut her husband up?), and then you do endless polls that quickly become the basis of a new round. [emphasis mine]

Meanwhile, the things the candidates themselves are saying about really important matters – war, the economy, health care, the environment – are put on the back-burner until the side show is over, though the odds are that a new one will start up immediately.

Why? Controversy means more viewers and more viewers means higher advertising rates. Additionally, the longer Obama and Clinton fight for the nomination, the more money they will spend on political advertising.

Now, I'm pretty good using Google, but I could find precious little on media profits and the elections. From this November 2004 post on a website for direct response marketers:
In a presidential race that spent more money than any other election in history, exceeding $1.5 billion according to some experts, people were curious about who went home with bulging pockets after the last of the confetti was swept from election headquarters.
According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, media firms were among the big winners this election, in addition to lawyers and pollsters.
We see here, that it appears that the media report the news in a way (horse-race) that helps their ratings. But this also raises another question. How does advertising spending affect whether they even cover a story at all? If a newspaper, say, gets tons of money from a particular advertiser, will that cause the paper to not report news that negatively impacts that advertiser? Odds would seem pretty good they would find other important stories to write about.

So, what is legitimate and what isn't in debate? Basically, I would say that criticism of one's opponent's policy positions is legitimate. Personal attacks - questioning their loyalty, snide comments on their religion, gender, race, looks - should generally be off the table.

But separating out the personal from the professional isn't always that easy. It is legitimate to raise questions about one's experience and decision making abilities - anything directly related to the job is fair game. It's up to voters to watch the ads critically and reward those candidates who keep on task - campaigning on the issues, not trashing their opponents. Of course, the voters have to know the difference between the two.

Fire Break Ceremony Chiang Dao 4 - Embroidery

These are some of the women who were at the ceremony and their beautiful hand made clothes.

This woman said it took three days to embroider this one.

Fire Break Ceremony Chiang Dao 3 - Bamboo

These villagers could do anything with bamboo, and they did. The posters were posted on bamboo bulletin boards, and the stage where the speakers would sit was bamboo.

Upper left is a prayer stand of bamboo. Below was the bamboo ribbon for the ribbon cutting to the fire break. Pieces of the ribbon, after it was cut, were then tacked onto trees. If I weren't careful I might make some comment about talismen - but that would be me making assumptions I have absoutely no basis for. I don't know if the bamboo posted on the tree along the firebreak is anything more than decoration.

And who needs red Costco cups when there's bamboo? Complete with bamboo cup rack. In back are bamboo water holders to fill the cups with. And you don't even have to take them to the recycle center. You can just toss them when you're done.

And what celebration would be complete without bamboo serving dishes and serving spoons?

So, what is this one?

Did you get it? It's a fully adjustable microphone stand. There's a smaller piece of bamboo inside a bigger piece, you can raise and lower the mic and put little pegs in the holes to keep it in place.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Fire Break Construction Ceremony Chiang Dao

The sign says, roughly,
Celebration/Ceremony to Open the Fire Break - Mae Ba Sao and Mae Khong Sai

People and the Forest Can Live in Sustainable Harmony

Communities of Mae Ba Sao and Mae Khong Sai Subdistrict: Mueng Khong District: Chiang Dao Province: Chiang Mai

March 23, 2551
(they use the Buddhist calendar)

The ceremony was just up the road on the left where the fire break begins. I'll jump ahead here to show the ending where everyone ceremonially swept the dry bamboo leaves off the trail.

I was a little confused about the purpose of the ceremony and the efficacy of the fire break, so at lunch today I ask those sorts of questions. Essentially, the villages maintain a six meter wide fire break for 30 kilometers. The part you see at the end here was merely ceremonial. The intent of the ceremony was to show government officials who came that the hill tribe people can live in harmony with the forest. All the posters (I'll show some in later posts) talk about things like sustainable farming and global warming. I'll also do a post on bamboo here - showing a number of the things that the villagers made of bamboo for yesterday. Bamboo grows in abundance up there and is totally recyclable.

Infomekong has the following on Karen farming:

There are two main types of farming: slash and burn and paddy. Slash and burn farming involves clearing an area of trees and then burning the underbrush. The burning process adds minerals to the soil, which helps crops to be grown. Unfortunately, the negative aspects outweigh the positives. This process strips the soil of essential nutrients and leads to more erosion, therefore, only allowing crops to be grown for a few years. As a result, the Karen have begun to utilize the process of paddy farming more often than slash and burn. Instead of installing an irrigation system, a paddy farm is flooded by a close river in order to water the crop.

Note: Infomekong is an evangelical site. I have personal problems when people of one religion try to convert other people to their religion. I find it curious how they can write on their site,

...the Thai government started oppressing the Karen community by trying to convert them to become more Thai-like
without any irony. How is conversion to Christianity a better cultural diversion than conversion to Thai culture? I'm not at all defending what the Thai government has done. It is not unlike what has been imposed on Alaska Natives by both church and government schools. At its worst you get results like those Tony Hopfinger reported in his Newsweek story of sexual abuse of students by priests that I linked and which came out last week in an expanded version in the Anchorage Press. But I think the information - aside from where it veers into missionary work - is useful. But be warned.
Traditionally the Karen live at lower elevations than the other hilltribes and although they still practice slash and burn, unlike many hilltribes they live in permanent villages and have been aggressive in developing environmentally sustainable terraced rice fields. These factors have allowed the Karen to become much more integrated members of Thai society. The Karens living at lower elevations almost universally have Thai citizenship which has allowed them to buy land and to have access to free secondary education, luxuries other hilltribes do not yet have.

Much of the Karen population in Thailand and Burma is Christian and has been for multiple generations. Christian Karens are very strong in their beliefs.

The people in these two villages are all Thai citizens, and as later posts will make obvious, they are Buddhists. A key issue for these villages is that they live inside forest land that is government land. One of the programs of the organization I'm working with is to help the villagers get title to the land they live on. Inviting the government officials to take part is an attempt to have them see that these villagers are not going to destroy the forest.

Fire Break Construction Ceremony Chiang Dao 1

We were up for the sunrise again - our ride was going to pick us up at 8am. (The first picture is the sun through the trees, not a fire.)

And of course I was going to look for birds. You can see why it's so hard to get good photos. You can hear them, but often you can't see them unless the move. Can you find the one in this tree? They don't usually sit in such a prominent place.
All I knew is that some other NGO people from Chiang Dao were going to pick us up. It turned out we were picked up by tv cameramen who drove up from Bangkok to cover the event. So it will get coverage beyond this blog. It should, now I have to double check with Ped (I've been spelling it Pet here, because that's how it's pronounced in English, but Ped said it was with a D not a T. But in Thai a final D is pronounced like T. So should I spell it the way he does or the way my English speaking readers are more likely to read it correctly?) to see if he was joking when he said I was the media coverage. He had to have known about these cameramen, or is there another NGO involved who arranged that? I have no idea.

Here's a minute or so of the hour ride to the village.