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Friday, February 8, 2008

"The Rounds" from February 8, 2008

My New Blog: Will Have This Column and Other Entries

Actually, the headline might turn out to be only partly true, later. Naturally, I do want people to visit this website, but I'm initially going to experiment with posting this entire column each week at Blogger.com. Here's the URL:


http://squaronians.blogspot.com/

(Don't be confused by the domain name "blogspot." Blogspot was a separate website, but got acquired by Blogger, which in turn was bought by Google.)

I'll be watching the number of visitors here, and depending on how that plays out, I may continue publishing "The Rounds" in full both here and there, or I may switch to publishing just the first few lines of each story at Blogspot with a link to here.

I'm also reproducing the column in other places: MySpace.com, Facebook.com, and Bravenet.com, and may add it other places as well.

There are reasons.

First, I'm seriously trying to monetize this site -- without charging you, Dear Readers, a single baht. There are specialized search engines that search the blogging websites -- but they don't recognize BangkokAtoZ.com as a blog, so they don't pick anything on it up. By posting "The Rounds" on recognized blogging websites, it will (I hope!) be picked up by those specialized search engines, which should, in theory, lead to more visitors to BangkokAtoZ.com.

Second, you probably have noticed the Google ads on this and other pages. I've let those sit idly the several years I've had them, and made practically nothing so far -- a bit over US$70.00, not even enough for Google to pay me yet, which they do at a minimum level of US$100.00. On one page, I also have an AllPoster.com logo; I'll be adding it to other pages as time goes by; it works along the some lines as the Google ads do. Ditto Amazon.com.

In the past, Google Ads were frustrating. Their computer program was meant to place ads relevant to the contents of this page -- specifically, the text area. (technically, the stuff across the very top, down the left margin, and cross the very bottom are on three different pages, with the text area on a fourth one.) Most of the time, the ads were either irrelevant -- "Click here for thousands of jobs in the UK!" or some such -- or partly relevant but still off the mark -- "Hotels in the UK!" But they've improved the accuracy, and starting with last week's column the ads, while fewer in number, are far more relevant -- so far.

For the uninitiated, let me explain. Such a program is called an "affiliate program." In the case of Google, Google itself isn't selling the services and products shown in their ads; they're selling the advertising. If someone clicks on an advertisement then makes a purchase, Google gets a commission (as I understand it) and pays me a cut of that when the person came from my page -- or Blogspot blog.

In this way, I can avoid asking readers to pay a subscription fee, something I've sworn I'll never do. When Dennis and I first started this website, we decided right at the onset we didn't want to ask people to pay just to be able to access it, and I still believe that's the best way to go. Sure, there are specialty websites that have legitimate reasons to charge membership or subscription fees. But unless I change the very nature of this site rather drastically, I don't see any reason to charge for it.

In a way, the strengthening of the baht relative to the US dollar has led me to get serious about this. After all, compared to when the baht was 58 to the dollar instead of the current 33 to the dollar, my actual purchasing power has dropped by over 50%, once one factors inflation into the equation. That's right: over half. And you can darned sure bet nothing has gotten cheaper. The baht weakens -- prices go up. the baht strengthens -- prices go up. The baht holds steady -- prices go up.

So far, the only website that allows me to get cut in on the deal is Google; the others have ads, but bloggers on them don't get any commission. that might change; several of the major outfits are openly considering shifting their business model as they discover that some of their members are hugely popular, and some of those members are clamoring for a piece of the action -- and rightly so. I read about one blog that has something like 1,000,000 unique visitors monthly. That blogger's hosting service has ads on all the blogs, and for reasons no one seems to understand, this blogger's blog's ads get an astonishingly high click-through and purchase rate -- so of course the blogger is asking to be brought into the program.
Even if you don't click through and buy, at least wish me luck!!! ;-)

[Sunday, February 3, 2008]

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Time for a Post-Plastic Bag Era in Thailand?

You might take a look at this website before reading this article:

http://reusablebags.com/

A little while earlier, I went across the drive and bought a bottle of beer, which the lady helpfully handed me in a plastic bag, for ease of carrying the 8-10 meters back to my desk. Then I started reading an article about practically bag-free Dublin, Ireland, where people pay US$.33 per bag for a plastic bag in the form of a tax, which the government collects in full. Further, an aggressive Environment Minister pushed through legislation not only making it illegal for shops to pay for the bags on their customers' behalf but also adding a tax for paper bags as well, should shop keepers seek relief by switching back to those.
Got me to thinking.

From where I sit at my desk, I look out my front door and front wall -- both of which are clear glass. I glanced up. There across the drive was my neighbor, eating her lunch -- which she bought from a street vendor, who had put it in a plastic bag. A friend of my neighbor's stopped with her son to chat to Neighbor and a couple of other neighbors seated there. The lady had three plastic bags, and her son had one. And as I type these words, I see another two ladies walking buy, each carrying two plastic bags of stuff.

To say plastic bags are ubiquitous in Thailand -- as they are elsewhere -- is the understatement of the year.

It's always faintly surprising to me to consider how many people don't even know that the majority of plastic bags never degrade. i.e., they're not biodegradable. They break apart, yes, ultimately into teeny, weeny, maybe even invisible bits -- but they're still plastic.
And it always comes as a rude shock for me to be reminded about this, since I do know, and have long known, that plastic bags are bad news.

Even Bangladesh is making moves to control, maybe eliminate, plastic bags. The country's sewage system is fragile, at best, and easily clogged by plastic bags. One doesn't think of Bangladesh as a leader on environmental issues, but the government there is taking this seriously.

The complex in which I live doesn't have a rubbish bin, the type that a garbage truck can lift and dump into its trash-storage bed. Instead, it has a dedicated room with a metal door. the door is in halves, and when I have trash to toss -- in plastic bags, of course -- I open the upper half and toss it in, where the bags join their brethren, resident there in droves.

I was surprised to read awhile back that China is tackling this issue; when I lived in China in the 1980's, plastic bags were a rarity; everyone had their own cloth or string bags, the latter something like fishing net. I had them -- most shops didn't have plastic or even paper bags, so if I wanted to buy more stuff than I could carry in two hands, it was either do without or carry along my own bag.

The Thai government, like many others, just loves to tax (except the rich people, of course, who control the country anyway). And a tax on plastic (and paper) bags would be right up
Parliament's alley. US$.33 -- about 11 baht at today's exchange rates -- might be a bit too much (or maybe not), but a somewhat lower rate should be effective, given the generally low incomes here. Maybe, oh, say -- what? Five baht? You can sure bet I would either re-use the bags I already have (scads of them) until they broke down or would rush to some shop to by a cloth or cord bag.

I know, I know -- the cord bags in China are themselves made from plastic, but they don't have to be. Besides, though they are made of plastic, they last forever and a day. Ditto the solid carrying bags that often have a convenient zipper top. Meaning that when they finally do wear out and get tossed, they contribute way less non-biodegradable material than would have been the case had their owners used ordinary plastic bags during the same period of time.

Hmmm. The wheels are turning. I hope the Thai government does outlaw plastic bags, and enforces the ban with a vengeance. If they do, I'll buy a display rack and a supply of cloth bags to sell! Of course, I can't legally work, so I'd set the rack up in front of my neighbor's place and we'd work out some sort of split on the income! After all, our compound includes two nine-storey building, each containing 80 apartments plus ground-floor shops, and one five-storey building, with how many apartments, I don't know. Never been in it.

Maybe a franchise operation is in the future. . . . !

[Sunday, February 3, 2008]

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Lunar New Year on the Chinese Calendar

Though Thais celebrate their version of the New Year in April during the annual Songkhran Festival, the Chinese New Year is also widely celebrated here, especially in places such as Bangkok's Chinatown.

Today marks the start of the Year of the Rat, the first year in a 12-year cycle, a cycle itself part of a longer 60-year cycle. (I don't know when the current 60-year cycle ends; looked at a couple of websites but found no answers.)

It's still somewhat early in the morning as I write, so there's time for celebrations to take place in my neighborhood, as they did last year both on the eve of the Chinese New Year and the day itself. rather to my surprise, I saw no sign at all of celebrations yesterday, neither at home, nor along Soi 22, nor in the Washington square area.

Something just this second struck me: Thailand's new government is finally complete; PM Samak presented his cabinet to the King yesterday, then they were sworn in -- and I'll bet they're taking time off for the New Year! Now that's a great way to start at a new job -- a holiday!!! ;-)

[Thursday, February 7, 2008]

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New Places in Washington Square


There are three new places around the Square I want to mention.

Though I haven't gone in yet, there is a new small open-front Thai restaurant immediately next door to the Texas Lone Staar (in the space previously occupied by a Japanese restaurant to the left as you face the front). Depending on just what it stocks, it might be a useful addition to the Square, as it's the only such store inside the Square itself, though similar shops, a Family Mart, two 7-Elevens, and Villa Market are all very nearby.

Around on the back side of the Square is where the other two places are.

The first is Minocue's, which occupies the premises formerly home to a Japanese bar. When I stopped in I was the only customer and three-four ladies, counting the bartender, with whom I spoke. She told me the bar opens at 4:00 P.M. every day. I was a little struck by the limited seating, with a single table, and a few bar stools at the bar. However, I have glanced in while passing, and have seen quite a few people there. The pool table is sure to be something of a draw, given the popularity of the game here.

Next up, a few doors away, Rolling Stone Bar is open in what used to be The Oak Club (a Japanese karaoke). Rather to my surprise, some of the seating in the small downstairs area has been removed, and the lights were bright. I didn't check out the upstairs, but I assume the pool table -- are was it tables? I forget -- remains.

Both these bars are following the widening practice of charging somewhat elevated prices for some drinks, considering the area. For instance, some of the cocktails at Rolling Stone were in the range of 150 baht, and the highest in the Square except for The Dubliner and Bourbon Street, both of which draw quite a few business, government, and diplomatic people who sometimes are on expense accounts. While there was no indication of a Happy Hour at Rolling Stone, when I paid for my beer, listed at 80 baht, the check was for just 60 baht, which is very reasonable. It wasn't appropriate for me to take any interior photos that particular night, but here's a shot (also clickable) of the front:

I understand a very affable Westerner owns Minocue's, though he wasn't in when I dropped by. Don't know who's behind Rolling Stone.

[Friday, February 1, 2008]

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Thai and US Politics


The new Thai government, led by PM Samak, is finally fully in place after the PM and Cabinet were sworn in earlier this week by His Majesty the King.
As usual, there was considerable horse-trading before the cabinet line-up was announced. (That's not a criticism; the exact same thing goes on in the US, Australia, and many other countries.)

The cabinet posts drawing the most attention, it seems, are the Defense Minister and the Finance Minister.

PM Samak decided to do double-duty and assumed the Defense portfolio himself. This reportedly stirred some reactions among the military, who are said to prefer one of their own serve in that position.

Dr. Surapong Suebwong, the new Finance Minister, is being scrutinized because of his lack of any proven record in this field. He is a medical doctor by training, though he did serve as Minister of Information and Communication Technology, so he's not new to government.

Dr. Surapong is likely to have his hands full. Reports say that during the military rule domestic spending dropped. And now it seems increasingly likely the US is entering a recession -- and the timing couldn't be worse for Thailand, given that the US is its leading export market. In fact, it has been the export market that has offered a bit of light over the past year or two, despite the strengthening of the baht compared to the US dollar.

Just what will happen regarding Thaksin Shinawatra remains very unclear. PM Samak, who campaigned openly as a Thaksin proxy, has said the government needs to consider amnesty for the deposed PM -- in two years or so. Just this morning, however, I heard a report Thaksin may return to Thailand in about a month -- but I've heard that, and late May, and this coming December, so his return date is, I guess, still up in the air. What happens regarding Thaksin and what he himself may do (or not do) is likely to have some sort of effect here.

Across The Big Pond in the States, it appears that Senator McCain has a lock on the Republican nomination to run for President. His leading opponent, Mitt Romney, has dropped out of the race, as have a number of candidates on the Democrats' side. The only serious contenders for the Democrats are Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, who are pretty much in a tie after Super Tuesday's numerous primaries and caucuses. I don't know any of the three chief candidates' stands on matters of interest to Thailand, though I assume there will be some shift after a new President takes office in January, 2009.

Meanwhile, the US has announced a resumption of military aid now that a democratically-elected government is in place. Such aid was suspended in the wake of the September, 2006 coup. That's got to be good news to the Thai military. After all, Thailand is by far the US' oldest treaty partner in Asia. And it's good news for the US, given all the good offices Thai governments have provided it over many decades.

[Friday, February 8, 2008]

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Squaronian News

There's not a whole lot of news regarding Squaronians who live in Thailand fulltime. What there is remains centered largely on George Pipas, proprietor of the Texas Lone Staar, who remains hospitalized. I've not been to visit him myself, something I may do in the near future, but others who have visited have reported he is stable. George's many friends are hoping he recovers and is able to be released from hospital at the earliest possible date.


Some of the Minnesota Mob are here or coming. Big Charlie arrived first, hitting town in the wee hours of yesterday morning. He'll be followed my Mike F., also of Minneapolis, let's see, this coming Sunday I think, who in turn will be followed next week by Chris K. and a friend of Chris'. Chris is now living in Seattle, but is part of the Mob. Bubba, also of Minneapolis, has had to change his plans and won't be coming after all, and when he might reschedule is uncertain.
I keep hoping Burt Nestle will call me or that I'll bump into him, as I lost his telephone number (along with his daughter's and everyone else's in my telephone), but neither has happened so far. Maybe I'll see him today, as I plan on going to the Square in search of him and some other folks in a few minutes.

Learned yesterday that Big Joe of Phoenix (these days) may be back well before the two months he said he would be gone just before he departed. Seems his project in Las Vegas is going much more quickly than he had anticipated.

The rest of the lot, both year-round and in-and-out Squaronians, are all well, as far as I know, including Yours Truly.

Late Update: It's now Saturday morning, and I want to add I learned yesterday afternoon that Burt was at the Square Thursday, though somehow we managed to miss each other. Anyway, he's fine. Also, Roger, Kent's (of the Texas Lone Staar) Father is back in town, and I bumped into him for awhile yesterday as well.

The Square was surprisingly -- and pleasingly -- busy yesterday afternoon and evening. Silver Dollar, Texas Lone Staar, Cat's Meow, Hare and Hound, Cheers Pub, and Square One all had good business. In fact, when I first entered Cheers, I actually had to wait a few minutes for a place to sit to become available. Needless to say, the various owners and managers were all well pleased!

[Friday, February 8, 2008]


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Enough for one go . . .

Until next time --

Mekhong Kurt

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