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Monday, August 11, 2008

Horny lizard

The Sneaky Snakes
Among You Guys Have Hope Yet!


You gotta love the story "Rare 111-year-old reptile to become a father
" when it inspires such hope in beating, if aging, hearts.

He's rediscovered sex.

This isn't just your ordinary old lizard, but a rare one found only in New Zealand who's in a very real sense a leftover dinosaur. (No joke; see the story.)

Seems "Slinky" Henry -- that'd be the lizard shooting to fame with his newly-rediscovered libido -- had suffered a cancer somewhere in his tender nether regions; once that was removed, he perked right back up.

Maybe it was finding a love mate so much his junior: a bare slip of a lass, that Mildred is, at a barely-legal (in lizard laws) 80.

Now then -- the next goal is to goad scientists into researching just how such an ancient beast can even give rise to such a licentious thought as to pursue charming Mildred. Why?

For US -- or have you forgotten so much you forgot what your forgot already??? ;-)

The story comes at a particularly apropos time, doesn't it -- in the early days of the Olympics?

GO-O-O-OOOOOO, HENRY!!!!!!!!

New Attraction at Coney Island

New Attraction at Coney Island

I know amusement park operators have to be constantly searching for new attractions to draw in visitors, but sometimes they do go over the top.

Consider the story
"
Waterboarding an attraction at amusement park" reporting the latest thrill at the famous Coney Island in New York.

Now, I hasten to say the headline is somewhat misleading, as no people are involved in the spectacle; it's done with robots. You don't get tied down and waterboarded, nor do you get/have to watch someone else being put through the Enhanced interrogation technique/torture (depending on your personal point of view).

Regardless of one's point of view, however, there don't appear to be all that many people exactly thrilled at real-life possibilities of -- for instance -- attending a "live execution." (Ever thought about the surreal internal contradiction in that particular word pair?)

I presume not too many of us would want to watch someone be subjected to waterboarding, even those among us who staunchly support the . . . what's a neutral word I can use here? -- "technique."

The Coney Island display calls into question the judgment of the person (or people) who decided to create the exhibit. I've never been to Coney Island, but since it's supposed to be a family-oriented amusement park, I flat don't believe the exhibit is acceptable there. (In fact, unless it was being used in a training class for aspiring waterboarders, I can't think of any place I do believe it's acceptable. And that's not an endorsement for actually using the technique, just me trying to stay neutral here.)

If we're going to have a waterboarding exhibit, hell, let's do it up right (with robots, of course) and set up an exhibition hall with a name along the lines of "Torture Methods Across Time and Space," perhaps situated next door to a similar hall called "Execution Methods Across Time and Space."

"Yessirree, bring the wifey and kiddees and get it all at one place!" the barker cries.

  • Let's see; here's a partial list of what most people accept to be tortures:
  • Putting into very hot or cold air.
  • Dousing with an extremely (but not fatally) hot or cold liquid.
  • Beatings (using fists/feet/etc., whips/chains/paddles/etc.).
  • Inflicting physical damage incrementally that eventually causes death.
  • Sleep Deprivation.
  • Food Deprivation.
  • Isolation.
  • Darkness (sometimes in combination with isolation).
  • Exposure to unpleasant, loud noises.
  • Forcing someone to watch the torture or murder of others (especially of loved one[s]).
  • The rack.
Well, you get the drift.

In case it ain't clear, I was completely nonplussed by this development, to put it mildly. What do you think?


Friday, August 8, 2008

The Olympics, Frog Sex Calls, My Sands of Time in Texas Are Running . . . . OUT!, and, English: The National Language

Let the Olympics Begin. . . .

Ew-boy -- ready for the Olympics to begin?

It's about 3:00 P.M. Friday the 8th as I write (which, auspiciously enough, is 8-8-08 on the Chinese calendar, in case you somehow have managed to miss that little tidbit of info during all the hype in the run-up to the games; "8" is a super-lucky number in Chinese thinking). Just hours before the hoopla all finally comes to the start of the actual games themselves.

I hope the Chinese government doesn't blow this. They may not have been able to do enough to clear the skies (though if not, they shouldn't have promised to do so, since if the skies are polluted, people are going to hold them responsible).

But they could have "cleared the air," so to speak, over their many flip-flops and 180-degree turns regarding various issues, such as press coverage. Though they promised essentially unfettered news coverage, clearly those who yearn for the gold ol' days of Chairman Mao (who brought the country such little thrilling historical experiences such as the Hundred Flowers Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution) have managed to stick their hands into the pie, mucking it up, to a degree, in the process.

I like China, and I have given successive Chinese governments due credit for various things they have done for the greater good, in some cases done quite well, especially in those cases in which we can contrast the results of efforts by the People's Republic's governments to actions by earlier governments.

For instance, from the mists of history right up to the mid-19th century, there essentially was no medical care for the great hordes of the huddled masses, certainly none provided by the state. Whatever else the Communists did, they did introduce the institution of the "barefoot doctor."

Now, these folks weren't really doctors, you have to understand. But neither were they merely the human public face of propaganda. They were (and remain, in places) not only the front line in bringing basic medical care to ordinary folk, but often the only line. At a guess, I would bet they did far more good educating people about matters such as basic hygiene than they ever did -- or could have done, in the circumstances -- in terms of actually treating people.

But along comes Mr. Paranoia, Chief Adviser to the Politburo, those Old Men who live in Zhongnanhai, the closed-to-the-public western part of the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing. (For instance, Mr. Paranoid won the day June 4, 1989.)

And he clearly has been at work as the Olympics approached, which is too bad -- especially considering that the government showed in the aftermath of the earthquake in May it can experience, and survive, close press scrutiny. In some instances, various officials showed a streak of innate brilliance in playing the media.

Sigh. I just hope they don't blow things too badly. . . .

* * * * * * * * * *

Even Frogs Have Sex Lives --
Which May Be Good for
Our Hearing


Yep, that's the key fact according to the story "Frogs inspire hearing aid idea
" I just read in the main local paper here in Denton County, Texas (where I'm on holiday), the Denton Record Chronicle.

Seems that something in a male frog's ears suppresses certain wavelengths of sounds when he cooing out his mating call for Miss Froggie to come join him in some illicit, but biologically imperative, festivities.

You who are familiar with the ubiquitous Horny Toad in the American Southwest better give Mr. Horny Toad a little more RESPECT next time you see him!!! ;-) "Ah-Ten-SH_H_H_HUT! Pre-seeeeent-ARMS!!!"

Some clever scientists, no doubt originally wondering how this might be turned to men's advantage, have figured out a way, maybe, to apply this to hearing aids.

I personally don't have to use hearing aids -- yet, anyway -- but some of my friends do, and from them and people I've known in the past, I do know, as many of us know, that sometimes sometimes their hearing aids don't give them the hearing they wish they had at a given moment.

So, if this moves from concept to device, it could be a boon for anyone needing a hearing aid.

No word on what, if any, strengthening effects of your mating calls, however! . . . :-)

Before you rush out to the nearest body of water inhabited by frogs -- thinking you can steal a march on the researchers -- I should mention the finding was in just one kind of frog, the Chinese torrent frog. The frog is reported to be quite rare. I don't think you'll find it in Midland.

On a somewhat more serious note, we sometimes question the value of what appears, at first glance, to be superficial scientific research, bemoaning the money "wasted" on it, especially when the money comes from our tax dollars. The prototype is to despairingly ask the Heavens, "Why, oh why, are those guys studying the sex lives of fruit flies???" -- with MY money?????

Well . . . now you know! (If you don't, Class 101 is down the hall, last classroom on the left. . . .)

* * * * * * * * * *

As Time Goes By . . .

Jiminy crikes. How the time is just a-scootin' right on by.

Hard to believe this is my 40th day in Texas. But there it is, a fact to see on the calendar; arrived in these parts the morning of June 30th.

Come to think of it, today is Friday -- my last Friday before getting on a Silver Bird to be borne back across the Big Pond to Bangkok.

I'll be sorry to leave, in a great many ways, of course. Although my Sister likely will be plenty doggone glad not to have me underfoot anymore -- as will my brother-in-law!

After all, no matter the closeness of the relationships -- and mine with my family are very, very close -- my presence is disruptive simply by my presence, though I do try to stay out from underfoot as much as possible, at least in ways I'm aware I should. (That has the added benefit of keeping me out of the line of fire -- sometimes, if not always!)

That said, it will be mighty good to get back to Bangkok. No doubt I'll fidget in the taxi (as I always do, after even a short trip) all the way home down Soi 22. It'll be a tough decision whether to stop off at the Square on my way home, or to rush right straight home to see my neighbor, if my plane isn't delayed and I get back mid-evening, as the schedule promises. Or maybe I can convince her to come out for a whirl.

Anyway, I'll be plenty darned glad to be home. . . .

* * * * * * * * * *

Wading into the Language
Debate: Another Compelling Reason
for a National Language -- English

I know I'm setting myself up for a huge attack with this story, but the story "At least 13 dead, more than 40 hurt in bus crash on U.S. 75 in Sherman
" draws attention to the need for people to be able to communicate.

Sherman is a fairly distant suburb of Dallas, located north of the "Big D" on I-75, not far from the state line with Oklahoma.

The victims were Vietnamese, all members of the same denomination from two churches, traveling between Houston, their home area, and Carthage, Missouri on a religious outing.

According to the story, emergency personnel were hampered by the inability to communicate with some of the victims, who couldn't speak English.

Why is it we in America are so afraid, even terrified, at the mere rumination to have a national language?

Mandarin is the official national language of both mainland China and Taiwan, though numerous other dialects are permitted to be used openly in both -- and no one appears hurt by the existence of a national language.

Thai is the national language of Thailand, and while the Kingdom has its many woes, this doesn't seem to be among them, or, if it is (and I just don't know it), it's certainly not a headline-grabber.

Why English, when America has such a rich history of exploration, settlement, and, in some places, dominion by people from countries who spoke other languages? Especially French and Spanish.

Well, the English speakers ended up running the show at the end of the day, so by chronological precedence the language makes sense.

Besides, without regards to how bad or good the reasons English is the dominant language in international science and business are, it is so that it is. People who can't use the language are at a significant disadvantage in those areas. Not if they're harvesting whatever crop in, say, a remote part of India, true.

But I'm talking about communicating in a country with a rich, varied history of immigration from all over the world, not a homogeneous setting as one finds, to a very great degree, in places such as Japan.

Did you know that to become a citizen of Thailand, you have to demonstrate a certain proficiency in the Thai language? No exceptions. Other countries have the same requirement in their own language contexts; even linguistically-fractious India restricts the number of official languages to just a few (from legions from which to choose).

No one here in America gets excited about, say, a family from an African country speaking their native language at home, among their friends with whom they share the language, and so on.

Neither does anyone get excited about people whose mother tongue is Spanish speaking Spanish in comparable settings.

But it downright infuriates me to be in the U.S. and have someone say to a companion, when I'm able to respond to them in their language, "Oh, listen! He speaks the national language!"

Well -- yes, I do speak the de facto national language, i.e., English.

I actually have had this happen to me. For instance, once in Beaumont, Texas, I found myself in a situation in which the other people were all native speakers of Mandarin. At a point at which I was able to dredge up enough Mandarin words to make a halfway comprehensible response to something one person had said, someone else made exactly that comment, the one regarding "national language" -- in Mandarin of course -- using the term for "Mandarin" preferred in Taiwan, "National Language." (Okay, okay -- the most common literal translation of "guo yu" is "Country Language," but give me a break; we sometimes have to bend stuff to capture the actual sense of what we're translating.) "Gou yu" most certainly is not "the national language" of the U.S.

And much as it may chap some people, neither are Spanish, Vietnamese, nor any other language. True, English doesn't hold the legal standing of being a national language -- yet -- but neither do any of the others.

How often do we hear of someone of, say, Irish descent (or even first-generation immigrant folks) moaning no one speaks their language? Never, that's when.

Now, this being a free country, if a person whose native language is one other than English and that person elects not to learn the language, even when it becomes the official language (which there's a fair chance it might, eventually) -- fine. But don't go moaning to anyone, especially the courts, when you have problems because you can't read, write, speak, or understand the language. If you're in a bad accident outside your Swahili-dominant neighborhood, you're injured, and you need to talk to the ambulance crew, then guess what? -- that probably ain't gonna happen.

Learn some English.

You don't have to use it all the time, just when you're trying to deal with the rest of us who don't share your language ancestry, many of whom don't speak your language even as a second or foreign one

But by all means -- let's *do* weave all the wonderful, varied strands of our widely varying peoples together in a tapestry richer than its parts.

* * * * * * * * * *

A Little Tad of Bangkok News

Called my neighbor last night on the newfangled webcam-with-microphone I bought and got hooked up to Sis' computer last night, and it actually works reasonably well, despite the less than sterling Internet connections, especially on the Bangkok end. She said things have been pretty quiet around there, and that even the Rain Gods haven't been acting up.

Some friend -- Sis wandered in while I was talking to Sweetie Pie, and Sis asked her if she wanted me back, as in "at all," not just in Bangkok -- and that Thai Hussy sure took her sweet time answering!!! ;-)

"Crane" Joe called yesterday and is all raring to go, as he had just booked a ticket to head out for Bangkok this weekend. So he'll have a week to get everything ready for *my* return the following weekend. And said he'd try to catch me for a first welcome-back drink. Looking forward to that, of course.

He told me some thing most of us know, but which merits repeating. When he called yesterday, he had just finished booking his ticket online. He checked a day at a time into the future, and when he hit next Monday, the price leaped from around US$1,200 to about US$1.900 -- a 700-buck whammy, if you can't head out quickly.

But if you do have the flexibility, clearly you can save significantly, at least sometimes. And since just in the last day or two more bad news stories about new or increased fees have been all over, such opportunities will be even more important than they were just a week ago.

Enough for now --

Thursday, August 7, 2008

TIdbits about Squaronians

It's coming up on noon, Thursday, August 7th here in Texas as I write, and I just got off the phone with "Crane" Joe, who called me from his home in Phoenix.

Joe has been in-country for several weeks -- about six, actually -- working on the sale of some equipment, and he's had to shuttle back and forth between the place from where he was shipping the equipment and his home, not thrilled at the hassles he had lining enough shipping containers. Not just any ol' containers, mind you, but special ones designed for hauling huge stuff by sea. But he finally got it done and is aiming to head back to the wilds of Bangkok sometime in the next few days, then plain REST. Well, okay, maybe with the help of a drink or two . . .

Joe mentioned he had been up to Las Vegas. Asked him if he got to see Herb, a regular annual visitor to the Square who lives in Las Vegas the 9-10 months he's not spreading the joy, so to speak, around the Square. At this point, Herb isn't sure if he'll make it out to the Orient this year, though I'm sure everyone will be disappointed if he doesn't. Anyway, we'll see if the attraction doesn't overcome his inertia! Besides, he needs to touch Square soil at least once a year to maintain his Squaronian Citizenship. ;-)

Had an interesting phone call last night from halfway around the world. Some of you know I've been itching to go back to work, and the call regarded that. I had sent my resume to a school, and the lady calling from there was wanting to set up a time for a panel of professors to interview me over the Internet -- an Internet interview that'll be my first such interview. As I like the location and have some fairly extensive knowledge of the institution, I'm hoping we can reach an agreement for me to go there. More about it as I learn it.

Hard to believe I've been in the States as long as I have; I'm actually getting used to going to the "wrong" side of the car so I can ride in the passenger seat and to adjusting to the fact that whoever's driving me is tooling down the "wrong" side of the road. Means I'll have to get used to driving on the *correct* side of the road when I get back to The Big Weird! Not much more than a week left now in this strange, alien land called "America" . . . my homeland.

Still kicking myself for not thinking sooner to use this venue as a stand-in for "The Rounds." Not that I know much about the Square (or anything else in Bangkok) from 9,000 miles away! (That's almost 14,500 kilometers for you metric-system slaves! See -- I reverse things when I'm in the U.S. when it comes to dual systems!)

I mentioned I applied for my driver's license online. I was a bit worried about it, because there's some confusion about which address I should use when buying stuff online -- my Bangkok or U.S. one. Had opted for the latter, then got to thinking about the writ-in-stone, hard, cold fact that messing with the Texas Department of Public Safety could be a very, very bad idea. Which putting in a "wrong" address might be deemed as me doing. Sweated about it a bit, wondering if they'd accuse me of online fraud or some such, but decided I'd wait until early next week to give them a call. So, imagine my astonishment whn I received my new license in yesterday's mail! Checked my bank status, and sure enough, there the charge was. It's amazing how quickly they got it to me. I hadn't known my picture and signature were electronically stored last time I got a new license, back in 2004. Now I'm good to go until my birthday in 2015 -- if I kick around that long :-) . . . and learn to DRIVE again! But I guess that's like riding a bicycle, except on steroids: never really leaves you, especially as many miles as I've driven. (Probably close to a million, maybe even a little over.)

Later --

Huh??? Isn't that what the 14th Amendment *already* says???

I just love reading Letters to the Editor, especially those that reveal an, um, "interesting" interpretation of words.

To wit, just read a letter in the "Dallas Morning News" headlined "Born in the U.S.A.;" the writer submits, "
If being born were enough to confer citizenship, the framers of the 14th Amendment would have simply written, 'all those born in the U.S. or naturalized are citizens.' But they did not."

Okay, fair enough. So just what did the folks who wrote the 14th amendment write, in this regard? Well, turns out they wrote this: "
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside."

The letter-writer is apparently taking the writer of an opinion piece in the same newspaper to task, but I'm mystified by his argument, as his proposed statement includes some of the exact same points the actual Amendment does -- though his suggestion does ignore the crucial "and subject to the jurisdiction thereof," a point addressing, for instance, whether a child born on U.S. soil to another country's ambassador to the U.S. is a U.S. citizen or not. (As I understand it -- and no, I'm not a lawyer -- such a child is immune to U.S. jurisdiction, so is not a U.S. citizen.)

As the ad of yore plaintively asked, "Where's the beef?"

The way people sometimes write and speak can be most informative.

Remember the senior Thai politician who some years back raised so much of a stink over being denied a visa to the U.S. and demanding that the embassy staff explain why that the folks there did just that, publicly stating he was on a list of suspected drug dealers -- and the embassy obliged him with a press conference? Remember what the politician said? I can't quote him verbatim, but his statement was close to something like, "That's impossible. My constituents have elected me [such-and-such a number of] times."

Well, yes, the man had been elected, a first time and a fair number of times, successively, thereafter. He may -- or may not -- have been involved in illicit drug trade. But it's pretty amazing to think that it's impossible he was involved since, after all, he had been elected term after term after term.

Makes it easy for a court, doesn't it? -- just look at the last election return when considering any case against an elected official, and -- poof! "He [or she] was elected/re-elected, so can't POSSIBLY be guilty! Case dismissed."

I rest
my case.

Sigh. . . .

* * * * * * * * * *

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Entry from Texas!

Well, this doesn't exactly qualify as an edition of "The Rounds," but since I've been in Texas since June 30th and won't be getting back home to Bangkok until the evening of August 17th, I guess it'll do.

Fact is, I didn't even think about one of the blog services I [rarely] use as a stand-in while I'm here, without the program I need to properly do "The Rounds."

I do know a bit of Bangkok news, for those of you who've had none in awhile.

The most important, and saddest, is that "Generous" George Pipas, who established and owned the Texas Lone Staar in Washington Square after running numerous other Dens of Iniquity around Bangkok since the mid-1960's, passed away last month at age 86.

George had spent several months in hospital, from about last December until May, in Bangkok, after which he returned to his Bangkok home. He did come to the bar once, but it was so difficult for him to get in and out of his car that he didn't try it again. As far as I know, anyway; if he tried after I left for Texas, I'm unaware of it.

George was a fascinating person, one of Bangkok's genuine legends, who ruled from his various roosts of over four decades, merrily hurling abuse and obscenities at staff, regulars, hapless tourists -- well, George was very democratic in this regard, sharing equally with one and all!

More somberly, I must note that George's passing hit one helluva lot of people in a very big way, including me. Yes, we knew he was sick, and yes, we knew he was old -- but doggone it all, we hoped. And hoped. To no avail, in the end.

George's send off was somehow appropriate, something hard for those who didn't know him to understand. Born into a Jewish family, George was married for many years to his beloved Mary Ann, a rare Thai Catholic. So, for the start, a ceremony was held at the Catholic church on Soi Ruam Rudee in Bangkok. That done, his remains were moved to Wat Makkasan, where Buddhist rites took place (I think the rites did, that is), then George was cremated.

Think about it. A Jew from Ohio who married a Catholic, then died in Bangkok and had a joint Catholic-Buddhist send-off. That's beautiful, isn't it?

Wish I could have been there.

In the event, I waited until about 11:00 P.M. here in Texas the night before, which was the start of the ceremony at the wat. Shortly thereafter I toasted George, raising the beer I had in my hand as a silent salute to him.

Then I cried.

* * * * * * * * * *

Don't have much else by way of news of Squaronians or the Square itself coming up in these 5+ weeks I've been gone.

"Afghanistan" Tom is looking at work on another continent sometime soon.

I have spoken, if briefly, by phone to Bear and Burt, both of whom reported they themselves and everyone else is fine.

Doug from Bourbon Street was in the U.S. -- got an e-mail from him regarding George, but he didn't say when he'd be returning to Bangkok.

"Crane" Joe has been in town in Phoenix, his hometown, and Portland (Oregon), the former taking care of personal matters, the latter in connection with his business. Spoke to him a few days ago on the phone (as I have a number of times while in-country Stateside, and he indicated he could be heading back to The Big Weird as soon as yesterday (it now being Wednesday afternoon, Texas time, or early Thursday morning, Bangkok time).


Burma Richard and his lovely wife, Junko, are in Japan visiting Junko's Mother during their regular semiannual get-together in the Nagoya area, where Junko's Mom lives. They always enjoy the get-togethers, and I'm sure both Richard and Junko will return home all excited about their latest journey to the Home of the Chrysanthemum Throne.

* * * * * * * * * *

As for me, I'm enjoying my time here.

The second day I was here, my Sister and I left in the morning, went to pick up our Grandmother in Arlington, Texas, then took her over to our older Aunt's house, also in Arlington. Several family members were there, including two entirely unexpected one, so that was nice.


Upon leaving there, we headed out to Hico, Texas, southwest of Fort Worth -- close to last spring's sitings of UFO's! We stayed the night at our younger Aunt's house, where many relatives from her clan, as well as some of their spouses and friends, were. that was great. I kept my poor Aunt up all night, until 6:00 A.M.!


A few hours after that, Sis and I headed on down to San Antonio, where we visited relatives on the other side of the family. Stayed with them one night, then checked into a motel for two nights -- with the Willie Nelson 35th Annual July 4th Concert sandwiched in between the two nights (in the San Antonio suburbs). Both the visit and the 11-1/2-hour concert were great.


After collapsing the second night in the motel, we awoke the following morning and headed back for Aubrey, where we arrived just in time for my Nephew's backyard July 4th bash (in his Mom's and Dad's yard, of course -- that's where the SWIMMING POOL is!). That was Saturday the 5th, but what to heck; he's a cop with a strange schedule, even for a cop, so he had to work it in where he could. And since he could whup Goliath without breaking a sweat, I'll celebrate July 4th on CHRISTMAS DAY, if that's what he tells me to do! :-)

Then it was mostly rest for just over a week before we set out for the Kansas City area, to visit more relatives and in-laws there.

Spent two wonderful days with those folks, then went a short ways south to visit my Sister's friends, friends of her family, actually. We stayed two nights with them as well, and despite that being the first time I had ever really spent any time with them -- I had met them, briefly, in Texas years ago -- I thoroughly enjoyed their company. They live in the country on about 20 of some of the most beautiful acres I've ever seen.

On our way back to Texas, we swung off the interstate to go by to see my Niece, Sis' daughter (of course, since I have only Sis for a sibling!) in a tiny town west of I-35 and just a few miles north of the Kansas border. Took her to a late lunch and shopping for a few hours, and that was nice.

Been back on the ranch ever since.

Along the way I've gotten to do more visiting with more of my own old friends than usual, even succeeding in tracking down a couple of guys who are both now retired from the Air Force who were in AFROTC with me 1970-72 at what was then called North Texas State University in Denton, Texas. Which is where we were all members of the Sabres Drill Team for the detachment. I also went to a multi-year class reunion here in Aubrey, and got to visit with many old schoolmates. (HYEAH! Quit defining what I mean by "OLD" damnit!!!) And I've been out with two old schoolmates privately, one at her home with her husband, the other with a mutual friend and my old schoolmate's son.

Hope to squeeze in another visit or two before heading back to The Mysterious Orient, but time is beginning to grow short. . . .

It has also been a productive trip in terms of personal business, much of which I've been able to sort, though not everything's done yet. (Gotta dot the i's, cross the t's, that sort of stuff.)

The biggest "production" of my trip is my doggone BELLY. Been eating like a starved hog, and it shows. Sigh. Back on a diet as soon as I get away from stuff like the loads of candy I've been swallowing like mad and Mom's cooking!

* * * * * * * * * *

On the larger US scene, the gas crisis and the upcoming election pretty much dominate everything. There's little truly rational discussion of either, at any level.

As an example of the latter, the other night I was chatting with someone about a then-pending execution of a guy here in Texas, something which had stirred great controversy because the guy was never offered a chance to speak with his country's consular officials. Some fear long-term negative consequences for Americans abroad, since the US signed the relevant treaty in 1969. (The Texas authorities went through with the execution last night.) Anyway, next thing I knew, the other person was railing against Obama grandstanding in Iraq, and I was, like, "Huh??? I thought we were talking about a state execution here; how in hell did OBAMA get into it???" When I asked, the offered explanation was that the person is sick and tired of us apologizing to everyone. When I pointed out that none other than President Bush and the current State Department had weighed in on the case in one way or another, if at different points -- it didn't matter.

So, in the present climate, discussing a domestic issue apparently equates to unrelated international affairs. Beats me. (And that's *not* an isolated example, but a quite representative one.)

Which reminds me; I was able to get a new voter registration card just by making a phone call, since I'm still registered to vote. Still waiting for my absentee ballot, which I was also able to request the stuff for over the phone. Also have order a new driver's license, online, since although my current one doesn't run out until my birthday next year, I can order it up to a year in advance -- and still get the full number of years tacked on after this one expires. The fee had gone up about 8-10 dollars -- but the new license will be valid for six years, not the four my current one is, so it's worth it.

Well, guess that's about it for now. Not much -- but it's SOMETHING anyway!

Cheers to one and all,

Mekhong Kurt
from the wilds of the Lazy KT Ranch in Texas