"What's your brother up to these days?" -- Prince Charles, asking Bakar bin Laden about his terrorist brother Osama at a royal banquet.
Sunday: it was uneventful, like any good travel day should be.
It started with the tedious task of filling my suitcase. But, today that project was rather archly compounded by the need to bring along more 'stuff'. [Or, was it the fear of not bringing enough 'stuff'?] Anyway, dearest reader, when I first moved to Bangkok I was justifiably proud of the idea that I could 'live' quite comfortably at The Oriental with only the modest contents of two suitcases and one computer bag to keep me occupied.1 But, with each returning trip I have added more and more stuff to my pile of 'essentials'. Incidentally, clothing items never made the "A" list; but 'wires' did.
Yes, anything wired: computers, printers, cell phones, MP3s, digital cameras, DVD players ... and lots and lots of real copper to string them together: cables of all colors running from 'this' over here to 'that' over there ... pumping words, pumping paper, pumping photos ... along with miles and miles of extension cords to give everything I own plenty of free range. Also, sternly demanded were plugs of every prong variation ... along with voltage converters to prevent those 'spark 'n smoke' nasties ... and, absolutely into the case went those funny weird foreign phone adapters that allow a proper mating with 'our' real sensible RJ-11s. Hey! And, we're not even into the second suitcase yet!
Then came the external floppy drives, CD burners, flash cards, invisible ink cartridges and USB hubs. And the Duracell dream: a bewildering battery of batteries ... with chargers available for but few. One Mavica was not enough; nor were two. The Nikon Cool Pix with the standard zoom soon wanted extenders ... then wideners ... and then more memory; much more ... even filters suitable for once-in-a-lifetime lighting had to be laid on. Of course, my HP Pocket PC, like some strange juggler, had to be synchronized to work with all my toys. Oh, and then there is the Jukebox 6000 ... that one had to be amplified with an Australian Boostaroo. Standard earphones were too puny ... frequency dampeners and frequency enhancers were tacked on. And then came the cases. Eagle Creek, Sharper Image, Haliburton, Andiamo, Lewis & Clark: see-through mesh, Velcro, self-healing zippers, hooks, handles, snaps, clips. Their sizes and their shapes run down all the aisles of the store: tiny, A4, square, rigid, legal, hinged, soft, color-coded, really big, really small.
Oh my God ... it just goes on and on ... will it ever end?
"You didn't mention the software!"
Ha! Didn't have to; it's all there in little zeros and ones. Invisible stuff ... no need to wedge it anywhere ... it comes with the 'wires', packed in the vacuum tubes, soldered to the relays, frozen in alloys. Hey! But, that does bring up the manuals, the third party ...
Michael Landy is of different cut. I admire him. This British artist just destroyed everything he owned. The man just loaded all he had ... car, soap dish, tuxedo, couch, computer, sink, bookends ... every last bit, piece and hunk of his stuff ... onto a conveyor belt and fed it all into a giant shredder. He diced it all! Nothing left but tiny nuggets of what was once 'stuff'.
The PERISCOPE section from March 5th's Newsweek tells why:
British artist Michael Landy just destroyed everything he owned: from his Saab 900 down to his dirty socks. "Breakdown," his latest exhibit, was set in an unused shopping space on London's Oxford Street. For two weeks a conveyor belt transported his belongings to a shredder. PERI spoke to Landy in the climactic moments of the "performance":
Why dispose of everything you own?
I see it as an examination of consumerism.
What prompted you to do it?
The collapse of communism. Capitalism and communism were foes, but they balanced each other, whereas now it just seems to be unbridled consumption. My project is about exposing that and about exposing me.
What has been the hardest thing to get rid of?
My dad's sheepskin coat. [But] the most disturbing things are the photographs – they're memories and suddenly you see them in a tray and they've been torn up. That's kind of really violent in a way.
You actually decided to spare one thing – your cat.
Oh, yeah. I don't kill animals. And my girlfriend would be really unhappy about it. She loves the cat.
Yes, Monday was on the plane until Tuesday. Aside from a few hours at Zurich airport's Terminal B, everything has been in the air for 25 hours.
1 Wags might cruelly suggest that anyone else could check into this hotel with absolutely nothing but a credit card and 'live' positively want-free.
Today is Watcharee's 27th birthday. Just! It's only a few minutes after 1AM in Bangkok (about 1PM yesterday, Florida time).
We are flying on one of Thai Airways older 747s. Even up here in First there are no individual viewing monitors; there is just one big screen, front and center. And it's all 'black' right now ... no movie, no moving map. No moon, either.
So, I'm not sure where we are. But, just a few minutes ago we ran through a short stretch of air turbulence; not the kind you get in a storm, or even when the upper air stream is all funny-like. No, I think we are just offshore from Calcutta. Whenever we leave India and head over the water toward Burma ... nine times out of ten, anyway ... the air columns where the two meet start to act bumpy, as if they were fighting.
The French Embassy is a mess!
So is my stuff.
"A fence has been erected around the ill-fated Boeing 737-400 aircraft to prevent ... "
Yes, Mr. Caption Writer, over at the Bangkok Post, you are quite right! That Thai Airways Boeing 737-400 that blew up at Don Muang's domestic terminal on Saturday afternoon was definitely "ill-fated".
Watcharee and I landed at Don Muang less than 48 hours after TG 114's "ill fate". Keeping our ghoul on a short leash, we feigned a casual interest in the cute little luggage tractors as our own Boeing tiptoed past 'domestic'. However, we were really trying to get a glimpse of the big smudge, the complete char, the total scorch; whatever the thing is called by insurance adjusters when they swap drinks after work. The photographs in the papers back in America showed us a pretty-much burned out hull, with only its tell-tale-tail apparently coming through without even a single singe.1 Unfortunately, by the time our plane got to Bangkok, all the bent, burnt and melted stuff had been tucked away out of sight. Boarded up.2
I don't know what Strunk and White's The Elements of Style says is proper. If I could have a footnote to a footnote where should I put it? Do I keep on indenting? Or, do I revert to the text? I prefer the latter; that way you will have to read my real footnote to make any sense of this:
For several years the little landing field at Megauli, near the Nepal/India border, had an unwelcome guest. It was a four-engine prop plane. On its 'final' approach the plane overshot the runway and mired itself in some sticky jungle fringe. Located just off the main road to Chitiwan, it was a constant reminder of the dangers of flight. In particular, it was a constant reminder of the dangers of flight on Royal Air Nepal Airlines. Tiring of this reminder ... and unable to extract their machine from the grasp of the jungle, the company employed the services of the people I speak of in footnote number one.
1 There is ... out there ... a hidey-hole of highly specialized painters. Theirs is a niche like no other. They are the 'de-logoizers.' Yes, the men and women who handle some of the toughest 'paint-over jobs' in the whole world. With suitcases always ready ... pre-packed with highly sophisticated long-range aerosols ... these people sleep shallow, at best. Operating almost without profile, they are prepared to arrive at the smoldering wreck even before the first body bags have been zipped. Brought gingerly to the 'front' ... by unmarked company choppers ... aboard chartered Zodiacs ... on the backs of sherpas ... inside deep-sea diving bells ... their work is always silent. You see, dear reader, normally when an airliner 'goes-down' much of the plane gets smashed to pieces or is burned up ... beyond all recognition. Well, almost beyond 'all' recognition. What survives, if anything, is the tail. And that, my friend, is just the spot where the airline company usually positions its biggest and flashiest logo. When everything is right with the 'world' ... for example, when Air France's Concorde is humming its turbines while the last flutes of Dom are being drained by the honeymooners in 2A and 2B; or, when Thai Airway's Boeing 737-400 is sitting at gate 62 awaiting a Prime Minister ... that's when the tail of the plane never looks better. It is exactly here where the CEO wants to paint his biggest and his best stuff. But, when the 'world' goes topsy-turvy ... and the machine gets 'cooked', except for the tail ... that's when 'our' people go to work. Out come the powerful aerosols ... and, gone goes the logo. That's it!
2 Men with but rudimentary carpentry skills did the work here. Perhaps we'll never know why the de-logo specialists were not called.
It was hell trying to come up with a catchy name for the option; and without an attention-grabbing name ... hey ... this option would just plain not sell. As you can see from our stabs below, our thinking process on this thing went from ... frankly ... the pretty boring to the brilliant:
"Self-issuing Citation Machine, for a motor vehicle violation [California]1"
"Moving Vehicle Citation Device, automatic [Generic]"
"Yes, yes, yes, Alf ... but what's it all about? What is the buyer buying?"
Oh, dear, dear little reader, he is buying time! Precious time. And, remember, dear tiny reader, his time IS his money.
"Don't get wise with me, ass hole! I asked a simple question and I want a straight answer!"
Sigh ... .Let's assume that the posted speed limit on the road is 55 MPH ... and our driver is tooling along at 70 MPH ... OK, he is now violating the law and he should be punished. Rather than waste his time trying to find a place to park near the courthouse wouldn't he be much happier if the fine was automatically charged to his Visa card? Of course he would! And, thus, the reason for the "U-Ticket-U" option. Once the speedometer on Mr. Driver's Oldsmobile hits 70 MPH he would be issued a ticket, directly from a slot in his dashboard. Preprinted with all the necessary stuff (name, address, DL#, fine, points, etc.) he would have nothing more to do.
"What is all this leading up to?"
This ... from today's Bangkok Post:
VERBAL WARNING ON CIGARETTE PACKETS
Paris – A British firm has filed a patent for a talking cigarette packet which delivers a cancer warning to a smoker every time he opens the lid.
The gadget comprises a stiff plastic strip which connects the hinged lid of the packet to a microchip and a tiny loudspeaker.
When the smoker opens the lid, the strip slides to close a switch, causing the chip to trot out a verbal warning about the hazards of smoking or even a snatch of music such as the funeral march.
The inventors are Molins, which also supplies machinery to make cigarettes, the British weekly New Statesman reports in next Saturday's issue. – AFP
"Stupid ideas, both of them!"
OK, let's move on to something else. Perhaps a taste of tomorrow, today?
When we got back to The Oriental the day before yesterday this is what I found in my room mailbox:
1 Because each of America's fifty states has its own motor vehicle code, no one-size of "U-Ticket-U" would fit all. Admittedly, a Beta version of a 'Pan-American' model was well under discussion. GPS technology had reached the point where a motorist driving from ... say, Morningside Heights in upper Manhattan to Fort Lee via the George Washington Bridge ... could conceivable capture two back to back motor vehicle violations.
1 "Me-Ticket-Me" was deemed to be more accurate ... but, too Tarzan sounding.
What it'll be, folks? A little bit of each? Maybe a challenging 'mix and match'? But remember ... everything here is for March 9th ... except,of course, for the WWN material; I am way behind on the stuff from Lantana.
1847: Mary Anning, fossil-collector, died.
Francesca Romana, 1384 – 1440
When a widow, this noble woman organized a society of social workers. Although she had children of her own, she was always accompanied by a nine-year-old angel.
1951: Humorless Spies
PARIS – [The Herald says in an Editorial:] In taking a philosophical view of espionage, Gordon Dean, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, has defined five categories of spies and a unifying principle. Mr. Dean's categories include mentally deranged spies, ideological spies, traitorous spies, paid spies and duped spies. There are subcategories, too, but what it all adds up to is that espionage is either crazy or crooked. On his unifying principle, Mr. Dean has cooked up a solid imperative, which is that all spies lack a sense of humor.
White plastic gloves ... Everybody looking into a shallow grave ... Motorized Nikons. And, of course, the decomposed body.
OUTRAGEOUS NEW SPORT ... PENGUIN BOWLING1
"The Little Guys Look Up And Topple Over When Helicopters Fly Over Them"
"Whirlybird! Military helicopters routinely breach 'penguin air space'."
1 BERN, Switzerland (By Kevin Creed, Weekly World News) Animal-rights groups worldwide are up in arms over "penguin bowling" – an outrageous game in which helicopter pilots compete to see how many penguins they can knock over with the vibration of their engines! Activists say British, French and German naval pilots at the South Pole are cruelly exploiting penguins' equilibrium problem. When a chopper flies over, the cute little birds crane their necks up to watch it until they topple over backward. This strange instinct, combined with the shaking of the ground caused by the rotor blades, makes them lose their sense of balance and fall on their backs. "It's not funny, it's sick," said Rolf Vohlmann, spokesman for the Switzerland-based International Organization for Animal Protection and Preservation. "It's a bunch of bored men who get enjoyment from stressing animals." Officials of the British Navy emphatically deny that their pilots engage in penguin bowling, but the German fliers don't care who knows what they are up to and say that Vohlmann is making a big deal out of nothing. "We don't hurt the penguins," Said German flier, Klaus Doer, who boasts a personal best of 27 birds with a single flyover. "They just fall over and get back up again. What's the big deal?" Vohlmann says he hopes to get an international law on the books to ban penguin bowling but says he needs the support of people in every country.
Dear reader, I can't end the day just yet! It's just too perfect:
Friday's fillip: the magnificent view from Gore Vidal's balcony ... looking both upstream and downstream. One direction on the Chao Phraya River leads eventually to Burma ... but, if you push your way tightly up through its wet fingers, both China and Laos are also reachable by water. Sailing downstream you quickly reach the Gulf of Thailand ... but, then you are deep into pirate's2 waters. Which way do you want to go? Quick! North? South?
Need some help? OK! But, first, go read the footnote that you skipped.
Do the pirate's waters sound like the bigger of two evils? Maybe, maybe not. Remember, God's Army is still wandering around Burma ... and, have the twins been behaving since they were last seen being packed off to bed without dessert? If not, they might be in a real sour mood when they meet you.
Let's go back to the camera. By using a 'fisheye' lens, with the iris pushed right to the glass, you can see pretty much what I see.
2 These are real dangerous ones! There are no 'Pirates of the Caribbean' types in the Gulf of Thailand. No, sir! And, forget about that avuncular Peg-leg Pete guy [hmmm, I wonder if his name alone runs afoul of something in the Americans With Disabilities Act]. No, Peg-leg Pete does not exist. And, yes, these pirates do run around in 10,000 horsepower Magnum Squared speedboats. And, no, they don't hand out saucy slaps on the thigh for the little woman while hubby dumps his loose change on the deck. Nothing as much fun as that! While the crustiest of the pirates is using his straight razor to open up her man's bowels in a search for that swallowed gold Rolex, she is getting her every hole stuffed over and over and over again. As the sun sets, the used meat is fed to the local sharks.
BULLETIN ... BULLETIN ... BULLETIN
It's ever so flattering ... ever so comforting ...
Yes, I am ever so appreciative of that big head-nod in my direction. The acknowledgment that I was behind it all!
I like being right!
Within hours of the World-Wide release of the latest chapter in my brilliant journal... [and, it could be that only mere minutes passed] ... whatever the time, it didn't take the 'powers' at Thai Airways a lifetime to order a complete 'cover-up'. Though clumsy rollers1 were employed for the job, the photograph clearly shows that the Thai logo on the tail of the "ill-fated" Boeing 737 - 400 is fast disappearing.
By now it is gone.
1 However, powerful multidirectional aerosols are the preferred tool for this job.
The enormous wood box has 26 major drawers; a dozen or so minor ones; and a few hardly ever used ones. It's very heavy and it rolls squeakily on its ancient casters. Much thought went into the positioning of these drawers ... it was never an 'A to Z' thing ... so, despite its age no one was willing to shove it out the door.
Almost the easiest to reach ... but, surely the most used of the drawers ... were the four marked: "F", "D", "S", and "A". However, for the right-handed, the next four were actually the easiest to get at: "J", "K", "L", and ";". And, it went on like that: each drawer just a little harder to reach than the preceding one. One little set of five drawers even spelled out a word: QWERTY.
It was here, at 136 Na Ranong Road, Klong Toey, Bangkok, where the old man chose the type for the day's press run. It was easy the day it happened: just pick out of the box the biggest and the boldest. The next day ... and the day after that ... and even another day after that ... well, it was still pretty easy: top of the front page, no sharing space with another story, 'continued' on back page, 72 point bold Times New Roman type, etc, etc ...
Today the story is a week old. The cops are no closer to the end as when they started. Other stories feel boxed in ... life below the fold is uncomfortable ... folks are grumbling. It's now time for the old man to 'earn' his salary.
He acts swiftly and mercilessly. The downgrade is frighteningly steep, even by tabloid standards. From a bellowing ... BOMB TRACES FOUND IN WRECKAGE ... from a gut dissolving full-color 8 by 10 of the charred, of the twisted and of the baked ... Yes, from all of this to a mere mumble ... to but a befuddled journalistic wander on the south side of the fold. "Lack of progress prompts rethink." That's all! No photos, no team authorship, no 'please turn to page ... ' Nope, the big cannons are gone. Gone forever on this story.
"What are you getting at, Alf?"
My whole point is this: is a story's longevity and weight (and, thus, it's historical value) set at the Post's editorial offices here in Bangkok; or is it the man with the ink stained stubs who is ultimately in charge of the scales?
Shifting newspapers, it's easy to see why the WWN must be a fun place at which to work. Most newspapers put their 'interns' in the morgue...and, if they're good...real good...maybe they can tag along with a real reporter when there is a County Commission meeting to cover.
Not so at Lantana! For starters, the WWN 'interns' get to be centerfold girls. And, I'll just bet my bottom dollar that good old Ed Anger had a voice in this thing. Yes, siree, Bob...there were no contracts signed until Ed gave the OK. Take a gander! Every one (forget the guy) is a real looker...and I bet they can write AND work a camera at the same time.
This is how WWN introduced them:
"An elite contingent of interns plays a major role in making Weekly World News the planet's most exciting newspaper. A bright, freshly scrubbed corps of college-age interns is scheduled to join our staff on Jan. 2, 2001,1 and we'd like to take this opportunity to introduce them."
There are eight of them (seven, forgetting the guy) in this center-spread:
THE GUY wants to be an orthodontist.
1 Yes, I'm still trying to catch up with my post.
Next: Part Two