Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Rapping takes more skill than singing.

Years ago, after a late night karaoke session, a friend plugged in his drum machine and keyboard and this girl-next-door type proceeded to give the mic a tongue-lashing that humbled everyone. Her sharp sense of rhythm was attributed to growing up po' in Pittsburgh; none of us privileged suburb-raised whities could hang.

Fuggit, how hard could it be? I'd give it a shot.

Before standing up, I rehearsed a few simple rhymes in my head. I figured the rest would flow straight off the dome. Wrong. After two lines, I paused---a deer in headlights---and repeated the same bullshit I'd just said. I stammered, gave a few false starts, and defeated, I set the mic down. I was beat.

Since that day, I've had a different appreciation of rap. Any hack can belt out wavey melodies till his heart is content, but rapping takes something that few of us have.

It's comparable to deciding you're going to learn guitar; you pick up the major chords in a few weeks, and learn to switch between them in a few months of diligent practice. But solid rhythm takes years to perfect.

Maybe this is peculiar to white people; when making music, the last thing we care about is maintaining rhythm, but often it's the one thing that makes music sound good.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

You know what Halloween means? Do you??

Nightmarish karaoke, that's what.

A few friends stopped by yesterday afternoon to gear up my equipment for this Saturday's Halloween party. As you can see, we had it all going---lights, smoke and karaoke.

Here's a sweet taste of things to come:

(No, neither of those people singing are me. I'm the one with the goofy laugh in the background).

If anyone's interested, email me for the details ...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Velux 5 Oceans Makes the Volvo Ocean Race look like Romper Room

Fewer people have sailed alone around the world than have traveled to outer space. A far larger number (around 15,000) have climbed Mt. Everest. Meanwhile, there have been about 163 brave souls who've completed the 34,000 nautical mile trip around the planet by themselves.

After just two days into the solo around the world race, The Velux 5 Oceans, the shit is hitting the fan.

Pictures and emails are coming in slowly, and three of the six yachts have returned to port for repairs.

The latest, from 67-year-old Sir Robin Knox-Johnson:
"Rolled last night. Section of mast track bent. Cant remove all the screws so sail stuck. Heading Corunna but may take a day or two."
In case you don't know what "rolled" means, that's when the boat capsizes and "rolls" over---being completely upside down for a moment until it rights itself. Now imagine that in a 60 foot sailboat during hurricane force winds and house-sized waves. Oh, and you're 67 years old, to boot.

Here are some more reports from the front, just two days on:
"Boat breaking gale force headwinds and seas, comparable to those experienced in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race in 1998 when six lost their lives, have been battering the VELUX 5 OCEANS fleet all day."

"Reports from TV helicopter say that Bernard Stamm on Cheminees Poujoulat, technically race leader at present, is hove to under triple reefed mainsail alone and it is likely that the remaining boats are similarly in survival mode."

"From on board Saga Insurance, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston at 1510GMT sent a short email entitled 'Nasty'. It read: 'Wind 58 knots, storm jib up, sea white with spray, surviving not racing, but okay. Irish coffee.'"
And this, from the Hugo Boss boat's skipper:
"'Later on in the night I managed to get stuck in a net and it pretty much stopped the boat.' The heavy fishing net became wrapped around Hugo Boss' keel, the effect much the same as her dragging along an anchor. 'I had to cut it away and then wait until the morning to remove the most of it from the keel. It was really difficult to see in the night. I just used the boat hook to pull off whatever I could get and cut whatever I could. Then I couldn't really see what was left and I had to wait until day light to see if there was anything left.'"
More hellishness ...
"'The top of the headsail started to unfurl itself in about 50 knots of breeze," Thomson reported. "I was below deck at the time and instantly realised there was a problem. As the sail started to open it knocked the boat flat and by the time I got up on deck the top of the sail had completely shredded.'"
For you non-sailors, "knocked the boat flat" looks like this.

You can find the latest images of the guts and glory here. Sailing is hands down the toughest sport on earth...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I have a new respect for salesmen.

When a company decides to purchase a product or service that makes their operations cheaper, faster or more profitable, it's the result of dedicated sales guys who worked their guts into sawdust in order to make it happen.

Academics would have you believe that useful commodities and services are allocated by way of the "invisible hand" of the market---that buyer and seller are brought together with the efficiency of some magical chemistry. In reality, the best products and services would be undiscovered by those who benefit without motivated mother fuckers willing to work 70 hours a week for an honest commission.

Salesmen are the oil in the capitalist mechanism, and everyone who enjoys the luxuries of new technology, better-tasting food or cheaper widgets has a sales guy to thank. This isn't to say there aren't many important players in that process, but in the end it comes down to raw pecuniary pursuits.

This was clear to me after two weeks in Thailand, running around 17 hours a day making sure that customers were happy and important business relationships maintained.

Few people see the hours and years of sleepless labor that salesmen put into creating a market and piecing together the economic puzzle of capitalism and prosperity. If there were no salesmen, the machine would sputter and seize to a halt. You can be sure of that.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A bar full of prostitutes feels like being the only woman at a bar during "Douchebags Drink Free" night.

Most men aren't used to multiple women hitting on them full force, but when it happened to me in a barful of hookers last night, I felt like a woman fighting off skeezy NoVA guys at Tom Tom on 18th Street.

First off, it was not my choice to visit a bar crawling with ladies of the evening. I was whisked to the back-alley dive by my Thai associates for pool games and was overwhelmed with intense eye contact and blunt compliments from the opposite sex. Within one minute, the mama-san had assigned one of her girls to me. She made a few subtle gestures, and I was pounced upon. A young woman then began trying to massage my biceps and scratch my bald head. (No, in fact, they don't offer "sucky sucky".)

The unusual attention I got was downright creepy and I felt like a girl amongst players. I found myself doing what hundreds of women have done in bars everywhere: turned my back and played the "I don't see you" game.

The most disgusting part was watching the male human garbage who're there to satiate their disease-ridden vice. And it's not just what they're doing that's so revolting; more sickening is the extra swagger and gleam on their 50-something jowlish faces knowing that they can have sex with any woman in the place.

I went through the same emotions during my Cambodia visit in 2004: 1st, flattery; 2nd, shock; 3rd, awkwardness; 4th, annoyance; 5th, disgust; 6th, pity.

This hard man is humbled again.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Asia Has Never Produced a Good Dessert.

My gay friend Paul said it best: "All Asian desserts taste like dick." Paul should try Choa Kou, a Thai dessert I tasted here in Bangkok that's the true John Holmes of the many nauseating Asian desserts throughout the planet.

Imagine, if you can, a bowl filled with slimy, gelatinous shit-brown globules suspended in ice water that's eaten like soup. There's a weak sweetness, but the texture of the slippery globules distracts you from what little sugar there is---all the while, you're focused on tongue-dodging the unavoidable chips of ice. When finished, you're left with an inch of viscous cold broth. Hands down, this is the worst crap I've eaten, and I'm the guy who's consumed weird-ass food from cicadas to bull testicles.

Asia has produced some of the best cuisine the world has to offer but they've fucked up dessert to an offensive degree. I vow to give $50 to anyone who can direct me to an Asian dessert that's halfway edible. I'm not kidding: I'm a regular Paypal user so we can settle it that way.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Orange Groves That Are Only Accessible By Boat.

This week I toured an orange grove by boat in northern Thailand. That's right, by boat. This is apparently a common way to harvest oranges here.

The farmer digs massive trenches between the rows of orange trees, then fills them with a few feet of water. During the dry season, he mans a boat similar to this, except the watering boats have a massive gasoline engine mounted in the center with a twelve-inch-thick pump that sucks the water from the surface straight through pipes onto the leaves. The farmer is the guy in the blue shirt, just coming back from his afternoon crop inspection. No good leaving the kids behind; just stick an umbrella over them and off we go!

Here are some workers coming back from spraying pesticide on the trees. We've got a long way to go before we can convince citrus farmers to go organic:

We had to see the details, so we piled in with five people:

And me, shoved in the back, lying low:

Not the most seaworthy vessel:

The boats are propelled by bamboo pole:

Ahhh ... lush, green oranges. Yes, green oranges:

I have to keep pinching myself as a reminder that this is my job. Just think, less than a month ago I was clacking away on a computer eight hours a day, five days a week, and hating every minute of it ...

Saturday, October 14, 2006

"Deep fried reptile", "black egg", "bamboo worm", grilled rat for 100 baht a kilo, and fruit that smells like garbage: this hard man is now humble.

It's true that food in Thailand is weird as fuck, but every time I ordered the "fried reptile" (exact menu wording) or "bamboo worm", the answer was the same: "No have, no have". One of the farmers we met informed me that reptile is now illegal to eat in Thailand because it tastes so good that the species was at risk of extinction.

Riiiigt ...

My Thai associates got a kick out of my interest in exotic food, so they set out to track down the most rot-gut shit the country has. Today our car came to a halt on the side of a highway so we could make a purchase at the dust-covered stand selling snake, rat and bird. The woman quickly returned with a charred rodent-sized body without head or tail, but I decided---for once---it was a bad idea; I have business meetings for another week and don't want to piss out my ass for the duration.

I've seen no tourists in my five days here in Thailand and have spent eight hours a day driving pell-mell around overloaded trucks and slogging through muddy roads in a 4x4 Toyota diesel. The only relief are long discussions about crop yields and agriculture over Singha after Singha till 1AM. Then back to the same routine at seven the next morning.

I've also met farm families like the one in this picture that I took on the edge of a potato field outside Mae Sot, on the border with Burma (Myanmar). If you look closely, they all have light brown mud smeared on their faces---presumably to keep the sun from burning their skin. And the place was swarming with little feral dogs.

More later ...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Uffie: I prefer my music talentless and highly addictive, thank you.

Everyone has a guilty cultural pleasure hidden deep. The tattooed biker guy may be a huge fan of the emo band Stars---listening on headphones, tucked under his comforter each night; your bass playing hipster friend may be a big U2 fan (and not just "early U2"); and the cartoonist who has a following among alternative weekly newspapers like the City Paper may have recorded every episode of That's so Raven. These are realities.

For me, I have no false modesty: my latest hook is Uffie.

I would highly discourage you from clicking on that link, which will take you directly to Uffie's myspace page. But if you cannot resist clicking, I would urge you---at all costs---NOT to click on her second track, "Ready to Uff". Please, please: I'm warning you. In addition, at serious risk to your cultural well-being, do NOT---NOT---click on Uffie's third track "Hot ChickIn Charge" unless you want to find yourself---like me---secretly skulking back for a second, third, or eventually (or sadly) a 20th time.

My god, I'm this addicted and she hasn't even put out her first album. I suppose that makes me a creep and a philistine.

Friday, October 06, 2006

I've gotten stupider as I've gotten older.

Right out of college, I wanted a family. I put that off when I took up Marxism and bipolar disorder. At one point in my twenties I subscribed to three daily newspapers---each one I read front to back. I was involved in activist politics and protested in front of more than one foreign embassy. And I used to break down the social order in my mind with an unmatched quickness.

But now, for the most part, I could give a fuck.

Look at my faces. Each one represents a different phase in my thinking. The face at present mainly cares about eating crabs in the summer, steak and bourbon when the wife's out of town, and making money fast enough to fund short term personal rewards.

Who are these people who get wiser as they get older? Folks who sit cross-legged in their studies reading leather-bound Conrad novels on the weekend? Because I've never met anyone over 30 who's smarter than Lonnie Bruner circa age 25.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

One Simple Pleasure about Working from Home is Hot Dog Soup

If you're considering quitting your office job and joining the ranks of the self-employed, you should be prepared to wallow in one of life's finer delights: Hot Dog Soup.

I'm addicted.

Some words of advice:

  • Choose the best packaged Korean noodles. The only English words on the wrapping should be "noodle soup". Otherwise, it's just crappy ramen.

  • Buy real beef hot dogs and cut them into the thinnest slices possible. That way your concoction will exude its full flavor into the broth, noddles and egg.

  • Throw in an egg. Very important. Not including an egg in Hot Dog Soup is like serving a Martini without a garnish.

  • You may think everyone will share your passion, but your neighborhood Korean grocer may look at you cock-eyed when you rave to him about your new-found glory. Keep your enthusiasm on the down-low.
  • Monday, October 02, 2006

    Today I stumbled upon a dead coelacanth lying in a metal coffin.

    When I got out of bed today, I had no idea that I'd later be unscrewing the vices holding down the metal coffin lid of a rare scientific phenomenon. And it wouldn't have been possible without a friendly government librarian.

    Scientific libraries are seldom visited and there's always a time-locked stasis hanging thick amongst the crusty journals and forgotten stacks. The library at the Natural History Museum fits that profile. Most people aren't aware that there's a massive taxpayer-funded library and research center in the warehouse-sized basement at 10th and Constitution Avenue in their nation's capital, but as I found today while doing research, it's full of hidden wonders.

    Having about two library patrons per day, the Natural History Museum's staff are able to devote quality time to their visitors. While leading me to the far-off location of the ancient collection of the journal Aquaculture, I followed my guide down a poorly-lit government hallway past unmarked doors when she paused by a thick metal entrance.

    "In there is one of the largest collections of fish in the world", she said, as I stood on my toes to peer through the tiny window.

    I had to see it.

    After helping her line up the key hole with the light from my opened cell phone, she told me that just inside---in addition to thousands of fish species in jars of formadehyde---I could see a coelacanth if I wanted.

    Wait, the same coelacanth that was thought extinct for 65 million years until it was discovered in 1938 and only caught a few times since? Yes, that coelacanth.

    Next I knew, I was untwisting the clamps that held the lid on the metal coffin of the Smithsonian's only specimen, which, according to their website, is "not accessible to the general public". What a privilege!

    The overwhelming sharp smell of stale formaldehyde and alcohol rose up at my face as we clumsily laid the heavy lid to the side.

    Below inches of disgusting brown chemicals lay the five-and-a-half foot beast---at peace in its liquid grave since 1968 when the museum obtained it.

    Despite the poor quality of my cell phone camera, you can see the handsome prehistoric monster in all his dinosaurian splendor. And thanks to a bored librarian, I had the most ineresting Monday I've had in months.

    Last Sail Until Near Halloween

    I've taken innumerable people sailing but few fully share my deep love of the sport. After having had a boat for seven years, I'm still amazed that anyone would not want to go sailing when I extend an invite. What other plans could trump being pushed around the Bay by the naked power of nature?

    But I don't fault them for it. Everyone can't love what I love and there's no changing that.

    Today was an auspicious end to my summer sailing season: wind, 8-12 knots, giving a quick boost up to Thomas Point Lighthouse (built in 1885), a 12-pack of icy Pabst Blue Ribbon between friends, and an endless dome of blue sky touched up with cottony clouds.

    Soon I'm heading abroad for weeks and won't be able to get onto the water 'til the leaves are goldish and crisp and I'll need a fleece and long pants when I'm at the teak tiller.

    This summer I was able to sail once every ten days, which should be enough medicine to get me through half the winter; for the other half, a warm fireplace and Famous Grouse scotch will have to do.

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