Enter the Age of Trump

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What Trump’s detractors are expecting from him.

by Marque A. Rome

Regarding the US presidential election: I realise Donald Trump is rather less than admirable, but was it really necessary to tell all those dreadful lies about him? It didn’t work anyway, he won the election, and it made plain to all that ‘objectivity’ has no place in modern news agencies.

Here in Thailand, I was shocked, frankly, when I saw the US Embassy in Bangkok apparently putting out pro-Hillary Clinton propaganda. They held ‘information’ seminars for Thais and moved a number of stories through local press and broadcast outlets which, in sum, said Hillary is the right person to be president of the US and Trump is not.

The morning before voting began, as I walked through my neighborhood in Phuket town, people at the mechanic’s shop hailed me to talk about the American election. I’ve known them for 23 years; they don’t speak English and we’ve never talked before about foreign elections. So how did they know anything about Hillary Clinton? Yet they said, “Hillary Clinton, very good!” and gave a thumbs up.

I asked them if they realised Clinton was the war candidate. They didn’t.

I think that’s important, because people, even Americans, seem to forget that in this election the ‘peace candidate’ was Trump, whereas Hillary repeatedly said she would declare a ‘no fly’ zone over Syria, which even the Joint Chiefs of Staff admit could not be enforced without shooting at Russian aircraft and provoking war with Russia. For me, this is the ONLY issue, and I should think that if others could put matters in perspective, it would be for them, too. But, somehow, amid all the ‘never Trump’ brouhaha, this and similar facts have been turned on their ear.

Whether it’s illegal or not I don’t know, but I regard as highly unethical the effort by US embassy personnel to bias public opinion in Thailand against the other three candidates running. More to the point, what do you call it when agents of the US State Department do all in their power to undercut the ability of the election’s eventual winner — Trump — to conduct relations with the government of Thailand?

Treason? I should say not, something less than that — but, whatever one calls it, such behavior should be investigated; and those responsible for libeling the next president, for deliberately prejudicing the Thai government against him, should be brought to account.

That, of course, assumes Trump will be be sworn in on 20th January. But Hillary, after making much of Trump’s assertions that a conspiracy to rig the elections was underway and that he might not accept the official results, herself refused to concede the election before her supporters. She didn’t show up at her own victory party to admit defeat and urge her side to lend their help to the new president. A headline on the US News and World Report Website read “How Vladimir Putin Won the U.S. Election”. Other headlines have noted that the electoral college can refuse to vote Trump into office. There’s many a slip between cup and lip, as they say.

Is Trump being set-up? I’ve felt for some time now the ‘never Trump’ folks would do anything — anything — to keep him from the White House, and I see no reason to change that view merely because he’s won. If the story about Putin interfering in the election gains credence, the government could simply nullify the results. If it doesn’t, perhaps they can find a way of putting him in jail for tax evasion, or assaulting a woman thirty years ago, or selling bogus degrees through Trump University, or depriving black people of their civil rights in his housing units.

The co-ordinated attacks in the press and announcement by representatives of Google, Facebook, Amazon (which owns the Washington Post) and others that no attempt at fair and balanced reporting would be made in covering this election have born fruit: the US population are polarised in their animosity as never before. Witness this e-mail I received from my half-sister in the San Francisco Bay area:

“I’m sure you’re aware of our elections and who is now going to be our new president. I want to let you know, that new elected president is in no way a person I voted for. He is a disgusting representative of our country. I am embarrassed and ashamed of the people in our country who voted for him.

“The majority of people I know are shaking their heads, saying how could this happen. We truly didn’t think it would happen.  He is a very scary person and I am now concerned for our country. I woke up this morning hoping the nightmare wasn’t true, but it is.  I’m sick to my stomach and everyone who came into the salon was feeling the same. Anyway, I just wanted you to know, he’s not my president and never will be.”

Contrast such statements as that with the tremendous enthusiasm shown at Trump rallies and one begins to have an inkling of the great chasm that must be bridged before these two sides can come together. That the revulsion shown by my sister is delusional and a result of openly announced brain-washing by anti-Trump factions is beside the point. Formerly apolitical, she is clearly now radicalized, and I think that could not happen without the radicalisation of her friends and acquaintances. I assume the Trump people are much the same. This is become a no-holds-barred fight and it were surprising should no fatalities result.

If Trump makes it through 20th January, remember the ‘never Trump’ faction includes virtually the entire organizational establishment of the party he now ostensibly heads. Nearly every member in both houses of Congress is avowedly against him, senior bureaucrats in every department seem to be against him, Wall Street is against him, and the press has been blue with rage since he announced his candidacy: almost every word written about him since has been either a demonstrable lie or palpable deception, and I frankly question whether people who rely on the principal news services for information have any idea of the man at all.

So he has a lot of enemies, and his friends are insignificant. How, then, can he carry out his policies when his opposition has not yet begun to fight? He may be impeached for even trying.

I wouldn’t want to be in Trump’s shoes.

As evidence of my charge against the US Embassy in Bangkok, consider this from an official Website:

“…Dr. Sam Potolicchio, Director of Global and Custom Education of McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University mentions that the United States elections have been considered as the first transparent and fair ones in the world. There is no way that the election would be rigged due to electoral collection which is a unique election system.

“Regarding foreign policy of each candidate, Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State is prone to maintain Obama’s administration but much more robust and assertive in policy such as Pivot to Asia or
Re-balancing, Climate Change, Nuclear Deal. She will proceed all U.S. strategies well because of her experience as a chief architecture in Obama’s government. However, Donald Trump’s policy is significantly contrast to Clinton’s due to his unpredictable policy. He mainly focuses on his campaign Make America Great Again by boosting trade and raising protectionism through racism and bigotry.

“During the meeting, Dr. Potolicchio analyzes that Hillary Clinton will win the upcoming election by 3-5% which is considered as a wide gap for the United States. And if Hillary Clinton wins the election, changes will emerge for the good of U.S. future direction as she’s a qualified candidate.”

Several similar stories have appeared in recent weeks, not only on official Websites site but in the Bangkok Post, all within a day or two of each other, suggesting a co-ordinated public relations push. The fact that the mechanics I mentioned above, and other Thais I’ve spoken with, are pro-Hillary, suggests the stories are being moved in Thai on TV news.

There’s not even a veil of democracy in such actions. Not only Trump, but Jill Stein and Gary Johnson and the entire US electorate deserve better.

It may seem, from what I’ve written above, that I’m a big Trump supporter. But I’m not at all. I’ve always found the man, not faintly but overtly, ridiculous. To his credit, he seems to have been humbled and grown into a better man owing to the movement that has coalesced around him. People are vesting their hopes for the future in him, and he obviously now aspires to actually be the man they want him to be.

Desire and fulfillment, however, are quite different, and I should think it surprising if Trump can live up to the people’s hopes. To be blunt, painting Trump as a knight in shining armor strikes me as an absurd conceit, quite as absurd and conceited as the man himself has been.

He is, nonetheless, catalyst to a revolution, one I expect is not ending but just beginning. An eruption is brewing between the people who think they define the nation and a group working to dispense with Western Civilization in favor of what was hitherto characterised as Sodom and Gomorrah. Both sides are passionate in their cause. Where America will end after the cataclysm strikes, and what effect it will have around the world (particularly in the West), is anybody’s guess.

I’d say, pin your hopes on China.

Why Young Women Do Not Necessarily Make Better Lifestyle Editors

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The distaff half’s Voltaire: Mary Wolstonecraft.

by Marque A. Rome

Today I was turned down for a position editing the ‘lifestyle’ section of a popular newspaper. I was not unduly perturbed by this rejection, mostly because I had not set my hopes upon it, had not in fact applied for the position, but unexpectedly had it offered to me — only to see that offer withdrawn the following day. Still I was miffed at the reasons adduced for rejecting me: “Upstairs wants someone young and energetic to be out  schmoozing with people,” I was told, “particularly a female….”

I confess I was a little surprised at their interest in me as Lifestyle editor, and for the very reasons cited: too old and too male. Modern news outlet managers, according to a logic I suppose but vaguely fleshed out in their own minds, typically opt to seat a woman in that chair, as though something innately sexual predisposes her to having greater perspicuity dealing with topics involving fashion, art, entertainment, literature, travel, food and wine, home decor and other aspects of the social milieu. I realise it’s impolitic to say so, women as a class having transformed into sacred cows, but I think that’s balderdash.

Why?

Consider, if you will, that the topics named above comprise largely our liberal arts. Is there reputable scholarship crediting women with development of the liberal arts? None I know of. Even in so far as publishing is concerned, excepting Helen Gurley Brown and her magazine, Cosmopolitan, evolution of the ‘women’s pages’ as we know them was the work of men. Brown and Cosmo merely added a heavy dose of sex-kittenish editorial copy and a fashion focus on dress and cosmetics previously the purview of demi-mondaines and the companies, such as Frederick’s of Hollywood, that catered to their sartorial needs.

Helen Gurley Brown - The Daily Mail Called Her a Genius

Helen Gurley Brown: the Daily Mail calls her “a genius”.

Wow. What genius.

It might be imagined that women have some special sense about fashion, which is central to so many publications and other media targeting women. A few top dress designers have been women — Coco Chanel springs to mind instantly. Who are the other famous designers? Oscar de la Renta, Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Tommy Hilfiger, Christian Lacroix, Christian Dior, Pierre Cardin, Guy Laroche, Oleg Cassini: except for Chanel, the most famous dress designers are men — and even Chanel, after Coco passed on, hired Lagerfeld as chief designer.

We might also consider that, of the names cited, many of the men make men’s as well as women’s fashions; but how many women have been versatile enough to achieve fame making men’s suits?

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Coco Chanel: the ne plus ultra of dress designers — but what of men’s suits?

Shall we talk about haut cuisine? I think the great name is Auguste Escoffier, and, latterly, Paul Bocuse and Wolfgang Puck have been famous. The very word ‘chef’ used in English seems to denote a man. Wine? Baron Rothschild, Andre Tschelistcheff, Joseph Heitz, Robert Mondavi. Film? Name me a single woman of historical repute famous for producing, directing or screen-writing.

The decorative arts? Well, women make quilts. Architecture, cabinetry, furnishings, interior design — all men. No painters or sculptors of the first rank have been women.

Literature? To be sure, many women have taken up the pen over the last 500 years, chiefly as novelists or in the field of auto-biography, but of these only a few have merited the attention of future generations. The women have one thinker of modern repute in their history, Mary Wolstonecraft, but anyone who knows her history realises Wiiliam Godwin, her husband, heavily influenced the former governess’ thinking in ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women’.

As consumers of the arts, women tend to be easily influenced, or maybe ‘soft-headed’ is a better word: they’ll wear ripped and torn clothing, stop combing their hair, transfer religious veneration to Satan, and tattoo their bodies like circus freaks if told — in the right way — those are the fashionable things to do.

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Women will do most anything for sake of fashion — no matter how ridiculous.

But let us leave history to the dead and dying. In the field of journalism, in the here-and-now, in the subject at hand, as both writers and readers, what have women contributed to news-gathering? An obsession with Kim Kardashian!

Oh, it fattens the bottom line, I know, yet somehow I don’t feel celebrity news is anything to be proud of.

Speaking of fat: my contact said management probably wants someone “young and energetic” to schmooze with the people. I’m not so vain as to imagine I qualify as anything but old, but I’m not sure the word ‘energetic’ is anymore synonymous with youth. A few years ago I did a puff-piece on a project by Phuket town’s Office of Public Health to reduce incidence of clinical obesity among children in city-operated schools: it stood at 18 percent. ‘Clinical obesity’ is an opaque way of saying ‘grotesquely fat’, a non-pejorative word describing a condition that not only makes the observer avert his eye, but in health costs annually for the United States (I don’t have statistics on Thailand) amounts to $117 billion — more than health costs associated with either smoking or drinking.

74 percent of the US population is overweight.

Anglosphere_2007_overweight_rate

That results I think from lazy-mindedness: lazy-mindedness and fat go together like hamburgers and French fries. Well, I’m not fat, partly because of self-control and partly because I bicycle two hours daily, first to the top of Khao Rang Hill, then via the causeway out to the hilly island of Koh Siray. I do it often in the middle of the day, in the withering heat of a tropical afternoon sun.

I don’t see many young women doing that — in fact , I can’t think of one.

This is not by way of boasting, plenty of other guys are out doing the same, many better than I can; nor am I foolish enough to suggest young people can’t do such things. My point is that one can be old and energetic, just as one can be young and slothful.

So, to summarize, I understand management’s desire to have a young woman at the Lifestyle desk, because in this era that’s what everyone else does. I merely wish to point out that evidence is lacking of superior natural aptitude in this regard among the world’s distaff half; and that youth have no monopoly on energy.

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Your perfect Lifestyle editor?

Still, were I editor at that newspaper, I s’pose I’d rather have some pretty, fresh-faced young idiot at the next desk, giggling, munching snacks, tittering and twittering as she pops out prose suggesting breathless admiration for the constantly metamorphosing ephemera that daily cross, but never weigh down, the pages of Lifestyle.

Top Jazz Artists, More Than 30,000 Visitors Expected For Krabi’s Naga Fest

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The stage at Naga Fest 2015 resembled a Chinese sailing junk.

by Chaiwut Poungsuwan and Marque A. Rome (photos of Naga Fest 2015 by Chaiwut Poungsuwan)

Krabi’s annual Naga Fest is coming again this February, covering three evenings on the 27th, 28th and 29th of that month. Site for the fest is Klong Muang Beach in Tambon Nhong Talay. Theme for this year’s event is “Best Seafood, Good Music @ Romantic Beach”.

Krabi vice governor Srichay Sriniang, at a news conference Saturday announcing the fest, noted the people of Krabi are fortunate in their uniquely beautiful natural and marine environments: “Tourists, both Thai and foreign, dream of Krabi,” he said, “feeling they must make at least one visit. Lovers, families and groups of friends on holiday all come.”

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Provincial representatives on stage during Saturday’s announcement of the Krabi Naga Fest 2016.

The major attraction for this year’s Naga Fest is the return of jazz to Krabi. Top performers from Thailand and abroad will be performing free of charge to the public “on romantic Klong Muang Beach” in a “chic atmosphere with vendors serving food from Krab’s four- and five-star hotels.” Aside from Krabi’s top local artists, those scheduled to perform include: Thai saxophonist Koh Mister Saxman (who can be heard in a clip on Facebook here), chanteuses Jennifer Kim and Nantida Kaewbuasai, Charas Feuangarom, Narikrajang Kantamas, duo Bird and Heart, Gong (from the band Nuvo), and Ben Chalatit — all leading recording stars in Thailand.

Foreign artists include jazz saxophonist Jakob Dinesen from Denmark and the U.K.’s famous pop, R&B and electronica singer/composer/deejay Yasmine Zarine Shahmir.

Jakob Dinesen at Aarhus Festival and Yasmine Shahmir

Jakob Dinesen (left) at Aarhus Jazz Festival, and deejay Yasmin Shahmir (right). Both will be at Naga Fest 2016 in Krabi 27th – 29th February.

Aside from music, other highlights of this year’s fest include a walk – run up Mt. Ngon Nak (‘the Naga’s Crest’ — nagas being the divine giant snakes typically decorating Buddhist temples), and a bicycle ride through some of the province’s famous natural attractions.

Festival times are 5.00 PM – 11.00 PM every evening. The event is sponsored jointly by the Krabi Provincial Office, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the Krabi Provincial Administration Office, the Tambon Nhong Talay Administration Office, Nopparat Tara Beach – Phi Phi Islands National Park, the Krabi Tourism Business Association and Thai Air Asia Airline. Visitors should have no trouble finding accommodations during the festival: the immediate area of Klong Muang Beach has some 1,023 tourist-class (four- and five-star) rooms, and Muang District, where Klong Muang is located (along with Railay and Ao Nang), has more than 19,000.

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Koh Saxman at Naga Fest 2015 on Klong Muang Beach, Krabi.

Statistics for 2014 show Krabi welcomed 4.7 million tourists that year; income from tourism was 73.2 billion baht, and it is expected that figure will increase to over 80 billion when final figures for 2015 are released. Krabi’s International Airport counted more than 27,000 landings in 2015, an increase of 28.5 percent, and over 3.5 million arrivals (a 29.63 percent increase over the previous year).

At this year’s Naga Fest, some 30,000 visitors are expected to provide the province with an extra 30 million baht in income.

Dream Beach Club and Pete Tong – All Gone?

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A better place to sunbathe: Dream Beach Club at Layan beach before the show on 2nd January.

Story by Marque A. Rome

Photos by Chaiwut Poungsuwan

To some, the beach club phenomenon on Phuket is at once queer and repellant: such places are typically noisy, gaudy, unnatural and preposterously expensive; why should any sane person spend time at one?

To others, beach clubs are an answer to the tedium of sun-bathing: why should any sane person of reasonable means bake in boredom, surrounded by unsightly middle-aged beach-turds when these clubs offer the allure of convivial bathing beauties, tropical cocktails in the submerged pool-bar, and gourmet — perhaps I should say ‘gastronomique‘ — edibles?

Put that way, there’s no real choice — all else being equal, beach clubs win hands down. But all else is not equal: it’s one thing to take a transistor radio to the beach for a little background buzz of mixed pop and news; quite another to lie silently in the sun while loudspeaker stacks pumping out 2,000 watts a side overwhelm the environment with the steady pulse of electronic dance music.

For some, indeed many, and I suppose most, of the beach clubs’ customers, that is the deciding factor. They think a visit to the strand vastly improved by addition of the Big Beat. As beach clubs vary in other ways, but not in that, I conclude that loud music is the principal draw. So I was intrigued upon learning that celebrated British disc jockey Pete Tong would perform in the new Dream Beach Club (ex-Nikki’s Beach Club) at Layan beach on Phuket’s northwest coast and went for a visit.

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It was sunny when we arrived that Saturday at 2.00 PM — really sunny. In passing through Cherng Talay, by Laguna, we noticed Dream Beach ‘pool party’ banners with a picture of the star deejay draped from poles along the roadside, and the motto “all gone Pete Tong” superscribed.

Upon arrival at the club, however, some two kilometres distant, we saw no
banners, and observed none along the immediate route there — only those outside the Laguna hotel complex (which neither Dream Beach Club, nor the affiliated Dream Hotel and Spa, are part of). On a table at the entrance to the club were a few flyers, each about the size of a woman’s hand, announcing Pete Tong would perform at 2.00 PM and admission was free. Nothing else — and I should emphasize ‘nothing’ — indicated that Tong, who is a major star and one of Britain’s most influential forces on the music scene, was performing.

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All the advertising Pete Tong got at Dream was on this table.

In a quarter-century of covering entertainment on Phuket, I never saw a venue ignore its own event in this way. Amazing. I can only suppose this was planned, and that the cause célèbre himself elected to maintain a low profile, as he is currently embarked on an American tour (at venues where, perhaps, admission is not advertised as ‘free’).

Tong, a remarkably youthful 55, got his ‘all gone Pete Tong’ moniker in 1987 from fellow British deejay legend Paul Oakenfold (who performed at rival Phuket beach club XANA 12th December): it is rhyming slang and means ‘a bit wrong’ — an allusion I don’t understand as Tong seems to do nothing wrong.

He began his career in 1982, setting up a mobile disco in his transit van, became famous for acid house music, triumphed in Ibiza, where he is a staple, and has hosted since 1992 the two BBC Radio1 programmes Essential Mix and Essential Selection — which have influenced literally millions throughout the world to take up the deejay’s (to my mind rather dubious) art.

Tong is of such importance to Britain he was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 2014, as were the Beatles in 1965 (an honour about which John Lennon famously commented, “Lots of people who complained about us receiving the MBE received theirs for heroism in war – for killing people…. We received ours for entertaining people”).

Comander of the British Empire medal

The Commander of the British Empire medal and ribbon.

As it happened, Tong did not take the stage till 5.30 PM. When we arrived resident deejay Bradley Hart was at the mixer spinning tunes. Dream was thick (but not filled) with sun worshippers — how else to describe them? — it was clear and blisteringly hot. Sound levels, initially, precluded conversation but were reduced somewhat when saxophonist Vladimir Sharamyev took the stage, which is outside and unshaded.

The crowd was youngish, largely foreign, substantially female and good-looking (especially the babes). Many children were present. Everyone seemed friendly. People were obviously having a good time. My colleague, veteran print, radio and TV news reporter Chaiwut Poungsuwan, and I stepped onto the beach to escape the noise and interview a few onlookers. None, as it turned out, were customers at Dream. “Did you come here, though, to see today’s show?” we asked a pair of Thai men seated under a tree. Nope, they knew nothing of any show.

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Visitors to Dream will encounter a number of the great natural beauties for which Phuket is famous.

A German couple in their 50s, Harry and Heike, who stood gazing for some time, were likewise unaware: “We’ve been coming here the last few days because Karon Beach has no sunbeds,” Harry explained, “and everyday this place is so noisy. Today it’s twice as loud, and we came to see what was happening.” But they knew nothing of Pete Tong and allowed that electronic dance was not their kind of music.

A young Kossovar, who remained on the beach till sunset, told us he is manager of a private London Japanese club — and expressed similar surprise at hearing of Pete Tong’s performance. Having struck out on the beach, we went to the other side, the front entrance, where was seated an Anglo-Spanish couple. “Are you here today for the show?” they were asked. “No. What show?” came the reply. They noted that club staff are quite friendly but said they were not informed of any show. I told them Pete Tong would be on stage shortly: “Pete Tong!” ejaculated the woman, a cultured Londoner (who still looked great in a bikini despite passage of 52 summers), “We’ve seen him in Ibiza. He’s huge!” Just preparing to leave, they decided to stay instead and catch Tong’s gig.

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A view of Dream Beach Club from the stage.

Dream is large, covering perhaps two rai, now operated by the Singapore-based Castlewood Group. About half the area is covered by a single two-story building. The downstairs, with large open kitchen and ten-metre bar, is clearly designed for heavy turnover. I was informed that current seating for dinner accommodates a hundred, but there is plenty of room for more. For shows the number is 3,000. Castlewood’s similarly named Dream Hotel and Spa is a luxury property roughly one kilometre distant, and the hotel provides free shuttle service to and from the club.

The Group plainly intends to make a splash: “Culinary adventures await guests with tempting menus that include Asia’s most expensive burger experience,” read a press release about the beach club published on finance.yahoo.com 8th December. “For THB$30,000 (an estimated SGD$1,185), diners can treat themselves to an exquisite Wagyu beef burger topped with foie gras and a gold leaf bun, accompanied by a bottle of Dom Pérignon champagne.”

I can’t attest to the burger, billed as the most expensive in Asia (and which, were it ranked, would place 4th on Esquire Magazine‘s list of the world’s most expensive), but the coconuts were fine.

Upstairs at Dream, which opened 12th December, a nightclub was still under construction when we visited. Downstairs furnishings feature large, comfortable chairs of rattan and hardwood, and long hardwood tables. Outside, a walkway-divided pool occupies most of one rai, with semi-submerged bar, flanked by umbrellas and king-sized sunbeds, another kitchen and another bar. Masseuses and other staff ran to and fro. Guests were tapping out rhythms on their thighs, dancing, chatting and, yes, most everyone ‘cept the kids was drinking cocktails.

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The club stage dominates the area, and on it, after getting the sound right, DJ Brad handed over to saxophonist Vlad, who blew impressively fluent melodies on his alto over the steady EDM soundtrack. Asked whether he likes jazz, the Russian-Ukrainian said: “That’s music for people in the clouds — normally, people don’t understand it. I like this kind of music. It’s easy for me. I play how I feel. I don’t have to know what the deejay is playing; often I don’t know what the song is.”

He’s a brilliant soloist and, I must say, an intrepid player: “Don’t you find it rather hot playing in the sun like that?” I asked.

“Oh, this is not the worst,” he said. “In Greece once, it was 50 degrees Celsius — too hot to touch the saxophone and so hot the sound system shut down.” Based on Koh Samui, Vlad’s another sun-worshipper. Asked whether he lives in Thailand, he replied, “It’s winter isn’t it?” Vlad travels round the world with his sax, playing exotic venues and following the good weather. He’s been coming to Thailand for five years.

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Vladimir Sharamyev is on alto, while Bradley Hart makes the mix.

As the sun arced downwards to the Andaman, Pete Tong quietly took the stage — no announcements, no speech from him, no introduction in any way, not even a spotlight on him. But he quickly got everyone on their feet. His is an insinuating style, not noisy or abrupt. He uses mixer effects, creates his own loops and has a sixth sense about what people like to hear.

But nobody at Dream except a few staff seemed to know it was him.

I paused to interview a lone imbiber, a male mesomorph, 30ish, reclining on one of the big pool beds with a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a cigar. “What do you think of the show?” I asked. “Do you know who is up there playing deejay?”

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Arguably the world’s top deejay — Pete Tong at Dream 2nd January.

He instantly sprang to his feet and put a heavy arm round my shoulders: “Listen, I don’t care about the f–king show. I just came here to relax, because the last week at work has been….”

“Difficult?” I interjected.

“Hell,” he rejoined. “I’m an executive chef and I spent the last three days with no sleep because I had to monitor the sauce for New Year’s dinner.”

“That shows admirable resolve.” I opined.

“So this morning when I awoke all I could think of was my wife — where the hell is she, anyway? You gotta see my wife; you’ll be drooling like a dog.” Then he turned conspiratorial and leaned close to my ear: “She likes it up the arse, y’know; how’s that? Ha! Ha! Up the arse! Where is she? Anyway, you’ll be drooling — what a body! So I don’t care about the show or the deejay, I just wanna relax and make my wife happy….”

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EDM: it’s a kind of religious ecstasy.

“I’m sure it’s hard not to love a woman so accomplished. But you see, I’m a reporter, and I’ve come to do a story on today’s show, so I was wondering how many people in the crowd — who obviously love what they’re hearing — know who’s on stage right now. Did you know this club would have a special show today?”

He shook his head vigorously: “No. We just came to relax.”

The mini-bikini-clad object of his affections then arrived on the scene: she was young, a little drunk, uncommonly direct in language, and, from what I could tell, quite as advertised. Her expression was somewhat sour. She looked askance at her husband hugging me. The latter excused himself to find some more wine.

“You’re very beautiful,” I said to her. “Are you a movie star?”

“Who are you?” she said. “We’ve never met. How do you know my husband?”

“We just met.”

“Where?”

“Here. Now. I’m a reporter. I’m doing a story on the show.”

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The music was orgiastic.

“Oh,” she said, and became at once visibly circumspect. “My husband, you know, he’s a really great guy, really great. But when he’s drunk like this….”

“Kinda let’s his hair down, doesn’t he? That’s okay,” I said. I noticed her eyes scanning the place, looking for him.

“When he’s in this condition he’ll f–k anything,” she said. “It’s our anniversary.”

“Ah,” I said. “Well, men are like that. Be thankful he’s normal — and don’t worry: you’re all he can talk about. He loves you madly.”

She perked up then and grew more friendly. “D’you think so?”

“Yessss. It’s obvious.” He returned shortly and we talked briefly on the relative merits of white and black pepper. But after six hours at Dream, it was time to go. I bid them adieu and made my way through the leaping, swaying crowd, through the now empty dining room, and across the street to Dream’s spacious car park.

In retrospect, I must admit, going to the beach club has merit. I should otherwise have missed the anniversary couple and much interesting conversation. Moreover, it is convivial — I had a great time. I find now even my hitherto unyielding animadversion to electronic dance is somewhat abated.

What it Means for Phuket to Be Declared a UNESCO “City of Gastronomy”

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‘Gastronomy’ in Phuket, on Thalang Rd, in Phuket town.

by Chaiwut Poungsuwan

On 28th December it was announced that UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural and scientific arm, has declared Phuket town part of the world’s Creative City Network as a ‘City of Gastronomy’. Those unfamiliar with the expression will be interested to know ‘gastronomy’ refers to what has hitherto been described in English as ‘gourmet food’. Our good friend at Radio Thailand, well-known Thai-language correspondent Chaiwut Poungsuwan, covered the event in detail, and made the following report (translated by yours truly, Marque A. Rome):

The award was announced at a joint news conference called by Phuket governor Jamrern Tipyapongtada, Phuket town mayor Somjai Suwansupapana, and deputy mayor Dr. Kosol Tang-utai on the third floor of Phuket town’s municipal office building. They noted that the award constitutes “good year-end news,” describing it as a big — and important — present. It something for Phuket people, and every Thai, to be proud of.”

Gov. Jamrern, who is a Phuket native, said: “I believe this award shall result in expanded economic activity, with entirely new kinds of tourism investment resulting. For example, because of it, Phuket is now a place people ‘must’ come to sample the cuisine and purchase new kinds of souvenir foods displaying the island’s special character. It will also promote the island’s important fish products industry. Perhaps, in future, schools and institutions will be established where people come to learn the art of cooking — which agrees exactly with the provincial development plan.”

The latter emphasises sustainable tourism development based on marine destinations and those of historical import.

Winner of Gastronomy Logo competition 010716

Kittibodi Bualuang-ngam was winner of the Phuket Gastronomy City logo competition.

“Furthermore,” continued the governor, “it is in line with policy set by Gen. Prayut Janocha, prime minister and chairman of the National Council for Peace and Order, who wants to enhance sales and build value from the country’s tourism destinations, thereby increasing income for the nation so that everyone lives — and eats — well.”

[Translator’s note: Former army commander Gen. Prayut led the popular royalist coup d’etat that toppled the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra on 22nd May, 2014 and set up a military junta, the NCPO, to govern in its stead. Phuket, with all the southern provinces, is regarded as firmly royalist. Except in Bangkok, governors are — and always were — civil service members appointed by the Interior Ministry, not elected. The civil service and the ministries they staff were not affected by the coup, except in so far as their chiefs were replaced by military appointees.]

Gov. Jamrern noted that UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network (which includes many aspects of creativity, not only cooking, goes hand-in-glove with designation as a World Heritage Site in the categories of Nature and History: “It differs merely in that it involves ‘intangible culture’, mixing modernity with creativity and cultural fundamentals. The project was established in 2004. Only cities and towns are considered for the award, because only they have the diverse bases necessary to drive economic, social and environmental development in a sustainable manner.”

Phuket governor Jamrern Tipayapongtada

Phuket’s Gov. Jamrern Tipayapongtada, speaking at the news conference announcing Phuket town’s UNESCO award 28th Dec.

UNESCO designates Creative City awards in seven categories: literature, film, music, folk arts and crafts (Chiang Mai has applied for consideration in that category), design, ‘media art’ and gastronomy.

“Presently,” said Gov. Jamrern, “116 cities world-wide have received designation — 18 as Gastronomy cities. Phuket is proud to be one of those 18. We are the first in Thailand and the first in ASEAN (the Association of SouthEast Asian Nations) so designated, after an effort lasting about three years.” He said the process was initiated and pushed by Phuket town mayor Somjai, “with support from the ministries of Culture and Education, from Rajabhat University Phuket, and from many, many private individuals. I personally, as a native Phuketois, and on behalf of the people of Phuket, take this opportunity to offer them our thanks and to express the hope that this project will continue to develop, fully and happily supported by the provincial office and every other sector, public and private.”

Other cities so far receiving Gastronomy desgnation by UNESCO are: Belem and Florianopolis in Brazil; Bergen, Norway; Burgos and Denia in Spain; Chendu and Shunde in China; Ensenada, Mexico; Gazientep, Turkey; Jeon-ju, South Korea; Ostersund, Sweden; Parma, Italy; Popaya, Columbia; Rasht, Iran; Tsuruoka, Japan; Tucson, Arizona; and Zahle, Lebanon.

Phuket town’s Mayor Somjai said city hall received word of the award in a letter from UNESCO director Irina Bokova dated 11th December: “We are now entitled to use UNESCO’s name and logo in our food promotions,” she explained.

Bokova stated in the letter that she personally awarded Phuket the coveted designation, and that four-year reviews would be made to ensure that standards are maintained.

Irina_Bokova

UNESCO director Irina Bokova, who personally awarded the coveted designation.

The mayor expressed her thanks to those whose efforts resulted in the city’s successful campaign, especially former Ministry of Culture, Office of Arts and Culture director Mrs. Prisana Pongstadsirikul; Rajabhat Phuket University chancellor Asst. Professor Dr. Prapa Kayee; Dr. Adul Nakaro, also of Rajabhat Phuket University; Mrs. Sawitri Suwansathit, an adviser in the Ministry of Culture who headed the team that considered Phuket’s application report to UNESCO; Mrs. Duriya Amtawiwat, director of the Office of International Relations, Office of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, where the report was prepared in the application effort’s final stages; and deputy mayor Dr. Kosol Tang-utai, “who chaired the city’s working group and laboured unstintingly for three years to achieve this award.”

“I want also to thank all the people of Phuket who together have maintained the city’s unique character with regard to local food and culture,” which she said is “founded in diversity.” The mayor said the city office had worked towards the award not just for those within the municipal office’s 12 square kilometre area of responsibility, “but for all of us in Phuket, because we are all brothers and sisters.” She noted that the island is home to a variety of cultures and religions “which have dwelt together in progress and peace for 150 years under the benevolent protection of Thailand’s great monarchs.”

Somjai Suwansupapana - who has led Phuket growth 010716

Mayor Somjai, who has led Phuket’s beautification and cultural renaissance all during the 21st Century.

Somjai cited the inhabitants of Phuket’s ‘old town’ (centred round Thalang Road) as examples: “The city government’s policy has been to preserve their culture of food, drink, clothing, and architecture, with results that are apparent in a beautiful mix. These were forged into a basis succeeding generations developed to produce more income; and the value of that basis is today recognised internationally with Phuket’s designation as a world Creative City by UNESCO.”

In designating Phuket a Gastronomy City, Mayor Somjai explained, UNESCO considered a variety of factors, including status as a popular tourism destination, known for its natural beauty, beaches, surrounding islands, unique character and local food. Regarding the latter, the island is famous for cultivating fish and seafood, such as Spotted Kao fish, Sea Cicadas, and abalone, for its duck (‘ped teht’), and for goat meat and milk. The province has become so gastronomy-conscious that nearly every festival includes a local food exhibition. Passed from generation to generation by word of mouth, Phuket recipes are peculiar to the place and cannot be learned by outsiders except through instruction from members of the families that created them. Uniquely Phuket recipes and ingredients include: soya bean flour; fried cashews; dark soy sauce and the Oh-Aew iced sweets.

Environmental preservation and sustainable development are thus important survival strategies for Phuket. Moreover, co-operation between government offices, the private sector and educational institutions has produced a varied menu of commercially available foods, such as souvenir dishes tourists can take to friends back home; juices of cashew and durian; salty ice cream; and variously flavoured cashews. In this regard, the shop Porntip Phuket recently was presented the Japanese Award for distinguished comestibles.

Award letter from Irina Bokova 010716

Mayor Somjai noted that restaurants and shops serving high quality cuisine, food festivals, and a willingness to exchange information with interested foreign organisations have won the island a reputation for good food — especially that of the type described as ‘gastronomique’ in French. She said this is valuable economically, and that food promotions, when combined with Phuket’s already famous hospitality and good manners, cannot fail to attract expanded, and profitable, interest contributing to the nation’s prosperity.

Related to the city’s new status as a recognised world centre of gastronomy, Phuket joined last year in events with Jeon-ju in South Korea and Ostersund in Sweden, both members of UNESCO’s gastronomy club (the former considered the ancient home of Korean cuisine, the latter a popular winter playground). This year, the city will send a delgation to Xiamen in China’s southern Fujian region (whence so many of Phuket’s ethnic Chinese have family roots) and to Penang in Malaysia, famous for its Indian and Chinese restaurants. The city will also play host to a meeting and seminar for members of the international network.

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Deputy mayor Dr. Kosol Tang-utai, who led the three-year effort to win UNESCO recognition.

 

In sum, the mayor sees Phuket as a centre of creativity not only in the arts but in science, as well, and foresees “sustainable” development in both areas for the future. Though in the past, she said, the island was populated by immigrants from various places who differed greatly in their antecedents, “today we are all Phuket people, and it is that diversity which has won us recognition as a City of Gastronomy in UNESCO’s Creative City Network.”

Going to the Dogs — A Parable

Jordaens_Christ_driving_the_Merchants_from_the_temple

Christ driving money changers from the temple – by Jacob Jordaens

by Marque A. Rome

S.T. Coleridge famously fell asleep after taking a dose of laudanum and dreamed the whole of Kublai Khan, a poem that would be considerably longer were he not disturbed by an uninvited visitor while writing it down, which caused him to forget the rest. That’s the story, anyway; I personally feel — say rather I am certain — the poem is complete as it stands and wants no further embellishment. Indeed, it were weaker by far if it had.

I, too, have my dreams, or ‘visions’ in Coleridge’s phrasing, and those without the intercession of opiates. The following is one, though I don’t suppose it an immortal work such as Coleridge’s. It might do with some further embellishment — with ‘greater plot and character developments’ in theatre parlance. Nonetheless, it is, alas, as complete as it should be in these dreadful, topsy-turvy times we live in.

Imagine a clever man who trains a pack of dogs — animals that complement each other in their abilities so as to form an interactive unit. These are, say, a hundred in number and attack or defend on command. They frighten, maim or kill as instructed.

Thus they form a sort of military unit. To test their efficacy, the Trainer turns them loose on a small rural town where the economy is depressed and drug use rampant: lo, the dogs triumph, overcoming the local constabulary, cowing city fathers and ordinary citizens alike. Having won the day, they perform useful tasks such as intercepting or tracking down criminals, terrorising unwilling minors into going to school, saving girls from unwanted interlocutors, or snatching to safety unwary children wandering into traffic.

The dogs don’t like sneaky people, so politicians, uniformed thugs and bureaucrats all flee. In this way they gain the town people’s support.

The clever fellow who trained them, meanwhile, reveals himself, and assumes control of the town, officially disbanding the police department and much of City Hall as unnecessary, and reducing local taxes. Citizens are thereby made happy, with crime under control and decreasing; no more police corruption; fewer social problems; no more ugly graffitti and senseless vandalism; no more litter; children made obedient — and made to go to school. People feel that, after a long period of chaos, they are again on the right track; they are no longer suspicious of each other. People who long ago lost their self-control regain it.

Prosperity is returning. It’s beginning to look like America again.

Unfortunately, news of the changes wrought reaches the Central Government: the town’s formerly high crime rate made it a principal source of inmates for the area’s prison, the Barack Hussein Obama Memorial Penitentiary and Reduced Cost Labor Camp. This is a privately-operated facility, subsidised by the government, patronised by major manufacturers (the result of compensation rates lower than those of Indonesia), and owned by a large business firm with lobbyists in the capital. Hitherto quite profitable, the prison begins to experience losses owing to a dearth of new inmates from the town. That causes a stir among investors. The lobbyists spread word that the town has been taken over by fascists. News organs, whose managers know which side of their bread is buttered, complain that the rights of minorities are infringed, that the future is tending towards a holocaust, and demand circumstances be returned to the ante-canine status quo.

prison industry 123015 (from beforeitsnewsdotcom

(Courtesy of beforeitsnews.com)

A meeting is held by the President — a crippled hermaphrodite of mixed race with a speech impediment — and his chief men and advisers. Someone notes that the town’s reversed circumstances are such as the people in any community might wish for, and that the town’s new government might serve as a model for the rest of the country. As realisation of what that might mean dawns upon the participants, they agree as one that action must be taken immediately. “When people across the country see how citizens in that town have overcome formerly intractable problems without recourse to the justice system, new schools, imported city managers, expensive experts, social workers or psychologists, without beefing up the police or clamping down on civil rights — and without higher taxes — we’ll be facing a revolution!” the president’s chief adviser avers.

An uproar ensues; draconian measures are demanded — and agreed to.

Federal agents go to the scene: they throw their weight around, tell the town people they are taking over — and would do so, but for the dogs: they know a creep when they smell one and chase the Feds out of town. An army unit is called in but the dogs beat them off as well, though the soldiers fire live ammunition on the town streets. They come back riding in personnel carriers — but the dogs are given powerful teargas bombs, which attach magnetically, and place them on the vehicles’ under-carriages while eluding the soldiers’ fire. Once again the Feds beat a retreat, this time choking and screaming, while the townspeople jeer them as fools: “If you wanna win this you’re gonna have to be smarter than the dogs!” shouts a townsman.

The people all cheer.

The President watches from the Oval Office via the cameras on a Predator drone as events unfold: he is clearly disturbed at the outcome. “Mr. President,” says his chief adviser, “this cannot go on. We cannot realistically expect to keep control in this country when people find out our agents are being repeatedly beaten off by a pack of dogs.” The President nods and reaches for the phone. “Let me talk to the drone operator,” he says. A slight pause ensues, after which he says curtly, “Flatten the town.”

On the other side of the continent, at a storefront shop in a dreary part of Hollywood, the drone operator — a young woman with greenish hair, heavy eye make-up, pierced nipples and rose tattoos covering her shoulder and one breast, is eating a tuna sandwich. Her name is Heidi. After receiving the President’s message, she places the remains of her sandwich on the console, uses a joystick to focus the cross hairs, and fires two Hellfire missiles into the town’s city center, target of the soldiers’ attack, where most of the citizens are gathered.

She watches her screen with bemused expression as the town’s structures vanish in an instant, replaced by gradually billowing clouds of brownish grey smoke. Nothing is left standing and no evidence of life registers. “Way to go, Heidi!” says her partner, seated at the console next to hers, raising his arm in a ‘high five’. “Fuck them rebels.” She slaps his hand in return.

drone strike 123015

 

It is late Friday afternoon during Christmas Week, almost time to go home.

“That’s ten points for me,” she says happily, “and puts me ten points ahead. Now, what are you gonna do to catch up? ‘Cause as it stands, you’re buyin’ the beer tonight.”

In Washington, the President has slipped into a dinner jacket and pink satin skirt. The bows on his high-heeled shoes are colourful, if a tad uneven, presented to him by the Blind Artists Against Profiling by the Sighted; their leather tanned by the Society of Reformed Vegetarians. He is on his way to a white-tie dinner given by the Pro-Choice Alliance of Lesbians, Gays and Recovering Alcoholics. The featured speaker, he will talk tonight on the continuing tragedy to society caused by those unwilling to contribute their fair share in the official Drive for Racial, Cultural, Sexual and Cross-Species Diversity. He was invited because it is popularly believed the President is in love with his cat, a long-haired Persian with pushed-in nose, constantly sniffling.

He drums his fingers on the arms of his chair as a hairdresser primps the Executive dreadlocks, whistling quietly to himself, properly perfumed — without a thought in the world.

****

The foregoing may seem far-fetched satire, but fair-minded readers of whatever political persuasion will admit that, eighty years ago, satire depicting a society in which those violently opposed to murder of the unborn are considered rebels; in which prisons are profit-centres and authorities claim the right legally to kill anyone, anywhere, for any reason — or none at all; in which marriage between members of the opposite sex is deprecated, and homosexual marriage applauded; where Christmas is outlawed in the schools and the Pope, of all people, teaches that Jews are indeed the Chosen of God — such satire then must have seemed pretty far-fetched.

Indeed, unimaginable. Yet here we are. The future, it appears, is a strange place.

Happy new year everyone!

2016 UNESCO Jazz Day Preparations Under Way in Phuket

Black and Blue Jazz Day 2015 ed

The Black and Blue Band nail ‘Evil Ways’ during 2015 Jazz Day performances in Phuket town.

by Marque A. Rome

Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival ended in October, and the King’s Cup Regatta finished over the weekend (apropos of which, we take this opportunity to congratulate skipper Yasuo Nanamori and his crew, of Japanese racing class entrant ‘Karasu’, on their victory). Those are the two most famous annual events on this island, but, while each has undeniable merits and excites considerable popular interest, for me they are bland entertainments compared to the annual Phuket UNESCO International Jazz Day festival in Phuket town, organised jointly by the municipal office and Music Matter jazz club.

Let’s face it: the Vegetarian Festival is so noisy and smokey it may be considered torture for both participants and viewers, while the King’s Cup depends largely on which way the wind blows — besides, it happens at sea and thus fails as a spectator sport.

But the jazz festival is a pleasure all round, increasingly so as it grows from year to year. Someday I expect Phuket town’s three-day jazz extravaganza ranked among the island’s principal draws, along with the beaches and women of ill-repute.

Part of the crowd on Jazz Day 2015

Part of the crowd on Jazz Day in Phuket last April: tiny Soi Chana Charoen fairly overflowed with people.

30th April 2016 will mark its fifth year, with major performances not only on Chana Charoen Rd., site of the fest since its inception in 2011 and home to Music Matter, but at beautiful Queen Sirikit Park on Thalang Rd. The latter site, popularly known as the ‘Dragon Park’ owing to the monumental golden fountain statue that dominates the main entrance, lies adjacent to the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Phuket offices. Formerly the grounds of the Electrical Authority of Thailand, the park was turned into one of the city’s show-pieces in 2006 to honour Her Majesty Queen Sirikit during King Bhumibol’s diamond jubilee year. The statue commemorates local Chinese veneration of the sea dragon Hai Leng Ong, considered Phuket’s tutelary spirit.

The Sea Dragon Hai Leng Ong ed

Hai Leng Ong in intimidating posture.

This is where the city organises it most prestigious outdoor events, so one may infer that jazz is making progress in the minds of city fathers. To be fair, the municipal government extended a helping hand almost from the moment Kay Mongkolkaew and Jeffrey Sevilla, proprietors of Music Matter, broached the idea to Deputy Mayor Kavee Tansukhatanon. The deputy mayor is a jazz aficionado and uses his position to promote the art: so the Old Phuket Festival always features a jazz band; a cycling association event at Saphan Hin earlier this year had one (Kavee is secretary of the club); and a jazz singer from Finland recently performed a gala concert at the Limelight auditorium. The rest of the city council, including Mayor Somjai Suwansupapana, if less enthusiastic fans, nevertheless see its value — and well they should.

Phuket has opportunity to make a name for itself in music, and in this regard the Jazz Day concerts are central. Phuket is the only town in Thailand to join the festival, held in almost 200 countries, every year. It’s now part of the city calendar of events. Last April at the event in Bangkok, a few people turned out, it’s true — but in Phuket more than a thousand showed up , and hundreds waited though an hour-and-a-half downpour, staying till the last act of 15 finished at 3.00 AM. Each act had something unique to offer, as well, from the pop-inflected blues of Richard Wright’s Black and Blue Band, to George Cordeiro’s fusion-jazz rockabilly mix, the classic jazz ballads of famous Filipino saxophonist Eddie K, and the balls-out virtuosity of local hero Franco Payao’s Band. Thai listeners all came abuzz at the charming and eclectic interpretations Kay and Jeffrey brought to several of King Bhumibol’s compositions, especially their stand-out version of ‘HM Blues’.

Kavee at the Podium Jazz Day 2015

Deputy Mayor Kavee at the podium with city officials during the opening ceremony.

This year Jeffrey, who is the organiser, plans to spread the event over four days, 27 – 30 April. The 27th is a Wednesday and every Wednesday sees a jazz jam at Music Matter — so that will kick off the festival. The following day will feature a jazz workshop, tentatively scheduled for Satree Phuket School. On Friday evening a monster festival will be held in the park, and on Saturday a final event — the Jazz Street Festival — will take place on Chana Charoen Rd. Bands are flying in from Chiang Mai, Bangkok, the Philippines and England; and, as usual, the cream of Phuket’s jazz players will also perform.

That’s what we know for now; maybe more will be flying in by Jazz Day. In addition to music, the event is a showcase for pictorial and performance art, food, and handicrafts of all sorts. People with productions they think worthy of the event should contact Jeffrey, who welcomes suggestions — because, if we all work together, we’re gonna have have one whale of a good time!

Contact Jefrey Sevilla on Facebook at Music Matter Phuket or by e-mail at tiklado2005@yahoo.com

“When Will the English…: The Current State of the Language in Great Britain

Pygmalion - Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard0 and Eliza (Wendy Hiller)

Prof. Higgins, in perfect received pronunciation, denouncing the Cockney tones of Eliza in the film version of G.B. Shaw’s Pygmalion (1938). Modern audiences know it as basis for the musical My Fair Lady.

by Marque A. Rome

On 18th November the Bangkok Post informed interested readers of the following: “The Education Ministry plans to kick off its six-week ‘train-the-trainer’ programme for the first group of 500 Thai teachers to teach English in state-run schools in March next year. Deputy Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin, who oversees the programme, said…teachers will be trained by 50 British Council English specialists.

“‘The 500 teachers will live in what we call an immersive environment for six weeks, speaking only English.’ …He was also confident the teachers would be fluent in conversational English in six weeks: ‘These 500 teachers do have some training. They are already qualified teachers, so we do not start from zero.'”

I sympathize with Deputy Education Minister Teerakiat’s impulse, and I understand his motivation: according to Ministry of Education figures, out of some 43,000 English teachers in Thailand only six are fluent in something approximating correct English. Clearly there is a problem. Where better to go for ‘specialists’ to sort out this dismal circumstance than the well of English pure and undefiled, Great Britain?

Oh, Sweden, Holland, Germany, Finland, Russia — almost anywhere else might be better. Why? Because they have standardized pronunciation and grammar; whereas, among the English, who have always struggled to agree on acceptable standards for their bastard tongue, official policy now is that there is no ‘correct’ English. Such official lack of policy might be relatively innocuous in nations with a dominant group whose conventions amount to a de facto standard (as, say, in Thailand where Thai as spoken in Bangkok would be the standard with or without official policy).

But in Britain it is linguistic suicide. There, a babel of tongues now holds the field and English as we imagine it should be is a dying art form.

It was not always so. Before 1994 the language still had its champions of rectitude. Some readers may recall the scene in Act I of Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw (himself, ironically, an Irishman). Prof. Henry Higgins erupts furiously at the flower-seller Eliza’s unlettered Cockneyisms: “Woman! Cease this detestable boohooing instantly…. A woman who utters such depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere—no right to live. Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespear and Milton and the Bible; and don’t sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.”

The fact is that Britain then was — and still is — riven by a baffling number of local accents, so much so that one might tell instantly the social antecedents of any interlocutor. As Shaw has Higgins, an expert in phonetics, explain: “You can spot an Irishman or a Yorkshireman by his brogue. I can place any man within six miles. I can place him within two miles in London. Sometimes within two streets.”

How many accents does Britain hold today? No one seems to know. 56 principal accents are recorded, but each of these may have a dozen sub-species. In 1850, a survey by London’s Metropolitan Police counted 36 distinct accents only for the City of London (that is, the roughly one-square mile area where lies the financial district). As is noted on the Website online-english-lessons.eu: “Many students tell me they want to learn ‘English English’ (as opposed to American English, for instance) – they are often surprised to learn just how many variations of English accent exist here in the UK.”

What used to be regarded as proper pronunciation in Britain is not called that: it is known as ‘received pronunciation’ or ‘RP’. Though native nowhere, it derives from the southern counties and was the conventionalized speech of educated people, of gentry, and, pre-eminently, of British Broadcasting Corporation announcers. It is not old, having emerged from British public schools (which were in fact private schools) during the 19th Century. This pronunciation held sway among a small but important class of people till quite recently, and was the language taught by pedagogues; but it was never spoken by more three percent of the people.

Its dominance was cemented by use on the BBC. That ended abruptly with news, on 27th January, 1994, that a new regime was in place; reported thus in the Guardian newspaper:

“BBC to be less cut-glass

“The cut-glass accent of home counties Britain is to be banished from the air waves by the BBC in favour of more energetic and vigorous voices from the regions.

“Parts of the BBC were lagging a ‘little behind the sound of the nation, beginning to sound a bit antique’, Liz Forgan, managing director of network radio, said yesterday.

“She told the Broadcasting Press Guild that listeners who would appreciate the music on Radio 3 were deterred by its presentation. ‘Radio 3 has not found a presentation style that is energetic enough and vigorous enough. I do not say it is bad, but many people have found it off-putting, and so unlike any other feature of English life.’

“Work had already begun on trying to make the network sound ‘less cliquey and alienating’.

Liz Forgan 120115

Dame Liz Forgan: she thought received pronunciation ‘off-putting’, and so banished it from the BBC — which, if her choice of vocabulary is any indication, is what we might expect from her.

“Ms Forgan, educated at Benenden School, Kent, and herself a model of received pronunciation, said she did not want presenters to sound like her.

“Her remarks follow observations last year by John Birt, the BBC’s director-general, who said Radio 4 was too heavily skewed to the southern home counties.

“More regional accents have been introduced to Radio 4 in the last year, with Andy Kershaw presenting a Sunday morning travel magazine. Gerry Anderson, an accomplished Northern Ireland broadcaster, is to launch a live daily afternoon show on the network next month.

“Ms Forgan said that she wanted to get away from the view once expressed by Sir Ian Trethowan, a former director-general, who had heard a Brummie voice on the radio, and said: ‘What is that sound doing on the BBC – get it off.'”

For her efforts in democratizing the Beeb, Forgan was made a dame of the British Empire.

Today, perhaps two percent of the British still speak RP. All agree its use is in decline. Even the gentry have abandoned it. Kate Middleton, a commoner, reportedly speaks RP more correctly than her husband, the Duke of Cambridge and future heir apparent, who speaks what is termed ‘Estuary English’, described as a “faintly Cockney-fied accent of the Southeast”.

Is this a serious problem? It depends on how one views it. In Britain now, the word ‘bottle’ is commonly pronounced without the ‘t’ sound, “bo’erl”, a glottal stop doing duty for the missing ‘t’. “They say ‘ahm’ for arm, ‘naa-it’ for night, and ‘le’er’ for letter,” wrote Scottish journalist Neal Ascherson on 7th August, 1994, in the Independent. He saw nothing alarming in the change: “For at least a century,” he observed, “accent in England has been two things: a vertical indicator about geographical origins, and a horizontal caste-mark separating ‘top people’ from the rest. From this intersection between place and class has come much odious social farce and – in those parts of the British Isles where it was taken seriously – a vast amount of unnecessary misery.

Neal Ascherson 120115

Scotch journalist Neal Ascherson, who comes from a land where the denizens might well applaud ‘dissolution’ of English.

“At the top were those who spoke with ‘received pronunciation’…. (Received by whom, and from whom?) The speaker of RP would refer to all the rest as ‘having accents’….

“So it came about that, until recently, top people who lived near Cape Wrath spoke in exactly the same accent as top people who lived near Penzance. Their origins might be totally different: the first only two generations away from a Gaelic-speaking warlord, the second the descendant of a Tudor property shark or a Victorian mine-owner. But they had merged into a single ruling culture. They talked the same, thought the same and wore the same baggy clothes. They were the universal British ruling class.

“Now that culture is dissolving.”

Indeed it is; to be replaced by… what? “The voice of children’s TV entertainment,” Ascherson wrote: “that brassy, relentless patter with its East End flavour. (Isn’t the ancestor of all showbiz presenting the patter of stall-holders in city street markets?). As diction, it is warm, cheeky and inviting. Whatever the accents of parents, this has become the voice in which the nation chats up its children.”

Thus RP is dead; Estuary English, with its East End working class, Cockney-fied character, is its tenuous heir; and most of the nation speaks language so differing in pronunciation from the orthography it might as well be French. BBC announcers now speak in dialects once reserved for comedy routines, and teachers are hired with working class accents.

Michel Selby with dog 120115

Ministry of Education adviser Michael Selby: he also teaches dogs.

I wonder if Thailand’s Ministry of Education and their American adviser, Michael Selby (hitherto an investment councillor) realise this. It should be interesting to see how much these Thai English teachers take home from their six-weeks course — and even more interesting if a few come away talking like mechanics from East London.

Is This the Beginning of the End?

Second Coming 112515

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Marque A. Rome

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

— William Butler Yeats, 1919, ‘The Second Coming’

Is this the end? This morning I woke to find that the event so many have warned of, a  clash between Russian forces in Syria and NATO, happened yesterday. I had to read a Thai-based publication, the Bangkok Post, to find that out. Why? Because the US-based Google news aggregator thought potential for disturbances in Chicago (related to the year-old police murder of a black teenager high on PCP wandering the streets with a knife) was more important.

I cannot help wondering whether excluding the big story about the Russian jet, while running minor stories of mere local importance, is not part of a plan to keep the plebs quiet — as, meanwhile, our insouciant government dithers over how best to continue the attack on Russia. For I am persuaded that it was a deliberate attack, one that would not, indeed could not, be carried out sans active connivance from NATO headquarters and Washington. That NATO ministers were ready to meet at the drop of a hat last night, that NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg did not hesitate to state then on behalf of the organisation that “we stand in solidarity with Turkey”, that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan almost immediately conferred by telephone with Barack Obama, who then “reiterated U.S. support for Turkey’s right to defend its airspace” and described the attack as part of “an on-going problem” with Russia’s military operations in the Levant — all these suggest the incident resulted from concerted effort rather than a ‘lone-nut’ reaction by Erdogan to Russian provocation.

SU-24 on fire before crash 112515 ed

The Russian SU-24 fighter-bomber, mainly used for ground support and called Fencer in NATO nomenclature, on fire before crashing.

The consequences of this policy, followed to its logical conclusion, may be far graver than any threat dreamed of by people who think the over-arching issue of our time is “Black Lives Matter”. I’m not saying they don’t, by the way, only that the threat to life itself posed by conflict between the United States and Russia is obviously far more serious, in the great scheme of things, than the consequences of simmering racial unrest in the US.

Armaggedon is quite close — literally, only a few hours drive from where, according to Turkey, the Russian SU-24 swing-wing fighter-bomber flying at 19,000 feet was shot down by two Turkish F-16s firing air-to-air missiles, all supplied by the US, in an area with US bases used for staging air attacks on Syria. The Russians dispute this version of the story, saying the aircraft was downed by a surface-to-air missile fired from inside Syria. Terrorists fighting in Syria against the government of Bashar al-Assad reportedly have been armed recently by the US and their Arab state allies with shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, so the Russian argument is plausible. The Turks, however, provided a radar graph of the SU-24’s flight path to support the claim that the aircraft violated their airspace.

How, precisely, it was downed we may leave to further, better informed debate; but the US, NATO and Turkey’s assertion that the attack was justified is preposterous: the very map used by the Turks as ‘evidence’ of Russia’s ‘violation’ shows that, if indeed any infringement occurred, it was over a tiny appendix of rural Turkish territory jutting into the Syrian tobacco-growing province of Latakia, barely a mile wide, and must not have lasted more than a few seconds. That is no cause for shooting down the plane (only days before Russian Defence Minister Sergey Lavrov was scheduled to meet with Erdogan in Istanbul); and certainly no cause for deliberately murdering the two-member flight crew, who, after successfully ejecting from their fiery aircraft, were machine-gunned in the air by Turkish-allied rebels.

SU-24 schematic

At this point, it is probably well to recall that Turkey, the US, NATO and Russia are all, ostensibly, fighting against the Islamic State terror group that controls large swathes of Syria and Iraq. Thus it appears the Turks and NATO, in a fit of pique, shot down their own ally. But, as all independent reports from the area make plain, that story is nonsense: the Turks, NATO, the US, Israel, and the Arab Persian Gulf states are in bed with the Islamic State, which is largely supplied via Turkey, the latter being IS’s biggest oil purchaser. The U.S. air ‘offensive’ against IS is the merest window-dressing, is purely for public consumption at home (to prove the US is, as always, on the side of the angels) and achieved nothing — against IS. Against Syrian president Assad’s forces, however, it achieved much, and, before September’s Russian intervention, appeared set finally to topple Syria’s legally constituted government and turn the entire country over to terrorists.

The tables were suddenly turned, however, when Russia arrived on the scene to support Assad. Almost overnight, IS was in retreat. The Russians flew more sorties against IS in their first days there than the US had in a year of futile — but expensive — operations. How futile? How expensive? On 17th September, 2014, it was announced that US Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, requested authorisation and eventually received approval from Congress to train and arm “moderate rebel forces” for the war against IS, an operation that cost US$500 million dollars. Almost one year later, on 6th September, 2015, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter testified before Congress that only 60 men were trained with the money, a cost of US$8.3 million per man.

radar-graph of russian fighter route 112515

Red line shows the path followed by the doomed plane before the Turkish attack. As Russia and Turkey have hitherto enjoyed friendly relations, so minor an incursion would not normally prove fatal. Turkey itself this year violated Greek airspace over a hundred times without incident. The US famously encroached on Swedish airspace for over a half-hour earlier this year while fleeing nosy Russian interceptors — again without incident. Why has the reaction against Russia been so murderous?

Admittedly, that’s a ridiculous tuition rate, US$500 million for 60 men. But it soon transpired that the rate was higher still: on 16th September, 2015, Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of US Central Command, told the Senate armed services committee the number of effective fighters was not actually 60. “We’re talking four or five,” he said. “The program is much smaller than we hoped,” said Pentagon policy chief Christine Wormuth. The Pentagon a year earlier had said the US$500 million would buy 5,000 men to fight against IS.

So, plainly, the United States, and by extension its NATO allies, which include Turkey, are not serious about fighting the Islamic State, and that’s entirely in line with Israeli policy. Perhaps you have noticed that, in any discussion of the war “against Syrian terrorists” (a misnomer, insofar as the vast majority of terrorists in Syria are foreigners) one name is always absent; and one army — the best trained and equipped in the region…indeed, in the world — never raises a finger, even though it is best-positioned for the task. You know which name and which army we’re talking about, don’t you? Because if you don’t, YOU HAVEN’T BEEN PAYING ATTENTION. The name is ‘Israel’, and the army is the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).

Why?

That question leads to another peculiarity of this war: the Islamic State has no quarrel with Israel, which has been the confirmed enemy of its Arab neighbours for more than half a century. The Islamic State’s enemies are other Muslims (Shia), other Arab states (those not aligned with the US), the Europeans and the Americans. Explained in this way, present circumstances appear impossible: how can IS be allied with America’s Arab allies (Saudi Arabia and Qatar), be fighting America’s enemies (Syria and Iran) and yet be enemy to America? The very idea is absurd, and, without the cognitive dissonance occasioned by bombings here and there, bizarre videos, beheadings, massacres and the exodus of desperate refugees towards Europe — everyone would know it.

Call it a ‘Strategy of Tension’. We might as well: that’s what the experts call it, who advise us that such strategies are most effective in driving whole populations to embrace policies inimical to their own well-being. Downing the Russians’ SU-24 might be part of that strategy, along with the Russian Metrojet bombing over the Sinai last month, the bombing in Beirut days before the Friday the 13th attacks in Paris, those attacks themselves, the lockdown in Belgium, the Charlie Hebdo massacre on 7th January of this year — all go together, all raised tension to fever pitch, polarised peoples, terrorised them into exchanging the flag of liberty for Security Service jack boots and all impend towards one end: war, total war.

Russia’s response to the unprovoked attack by Turkey on its aircraft is now a matter of much speculation. Lavrov, of course, cancelled his meeting with Erdogan. A member of the Russian general staff, Lieut. Gen. Sergey Rudskoy, told the press a Russian missile cruiser stationed off the coast of Latakia had been ordered to “target and destroy any potential threat.” This, according to the Website Russia Insider, means the skies over Syria have now become a “no-fly zone” for any but Russian aircraft.

Russian missile cruiser Moskva 112515

The Russian guided missile cruiser Moskva, stationed off the coast of Latakia — now with orders to attack any “potential threat”.

This is likely just window-dressing for public consumption in Russia, where the Strategy of Tension is also having an effect, leaving citizens confused, insulted and desperate for heroic action by their leaders.

But if America has perfected its Strategy of Tension for swaying the masses, Russia also has perfected a strategy, one of military deception, called ‘maskirovka‘. Maskirovka is multi-faceted, involving every level of engagement from public relations to the battlefield, and seeks to “wrong-foot opponents”, leaving them blind to what is actually occurring both before an attack and while it is happening. Deception, concealment, simulation, denial, false maneuvers and disinformation are its hallmarks. All major Russian operations since World War II — Stalingrad, Kursk, the 1962 placement of Russian missiles in Cuba, invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, last year’s annexation of the Crimea — depended for success on maskirovka.

The various tactical dimensions of such deception are optical, thermal, radar- and radio-related; they involve sound or silence; occur in multiple environments including water and space; and involve active or passive measures. Victims typically have no idea what they are marching into, not being alerted beforehand by unusual activity. The Kennedy Administration, for example, was blithely unaware of what the Russians were up to in Cuba: “Soviet military equipment and personnel were sent to Cuba under an extensive denial and deception plan,” Kenneth Absher wrote in his 2009 book, Mind-sets and Missiles: A First Hand Account of the Cuban Missile Crisis. “Soviets traveled to Cuba posing as machine operators, irrigation specialists, and agricultural specialists.”

In other incidences, as with the German tank commanders at Kursk in 1943, even when the trap is sprung, they don’t get the picture, don’t realise the deception, and so persist in wrong-headed tactics.

SU-24 a

SU-24s being armed for the fight. Will these henceforth be escorted on missions by Russian interceptors?

The Russians, we are told, are past masters at this, have developed maskirovka into a science; so we may expect a response to yesterday’s attack on the Russian plane. Russian president Vladimir Putin, who sees virtue in standing behind his word, said the response will be “severe”. That it may be, but I think we shouldn’t expect it to be open. How severe? Let’s look at matters from Russia’s angle: the West is evidently hell-bent on war, which Putin just as evidently sees. So he has no option but to plan for war; and, if I were him, I’d plan to win it — to win it before the enemy knew what was happening, as in the Crimea.

That was a near-bloodless operation. This one might not be: which is why I ask, “Is this the end?”

Tax the Rich or Lose Your Freedom

DEMOCRACIA - EAT THE RICH KILL THE POOR NY 2010 by RODRIGO PEREDA

America’s public spaces look like war zones. Meanwhile….

by Marque A. Rome

“Property is theft.” — Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Bernie Sanders said during the Democratic Party Presidential Debate last Saturday that he would raise taxes on America’s rich. “How high?” he was asked. “Not as high as during the Eisenhower administration, when they stood at 90 percent.”

My question is, “Why not?”

I realise it doesn’t sound fair — none of us wants to pay a 90 percent tax rate. But it must be understood that the ultra-rich always pose a threat to the state, to democracy and to liberty itself. After all that’s happened since the rich were unleashed again, beginning in the 1970s, and particularly since the administration of US president Ronald Reagan, it should be plain to all that money really does equal power.

Hollywood_Hills_digs_112115

…the rich are buying up 33 million dollar pied-a-terres over Hollywood’s Sunset Strip.

The kings of Europe hated one another, held differing political interests and religious faiths. But in one respect they acted with unanimity: all did their level best to impoverish the richest nobles (usually by encouraging a rage for gambling). They didn’t do that out of personal animosity or jealousy. They did it as a matter of policy, because too-rich aristocracies de-stabilize the state.

In the United States, allowing the rich to keep the lion’s share of their capital gains (the tax rate on dispositions of assets held for more than one year a niggling 15 percent) has resulted not only in glaring income inequality — a degree of inequality unseen since the 1890s — but in loss by working people of job security, social welfare benefits, and access to education. In the public sphere, it goes hand-in-glove with near abandonment of free-use facilities. Look at the state of America’s roads, its public schools, libraries, parks, and public recreation programmes: they are so decayed it is entirely reasonable to think they may soon disappear.

The only purpose of government now — local, state, and federal — is to squeeze money from the governed; and God help the unlucky slobs too short to pay up as public and private sectors both make money from every person put in jail. Call it government by extraction.

Why has this happened? Because the private sector is vastly richer and more powerful than the public. The private sector controls the public sector; no law is written, no regulation enforced except at its behest. The nation’s highest representatives plainly are little better than stooges of the financial barons, who monetize apace what little is left to the public. Thus the government sees itself as little more than a kind of business, and, like any business, aims to wring as much from the citizenry as possible, without regard to morality or legality.

Kill_the_Poor

A new motto for the extractive classes?

Worse still is the polarisation fostered by competing power centres, which, not content with owning all the physical assets, are impelled to assert control over the nation’s mental assets as well. Brainwashing from every direction envelopes the American mind. Americans can scarcely be said to think for themselves any more — and everything is politicized. Close observers of the American scene, foreign and domestic, know the two major political parties have never differed to any important degree. They are two peas from the same pod, following the same policies year in and year out. Yet the propaganda emanating from them has spawned a political divide so bitter that civil war between people of the same ilk labelling themselves ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ looms ominously on America’s political horizon.

Meanwhile, America’s public debt has increased more than half-a-trillion dollars in November alone. That’s a staggering sum; more than the gross domestic product of most nations. I give you leave to guess who is NOT paying for it….

All of this stems from a single source, America’s rich, who have aggregated so much of the nation’s wealth (and attendant power) to themselves it is destabilizing the republic, endangering its future. My advice to Bernie Sanders, therefore, should he somehow miraculously be thrust into power, is: “Don’t hesitate to push confiscatory tax rates on the billionaires. Tax ’em till their noses bleed, till they are skin and bones, till they run down the street after you begging for mercy!

“Tax them out of existence.”