Thoughts While Sitting in Sunday School.


Isaiah is a prophet that is awful hard to read.

And trying to explain him is a quite foolhardy deed.

His language is like Shakespeare’s, it’s so elegant and grand –

But when I try to grasp it, it’s like holding onto sand.

But I cannot ignore him or skip over his grand text.

(Which certainly left Israel so puzzled, and then vexed.)

I find that if I savor just a verse or two, then quit

I do not get a headache or a bad conniption fit.

Strong drink for all the nations, our Isaiah stands supreme;

To atheists he’s poison and to Christians he is cream.

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History of a School that Failed.


It all started when a friend who was moving back to the States offered me his wide screen TV.  He didn’t want to lug it back, so I was happy to take it off his hands.

I installed it in my spacious apartment just off Soi Asoke in Bangkok; my Thai landlord had given me a steep discount, in return for teaching him an hour’s worth of English each day.  Otherwise I would have never been able to afford it.

This was a tony Thai neighborhood, with marble mansions secluded behind wrought iron gates tortured into the shape of dragons, garudas and various other mythological and menacing beasts.  Jed Clampett might have sauntered out of any one of ‘em and drawled “Sawadi krab, y’all”.

English teaching gigs were drying up on me, so I hit on a plan to open my own English language school in my apartment.

But not just any language school.  No sirree bob!  I would show American movies on my wide screen and explain them scene by scene to curious and well-heeled Thais.

Since I was going after the carriage trade, so to speak, I advertised rates that were, to put it charitably, astronomical.  I hung some hand-made posters, in English, around the neighborhood, and sat back to await results.  If any.

It would, at least, make an interesting letter to the folks back home.

Imagine my surprise when half a dozen young Thais showed up at my door the first evening of class, checkbooks in hand, asking if there would be fried banana chips!

This is where I made my first mistake.  And my biggest.

I only charged them for the first class, figuring I would gouge the rest of it out of them after a few more classes had really whetted their appetites.

The first film I exhibited for my pupils was Gene Kelly’s Singing in the Rain.  They were more familiar with Bollywood than Hollywood, so it took several classes just to get them up to speed on what and where Hollywood is.

I’m happy to report they thoroughly enjoyed the whole shebang.  Curiously, the scene that intrigued them the most was Donald O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh!”  I had to rerun that one about a dozen times.

By the end of that screening I had a steady attendance of 11 students.  I began rubbing my hands and chuckling in miserly glee like Silas Marner.  But I held off on collecting any more fees.  Perhaps I could round things off to an even dozen!

Then on to John Wayne in Red River.

The Duke was never in better form, and I was hoping to inculcate my scholars with an understanding and appreciation of the American West.  But instead they became extremely indignant when they finally understood the plot line.  How dare the son, even though adopted, turn against his own father!  John Wayne had every right to kill him for disobedience, they told me; and they were highly dissatisfied with the ending where he gets off scot free.

Thai culture, in case you haven’t guessed, is heavily weighted in favor of parental authority.

My last opus was my favorite.  I ran Laurel & Hardy’s Sons of the Desert.

I did this to introduce them to the American conception of marriage.  Great comedians show more emotional truth than do great dramatists.

But my plans to guide an informed discussion on the marriage state were sidetracked by my student’s constant hilarity.  At one point in the film Stan begins eating a wax apple, under the impression it is the real McCoy. My Thai students could not get enough of that scene; I had to stop the video and rewind it to that moment again and again.

During a pause in one of those rewinds I reminded my pupils that the rest of their tuition was due immediately.  Begging me to show them Khun Pom (their name for Stan Laurel, which means in Thai Mr. Skinny) again, they promised en masse to hand the balance over at our next class.

So guess what . . .

You got it.  I never saw any of them again.

It’s not that they were trying to cheat me.  They just figured we were now fast friends and money no longer entered into the arrangement.  I invited them over for an evening of good movies out of the kindness of my heart, just as they would have done if they had thought of it first.

That is the brief history of my Hollywood English School.  If someone else wants to try it, go ahead.

My only advice is to collect everything in advance.  And don’t start serving the fried banana chips till you get every last baht!



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Posted in Humor, Personal Essay, Thailand | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thai Doctors Develop Ebola Anti-Body.


The World Health Organization is asking doctors at Mahidol University in Bangkok for permission to test an antibody to the deadly Ebola virus that the doctors announced they had developed last week.  Meanwhile, the government said it would make free antiretroviral therapy available to anyone living with HIV without regard to the level of their infection.

Two weeks ago, doctors at Mahidol University said they had developed an antibody that had succeeded in fighting off the Ebola virus in laboratory tests, and they would like to launch clinical trials on humans as soon as possible.  Such trials usually take years before being carried out in order to ensure safety for subjects, but the urgent nature of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has doctors fast tracking testing of potential cures, and using experimental treatments in hopes they will be effective.

Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever (EHF) has claimed the lives of over 4,000 people in West Africa, and public health officials are concerned that the outbreak may spread rapidly beyond Africa.

Dr. Udom Kachintorn, dean of Mahidol University’s Faculty of Medicine, said he received communications from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) head of Ebola research, Dr. Martin Friede, asking for samples of the antibody so the organization could authenticate the achievement and hopefully use the treatment.  Mahidol University is home to one of Thailand’s premier medical schools.

The Thai-developed antibody has only been tested, however, on an artificially created copy of the Ebola virus.  Thai researchers were unable to use the actual Ebola virus because the Kingdom does not have what is known as a Level-4 Biosafety Laboratory, the most secure laboratories where the deadliest pathogens are stored and used.  Thailand has a Level 3 facility.  WHO would like the Thai antibody so it can test it on the actual virus.

“If it works, this method could shorten the clinical-trial procedure and be developed for EHF treatment in humans,” Dr. Udom said.  He added that he would like Thailand to improve its medical research facility and have a Level 4 lab.  Thailand’s public health system and medical research facilities are considered advanced for a developing country.

Also last week, the government announced it would make free antiretroviral medicines available to anyone infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, regardless of the level of their infection.  Previously, the drugs were only available for free to those whose infections had progressed to a certain point, documented through blood tests, which was in line with general medical opinion on how to treat those infected.

But opinions have changed, and now many in the medical community advocate more aggressive early antiretroviral treatment.  In line with that thinking, Thai public health officials will now make the drugs more readily available.  Global health officials have praised Thailand’s response to the HIV epidemic as a positive model for developing countries.

Posted in Health, Thailand | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Clown and the Opera Singer.


Years enough ago, I was a cocky young first-of-May with Ringling Brothers Circus, spending my first season in clown alley trying to learn all I could from the old slapstick masters while thinking I was hot stuff.

I quickly fell in with the circus hierarchy, in which the only thing lower than clowns was the roustabouts – those weary and abused men who scooped up the animal droppings, and put everything up and then pulled it all down again.  They were, indeed, a motley crew – wasting their slim earnings on nothing but carnal and bibulous pursuits.  I only spoke to them when it was absolutely necessary.

Their circus uniform was dark blue Levis and a light blue cotton twill shirt with the Ringling logo embroidered on it.  Each man had three sets of clothes, and they were gathered and washed by the show once a week – leaving each roustabout in an extremely fragrant condition during the warmer months.  They bunked together in one train car, and their breakfast was coffee and donuts; for lunch they got a dukey box – a boloney sandwich, a bag of potato chips, and a mushy apple.  They had to get their own dinners.

That year the show played Madison Square Garden for 2 months in the spring.  The train was parked about ten blocks away.  So I walked to the Garden each day.

One morning as I was making my way down the street I noticed a man lying in an alley way.  He was dressed in the Ringling roustabout uniform, so I immediately assumed he’d been out drinking the night before and had gotten rolled and dumped in the alley.

Serves him right, I thought self-righteously, as I arrogantly stepped over his legs.  He can sober up by himself and get down to the show under his own power.

I had not gone more than a few yards when I heard a melodious voice shout “Somebody give me a hand here, please!”

I looked back and saw a very, very elegant lady stepping out of a limousine to rush over to the roustabout.

My conscience, never a very active organ before, smote me, and I turned back to help.  I told her I was one of his fellow workers with the circus up at the Garden.

We put him in her limo, where she used her silk hanky to wipe some of the dried blood off his face.  He had come to while we were helping him into the vehicle and weakly explained he had been on his way to the show early that morning when he had been robbed and then pistol whipped.

He insisted on going to the show and refused the lady’s suggestion to be taken to a hospital.  She then handed him all the money she had in her purse, plus several complimentary passes to the Metropolitan Opera, where she was singing.

As we drove up to Madison Square Garden she gave me a quizzical look and asked “Why didn’t you stop to help him?”

I had no good answer to give her.  Instead, I blushed furiously.

After we had been dropped off I helped the roustabout into a side door and over to the elephant tubs where the roustabouts congregated before each show.  His comrades took him from me and were about to thank me for helping him out, but I couldn’t stand their misplaced gratitude and fled to clown alley like I was being pursued by fiends.

I’d like to use my extreme youth at the time – being only 17 years old – as an excuse for my callow and unfeeling behavior.  But I know that I have had to struggle against a cold and callous and judgmental heart inside of me all of my life.

But I do remember that roustabout’s name, some forty-five years later.  Vlady.  From Poland.

I hope he doesn’t remember anything about me . . .




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Congress Considering Banning Travel from Ebola Countries to the United States.


Washington, D.C. -

To help contain the current outbreak of the Ebola virus, Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Ranking Member John Thune (R-South Dakota) and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) today called for a temporary travel ban from affected West African countries. Additionally, Thune and Shuster have asked the U.S. Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security to provide an accounting of their plans to help protect the public from the transmission of the Ebola virus or any other infectious disease via the nation’s transportation network. In theirOctober 14th letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Thune and Shuster point out that our national and international transportation networks are vital to the function of our economy and the American way of life, but that the recent events in Texas have tragically shown that these same networks can also serve as conduits for dangerous pathogens such as the Ebola virus.

“With Ebola spreading even within the hospital setting, we should not delay in taking additional measures to prevent individuals carrying the virus from traveling to the U.S. We believe a temporary travel ban for such individuals who live in or have traveled from certain Western African countries is reasonable and timely,” said Ranking Member Thune and Chairman Shuster. “Additionally, we sent a letter yesterday to Secretaries Foxx and Johnson requesting detailed information about their plans and protocols to prevent further transmission of Ebola and other infectious diseases within the U.S., especially given our interconnected transportation network. It is the job of the Congressional oversight committees to ensure that the administration is doing everything it can to address such threats.”

Thune and Shuster’s request to the departments yesterday states, “While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains that the risk of an Ebola outbreak in the United States is remote, we are concerned that even a relatively limited number of cases within the United States could result in harmful disruptions to our economy and society. As such, we believe it is important that we thoroughly and dispassionately assess the federal government’s readiness to prevent or mitigate the harms associated with pandemics.” The letter requests the following information:

1. A full accounting of your Departments’ efforts to date to prevent the further introduction of the Ebola virus into the United States from West African “hot spots” and any other regions from which the virus might enter the United States.

2. A description of your Departments’ efforts to coordinate Ebola screening processes at key international transit points between the United States and West Africa with counterpart agencies in other nations.

3. A description of contingency plans your respective Departments have developed to prevent transmission of the Ebola virus or other infectious pathogens within the United States.

4. A description of your efforts with transportation companies and their employees to detect and prevent the spread of infectious diseases including the Ebola virus.

5. A description of contingency plans developed to combat infectious diseases more easily transmissible than Ebola virus, such as airborne pathogens.

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California Senator Asserts Southern Border Perfectly Secure — Also Asserts Unicorns Live Under Her Bed.

You don't have to be crazy to be in Congress, but it helps.

You don’t have to be crazy to be in Congress, but it helps.

Originally appeared in the Fresno Bee

For the past 10 years, Congress has tried to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill to bring sense to U.S. immigration laws. And for 10 years, Congress has failed.

During those years, one of the biggest obstacles to passing a law has been the insistence that the U.S.-Mexico border must be secure before any bill can be considered.

While this demand has remained constant, the border has become more and more secure over the years, ultimately undermining the argument. In fact, new data released by the Department of Homeland Security confirm the southern border is more secure than it has been in decades.

Much of the outcry against legislative and administrative action to bring about immigration reform is based on false fears that the border is insecure, but the facts indicate otherwise.

After the 2007 comprehensive immigration reform bill failed to advance in the Senate during the Bush administration, supporters acknowledged that fears about border security were largely to blame. Congress and the president took a step back and focused on securing the border in an attempt to build consensus.

When President Barack Obama moved into the White House, he took up this call and has been especially active. He partnered with Congress to significantly increase border security and increase workplace enforcement through the voluntary employment verification program known as E-Verify.

Data compiled by the Department of Homeland Security demonstrate the effectiveness of the president’s efforts. He has nearly doubled the number of border patrol agents along the Mexican border. Ten years ago, there were 10,000 border patrol agents. Today that number has surged to 18,164.

The amount of border fences and other barriers has also grown rapidly, more than doubling. In 2008, there were only 267 miles of border fencing. Today that number stands at 652 miles.

The number of ground surveillance systems, or ground sensors, has also more than doubled, from 6,712 in 2008 to 12,722 today. And the number of unmanned aircraft on patrol is up from four in 2008 to nine today.

Over the past decade, the number of employers participating in E-Verify has increased dramatically, from 3,478 in 2004 to 482,692 as of 2013. And the number of E-Verify inquiries made by employers to ascertain work eligibility has ballooned from 700,000 in 2004 to more than 23 million in 2013.

The federal government has also significantly boosted support to local law enforcement agencies in southern border communities through grant programs like Operation Stonegarden.

In large part due to such improved border security, the population of undocumented immigrants in the United States has leveled off since 2007. After increasing from 5.7 million in 1995 to 12.2 million in 2007, the undocumented immigrant population has dipped to 11.3 million today.

And while these investments have helped strengthen the border, the Senate-passed Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Modernization Act goes even further to dispel concerns and gain bipartisan support.

The bill includes an aggressive border security package that provides an unprecedented $46 billion over 10 years for border security. It requires the deployment of 38,405 trained, full-time Border Patrol agents and mandates the completion of additional fencing along our southern border. It also requires that all employers use E-Verify.

Given the results in border security achieved since 2008, it’s difficult to argue that the Senate bill, which would add an additional 20,000 Border Patrol agents and allocate billions of dollars toward border security, does not do enough.

Yet we find ourselves mired in this false fear of lax border security. The House of Representatives refuses to even debate the bipartisan Senate bill, using recent humanitarian tragedies as the excuse.


In fact, one could argue the recent border emergency involving unaccompanied immigrant children actually demonstrates the effectiveness of our security.


Immigration officers apprehended and processed thousands of unaccompanied children and families, despite the failure of Congress to provide emergency funding for additional resources.

The bottom line is that the southern border is more secure than ever, and the border security package included in the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration reform bill would further lock it down.

There is no excuse to delay action on a reform bill pending additional action on border security. Let’s do what’s right for the country and get this done.



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“Meet the Mormons” #11 Box Office Money Maker this Weekend.


by Ben Kenigsberg.

“Meet the Mormons” begins from an oddly defensive posture, with its M.C. and narrator, Jenna Kim Jones, interviewing passers-by in Times Square about their perceptions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Television and movie clips bolster the notion that the media fosters stereotypes of the religion. (The blockbuster musical around the corner goes curiously undiscussed.) “What are Mormons really like?” Ms. Jones asks. “You decide.”

To support its pitch, this infomercial-like documentary takes us into six homes. We meet an African-American bishop in Atlanta; a United States Navy football coach who avoids meetings on Sundays; a kickboxing husband and wife in Costa Rica; and a humanitarian in Katmandu. A once-homeless mother living in Salt Lake City offers the clearest explanation of how becoming a Mormon changed her life. But mostly the idea is just that these are diverse, interesting families — as if that should be so shocking.

The most compelling figure is Gail S. Halvorsen, a nonagenarian pilot who dropped candy during the Berlin airlift. As much as the film tries to draw a connection, what’s noteworthy about his story has little to do with religion.

One subject’s discussion of his efforts to “put the Lord first” exemplifies how the film preaches to the converted. The narration promises surprises (“This story may challenge what you think you know about the roles men and women play in Mormon homes”), but the movie might have started by examining its straw-man conception of the audience.

“Meet the Mormons” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested). Implicit proselytizing.

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