Sunday, June 19, 2016

Ice water from the hearts of agoraphobes

Tonight's music: Anoushka. Anoushka Shankar.

Grammar Nazi on Patrol

  1. Why do I say "these ones" and "those ones"? I say, "I'm going to eat those ones" when it would be fine to say, "I'm going to eat those."
  2. Why do I use both where and at in the same sentence? Both of them connote location, so it's not necessary to use them both. Instead of "Where is the car at?" I can just say, "Where is the car?"
  3. With much gnashing of teeth I've noticed people type woah when they mean whoa. Originally whoa was horse-speak to stop. You can hear it all the time in Western movies. More lately whoa is a hyperbolic expression of disbelief, like "Get outta here!" when someone says something that you at least pretend is too dramatic to believe. Woah is the word that people on The Voice sing during prolonged arpeggios of phatic vocal pyrotechnics—long drawn out endings with their voices going "wo-ah-woooooooooo-ahhhh" etc.

Ice Water from the hearts of agoraphobes

When I was about four, we lived on Robinson Avenue, one block away from the I-35 service road. My dad would often bring me along when he went to cut the neighbors' yards. I guess I was supposedly learning from example because I was too small to push the mower (and a lot of good it did—I have avoided yard work ever since). One of our neighbors, Mrs Adams, was agoraphobic and never seen, but a pitcher of ice water and two glasses would always magically appear on the porch when we weren't looking. Ice water in the heat was worth its weight in gold, and my tastes had not yet been spoiled by colas. I appreciated Mrs Adams's efforts. When we were out in that heat the air's humidity would condense on the outside of the pitcher to form little precious pearls of cold clear water, and the ice slowly swirled around in the pitcher like the planets revolving around the sun. I guess it was Mrs Adams's example from which I learned because I try to do the same for people who work here at my house. For the guy who mowed my lawn this past week, I got up an hour before he was scheduled to get here and made a pitcher of iced tea. It's pushing 100° F. (38° C.) out there, and though I don't hide in the house—I went out and talked to the guy that did the mowing—I'm inside enough to deny the climate, or perhaps it's "I'm in denial about the climate, so I'm inside most of the time."

The Drug Factor


  1. One factor missing in the common citizen's conception of America's foreign policy: drugs.
  2. Two top production regions for opium: Vietnam and Afghanistan.
  3. Three most lucrative commodities in the world: petroleum, drugs, and the arms to protect them.
  4. Four biggest cocaine cartels in Colombian history: Medellín Cartel (Pablo Escobar & Co.); Cali Cartel; Las FARC; CIA in Colombia.
  5. Five wars fought with/for drugs: Opium Wars 1 & 2 (Britain and US vs China); Vietnam War; Contras vs Nicaraguan Government; Afghanistan (also fought for a pipeline from Azerbaijani production region on Caspian sea to Mumbai terminal, for which crossing Afghanistan is a geographic necessity—most direct route to Khyber Pass).
  6. Six countries with major security issues because of drug trafficking: Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia.

Why don't I have an accent?

One of the mysteries of my life has been why I don't have much of a Texas accent. Although there are certain words that I say that will reveal my origins—I'm defensive about using y'all because standard American English has only you for both singular and plural second person, and y'all, when used properly, is completely unambiguous.

And I admit that accents are relative. To the British ear it's immediately obvious that I'm an American, but Henry Higgins might be challenged to identify in which state I originated.

When I'm tired or intoxicated, my lazy tongue might reveal some hint of a drawl. Both my parents had noticeable accents. My dad spoke in a Texas drawl, and my mother speaks in a more southern accent. But most of the time I speak Standard American English, that neutral Midwestern English that broadcasters speak, and that is where my theories of an accent that is either nonexistent or difficult to place begins.

  1. I watched a lot of TV as a kid, so maybe my way of processing what I heard drove the accent out of me?
  2. When I was about three, my speech acquisition process went haywire, and suddenly I couldn't pronounce consonants like S and G among others. Fortunately for me there was an intern program at the University of Texas—that school and I have had a lifetime relationship—for speech therapists. By having grad students as therapists, my parents saved a great deal of money—it was analogous to getting your hair done at a beauty college. This was good for me because this wasn't the kind of thing for which my father would have paid otherwise. Not that a four-year-old is a good judge of a professional's competence, but my memories of the interns are good. I was the difficult part of the equation because there were days when I just flat refused to work.
  3. It could be that education drove it out of me, but this seems unlikely because I didn't have much accent even when I was in high school.
  4. I tend to think and analyse a lot, so it's plausible that I listen to my speech and am mindful to its relationship to the written word, and that process would force my speech to conform to a standard accent instead of a regional accent.
  5. Austin as a college town takes it out of the prevailing accent of its region. This sounds good and I would like to think it's true because, partly by truth and partly by wishful thinking, I see Austin as an oasis in a cultural desert.

Prawns, Courage, and Machismo

Huelva white prawn, July 2008. Photographer: Calapito. Released to the public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
These prawns remind me of a scene from the beginning of Apocalypse Now. Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is having lunch at the General's table where he will finally receive the mission for which he's been waiting. Besides Willard, there are three people in the room: General Corman (G.D. Spradlin), Colonel Lucas (Harrison Ford), and a Vietnamese civilian in a suit and known only as Jerry (Jerry Ziesmer)—the suit, the one-name anonymity, and the reticence to speak all spell out intelligence.

Coppola has Sheen play Willard as someone alien to the culture and thinking of Army brass—his place is in the field—but he plays along like a good trouper because he wants the mission. This is why he came back to Vietnam.

Corman, Lucas, and Willard—the American men at the table—have roast beef. But there are some huge prawns, which the general offers Sheen. "Captain," the General says, "I don't know how you feel about this shrimp, but if you'll eat it, you never have to prove your courage in any other way."

Lucas shakes his head. Yet Jerry, peripherally but on camera, takes several when the plate comes around to him.

As they eat, the general has Lucas play a tape of Colonel Kurtz's disturbing radio transmissions. After which, Willard is completely ready to agree with everyone in the room that Kurtz is "obviously insane," and that's when he gets the mission.

"Your mission," Lucas says as he nervously clears his throat, "is to proceed up the Nung River in a Navy patrol boat. Pick up Colonel Kurtz's path at Nu Mung Ba, follow it, and learn what you can along the way. When you find the Colonel, infiltrate his team by whatever means available and terminate the Colonel's command."

Making sure he heard right, Willard asks, "Terminate? The colonel?"

"He's out there operating without any decent restraint," Corman says. "Totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct. And he is still in the field commanding his troops."

"Terminate with extreme prejudice," the civilian says.

Just as Willard enters the room with a denial, mission by mission, of his curriculum vitae read by Lucas, Lucas now disavows this new mission's existence. "You understand captain," he says, "that this operation does not exist, nor will it ever exist."

The peculiarly American attitude of using power to force the Vietnamese reality into something it wasn't, was a beef-eater's attitude, which went hand-in-hand with the absurdities of a heroin war in Vietnam for which 58,000 boys died. If you read Frances Fitzgerald's Fire in the Lake (a title rooted in the I Ching character formed by the fire trigram over the lake trigram—a hexagram that aptly speaks of conflict that is best backed out of or avoided altogether), you learn that the South Vietnamese democracy wasn't really Saigon's national government at all but a farce staged by the US in which some prominent people out of Saigon were paid to accept governmental titles, spend their time in a government building, read a statement or two, perform some pomp and circumstance. Maybe Diem took his job seriously—he refused the US's offer of safe transport out of the country, stayed, and was killed in the coup—but Thieu and beyond was more like government by Ferris Bueller. They didn't have to do much: the US was running the country.

But that's the carnivores. This might indeed be the weakness of my argument: it seems immediately, intuitively, and self-evidently clear to me that forcing Vietnam to conform to an American fiction of what the country should be as opposed to letting it be what it actually was, goes hand-in-hand with the eating of beef, or at least the eating of beef in Vietnam. Does that make as much sense to anyone else as it does to me? I feel like I've discovered a rare fossil, a priceless metaphor, which I haven't quite yet clawed out of the mud.

I love seafood, and I love how Asian cuisines prepare it. Most of all, I'm open to diving deeper and deeper into foreign cultures, eating things found in the thoracic cavities of lobsters or proving my courage with prawns, partly out of curiosity and an adventurousness awoke by a round-the-world trip, but partly because it gets me away from the General's machismo. I'm no accidental tourist who seeks out McDonald's in foreign countries. Maybe there's nothing wrong with machismo per se—it comes naturally with testosterone—but in excess doses it causes the blindness that leads to ethnocentrism, compulsive coercion of other people to follow absurd rules, violence to back the coersion, and a fever to rule the world.

Jamaican Me Crazy

©2016 by author.
Coffee I'm drinking right now is called...

Jamaican Me Crazy


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