Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Visionless Quest

OK, I'm a wuss. I checked out of my primitive bamboo bungalow on Koh Phi Phi and into a soulless cement block next door yesterday because it had air conditioning, a shower with hot water, and a TV with cable so I could watch the debate this morning (Tuesday night in the U.S.) between Obama and McCain. What a disappointment (the shower and the cool room without mosquitoes were great)! The town hall format in Nashville, with the genial Tom Brokaw coordinating the questions from the audience and the internet contained no surprises and little passion. Obama was cool and McCain paced up and down like a feisty boxer. The word "maverick" was not used and I did not hear "change" emphasized. It was a scripted encounter with familiar campaign talking points, managed by handlers behind the scene to promote image over substance. Although I am certain Obama would be a better choice, more intelligent and reasonable than the last generation of Republicans, I found the lack of a global vision on both their parts disconcerting.

"The American workers are the best in the world," McCain crowed, and Obama nodded in agreement. Tell that to the third world. Thais (and Mexicans and Indians, etc.) work harder than anyone I've ever seen in the U.S., and for lower wages. "America is the greatest force for good in the history of the world," trumpeted McCain, claiming that like Teddy Roosevelt he spoke softly and carried a big stick. Roosevelt, one of the most imperialist of presidents, started wars and killed non-white people wherever it suited U.S. commercial interests. "We all agree," agreed Obama, "that we're a great nation and a force of good in the world." Oh yeah? Americans are so insular that only when they venture out of their country without blinders on will they realize how truly hated they are. The world wants our dollars (which are losing value rapidly). Read historian Howard Zinn if you want to find out how far reality diverges from the rhetoric expounded by nationalists like McCain and Obama.

The two candidates agreed that Israel is the U.S.'s strongest ally and should be protected from the evil designs of a nuclear-armed Iran. They were in agreement that the "war on terrorism" should define American foreign policy in the 21st century. They both advocate offshore drilling (though not as stridently as McCain and Palin) and they are all for more nuclear energy, while at the same time claiming to want to protect the environment. An entire generation of activists have protested that nonsense (at least Obama realizes that there is a disposal problem). I heard very little from either about limiting our energy needs as a way to combat energy dependency. Most of the questions were sidestepped adroitly by both politicians. When asked whether health care should be a commodity, both chose to talk about their respective plans. Obama did say, however that health care is a right, whereas McCain called it a responsibility (the patient's, not the society's).

It was a pretty poor performance. I didn't expect anything from McCain, but I still have some hopes that Obama will transcend politics as usual. While he talked about moral values, he didn't discuss social justice, at home and abroad. Speaking of capturing Osama is a convenient way to avoid responsibility for the global mess the world is in. A new policy is needed for the Middle East, one that puts Israel in its proper place as a religious state that persecutes Arabs. The current economic meltdown should enable a vision of an alternative economics, one with morality at its heart, that does not put profit above all. This vision I did not hear in today's debate.

But enough about politics. After my initial negative impression of Koh Phi Phi, I found myself on a lovely beach yesterday surrounded by a bevy of beautiful girls in bikinis. Though the water was shallow, it was a delightful place to soak and float while the fluffy clouds drifted by. I enjoyed a refreshing banana-mango-watermelon freeze, and for lunch I hiked a short distance down the beach to an al fresco restaurant where I enjoyed a tasty lunch, all the while watching the long-tailed boats coming and going, and the sun worshippers turning as brown as the many Thai workers who serve them. In the evening I crossed to the other side of the ithimus and enjoyed a candlelight dinner next to the beach.

This morning I awoke to find yet another cat sleeping on my balcony outside the new room. I have never seen so many cats and kittens in one place before. My new theory is that the many victims of the tsunami on this island have come back as cats because their souls could not leave this spot. There are far fewer dogs, though I did see a white lab chasing a frisbee yesterday in the surf and catching it easily (he was chased by a beagle puppy).

On the way home through the village last night, my feet sore from a full day of hiking from one side of the island and back again, I decided to get a foot massage. Every other store front is devoted to this Thai art with ladies in front singing out "masssssage" to the passing parade. I picked one at random and lay back in a comfortable chair to have my feet...actually, my legs, from groin to little toe...rejuvenated. Business was brisk and a half dozen people were either in chairs like me or on mats getting their bodies burnished, with oil and without. While it was quiet, there was an occasional groan of delight. The price was 300 or about $10. I think tonight I'll go for the entire torso.

Thunder and lightening last night heralded a refreshing rain shower. Today the sky was filled with thunderheads, and as I revise this blog in the evening I can hear peals of thunder overhead. In Bangkok over 400 people were injured when police attempted to disperse the PAD mob with tear gas that was trying to shut down Parliament. One man was killed and another had his leg blown off. This makes no sense to me. Tear gas only troubles the eyes. The PAD demonstrators were shown in photographs to be armed and there were apparently grenades or small explosive devices thrown. The Queen has donated money to a hospital treating the injured. Another hospital has refused to treat injured police. I expect to see the military take over any day now. What a mess.

No comments: