Saturday, May 28, 2011

Democracy's Last Stand?

An election will be held in Thailand on July 3rd and larger than life posters like this one have sprouted on cement telephone polls all over Bangkok.  Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolved the House of Representatives and called the election two weeks ago.  Candidates from his Democrat Party are campaigning against those from the Pheu Thai Party and their recently appointed leader, Yingluck Shinawatra, the attractive but untested younger sister of the fugitive former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.  Although there are nearly two dozen political parties fielding candidates, Pheu Thai and the Democrats are expected to win most of the votes and who's in the lead of this close race depends on which poll you believe.  This is no ordinary election.

Since Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006, the country his been divided loosely between his supporters (called red shirts) and detractors who see him as the personification of evil (led by the vocal yellow shirts).  An election following the coup returned Thaksin partisans to power, but street demonstrations by the yellow shirts and court decisions toppled two successive governments.  Abhisit came to power backed by the yellow shirts, military, royalists, and the Bangkok business elite.  Demonstrations a year ago led by red shirts calling for a new election ended with more than 90 dead and nearly 2000 injured.  The Democrats have never carried a national election while Thaksin was an overwhelming winner twice.   Democrat strength is in the deep south while Pheu Thai claims the hearts of people in the populous northeast.  Bangkok appears to be a toss up.  The yellow People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), disappointed in Abhisit, are urging a "Vote NO" on all candidates in the election and erected this poster at their encampment near UN headquarters.  They want a royally-appointed interim government for several years until the agitation for Thaksin's return disappears ("democracy" is not exactly their forte).  The animal heads on the politicians' bodies are particularly insulting.  Rural red shirts have been slandered as water buffalos and the worst thing you can call someone in Thai sounds like "here," the name for a monitor lizard.  Poster graffiti is also fascinating. I saw one Abhisit poster altered so that he looked like a vampire from a currently popular Thai soap opera featuring a cast of blood suckers.

My Google Reader is filled with speculation from bloggers in Thailand and journalists in Southeast Asia about what will happen.  Most believe that Thaksin will never be allowed to return without going straight to jail and that even if his party earns a bare majority of votes it will never be able to form a Parliamentary coalition government.  The military routinely issues denials that it will stage a coup if the Democrats are defeated, but a renewed war on drug dealers and proposed security measures for polling sites are raising suspicions.  Arrests for lese majeste (the law against insulting the king) have increased dramatically (a Thai-born, American citizen was jailed yesterday) with charges mostly levied against red shirts, causing numerous groups to claim that the government is manipulating the law for political gain.  All parties are emulating Thaksin's strategy of offering everything but the moon to poor, mostly rural voters to win their support in a populist frenzy of solicitation.  Since Thailand's government was declared a constitutional monarchy in 1932, successive administrations, both elected and as the result of numerous coups, have struggled to define a Thai form of democracy.  What's missing in the past has been respect for the outcomes of elections, the cornerstone of any Western democracy.  Pundits worry that if the reds win, the yellow shirts (and perhaps the military) will take to the streets to deny their victory, and if the Democrats win, the reds might do likewise.  It's hard to see a way out of this impasse.

While I try to make sense of Thailand's political system, the "summer" vacation has ended and the new school term is beginning.  I will be commuting to Mahachula's Wangnoi campus near Ayutthaya every Wednesday for the next four months (this photo was taken at the library, looking across to the Rector's office building).  This week, only 6 of my 29 fourth-year students majoring in English attended my first class (it's a tradition to avoid the first meeting).  I'll be teaching the same day as Khun Elsa from the Philippines, and yesterday she told me she was an evangelical Christian and wanted me to visit her church.  I'm still waiting for my visa and work permit renewals but expect to get the needed stamps on Monday, a day before they expire.  Nan begins June 6th as a full-time university student, completing a degree in human resources management.  After three years with the same company, she was fired two weeks ago in an office purge and is taking that opportunity to fulfill her dream to finish a bachelor's degree.  Nan will look terrific in the school uniform of  white blouse and black skirt after losing five kilos with the aid of several packets of little pills given her by the local hospital.  I was not happy about that, since I repeatedly declare my love and support no matter what she weighs, but after determining the pills did not contain speed, I let it go.  Limiting herself to one meal a day probably does more than any pills ever could.  Tomorrow night we celebrate the second anniversary of our first meeting with a dinner at Sizzler's and drinks at a skyscraper bar with a view of the city.  Before her classes begin, she'll go home for a few days to see her mother in the northern province of Phayao.

While Nan is gone, I'll be deep inside of my technological cave.  A few weeks ago I bought an iPad at a discount before the new model was released.  It was a purchase hard to justify because the iPod Touch can do almost as much.  I've been using it to listen to podcasts while I'm traveling, and to try out different apps.  But it is too small to qualify as an e-reader and I'm beginning to lose my resistance to the future of digital books.  So I gave the iPod to Nan and bought the new toy.  My iPad has 3G capability although Thailand has not yet advanced beyond Edge, and I can read email and Facebook posts on the bus.  In addition to iBooks, I got Kindle for the Mac and GoodReader for all my pdf files.  The first book I bought was Nancy Egan's wonderful A Visit From the Goon Squad which I could not find in local book stores.  I downloaded some free titles from Project Gutenberg, and then discovered a cornucopia of pdf, epub and mobi files on torrent sites.  I'm reading Mark Hertsgaard's Hot on climate change and Keith Richard's Life.  Who knew the drug-addled Rolling Stone guitarist could remember so much?  It's a wonderful account of a life loving the blues amidst the madness of pop star fame and fortune.  There are some drawbacks to an e-reader like the iPad.  I like to dog-ear pages and can get high on the smell of paper, and those pleasures are denied me.  I'm learning how to underline and make notes.  The yellow tablet note app that comes with the iPad is great, once you learn how to tap the keyboard.

I've been using the electronic note pad at forums held by the Foreign Correspondent Club in Thailand.  At a recent meeting on lese majeste, I listened to (from left) Buddhist teacher Sulak Sivaraksa, academic David Streckfuss who has written a new book on the law, and Ben Zawicki, chair of the local chapter of Amnesty International who has come under fire for not challenging the Thai government on its drastic curtailing of freedom of speech.  Both Sulak and the entire board of the FCCT have been charged with lese majeste in the past.  At another forum, statesman and former prime minister Anand Panyarachun tried to paint a positive outcome to his work as chairman of the National Reform Committee after the violence of last year, even though his committee had resigned without any of  its suggestions implemented after new elections were called.  At another meeting, three prominent red shirt leaders gave their account of the violence and its aftermath, and one, Jattuporn Prompan, was jailed a week later on lese majeste charges after a speech he made at the anniversary rally May 19th.  The FCCT welcomes expat members in addition to the correspondents and journalists based in Southeast Asia, and its bar and restaurant are highly regarded for hanging out.  Recently a new bagel cafe has opened on the ground floor of the building where the FCCT occupies the penthouse and it has become a destination for deli-starved Western residents.

While the world was waiting for the Rapture promised by a crazy old preacher in the U.S., my oldest friend Mark Detrick died of lung cancer at his home in Laguna Beach, his wife Laury by his side.  He'd been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for years and received a terminal cancer diagnosis in January.  We talked on Skype in March and traded stories about the past.  I met Mark in junior high school in La Canada and by high school we were best friends.  His stepfather was famed printer Ward Ritchie and the library in their home included a Gutenberg Bible.  We got drunk, smoked cigarettes, chased girls and listened to rhythm and blues records.  Mark dropped out of Wisconsin after his first year and we were students together at Pasadena City College until he talked me in to applying to Berkeley where I was surprisingly accepted.  We shared a tiny apartment, a bed that folded into the wall, and many outrageous adventures.  In junior high, I had a crush on Trudy who loved Mark, and after our first semester as roommates, I was the best man at his wedding to her.  In turn, they accompanied Judy and I to the Justice of the Peace for our marriage, and we all celebrated afterward in Tijuana.  Neither of these marriages lasted.  Mark became a successful orthodontist and met Laury from Belgium at a health club.  They traveled the world during his time away from putting braces on damaged teeth.  During the Vietnam War, Mark was a dentist in the Philippines and hinted that he had done some work for the CIA.  Our politics diverged radically after that and we avoided it during my visits in Southern California to go skiing at his cabin near Big Bear or to a high school reunion.  Recently, Mark and our mutual friend Ernie (whose second wife Joyce just died, also of cancer) gave us a very generous wedding gift which Nan and I used for a trip to Koh Chang.  I shall miss him very much.

Now that the school vacation is over, perhaps I'll spend less time on Facebook and Twitter (although with the iPad I can now get online anywhere at any time).  I'm still amazed that I've been able to connect with so many "friends" from different periods of my life, high school over 50 years ago to the present, from publicity and publishing jobs to students and teachers here at MCU.  I've turned my wall into a private newspaper and fill it with links and comments to news stories, blogs and opinion columns.  Occasionally I throw in a line about the weather or a photo taken of Bangkok from my window.  The stories that attract my interest these days are of Obama and Israel.  I'm deeply disappointed at Obama and I number the Israeli government among the bad guys of this century, along with Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia.  While many of the progressive persuasion can agree with me about Obama, my remarks about Israel have drawn passionate objections.  One woman whom I knew in Hollywood 35 years ago decided to de-friend me because of what she perceived as insults to Jews.  And a friend from high school regularly accuses me of anti-Semitism because of my anti-Israel position, and sends me email from his wife's Zionist cousin to show how mistaken I am.  I rather think many of my "friends" have deleted me from their news feeds for being annoying.  I know I only receive responses from a regular few.  One "new friend" in Bangkok, a former war correspondent who detests the red shirts, called me a "self-hating America" and said I was in league with Donald Rumsfeld.  An acquaintance told me he drinks a bit.  I had to de-friend him, however; tolerance has its limits.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How Can Humanity "Get Out of This Mess"?


"The earth is contaminated everywhere by human activity," Colin Soskolne, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Albert, Canada, told the audience last Friday during a conference on "Buddhist Virtues in Socio-Economic Development."  Vesak 2011 was organized by my school, Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya Buddhist University, and featured two days of events at the campus in Ayutthaya, Thailand, and one at UN headquarters in Bangkok.

At the day-long panel on "Environmental Preservation and Restoration," fifteen professors, monks and environmental activists from ten different countries echoed Dr. Soskolne's sentiment in different ways, telling horror stories about deforestation, water pollution, overfishing of the world's oceans, harm from invasive species, damage to sites sacred to Buddhists in India, cultural disruption in Ladakh, and the devastation caused by war and too many cars.  They offered examples from the Buddha's life to show how he lived in harmony with his surroundings and established rules for his sangha of monks to prevent pollution, insure hygiene and protect nature.  Most of the panelists spoke of Buddhism's core values of interdependence, moderation, respect for all beings, and restraint of desire, in order to argue that these values are necessary to solve the world's environmental crisis.

I was not convinced.  As secretary of the environmental panel, I've been working for the last month to make sure that everything ran smoothly.  I read all of the papers, which have now been published in a 732-page conference volume, and I gave advice to the panel's chief moderator, Dr. Colin Butler, a researcher in epidemiology and public health at Australian National University, for the final report that he presented to the plenary session at the UN on Saturday.  Despite the optimism of some panelists, there was little of hope in the report, but this absence did not make it into the final Bangkok Declaration issued by the organizers of the conference.  As we saw it, the seriousness of the environmental crisis was not lessened by new sources of alternative energy being developed or by ethical principles for behavior such as those contained in the Earth Charter.

There does not seem to have been much change in thought since I left the fields of environmental history and philosophy in 2004.  One of our speakers discussed Deep Ecology, a philosophical fad among radical ecologists I thought had been long discredited for ignoring economic and political factors.  Other panelists spoke of the affinity of Taoism and Confucianism with Buddhist values in an attempt to show that virtuous people would not treat the earth unkindly.  But this is demonstrably untrue.  China's air pollution is notorious, Japan kills dolphins and whales, and deforestation is a serious issue in Southeast Asia (even though logging is outlawed in Thailand, it continues illegally).  Vegetarianism advocated by a monk from China (one speaker pointed out that this was animal-centric and ignored the intrinsic value of plants), freeing caged animals, and planting trees around monasteries is simply not enough to stop the structures of power and violence that are ransacking the planet for profit.  There were no engaged Buddhists at this year's conference to speak of collective action and the need to stop the wheels of "progress."

The narrative of environmentalism too often focuses on individual behavior. If we recycle, reuse, and reduce our consumption, garbage, etc., everything will be ok. Bullshit.  In the last ten years the environmental crisis has only gotten worse, despite Rio, Kyoto, and Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."  In the U.S., deniers of global warming and climate change have taken positions of power.  Factories pollute the environment more than people, wars waged by governments are particularly destructive, and dependence on fossil fuels by the corporate economy is more damaging than the harm that individuals do through their profligate lifestyles. Reemphasizing religious values and ethics will do little good whatsoever if people, as the Buddha taught 2500 years ago, are driven by ignorance, greed and anger.  Buddhism is not a self-help action plan.  The most we can do is offer compassion to each other for the suffering that humans have brought upon the earth.

Environmentalism has clearly failed.  If Mark Hertsgaard is right in his new book Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, it's too late to stop global warming which already is causing serious climate change, and which may even have something to do with the recent rash of major earthquakes. Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus declared "The Death of Environmentalism" (pdf)  in a 2004 essay which was expanded into the book-length Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility three years later. The authors argue in their book and web site for a "post-environmental" politics that abandons the traditional stress on nature protection and "the politics of limits" to focus on creating a new sustainable economy.  Political strategies that worked for smog and acid rain will not work for global warming, they write.  Rather than defend nature, as if it's an all-powerful god outside ourselves, Shellengerger and Nordhouse urge environmentalists to abandon doomsday narratives that scare rather than persuade people to give up things they enjoy, like cheap oil and food, and jobs in industries that pollute.  For this a new inclusive politics is needed.  Environmentalism needs to be reframed as a global issue.  Environmental historian Richard White once wrote an article called "Are You an Environmentalist, or Do You Work for a Living?" to illustrate the vast gulf between elite proponents of wilderness preservation and protectors of rare bugs and the working people whose interests are largely ignored by them.

George Monbiot wrote recently in the Guardian of London: "All of us in the environment movement – whether we propose accommodation, radical downsizing or collapse – are lost. None of us yet has a convincing account of how humanity can get out of this mess. None of our chosen solutions break the atomising, planet-wrecking project." He expanded on this pessimistic appraisal with details in "Our Crushing Dilemmas," and he asks how environmentalists can "fight without losing what we're fighting for?" Paul Kingsnorth co-founder of  The Dark Mountain Project writes that “the green movement has torpedoed itself with numbers” and is now trying to save the world “one emission at a time.” Environmentalists “feel obliged to act like speak-your-weight machines just to be heard.”  He calls for new stories in "The Quants [number crunchers] and the Poets," because "the whole squabble between world views is not about numbers at all.  It is about narratives," and which ones can help or hinder.

I intend to study these critiques and proposals in the hope that they will deal with the crucial problem of priorities.  Developing countries prioritize industrialization over pollution limits, and politicians prioritize jobs in resource extractive industries (oil, mining, timber) over controls to protect the environment.  By the time the world is completely developed and everyone is fully employed, there will be no place left in which to live. Perhaps the earth was doomed when hunter gatherers ten thousand years ago first discovered how to control nature by pruning trees and bushes to grow more fruits and nuts, and learned that planting seeds would guarantee a steady supply of food. This allowed the population to blossom beyond the carrying capacity of the land and it's been onward and upward ever since. Human actions contaminating the planet today are simply an extension, with the aid of technology, of the manipulation of nature practiced by our ancestors.

Polls show that concerns about the environment are not high on people's list of priorities.  Even the endless war on terrorism falls behind the economy and jobs.  Most of us are more concerned about supporting our family.  In addition, we want to be good people, honest and worthy of respect.  We learn from our family, culture and religious tradition what it means to be a good person.  In a Buddhist country like Thailand, this means to follow the five precepts, to avoid killing, stealing, lying, intoxicants and sexual misconduct.  It also means to pay respect to monks and others in authority and to practice generosity to accumulate merit.  Despite these rituals and guidelines, corruption in business and politics is widespread here and often accepted as normal.  Although I have been fascinated by philosophy, ethics and religion for much of my life, I am perplexed by the observable disconnect between values and behavior.  Even the best of people are very often hypocrites (e.g., the recent revelations about Gandhi's sex life).  This leads me to conclude that the environmental crisis is not caused by a crisis in values.  It is the direct consequence of structures of power and violence embedded in our economic and political systems.  But I despair of every turning this around.  Humanity cannot get out of this "mess."

So, what do we do?  Be kind to each other, I suppose.  And condemn the corporate behemoth (which we are powerless, really, to stop).  The Buddha's First Noble Truth of suffering applies to the world as well as to living beings, and all we have to offer each other and the planet is compassion.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

For Whom the Bell Tolls

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.  
--John Dunne, 1623

My friend Holly Dugan died last Friday.  She was 70.  None of her friends in Bangkok knew she was sick.  From diagnosis of intestinal cancer until death took less than two weeks.  In an email to her long-time friend Pandit Bhikku, the Buddhist monk, she wrote
As it is, I am grateful that I didn’t feel worse before now, because I have a cancer that looks like a whirling globe of fire, burning everything next to it. If they colored up the CAT scan, it could be psychodellic. It’s the power of denial that has fed my delusion that I am a healthy person. And enabled me to ignore quite a number of symptoms. Not that I wouldn’t die. The terminal aspect of the diagnosis is a great comfort in many ways. I am prepared (to my amazement).
Dozens of letters of tribute to Holly, her friendship and her life, are pouring in to the web site of Little Bang Sangha, the Buddhist group for expats and visitors that she helped found with Pandit four years ago.  They recall her wit and wisdom, and her ability to listen and respond to whomever she was with, a predilection for compassion and generosity that made her a fine clinical psychologist.  She studied at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco and taught here in Thailand in the graduate division of psychology at Assumption University.

 I first met Holly in her Haight Ashbuy apartment when she was writing her doctoral dissertation, a chore we shared; both of us were late bloomers.  After practicing as a therapist in Los Angeles, Holly moved with her husband Ham to Thailand.  When I was thinking of settling here, she emailed suggestions and advice.  We met again at one of Pandit Bhikku's first talks for Little Bang in 2007 after I arrived for good in Thailand, and she was an invaluable source of help and solace to a newbie expat who wanted to learning more about Buddhism.  We shared coffee, books and adventures.  This photo was from a trip to Chinatown for the Chinese New Year celebration.  Holly was Little Bang's treasurer and in those first years I helped organize events.  Recently I've been attending meetings of the BuddhistPsychos group she started to discuss Buddhist teaching on the psychological self.  I last saw her at the gathering in March when she handed out copies she'd made of Buddhadasa Bhikku's small book Anatta to everyone.  Holly was a tiny lady and always appeared a bit frail and fragile until she began to speak.  I've never met anyone with more spirit and enthusiasm for life.  It's incomprehensible to me that she could ever die.

I've probably taken hundreds of photos of Holly over the nearly four years I've been in Thailand, but most disappeared when I accidentally deleted a cache of stored photos last fall.  Here's one that survived of Holly in the living room of her house off Ruam Rudee Road surrounded by books, papers, furniture and cats in front of her computer.  The house was nestled among a jungle of plants.   She was an excellent hostess, quick with tea or French press coffee, but it was sometimes difficult to find an empty place to sit.  I saw less of Holly when I moved away from Sukhumvit and the coffee bar where we used to meet to catch up on each other's activities.  And after I began teaching and settled down with Nan I was less of a participant in Little Bang, meaning our visits were less often.  She missed the last BuddhistPsycho gathering and the Little Bang lunch and meeting to discuss Osho and gurus in general.  Pandit knew of her diagnosis but thought we had more time.  Her body is now in a sala at Wat That Tong with monks chanting in the evenings this week.  The cremation ceremony will be held on Saturday and I will be there along with hundreds of her friends to say goodbye. There will be a party that evening at the wine bar near her home where she took me once for free hors d'oeuvres.

I chose the quote from the 17th century poet John Donne (despite the politically incorrect exclusive language) to headline this post after hearing of the assassination of Osama bin Laden and feeling uneasy about the celebratory dancing in the streets in front of the White House.  When Michael Moore tweeted the quote ostensibly from Martin Luther King, Jr. --"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy" -- I helped spread it, only later to learn that it was a fake. Still, it expresses a sentiment I and many others felt.  Obama announced that justice was done, but that was a lie.  Justice would have been served by capturing Osama and subjecting him to the rule of law in a court.  His death was a revenge killing, pure and simple.  Demonization is the flip side of our celebrity-obsessed culture (though some figures like Charlie Sheen work both sides of the street). Osama and Saddam (you can add Hitler but he killed himself) are not real people but empty containers for our rage and praise. Hating OBL is like hating the opposing team in the Global Bowl/World Cup. "America, fuck yeah!"

After the World Trade Center was destroyed by radical Muslims apparently following Osama's orders, a few brave souls suggested that we should learn why they hated us so much.  But they were soon shouted down by others filled with blood lust for revenge.  The same one-sided response is happening all over again with Osama's assassination.  David Sirota on believes the celebration of revenge is wrong. "This is bin Laden’s lamentable victory -- he has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed." Everything the U.S. has done since 9-11 has been a recruitment poster for al-Qaeda. "The presence of American imperial bases, dotted, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Doha," Chris Hedges has written, "has done more to engender hatred and acts of terror than anything ever orchestrated by Osama bin Laden."  The commentators I read agree that Osama's death is largely symbolic, a "mission accomplished" on Obama's watch (although the right-wingers are giving Bush the credit since it was his idea to go into Afghanistan to get him).  The long-standing practice of attributing historical events to the influence and decisions of individuals was thankfully overthrown by social and cultural historians in the 20th century I studied who showed that great men were more the product of social forces rather their initiators.  Globalism and corporate colonialism are the culprits, not the spokespersons on either side.

I don't intend to equate my friend Holly's death with that of a religious fanatic who believed innocent people could be sacrificed in pursuit of a holy goal.  But death is on my mind.  I also learned this week that my best friend Mark from junior high and high school and my college roommate at Berkeley in the late 1950s has terminal lung cancer and has been admitted to hospice care.  I had a Skype conversation with his wife Laurie and learned that he's been asking his nurses to help him die.  Doctors tried an unsuccessful treatment that was very painful and remains so even now that medication has been discontinued.  Fortunately I talked with Mark a month ago and we were able to trade old stories about the past and managed to laugh at our teenage foibles.  Mark has rarely been a cooperative patient and his wife is having a difficult time.  He's one of the most charismatic people I've ever met, but sometimes this energy can seem overbearing.  After he served as a dentist in the Philippines during the Vietnam War, we found out our politics had diverged drastically, so we avoided talking about it.  The last time I visited him at his home in Laguna Beach was for a reunion at our Pasadena school.  One drunken night he took me to his orthodontics office and proudly showed me a series of before and after pictures of patients he'd helped with braces.  He was successful enough for he and Laury to take many trips and cruises after his retirement.  I know he will not go gently into the good night, and I hate to see him go.

It's summer vacation from school in Thailand but I've managed to stay quite busy since our trip to Hong Kong.  Yesterday at the Foreign Correspondents Club I attended a press unveiling by Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch's report, "Descent Into Chaos," on the protest in Bangkok last year and the government crackdown that resulted in 80 deaths and 2000 injuries.  While charging the mysterious "black shirts" with killing several soldiers on behalf of the red shirt protestors, the report blames most of the violence on the government which turned a problem of civilian law enforcement into a war zone allowing the military to use lethal force which included snipers and the targeting of journalists and medics.  In attendance at the press conference was the mother of Kamolkate ("Kate") Akkhahad, a 25-year-old nurse who was killed by a sniper while attending to a seriously wounded man in front of a Buddhist temple. The week before I'd attended a talk at the FCCT by red shirt leaders Thida T. Tojirakarn, Jatuporn Promphan and Nattawut Saikua.  All are currently being prosecuted as "terrorists," but managed to joke about it.  They avoided answering directly questions about violence by their followers and accused the government of being behind the destructive fires in Bangkok and the provinces after their demonstration was broken up (HRW disputes this).  Earlier in April, German expat photographer Nick Nostitz came to our discussion group to talk about his two books, Red Vs. Yellow, volumes 1 and 2, which cover the activities of the red shirt movement and its yellow shirt opposition in 2008 and 2009.  He's currently at work on a new book covering the events of 2010.  Also in April, the BuddhistPsychos gathered at a book store to talk about charisma and gurus.  Then Little Bang Sangha invited members to a excellent buffet lunch at the Tai-Pan Hotel followed by the screening of several films featuring interviews with Osho, the deceased Indian guru better known in America as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. "Doesn't he ever blink?" asked one viewer. I noticed his wardrobe and jewelry.  At his Oregon headquarters, followers presented him with gifts of Rolls Royce cars, dozens of them.  But one of our members, William, had visited there and gave us a more favorable view.  The next day, nine monks came to our condominium, Lumpini Place, for a special tamboon in the lobby when we offered them their daily meal.  This was preceded by a ceremony making offerings of incense and food before the spirit house of Phra Phum, lord of the land on which the condo was built.  I was instructed to stick incense into a banana, which I did.

May will be even busier than April.  This is the month that I have to gather documents for renewing my visa and work permit.  I put copies from last year into the capable hands of Phra Jirasak and am hoping for the best.  Last year I had only one day before everything expired to get a signature on a letter from the Rector of my university.  I'm too old for that kind of stress.  Vesak 2011 will be held May 12-14 at my university's campus in Ayutthaya and at the United Nations headquarters in Bangkok.  Several thousand monks and laypeople from all over the world will be in attendance.  Like last year, I will be secretary of the Environmental panel on Protection and Restoration during the conference proceedings on Thursday.  Academics and students of Buddhism from all over the world will deliver papers on this and other important topics, and I'll get to work again with Dr. Colin Butler from Australia.  Although I haven't seen the university's schedule yet, the following week should be the beginning of the next school term.  I'm looking forward to seeing my students again, now in their fourth year of undergraduate study of English.  Finally, May 29th is the second anniversary of my first meeting with Nan and I hope to do something special with her.  I've been listening carefully, but have not yet heard the bell tolling for me.  When it does, I hope to be as ready as Holly.  RIP, my friend.