Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Butterfly maidens

At about 8 pm on Thai TV (show-times can be irregular here) the royal family news comes on (all channels). The titled names of two of the king’s daughters, who are frequent subjects of the show, end in –mari, often drawn out a bit (lovingly, it seems to me), after the earlier (and lengthy) syllables are rushed rapidly through. As I’ve noticed several correspondences between Thai and English (my first was Chanburi, Suphanburi and Canterbury), fairly often quite marveling at them, I wondered if there could be any relation between this and Mariam (or something close to that, in Aramaic), the name given for the mother of Jesus (“an unmarried woman” – maybe Luke 1:27, mistranslated as ‘virgin’ in the King James Bible).
Formal Thai language derives largely from Sanskrit and Pali, Aryan languages of northwest India; it took me a while to finally find something in a Thai dictionary: kumari: female infant, girl, virgin, maiden. Ku is the syllable before –mari in the two names (I haven’t had a Thai try to explain the system to me, but have noted that the third, and eldest, daughter, who married a Western commoner, doesn’t get that ending attached to her name; and the crown prince and his consort get the male version of the term, kuman… in transliteration… the final letter being raw-ruah, an ‘r’ sound elsewhere but ‘n’ when the final syllable…).
Which may all sound quite esoteric – but to me is quite exciting, for the interconnectedness it suggests.
Elsewhere I have written of Southeast Asian history’s possible involvement with people from upper Asian mountains bordering the Steppe areas where horses were first domesticated. To my mind, around 12,000 years ago, and about 2500 years ago (generalizing, Im wildly generalizing, I know), epochal changes in human society took place. In the later one, monotheism and pinnacled power-structuring became momentous forces.
Perhaps, in the way think-tanks helped the neo-con Republicans refine their rhetoric so well that many have now so lost the plot that they gladly seek to impoverish themselves for the sake of the already mega-rich, language as magic helped establish “blue-blood” power and the “divine right of kings”. Suddenly, empire, and concentrated power over it, became possible.
Farfetched? Well, sometimes, at least, one is entitled to an opinion, a flight of fancy, and/or speculation about the nature of things. I remember Peter McDonald, Chairman of the Navajo Nation, who must have gotten 5% or more, of the tiny dollar income, averaging well under $1000/year, from most members of his tribe, to afford his private jet and fleet of limos… which were not begrudged him by most of his people, glad to have at least one from among themselves really “make it”.
Once, a friend thought he was having a heart-attack. I talked to him calmly but intensely, refocusing his attention, and settled him down. He, an Arizona cowboy, 100%, said I had talked him down (that was his phraseology, amazingly enough – this was after 2001, by perhaps a year or two, I’m not sure) and thus saved his life. I’m not at all sure I saved his life, but I do know that my words helped him, and significantly. Words, and names, can be very, very powerful.
And they can change things quickly too, much as the genetics of the powerful can alter a population’s genetics – even in not so very long a period of time. I’m descended from Charlemagne, as many of European descent are. He had sex with many, many women, and many of his progeny were able to, too. Not so long ago, Europeans recorded negroid features as common among Malays and in Cambodia. Photographic evidence attests to this, but now, hardly 10 generations later (if that, quite unlikely in the case of the photographic evidence), this is hardly the case.
Anyway, it all seems a bit like the old Chinese story of butterfly wing flaps leading to monsoon havoc: influence can sometimes seem disproportionate.
But we should also remember, influence always flows both ways.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Female rock stars

For years now, I’ve used the internet an average of an hour a day; mostly because I pay for a minimum of an hour. I really don’t even need it that much. To fill some of my hours, I’ve wasted time with facebook, through which I answered a questionnaire on “what female rock star” best fits your personality (or something). I got Siouxie (of the Banshees). That got me wondering who all might be on their female rock star list.
Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Ann Wilson & Nancy Wilson, Debbie Harry, Annie Lennox, Pat Benetar, Tina Turner, Chrissie Hynde and Patti Smith made the grade, as far as I was concerned, in my radio-listening years. But I wanted to think of a dozen.
Joan Jett, Suzi Quatro, Rachel Sweet, Lydia Lunch, Linda Love, Cyndi Lauper, Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks – well, maybe. Cheryl Crowe, Tracy Chapman, Cher, Joan Baez, Linda Thompson, Madonna? Much as I like some of them, well, no. On the web I found Belinda Carlisle and Sandy Denny mentioned. I like one of those two, but rock star? No.
Despite the brief, flamboyant “mod” style of 1967, rock and roll has never really been about pretensions to class or sophisticated, elegant refinement – despite Grace Slick, Chrissie Hynde, and Fleetwood Mac (after Peter Green and taking females into the band) – one might like them, but their back-beat bop utility can only be seen as minimal at best. The Shangri-las are considered pop, despite a bad-girl rep and appearing with the Beatles, James Brown and even the Zombies. Mary Chapin Carpenter, the Indigo Girls, the Spice Girls and the Go-Gos (“power pop”) similarly shouldn’t be included. The Supremes, whom I dearly love and admire, made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but somehow I see Motown as Motown, not rock. Could be a personal problem.
From the 90s, I found Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan and Sophie B Hawkins mentioned on the web. I think I’ve heard of Sophie B Hawkins, but can’t remember a song of hers, so… maybe I’m just old and out of it, but to me rock has a back beat, at least any rocker should, sometimes if not always, and, well, about the last powerful back-beat performer I remember is the in many ways embarrassingly unfortunate Ted Nugent. What or where’s the line between rock and pop, anyway? Between rock and country? Rock and folk? I bet Sophie B Hawkins showed some guts and gumption, but don’t know. Maybe she’s a star, I don’t know that either.
What I do know is that it isn’t sexual discrimination that make the ranks of female rockers so much smaller than that of males. The stars I listed as having made the grade fail nowhere in being feminine, and they certainly represented rock and roll to me. I’ve known lesser female luminaries who could rock – one of them intimately.
Long, long ago I tried to interview a female rock band (with male drummer) for a local paper. When I asked if they’d encountered anything like a male groupie, they got defensive, cagey and then suspicious… what was I insinuating?
I wonder if that kind of thing has something to do with it. Most women, feeling more bound by family and class, find need to be so much more careful than men… and rock music was assertive, aggressive, animistic, and promiscuous. We pretend many social conventions are set, then other realities leak through…

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Globalization has arrived at a dead end

Globalization has arrived at a dead end. Financial system chicanery only accelerated its demise. The corporatocracy now produces more than it can sell - technology and investment were put into factories and plants to the extent that they now produce more manufactured goods than consumers will buy. And so, global industrial production is at the point where it will start to break down. Debts will not be paid, and markets will only regain any strength if debt forgiveness is provided – an event which currently looks unlikely.
The corporate powers continue in the false belief that the public can be manipulated into allowing the status quo to continue. My favorite example is the recent quoting from Michio Kaku about the $10 billion super collider, posted prominently on web news pages. He says it can work, and help us better understand our universe. But why was that single individual chosen to interview? Because he’s “knowledgeable”? I don’t think so. Kaku may have graduated from Harvard summa cum laude (in '68) and become a noted media personality, but his talk about technologies for invisibility, teleportation, precognition, star ships, antimatter engines and time travel is merely that, and when he babbles about small, “crunched” dimensions – taking advantage about confusion about whether one infinite can be somehow bigger, or greater, than another - he certainly does the fields of physics and mathematics a disservice.
Maybe my god can be greater than your god, I don’t know, but infinite is infinite, no more and no less, and Kaku but a court fool paid to befuddle and distract, confuse, confound and uphold the social position of our “superiors” while appearing to contest givens…
The global economy is ruled by powerful interest groups dominated by a small number of individuals, who deceive themselves as much as they deceive the rest of us, and the public at large is at fault for allowing itself to be led by the nose. We’ve gotten in debt, and most of us are now treated as slaves – even those loudly protesting are mostly just doing what they’ve been manipulated into doing, no matter how directly or indirectly.
Most of us eat food that hinders brain function, relish foolish new technological gadgetry and ways to waste time, and the only – temporary – way out of our master’s deluded betting on “futures” is to allow our globe’s poor to earn and purchase more, thus hastening our demise from lack of resources (or pollution, or global warming, or violent revolution).
But there are ways out of this mess, if only we will take off our blinders. It can be done, but, unfortunately, not by those glued to enticing, glowing screens.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Fear Itself

Society clearly needs, to survive, a new organizing principle, paradigm, format, pattern for arranging affairs, standard, prototype, basic conception and/or awareness…

We too often ignore pressing realities to preserve ego, self-conception, illusions, sense of self-importance and pride. We tend to fail to keep things in proportion, to remember much that we have perceived, and to acknowledge the importance of others to every aspect of our lives. We’re not only selfish, short-sighted and greedy, but self-defeating. We apparently enjoy being lied to, bamboozled and conned. Swindled, defrauded, cheated and deceived. Hoodwinked, duped, and taken in. It’s fun, because we’re usually flattered in the process.

And we seem to relish flattery, even if it’s only self-praise and unlikely to achieve any lasting result. And the reason is –
We’re afraid. Afraid of pain, of losing, of being looked down on, of being emasculated or cut down to the point where we somehow lose the ability to accomplish anything.
And that’s reasonable, to a certain extent. For confidence, among other things, including appearance, not only can be very important, but usually is. We need our strokes. But we might learn to be less choosy about where we find them.
Lots of people get by, and even have big egos, without the status-symbols so many others require. And there are ways of competing without receiving, or causing, much pain. We need to find them, to find our way around the ultimate humiliation –
the suicide we are currently engaged in.