Reflections, September 13, 2001

Two days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, holed up in my Bangkok apartment, I spewed my thoughts and feelings down on paper. I wanted to relate my perceptions for my family and friends back home. Red Smith said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”  It’s true the writer has little control over what comes out and where it flows.  Well, I suppose I sat down at my computer on Sept. 13 and opened my stomach if not a vein. What came out was a bile-filled mess that spewed in every direction. It reflects at the time my ignorance, my innocence, a desire for peace, a desire for vengeance. Confusion and shock. Sorrow, hate and love. 

Indomitable, September 13, 2001

There is a large upscale mall in Bangkok called The World Trade Center.  I was reading contentedly when the phone rang.  A close Thai friend told me that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.  I immediately felt a shock but not the sort of shock you did when you first heard this.  I thought she was talking about the mall.  I am ashamed to say I felt the same kind of fleeting disbelief that I feel when I hear about another bomb in the middle east.  Sadness, horror disbelief but ultimately it is another people, far away.  Killing and dying for reasons I have tried to comprehend but can not and have grown weary of trying to understand.  I imagined a small plane crashed into the lobby of the mall.  Dead people, hurt people but surreal.  Then I heard her say New York.  Then I heard her say two planes.  Then I felt my heart rate quicken.  I remembered her husband is in new york city.  My mind raced.

Thai TV didn’t help much with explanation but the images I saw were the same that you saw and that told me all there was to tell.  Then it escalated, and escalated and escalated.

Celebrating Palestinians?  I don’t care if they are Muslim, Christian or circus clowns, they are celebrating mass destruction and Massive, massive death.

How has the world come to this place.  Where did we turn, what map have we followed that has left us lost in this stark place?

What brand of person can commandeer a plane full of people and slam it into a building full of more people sending rubble pouring over the heads of still more people.  What kind of person is this?  Where is the soul?  Moreover, what kind of person witnesses this and then pours out into the street in jocular glee, handing out candy to children and neighbors in celebration of such a dire, bleak act.

You loft your hands in the air and dance in the street over the greatest single act of malicious violence in history.

Ussama Bin Laden denies involvement but states that he supports the action.  –  Then, with those words, welcome to the row.  Accept responsibility for your beliefs and opinion.  You believe in killing the innocent in the name of god.  I believe in personal religious interpretation.  I believe in establishing a personal set of morals based on  a personal relationship with god butYou are, quite frankly, wrong.  You are, quite frankly,  insane.  You do not, quite frankly, deserve the life that god has given you.  You will not break us.  You can not conquer us.  We will all die before you sink your evil fingers into our homeland.  But that is what you want isn’t it.  So, bring that aggression to us.  Come and see what we can do.  See, how lazy and complascent our fat capitalistic asses are when we are pushed in a corner.  How dare you bring your mismanaged psyche and politcs to our yard.  How dare your extort the lives of OUR brothers and sisters for YOUR asinine Jihad?  How dare you kill in the name of GOD!

If they are as Tony Blair said, “utterly indifferent to the sanctity of life” then perhaps they do not deserve the life they have been given.  Perhaps their gift should be eradicated as well.  I swear I never thought I would feel this way, I never thought I would say it and possibly even TRULY BELIEVE it in my heart, but maybe it is time to extract an eye for our eye lost.

I can’t think that way…. but I do.

Bush: “quiet unyielding anger”

We have sacrificed for your skirmishes.  WE have tried to help mend your wounds.  WE have orchestrated meetings and open fists into open arms.

Right now my infolifeline to the world is cnbc – financial news pap.  They are the best I have here and all they talk about are  issues like what will the loss of all the personnel of morgan, Stanley Dean witter, what will that loss have to do with the market and the margin rate?  This is really disgusting.  Ah, my bottom line.  My portfolio.  My stock options.  Could I potentially profit from this bleak day?

What about the mother who won’t be coming from work again ever.  The father who won’t be pull into the driveway ever again.

Bitter enemies:  My country is hated

IF I have any bitter enemies in my life they would be the motorcycle taxi drivers here in Bangkok.  Our relationship could be better described as symbiotic tolerance.  But at the end of my darkest night.  My “bitter enemy” asked me where I was from and expressed his sympathy.  I don’t know how he had heard so quickly?  But…. He was sincere and I thanked him.

They took away our favorite skyline.  L.A has its pacific sunsets.  Chicago towers over rivers and plains.  Seattle points an honorable finger to the sky, to God.  But it is New York that welcomes the promise of each new day.  The city that never sleeps is awake each day to say good morning to life.  The twin towers, those perfect rectangles that reflected sunlight like mirrored sunglasses snugly upon a confident, happy face.

Past tense.

At night, those two dark monolithic silhouettes dotted with lights in the night sky.  Eternal, or so we thought.  Past tense.

They knocked those sunglasses off our face.  They have knocked us down.  We ARE hurt.  We have never been hit like this before.  But we are NOT knocked out.  We are dizzy.  We have faltered.  We will need some time.  But we are NOT finished.

Our great monolithic towers have crumbled.  They are gone.  But these were not the strength of America.  These are not backbone of our nation.  Perhaps this is what they represented.  They were intrepid symbols of a resolute people.  The symbols are gone.  So much life was swept away with these icons.  Yet, New York, New Yorkers, Americans remain to greet the sun, to welcome the promise of each new day.  Our eyes are blackened but the sun has risen again.  We squint into the morning light and we will move on.  We will continue.  When it is all swept up and played out, we will be stronger than our enemies ever imagined.  We are indomitable.

We’ve lost brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, husbands and wives.  Humanity.

Obama Presses the Flesh

Obama and the Walmericans

On a recent outing to feel the pulse of America, President Obama mingles with the masses. He might have been better received if he’d forgone the casual button down shirt for a dirty wifebeater. A moment after this photo was taken the man pictured called a friend to share his experience. Unfortunately, the man was still talking to the president at the time. Awkward as it was the conversation was recorded, thankfully.

“Hey man, it’s Dale. Yeah, man. No shit? Hang on a sec, Mr. President. I got my buddy Terry on the other line. He’s watching us on CNN. Yeah man, sorry, go ahead. No shit!  That’s hilarious. Record it, dude. Yeah, he’s right here. Yeah man, he totally saw it. He was all like asking about some Japanese dude named Hokusai or some shit. No, man, I told him for reals. I was all like ‘Dude, my buddy Terry did this ink at his shop right here in Jersey. He was all like ‘Whatever’, but then he was cool. Said he liked it. Dude, don’t swell up on that shit, he obviously don’t know jack about tats. Yeah, that’s crazy shit, man. Yeah, that’s Diane. Dude, we hooked up last night. Dude, Obama keeps staring at her dog chain. It’s hilarious. Is she really?! Oh my God your right she is! That’s hilarious. Hey, that reminds me, dude.  Can I get my nipples done next week? Dude, I totally should have done it when I was in there yesterday. Yeah, I know you told me to. Yeah, I know, they’d be all over national television right now. Dude, shut up about it! Damn! Listen dude, I gotta go. No, man, you pick that shit up yourself. I got the president right here, dude. Dude! I gotsta GO! Later. [Hangs up] Shit! Yo, sorry about that Mr. President. What were you saying?”

What’s Cookin’, Good Lookin?: Feeding Our Culinary Egos

Is he a chef, a hair model or a bum loungin' back in the kitchen scroungin' off all the leftovers?

The ideal chef?

In the first century AD, Roman Senator Petronius asserted in his ‘Satyricon’ that the decline of a great empire is anticipated by the celebrity of chefs. When food no longer serves as a daily necessity but an idolized, luxurious, status symbol, the society has grown decadent and, oft times quite literally, too fat to stand. Petronius knew what he was talking about, living in the time of the insatiable Nero. Perhaps there has been no more gluttonous time, until now as is apparent in our appetite for haute cuisine. This certainly was not always the case.  Just as we used to be fully content with one brand of tomato soup, once, not so long ago, we were fully sated with just one celebrity chef – the down to earth if somewhat dowdy Julia Child. Today the cable channels are a veritable buffet of food and cooking shows. Such glamorous chefs as petulant Gordon Ramsay, bodacious Nigella Lawson and the impish Wolfgang Puck have inspired websites, books, blogs and legions of fans. The latter may attribute his fame to giving consumers the sense that they are being fed simultaneously by Motzart and Shakespeare. This is a key point here, because in essence we are talking about society’s sense of style and sophistication. These shows with their highfalutin attention to food and chefs are fed by our desire to feed and our desire to seem refined while doing it.  For Americans, food as theater spotlights their number one passive pastime: consumption. Moreover, this means celebrity aspirations for anyone with an inkling of skill in a kitchen. Shows like American Idol made anyone who can carry a microphone (rather than a tune) believe they had enough pure, raw talent to dazzle the masses. So too shows like The Chopping Block make kitcheneers nationwide believe that with enough gumption and the right combination of spices they will open the next Alinea. Alinea was named the best restraurant in America according to S. Pellegrino.  S. Pellegrino is the maker of “fine dining waters”, an outfit  that also claims to know a thing or two about nice restaurants.

Petronius was right. A society has most definitely lost its way when it begins to glamorize the heating of meats and vegetables to the point that they actually believe there is such a thing as fine dining water. There are only two kinds of water. Clean and good or dirty and bad. Simple as that. As for food, if it tastes good all the better.  But I don’t want to pay too much for it, and I refuse to accept that its preparation is either rocket science or high art. Food is simultaneously a simple human necessity and perhaps the most important and universal tenant of human culture.  However, we should never take it too seriously. Cooking can be and should be fun, not an obsession. Turn off the cooking shows. Toss out the latest chef’s best seller. Anything you need to know about cooking has already been covered by Julia Child. Beyond that, you can look to W.C. Fields for inspiration.  His insight will help cooks of any skill set.  He said, “I cook with wine, sometimes I even put it on the food.”  After all, if this is all just one more signal of our societal decline, a bottle of wine would certainly come in handy.

What President of Toyota SHOULD Have Said

What Aiko Toyoda should have said to Congress:

Dear Honorable Ladies and Gentleman of the United States Congress,

I humbly apologize for Toyota Motor Company’s recent spate of issues with our vehicles regarding safety.  Moreover, our “overt cover-up” is far more shameful and worthy of scorn.

When the issue began to arise, we covered it up by offering an open-market recall centered on the floor mats, which we considered to be the problem.  When the issue continued we issued another recall, then another and another at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.  This attempt to alleviate the situation, this “cover-up”, was shameful and perhaps even criminal.  In our defense, this response seemed appropriate at the time because that is what our “big brothers” GM and Ford had done over the years as they dealt with their faulty vehicles.  Ford, your very own American icon, leads the world in recalls.  They being far more experienced with defective products than Toyota, we chose to follow their example of how best to deal with the problem.  They have always led the industry in faulty products and have always followed these with an exemplar response.  First they deny.  Then they rationalize.  Next they point fingers and hand wring.  Then they apologize profusely as they recall and recall some more.  We simply thought this was the appropriate response, as established by industry icons.  We thought this was standard practice, not an overt cover-up.  We were far too inexperienced with faulty production to know any other way around the problem.  The racehorse would never try to emulate the donkey.  So too was it misguided for our company to try to imitate theirs.   However, this has not been our only mistake.

Toyota’s recent errant ways in safety stem from a negligent approach to manufacturing.  This, in turn, has stemmed from another industry trick we’ve copied from our American predecessors, a little thing they call “streamlining”.  This is an industry term that means build the car for less but charge the same or perhaps even more for it.  We decided to meddle in streamlining back in the 80’s but really kicked it into high gear in the 90’s.  We built manufacturing plants all over the United States, rather than build the entire car back in Japan and then ship the finished product to sell here.  It saved us billions of dollars.  We still made the same car, same specs, same everything.  Then over the years, we turned more and more of the manufacturing to more and more regional factories.  We, as you sports-fanatical Americans like to say, took our eyes off the ball.  We should have anticipated that a company like Indiana-based CTS Corp would have manufactured our parts adequately but with their own “streamlining” in mind.  They would have contracted the job of making, say the gas pedal, to a plant up in Canada, say.  They in turn might have contracted still another company somewhere else entirely to take charge of installation.  Now our little gas pedal is three or four points removed from our ideal, our vision as a company.  Yes, not only did we take our eye off the ball, we handed it off to people who aren’t even really on our team.  Again, our mistake was to follow the lead of our predecessors, the pioneers of car manufacturing.  We have failed to realize that over the last 3 decades we, in fact, had become the pioneers of the industry.

We should have known better than to second guess our vision.  Streamlining is a term used to mean cutting corners.  Though such practices may serve our American competitors just fine, we never should have adopted such practices in our company.  The jobs we brought to the United States were not worth the cost to the quality of our product.  The increase in profit we brought to our company was not worth the drop in public confidence.  These are mistakes I promise you we will learn from.  Honorable ladies and gentlemen, many of my colleagues at Toyota Motor Company have suggested that perhaps this entire hearing is the result of an inter-industry battle, a witch hunt.  They suggest that perhaps because you individuals, as U.S. citizens and taxpayers, now own GM that this has been an attack at your strongest competitor.  They foolishly believe that you are merely motivated by forthcoming elections and you want to appear to be strong on safety and fierce against a foreign rival.  Let me assure you that I have emphatically refused to believe this.  You are caretakers of the public good.  You are motivated by concern and compassion for your constituents.  I admire this.  I too must be motivated by the concern and compassion of my customers.  Therefore, I intend to go back to the business model that made Toyota so great.  We will close all of our American plants.  We will cancel all contracts with regional manufacturers, whom we have little oversight over.  We will return to a complete-process model of manufacturing in Japan.  There we can control costs, oversight and quality.  The bad news is this will cost tens of thousands of North American jobs.  The good news is this will once again assure a high-quality, safe product.  I know that this is what you honorable ladies and gentlemen truly seek here today.  Rest assured that we will continue to keep costs low and quality high.  Though our American sales will undoubtedly take a significant hit with most Americans out of work and unable to afford our product, our cars will remain affordable for those Americans lucky enough to have work.  Also, after we “downsize” as you like to say, we will be able to focus primarily on our other markets around the world.  We think this is a practical solution and an appropriate model in this topsy-turvy, man bites dog world we’ve created.  Perhaps one day our big American brothers will follow our lead.  Again, honorable ladies and gentlemen, I offer my sincere apologies for letting my company grow so far away from my watchful eye.  I pledge my commitment to resolving this issue at once.

Thank you for your attention, courage and pioneering leadership.  I am both shamed and honored before you here today.

Aiko Toyoda

President Toyota Motor Company

Karzai the Cat

Why does the photo on the left remind me of the photo on the right?

Once again, there’s somthing in common in these two photos.

What’s up with Putin?

It seems every time you turn around there is a new photo spread of Vladimir Putin out there – shirtless and virile as ever!

However, I thought that perhaps these photos needed some zip. These quotes truly capture the zeal of the man.

Photo #1 “Oh, Bare BACK. I thought you said we were going to ride bare-chested.”

Photo #2 “I’ll find the Kursk! And I don’t need any damned help from the damned Brits either!”

Photo #3 “A little good old-fashioned KGB fork work will take that smile off his face!”

Photo #4 “Yes, that’s it. Eat up all the tasty Polonium 210. I find even my horses can’t keep secrets.”

Photo #5 Medvedev from a distance: “Hey Vladie! It’s not the length of the pole that counts. It’s the wiggle in the worm!”

Ah, Putin. Russia just wouldn’t be the same without ya!