Archive for Egomania
It doesn’t feel all that long ago when my generation saw the life ahead of us like the start of a wide-open book that could proceed any way we imagined, far from the predictable lives of our parents. Now, I skim through social media profiles of people I haven’t seen in decades, a lot paunchier, a lot greyer or balder, and I realize we’ve become our parents!
I find it eerie to calculate the year my own father was my present age and then think about how I viewed him at that time. One thing is for certain: I didn’t classify him as an a-hole.
My dad was a practicing surgeon in those days, and he wasn’t around a whole lot. That’s what I remember. You have to be around and come up with a lot of strict rules your kids despise to be considered a professional a-hole. Compared to my friends’ parents, my own were quite lenient. When my father was almost exactly the same age I am now, to the month, he and my mother traveled to France and Israel on a two-week holiday. They gave me and my brother credit cards, ample cash, and the use of the cars. We had more cars between us than people.
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A month ago, someone I hadn’t seen in a decade, since his marriage ceremony, passed through Bangkok with his wife. Let’s call him Jimbo. I was quite close with Jimbo’s older brother while growing up but life had since taken us in very different directions, and I no longer keep in touch. Jimbo contacted me a month before his arrival and commented it would be nice to catch up with me and my family when he came to town. I invited him and his wife to stay in our extra bedroom and offered to go over his itinerary if he so desired once he had some clues. The exchange lasted all of about 5 minutes on a messenger app.
I told my wife that very day about his visit, and she immediately got on the internet to start researching possible accommodation and itinerary options for him. I had to forcibly get her to stop. “Unless he asks for something, I don’t want you wasting a second on this.” I’d been ‘burned’ before, pro-actively spending time to make someone’s situation a little easier when the recipient could have cared less. My wife works in the tourism industry and is the sort to become obsessive about travel research.
Ten days before Jimbo’s arrival, she planned to clean and organize our third bedroom for his comfort. Never mind that I hadn’t heard from Jimbo again since the initial contact. I stopped her again. “Jimbo won’t stay with us despite the invitation.” She hounded me to get back in touch with him. “Tell him I can book him at our five-star hotel in Bangkok for 30% off. Mention I can get him an outstanding suite at our luxury spa in Hua Hin.” I told her to forget it. Jimbo knew she worked for a luxury hotel brand and had been free to avail himself of the advantages contacts bring. He hadn’t.
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When you live in Thailand long enough and you want a beer at a reasonable cost, you get used to a limited selection. To be sure, well known and highly regarded imported beers are available here, but with high excise taxes, duties, and the recent hike in alcohol taxes on non-ASEAN products, a small bottle from a multinational with a Belgian label will run almost $5 from a supermarket.
But that’s no reason to fret. The local Thai-made beers have their upside. They’re all award-winning!
Thailand’s best known beer, Singha, is no stranger to awards. It was given the Medal Award of Quality from Belgium in 1971. Thirty years later, it earned another gold medal at the Australian International Beer Awards. In 2002, a bronze in the European low alcohol lager/German light beer category at the International Beer Summit in Osaka, Japan, and a gold in this same category the following year. And finally, in 2004, a silver medal at the Australian International Beer Awards. Way to go!
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If I asked who amongst us had never sampled a Coca Cola, the answer would be the same as if I’d asked who had never seen a Clint Eastwood movie.
While I wouldn’t call myself a diehard Clint fan, I have seen all his spaghetti westerns, his Dirty Harry movies, and most of the recent work he’s done after Unforgiven was released in 1993. Clint’s post-Unforgiven career marked a significant rise up the food chain from the majority of turkeys he appeared in throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s. The press and his fans presently feel he can do no wrong. His latest movie, Gran Torino, the last Eastwood claims he’ll ever appear in as an actor, was the most successful opening of any Clint Eastwood movie ever. Not bad for a man pushing 80.
Gran Torino seems to have its heart in the right place. It’s about a septuagenarian Asian-hating Korean war veteran who befriends a young Hmong trying to steal his 1972 Gran Torino, but it’s not a great movie, even if Clint-lovers seem to feel differently. On IMDB, Gran Torino, as of this writing, is ranked 83rd by voters, ahead of Eastwood’s Oscar winning Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. But I’m sure even Clint himself would agree Gran Torino doesn’t deserve, on its merits, to be in IMDB’s top 250 list of all films ever made or at least higher ranked than two of his Academy Award generating films. Gran Torino’s script could’ve used a polish and the supporting actors, mostly Hmongs with no prior acting experience, are terrible. Clint handicapped himself by trying to hire real Hmongs. The pool of talented Hmong thespians who speak fluent English would fit into the backseat of my car. It’s called acting for a reason. Either the script could’ve been rewritten to involve some other Asian ethnic group for which talented actors were available or else the Hmong element could’ve remained but with others Asians playing those Hmongs. Hollywood has Koreans play Japanese or Serbs play Russians all the time.
The unconvincing acting among the youth of Gran Torino stood out all the more when the following day, I watched Slumdog Millionaire and saw the younger kids in that movie run laps around the Torino youth. Now how can this be? Clint’s been an actor for 50 years and a director for almost 40. With this much experience in front of and behind the camera, how could Clint the auteur turn in a film with such pathetic acting?
I have a theory why. Most of you aren’t going to want to hear it. It’s because he’s an overrated director. Before you chastise me for besmirching the reputation of a screen icon and legend the majority seemingly adore enough to rate his latest movie #83 of all movies ever made, hear me out first.
As I see it, Gran Torino exposes Clint’s weaknesses. Clint’s talent is in finding scripts movie reviewers gush over. If he’s handed The Bridges Over Madison County, Mystic River, or Unforgiven and hires accomplished actors like Meryl Streep, Morgan Freeman, Sean Penn, and Gene Hackman, the actors can deliver their top class performances. Clint stays out of the way and lets the actors accomplishments win him the awards and nominations. But his one-take, minimally supervised directing approach only works when the actors already know how to act. The Torino actors knew as much about acting as I do about tap dancing, and it showed.
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I was in college in 1991 when Saddam Hussein stood up to the West and refused to vacate Kuwait. No one was gullible enough back then to believe that the West really cared about Kuwaiti sovereignty. If the Kuwaitis had been exporting taro and sugar cane instead of oil, Saddam would still be alive and building palaces and lining up mistresses in Kuwait City.
Here’s the remarkable thing about Saddam. He met a bitter end by the Americans, yet he was no stranger to the Americans or their ways. He’d worked with the CIA as far back as 1959 in a failed attempt to assassinate the then Iraqi prime minister Abdul Karim Kassim. The CIA then helped his party get into power in 1963, and thereafter Saddam shacked up with the Americans to insure Iraq was a bastion of anti-communism. When the Shah of Iran was overthrown in an Islamic Revolution in 1979, not only the Americans backed him in his invasion of Iran, but also the Soviets, the Europeans, and the Persian Gulf Arab states.
So, I suppose in some ways, Saddam could be forgiven for later marching into Kuwait and thinking he could get away with it. He had friends in high places, and none of those powerful friends ever accused him of compromising Iranian sovereignty by storming into Iran in 1980 and renaming Iranian provinces. His Western allies didn’t scold him. Quite the opposite. They offered him enough financial assistance to carry on the war for eight years. By 1990, Saddam had some sensible reasons for forging into Kuwait. He claimed the war with Iran had spared Kuwaiti derrieres from Iranian pressure and domination. Besides that, he added, Kuwaiti territory was historically Iraq’s. It was only British control of the region in the 1920’s that had partitioned Kuwait off as a separate nation, stealing what would have been prime Iraqi seafront property. Saddam just couldn’t be absolutely sure the Americans would care if he invaded Kuwait. He was then getting U.S. assistance in the multibillions. He was, officially, a “buddy,” and we tend to cut our buddies a lot more slack when they break the rules.
In this case, Saddam calculated wrong. The U.S. did care. Kuwait had the equivalent number of oil reserves to Iraq, and if Iraq controlled Kuwait, a fifth of the world’s oil would be in Saddam’s hands. Saddam had bullied the wrong nation. He should’ve invaded Zimbabwe instead, removed the mentally demented Robert Mugabe from power, and annexed the tobacco fields. The world wouldn’t have blinked.
I don’t know about you, but if my benefactor who’d put me into power and aided in my subsequent power plays told me to do something, I’d do it. Never mind if that benefactor is hypocritical and corrupt and puts its own citizens’ lives at risk in wars that benefit only a chosen few. Saddam had been in bed with the U.S. for years and knew how the game was played. Perhaps it could be argued that Saddam was in the moral right – that Kuwait was sneaking oil out of Iraq’s reserves by slant drilling on their border or that Kuwait should’ve forgiven a share of the debt Iraq racked up in its war with Iran. In the end, it doesn’t matter who’s right. In the real world, might is right. When the U.S. told him to get out, he should’ve sat down in secret negotiations with the Americans and worked out a face-saving way of extricating himself from the mess he’d started.
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