when heroes turn to evil

In these very strange times it’s helpful to listen to some words from history:

The wrongs of the past must now stand forgiven and forgotten. If ever we look to the past, let us do so for the lesson the past has taught us, namely that oppression and racism are inequalities that must never find scope in our political and social system. It could never be a correct justification that just because the whites oppressed us yesterday when they had power, the blacks must oppress them today because they have power. An evil remains an evil whether practised by white against black or black against white.

And who was the wise and just man that said this? Robert Mugabe, as in the guy who utterly destroyed and ruined an entire country to feed his desires for expensive wines, prostitutes, and fine cheese.

Believe it or not once upon a time Planetary-Stormtrooper-Goons such as the Castros or Mugabe were considered, and in some cases actually were, real heroes. They said and did many of the right things. They battled evil dictatorships, helped the poor, at least gave lip service to democratic principles, and so on.

Well that sure didn’t last. If you built a top ten list of history’s great monsters of the last century you could make a fair argument that Mugabe and Castro need their faces in the queue. These men who freed millions, provided hope to an entire country, and were recognized worldwide as potential icons of freedom ultimately turned to darkness, straight evil, perhaps even far more evil than the one they replaced.

 

This is sadly a theme you see all throughout history with revolutions and rebellions. But, still: What the hell happened?

Was it because folks like Castro and Mugabe were always evil from the start, or that they only became evil after they gained absolute power? I’m inclined to think it’s a little bit of both.

And so now enters upon this very troubled stage Aung San Suu Kyi who for all the political confusion, essentially holds political power in Myanmar. Once the darling of freedom and democracy throughout the globe Aung San Suu Kyi has seen her reputation and reality destroyed almost overnight as she’s presided over one of the more stark and brutal genocide campaigns in modern history.

For the uninitiated (or those focused on Dancing With The Stars or what Taylor Swift had for lunch yesterday) here’s what’s been going on:

– In Burma, about 1% of the population is Rohingya Muslim who live mostly on the northwest coast next to Bangladesh. This is in contrast to the nearly 2/3 who are Bamar Buddhist, the majority of the population. There are dozens of other minority ethnic groups in Burma beyond the Rohingya. Some parts of the country have essentially been in a state of civil war for five decades.

– After decades of house arrest for pro-democracy efforts, Aung San Suu Kyi is now State Counselor of Burma. She can’t be President because the Army rigged the qualification rules. So her party has a figurehead president, but Aung San Suu Kyi calls the shots. She holds executive power in Myanmar.

– There’s been ethnic turmoil in the west between Rohingya Muslim and Buddhists for decades with the last large scale violence in 2012.

– A few weeks ago Rohingya rebels and/or terrorists (depends on your point of view) struck various police and Army barracks killing about a dozen uniformed personnel. In response the Army did what it does best, it went wild. If you thought the scenes with the Myanmar Army in Rambo IV were part of the movie’s action packed nonsense, I assure you, the Myanmar Army got this reputation for a reason.

– Hundreds-of-thousands have fled to the border of Bangladesh. Untold thousands have been murdered, raped, whole villages razed. It’s humanity at its worst.

I think what essentially happened is at Myanmar Army Headquarters they had this plan on the shelf. It was printed on nice clean official paper and on the front it said “Rohingya Liquidation Campaign”. When the Rohingya rebels conducted their attacks a few weeks ago, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (a historically known miller of innocent human flesh) opened his desk drawer, took a swig of whiskey from a solid gold flask, said “Thank you very much, assholes,” and took the plan off the shelf and gave it to his goons to execute.

Everything after that has been on autopilot. The Army, assisted by local Buddhist militias, has done what one would expect them to do when ordered to exterminate a whole people. And where is Aung San Suu Kyi? Nowhere.

Apologists will make the argument that it’s not Aung San Suu Kyi’s fault. That the Army is actually calling the shots in Myanmar and she’s unable to stop the violence as she’s a figurehead. This ignores the apparent political power she wielded since the last election and which she’s been widely praised for using. It also doesn’t explain her essential silence and denials that anything remotely approaching genocide is occurring.

Nothing is stopping Aung San Suu Kyi from simply saying the violence has to stop. Instead, she’s made various inexplicable claims such as the Rohingya burned their own villages or are fleeing to Bangladesh at their own initiative.

Any reasonable person can only come to one conclusion. Aung San Suu Kyi supports the Army’s mission, thus genocide. Why? What the hell happened to this women? To me, when you really think about it, it’s actually rather simple:

1) Aung San Suu Kyi spent decades as a dissident and democracy campaigner. But, until recently she never actually held political power. She never ruled or ran anything. Nobody actually had a resume of hers to look at and say, this is who she really is.

2) Since the end of her exile, the restart of politics, and the last election a reputation has emerged that Aung San Suu Kyi runs her political party, the National League for Democracy, in an autocratic and closed manner. She doesn’t tolerate dissent or rivals, party policy is done at her whim behind closed doors, those who speak out are silenced or removed from the party.

3) Aung San Suu Kyi was born into, is, part of the central Bamar Buddhist establishment. Daddy helped found the country before he was assassinated. Daddy also founded the Myanmar Army. This was after Daddy had served in that oh so merciful organization known as the Imperial Japanese Army.

4) It was widely reported in the years leading up to the election that Aung San Suu Kyi could do business with the Army because (among other reasons) she still had an enormous amount of respect for the Army seeing as how Daddy founded the organization. In other words, despite decades of repression against her own person, Aung San Suu Kyi never checked out of the ruling Buddhist establishment.

5) Oh by the way, the majority of her voters are Bamar Buddhist and some of her most blowhard fervent supporters are Buddhist religious militants.

So what we have is a political newcomer, who already has autocratic tendencies, who was raised by a military man with a questionable background and record, who has always been a card carrying member of the establishment. And thus we get the picture of a woman who can very much share the vision of the Army that Myanmar is in fact a Buddhist nation, run by and for the Buddhist majority, with the Army as the cricket bat that enforces and maintains it.

It’s a very, very sad picture. And one that isn’t going to change any time soon. Aung San Suu Kyi is ruined in the international world. She didn’t even attend the United Nations meetings last week, so fearful was she of the criticism she would face. But does she really care? I doubt it.

Myanmar’s generals have been international pariahs for decades. They’re still rich, they’re still in power. And just like Castro or Mugabe, I suspect that a decade or two from now Aung San Suu Kyi will still be around. Disrespected, disgraced, and yet still calling the shots.

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so every company wants to dance with sriracha

I guess you know a food ingredient has become all powerful when McDonalds starts to hock the stuff as part of their latest harebrained scheme to forestall irrelevance. They got Ronald McDonald to descend into the Thai jungle to pick up some ideas.

Given the danger he brought a large number of his posse. McDonald got the map and compass. Grimace essentially functioned as a pack mule. The Hamburglar got the grease gun. Birdie carried the radio, and Officer Big Mac, wait, wait, who the hell are all these other mascots?

Anyways, but seeing as only Ronald McDonald emerged from the jungle alive and without product, they just came up with this thing called Sriracha Mac Sauce. Which they trademarked. Seriously.

Sriracha is everywhere. Almost any restaurant chain or potato chip maker is all over this. I guess it’s trendy? Everybody loves spice and Asian so folks think they can mint money on this. But what really is sriracha? It depends.

In Thailand it’s basically just a random chili sauce with vinegar and spices. But in America what folks know as sriracha is just the Huy Fong Foods bottle. It’s just one kind of sriracha. But to most people I suppose it’s the sriracha.

Huy Fong’s story is actually pretty awesome. David Tran fled recently conquered South Vietnam in 1978 and was eventually granted asylum in America. He named the company after his refugee ship Huey Fong.

To me, the look of the bottle is pure genius. The contrast between the green and red, the unique rooster logo, the various languages and styling, it’s just great. It’s what made them successful, that and the unique taste.

But because Tran either cannot or will not trademark the word sriracha, basically everybody else can do what they want. So folks might think that McDonalds is partnering with Huy Fong to make their sauce, but they’re not. McDonald just made it on their own. Hence McDonald’s own trademark on their version of the sauce.

Hey I want to expand the planet’s variety of food choices too, but not at the expense of silly fads driven by faceless corporate goons in suits. Sriracha is basically just Thai ketchup. It’s not the emperor of all Asian hot sauces. I wonder how many folks have ever heard of Korean gochujang paste? It’s mind bogglingly awesome in its own right.

Want sriracha in America? Go ahead and buy the Huy Fong bottle. Or, go get a unique version from an Asian grocery. Don’t give Ronald McDonald more cash to file his next cutthroat trademark.

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Based designed sauce bottle in human history.

Mount Fuji, Part Two – Fuji stick

You’re supposed to bring home at least one item from every country if you can, or at least every trip.  How does one do this though if you’re constrained to one backpack?  For this reason and many others, I don’t really have too many corporeal possessions from my travels.

But sometimes you pick up an item that you find a way home any darn way you can.  I think I shipped my Fuji stick home via 1912 British Imperial tramp steamer.  I made it happen.  It cost me 13 pounds, 6 shillings, and a bottle of my finest barley swill.

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If you ascend Fuji, you have the option to take the wooden Fuji stick.  Not everybody does so.  Those who’ve been up multiple times have no need.  Some folks consider it a vicious tourist trap kind of thing.  But I just think it’s too cool.

The idea is you start out with this bare piece of wood.  At various way stations on your journey up, they use a hot brand to burn logos into the stick.  Here’s a shot of mine of a local carrying one up where he’s taken the flag off.

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Of note, whereas I left my Japanese flag on my stick, see how the local has taken his off.  I attribute this to the difference in patriotism between your average Japanese and say an American.

For example, my Parents have always had the Stars & Stripes flying outside their front door.  Always.  You would not see this type of behavior from almost any normal Japanese family.  Patriotism is a very different mindset between the two countries.

The Fuji stick takes this concept into overdrive as the flag that adorns it is not just any flag, but the older Rising Sun Flag of Imperial Japan.  I don’t know why Fuji chooses this over the modern and less controversial single red circle?  But anyways, a lot of locals took their flags off their stick.  Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t matter to me either way, I just find the concept interesting.

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Here’s a close up of one of the stamps.  A torii gate with the year I climbed, 2005.  Man, I’m getting freaking old.

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A few more stamps, one with 3,400 for 3,400 meters.  Then, above it again the year 2005, and 11,000 feet.  Note feet, not meters.  I think that guy must have had two stamps.  One that did meters, and one that did 11,000 feet for the gaijin.

My Fuji stick sits right next to my home desk, always.  You can actually catch it in the background of an old shot I had for a previous post where I talked about beer.  Win.

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Mount Fuji – only once?

It is said that a wise person will climb Fuji once, but only a fool will do it twice.  Well, what if you’re not wise to begin with?  And what do you do when you climb it the first time, and it’s a fog filled mess?

I think the answer is you have to climb it again.  Even if that throws my soul out of alignment and curses me.  Then I’d need to enlist the services of Shōki The Demon Queller to cleanse my spirit.  But I’m down with that.

Shōki only takes payment in fine sake.  So he and I can get ripped on it after he’s done slaying the cursed demon that’s bugging my dogs while they troll around the basement looking for crickets.

So I’ll be climbing Fuji again someday.  Just to do it again.  And because I couldn’t see anything when I reached the summit because of all the fog.

Besides, when climbing Fuji I constantly got passed by folks who were probably 73 years old.  They were kicking my ass.  I’m betting (other than the fact that these people are awesome) that this was not their first dance with Fuji.  If they can do it multiple times, so can I.

IMG_1018This shot is actually in the early afternoon at the end of my climb.  It’s the only decent shot I have of Fuji that day.  Note the clouds that still owned the summit.

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Nobody should climb Fuji unless they’re in decent shape.  There are no training wheels.  You get a stick, you get the assist lines, and that’s it.  In some cases the path is a total mess.  You’re walking directly on volcanic rock.  I loved it.

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The climb is a series of switchbacks.  At the choke points it can get a bit crowded, but I suppose there is room to slide by if you’re in a hurry or are timing yourself.

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Foooggg.  I did somehwat regret the fog, but honestly, since I know I’m going up again it was actually a lot of fun.  It added to the mystery of Fuji.  It’s like walking on a mystical moon.

Looking Up4Unrelated photo of climbers who are better than I.

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I don’t have any shots of the summit.  There some shops and such.  But we couldn’t see anything up there.  Here is a shot right below the summit upon beginning descent.

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Descent is just as much a challenge as ascent.  You’re using different muscles and the switchbacks are over different ground which is looser.  Note in this shot the slow descent from volcanic wasteland until it’s ultimately the greenery of lower altitudes.

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Nature begins to return with some green here and there.

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One of my ubiquitous random forest shots at the end of the descent.  I’ll also go back to hike the forests around Fuji itself.  They’re beautiful, and a sharp delightful change from the overwhelming concrete of urban Japan.

 

 

controlled dreams

I remember few concrete things from the wacky Jetsons cartoon.  But certain things remain sharp.  They had robot football, this angered me.  They also had a machine that could control dreams.  You got to dream about whatever you wanted.  How cool would that be?

I find the older I get the more garbage my dreams are.  It’s a mess of bad nonsense.  I can barely remember a thing.  I think a pet dinosaur stole my television.  Whatever.

But Japan is there quite often in a way nowhere else is.  I have no idea why.  I haven’t been to Japan in ten years.  Money and time keep getting in my way.

I think it’s because I lived there.  I suppose I equally dream about places I lived growing up and just think nothing of it.  Japan’s different because it’s the outlier.

I’m usually like scaling mountains, or somewhere near the water, and always roto-sushi.  I’m always wandering around crowded streets trying to find a place to eat roto-sushi.  If I was a billionaire I’d first open my own brewery.  Then I’d open my own roto-sushi place so I could visit it forever.

I don’t know what all this means.  Don’t really care.  So whatever, here’s a shot of Fugi in the fog I took back then.  This seems dream-like.  Win.

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we reaffirm our commitment to “giving it a hard time just for the sake of it”

The goons of humanity who try and remote control other people’s lives are shockingly transparent. So when the Communist Party backed a movie they placed supreme faith in, gee, who would have figured they’d lose their minds when it turned out to be the terrible, mindless, bad action flick everybody expected?

Beyond my original thoughts on all this, I’ll simply put down the international failure of this movie to two concepts:

1) Zhang got himself trapped (as many a good filmmaker has) by the power of special effects. Since computers allow him to do anything he wants, he lets his mind go insane. Simple decent scenes become a mesh of digital action nonsense so disconnected from reality that the audience can’t connect with the movie. It’s like watching a bad video game or seizure inducing Japanese anime. You don’t feel anything. See the Star Wars prequels or the Transformers films for similar forays into the awfulness.

2) Despite (1), a whole bunch of movies succeed in this format and make a ton of money, see Fast & Furious. I think the Red goons wanted The Great Wall to make an insane amount of money. If it did, it would have been a critical first step of an organic Chinese blockbuster. The problem is nobody cared. Folks probably saw the terrible trailers for this movie and were like, “eh, whatever”.

The movie debuts in America tomorrow. So I guess we’re about to find out just how dumb the American theatergoer is. If this movie makes $300M in the States, I’m moving to the Moon. But the Chinese theatergoer already figured this out, and they weren’t happy.

But hey, even though the movie sucks, it’s not the movie’s fault. But rather you, the viewer, who is wrong. Per The Economist, Xinhua (the Party mouthpiece) called the film “innovative” and accused online detractors of “giving it a hard time just for the sake of it”.

I’ll wear that appellation with pride. As I hope every Chinese citizen who rightly criticized this movie online will. We can’t let the goons control human lives. To the point that the bad, is made to be good. Just because they say so.

The question again, is can you make good art, a good movie when the Party is pulling the creative levers? I don’t think so. Zhang used to make great movies, when he was a rebel and against the Party. Now he’s a team player and the art is over.

I hope he learns from this, dumps the handlers, and goes back to making great films.

The Great Wall

Human actor plays medieval part in movie about aliens who got to Earth on an asteroid and attack once every 60 years. Eh, wait, what? Well, what could go wrong?

Busan – hiking and the monk’s car

Some of the best days are the ones where you wake up and have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.  I’ve gone through these phases.  I used to plan nothing for trips, then I planned everything, and now I’m back to planning almost nothing.  Busan was the early days.  It was Korea, that was enough for me.  So we scheduled nothing in advance.

We wake up one day and the rest of the group doesn’t want to do much of anything.  Probably because they were hungover.  I’m sure I was too, but I was young then and didn’t need to lay around suffering.  So Tim and I decide we’re just going to leave everyone and go, somewhere.  I think we just picked some random temple off a map in the suburbs north of downtown Busan.  It was December, but not a completely freezing typical Korean winter just yet.  So we bundle up and roll out.

We had to take the train and then the bus to get there.  Neither of us spoke anything above bare bones Korean.  We quickly got lost and are just standing there on some random suburban street corner trying to figure out what bus to get on.  Then this middle aged woman walks up and in halting English asks us where we want to go.  We show her the temple on the map and she agrees to help us.

But she refused to give us directions.  Instead, in one of the most generous things I’ve ever seen in my life she decides to ride the buses and escort us to this temple.  Then she says she knows a good place for lunch next door to the temple.  So she walks us there and explains to the owner in staccato Korean probably how these two American idiots didn’t know what they were doing.

The two women essentially shrug and our kind escort wishes us luck and carried on with her day.  We couldn’t thank her enough but she treated it all very matter of fact, smiled, and was gone.  The lunch was incredible.  In the Korean style we each had the ten or so little bowls of various meats, vegetables, and sauces.  It’s probably in my lifetime top ten of meals.

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I think this is the temple, I’m not so sure.  The shot is logged wrong by how my memory remembers this trip.  So who knows.  But I’m pretty sure this was it.

We walked around the temple for a bit and then Tim being the far more adventurous of the us simply states we should stroll up the nearby mountain.  So we point ourselves toward the hill and just start walking.  As we got higher we realized we’d stumbled upon a routed hiking trail and so we continued to follow it on up the mountain and across the peaks.

It’s hard to describe how mountainous a good chunk of Korea is.  Cities are perched precariously along the coast with ribbons of suburbs rolling out in the valleys.  The inclines of the hills are quite steep and it’s rather sobering to think that when Busan was the last holdout against the Communist siege in 1950 that these mountains held hundreds-of-thousands of young men who would decide the fate of Korea.

Looking Back.jpgLooking back toward Busan from the hills.

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Ribbons of suburbs and the Nakdong River.

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We walked for miles and miles, probably at least over ten miles.  It’s a blast, the weather cooperates, the trails are dotted with other friendly hikers, and oh, ah, it’s getting into the late afternoon.  We’re in trouble.  There’s no way we can go back the way we came in time.  We have no desire to hike back on the trail in the dark lest we fall off the darn mountain.  Fortunately we happened upon a temple nestled up there that’s near the trail.  We figure if nothing else we can call a cab from there to take us back downtown.

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I walk around a while admiring the temple while Tim somehow strikes up a conversation with a monk who speaks immaculate English.  Decked in pristine Buddhist orange and thick glasses he says there’s no need to call a cab because he’s driving downtown anyways and he’s glad to give us a ride.  He asks us to wait for a bit while he gets ready and he’ll go get the car.

I’m raised in the Catholic Church, and so I have this idea of poor Trappist monks on a farm like my Dad used to visit.  I expect this to be a hair raising ride through twisting mountain roads in a Yugoslavian knockoff beater.  Instead, the monk rolls up in a pristine black BMW that easily cost north of $50K.  Tim and I were just cracking up.

It was nearly dark as we set off for downtown.  Tim sat up front with the monk while I dozed in the back.  Tim and him chatted away about everything.  I wish I remembered more of their conversation but I was exhausted.  I do recall the monk was headed downtown to party with his friends.  I never did catch the reasoning for the dichotomy between the wealth, partying, and religious lifestyle of the monk.  In retrospect I just find it hilarious.

Back downtown, we managed to link up with our friends again.  I don’t remember the rest, probably for valid reasons.  But I do remember the hills well, and that monk and his crazy car.  It was quite the day not worth planning.

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