Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Buddha Tree

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia. There are construction cranes and big buildings on both sides of the river. Investment is finding a way.

I lander here once in 1967. I only remember a really muddy airstrip with metal grating. At the time I had no idea it was the Capital of Cambodia. Some of these pictures show a more rural way of life. The rice paddies stretch back about a half mile from the Mekong, then you hit a treeline. There's no sign of roads or electrical wires until you approach the big city.

We'll be spending our 45th anniversary in Siem Reap. So far we see no mosquitoes and we're eating and drinking all the local stuff with no adverse results.

Bennett says the "strange fruit" i put in the last blog is called  rambutan,.  In Thai it's called "ngoh".  That word is also used pejoratively to describe people like Mrs. Phred that have kinky hair and darker skin.

We get a cyclo ride to the Palace of the Cambodian King and a museum of antiquities.

These flowers grow on the trunk of the Buddha tree. Our guide tells us that Buddha was born, achieved enlightenment and died under a tree like this.I think

I don't have time to wait for enlightenment so I'll just take a few pictures and keep moving....

Our guide was seven when Pol Pot emptied out the city and sent all the people to the country to become rice farmers. He lost 12 members of his family and only has one relative left. We run the numbers and figure he is about the same age as our son.

A third of the population of Cambodia was exterminated during the four years after 1975 that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge rant the country. We go to Security Centre 21, which was one of several hundred torture centres where confessions were extracted before those millions who confessed to being CIA or KGB were  sent to the killing fields.

Each person who confessed after brutal torture turned in everyone he knew and they, in turn, did the same until over 2,000,000 were killed and buried in mass graves.

Our guide was seven. He says that anyone younger was killed because they were too young to be useful and those older than 12 were also killed because their brains were too set in their ways. He is a little bald guy. Somehow he has acquired a laptop and I spend several hours with him showing him how to make bookmarks and download pictures about the Mekong for his tourist lectures.

The suspects were tortured 16 hours a day until they confessed and implicated everyone they ever knew. Some tried to commit suicide by taking a header from the third floor or hanging themselves in the bathroom. To prevent this barbed wire was installed over the balconies and the prisoners were given ammunition boxes to defecate and urinate into.

Our guide had the job of emptying the boxes at age seven. He says the the solids were used in the garden and the "smelly" liquids were emptied into a large urn. When prisoners fainted from the torture they were revived by being dunked into the urn.

Cambodian fried chicken and free WiFI.

Pol Pot was reported to be a nice Buddhist boy who would never hurt a fly. However, the nature of man can be strangely plastic regardless of which, if any, religion is involved  Pol Pot was either insane or opeatring under the insane delusion that reducing the population from 8 million to 1 million and making them all farmers would be a good thing.

This is Security Center 21, where skulls were stored and confessions were extracted.

Farmers near the memorial at one of the Killing Fields.We we human teeth on the ground as we walk around the trails at the memorial.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

American Caesar

I'm reading "American Caesar" by William Manchester. It's about 800 densely packed pages published in 1978.

I first heard of Douglas MacArthur in 1948 during a contentious radio broadcast covering the nomination of a Republican candidate for president. MacArthur was still the supreme commander in Japan, but he had indicated that he would accept the nomination if it was offered.

We visited Fort Seldon in New Mexico recently. MacArthur grew up there while Indians we still creating difficulties in the 1880s  and learned to ride and shoot before he learned to read. I took a copy of this picture of him as a child. He's on the left with the blond curls.

Manchester accuses MacArthur of grandiose purple prose, yet on page 545 at the beginning of MacArthur's  Korean campaign he begins the chapter with, "Korea hangs like a lumpy phallus between the sprawling thighs of Manchuria and the Sea of Japan". Pot? Kettle? Black?

At West Point MacArthur had the third highest academic scores ever recorded. Robert E. Lee was second highest 60 years earlier and an unremarkable cadet had the highest score recorded in the 1800s.

During WWI, MacArthur earned eight silver stars for heroism and repeatedly led troops over the top with no helmet, gas mask or weapon. He preferred a riding crop and scarf, setting a precedence for flamboyance.

One might skip over the way MacArthur handled the bonus marchers during the Depression and the bayoneting of an eight year old child. It might also be better to ignore his vacillating failure to disperse his bombers in the Philippines on December 8, 1941. Certainly his failure to move rice stockpiles  back to the Bataan Peninsula during the long time available was a major boo-boo which led to the starvation and capitulation of American troops in the greatest defeat ever suffered by by our nation. After breaking out (bugging out?) to Australia and leaving behind his troops to endure the Bataan Death March, his corncob pipe grew ever larger in size, his aviator sunglasses were omnipresent  and his campaign cap grew ever more crumpled and filthy.

Despite all that, and despite the egomania, purple prose and paranoia about Washington enemies exhibited by General MacArthur, Manchester has convinced me that MacArthur was unquestionably the greatest military genius that has ever lived in all history. His troop movements from Australia to Tokyo in the South Pacific campaign produced fewer American casualties than the Battle of the Bulge. The ratio of Japanese to American casualties was 10 to 1 and this ignores the hundreds of thousand of Japanese soldiers that he left to die on the vine in his brilliant island hopping strategy.

MacArthur's performance as Supreme Commander of occupied Japan was both brilliant and liberal. He brought women the right to vote, encouraged labor unions, brought sweeping land reforms and a popular democratic constitution. It's a shame that he didn't live to manage the Iraq debacle and apparently no one that did ever bothered reading his biography.

The Korean police action allowed MacArthur one last chance, at age 72, to demonstrate his genius by pushing for the Inchon landing, which was a brilliant envelopment success despite the trepidations and timidity of the joint chiefs and every other military advisor. But Korea was the writing on the wall about the end of American military power, restrained and hobbled as it has become by weak and timid civilian authority. To be denied the right to bomb the Yalu bridges as 1,200,000 Chicoms poured over the river was a disgraceful display of weakness by Truman, the Joint Chiefs and other civilian authorities and a foreshadowing of the cause of our failure in Viet Nam..

MacArthur's  troop movements in Korea were repeatedly betrayed by the Communist moles MacLean, Burgess and Kim Philby. Despite that, he came to improvise so brilliantly and quickly that neither Washington nor the compromised British intelligence service could keep up with his ingenious movements in Korea.

If MacArthur had been elected President in 1952 and if George Patton had lived to be his vice president, the world would have been entirely different.Unfortunately, the American people selected a man that MacArthur considered a smiling second rater (MacArthur called Ike the best clerk he ever had) and hinted that Ike stupidly threw his troops at Nazi strong points . But at least Ike gave us the interstate highways..

Friday, 14 September 2012

Old Bahia Honda Bridge

Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Bahia Honda Key is one of the best preserved keys in the chain of Islands leading 110 miles to Key West, 90 miles from Cuba. The large key is now a State park with miles of white sand beaches and camping facilities. Bahia Honda starts at mile marker 50 just below the Seven Mile bridge leading south from Marathon Key toward Key West.

Billionaire Henry Flagler was a partner in Standard Oil with John D. Rockerfeller. After a visit to Saint Augustine he became interested in developing the west coast of Florida and built a railroad to Miami and a string of magnificent hotels, including the "Breakers" in Palm Beach.

His least successful commercial venture was the overseas railroad from Miami to Key West. This was a stupendous labor and engineering challenge and included the seven-mile bridge below Marathon Key as well as the mile long Bahia Honda bridge.

The workers who built the bridge battled sand fleas, mosquitoes and hurricanes. Thousands of them were killed in the storms that periodically swept the Keys during the construction period from 1905 to 1912.

Flagler's bridges and pilings, now unused, still stand and appear as solid as the Pyramids. I have snorkled for, and eaten, Florida lobsters that live beneath the old arched pilings and the sturdy oval pilings used on the various bridges that extend for miles between the various keys.

On Labor Day, in 1935, one of the strongest hurricanes on record severed a number of the bridges and killed hundreds of WWI veterans working on a WPA bridge project. The bodies were lodged in mangrove roots and spoiled quickly in the tropical heat. The bodies, in wooden coffins, were ordered stacked and burned. An evacuation train, which backed down from Homestead to make a quick getaway was washed away. Ernest Hemingway wrote a scathing condemnation of the government at the time. He wondered who killed the veterans and left them exposed in flimsy barracks. The overseas railroad came to an end. It is interesting to see that four of the ten most powerful hurricanes of thee last hundred years have occured within the last three hurricane seasons. Could it be global warming?

Most intense Atlantic hurricanes: Intensity is measured solely by central pressure
Rank Hurricane Season Min. pressure
1 Wilma 2005 882 mbar
2 Gilbert 1988 888 mbar
3 "Labor Day" 1935 892 mbar
4 Rita 2005 895 mbar
5 Allen 1980 899 mbar
6 Katrina 2005 902 mbar
7 Camille 1969 905 mbar
8 Mitch 1998 905 mbar
9 Ivan 2004 910 mbar
10 Janet 1955 914 mbar

The Bahia Honda section of the railroad bridge had a rickety two lane highway built over its top. That section of the highway to Key West opened for traffic in 1938 and lasted until a more modern bridge was finished in 1972. I've driven over the old bridge many times, but now it's just nostalgia and a photo op. 

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Wish You Were Here

Mono Lake, California

This morning the sky was blue and the internet said that the wind on Mono Lake was zero, so I hustled on down to South Tufu at dawn while Mrs. Phred was still snoozing.

Conditions were a little off optimal, but the PIX were a lot better than the first time.

 There were three other freaks there snapping photos, including a Japanese lady with an expensive camera and tripod who was focused on the California gulls gobbling up the brine shrimp.

We went to June Lake and picked out our campsite for the next three nights with our friends George and Danielle from Sarasota.

We're surrounded by Aspen trees in our current campsite. Our automatic satellite dish is blocked so I dragged out the portable dish so Mrs. Phred can watch Wimbledon. There's a little hole where I can pick up the signal between the trees. I program the receiver to record the 20 scheduled Wimbledon broadcasts. We won't have shore power electricity the next few days, but I think I can crank up the inverter and record and see it all on battery power.

We drove to Bodie in the afternoon to see a huge gold rush ghost town. It's a state park that the California Governator is closing down because of the budget shortfall. I tell Mrs. Phred that the rating agencies are about to do a doubledip downgrade on California's debt rating. She's pragmatic...she says, "You'd have to be crazy to load money to the State of California...who cares what the rating agencies think?"

It seems that we will spend two weeks in this amazing area and still not see everything, no matter how hard we work. We want to see the "Devil's Postpile", Mammoth Lake, May Lake and other local scenic attractions. So many things to little time.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Camel Comanche Control

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Before dawn, the lime green and pink neon lights of the Cactus Café and Motel flicker on the dark desert highway. The headlight of a fast freight train can be seen approaching for fifteen minutes. Dawn breaks and light and shadow play on the surrounding mountains.

We pack ham sandwiches, bottled water and swim suits and head south 110 miles on the motorcycle. We will follow deserted Texas State road 435 to the Mexican border and the Rio Grande River. We're hoping they have a gas station at the end of the trail.

This road was built on the old Comanche Trail. The Comanche came down from the Fort Stockton area and crossed into Mexico to liberate cattle and horses. The US Army shipped 30 camels to this area in an experiment in policing the area in 1859. The start of the Civil War brought this experiment to an end.

The desert gradually changes. We begin to see green cactus with purple flowers. Then we see purple and pink cactus with yellow flowers and things that look like cattails with red flowers.

 At first the morning is very cool, but by noon the temperature is over 100 degrees. It feels like a giant hair-dryer is trained on us. Mrs Phred yells in my ear that this is like picking apples on an Israeli Kibbutz.

When you get older, your facial skin gets looser. At 60 MPH, with a 20 MPH headwind, everything flaps rapidly. The skin under my eyes flaps and stings my eyes like being slapped with a wet towel. My cheeks flutter like a southern belle's eyelids.

The Park ranger at the entrance to the Big Bend National Park tells us not to swim in the Rio Grande River. We take a nap under a tree on the river bank. We are alone, except for a buzzard. The water looks cool. I wonder what the problem is. Pesticides? Bacteria? Piranha? Little fish that swim up your urinary tract?

We ask a guy working at the camp gas station about the no swimming rule. He says there is an undertow, the water is not real clean and they don't want you swimming 40 feet into Mexico. He shrugs apologetically.

We return around dark, exhausted, with 225 miles on the trip meter and have a Margarita.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Strangers in a Strange Land

Bangkok, Thailand


Now that I have time on my hands again, I'm publishing a few more pictures of our recent trip. These are from our second day where we begin with the free breakfast at the Lebua Tower . We have dragon fruit and strange local foods like fried dumplings with sweet insides in addition to the standard bacon and egg choices. We're running hard to see it all today because it's the end of our time in Bangkok, probably forever.

There is a little temple in front of the hotel that intrigues us from our room on the 36th floor. It is surrounded by big new hotels. It reminds me of the Trinity Church next to Wall Street in lower Manhattan. This view is looking back up at the Lebua Tower.

.A zoom view from our room....

This ad is on the inside of the hotel elevator door.

The temple is locked up. There are lots of kids in green uniforms in the temple compound. They are in school. We can see the river traffic from our room. We got a hotel a couple of blocks from the river because of the flood worries.

After wandering through the local neighborhood we decide to walk to the big temples two miles away. The day and traffic  begin to heat up so we hire a tuk-yuk after about 15 blocks of walking..

We ask to be taken to the Temple of the Golden Buddha. Our tuk-tuk driver does not speak English so I point to my wedding ring and say "Buddha". That actually worked.

The solid gold Buddha weighs about 10 tons. He was covered with plaster for many centuries and discovered accidentally when a moving crane knocked off some of his outer coat.

These are the tuk-tuks in case you were wondering.

I'm not sure who the little person in the pink shirt might be. I don't think I noticed her at the time...

Our driver takes us to another minor temple before dropping us at the Wat Po Temple complex.

These pink elephants are in the street. In the background you can see the spires and spikes of the temples in the King's palace complex. The center building is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.