We Are…Never Letting It Happen Again

With the release of the damning Freeh Report, it is clear that there was a complete breakdown in morality at the highest echelon of one of America’s top universities, where a massive coverup was engineered to unsuccessfully hide the fact one of the marquee names on the Penn State football coaching staff was sexually abusing young boys over the span of at least a decade.

If you are unfamiliar with the details of this case, you will find plenty of coverage all over the internet, Google will even know as soon as you type Sand what to suggest. I don’t have the time or stomach to catalogue all the horrors that so many better writers and journalists already have.

Before settling new roots in Thailand, I grew up in the good ol’ US of A. Born in Chicago (Big Ten country) I moved to Florida before middle school and became indoctrinated into SEC fandom, Florida Gators to be specific. I had the privilege of going to university at the University of Florida, where I learned firsthand how passionate people can be about their teams. Your Head Coach is a living god, until he leaves you for another school (or worse, can’t produce winning seasons). The Starting Quarterback deserves consideration for All-Conference/All-America honors, or at the very least, he gets all the hottest girls. Your rivals are considered inbred idiots, cursed with supporting an obviously unlovable football program…until your interests align and you find yourself saying “Oh, I’ve never really had a problem with Georgia/Alabama/FSU. At least they’re not Tennessee/FSU/Georgia. I really hate them.”

In many ways, the passions and prejudices are comparable to what I’ve seen from soccer* fans in the likes of England, Italy, and Turkey. Your Opponent is scum, while Your Team is full of unsung heroes, and anyone who really knew how special your team was would not be able to help but support Your Team.

What makes the situation at Penn State such compelling theater are the larger than life characters. The unimpeachable head coaching legend. The depraved predator. The dutiful son turned whistleblower turned hate figure. The Nittany Illuminati, whose provincial powers were likely enough to cover a murder or two. And the Unnamed Victims.

I have three young sons of my own, and while I can currently protect them from most of the world’s evils, eventually they will have to graduate from chattering nestlings to take flight into the sometimes bruising, oftentimes cruel universe, armed only with what survival skills they have learned from me and their mother (and maybe Bear Grylls).

From most accounts, the victims at Penn State didn’t have that luxury; they were vulnerable because they lacked father figures. Sandusky took advantage of this fact, using his charity to groom victims, and enabled by a university administration, in fear for its crown jewel cash cow of a football program, was unwilling to face the horrible truth of a monster in its midst.

The immediate reaction in the immediate aftermath was to “pray for the victims.” I know I’m in the minority, but my first thought when I saw a mass of football players on bended knee offering prayer was disgust. Not about the intention, which I have no doubt was largely noble, but of the utter futility of the gesture. What if any of the victims were not Christian? What if, after what one had endured, he had decided to be atheist? And how could some of these people profess to care about the welfare of young men they did not know, while they deified a man who probably had an idea of what was going on?

Perhaps it is part of the continued infantilizing of society, that so many people do not understand power. The lords of fiefdoms may not be present when the shit goes down in the dungeons, but if they genuinely don’t know, then they are not the one wielding true power, and do not stay on top for long.

Coach Paterno was widely acknowledged as the most powerful figure on campus for the better part of four decades. He is no longer around to admit it, but he had to know something was rotten in the State of Penn. The Freeh report only reinforces this suspicion.

Here is the part of the narrative where the audience seeks closure. Sandusky has already been tried and found guilty, and will spend the rest of his life in prison. The university president and athletic director have lost their jobs and face further charges. The head coach died of lung cancer. Now folks are calling on the NCAA to impose a death penalty on Penn State University’s football team.

Sorry to warp a popular analogy, but that would be like burning down the barn after the horses already left. As I understand it, canceling football would have a devastating economic effect rippling through the university and the community in which it is based. And who would benefit? Maybe only the self-righteous who would eventually move on to the next cause du jour. The victims should be compensated by the university no matter what (though that might be difficult if it goes bankrupt).

What Penn State should do is never let anyone forget what happened. Ever.

That means not letting this scandal fade into a footnote with the passage of time, as happens extraordinarily quickly in this age of information overload.

This means every current student and incoming freshman to Penn State, from Summer of 2012 to Fall of Armageddon, would be required to learn the facts of what happened, how nothing was done to prevent it from happening, how it was covered up, and the names of everyone who was involved in this abuse of power.

Every current and future Penn State employee would be required to know the facts of what happened, how nothing was done to prevent it from happening, how it was covered up, and the names of everyone who was involved in this abuse of power.

The football team would have to know all of this and focus its community service activities to helping victims of child abuse. They would be responsible for sharing this whatever schools they played against.

Also, it would be mandatory for all of them to learn to recognize signs of child abuse and how to report it safely and effectively.

Let State College, Pennsylvania be known as the worst city in America to be a sexual predator. Let them be an example to others. And let some good result from this.

Many will disagree with this, because they will feel it is unfair to associate so many innocent people with such terrible crimes. How could they ever live down a reputation as safe haven for a notorious pedophile?

You can’t. You shouldn’t. Because if you mean it when you say “Never Again,” then that implies “We Will Never Forget” and “We Will Do Everything To Make Sure Of That.”

No matter what punishment the NCAA decides to hand out, this is what I wish Penn State would do. But this is too optimistic.

(Apologies for the roughness of prose. I wrote this on my iPhone in the middle of the night from Hua Hin. Will clean it up when I get home and post relevant links.)


Nang Ua & Thao Khulu

While doing translations for the orchid exhibition of Royal Flora Rachaphruek 2011, I came across this intriguing story.

There is an old folktale from the Isaan region of Thailand, a tragedy about star-crossed lovers, Prince Khulu of Kali and a girl named Ua from Puttarach. They fell in love, but her mother had promised her hand in marriage to another man. Ua refused and hung herself rather than marry another man. Heartbroken, Prince Khulu stabbed himself to death. In the end, their souls were reunited in heaven. It is said that a white blossom grew where Ua killed herself, while a yellow flower appeared where Prince Khulu died.

Local folks believed that each flower was imbued with their spirit, so they were not supposed to be grown at home. They also say that wherever a “Nang Ua” orchid grows that a “Khulu” orchid can be found nearby. This is thus the origin of a local Isaan adage which translates, “Wherever you see Khulu, you will find Nang Ua.”

I could not find much about this legend on Google, but I wonder how old the story is. It bears striking resemblance to Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, but it seems very possible that this version originated independent of Western influence (though Romeo and Juliet first appeared at the end of the 16th century, so it may well have morphed telephone game-style along ancient trade routes). Does this mean that young doomed love is a universal concept?

In case you are wondering what the flowers in question look like:

Thao Khulu Orchid

Nang Ua Orchid


Golden Tweeters: @SheSimmers

I almost wrote my first #140wordsaboutyou entry about @SheSimmers, but didn’t want to seem like too much of a stalker. You see, I’m a huge fan of both her Twitter persona and her astonishingly awesome blog about Thai cuisine, shesimmers.com.

My last reference subject felt a little embarrassed to comment on his entry. I guess that’s okay, I mean when I eventually write one about someone like @conanobrien, I don’t think he will take his nose out of that giant golden punch bowl filled with uncut bolivian cocaine to say “thx.” (And I wouldn’t blame him, really. Lucky punk.)But if anyone else read it and agreed or could illustrate it more, of course they are free to add their own living eugoogly.

As before, I am limiting this to 140 words. This one was brutally difficult to keep it so short.

From the clues I’ve pieced together: Majordomo/executive chef of my imaginary harem (IH) Leela is a Thai-American living in Chicago (where I was actually born). She loves to eat, cook, take mouthwatering pictures of tasty dishes and could probably mesmerize you explaining it all, lift your wallet, and spend all your cash on Chiang Mai pork scratchings (or marron glaces) and cockfight wagers.

I’ve never met her IRL, so in my mind I picture her avatar. (Is her hair really green?) Nevertheless, she appears to be blessed with preternatural kindness and adamantium sharp wit. I think I’d adore her all the same even if she turned out to be a retired chap who used to dabble in virtual lesbianism (The Cooking Game, anyone?) but I’d have to leave her membership status to the IH denizens. “…Alba? Orlean? What say you?”


Debating about Debating


Right now the English-language speaking community within Thailand (and their concerned observers overseas) is all a-twitter about whether or not caretaker PM Abhisit of the Democrat Party is going to debate Puea Thai’s choice for PM,Yingluck Shinawatra.  There are myriad reasons being posed as why they should (or should not) which better blogs out there are going in great detail over.

My personal opinion is that, as someone who has successfully run a large-scale business like SC Assets, Yingluck could probably hold her own against the silver-tongued Abhisit, but there really would be nothing of substance to emerge with regards to policy. (Has any politician ever been taken to task for what was said or promised in a debate? They are frankly just as meaningful as pre-season scrimmages in sports.)

From my experience, Thailand just does not have much of a culture of debate.  Sure, you occasionally hear of Thai school kids who do well in an international forensics competition, but the default mode of deference to age and station makes it difficult in most everyday situations for Thais to risk “selling their face” in order to present and defend a position, in a limited amount of time, with the possibility of being told you are wrong and have definitively lost. (And besides, all those “na krub” and “na ka” can really eat into your two- minute rebuttal.)

The essence of winning a debate is to present your position in a clear and compelling manner that could sway the truly unbiased observer to your viewpoint.  It’s not really so much about being right (as in some competitions you have to be ready to argue for OR against any issue), but more about who is the best at convincing others they are definitely right (or at least less wrong and less appealing than the other guy.)

So herein lies perhaps the only reason for undecideds to see a debate: Who do you perceive as best equipped to lead Thailand?

A lot of folks seem to ignore or discount the fact that there is a whole world out there, most of which could care less about Thailand and some who (openly or not) root for us to fall on our faces.  It’s a harsh reality, and you need someone not only strong enough to face down his fellow countryman (or woman) but also to the juggernauts who, if they really wanted to, could hurt us with a few policy adjustments that would scarcely be noticed by their half billion or billion plus citizens.

In a way, the debate environment is like a laboratory crucible, that would place candidates under a fair amount of pressure and see how they deal with it.  Do they smirk, thinking they are the smartest one in the room? Deflect a difficult question with vague, wonky technospeak?  Or do they make you feel like they understand a problem just like you do and their approach to dealing with it is inspired?

Now it may not work, or rather probably will not work, if neither side takes it seriously, taking for granted that they can spin the perceived outcome, or if we focus more on how someone dressed or did their hair. 

It was framed as more a discussion than a debate, but I remember when the Red Shirt honchos sat down across the table with government leaders on live TV last year to try to hash out their problems.  It was fascinating theater, and on the surface heartening that two sides could try to work things out.  But after the obligatory pleasantries, it just became another disappointing “he said, he did” round of finger-pointing which likely had negligible impact on the heavy-handed crackdown to follow.

Now whoever wins the upcoming election should be able to focus on what really matters for Thailand as a whole rather than having to devote significant resources to defending against domestic rivals.  But you don’t have to be a cynic to know that is unlikely in our current nose-cutting, face-spiting environment.  In the meantime we are all left doing a somewhat enjoyable, yet ultimately pointless and soul-draining exercise of “mass debating.”

Yes, you can go blind from that too.


Golden Tweeters: Favorite Frenemy, @JustASpur

Note: Golden Tweeters will hopefully be a continuing series about people on Twitter that I either already know or that I met on this intangible plane who I consider my personal all-stars. I have started it for a couple reasons:

1. As much as I appreciate the concept of Follow Friday (or #FF) I don’t think it really leads to huge long term gains in followers. These are people who I would never unfollow, even if they decided not to follow me (crushing my fragile little heart). For them, 140 characters is not nearly enough to express my admiration and appreciation for their friendship/wit/existence/general badassery.

2. Even though I make a living from writing (even creatively, mind you), much of it is of the lucrative yet anonymous commercial variety. You may have seen, read, or even heard my work (or horribly mangled versions), but my name is never attached to it. Sometimes that means I don’t have time to write for me, which is something I should, because I like doing it and wish I could do it more. So it’s a fun little exercise, which I’ll try to keep each entry under 140 words to keep the spirit of brevity alive.

If someone wants to take this idea and do it on their own, go right ahead. I’d like to read about your favorites too, and maybe you could hashtag it #140wordsaboutyou. I hope you enjoy it, and you never know…you might be next!

My Favorite Frenemy: @JustASpur

JustASpur is a devout supporter of the sworn enemies of my adopted favorite (Arsenal!!!), but other than that slight mental retardation, he is the loveliest chap I’ve never met.

We actually “met” at a virtual “party” “hosted” by @simonpegg late one night. Unable to sleep, I got so bored I went to trending topics. I can’t recall the #hashtag of the party anymore and I no longer follow Mr. Pegg (no offense, still rate him), but throwing in my bon mots, I developed a spontaneous comic rapport with this random hilarious dude in Toronto.

His tweet count is intimidating (75,000+, landing him in the virtual penalty box from time to time) but majority are timeline-friendly replies to his many chums.

I’m always honored when I’m listed one of his #FF “Top Blokes,” because he’s definitely one in my book.


Where to eat?

On Twitter, @Beijingwithkids asks:
I have to entertain 3 generations, early dinner, Thai food but must have some not so spicy for kids and grandfather. Ideally historic or beautiful or interesting building setting, if that’s not asking too much! Thanks!!

Dear Jacqueline:

Thanks for asking, I am honored to be part of the #bkkfatty collective, and will give you my two cents.

Your parameters narrows it down a little bit, so I took out places that might seem too romantic (you want kids friendly I assume), but still authentic.

Actually, there are too many good restaurants that I could recommend, but I decided to pick the ones that give you a very good selection of Thai dishes that you can enjoy together based on geography. In Bangkok, you don’t want to waste time in traffic if there is something very good nearby, and I am assuming you would prefer not to eat in a hotel.


If you want riverside dining:

The most perfect one I can think of is Supatra River House is on the Thonburi side across from the Oriental Bangkok, right on the Chao Phraya river (266 Soi Wat Rakhang, Arun Amarin Rd, Tel: 02-411-0305)

If you are near the Silom/Sathorn Area:
There are quite a few good places, I recommend (in my order of preference) Blue Elephant is renowned, a little bit fancy but one of the best around (233 South Sathorn Rd, Tel: 02-673-9353), Baan Khanitha (69 South Sathorn Rd, Tel: 0-2675-4200 to 1) gorgeous converted house, mouthwatering curries, Ban Chiang (14 Soi Sriviang, Surasak Road Tel: 02-236-7045, 02-266-6994) another beautiful converted old house, Anna’s (118 Soi Saladaeng, Silom, Tel: 02-632-0619) very popular with westerners both local and visiting. Advanced reservations is a good idea for all of them.

If you are around Siam Square/Maboonkrong (MBK) Center:

The Jim Thomson House has a fine restaurant in their fascinating compound, so you could go take a tour and stay on for dinner at Thompson. (6 Kasemsan Soi 2, Rama I Rd, Tel: 02-612-3601)

If you happen to be stuck in Siam Paragon, go to the ground floor to Cafe Chilli (Tel: 02-610-9877 to 78) for some yummy northeastern Isaan cuisine, with both indoor and outdoor dining.

If you will be between Asok and Emporium:

I love the charm of Ruen Mallika (189 Sukhumvit Soi 22, Tel: 02-663-3211 to 2) while Mahanaga (2 Sukhumvit Soi 29, Tel: 0-2662-3060) is also lovely.

If you are anywhere near Thong Lo, you have to check out Soul Food Mahanakorn (56/10 Sukhumvit Soi 55 (Soi Thonglor)
Tel. 085-904 2691, Read more here: http://www.cnngo.com/bangkok/eat/soul-food-mahanakorn-348453#ixzz1J9djUVHI)

If you in the mood for incredible, authentic seafood in a local setting there is Sornthong Restaurant 2875, Rama 4 Rd, 02-258-0118.  Book ahead, because it is always packed.  Somboon Seafood (various locations) has the best stir-fried curry crabmeat ever, supposedly.

In my neighborhood (Langsuan Rd.) our favorite Thai restaurant is Krua Nai Baan tel 02-253-1888. Really good value and perfect for foodies and families. Also a good idea to book ahead.

And finally, if you are looking for something to do on a weekend during the day, head just outside of Bangkok to Suan Sampran, Rose Garden Riverside (http://www.rosegardenriverside.com) to their restaurant Inn Chan, which is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for dinner. It is a beautiful wooden restaurant over a quiet little river, with incredible food at a great price. Perfect for the family.

These are just a few ideas for you, I’m sure some of my friends will be kind enough to corroborate, or offer their own ideas in the comments section below.



Food and Wine pairing.

Just read an interesting blog post by Jason Wilson from the Washington Post discussing whether pairing wine and food is really something we need to be doing, or if it’s just a bunch of baloney. It’s a good read no matter what side of the gastro-vineyard fence you are on.


(Apologies for not putting hyperlinks, I’m doing this from Blackberry, so I’ll fix it when I’m next to a proper werkstätion.)

As I am unable to comment on the blog from a mobile browser, I’d like to offer my two cents to Mr. Wilson.

Dear Sir,

Let me first say I enjoyed reading your post, and it inspired me enough to type all of this on a BlackBerry, risking catastrophic carpal tunnel collapse.

First off, I’m no wine snob. I’ll drink from a bottle of Penfold’s Bin 2 just as readily as an Opus One (though I would try not to spill my wine dancing around, happy to be drinking this bad-ass booze). I don’t follow any dogmas about what meats pair with what wine, e.g. said Opus One was happily consumed with a dinner of (really good) fish and chips. But I appreciate people (and Pixarian rodents)with advanced palates who can break down why they love the flavors of fine foods so much. If they say a certain wine has characteristics that complement a certain type of cuisine, then I’ll listen. I think the bold red wine/grilled red meat thing has merit, and certain cheeses do seem to fare better (or worse) with my favorite Sauvignon Blanc (St. Clair, NZ, FTW). Dismissing the logic of some foods go better with some wines than others and vice versa (if that’s a suggestion I’m picking up from your post) feels to me a bit, well, wrong. IMHO.

The statistic indicating most frequent wine drinkers aren’t consuming with meals may be true, but doesn’t 60% mean roughly 1 in 3 partakings is with a meal? The other two maybe to unwind at home, meeting for a second date, out of a paper bag on the street corner, etc., but perhaps not as forlorn a habit as Mr. Yarrow suggested (1:8, or something like how many people use hotmail vs gmail, or maybe read vs only watched the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy). Or maybe there is a reasoning behind the adjusted ratio I am not aware of that you could help explain.

All that said, I largely agree with Yarrow on the fundamental falsehoods of wine and food pairings, though think Lie #2 has a shade of truth. Perhaps it would be better to say that “There are certain foods you probably shouldn’t pair with certain wines, and there are also some pairings that seem to work well for a lot of people. It’s up to you how passionately you want to feel either way about it.”

Of course, I may have just revealed myself a complete neophyte when it comes to wine. At least I will have made a fool of myself on my own blog instead of yours. (Though I do wish I could read the other responses.)

Okay, hand starting to cramp. Hope to hear something back from you.


PS: Please forgive my formality in the salutation if it seemed like I was going to elegantly troll you. I am always uncertain how to address it. Let me assure you I’ve never been accused of being a troll (or elegant for that matter).