Wednesday, June 25, 2008


On the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bali, everyone in the family got a free upgrade to first class except for me. Luckily, I got on the plane much later because of a Burger King run and nobody noticed when I simply sat next to my aunt in first class. It's the first time I've ever been up front and in the words of Aunt Cindy, “I think I must just stay and live here.” Beautiful Malayasian stewardesses bringing fresh fruit juice and tasty meals, free portable entertainment systems with movies and games and an array of magazines including the China issue of National Geographic that I liberated from the plane. Wonderful. I used the handy movie thingy to watch a documentary about Annie Liebowitz.

Of course, I've seen many great portraits by Annie over the years but I never realized how much she has accomplished. She started with Rolling Stone in San Francisco at the beginning of the rock revolution of the late 60's and went onto to become the rock photographer. A tour with the Rolling Stones ended in a trip to rehab. Afterwards, she went to work for Vanity Fair where she became the photographer who could make a star.

Whoopi Goldberg said that after the photograph of her emerging from a bathtub of milk came out, people started recognizing her on the street. I love her shot of a naked and very pregnant Demi Moore that got Vanity Fair yanked from the shelves in North Carolina. Of course, I cried a lot during this movie because of her family photos, talk of her recently deceased father and the poignant photos from her archives. Two stand out to me. One, a photo of her lover, Susan Sontang, the intellectual who ironically wrote a classic essay on photography before they met, looking into the camera shortly before her death.

The second photo requires a little back story. Jan Wenner got the first true interview with John Lennon and Yoko after the breakup of the Beatles and Annie begged to go along. New at the magazine, it was her first time meeting a big rock star. They liked this passionate young girl and the pictures she took recalls Yoko in an interview. Many years later, Annie them again for a photoessay on the couple. Yoko described them as being at “the height of their intimacy” living happily and quietly near Central Park. John liked how Annie came with suggestions and ideas for photographs instead of orders like many photographers. They played and experimented that day. Annie asked Yoko to remove her clothes but she said no. John volunteered and she took this shot of John curled around his lover (annoyingly blurred by the Muslim censors of Malaysia airlines). Five hours later, he was dead. Rolling Stone ran the photo on their cover with no captions. Jan Wenner said “no words could express the tragedy”.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

my best work yet

I hereby present my cinematic masterpiece: The Wacky and Wonderful Ned Pelger

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Paul Bunyan meets the Internet

A great story called Paul Bunyan and the Spambot:

"Paul had always been the world's biggest logger, so naturally he took a real cotton to the word "blogger", once he'd heard it. He had to ask what exactly it meant, though -- fortunately, Babe the Blue Ox had considerable Google-fu, and was able to point him in the right direction almost immediately. And while they were all sitting around the camp jawboning about this new development out in the city world, his old friend and camp cook Sourdough Sam made him a bet that, even though he was the world's most famous logger, he probably couldn't be the world's biggest blogger.

Well, Paul Bunyan was always a sucker for a bet, and anyhow lumber futures were down, all the rivers he knew of had been tamed, there was no room for new Great Lakes, and frankly, life had been boring of late. So with a gigantic laugh that was heard as far away as San Francisco, Caracas, and Berlin, he took Sam up on that bet."

Friday, June 13, 2008


If anyone cares, my family is here for a visit and blogging will be light. I plan to restart the deluge upon reaching Cape Town, South Africa the beginning of next month.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

a monkey with a good thing going

A troop of monkeys play, sleep and groom on a rooftop. A tiny baby crawls around the barbed wire running across the middle of the roof. One male had a good thing going. A female would be grooming him and then he would suddenly jump up, get behind her and give some quick pumps before flopping back down. I liked his style.

Later, a local guy told me the monkey wasn’t actually enjoying “physical congress” with the female. He show fucked her (I like this phrase) to show dominance and possession probably in response to me standing there with my notebook. He didn’t have to worry about me. She was out of my league anyway.

Monday, June 9, 2008

a tribute

For my Aunt Cindy because she will like this quote and be here soon:
“There are more horse’s asses than horses in the world” – Dharma Bums

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

reviews from Utarkhand

short reviews of my recent books and movies:

Into the Wild: Combine this with an old copy of Dharma Bums and you have a dangerous combination for a young man with too much testosterone and not enough sense. An excellent movie by Sean Penn with a soundtrack by Eddie Vedder that I listen to over and over. About an idealistic young man who wanders America before finally setting off alone into the Alaskan wilderness before poisonous berries (nearly identical to the safe ones) finally finish him off. The most poignant scene came when, near the end, he weakly writes “Happiness is only real when it is shared.” Penn turned a great book into a great movie.

August Rush: Almost a great movie. I can’t describe why it missed pulling at your heart strings but it certainly did. A kid uses his almost magical musical ability to find his lost parents. Robin Williams comes in as a somewhat creepy man who shelters homeless young musicians in return for the money they make playing on the street. I cried during this movie but I cry during almost every movie so that doesn’t count.

The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: The last months in the life of Simon Bolivar, The Liberator. Not a typical Marquez book and never quite connected with me although it would be excellent for Bolivar buffs. It still has the beautiful language and turns of phrase that makes him a master. “Fourteen years of war had taught him that there was no greater victory than being alive.” Stripped of his power, “memories were more of a burden than the years.” Bottom line: not the best of Marquez but it’s still Marquez. I’m happy I read it.

We Tibetans by Rinchen Lhamo: Written by the first Tibetan woman to marry a foreigner, Rinchen traveled to London with her husband and then wrote a book about life in Tibet. She matter of factly lays out the details in matter of fact chapters such as House and Furniture, Dress and Religious Life. She writes this nonfiction book in a warm voice filled with interesting observations. I most enjoyed the Tibetan sayings that she sprinkled throughout the book:

Talking about innocent looking people, “when the hornless yak strikes, he pulverizes you”

“Round stones bring the wall down, the round man makes trouble” referring to small squat men who often have “pugnacious temperaments”

“A lazy fellow eats likes a pig and works like a worm”

If giving advice to someone on whom it will be wasted, it’s like “teaching ethics to a wolf.”

My favorite: “A dog dislikes being shown a stick; a man, the truth”

She mentions how Tibetans find Westerners unattractive because “we consider your noses too big, often they stick out like kettle-spouts; your ears too large, like pigs’ ears; your eyes blue like childrens’ marbles; your eye-sockets too deep and eye-brows too prominent, too simian. But I ought not to say such things for I am plain myself (editors note: she quite pretty) and we have a saying, that before laughing at others’ faces your own should be as beautiful as an image; at others’ clothes, your own should be of the very finest fabrics; at others’ horses, your own should be like a lion.” She also made an observation identical to one uttered fifty years later by Gary Snyder as recorded by Jack Keourac in the Dhrama Bums describing a mountain “like Buddah sitting in meditation on a lofty dais.”

Being a feisty girl from the tough people of Kham, her comparisons with the English way of life come out quite definitely on the side of the Tibetans. Since I’m trying to escape most of the mores of the Western world, her words are welcome to me. A wonderful little book that only took me a day to read, it’s great for anyone looking for an unvarnished account of life before the Chinese invasion.

Guerilla Warfare by Che Guerva: Another dangerous book for a boy dedicated to the liberation of a certain country and convinced of his own immortality. I am proud to say that I created a maxim from this book synergized from Napoleon and Che: “If an army travels on its stomach, guerillas live by their ammo.” He made it very clear that almost no attack should be undertaken unless you can recover ammo equal to the amount expended. He stresses Danton’s maxim for revolutionaries: “Audacity, audacity and more audacity.” The guerilla must have the absolute cooperation of the people and a minute knowledge of the terrain. He describes the guerilla soldier as “an acetic” and that “discipline must be one of the bases of action of the guerilla.” This book is no history of the Cuban Revolution but a detailed manual on guerilla operations amongst a sympathetic people. Clearly written with knowledge learned in the field, it’s a must have for the budding revolutionary.

Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guerva: Unfortunately, I borrowed this book so I could not annotate it like I love to do or quote it for my dear readers. A stirring adventure tale of two young doctors making their way across South America on an unreliable La Ponderosa (The Mighty One) motorcycle. Marketed as “Das Kapital meets Easy Rider”, the book showed part of Che’s transformation as he sees the poverty and exploitation across South America. He writes about social issues and his youthful hedonism with equal enthusiasm and with a passion that draws the reader to the open road. I highly recommend it.

Seven Years in Tibet by Henrich Harrer: This guy is crazy. Seriously nuts. He escapes from an Indian prison camp where he was sequestered because of his Austrian origins during WWII even though he only came to study the mountain he planned to climb. After his escape, he hikes into Tibet and spends a long time fooling officials into letting him pass while facing some of the most inhumane terrain on the planet until he finally gets into the Forbidden City, Lhasa. There he gets welcomed with open arms and eventually becomes a mentor to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso. One of only seven foreigners in this city before the Chinese invasion, he got a unique view of untouched and isolationist Tibet. He painted a beautiful picture of an untouched land with honest people who enjoyed life to the fullest. He had three tips for modern explorers:

  1. Always carry whisky
  2. If you want to explore, always cross the inner line
  3. Hide your own fear

Monday, June 2, 2008

the dragon using the elephant

My column for Lititz Record. I normally like to save this until it gets published back home but with things coming to head, I'd like to put out the information as soon as possible. Photo credit goes to the excellent Tenzin Dasel of Without further ado:

The March to Tibet has made a liar out of me. More specifically, the Uttarkhand fuzz has dithered longer than I expected and the standoff continues. I should know better. I'm in India and everything takes longer than you expect. For example, my first trip to the post office in Bombay to pick up a letter resulted in talking to 17 people in 9 different locations. Still, I did not think the standoff with the police could last this long. Our scout now estimates 1000 cops for 350 marchers in this boring little valley with little more than a chai shop in either direction. The police stay in a lousy campground without enough food and nothing to do besides drinking chai and scratching themselves. They have been using a strange mix of friendly requests to leave and underhanded tactics to cut off supply lines and smear the march to the local press and people. Even if they initially supported the march as I would guess most of them did, they probably hate it now just out of boredom and frustration. It's a tough situation because the goal of the march is not to make the Indian police look like bad guys. However, the bosses of the police have bowed to economic pressure from China to remove a thorn from their side. China keeps inviting the Tibetans to come home, confident that no one wants to enter the dragon's den but then they get India to do their dirty work and stop people who come to take them at their word. That's not right.

Nasty tricks have been on the rise since the other foreigners and I got our "Quit India" notices. The District Magistrate of the state of Uttarakhand invited the presidents of the 5 NGO’s to a meeting to continue the endless rounds of negotiations with the authorities. When the presidents showed up for the meeting, the police took them to jail where they currently remain. That same day, the police confinscated almost all of the march support vehicles including the three big trucks for the kitchen crew and luggage transportation. They have been hassling the people buying food but the international headlines stating the police have been starving the march overstates the case.

I’m hiding out with the media team in a town not too far away so I get to hear all of the breaking news. Unfortunately, there’s no cell phone coverage at the campsite where the march has been stuck for over a week. Instead, they station a scout on top of the hill to get out information for the press releases. From this vantage point, he recently saw a khaki wave of policemen fill the road, marching toward the camp. When the marchers saw all of the police activity, they hurried across a small river to sit in the grass, arms locked tightly to each other while they sang prayers and listened to speeches from the leaders not yet in the klink. The police lined up along the road, arms folded on their chests ominously. They stood there staring for an hour before slowly returning to their campsite a kilometer up the road. The event repeated the next day with the same result. Yesterday, more buses and trucks rumbled past the campsite with reinforcements including another bus load of policewomen. Only women are allowed to touch the female protesters. Most of the female cops wear the conventional khaki uniform but some wear a rather odd looking khaki sari. It's not a flattering outfit but I tried to catch a few eyes when they took me away for questioning last week. Not surprisingly, no luck.

But enough about authority figures that leave a bad taste in my mouth. I just had the privilege of meeting a Tibetan authority who inspires me with his straight talk on the harsh geopolitical realities of the Tibet situation that most advocates don't realize or optimistically ignore. He takes a stubborn pride in his outcast status in Tibetan politics. Lhasang Tsering led the Tibetan Youth Congress during the most tumultuous years of Tibetan history since the 1959 Uprising. Two major events marked his term at the helm of the largest and most militant Tibetan organization: the Dalai Lama’s proclamation of the “Middle Way” approach and the 1989 uprisings in Lhasa. I’ll focus on the first event because the second is simply one more episode in Tibetan history where the people rise up, brutal suppression follows, the West thunders condemnations until the Chinese offer talks and then the whole sordid episode gets forgotten. It’s depressing and I’m going to skip it.

In 1987, the Dalai Lama threw out the monkey wrench that put the Tibetan people and the NGOs into a turmoil that still hasn’t quieted. Originally called the Strasburg proposal after the place of its proclamation, it’s now referred to as the “Middle Way” approach. The Dalai Lama announced that he would give up calling for Tibet’s independence in exchange for meaningful autonomy under China. Tsering, also in Europe at the time, became the first person to publicly announce opposition to the proposal when the Daily Telegraph called him for comments that day.

It’s hard to describe the devotion of Tibetans to the Dalai Lama because I've never seen anything like it. I believe he may be the greatest personality cult of this century. In my interviews, people eagerly state their devotion to him and seem keen on convincing me of their love. I am not just referring to monks who sometimes seem almost fanatical in their devotion. People of all ages and from all walks mention him frequently and I have never been in a Tibetan home that did not have his picture placed on a shrine. My best friend here, Tenzin Thapkay, states that he wants to free Tibet so His Holiness can return to his home, the beautiful Potala Palace. The only other rival for frequency of mention in Tibetan conversation is rangzen (independence) so you can imagine the chaos effect of the "Middle Way" approach. The goal had suddenly shifted drastically and people didn’t know what to do.

Tsering’s opposition to the Dalai Lama resulted in a poisoned atmosphere in Dharamsala, seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile. The government tried to restrict public support for the organization and the Dalai Lama threatened to not attend the TYC tri-yearly congress for the first time since its inception. The government secretly urged the people to vote against Tsering in the next election but he received a larger majority than ever. Unfortunately, he left the office after only a year, frustrated at the machinations of the government against him and his organization.

Now he sits before me wearing a subdued and practical outfit of khaki cargo pants and a polo shirt, sporting a long Fu Manchu. He’s a tough guy who’s not afraid state the truth no matter how unpleasant. In this respect, he’s similar to his friend, Jamyang Norbu, who I talked about last week. The first Tibetan intellectual I have heard advocate violence, metaphors frequently illustrate his beliefs. In one of his most powerful illustrations, Tsering compares Tibet to a little girl being raped. He asks, “Do you talk to the rapists or send them books about how to change? No. I go and hit them on the head even if they break my bones. It’s wrong on my part to not try to help. I’m not saying I’ll free Tibet but I will not surrender to the wrong China is doing." He has no plan to free his homeland. Both of us know the geopolitical realities that make the task almost impossible. “I am aware of the strength of China but ... one step forward by someone who doesn’t know the way is better than someone who sits but knows the way.”

Tsering spent the morning talking to the ten young Tibetan men here impatiently awaiting their marching orders. In those few hours, he filled them with fire. Already passionate, these guys have sat me down several times to repeat their willingness to die for rangzen. Some seem positively excited for martyrdom. After Tsering's visit, it got even more interesting when we started drinking that night. You probably know the pointlessness of the typical drunken conversation and for those of you who don’t drink, I’m sure it’s even more apparent. In a refreshing sight, as these guys drank their vodka, they simply became louder in their dedication to the cause. The toughest guy of this tough group had tears of frustration in his eyes as he plead the case for his country and declared his willingness to defend it with his life. He tends to punch when making points so I eventually sat across the room to prevent damage from his bruising logic.

If you'll allow me to don my wizards robes and peer into my crystal ball for a moment, I'll hazard a prediction confident in the fact that nobody will remember my words anyway. As Jamyang Norbu points out, "The word 'Rangzen' (Indepedence) is the most constant and powerful refrain in nearly all the protest documents coming out of Tibet... In fact, every political demonstration and protest has as its essential demand, independence for Tibet; followed by a demand for human rights, and expressions of loyalty to the Dalai Lama as the sovereign ruler of Tibet." The country still shakes from the recent protests, the most powerful since 1959 when the Dalai Lama had to flee the country. Tibet seethes at the human rights abuses and loss of their beloved Dalai Lama and the Tibetans in exile are ready to fight. The sanitized view of a peaceful people has a basis more in a Western charm campaign than history. When the Chinese invaded, the men rose up to fight and some regions had no men left to work the fields. All were dead, arrested or fighting in the Resistance.

That fire still burns bright. When the Dalai Lama dies, the largest check to armed resistance will be removed. I've talked to many men who dread that death of their beloved God on earth but plan to join the fray soon afterwards. I just finished reading and heavily annotating Che Guerva's "Guerrilla Warfare". Not a healthy book for someone young, idealistic and convinced of their own immortality like your author. It showed me that Tibet seems ripe for a Che style revolution that has the trust and help of the people. Che says, "The guerrilla is simply the people in uniform" and these people are ready to sacrifice for independence. I do not say such an armed revolution will be easy or successful but as Lhasang Tsering says, "It is not about winning or losing, it is about right and wrong."