Month: June 2019

Herding Cats

russian radio

Even though I’m in Thailand, I’m tutoring an eighteen-year old Korean girl who wants to take the SAT in a few months. Koreans are very disciplined and hard-working. The average Thai, less so. In fact, the difference between the two Asian groups is astounding.

Teaching Thais is like herding cats. They respond to military discipline, but nothing less. If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile and then some. They smile a lot while they’re ignoring you. It takes all the Mussolini you can muster to become angry with them.

The seven-year old Thai boy I also tutor in English needs to be tricked into paying attention, even for intervals as short as a couple of minutes. He mostly enjoys spinning around in circles, looking out the window, and drawing pictures of the Titanic on the whiteboard. Every once in a while I can get him to focus on learning a few vocabulary words. Then he’s back to spinning.

Most of the young people I meet are severely dependent on their cellphones. If you take a phone away from one of them, that child will become disoriented and full of anxiety. One ten-year old girl I was tutoring found my phone on a desk and downloaded several candy-crush-like games onto it in the few minutes my back was turned while I was writing on the board. Even though she didn’t have time to play those games, it must have given her some comfort to know they were there, nearby.

Don’t Be a Wimp



Some days it pays to be clever, other days it’s best to put a sock on it. Limit invention. Just dig what’s up.

For those who have been rewarded for their cleverness, damping it down is hard work. Sometimes you can only change your behavior a tad, a wee bit, and only for a short amount of time. You can pretend to be less clever than you actually are for half an hour. Then, “ding!” it’s time to don that thinking cap.

I have met people who are just as “intelligent” as college professors, but to whom it would never occur to try to tell other people what or how to think. They simply are too humble to want to go there. To offer unsolicited advice would be obnoxious, impolite, intrusive, arrogant, and would distance themselves from others, which in the West is considered virtue and in the East, a vice.

Interestingly, and maybe paradoxically, strong leaders of nations often downplay any cleverness they posses. Instead of smart they would rather be considered “strong.” As rigid as they are ruthless. Unafraid of popular opinion. This is why in Banana Republics they are often military men.

The public trusts a dumb guy with a gun more than a clever guy with a pocket calculator.

John Wayne was never admired for being clever. He didn’t need to resort to discourse or persuasion. He’d just punch you in the mouth if it seemed that’s what you needed. Obama was a real professor and it’s taken Trump’s base years to stop asking about his birth certificate. They’re glad our current President is more like John Wayne than some damn pointy-headed intellectual. The citizenry applauds simple solutions to complex problems. Diplomacy is for sissies. Bombs away! Turn that unpronounceable country into a parking lot!

If cleverness isn’t working any more, try pretending to be dull yet determined. Such people are often admired and respected far more than those seeking approval or agreement.

By all means, avoid anti-intellectualism in all its guises. The Git-r-done crowd will never embrace you anyway. They’ll suspect you’re faking it. Better to act dull, uninterested. That way you can’t be mistaken for a wimp who cares too much.




Losing Touch With Current Reality



Recently, I tried to show some eight year olds something on YouTube. They had no interest in what I was trying to show them. They clamored for some sort of video game that showed a deliberately crudely rendered monster lurching about in a equally crude field. They found this fascinating. It was accompanied by the most annoying sound track I have ever heard, and for all I could see, there was no story or plot to it. Just random lurching.


My video had words, maybe too many for their taste, and a point to it if you bothered to listen to the words, but they couldn’t be bothered to do so. I got the impression that there is just too much stuff out there, and everyone alive, even little children, have decided they need to ignore most of it and focus on a very few things that have caught their attention for one reason or another.  It’s all about personal choice. Nothing else matters. These are my preferences and dammit, I’m sticking to them.


Maybe this is the YouTube version of anti-intellectualism. Pick you favorite character and watch it go viral. Make the video’s creator rich. Everyone else can go suck an egg.

Nothing to do and all day to do it.


As a self-appointed leisure specialist, I am amazed by how often the idea pops into my wizened head that I should be doing more with my time. I should be applying myself to some task, fixing some problem. Having proven time and again that I do not work well with others, nor follow directions, nor persevere under duress, I don’t now why I keep flogging myself this way. After all, I have deliberately constructed a life where nothing is required of me. Why not enjoy it?


I think the voices in my head are the same ones Thoreau struggled with as he lived his solitary life at Walden Pond. He wrote that his neighbors were quite critical of his selfishness. Here he had all this time on his hands and he wasn’t working to help those less fortunate than he.


And what about politics? Don’t I have some duty to weigh in on the injustices carried out by my country’s leadership? Why aren’t I organizing rallies and fund raising for noble causes?


The fact that I live on the other side of the world exempts me from some of the duties of an educated populace in a somewhat functioning democracy. I don’t seem to have much lucks persuading expatriate Trump supporters of the fallacy of their convictions, so I doubt if I’ll be any more effective twelve time zones away.


No, I’m going to assume that the best gift I can give the world is to try to be content with my lot and kind in my interactions with others. Somebody else can do the heavy lifting.