Monday, December 29, 2008

Gaza's 9-11: When fighting back isn't an option

(I am currently in Cambodia and took these photos of some of the Killing Fields displays in Phnom Penh. They are a sad reminder of what horrors mankind is capable of committing and a powerful incentive for every man, woman and child in the world to work for peace -- starting right now!)

When the World Trade Center was destroyed, Americans did everything they could to protect themselves.

When Spain's transit system was bombed, everyone throughout the world mourned.

When Britain's subways were attacked, the world stood back in shock and measures were taken.

Even Kosevo got protected. Even Somalia got aid from world organizations. Even Darfur was not begrudged the right to protect itself.

But after over 60 years of having endured attack after attack after attack after attack, Palestinians are still being scolded for trying to attempt to defend themselves and being told not to fight back.

Where's the justice in that?

Where's the international sympathy, where's the international help?

New York gets protected, Spain gets sympathy, Britain takes action. But Palestine? 100 tons of bombs are dropped on the world's most densely-populated city and the world appears to be applauding these gristly, brutal and ghastly results of Gaza's 9-11. And if the people of Gaza dare to protect themselves or to fight back, they will be carpet-bombed, will be exterminated like fish in a barrel.


To learn more about the background of the Gaza situation, please read David Pratt's excellent (and easy to read) book "Intifada: The Long Day of Rage," available at -- or read the chapter on Israel and Palestine in my own book, "Bring Your Own Flak Jacket: Helpful Tips for Touring Today's Middle East," available at

The brutal occupation of Palestine is still the root of tensions in the Middle East -- and has been since 1946.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

More photos from Burma (Rangoon

Here's the main temple, a few street scenes, breakfast at my hotel, the Rangoon international airport baggage carousel and the downtown post office -- which still functions like the post office where I used to work my way through college, prior to Zip Codes.

I'll write more about Burma when I get home on January 1, 2009, have more time to think and have more access to the internet.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holiday greetings from Burma....

I'm having a wonderful time in Myanmar -- and I have 1,248 photos to prove it. Wish you were here.

Burma is a wonderful. Everyone here is totally friendly and there is so much to see. I could run on for hours about how Burma is the last undiscovered tourist paradise but the internet connections here aren't all that hot.

"But what about the Junta," you might ask. "We've heard that Myanmar is a military state. Are you safe?"

Apparently the generals all live in some new capital city somewhere off in the jungle and seem to have reached some sort of agreement with the rest of the Burmese -- you leave us alone and we'll leave you alone. I could be wrong about this but that's what I've experienced so far. I've seen over 3,000 Buddhist monks and nuns so far but only one soldier.

Burma is a tourist paradise. Think Thailand forty years ago. I love it here.

Happy holidays.

PS: My granddaughter, baby Mena, is now standing up all by herself. Mena, PLEEZE don't take your first steps until I get back!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Business not as usual in Thailand: Hotels are only 10% occupied
(Photos are of empty hotels.)

I arrived in Thailand last night at 1:00 am and will leave for Burma this afternoon. My knees are holding up okay. They hurt. I walk on them anyway. What more can I say.

On the flight over, I talked with several people in the various airports about what happened when peaceful protesters took over the Bangkok International Airport last week. "The airlines were very helpful in finding us places to stay and the protesters were very nice," said one young father who was meeting his wife in Bangkok after she had been stranded there for two weeks. And the airport itself looked like nothing had happened there. It was all fresh and clean. And on the way to the hotel I discovered that Thailand, like almost every other country in the world, has our typical American Bechtel freeways -- put in with American loans. Green freeway signs.

That's what happens if you take out loans from Uncle Sam. Instead of being able to use that money to benefit your country, you get Bechtel shoved in your face. But I digress.

Anyway, I'm staying in a hotel in Bangkok, typing as fast as I can. And our guide said, "The hotels here in Thailand are only filled to 10% capacity -- and this is the height of the tourist season. It's sad."

And I talked with my friend Tony who lives here and he says, "The airport protest was totally peaceful and is a good example of democracy in action." So maybe the reason the hotels are so empty is because of Bush's recession. Ya think?

Gotta go catch my plane!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Peace Pilgrim II: Driving across America in a wheelchair?

(Photos are of the original Peace Pilgrim, my ankle when it first started swelling up, me in the Las Vegas airport coming back from the St. Louis debates back when my knees actually sort of worked (I won $40!), and me and my daughter Ashley touring the Berkeley Bowl in an electric scooter)

Four days after having received two "Jello Shots" (gel injections of SynVisc) into my knees, all hell broke loose and my right knee began to swell up as big as a house. Since that time, my left knee has also swollen up, my calf muscles have become as hard as a rock, I've totally given up the idea of walking as a viable concept, my lower legs burn as if there is battery acid floating around in my muscles and both my ankles are now as big as balloons. My legs are so swollen up right now that I look like the Elephant Man from the knees down.

"Mom, you've got cankles," said my daughter Ashley. Cankles? What in the world are are cankles? "You know -- legs that go straight from your calves to your feet." Oh.

What to do?

"Sue the bastards!"

According to Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz LLP, a class action lawfirm who first sued the makers of SynVisc back in 2000, the drug company knew they had a dud on their hands from Day One and illegally inflated its stock value in order to make SynVisc look like it was the latest uber-chic hot new product that every doctor should have. "[Defendants] violated the federal securities laws by providing materially false and misleading information about the Company's business, earnings growth and financial condition."

Wolf Haldenstein's website goes on to state that, "Defendants further misrepresented that demand for Synvisc was increasing and that there was growing acceptance within the medical community for Synvisc 'as an effective therapy' for osteoarthritis. Defendants knew, however, that the medical community was increasingly doubtful that Synvisc was a viable medical treatment, as numerous studies had shown that Synvisc was no more effective than a placebo or salt water injections in treating osteoarthritis, and might actually cause significant, long-term, adverse effects, such as cartilage damage."

So. My friend Joe Thompson just e-mailed me that he had recently seen one of those little electronic scooters for sale at the Cleveland, TN, flea market and that he could buy it for me if I could just swing by and pick it up. Which gave me an even better idea. "I'll sue the bastards, use the money I get to buy a wheelchair and drive it across America to come visit you."

I always wanted to become another Peace Pilgrim. You've heard about Peace Pilgrim? She was that older woman who walked all across America in the 1950s, trying to promote peace. According to the website, "From 1953 to 1981, a silver-haired woman calling herself only 'Peace Pilgrim' walked more than 25,000 miles on a personal pilgrimage for peace. She vowed to 'remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food.' In the course of her 28 year pilgrimage she touched the hearts, minds, and lives of thousands of individuals all across North America. Her message was both simple and profound. It continues to inspire people all over the world."

I have always held the dream of becoming the next Peace Pilgrim, ever since I first heard of her from my Aunt June back in 1984 -- but my dreams of walking across America have been shattered by SynVisc. But, by golly, I can still travel across America for peace in a wheelchair! Or at least an electronic scooter from a Tennessee flea market.

"Save your money," replied Joe when I e-mailed him about my new plan, "and buy me a trip to Nevada instead. I always wanted to go visit one of those legal whorehouses in Reno." Well, if you insist.

But what really makes me sad about having been crippled by "Jello Shots" is not so much the pain or the humiliation caused by SynVisc but rather the cold bare painful fact that, realistically, I will no longer be able to run off and report from all the world's journalistic hotspots such as the DRC, Somalia, Darfur, Gaza, Afghanistan, Iraq -- or the Mustang Ranch.

PS: Each series of three "Jello Shot" injections costs $1,819.99 for the medication alone (at Walgreens) -- plus the cost of having an orthopedist inject them. And the injection series must be repeated every six months. Do the math. That's $3,639.98 worth of drugs per year for a period of, say, 20 years. That's $72,2799.60 per patient. Assuming that the meds cost approximately $100 to manufacture, that's $68,799.60 in profit for SynVisc alone. Plus the orthopedist gets, say, $200 per injection. That's $600 per series per patient, times 40 series per patient? That's $24,000 per patient! No wonder everyone involved loves SynVisc!

Yesterday I went and had my knees acupunctured. They feel better already. I think I'm actually going to be able to crawl to the airport tomorrow to fly off to Burma -- via the newly re-opened Bangkok International Airport.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Mumbai: First shot of the war on globalization?

(Photo is of a man at the San Francisco Green Festival, wearing the average amount of plastic bags a typical American uses in just one year)

We all know about globalization -- it's what happens when corporate interests supersede national identities. Didn't we used to get told back in the 1970s and 1980s that this was a good thing -- a sort of peace-keeping corporate version of the United Nations? World peace through commerce?

And then suddenly we poor outsourced schmucks began to realize that by allowing corporate interests to trump national interests, we were not creating a new peaceful world so much as massive mega-corporations were creating a vast world-wide cheap labor pool. And that globalization was just another form of warfare -- economic warfare. That's not good.

In addition, this new globalization movement also created interlocking situations where corporate hands secretively reached into every country in the world and took over the very functions of governments themselves. And they also took over political systems, even here in the U.S., making the decisions as to who was gonna be in charge of individual countries. It was the era of the "Economic Hit Man" and the "Jackals". The globalization octopus seemed to reach everywhere and have its tentacles into everything. There was no stopping it.

Of course countries like the United States and Russia and China had tanks and guns and bombs but even they couldn't stop globalization -- or defend their individual countries against it. You just can't drop a nuclear weapon on Citigroup or Monsanto. Nations began to lose not only their own sovereignty but also the ability to protect themselves.

Until Mumbai.

What happened in Mumbai has taught us that the globalization octopus's tentacles CAN be cut off -- or at least damaged. The baby doesn't have to be thrown out with the bath water. A few surgical removals of globalization's central communications and exploitation headquarters and "Voila!" The octopus is forced back into its undersea cave.

But there is only one problem with this new war on globalization. It is the same problem that we've had with the war on Iraq -- and even with World War II. War is still war. And war still sucks eggs. And war is still harmful to children and other living things.
PS: Now that mega-corporations have taken over the functions of nation-states in all too many cases, wouldn't it be ironic if they also took over nation-states' roles as the wagers of wars? Can't you just see it now! The New York Times headlines. "Exxon declares war on General Electric. AT&T invades IBM. General Motors bombs Volkswagen plant."

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Our troops: Still slogging through the "Long War" in Iraq....

(Photos are of the press room in the Green Zone, female Marines, scenic downtown Hit, an internet cafe in Anbar and a room at the Al Asad Hotel)

For the past several years I've been receiving between five and ten MNFI (Multi-National Forces Iraq) press releases in my inbox every day, sent from places like Camp Victory and Camp Falcon and the Green Zone in Iraq. I get them every single day, rain or shine, weekends and holidays included. You just gotta admire the tenacity of the MNFI public affairs office press rooms. They are really really trying really really hard to put a face on this war.

Here are some examples from today's list of press releases:

"Iraqi Navy holds 3rd annual Iraqi Navy Planning Day to refine input to Navy Service Plan."

"MND-N Soldiers visit projects in progress in Tamim province."

"Forces target AQI bombing, leadership networks; 18 suspects in custody."

"Six detained during joint operations in Mosul."

"Local citizen, Sons of Iraq help take weapons off the streets."

"New school offers hope to Nablus children."

"Leaders discuss new change for Sons of Iraq in Diyala."

And all these press releases continue to slog into my inbox, day after day -- year after year. I've only printed out the titles to just a few of them here, but reading through all this constant flood of press releases every day really gives me a feeling of the intensity of our military's commitment to doing their job right over in Iraq. I have over 500 of these releases. Every single day I get at least five. Our troops are on the job in Iraq -- bigtime. They are working overtime over there, pouring their hearts out. And they have been moving heaven and earth to perform their jobs well continually for the last five years.

Now isn't it time that we brought them all home?

PS: Here's my favorite MNFI press release of all-time:


WHAT: The Iraqi Tourism Board wishes to invite all local and international media to a press conference to discuss future plans and investment opportunities of Jazirat AI A'ras, also known as Jazirat Janain, a romantic island in the heart of historic Baghdad, on the Tigris River.

WHERE: Combined Press Information Center Conference Room, Ocean Cliffs.

WHEN: September 21, 2008, at 13:00 p.m.

I wish I had been able to go to that press conference. Maybe I coulda gotten some hot new material for my book-in-progress, "Iraq, Iran & North Korea: From Axis of Evil to Hot New Tourist Destinations". The chapters on Iran and North Korea are already written -- and now all I need to do is visit the pilgrim sites of Najaf, see some of Iraq's charming antiquities sites, stay in the Kurdish version of a five-star hotel and tour this new romantic island honeymoon destination on the Tirgris -- and, of course, try to find a publisher....