Obama By a Mile


I think I’m getting back into my old routine now, and this past week I have made good headway in my novel – devoting four days during this past week to writing, proof-reading and editing Chapter 2 of part 4.

When I say four days, I suppose I really mean four ‘sessions’ over four days, as I rarely spend more than four hours at a session. Sometimes, when I sit down at my computer, it will take me an hour or more before I finally get stuck in, and often I will use any excuse – like checking emails etc – to procrastinate and delay the creative process….

When I finally commence writing, it usually takes me at least 30 minutes to get up a head of steam, but once going, I tend to stick at the task until I reach what I consider to be an acceptable juncture.

This past week, I wrote half of chapter 2 on Monday, and the remainder on Tuesday; in all some 8,500 words. I took a break on Wednesday, as I had to go into town with Noo to have a blood test and do a number of errands, and Thursday I started the editing and re-writing process. The editing stage sometimes takes longer to complete than the time taken to churn out the original manuscript; much will depend on how good the original effort was, and how much of it needs to be re-written.

I have a golden rule that the chapter must go through three separate stages of editing on three separate days before it is in a good enough condition to publish in my blog. Thus, on Thursday I went through and amended the entire chapter for the first time; on Friday I repeated this exercise with yet more re-writing, and on Saturday, it underwent my third editing session before I decided it was ready for the world to read. (Not so my weekend blogs which are written and published all on the same day…)

Then, as some of you may have spotted, (if you read it early – before I corrected it), I immediately had to do more ‘live’ editing as I somehow managed to get one of the key character’s name wrong, not once, but several times in a row. Amazing!!!

Publishing on my blog is by no means the end of the process. A few days, (or sometimes a week or so), after I have published a chapter in the main body of the blog, I then copy over the chapter into the appropriate blog ‘tab page’. At this point, I do yet more cleaning up of the text – nothing major – just fixing the odd typo and text presentation errors, (and remove the sexy pics…).

Finally, there will  be yet another, thorough review the entire text from the start. This final proof reading will not be carried out until next year, when Part 4 is put to bed, and I have no doubt that further editing and re-writing will be called for at this stage.

In all, it is a very long process, especially as the novel now stands at some 188,000 words and there is still some way to go. I am trying to ‘train’ myself into the habit of rising earlier and having longer daily sessions so that I can get it all wrapped up sooner, rather than later. I do confess that as much as I have enjoyed the writing process, after almost two years of effort, it is beginning to feel like a millstone around my neck.

Obama By a Mile

I won’t pretend that I am not disappointed.

My view has nothing to do with the personalities, characters or the intelligence and abilities of the two protagonists, but almost entirely reflects my concerns over the state of the US economy and the direction that another four years of Democrat-inspired  policies will probably take it.

Over the past few days, Obama has made statements to the effect that, [as far as the economy is concerned], ‘The Nation has decided that they agree with my policies and have rejected Republican policies’.

I am not convinced that this is true, as right up to the Election Day itself, all the polls showed that a clear majority of the population believed that Obama’s economic policies had not worked. Added to this is the re-election of a Republican dominated House of Congress which testifies to the fact that the public are a long way from giving the Democrats a 100% ‘thumbs up’ on their policies.

Obama was re-elected because Romney was a poorly presented candidate who for many voters, favoured the ‘white’, wealthy electorate. In a nation where the numbers of ethnic minorities – both black and Hispanic  – are growing in leaps and bounds, it has become clear that a vast majority of these people, along with a significant majority of women voters, will go with Obama, regardless of how effective they believe his policies to have been.

Casual observers may point out that the nation is still almost equally divided, with the popular vote split 52% to Obama and 48% to Romney. But these statistics hide the stark facts that 70% of Hispanics and even a higher percentage of African Americans voted for Obama, and Romney took the ‘white vote’ from Obama by 20 points. The country seems divided along racial lines as never before.

But we are we are.

The US debt is approaching 17 trillion dollars; the annual budget deficit has been over 1 trillion a year, and borrowing has increased by 4 trillion a year for the past 3 years; The US government bureaucracy is continuing to expand; Obama-care is going to put an enormous additional financial burden on small and large businesses alike, (which will result in many employees being put on part time contracts to avoid healthcare levies, and business expansion curtailed or abandoned); unemployment is still hovering at 8% (in respect of those still trying to find work – millions have given up); State governments are going broke all over America, and instead of trying to put their ‘houses in order’ many Democrat controlled States insist on perpetuating unsustainable salaries and pensions for State employees, (shades of Greece).

I could go on and on….

What is Obama’s solution? Increase taxes which will almost certainly further depress the fragile business climate. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not supporting the hard line Republicans who are so dogmatic as to insist that the richest in society can’t afford to pay a bit more. I’m sure they can and I’m sure that by increasing the taxes on millionaires is not going to harm business to any great extent. If it will appease the socialist left, then by all means do it. But don’t imagine that it will bring in huge amounts of additional revenue – after all, the rich are already carrying by far and away the greatest portion of the nation’s tax burden.

But from what I understand, a lot more tax revenue could be generated by carrying out an extensive reform of the tax code in order to close up numerous loopholes, than by squeezing the successful rich out of a few more of their hard earned shekels.

But… as already stated, we are where we are, and having enumerated my considerable economic concerns, I am willing to give Obama another four years to ‘finish what he started’. This is what he asked of the electorate in his recent campaign speeches, so now he has won – let him show us what he can do. Maybe I am wrong – indeed I sincerely hope that I am wrong – for if I am correct, it won’t only be the USA that goes down the tubes, but most of the rest of the world as well.

So for now, I sincerely trust that Obama and Congress will reach a compromise to avoid the imminent ‘fiscal cliff’; and together find a way forward that will grow the economy, reduce the nation’s staggering debt, and get the country’s unemployed  back to work.  Let’s see if I am wrong and let’s see if Obama can really work the miracles that his voters are hoping for.

The next few months – and years – are going to be fascinating times.

A ‘Land of Smiles’ or a ‘Land of Guns’?

Ever since I first came to Thailand, back in the early 1970’s, I have always known that the country has a propensity for violence, and outside of the capital city of Bangkok, most of the country could be virtually described as ‘wild west’ territory.

Mafia gangs armed with M16 sub machine guns would mow each other down in gang disputes; Muslim insurgents in the south would main and kill literally thousands of innocent Thais; the army would reciprocate by killing hundreds of innocent Muslims; Thais would shoot and kill each other over love disputes, gambling disputes, business disputes or even over petty arguments when drinking.

There seemed no end to the reasons why Thais would kill each other, all over the country on an almost daily basis, for the flimsiest of excuses. Even in the comparative safety of Bangkok, the military have been known to mow down the students down during democracy protests.

One of the main reasons that violence has been so endemic in Thailand is due to the wide availability of guns – of almost every imaginable type.

It would be reasonable to think that once democracy took firm hold a few years ago, and the country evolved from being a developing nation into a nation with a burgeoning economy and one ready to take its full place in the world’s community, that the endemic gun violence in the country would be slowly brought under control.

Perversely, the opposite seems to have happened.

The rise in gun crime can almost certainly be blamed on the political instability that has gripped Thailand since a 2006 coup that removed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

There has followed six years of confrontation, which has pitted the yellow-clad, royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy against the “red shirts”, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, broadly loyal to exiled ex-prime minister Thaksin, which has created years of political upheaval that has encouraged increased criminal activity.

The deep unrest culminated in a two-month stand-off in 2010 between government troops and “red shirt” protesters backing Thaksin and clashes that killed 91 people.

Additionally, the seeming impunity enjoyed by the wealthy has prompted many to take the law into their own hands.

Dirty dealings are easier to hide when the focus is on politics and not crime. Political appointments bring fresh pledges to tackle crime but little is ever done. Under Thai law, people under 20 cannot own a gun and strict background checks must be conducted before licenses are issued; but despite this, the number of young people carrying firearms has increased 32 % over the last nine years, says Thailand’s Justice Ministry.

Nestled among the lanes and alleys in Bangkok’s bustling Chinatown is the Old Siam Plaza. Around it, some 80 gun shops operate legally – some advertise guns with their serial numbers scratched off.

Police say that officials are part of the problem. All Thai government employees are entitled to buy guns at a discount. Some officials declare the weapon lost and sell it on the black market for up to the equivalent of $2,600. Others accept bribes to grant licenses quickly.

According to Interior Ministry records, 6.2 million licenses have been issued in a country with a population of 69 million.

Carrying guns in public can land offenders with a 10-year prison sentence. But police say punishments are rarely enforced, and there is an ingrained culture of taking the law into your own hands. It would appear that if a man can’t wear a uniform, having a gun is the next best thing.

Thailand has a reputation as a tourist haven and regional base for multinational companies yet it has the highest number of guns in civilian hands in South-East Asia – almost four times more than the Philippines, a country notorious for violent gun crime.

Recently, twenty schoolchildren surrounded a city bus in central Bangkok. Some got on to confront a 16-year-old from a rival school and, within moments, he was shot dead. Similar altercations have become a focus of public attention, with shootings affecting seemingly ordinary folk. In one incident at a busy intersection, a computer repairman shot dead two people and took a third hostage. Witnesses said it resembled a scene from a Hollywood blockbuster.

‘Thailand has become a Wild West movie,’ a well-known former massage-parlour tycoon turned politician said recently. He said that he used to pay off local police to run his seedy businesses, as people would pull out their guns at a moment’s notice. He added that he never owned a gun before this year but he now has three.

Recent incidents include a senator who fatally shot his ex-wife over Sunday dinner, a nightclub shooting spree that left five dead, a Gangnam Style dance-off between rival gangs – inspired by the popular Korean song – that degenerated into a shootout and 10,000 bullets found at an apartment owned by a former deputy provincial governor.

All this underscores a growing sense of lawlessness since the 2006 coup. Gun crime in Bangkok has more than doubled and the new police chief, described by a deputy prime minister as a “thug-catching type”, has vowed to take weapons off the streets.

According to some authoritative sources, Thailand has the highest gun murder rate in Asia, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that there were 5.3 murders by firearms per 100,000 people in Thailand in 2011, compared to 0.2 in the Philippines,

Escalating gun crime could put off companies looking to set up in a country that prides itself on its friendly image as the “Land of Smiles” and is still recovering from devastating 2011 floods.

It could also further dent the idyllic reputation, already hit by crime directed against foreign visitors, that will draw some 20 million tourists this year, an important sector of the Thai economy.

For my part, looking back over a period of 39 years, during which time  I have lived permanently in the country for around 20 years and have also visited for long, additional spells, I have never personally encountered a single incidence of violence.

Clearly a vast majority of the violence is ‘Thais against Thais’, but increasingly, foreigners seem to be involved. Keeping clear of ‘seedy tourist areas –especially late at night’ and generally keeping ‘your head down’ and your mouth shut in public usually ensures a violence-free existence, as friends of mine, of similar ages, can also testify.

The foreigners that seem to encounter violence are those who drink in the wrong places, those who flaunt expensive phones and jewellery in tourist areas, those who get into conflicts with Thais – fellow drinkers, business partners or wives/girlfriends, and sad to say, young, seductively dressed, western women who attract attention to themselves in the wrong places and at the wrong times, without adequate protection.

A little bit of common sense and discretion should prevent all but the most unlucky encounters with violence; but of course, most farangs know best – what possible harm can a bunch of little squirts, half their size, do to them?


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