Saturday, May 31, 2014


For all… none… of you who read this blog, I will henceforth be conducting my sordid affairs at Say goodbye to this particular incarnation of bullshit.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Growing Golden Burley Tobacco #2: A Premature Death and New Chances

It sucks, but when I was away for two days recently I forgot to water my tobacco. The seedlings, which had sprouted (although they were too small to get a proper photo) only a couple days beforehand – standing at, maybe, a centimeter – quickly died without water. I realized that my mistake was germinating them in a loose peat mixture in a seed starter tray. The granular, peaty soil apparently dried up very quickly, and when I did water them I found myself doing it quite often. It took them a week after planting (around early March) to germinate in the dark, underneath aluminum foil, and then two more weeks to really start showing leaves. This is unusual, given everything I've read about growing tobacco. I tried to keep the trays warm, in a dark area, so as to get a good temperature and relative humidity for germination. This itself was difficult.
Seedlings! (Sorry for the flipped pic)
(self/phone camera)
Nevertheless, I had to start from scratch. This time I used peat pods instead of loose peat mix. The pods are disk-shaped, and when you add water to them they expand and hold in moisture for quite a while. They were also composed of finer grains of peat than the loose mix. I germinated my seeds in the dark, again, but this time, I covered them (the seeds in the pods) with plastic wrap to keep them humid, and draped a towel over the wrap for darkness. Not surprisingly, this new batch of seeds germinated within three days with only one watering per day. It was only two days ago that they sprouted, and now they’re greener and taller than the first bitch of plants were. They’re looking healthy, and since tobacco really likes sunlight, they’re right by my windowsill. I've accomplished all this within a week of planting (I sprinkled the seeds on the pods on the 9th of April.)
‘Making progress!
— Yūgen
April 16, 2013

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Good Absinthe at a Bad Bar

"Got tight on absinthe last night. Did knife tricks."
Ernest Hemingway, from a letter to Guy Hickok, 1931 (thanks to Frieze Magazine for this quote!)

Recently, while perusing the nooks and crannies of Reddit, as I frequently do nowadays, I decided to go on a rant. I figured that the folks at /r/Absinthe would understand my plight. I brought to the table a trip to New York I made about a week ago, during my spring break from BestConn (WorstConn?), during which I stopped by one of the few places that serve absinthe – a distilled beverage steeped in history and mystery – in the New England tri-state area. I had been meaning to get my hands on the stuff in a proper manner, with all the related accouterments at my disposal (absinthe, which appears to come as either blanche (French: "white") or verte (Fr.: "green"), is traditionally served in a ritual involving ice water, a "fountain", and unique glasses and spoons, plus or minus a sugar cube); however, when I finally got to sip at a good glass I was less than pleased with the service (and price) provided/demanded at the bar I had traveled the length of Manhattan to get to.

Anyhow, instead of posting – as I typically do – about 'baccy and booze (that is, booze in a totally favorable light), I decided to tell my story to some sympathetic redditors:

Beautiful, expensive, delicious, knock-you-off-your-ass verte
(photo courtesy of Alandia)


"Recently, I had my first proper glass of absinthe in lower Manhattan (well, mostly proper anyway). My first try at "absinthe" was Le Tourment vert [sic] (which turned out to be an artificially colored absinthe >>liquer<< [sic] instead), which sucked. So I went to NYC recently looking for some proper stuff. I heard of the William Barnacle Tavern at St. Mark's Place. I went there and saw they had a fountain and regular glasses and spoons. I was excited, to say the least.

I looked at their absinthe menu and asked for St. George vert [sic], which I've heard is very good for an American absinthe. They charged me $20 for a glass, but I figured since I was on vacation and I'd never tried a proper glass of the green I would pay up, despite the priciness.

This is where it got weird: a lady at the bar, who I guess was new, said she didn't know how to prepare it when I asked for it as a drip. I was sort of surprised, but didn't mind. Then, a guy standing in front of the bar in a leather jacket and bandanna came over and "showed" her how. He started dumping ice cubes into the fountain, most of which spilled over the top and onto the counter. He then told her to do a 1:1 ratio of absinthe to water, which I found puzzling since I've often heard it's more like a 1:3 ratio. She went to make my absinthe and brought out a lighter, which sort of befuddled me. I said, "no flame", and she didn't understand that you could make it otherwise. I ended up explaining to the bartender and staff how to make absinthe without the Czech method, which they tried to do. This lady also started stirring my absinthe before the water finished dripping (I'm not sure if that's the proper way or not), and she moved the spoon around to get all the sugar melted into the water, which it didn't. To top it all off, a piece of cork was spilled into my drink and the "owner" had to come over and fiddle with a pair of tweezers for 5 minutes before he got it out. I ended up still paying the $20. The drink actually tasted really good, and it's difficult to find absinthe anywhere around the tri-state area so I enjoyed it the best I could. They also have a fairly good selection. (Though they didn't know the difference between blanche and vert [sic/I can't do French for shit].) The service just seemed off to me.

Lastly, when I was explaining to one of the bartenders the difference between the Czech method and French/Swiss method, one of the owners snapped at me, and interrupted as if to shut me up about the difference. I guess they figured using the Czech and keeping anything else on the down-low would be good for business?

Look, I had never tried true absinthe before I went to that bar, and I knew all this simply by browsing the Internet and reading. People who serve absinthe should at least do the same, right?"


Anyway, being the good reporter and blogger that I am, I've decided I'm too lazy to make plain to you all the ins and outs of absinthe, as it regards my Reddit rage. Sorry of that's an asshole move on my part. To be perfectly honest, I'm too hung over at the moment to explain squat. (I developed a hatred for Fireball "whisky" at 6 AM this morning... let's just put it at that.) If you're questioning the terminology, then please feel free to scour the Internet for pertinent information. I'm assuming that if you're reading this, then you probably have access to Wikipedia.

— Yūgen
April 2, 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


"#1" (March 20, 2013; black ink on notebook paper; 1180 x 1066 px.) 
(self/image scan)

As a direct result of my occasional inattentiveness during lectures, as well as some occasional bursts of creativity, I've been "doodling" a good deal lately. I figured I'd add a section to my half-assed website for my little illustrations and what not. See this link and scroll down to view my first upload. (Or you could just look at it here, obviously.)

Monday, March 4, 2013

Whisky vs. Whisky Liqueurs

Until recently, I was fairly confused about what kind of liquor I was ingesting on [what’s usually] at least a monthly basis.
A dining room in Biscotti’s(photo courtesy of Biscotti’s Ristorante)
I was at Biscotti’s Ristorante (4 Cotton Tail Rd. New Fairfield, CT 06812), a nice little Italian place tucked away in an uphill plaza in New Fairfield. They have a cool bar, and the bartender I met there seemed friendly enough. However, I asked for a SoCo – Southern Comfort – thinking I was going to be getting a nice whisky, one that was a favorite of Janis Joplin’s and that everyone had been telling me was pretty tasty. (And fairly alcoholic, to boot.) Well, I like whisky, and I like Big Brother, so I tried it. However, I immediately thought that it was far too sweet to be a proper whisky. But I shrugged it off… it wasn’t a big deal, right? Anyway, how could I complain? … I was listening to a cover-band duo, The Choir Boys, churn out some awesome tunes. (“Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash and the Beatles’ “Come Together” were memorable.)
Halfway through their performance, I went back to the bar to get myself a shot of more “whisky”, although I wanted to attempt something different. I saw a tap machine with two bottles of liquor – Fireball Whisky – attached. The side of device advertised the “whisky” with the slogan “Tastes Like Heaven, Burns Like Hell”. That sounded good to me. So I ordered a shooter.
What SoCo is to sweet, Fireball is to spicy. Well, Fireball was damn sweet too… but on top of the candy-like flavor, it tasted like eating Red Hots. They must have put a lot of cinnamon in it.
Fireball “whisky”
(photo courtesy of By the Glass)
It was only after doing some online research about SoCo and Fireball that I realized neither was a whisky at all, but a whisky liqueur. To some, the difference may be slight, but if you’re expecting a real whisky taste, this isn’t it. These blends are great, but to me they consist of, maybe, one part actual whisky to four parts sugar syrup or flavoring. The advertising on bottles of Fireball “whisky” is a little deceptive, in my mind.
Bah. Maybe I’m just a little too anal about the whole thing. But who else is going to pick apart and point out all these particulars?
Well, no matter what you’re drinking, drink up. Cheers!
— Yūgen
March 4, 2013

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Growing Golden Burley Tobacco #1: Seeds!


Although I was, at least until recently, trying to learn to play a wind instrument, I think worse inclinations have taken hold of me lately – I mean to say that I have a love not only of flutes, but of pipes too. (See "Making Mu'assel/Shisha from Pipe Tobacco".) So I'm not sure how things will turn out, given that sort of internal conflict. (Music vs. emphysema – those are some weighty options.)As it regards the golden leaf, I just received some fine, heirloom Golden Burley tobacco seeds from New Hope Seed Company. From what I understand, this particular variety of tobacco is good for plug (for chewing or smoking in a pipe), regular old pipe tobacco, and cigarette tobacco. I'm going to be planting these guys in starters in the coming week, and I'm hoping the end result will be some great pipe and hookah tobacco. Let's just hope they can hold up to the climate of Connecticut as well as our broadleaf and shade tobaccos do.

Tobacco seeds are individually smaller than a pinhead

— Yūgen
February 27, 2013



Friday, February 22, 2013

Making Mu’assel/Shisha from Pipe Tobacco

Anyone out there who smokes hookahs from time to time may be interested in the following:
After a recent endeavor, following the example of a couple websites, including YouTube, I managed to create my own shisha. (Or, as my mom likes to call it when she’s pissed at me for smoking, “shashee”.) It was awesome!
My red, single-hose Social Smoke hookah with a replacement bowl and bands added
Anyway, you may or may not be wondering what words like “shisha”, “mu’assel”, and “hookah” mean, depending on your situation. For those of you not familiar with this wonderful stuff and its related accouterment[s], please allow me to enlighten:
Mu’assel (Arabic: معسل‎, meaning “honeyed”), or “shisha”, as we – to some degree mistakenly – tend to refer to it in the Occident, is a tobacco product consisting of shredded tobacco, molasses and vegetable glycerin. It is intended to be smoked out of a hookah (which goes by many other names, including “shisha” – hence the confusion [between the product and the device used to smoke it]), a water pipe which includes a stem, hose or hoses from which to draw smoke, and a bowl at the top to hold the tobacco. Hookahs have been used for centuries in the Middle East and other parts of Asia, but in recent times have become popular in the West.
Anywho, while when you first encounter the sticky, perfumed mass that is mu’assel you may feel intimidated about the idea of making it yourself, it’s actually quite easy. Granted, you probably won’t be getting a sophisticated product like the shishas offered by Nakhla or Al-Fakher (at least on your first try), but overall, making your own molasses-tobacco is a clearly cheaper alternative. This recipe of mine is fairly basic, and mostly involves eyeballing. However, as I said, it’s not as hard as it looks to get it right. So don’t worry!
  • Pipe tobacco (any sort, although less strongly flavored types are preferable)
  • Molasses
  • Glycerin (or “glycerol”)
  • Flavoring (in this case ground cloves, pumpkin spice, and orange oil)
Tools and other necessities:
  • Sieve or strainer
  • Paper towels, a drying cloth, or a rag of some sort
  • A container (plastic containers or glass jars will do nicely)
  • A stirring implement (a spoon or stirring stick, for instance)
  • Access to running water (I’m assuming you have this)
  • Measuring cup
Making the shisha:
Measure out two cups of pipe tobacco and dump them into your strainer. “Wash” the tobacco by placing the sieve under running water and allow the color of the tobacco to blanch. You will notice that at first a dark liquid is strained out, but as you allow the water to run over the tobacco it will eventually become clear. Make sure you wet and blanch ALL of the tobacco in sieve.
After your tobacco is wet, use your paper towel or cloth to press the tobacco. Press it firmly into the sieve, without breaking the netting, allowing more dark brown, nicotinized water to be strained out. Continue to process of wetting, blanching and pressing until there is very little or no darkness to the water that you are straining out of your tobacco. This process may take quite a while, so be patient.
Next, you’ll need to dry out the tobacco, allowing it to remain dampened. You can do this by mixing the tobacco with your stirring implement and continuously press on it lightly with a dry cloth. Eventually, you’ll want the tobacco to have a darker color from saturation, but not too dark. it needs to be fairly damp, but not wet. 
Now, dump or scrape your tobacco from the sieve into the container. Measure out a small amount of pumpkin spices, ground cloves and/or orange oil or extract and mix it with the tobacco. This is unfortunately more of an issue of eyeballing than anything. You’ll want your tobacco to give off the smell of orange especially when you open the container, being able to smell it from about five inches away.
Next, add a fourth of a cup of molasses and a fourth of a cup of glycerin. Mix the contents of the container for as long as you need in order to get a good, even consistency. A good way to tell whether your shisha resembles a normal product would be to do a side-by-side comparison. For comparison I tend to use Pharaoh’s shisha, and attempt to get the same look and texture out of my shisha.
Speaking of texture, you’ll want to handle your shisha every once and a while during the process. Rubbing the mu’assel between your thumb and fingers will allow you to tell whether it has become too sticky or not. Again, this is more of an issue of eyeballing and preference, and I strongly suggest having a side-by-side comparison. Granted, you don’t need to be perfectly on par with retail mu’assel. You don’t want to overstep yourself on your first product; rather, you’ll want to get a close approximation. If the shisha is quite runny with molasses, you’ve probably added too much, and may need to start the process over again, by washing the tobacco and ridding it of the added contents in order to create another mixture. What you want to make sure is that when you’re ready to smoke it, it will (1) taste good, (2) not burn too hot, and (3) not damage your hookah pipe with an excess of added ingredients. (Getting molasses out of your pipe is a bitch.)
Shisha tobacco, as shown here, often has a damp and sticky appearance derived from the honey or other sweeteners added.
What shisha/mu’assel tends to look like
(photo courtesy of NationMaster)
Some notes:
(1) Molasses can be substituted with honey; red clover honey tastes especially good, at least to me. However, you’ll need to keep an eye out for a change in texture and viscosity. (2) The glycerin you use should be labeled “vegetable glycerin” or “USP” grade. The more glycerin you add, the more smokey your mixture will come out. If you use too much, you could end up with a bad-tasting mu’assel. (3) If you do use molasses, I suggest using light or mild molasses, not the full flavor or overly-sweetened stuff. If you use full flavor, just add a little bit less than a quarter of a cup. (4) You CAN use tobaccos other than pipe tobacco. Loose cigarette tobacco can be used. I would not suggest gutting cigarettes for your tobacco, but rather buying cigarette tobacco by the bag or pouch. DO NOT use chewing tobacco, moist snuff/dipping tobacco, or snus. DO NOT use twist or plug tobacco, though it can be smoked in pipes. Home-grown tobacco can be used, as long as it isn’t shredded too fine. In fact, being able to control the shredding process can make for a better shisha, as pipe tobacco and cigarette tobacco is often shredded to a finer consistency than typical mu’assel. (5) If you buy shisha for use as a comparison, be aware that shisha can be labeled “shisha”, “mu’assel”, “mo’assel”, “ma’assel”, “molasses”, “molasses tobacco”, or “hookah tobacco”.
Anyway, that’s my way of doing things. Try it yourself, and happy smoking!
— Yūgen
February 22, 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Joe Biden Coming to WCSU Tomorrow

So, apparently Vice Prez. Joseph Biden will be delivering a lecture on gun control, along with fellow democrats Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy and Elizabeth Esty, at WestConn tomorrow. Why am I not surprised that the VP would pick what’s likely the closest campus to Newtown, and thus Sandy Hook? Danbury, and indeed, Connecticut as a whole, will be paying attention to this event.
Special thanks for the info! Shout outs to the folks at the Connecticut Post. You guys run a good periodical.
— Yūgen
February 20, 2013

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Call it a First World problem, but I just lost what was probably pages upon pages of blog entry because I accidentally hit the back button while writing in the Tumblr post box. I had a great entry going about a trip to New York last year, and then FOCKwejbo321f)@)!B&102bsPDB(*!.
This beautiful track by Merzbow illustrates how I feel right now.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Very Belated Report: Dr. Lobsang Sangay at WCSU (or, a First-Hand Account of ‘Democracy in Exile: the Case for Tibet’)

Let me first apologize to any puzzled readers who may have expected this entry to appear much earlier than eight months after the fact (not to mention TWELVE HOURS before the Dalai Lama – whose forthcoming appearance was foreshadowed by the eponymous Sangay’s, which this article concerns – is scheduled to appear for talks at WCSU, for that matter): I’ll admit this is old news, and you may very well have been aware of the incident before you read this. (Undoubtedly if you read my former essay – see “The Dalai Lama in Danbury and WCSU’s Tibetan Focus”.) Of course, my insistence on procrastination never fails at forcing me to scramble and rush to make things work later on. I’ve got that bad habit of leaving my blogging to the last minute. (That aside, I had also lost the notes I had taken regarding the lecture and only recently recovered them. A while back I dramatized this loss of information here.)
Nevertheless, I think it would still be relevant to publicize my opinion as a first-hand witness to a very empowering lecture.
That is… Dr. Lobsang Sangay, the Prime Minister – or Kalon Tripa – of Tibet’s speech at our local Western Connecticut State University. The lecture was appropriately titled ‘Democracy in Exile: the Case for Tibet’. No doubt it was a truly awesome presentation, and I think an overwhelmingly important hallmark in WCSU’s President’s Lecture Series. (The first and only such lecture I’ve attended.)
First, let me correct myself: Mr. Sangay is not the Prime Minister of Tibet… No, rather the “Tibetan Government in Exile” (or Central Tibetan Administration) – based in McLeod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamsala, India  as the Tibetan’s homeland has unfortunately, as we are all aware, been seized and their culture seemingly raped by the PRC.
To throw in some background info:
Sangay was elected by a narrow margin on April 27, 2011, garnering 55% of votes against candidates Tashi Wangdila and Tenzin Namgyal Tethong (a former KT, although not endowed with exactly the same authority that Sangay has) and succeeding Lobsang Tenzin as the current Kalon Tripa. At that time, 83,400 Tibetans were eligible to vote and 49,000 ballots were cast. Yada yada.
Kalon Tripa (PM) Dr. Lobsang Sangay of the Tibetan Government in Exile speaking at WCSU in the Ives Concert Hall — February 21, 2012
(photo courtesy of Flickr)
… Anyhow, let’s end that procrastination here and get down to the story itself. No more blathering or apologetics. Here’s how it goes:
I arrived at White Hall on WCSU’s Midtown Campus in Danbury around 1:30 on February 21. Getting into Ives Concert Hall (where the speech was to take place) was arduous as I was hobbling along in a moon-boot after busting a bone in my foot on a stairwell some months ago.
To make matters worse, the first floor of the building was packed like a can of sardines, so I had to resort to the second floor balcony if I was going to get in on this lecture. Thankfully I just managed to find a seat there.
The place was filling up fast, and from the second-floor balcony I watched people role in; noticeably a woman in traditional, colorful Tibetan garb (what I thought may have been achuba), whom I’d later find out was Sangay’s wife – clutching the hand of their child – as the two proceeded to the front row in the auditorium below me.
The lecture itself was set to begin at 2 PM, when the president of the university James W. Schmotter walked on to the stage and gave the audience an introductory speech. He then introduced the man in question:
Dr. Lobsang Sangay walked up to the podium at 2:12 in a light grey suit and, with a big smile on his face, gave Western an awesome speech.
The good Kalon Tripa began explaining his roots and personal history to us, using a projector behind him to capture his monologue in photographs. He told us about his birth… how his family had already fled from Tibet when he was born in a village near Darjeeling in 1968 – and how it was difficult to fully articulate the answer to that question, “Where are you from?” Despite being born in India, Dr. Sangay does no consider himself an Indian. Reaffirming his roots as a Tibetan he explained how, despite the lack of knowledge concerning his true birth date, he and others identify it as the de facto date given to him in India: That is the 10th of March, the day which marks Tibet’s national uprising in 1959. 
At some point during the lecture he diverted and exposed a sweet sense of humor and down-to-earth sensibility: He talked about baseball, calling himself a “Red Sox fan – in exile.” I chuckled at the remark.
Dr. Sangay went on to tell us about his adulthood and later campaign, and no doubt this political life was one of stark contrast to the simplicity of his former years:
He started by saying that, in effect, the reason he won out at the election and received such an overwhelming number of votes was because he “went to the people.” That he became candidate by default because he “was outside the establishment.”
Well, I guess you can’t spell “candidate” without “candid”, although Sangay’s political opponents claimed he had no experience.
Still, he insisted it was a “Buddhist election”, which is no small surprise given that Tibetans from around the world, displaced or not, were allowed to and swiftly took the opportunity to vote – votes which the Kalon Tripa said expressed the “universality of freedom [or democracy].”
The flag of Tibet, which was introduced by the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso (12 February 1876 – 17 December 1933), and designed with the help of a Japanese priest. The motifs of the flag, according to the Central Tibetan Administration’s website, include a mountain representing Tibet, two snow lions (themselves mythological Tibetan creatures) of a “unified spiritual and secular life”, and a three-colored jewel representing the Three Jewels of Buddhism (namely the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha)
(image courtesy of Claude Arpi)
The candidates debated in Delhi, India where, despite what one might imagine was a fierce battle of words, wits and ideologies, they shared campaign tips with one another and established a friendship in a spirit of respect and mutual love for their culture, people and homeland.
Finally, on the 10th of March (which has become quite a coincidental day by this point) the Dalai Lama formally gave up his political power as head of state of the CTA to Sangay.
Sangay insinuated that he wanted the Dalai Lama to remain in power, but that His Holiness himself voted for establishing the office of the Kalon Tripa as the head of state. He said that the Dalai Lama “happily, proudly ended… [political leadership],” and that His Holiness wanted a secular, democratic society [or government] for Tibet. This is a stark contrast to the historical power of the lamas and tulkus (reincarnated lamas), who, prior to the Chinese Revolution, often wielded power with an iron fist, and, more recently, the power of the Dalai Lama himself… who has, until now, been the leader of the Tibetan Government in Exile.
The Kalon Tripa went on to ask himself a question regarding this shift in power: “How can I replace the responsibilities of the Dalai Lama?” he asked.
The Potala Palace in Lhasa, the administrative capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region (which is, in fact, hardly autonomous). The Palace is the historical residence of the Dalai Lamas
(photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
He then talked about the future in regards to the Tibetan people with much earnest:
Sangay said that there’s a Buddhist saying that goes “one who is born has to die”, simply enough. (cf. anicca.) Meaning, as he put it, it matters more what you do with the time you have [between life and death]. And he certainly meant to do a lot with his time and newly acquired position.
The Prime Minister committed himself to strive for human rights, freedom, democracy and the Middle Way (Pali: majjhimā paṭipadā, Sanskrit: madhyamā-pratipad; an important Buddhist term that in the Mahayana (and thus the Vajrayana, of which Tibetan Buddhism is a cultural strain) refers in some sense to transcending opposing views and dichotomies) Although he admitted that, at the time, the past six months he had spent in his position were difficult.
Dealing with China’s oppression, as well as the more recent issue of Tibetans self-immolating as a way to fight said oppression has most definitely taken its toll on the man’s heart. His mannerisms and way of speaking brought up a very clear, underlying pain when he came to the topic of the recent burning deaths. “Why would someone choose to die?” he said. “These are not numbers. These are human beings like you and I…” He commented how some would rather die than live in a “prison country”, but also reaffirmed that Tibet’s freedom should be secured through non-violence, as the Dalai lama has espoused, “not [at] gunpoint.” Very straightforwardly he told the audience, “No one’s going to give it [our freedom] to us. We have to get it ourselves.”
And yet Sangay also commented how, “You can’t change China. You can’t impact China.” (Just as a side note, I personally wonder how Tibetan freedom will ever be achieved when the United States – ostensibly the world’s only hyper-power and China’s biggest customer, as we are all too aware – is supporting China – itself possibly the world’s second or third most powerful nation – and supplying it with many billions of dollars every year. I think that given the fact that, while some politicians in the United States have decried China’s policy on Tibet, the United States itself isn’t willing to step in and do something lest our economy collapse if China decides to blackmail us with that hefty $16 trillion of debt (most of which we owe to China) looming over our heads. In this sense I know exactly where Dr. Sangay is coming from.) 
Of the many atrocities – too numerous to list – commited against the Tibetan people by the Chinese regime, the Prime Minister spoke of how Buddhist monks and nuns were forced to spit at and trample extant pictures of the Dalai Lama. I use the word “extant” because since the Chinese abolished the Tibetan government in 1959, the persecution of Tibetan Buddhists seems to have increased dramatically, and in lieu of this persecution Sangay said that pictures of the Dalai Lama have been banned, and that owning a picture of the Dalai Lama in Tibet can warrant imprisonment and torture.
An ethnic Tibetan, Jamphel Yeshi self-immolates in the streets of New Delhi, India. He later died of his burns
(photo courtesy of Transition Times)
The saddest thing to me isn’t just that China won’t let the Tibetan people be, but that the CTA/TGIE isn’t even asking to establish Tibet as an independent nation. Sangay made it clear that the CTA is simply appealing for the most they think they can get from China: Genuine autonomy within the framework of the Chinese Constitution. Tibet is willing to kiss China’s ass if only the Chinese regime will stop fucking the Tibetan people, their culture and historic homeland, over [and over and over]. Is it so terrible to have decent civil rights?
Concluding his speech, Dr. Sangay said that he wanted to make Tibet’s eventual freedom, “one of the best stories of the 21st century.”
(NOTICE: I had taken more notes on this event, but I’m missing what’s basically the last third of them. These included excerpts from a Q&A that took place after the speech. Sorry!)
» ‘Just found ‘em later today (10/18/12). See “EXTRA NOTES” below. «
  • Doctor Sangay received a doctorate in law at Harvard Law School, and was the first Tibetan to do so.
  • He returned to India, this time to Dharamsala, after going to Harvard.
  • Sangay spoke at schools and Tibetan refugee camps in order to garner support for his campaign, stating that, “You have to run as a freedom fighter [for the Tibetan people].”
  • He believed that, according to conventional wisdom, he would loose against he “formidable candidates”.
  • One of the questions presented to Sangay during the Q&A after the speech was, “Do you have any examples of autonomy that could be used by Tibet as [an] exemplary model?” Sangay’s response was that there are plenty of models throughout the world, but noted a few in particular which exist in China (ironically enough), namely Hong Kong and Macau.
  • Another question went something along the lines of this (I’m paraphrasing here): “As a Tibetan living in Connecticut, what do you think of the destruction of Tibetan culture through the influx of immigrants?” I missed an opportunity to record a definite answer (four pages of handwritten notes in and I feel like I’m getting carpel tunnel – don’t ask me why), but the Prime Minister noted that similar occurrences have taken place in Mongolia and Manchuria.
  •  Yet another question was, “What can be done to give Tibetans [the] best [sort of] life?” There was something poignant about this question as the inquirer was an ethnic South Chinese man, and Sangay was (if I remember correctly) quick to use this incident as a way to establish symbolic dialogue, thanking his “Chinese friend” for the comment. In reply, Sangay reinforced the idea that Tibetans should continue to seek genuine autonomy, instead of full independence, citing that there was a misunderstanding between the terms.
  • One thing that Sangay said struck a chord with me: “Freedom is part and parcel of humanity.”
The Danbury News-Times’ article on the Dalai Lama’s impending visit, published on the 14th of October. Titled “Thousands to attend lecture by Dalai Lama”, it was largely a fluff piece. Well… I guess I can’t complain. I’m prone to puffery from time to time myself. (Actually, this article might be an example of that on some level…) I know, I know. I’m a filthy hypocrite if there ever was one.
Well. That’s it. That’s the essay eight months in the making. I hope you enjoyed reading it, and be sure to expect more to come, what with the monumental event that I’ll be attending tomorrow in Danbury.
Just wish me luck on finding a decent parking space.
— Yūgen
October 18, 2012

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dr. Thompson Is Rolling In His Grave

(promotional poster image source unknown)
It’s old news alright, but the subject is just too aggravating for me to pussy-foot around any longer…
So there was a movie released last year called ‘The Rum Diary’… and for those of you who don’t know, it was based on a novel which – as books which have been adapted to film often compare to their consequent adaptations – was leaps and bounds better than the irellevant and distorted crap movie itself.
To first of all provide some background, it’s worth mentioning who wrote this book and why this author matters in the context of this entry:
Dr. Hunter Stockton Thompson (July 18, 1937 – February 20, 2005) , as some of you may/may not know, is one of the most well-known and critically-acclaimed journalists of all time, as well as a talented novelist. During his lifetime the man wrote for such notable publications as Vanity FairRolling StoneEsquireThe New York TimesTime, and Playboy. His influence on literature in the latter half of the 20th century has undoubtedly been profound. He pioneered a style of New Journalism known as “Gonzo” which later became something of an aesthetic unto itself with the works of his friend and colleague, the artist and illustrator Ralph Steadman. (You may more easily recognize the latter individual as the artist behind the labels on a line of [“Gonzo”] beer from Denver crafted by Flying Dog Brewery.)
“Gonzo” journalism is characterized by a first-person narrative in which the writing is presented from the perspective of the journalist him/herself, eschewing objectivity much more than most journalists would care for. However, Thompson was one of the biggest rebels of our age, and he never seemed to really consider convention and the norms of the reporting business. Drug-addled, spontaneous, iconoclastic, and extremely, very clever, the man made it through many years of writing for papers and magazines – some infamous, as those aforesaid, and others almost unknown – despite his eccentricity, intoxication and trifles with society’s expectations and the expectations of his employers. He was one of the freest spirits in recorded history, no doubt.

“Vintage Dr. Gonzo”, detailing Raoul Duke (Thompson’s alter ego in ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’), by Ralph Steadman
(image source unknown)
Thompson mostly wrote non-fiction. And while he did write fiction as well – and indeed it was his fiction that really rocketed him into the world of fame – basically all of his fictional works are to some extent or another semi-autobiographical: His magnum opus is arguably ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ (first published in 1971),which, while it’s definitely embellished in some places, is more of a true story than most might think. In the book Thompson provides pseudonyms for the two main characters who in reality were Thompson himself and his friend and lawyer, Oscar Zeta Acosta (April 8, 1935 – disappeared 1974).
‘Fear and Loathing’ was famously adapted to film by Terry Gilliam (a member of the Monty Python comedy troupe, as well as the director of about a dozen motion pictures… among them ‘Brazil’ (1985) and ‘Time Bandits’ (1981), just to name a few) in 1998. The film, which starred Johnny Depp (who happened to be a long-time friend of Thompson’s) and Benicio del Toro, was spellbinding and beautifully represented the book and its author’s intentions. (Well, perhaps not perfectly… but a whole lot more than most film adaptations can boast.)

The book cover for the first US edition of ‘The Rum Diary’, with Hunter pictured in a lawn chair 
(image courtesy of Wikipedia)
So I received ‘The Rum Diary’ in hardcover last year as a Christmas gift and soon after reading it viewed the film. Now, it might come off as a tad arrogant, but I’d like to think of myself as being fairly well acquainted with Thompson’s oeuvre… I haven’t scoured every book the man wrote, but I have read Fear and Loathing’ as well as ‘Generation of Swine’ , his seminal articles/essays “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved” and “Strange Rumblings in Aztlan”, excerpts from ‘Screwjack’, and more recently the aforementioned ‘The Rum Diary’. Not that it has anything to do with his bibliography, but there are a couple of very good Thompson-related documentaries out there I’ve had the pleasure of viewing as well. The biopic ‘Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’ is particularly informative when it comes to the Doctor’s major literary achievements.
Anyway, the book was great! Hunter always had a penchant for life lived excessively and in the raw. This kind of motif is evenly spread throughout the pages, detailing the wild story of one Paul Kemp, a reporter who moves from New York City to the island territory of Puerto Rico in the 1950s in order to work for The Daily News, a newspaper based in the city of San Juan, historically and even to the  modern day a tourist trap and financial center in the eastern portion of the island. Like Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing’, Paul Kemp is somewhat of a persona of HST, as the novel is loosely based on Hunter’s experiences in Puerto Rico in 1960, where he worked for the ephemeral El Sportivo newspaper and then applied to but was denied a job writing for the San Juan Star
What ensues in the novel is a drunken, sweaty mess of lusty rum-fueled parties, late nights and assignments, grimy burger joints, jungle-clad shanty bars and the oppressive, tropical sun, failing businesses and ill-fated encounters with the locals, not to mention the strangeness, malaise, anomie and general aimlessness of Kemp’s coworkers and indeed Kemp himself. The book is in some ways a statement about the economic and ethnic differences and strife of the time, and makes for a great tale if you like your protagonists to be sly, risqué, casual, and careless risk-takers and life-livers whose capricious hearts are tinted with a subversive sense of longing and meaninglessness. 
One of the most famous film stills from ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’directed by Terry Gilliam. Johnny Depp stars as Raoul Duke (right) and Benicio Del Toro plays Dr. Gonzo, the doppelganger of Carlos Zeta Acosta (left)
(photo courtesy of Hot Saas’s Pop Culture Safari)
So like I said, the book was awesome. However, it was only the second novel Thompson wrote (although it was only first published in 1998 – the same year ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’(Gilliam’s film) premiered – hence why the above pictured book jacket unofficially subtitles the work “The Long Lost Novel”), and while anyone who is used to the unique, elusive, debasing and often absurd humor that one expects of Hunter after reading ‘Fear and Loathing’might very well find that lacking in this book, it’s still written quite well given that Thompson was probably in his early twenties at the time he finished working on the book. I myself am twenty-one, and believe me – I can’t write for shit compared to the way this guy could in the early sixties. (Then again, the education system in this country was better back then. Just sayin’.)
But as I said, this book isn’t ‘Fear and Loathing’ – and that’s precisely the problem when it comes to the film adaptation. While the novel came before ‘Fear and Loathing’, the book, the film adaptation of ‘The Rum Diary’ came after ‘Fear and Loathing’, the motion picture. After Terry Gilliam directed ‘Fear and Loathing’ it became a huge cult hit, and indeed I feel the movie deserved it and captured all of the major themes and prosaic monologues of the book. It was a brilliant, clever, racy zeitgeist of a film – as was Hunter’s written work. The reason that Bruce Robinson’s adaptation of ‘The Rum Diary’ went downhill for me was that I felt like it was trying so hard to be Gilliam’s ‘Fear and Loathing’Much too hard, in fact. It was frankly embarrassing how Johnny Depp (who plays Paul Kemp in the movie and played Rauol Duke, the main character and antihero of ‘Fear and Loathing’ whose name is in some sense just a sobriquet given by Thompson to his past self for the purposes of the novel, in Gilliam’s movie) used the terms “bastard” or “bastards” so many unnecessary fucking times. This, unquestionably, is an attempt to replicate Thompson’s command of a verbosely witty vocabulary, undoubtedly one of the highlights of ‘Fear and Loathing’ – both the novel and film. (Hunter’s parlance in ‘Fear and Loathing’ does indeed lend itself to frequent insults, and the word “bastard” is used quite often in the book (as well as in some of his later works), sometimes in conjunction with other terms (Hunter seemed fond of crafting elaborate aspersions), thus giving way to such terms as “psychotic rat bastard”.)
 … What was worse, the number of discrepancies between the book and the movie increased dramatically after the first half of the film was over, and overall the film was far too different from the novel to really do Thompson justice. In fact it was downright disgraceful to the writer. (Don’t listen to this guy.)
Don’t get me wrong, this piece of crap looked promising to begin with, but once minor characters like Moberg (played by Giovanni Ribisi) – one of Kemp’s oft-drunken colleagues, who only appears in the novel a handful of times and really is only ever mentioned peripherally – became an intricate figure tied into the main story-line, I started to get annoyed. In the novel there is no mention of Moberg having a venereal disease, listening to Hitler’s speeches on a record player, nor of him raiding a Bacardi plant. (Jesus Lord in Heaven damn product placement and how it has raped and continues to dry fuck cinema time and again!) There is no hallucinogenic trip shared between Kemp and Bob Sala (played by Michael Rispoli).
The flight from New York to Puerto Rico is, at least to me, an intricate and important part of the story, considering that this is where Kemp meets Chenault… and yet this never occurs in the movie. In the movie Lotterman doesn’t die and Paul steals Sanderson’s boat and sails away at the end, whereas in the book Lotterman dies of a heart attack and Paul boards a plane for the mainland at the close of the novel.
I’m not completely sure about this one, but I have a good feeling that, speaking of Moberg, Kemp never moved into an apartment with him…
(I’ll give credit where credit is due: In all honesty this page did help me quite a bit in discerning some of the aforementioned inconsistencies.)
One of the original book covers of ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’, often subtitled A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream’. This book made for a much better movie than Robinson’s [adaptation of] ‘The Rum Diary’
(image courtesy of HUCK Magazine)
Anyway, I think the main issues I have with Robinson’s movie can be summarized as follows:
1. The film tries way too hard to either be Gilliam’s ‘Fear and Loathing’ or make ‘The Rum Diary’(the book) appear as if it were much more like ‘Fear and Loathing’ (the book). The director or his associates seem to have deliberately introduced plot elements into the film which were not present in the book in order to achieve this end, thus in effect ruining the film for anybody who had read the book previously (or perhaps otherwise).
2. Whereas whilst Gilliam was directing the film adaptation of ‘Fear and Loathing’ he had HST, the man himself, practically breathing down his and Depp’s necks the whole time, advising them on portrayals and even tiny nuances, etc. Robinson’s adaptation of ‘The Rum Diary’ was screened six years after Hunter’s death and thirteen years after Hunter had professionally worked with Depp. Thus Depp probably lost some of his sense of character when trying to portray a persona of Thompson, since – let’s be honest – it’s been a while.
3. Silly product placement. If you’re going to do it – and let’s face it, ever since the filmindustry has dominated and overthrown the actual art of cinema it’s pretty much necessary if you want anyone to see your movie – do it with some amount of tact. Don’t completely fuck up the story because Bacardi told you they don’t have enough ads already.
4. Johnny Depp… man, I miss it when you did ‘Dead Man’… those were the days. In all seriousness, though, I’m putting some of the responsibility on you. You knew Hunter more than a lot of people and with some amount of intuition you could’ve better lived up to what he probably would’ve expected out of an adaptation of his book. Sorry. I just have to be honest. 
All in all it was a good book… not so much a good movie.
— Yūgen
September 28, 2012