What A Guy!











Greetings, friends

Sometimes we hear a story or read an article that is so strange it sticks in our mind’s hard drive, and then. even years later, all it takes is the slightest hint and the whole thing comes right back to us.

This happened recently when a front-page article in the New York Times appeared;

            A Finicky Thief of the Finest Silver Is Arrested Again.

This meager hint was all it took to bring the whole story back to mind, from a 16 page article in a 2004 New Yorker chronicling the outrageous exploits of Blane Nordahl, arguably the most successful cat burglar in the history of American crime.

Nordahl is so notorious that he has his own Wikipedia page and was long ago dubbed, “burglar to the stars.” though he seems never to have cared about the identities of his victims.

Those victims include some of the most illustrious members of America’s superrich. One of Nordahl’s  most notable heists was the theft of 120 sterling salt and pepper shakers from Ivana Trump’s Greenwich, Conn. mansion. He is a suspect in over 500 burglaries netting him millions of dollars. but in his all many capers he has not physically injured anyone, and he only steals one class of goods – the very finest items made of purest sterling silver. His passion for the metal is so refined he once refrained from stealing ten grand in cash that was in a cabinet of silver he pilfered from.

Standing only 5’4″ but strongly built

, Nordahl’s skills are legendary among police on the east coast and in the south. And his ability to evade capture has driven the constabulary nuts. He has learned to pacify vicious Rottweiler guard dogs, disable elaborate security systems, escape from massive police dragnets, making off with loads of silver, which he carried in garbage bags, most of it sold to a jeweler in Manhattan and eventually melted down. Even when apprehended and grilled, police were unable to find enough evidence to convict him. This is amazing, considering that he often pulled off three jobs in one night.

For years, Nordahl was a source of endless frustration for the police, and one man, Detective Lonnie Mason, made it his life’s work to catch and nail the thief. though it was Cornell Abruzinni, a Greenwich, Connecticut detective, who first brought Nordahl to justice.  But this was only the beginning of a series of Nordahl’s incarcerations, releases, and returns to his thieving ways. As Abruzinni said of the Nordahl’s ability to get back to work, “It’s like watching the same bad movie again and again.

A complete list of Nordahl’s doings is far too extensive to note here. and there may be hundreds more that the police don’t know about. He rode high for years, obviously enjoying making fools of the cops, but in the end, he made the same mistake many a successful man makes; he pissed off the wrong woman. Detective Lonnie Mason approached Blane’s girlfriend, a woman named Luanne, with a picture of Nordahl with another woman. Luanne was enraged. She spilled her guts, and in 1998, Nordahl was again sent away.

But this didn’t stop him  His saga of imprisonment and release continued until late 2013. After a long thieving spree in Georgia, and suspected of numerous burglaries – maybe as many as a hundred – he was caught again and is now awaiting trial in a Fulton County, Georgia jail.

What intrigues many people is why a person such as Nordahl, a man of undeniable talents, should turn to thievery. Detective Mason got to know Nordahl to some extent, and grudgingly admitted to the man’s amazing innate talents when he said, “With his mind? I honestly don’t think there’s anything Blane can’t do.

To presume Nordahl was purely money motivated is naive. People with no moral scruples who are strictly money motivated do not go in for risky endeavors requiring nerve and skill; they go into politics or work on Wall Street.

A clue might lie in the fact that Nordahl’s father David is a highly successful painter of western scenes. In trying to understand the motives of his son Blane

, one must keep in mind that the essence of any life dedicated to an artistic practice is the psychological condition known as obsession.

In his Pulitzer prize-winning book on psychoanalysis, The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker states that “Art is, in the end, nothing more than a socially acceptable excuse for obsession.”

Any person who has committed themself to an artistic practice will confirm the role of obsession in their lives. That is what makes Nordahl return to his gig time and again. Theft is his art. It would be as impossible for him to give it up as it would for his father to throw away his paint brushes

, because not to do it is not to exist.

Guys like Nordahl fulfill a valuable function in society. Their exploits

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, though larcenous, are inspiring. and they keep a certain percentage of the police force occupied, leaving them less time for harassing the rest of us

One of Blane’s old girlfriends told the police, “He’ll be seventy-eight with a goddam cane, walking down the street stealing silver.”

So, here’s hoping that Blane Nordahl, despite the fact that he’s 51, can finagle his way out of prison and eventually lead the police on another merry chase for priceless sterling.

Of course, the downside of this would be the immeasurable suffering he would bring to his ultra-rich victims.

When one thinks of the agony Ivana Trump must have suffered when she found her salt shakers missing… the heart bleeds!

Bye for now, friends,


Sources; The Silver Thief, Stephen J. Dubner, The New Yorker, 2004

The New York Times, Articles 8/26/13 and 2/15/14





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Blue Phantom II

It all happens so fast. One instant the road is clear, the next, a deadly obstacle appears.

Later, your abiding memory of the crash will be the heavy stench of gasoline, because after impact, the Phantom’s gas cap pops off, the Thai women go down, you go down, and gas pours out of the 3.6- gallon tank, soaking your shorts. Before you can squirm out from under the bike, your lower body is bathed in petrol. You drag your left leg out, your foot snags, and gas fills your shoe.

The puddle spreads, but the Thai females are sitting in the middle of the road, stunned, the young one sobbing, the lady whining.

The gas flows under them. You wave frantically, yelling “Get away! Get away!” but they think you’re mad at them and they cringe in fear. Fumes rise in waves from the hot pavement. All it would take is….

So you grab the young one under the arms and drag her clear, then the lady. Their soaked shorts leave faint trails of gas on the hot pavement.

You stare at the t-boned bikes,  so shocked you don’t know what to do. You wonder, What’s the number for 911 in Thailand?

You survey your body. All you can feel is anger and the chill of gas wicking up your shirt from you shorts, running down your legs, sloshing in you left shoe when you move. You’re a walking Molotov Cocktail.

A rusty pickup stops. Somebody makes a call. Another vehicle appears and villagers get out. Someone has a blanket, held up so the Thai women can change clothes. You stand there shivering and sweating. What the hell do I do now?

Then two villagers grab the Thai motorbike and drag it off the road. You don’t like this. You want the cops to see the wreckage, so they can see it wasn’t your fault. But there’s nothing you can do about it now. The blue Phantom sits alone in the middle of the road, on its side, in that black puddle of gas.

A man gets out of a car and comes up to you. He has s thick gold chain around his neck and he looks more Mexican than Thai. He points a finger at you

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, saying you must pay for damage and hospital bills.

What the hell? It wasn’t your fault, you say. He walks away.

Two official-looking vehicles appear. A brown-shirted cop gets out of each. The villagers surround them. Fingers point in your direction, followed by the word “Farang” (Fah-RANG) meaning foreigner. One cop gives you a long hard stare. You don’t like the way this is going.

You get a brilliant idea. You call Suni, the Thai lady who owns the guesthouse you stayed at. She speaks very good English. Her husband is in Chiang Mai on business and she’s very busy, but despite that, she says she’ll come.


Minutes later she pulls up on her motorbike. You tell her the story. She listens, nods, then looks long and steady into your eyes and tells you she’ll do what she can, “But whatever happens, you must, you must, stay calm.”

You start to wake up to what’s really going on. Outrage flares up in you. But this is not America. This is the East. If you blow up, you will lose face, and along with loss of face, any chance at justice.

Suni approaches the crowd. She puts her palms together, bows slightly to the cops, and starts talking to them. Suni is a pretty lady, with eyelashes so long they make a breeze when she blinks, so the cops give her their full attention. There is some more conversation, then Suni comes back to you and warns you again that you must stay calm.

You breathe deep and listen. She says that first you must pay one thousand Baht to the police for unsafe driving. Then you must pay for the damage to the lady’s motorbike. Then you must pay any medical bills for the women.

You hands fist up, you belly tightens, you’re heart hammers—you’re ready to fight—but the calm look on Suni’s face tells you it’s pointless to argue.

You force a smile and thank her. Then she goes back to the cops. You sense there’s some kind of ritual going on here. Suni chats with them again, and it dawns on you that this woman is walking a tightrope here. She’s a member of this village. She is jeopardizing her position by coming to the aid of a farang, but she is doing it skillfully and with ease. She comes back to you again, says okay, you don’t have to pay the police anything. But you do have to pay for the damage and the medical bills. But the Thai woman looks okay, and when an ambulance comes, only the girl gets in.

You thank Suni again, hoping the sincere look on you face shows her how grateful you are.

The crowd starts to disperse. The wounded motorbike is loaded onto a pickup and a parade forms. You lift the Phantom for a close inspection. The left mirror is trashed and the left-turn indicator is missing its yellow lens. Other that that, it looks unscathed. It starts the second you press the starter, and you take your place in the procession, with one of the cops behind you.

Everyone stops at the motorbike repair shop where you’d stopped earlier. The broken motorbike is set on the ground. It’s central housing is split open.  The repairman comes out, stoops to inspect it, then looks at you. You make hand gestures, to show him what happened, raising your hands in exasperation. He looks at the bike again, stands up and says something.

Then Suni comes back to you. “He says it will cost one thousand-five-hundred Baht.” You sag in relief: his guy could have shredded your wallet if he’d wanted to, but all he’s asking for is about  $47 US

Now the parade heads to the Mai Ai police station. When you walk in, people get a whiff of your petro-soaked clothes and shift to other seats. Suni disappears behind a closed-door. You sit down and wait.

By now the gas has had its way with your tender parts. The whole area burns and itches, begging to be scratched. But you don’t move. Your mind is churning awful numbers, wondering how much they’ll demand, and also, Will they take a charge card?

A few minutes later, Suni comes out. “We have to wait for the girl fo return from the hospital.” She sits down beside you. She puts her hand on your arm. “An agreement has been made with the police. You must pay a total of five thousand Baht for everything, and that will settle the issue.”

That’s about $157. Compared to the figures you’d been churning

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, it seems like lunch money.

Soon you’re summoned to the back room  The young girl is sitting in front of a cop’s desk. She has a wide band-aid on her shoulder and an Ace bandage on her ankle. She looks at you like you raped her. You are told to sit down.

A paper is presented, filled out on both sides. It’s written in Thai, and the only thing you recognize is you name, written in bold letters. You are handed a pen. You have no idea what you are admitting to doing. You look at Suni. The look on her face tells you to sign. You sign.

When you offer the pen to the girl, she looks away. The cop presents an ink pad. The girl presses her thumb into it, then onto the paper you signed. The cop takes the pen from you and writes what you assume is the girl’s name around the thumbprint.

Then he lifts a camera. Suni says to get out the money and hand it to the girl. You raise the gas-soaked bills, fan them out and hand them to the girl. The cop snaps a photo. The girl takes the money. It’s over.

Outside, you stand in front of Suni, wanting to kneel at her feet for what she’s done, but you can tell by the look on her face that she knows you’re grateful. She has to get back to her guesthouse, so she says goodbye.

Later, you stop at Marble Restaurant, tell your story to Oud (OOD) the owner. He’s sympathetic, but he doesn’t like stories like this getting around because it’s bad for the tourist trade. Later, you talk to Chris

, an English expat who’s lived in Tha Ton for eight years. He says the story pisses him off, but adds, “Mate, 5000 Baht? It could have cost you a whole lot more.” You say you got off easy because of Suni. He nods.

You can’t get up the juice to ride out, so you stay at Suni’s guesthouse. But you don’t get much sleep. You just can’t believe how lucky you are.

The next day, you ask if there’s anything you can do to help her. She wants to plant banana trees and flowering bushes, but her husband is too busy to help, so you dig holes in the muddy river bank, grateful for a chance to repay her in some small way.

Before you get underway again, you get the mirror replaced, refill the Phantom, then secure the gas tank lid with packing tape. And you adopt a new strategy for the road.

When you approach traffic on your side, at 5o meters you give them a three-second blast on the horn. At 25 meters, a 2-second blast. If you suspect they still don’t hear, you stay on the horn till you pass. By journey’s end, the palm of you hand is cramping from pressing that horn.

Sadly, the day comes to return the Phantom. When you pull into the shop, Duncan, the owner, gives you a quizzical look. You pull off your helmet, smile big, tell him the bike performed flawlessly. You give him back the half-refund of cash, point to the broken indicator light, but he waves it off. You shake his hand and thank him warmly. If he hadn’t pushed you onto that blue Phantom, you’d have missed one hell of a ride.

Days later, when your plane lifts off from Chiang Mai, you tell yourself your romance with Thailand is finished. Like an overly talkative lover, she’s revealed more than you wanted to know. But you can’t fool yourself. You know you’re hooked. And you’ll be back again next year for another ride.

But before you leave Tony’s Big Bikes on another Phantom, you’ll make sure it has two vital components; a lockable gas tank lid, and a fully functioning horn.

May Lord Buddha smile on your journeys, my friends,


PS 1   A copy of the Thai document I signed in the Mae Ai police station is a Thai Document, Available as a PDF Here. If anyone reading this blog knows a Thai person who speaks English, I would be grateful for a translation. Embarassment precluded me from asking this of anyone in Thailand.

sappaya-guesthouse (1)PS 2  If you ever get up to Tha Ton, the best place to stay is Sappaya Guesthouse, owned by Suni and her Aussie husband. If you go to Tripadvisor.com you’ll see a very long list of glowing, 100% positive reviews.

If you see Suni, tell her Bruce Weber said, “Thanks again.” She’ll know what you’re talking about.

Sappaya Guesthouse   Tha Ton, Thailand,  sunitedk@yahoo.com    Tel  66 080 792-8275      Facebook: sappaya guesthouse




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Blue Phantom I

Blue Phantom
Blue Phantom

Greetings, friends.

If you’re like most people, at some time in your life you’ve gotten a crazy idea, about going somewhere and doing something that doesn’t make sense. You keep hoping that reason and  logic will prevail and you’ll drop the idea. But you don’t

You announce your plans to friends and loved ones, but they don’t try to talk you out of it. At first, you  think they don’t understand the risks. Then you start to suspect that you’re not the beloved soul you always thought you were.

So, despite your fears and doubts, you find yourself At Tony’s Big Bikes in Chiang Mai, Thailand, negotiating a two-week rental of a Honda Phantom. You repress the fact that between 50 and 60 people a day are killed in motorbike accidents in Thailand, and you also ignore the fact that you haven’t spent time on a serious motorcycle since 1976 when you sold your Yamaha 650. You tell yourself the Phantom is no crotch-rocket, but truth is, it’s a powerful cruiser that’ll get you killed just as easy as a mad-dog Kawasaki.

To add juice to this experience, you’ll have to regain your skills in downtown Chiang Mai traffic, among people who believe that traffic laws are an evil vestige of colonialism. Thais are a gentle people, but they can be Hell on Wheels.

Anyway, you sign a contract that says you’re responsible for everything and the shop is responsible for nothing, pay with a credit card, then hand over your passport: no shop in Thailand, to your knowledge will rent a bike without keeping it.

Now it’s time to face up to your folly. You straddle the bike, (a black one with orange flames on the tank) , you lean and turn the key, push the starter button, and when it comes to life. you feel that primordial surge up your spine, the same feeling, no doubt, that the first man to ride a horse felt when he grabbed the animal’s mane and climbed on.

But this romantic stuff fades quick, because the owner and his lovely Thai assistant are staring at you, and all you care about now is getting out of there without killing the engine. You squeeze the clutch, kick the shifter into first, the bike squats, and, Buddha be praised!, you ease out like a pro, into the maelstrom of traffic.

You stop at the first intersection, waiting for an opening, trying to stave off panic. When traffic eases, you pull out, running the revs up too high for first gear. You shift, throttle up, shift again. Now you realize that Chiang Mai traffic is like a live video game, and the price of unwariness is… nevermind that – just stay on the left!

You’re soon overwhelmed with all this input. Your sphincter is puckered three inches off the seat, your neck muscles are clenched so tight you can’t turn your head, your eyes are burning from sweat and pollution, but you don’t notice the smell because you’re hardly breathing. You don’t really care about any of this, because, truth be told, you’re having too much fun.

To get the feel of the bike before you leave town, you follow the moat road around the Old City, and soon the old reflexes are coming back. You shift and brake smoothly, avoid three vehicles that pull straight out in front of you, getting used to Death being just a few inches away. But at a traffic jam, the bike won’t go into neutral. You fiddle and fuss, but no dice.

Back at the shop. the owner, an Englishman named Duncan, looks at the shifter, shakes his head, says here, try this bike. It’s a black one, good tires, no parts falling off, so away you go. You get to the street that leads to Route 107, and about two kilos up the road, you hear a whining sound and the engine dies. You pitch forward, instinctively push the starter button, the bike fires, then dies again. Can’t have this. Back to the shop.

The owner says sorry, try this other one. Hope springing eternal, you strap on your bag and ride away. At the intersection, you notice that the handlebars are at a twenty degree angle with the front wheel, and the tank has a huge dent in it.

By now, you think Lord Buddha’s trying to tell you something. Back at the shop, you tell the owner the deal’s off – you don’t want to get stranded out in rural Thailand on one of his junk bikes.

He tries to sell you on another Phantom, but by now, your doubts are getting the better if you. You refuse to deal. He points to a sign on the wall that says no refunds. You say you don’t care

, give me back my passport.

The owner nods, goes to his desk, gets your passport and, just to be nice, gives back half your rental fee in cash. You stuff this in you pocket, pick up your bag, and head for the door.

But you feel sick. Now, it’s either the same process at another shop or scuttle the plan. Just as you get to the door, Duncan says, “Wait, try this one,” pointing to a bike in the corner. “I was gonna take it out this weekend, but you can have it. It’s all gassed up and ready.”

It’s a blue one. It looks clean, with gleaming chrome and new tires. It beckons. Your heart leaps.

You get on, ease her out, and oh my, she’s a true sweetheart, behaving like the perfect woman, responding to your every command. You pull back into the shop. The owner’s way back in the corner gabbing. Quick as you can, you strap on your bag, wave to him and shout, “See you in two weeks.”

He smiles and waves, and now you’re the only guy in all of Thailand who has rented a motorcycle and still his passport, plus half his rental fee, which’ll come in handy if the bike breaks.

Now you’re really on your way. You get to route 107, glide along, singing songs, can’t believe how great your voice sounds as it reverbs against the helmet’s visor.  Then just outside of Mae Rim, you hit an unavoidable pothole and the gas tank lid flips off and slides down the tank into your crotch. You squeeze your thighs, look down and see gas in the full tank gurgling like boiling water. If any of that spills out and hits something hot on the bike…

You pull over, shut down and fuss with the cap. It won’t lock. But you stick it back on and say that’s too bad, ’cause you’re not going back to Chaing Mai.

Things go fine till you get to Doi Wiang National Park and it starts to rain. This tropical rain is so heavy it’s like being under water. The road winds through steep jungle-covered hills. Trucks pass and throw waves of water that make you swerve. Under the fogged-up visor, you see the road drop off into a place they’ll never find you, if they ever bother to look.

The rain lets up, and you realize that you have to urinate immediately. You find a bus-rider’s shelter and pull over. You stand shivering, waiting for the flow to start, then you feel stings on the back of your leg. This is Dengue Fever country, and you don’t fancy three weeks in bed with a temp of 104. After you slather your skin with Deet, you breathe deep, finish your business, and get back on the road.

Darkness falls, but you don’t notice, because you’re focused on Thais on motorbikes coming at you head-on. Driving on the wrong side is considered normal, but what’s even more annoying are the countless stray dogs that dart in front of you.

When you reach the village of Tha Ton, up near the Burmese border, you’re cold, tired and hungry. You get fed, find a bed, and fall into an eight-hour coma.

You wake to the sound of gongs that are far away but seem very near. You pull on yesterday’s clothes and step out of your room, stunned by what you see – steep jungle-covered hills shrouded in heavy mist, a few houses here and there, set amongst a riot of tropical flowers backed by a thousand shades of green. A wide muddy river, the Mae Kok, rustles at your feet.

You’re planning to leave that day, with an agenda of places to see. You sip coffee and consult your written plans. but despite the caffeine, you now feel like you’re hooked to a morphine drip. You breathe slow and deep. You gaze at the lushness around you. Your body sags. The agenda slips from your fingers. You aint’ goin’ nowhere.

You stay for days, enchanted by this village and its friendly people Twice you try to leave town, but you can’t do it.

Then one morning


, you tell yourself you’ve had enough of this inner peace business. You’re an American – you’re not built for Nirvana. You settle your bill, say your goodbyes, and top up the Phantom’s tank. But before you leave, you gotta do something about this gas cap.

You pull up at the local repair shop. The shop owner says the cap’s locking mechanism is shot, but he fusses with it for ten minutes and it seems to be down tight. You pull out money. He says no charge, but you hand him twenty Baht. He smiles and takes the bill. You won’t know till a few hours later how important this offer of payment turns out to be.

Slowly you cross the bridge, easing away from a place you don’t want to leave. Three kilos out of town, you’re still going slow, which is very fortunate, because a Thai woman on a motorbike with a young girl on board, paying absolutely no attention, turns directly in front of you. You see the terrified looks on their faces as you slam on the brakes, but there’s no way to avoid the crash.

To be continued.

Source for statistics on Thai motorbike deaths; The Nation, nationmedia.com, May 16, 2013




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Rice Whiskey And Muddy Water

Chiang Khong,Thailand
4 October,2013

Greetings Friends,

If you ever make it up to these parts, you might like to try a drink called “lao khao.” It’s a form of rice whiskey made throughout northern Thailand, aged long enough to go from the copper tubing into the bottle.

It’s among that class of beverages that repels with the first sip, beguiles with the second, and after the third, you’re in love.

If you’re staying in one of the tiny bungalows down by the river, you can take your bottle out onto your rickety wooden deck, settle into a rattan chair, pour yourself an inch of firewater, and watch the Mekong drift by.

bigstock-mekong-river-lao-26059583_500If you’ve come during the rainy season,as it is now, the river will be high and muddy. You’ll see green-bean shaped boats passing up and down, belching black smoke from their worn-out motors, As the sun sets to your left, you’ll feel a breeze rise from the river, cooling the last of the sweat under your arms.

When the half-moon rises, you’ll see very few lights come on across the river, because most of Laos is still mired in the Late Stone Age, its six million people locked in serfdom to a brutal Communist regime. But just as darkness falls, and your tongue is numb from the drink, someone flips a switch and a burst of colored lights comes on across the river, followed by American Pop music played at speaker-shattering volume. Maybe you’ve already been told that the Laos are mad for Karaoke, so you pour yourself another inch, kick back, and laugh yourself silly through a long serenade of drunken Laotians pouring out their hearts to the tune of golden oldies. This may last through three more inches from the bottle, preparing you for the grand finale, which is every drunken Lao in that bar garbling the words to Bertte Midler’s “The Rose”

When their last bit of breath is spent, the lights go out as suddenly as they came on – there’s a curfew that is harshly imposed – and then comes the sputtering of motorbikes and the rattle of rusty pickups as the revelers wind their way home.


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, a quiet settles on the river, and maybe on you as well. By now you’ve probably scuttled your travel plans for the next day. thinking another day by the river is needed. You’ll probably feel a sense of heaviness

, less a result of the drink than of the darkness, the silence, and the presence of a primordial river that begins as a trickle in the Himalayas and ends in the South China Sea. That heaviness evokes a desire to do nothing but sit, listen, smell, watch, absorb.

Before you can lapse into somberness, you might swear you’ve heard something down by the river’s bank. You might have heard stories about the immigration problems in the area, about the thousands of Laotians and Burmese who cross the Mekong in the dead of nightt, to disappear into the vast cheap-labor underground the feeds Thailand’s thriving economy.

So you’re leaning, cocking an ear,staring into the darkness, waiting, then yes…. you’re sure you hear them, their rustling in the water, their whispered voices, their footsteps squishing the mud.

Then, once again, silence.

You might find yourself in need of a deep breath, and after you take it, and glance at that bottle of Lao Lao, you’ll be stunned at how little is left. But you can’t forget the sound of those whispers in the dark, so in honor of all the desperate peoples in this world who risk life and limb to get from their Land of Bread and Water to a Land of Milk and Money, you might stand, pour a final drink, raise your glass in a solemn salute to their courage, and wish them all Godspeed.

Sweet Siamese Dreams, Friends,


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Farewell to a Legend

Greetings friends,

The illustrious crime novelist Elmore Leonard died last month at the age of 87 with, of course, yet another novel in progress.

His long career began in 1951 with the publication of his first western story. and among his achievements are two of the finest examples of the genre, Hombre, and Valdez Is Coming.

Both were made into movies. Hombre won all the awards, but Valdez Is Coming is the better book. In this intense story, Leonard leads the reader, after a long series of violent confrontations, to expect a lurid, bloody climax. But in the final scene, the main character, Bob Valdez, speaks a dozen quiet words, shattering the villain more completely that any Sharps rifle could ever do.

Of course, Hollywood muffed this great ending. Leonard was disdainful of its treatment of his books, with the exception of Get Shorty, the film that made him a household name. “After writing almost anonymously for decades,” Leonard said in 1995, “I am what you call an overnight success.

Leonard knew how to grab our attention. In one of the opening scenes from Pagan Babies, the main character, Father Terry Dunn, walks into a hut in Rwanda where four machete-wielding Hutu tribesman are taking a break from slaughtering Tutsis, refreshing themselves with banana beer. They ask Father Terry what he wants. He tells them he’s come to hear their Confessions. They act amused, but when they reach for their machetes, he pulls out a vintage automatic pistol and shoots them to bits.

When the smoke clears, Father Terry makes a solemn Sign of the Cross over their bloody corpses and says. “Rest in peace, motherfuckers.”

Leonard was also a master of the short story. Here’s the opening paragraph from The Tonto Woman, based on an event that occurred here in southern Arizona in 1851, when two white girls were kidnapped by the Tonto Apaches –

A time would come, within a few years, when Ruben Vega would go to the church in Benson, kneel at the confessional, and say to the priest, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been thirty-seven years since my last confession. . . since then  I have fornicated with many women, maybe eight hundred,. No, not that many, considering my work, maybe six hundred only. ” And the priest would say, “Do you mean bad women or good women?” And Ruben Vega would say, “They are all good, Father.” He would tell the priest he had stolen, in that time, about twenty thousand head of cattle, but only maybe fifteen horses. The priest would ask him if he committed murder. Ruben Vega would say no. “All that stealing you’ve done

, ” the priest would say, “You’ve never killed anyone?” And Ruben Vega would say, “Yes, of course, but it was not to commit murder. You understand the distinction? Not to kill someone to take a life, but only to save my own.”

Kinda makes you want to follow up on Ruben Vega, see what he gets up to, right?

After he forsook the western genre, Elmore Leonard reconfigured the crime novel. Most of his bad guys, like Ruben Vega, were a lot more interesting than the ones on the side of the law, leading to the time-worn joke that when Elmore reached the Pearly Gates, he’d decline entry, saying that the guys he’d rather hang out with were all down in Hell.

But a craftsman truly distinguishes himself when he “escapes the form.” Elmore Leonard did this with his best book, Touch, which contains very little violence, no cold-hearted bad guys, and minimal crime. 

Written in 1977, the book languished on the publisher’s shelf because of its peculiar subject matter, and was not released until 1987. In his Author’s Note for the book, Leonard writes, “Friends of mine who read a lot tell me its my best work.”

And his friends were discerning readers indeed. They knew that an author’s primary job is to interest the reader in a conflict. The conflict between cowboys and Indians, or cops and crooks, is an easy sell.

But to get the reader to buy the idea that, in a rundown Detroit Rehab center, there lives a young guy named Juvenal, a man as common as a gray sweatshirt, who can cure the sick and the lame by the simple laying on of hands, and who also suffers from recurring incidences of stigmata (crucifixion wounds) – now that’s a hard sell. But Leonard

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, with skill and finesse, keeps us reading and believing, all  the way to the end.

Any man who can do that deserves respect.

So farewell, Elmore. May you rest in peace. And thank you, thank you, thank you for all those great reads.

Adios Amigos,



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A Fate Worse Than Death

Greetings Friends,                                                        August 4, 2013

The front page of last Friday’s New York Times bears an article under the heading. “U. S. Is Infuriated by Decision on Leaker.” This regards Russia’s decision to let Edward Snowden stay there for one year.

A moment’s consideration about where Snowden has found “refuge” might show that this fury on the part of our officials is misplaced.

Snowden is in Moscow

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, a city that Scottish writer Daniel Kalder, who lived in Russia ten years, described as

, “The most soul-crushing city on earth.” Moscow is such a miserable place that the primary reason the Czars and the Soviets sent their enemies to Siberia is that its the only place in their country more dismal than Moscow itself.

Russia is basically a third-world country, without the amenities those countries usually have, such as balmy climate, spicy food, and spicy women. It is a petro-state, which renders its economy a one-trick pony, and though it has a huge land mass and is awash in resources, its GDP is little more than a tenth of ours.

Russians yearn for the glory days, when they were considered a super-power, but that glory was an illusion. While here in America, for decades, we dug air-raid shelters, fearing Armageddon, our fear was produced by our own CIA’s gross exaggeration of the Soviet nuclear threat, and it was later revealed that the USSR was the geo-political equivalent of The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.

These days, to assert itself on the world stage, Russia must resort to stunts such as harboring Snowden, an act whose single purpose was to tweak Uncle Sam’s nose.

Since its origins in the fifteenth century under Ivan the Great, to the present rule of Vlad the Putin, Russia’s primary legacy to humankind has been six hundred years of misery.  

Oh sure, it has produced great music and literature. Leo Tolstoy, in his novel The Death of Ivan Ilych, takes less that 100 pages to lay bare the principle vanities of the human soul, and at the end, shows clearly the single remedy available to us as balm for our weaknesses.

And Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s novel Cancer Ward is a profoundly moving, though deeply depressing book, but when old Al was kicked out of the Soviet Union and welcomed to live here in America, he never hesitated to denounce us as rank materialists, proving that Russians are not only morbid, but ingrates as well.

This is the world in which Edward Snowden finds himself.

If you support what Snowden did, you must sympathize with his fate. But if you are a civilian who considers him a traitor, a staffer at the NSA whose naughty behavior he has revealed, or a CIA ghoul lusting to clamp your electrodes onto Snowden’s private parts, you should be dancing with glee.

Frankly, if the writer of this blog were forced to choose between a bullet in the head, or living out his days in Russia… he’d have to think it over.

Das Vidanya, Comrades,



On the USSR’s nuclear threat,The Public Record, Sept 14, 2009.

Daniel Kalder, Lost Cosmonaut

New York Times, Aug 2, 2013

Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

On Russia’s GDP and economy; NYTIMES.com

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On the Fragility of Caca del Toro

     “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were

striking thirteen

      How’s that for an opening line? So begins one of the most prescient novels of the 20th century, George Orwell’s 1984. Published in 1949, this book recently rose to #12 on the Amazon best seller list, in direct response to the recent disclosure that our Dear Uncle Sam is a voracious voyeur.

       Orwell didn’t intend this book to be dystopian. He simply wanted to predict what the world could be like if the trends that existed at the time were carried to their possible conclusions.

     The main character in the book, Winston Smith, rebels against the constant propaganda dealt out by Big Brother. This daily infusion of News-speak keeps the population docile and obedient, because they believe Big Brother is their only source of security in an atmosphere of constant external threat.

     Two contemporary and controversial non-fiction writers have written books with warnings no less dire, but their tone is much more optimstic.

     The first is Jaron Lanier. a Silicon Valley pioneer and originator of the term “Virtual Reality.” His two books, You Are Not A Gadget, and Who Owns the Future read a bit like what you’d expect Dr, Frankenstein to write after he discovered that his monster had escaped the castle and was wreaking havoc in the village.

     Though Lanier firmly believes that the Web is a great thing, he decries the direction its evolution is taking. His main concern is the developent of the “Hive Mind”, a vast anonymous organism that generates a powerful pack mentality. Eventually the individual contributors become subservient to the hive, mere drones whose sole reasons for existence is its survival. This leads to the loss of the individual dignity and humanity of the participants.

     Lanier says, “Online culture is filled to the brim about what the true path to a better world might be, and these days it is strongly biased toward an anti-human way of thinking.” He opposes the idealistic vision of the net as a benevolent organism. This makes  sense when you consider that we humans are highly susceptible to “groupthink” (A term evolved from Orwell’s “doublethink” in 1984) which we readily accept out of a desire for safety.

     In “Who Owns the Future”, Lanier says the the temptations of supposedly free stuff from the web have lured us into a bad trade. Every time we use the web, we surrender infomation about ourselves. “Dossiers on private lives collected over digital networks are packaged into a new form of elite money. Few people realize the degree to which they are being spied upon” (p108)

     He warns that we are now altering our lives to conform to the needs of technology. Our tools are slowly becoming our masters. But Jaron Lanier is nothing if not an optimist. He’s sure we’ll eventually realize the high price our tools are exacting, and regain control.

     Another controversial writer is Nassim Taleb, a guy who manages to piss off almost everybody, including the people who agree with him. He’s a Lebanese-American theorist and former options trader who loudly predicted the collapse of the financial system


, was scorned for it, then hated for his accuracy. When the collapse came, he made a fortune shorting bank stocks, tossed his necktie in a Manhattan trash can, and retired to his study to theorize.

     Now that’s what I call a sweet revenge!

     His latest book

, Antifragile, is as controversial as his previous best seller, The Black Swan. He invented the term “Antifragile” to describe organisms or systems that thrive on stress and chaos. He says humans are antifragile. We’re built for struggle, and if we don’t get it, we weaken.

     Problem is, struggle and strife are laborious and dangerous, and nobody dislikes them more than Taleb. But in our efforts to obtain our security, we are doing things that put us, ultimately, at greater risk.

     As explanation, he raises three major points.

     First, he says that we humans do not live our lives according to facts. We live according to “Narratives”, stories we inherit from our background and that are reinforced by our culture. This works okay, as long as there is some correlation between our narrative and the facts. But the world is a random place, and the facts are always changing. An example of a current narrative that caused many of us grief would be, “Housing prices never collapse.”

     His second point is, that in order to deal with the chaos of life, and ensure the relevance of our chosen narratives, we develop elaborate control systems and attach them to almost every aspect of life. These systems are supposed to insure our safety, but they are becoming so entertwined, complex, and massive in scale that nobody really understands them, and a small breakdown in any element of the system produces a major collapse. To relieve this, we create ever more complicated controls, making these systems even more fragile. To Taleb, small and uncomplicated is beautiful.

      His final point is that these systems are operated by people who have no “skin in the game”, meaning, no matter what the outcome, they don’t have to pay for their mistakes. Some examples are the financiers who orchestrated the economic collapse of ’08, most of whom ended up even richer, though their actions cost the rest of us a lot of money. Another example is the men in gray suits who instigated the Iraq war. They’re all ensconced in cozy retirements, while the rest of us will be paying for that war for generations.

     Taleb doesn’t use any Orwellian terms to describe the nonsense told to us by economists, politicians or academics. He lumps it all into one concise term, “BULLSHIT”, and he refers to all the above as bullshit slingers. This has made him a lot of enemies, forcing him to take up a rigorous program of weightlifting, to better fend off the  people he insults, since he has no compunction about delivering these insults face to face, in public.  

     But Taleb is also an optimist. He believes that of all the elements in the universe, the one thing that is most fragile, that is always doomed to colapse upon itself, is BULLSHIT.

     At the conclusion of Orwell’s book, poor Winston Smith gives in to the unrelenting pressure of Big Brother. He betrays his beloved, who also betrays him. He has insured his safety, but that safety has cost him his humanity. The final sentence reads, “He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”

     Orwell didn’t get to see the collapse of the Soviet Union. If he had, he might have been as optimistic as Lanier and Taleb. But even so, it’s not hard to imagine him wagging a finger at us, saying “Pay attention! Do not swallow uncritically the daily ration of bullshit fed to you by the powers that be, no matter what side they are on.”

      For those of us with our skins in the game, this vigilant skepticism may be the only way to avoid the coming of that day when, engrossed in our glowing computer screens, we fail to notice that the clocks are striking thirteen.

See ya,


Sources: Annalisa Quinn, Booklinks, NPR, 6/11/13

You Are Not A Gadget, Jaron Lanier, Alfred A Knopf, 2010

Who owns the Future?, Jaron Lanier, Alfred A. Knopf, 2013

Antifragile. Hassim Nicholas Taleb, Random House, 2012

1984, George Orwell, Harcourt Inc, 1949

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Love and Money

Greetings friends,

Most people remember George Orwell for his two famous books, Animal Farm and 1984. Long before he wrote these, he wrote a humorous novel, “Keep the Aspidistra Flying”, about an idealistic young poet who despises money, honors only love, and vows to live a life of poverty.

To set the tone of the story, Orwell opens with an altered version from 1 Corintians, x11. which reads as follows; (italics mine)

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not money,  I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not money, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not money, it profiteth me nothing. Money suffers long, and is kind; money envieth not; money vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave unseemly, seeketh not her own, and is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things … And now abideth faith, hope, money, these three: but the greatest of these is money.

Of course, by the end of the book

, the young poet changes his mind about money because … he falls in love. And he learns that, though love may be grand, it truly sucks if you can’t even buy your beloved a beer.

A retired psychiatrist told me that his years of listening to his patients taught him that the two most important things in life were love and money. I asked him which of the two he thought was most important. He answered, without hesitation, money.

The topic of which is most important is a subject for endless debate. Even those fonts of modern wisdom, the Beatles, were ambivialent on the subject, singing both,

                                        “All you need is Love,”


                                “Your lovin’ gives me a thrill,

                                  But your lovin’ don’t pay my bills,

                                  Give me money.”

So, if you were given the choice between being bathed in the bliss of love, or filthy rich, which would you pick?

If you have to take time to think it over, remember that even the Bible straddes the fence on this subject.  For even though the unaltered version of Corithians tell us that “the greatest of these is love,” if we go to Ecclesiastes, Chapter 10:19, we are told

“A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry, but money answereth all things”

I’ll drink to that!

See ya,


Sources; George Orwell “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” Victor Gollancz Pub. 1936

Dr. Ronald Hull M. D.

Holy Bible

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, King James version







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Famous Tax Protest

Greetings, friends.

Since tax time is here, I thought it might be interesting to review one of the most famous tax protests in the history of the southwest.

Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia (1909-1982) was a famous artist whose works have been reproduced as prints, greeting cards, figurines, and dinner plates. In 1960, his painting “Los Ninos” (the Children) was chosen as a UNICEF greeting card. The card sold millions nationwide. After this, the value of DeGrazia’s work soared.

As a result, the I R S assesed his works at what they assumed to be their market value. DeGrazia accused the tax people of making him a millionaire on paper.  This would leave his heirs with huge estate taxes that they would not be able to pay.

To protest, Ted is reported to have taken 100 of his works, valued at 18 million dollars, up into the Superstition Mountains and set fire to them.

That’s definately making a statement!

I have read that there are some who think he may have stashed these paintings

,  and staged a mock burning.  Since many of his paintings are still for sale at the expansive gallery he built in the foothills of the Catalina mountains overlooking Tucson, I like to think this rumor is true.

On another note, The Arizona Daily Star reported on April 5th that the U of A law school is reducing tuition by 11% for in-state and 8% for non-resident students, in response to a 36% decrease in law school applicants since 2005.

This drops the cost to $27,288 for in-state and $42, 298 for out-of- state students. Such a deal!

The article states that one factor in decreasing enrollment is reduced job opportunities for lawyers in a slow economy. It also states that several law schools have been sued by their graduates


, on the grounds that the schools did not disclose how hard it would be to find work after graduation.

How’s that for gratitude?

But there’s a bright side to this. After all, if you’re an unemployed doctor of of jurisprudence, with school debts of 75 to 130k to pay off, what better thing to do that put yourself to work suing your alma mater?

Now that’s entrepreneurship!

Happy April 15th,


Sources; santafetradingpost.com, Arixona Daily Star 4/5/13

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Hello world!

Welcome to my new website and blog, beweber.com.

St. Patrick’s Day has passed

, so, with sadness, I took down my Christmas lights.  I was going to wait a couple weeks till after Easter, but I don’t like to procrastinate.

I hope you’ll subscribe to my website. Each week

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, I’ll have info on interesting books or articles I’ve read, and news about some of the bizarre things that go on out here in the Southwest.

Bye for now,


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