Results of the Physical

Saturday morning was spent at Bangkok Hospital, undergoing a comprehensive battery of exams, tests, pokes and prods.  Hospitals here, in an effort to reach out to expatriates and more affluent Thais, offer a range of physical exams that include everything from blood tests to EKGs to chest xrays, packaged with spiffy names and discounted prices. 

Tawn and I met jointly with the doctor, an affable man in his late 30s whose jeans and Hawaiiam shirt said “weekend shift”.  We discussed options and agreed that a package that included an EKG and a stress test would be good, so that we can get a healthy baseline from which to measure in the future.

As for the chest xray, which seems less common in a routine physical in the United States, the doctor explained that because of the higher prevelence of tuberculosis here in Thailand, chest xrays are a standard practice to screen for the disease.  Given that a single xray only gives you the equivalent of five to ten days worth of passive radiation, it seemed a small price to pay for the assurance that I do not have tuberculosis.

First off, the measurements: height, weight, blood pressure (which was initially high but a few minutes later we retook it and it was normal), and samples of various liquids including blood.

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I remember when I was a child, I absolutely hated getting shots or having blood drawn.  Then at some point in my life I decided that it wasn’t that painful – depends on the nurse or technician, though – and it was actually quite fascinating.  So now I don’t mind at all.

While the lab work was being done, we changed into our scrubs for the stress tests.  At first, I misunderstood the instructions and changed into the bottoms, too, but in fact only needed to change into the tops.  Stylish, huh?

I’ve never done a stress test before and it was quite interesting.  You get wired up with various monitors and a blood pressure sleeve.  The wires all run to a box that is strapped around your hips with a velcro belt, then the box is connected back to a computer.  Then you get on a treadmill and start walking.

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Every two minutes the speed is increased and your blood pressure is taken.  This continues until you reach the target heart rate, which is (I think) 90% of your theoretical maximim heart rate, based on 220 beats per minute minus your age.  So I’m almost age 38, so my target was 164 beats per minute.  After eight minutes at ever-increasing speeds and angles of incline, I reached my target.  My blood pressure was taken again and then I started a three-minute cool down period.

The goal of the stress test is to measure not only how your pulse and blood pressure increases during exercise but how quickly they recover after the exercise is complete.

After we were done with that, we had an hour to wait until the lab work was done and we could review the results with the doctor.  So we went to lunch at the cafeteria, starved after having fasted for nearly fifteen hours.

During our visit, Tawn was assaulted by the hospital mascot, who was handing out brochures for some new service.  It turns out that there’s a man inside that nurse’s body, kind of a twist on what is more common in Thailand: a (female) nurse hiding inside some men’s bodies.

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When we returned to meet with the doctor, the results were pretty much as I expected:

P1100260 Kidney, liver, lungs, and heart all seem to be functioning fine. 

Cholesterol is a little elevated (235, target is below 200), which is lower than it was five years ago but has increased a bit in the past two years. 

Weight is a little high (102 kilograms, about 220 pounds) and the doctor suggests that losing about ten percent of my body weight would probably help with my post-exercise recovery, which is a bit slow.

Bottom line: start exercising more and stop eating as much of things like this quiche, which I baked on Thursday evening.  Considering how expensive cheese is here, that would probably help my financial health as well!

Singing in the Shower at Alila

After several weeks of particularly intense work in both our jobs, Tawn and I decided to take a weekend break in nearby Cha-Am.  At a travel expo held at Central World Plaza a few months ago, we purchased a voucher for two nights at Alila, one of the newest luxury resorts in Thailand, at a great price.

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P107 Two hours south of Khrungthep, Alila is tucked away down a quiet road.  The architecture of the seventy-room resort is modern with clean lines, sparse furnishings, and a lot of peace and quiet. 

The six buildings are laid out surrounding a center complex that houses a restaurant, a spa, one of two swimming pools, a bar and a library.  The complex is topped by a second restaurant that floats amidst a huge reflecting pool. 

The walls of the complex are lined with steel cages containing rocks, making for a stark and dramatic visual, while the complex is flanked by footpaths that lead to the beach and a row of trees that contrast the hard and soft sides of nature.

The minimalist design is unfussy and extends to the rooms, which are spacious with very high ceilings and lots of light.  They are also very high-tech with an Apple iTV in each room, loaded with your choice of movies and music – they actually contact you before your stay and ask for your preferences of genres. 

Despite the stark design, there are many cozy touches: tea candles, incense burners,  an essential oil diffuser, and several light settings from “welcome” to “intimate” so you can set the desired mood.

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The highlight has to be the bathroom, with its large windows, stand-alone bathtub, and the shower, which is situated in the middle of the room, in the open, with water that falls from the ceiling like an April storm.  We wanted to take some pictures to convey the fun nature of the shower and thankfully there were some umbrellas located near the front door.

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After settling into the hotel, we headed to “Red” (the pool-side bar) for the complimentary afternoon tea.  It was crowded so the hostess suggested that we might light to take our tea in the adjacent library.  Shortly after the tea arrived, the hostess returned and said that a table had opened up and asked whether we would like to move.

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P118 After an early dinner of Thai food at “Clouds”, the open-air restaurant that overlooks the reflecting pool, we called it a night and tried to catch up on all the sleep we’ve missed out on over the past few weeks.

We woke up bright and early in the morning, ready to attend the one-hour yoga class taught around the heated pool in the sanctuary-like spa.  It was a good workout and stimulated our appetites for breakfast.

Left, the stairway from the downstairs restaurant to the upstairs “Clouds”.

The misty, cool weather of our evening arrival had given way to a sunny and warm morning.  There was a stiff ocean breeze, though, so the heat was tolerable.

Breakfast was a buffet, as it seems is normally the case at almost every hotel and resort in Thailand.  The selection of food – Thai, Chinese, and Western – was extensive and the quality was very good.  It turns out that the chef is a farang and one result of this is that the quality of the baked goods is very high.  The croissants were magnificent and Tawn had sandwiches twice during our stay, just to enjoy the really good bread.

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P109 After our late breakfast – and a suitable period of waiting – I enjoyed the pool area for a swim.  The water was very warm, so I didn’t swim that long, but the design of the area is very relaxing and peaceful.

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We spent part of our day relaxing in the room watching some movies and reading.  Then, when the sun had moved a bit more to the west, we went to the beach and enjoyed the sand and water.  It started to mist lightly, which added a rainbow to our beach view.

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We returned to the room for a mid-afternoon snack and another movie.  This was a deconstructed caesar salad and a bowl of wild mushroom soup.  Very tasty.

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As sunset neared, we returned upstairs to Clouds, taking a sofa on the marble-clad deck to watch the water and sip some cocktails and share a club sandwich.

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As the sun lowered towards the mountains that separate this narrow stretch of Thailand from Burma, they back-lit the dark clouds of the afternoon thunderstorm that approached us but mercifully swung to the north of us.

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The mosquitos, which had largely been absent the night before, were out and several sprays of a lemongrass solution didn’t dissuade them so we headed indoors for dinner.  One very nice thing was that the restaurants didn’t charge a corkage fee and we had brought two bottles with us to enjoy over the weekend.

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From top left, clockwise: Mashed potatoes, breadsticks, T-bone steak with onion relish, a pair of fish sandwiches.

For dessert, we enjoyed a fresh fruit sabayon with crushed pistachio nuts on top, and a “floating island” with fresh berries on a vanilla pudding.

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On our way back to the room, Tawn considered a late night dip in the pool.  Thankfully, I was able to talk him out of it.

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Here’s a video recap of the weekend:

P139 We really enjoyed our stay at Alila and it reinforced that we should do more of these weekend getaways, as it makes for a wonderful mental break from our busy lives.

 

Tawn’s Birthday

Lenotre2 Tawn’s birthday was last Wednesday, so we went out for dinner at Lenôtre Paris, a Parisian outfit that has several cafe locations here in Bangkok.  Owned by the Accor Group (Sofitel Hotels, Ibis Hotels, Motel 6), the chain offers a nice taste of French cuisine and very nice baked goods.

Lenotre3 Early afternoon, Tawn text messaged his father, inviting his parents to join us for dinner.  Beforehand, I cautioned against him getting his hopes up.  Not surprisingly, Tawn’s father responded that he didn’t feel comfortable joining us for dinner and declined the invitation.

We made it a fun evening on our own, though, visiting the small location on Soi Thong Lor, the next block over from us and just a short drive further down the street.

Thanks to the drizzly weather, there were few diners, a great deal of privacy and, subsequently, very attentive service.  We sat on the second floor overlooking the wet pavement and reflected lights as the busy evening traffic crept up and down the street.

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Shortly after ordering, an amuse bouche arrived, breaded morsels of cheese on pea shoots.  A tasty way to warm up our taste buds for the meal to come.

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As an entree we shared the “Paris-Bangkok” plate: a small portion of duck confit, a cream of asparagus soup, a salade nicoise, and a goose liver pate.  This was the culinary highlight of the meal, nicely prepared and packed with flavor.

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For my main course I had the lamb chops with mashed potatoes and snow peas.  I requested the lamb medium-rare and I think is was a bit underdone.  While flavorful, one piece was particularly tough to eat.  The connective tissue had not been sufficiently cooked and so there was a lot of chewing.  It wasn’t bad but I’d probably not spend the money on this dish again.

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Tawn ordered a fettucini carbonara, which for some reason he mis-read as having salmon in it.  Instead, it arrived with lots of pork belly (bacon) that hadn’t been cooked enough to render more of the fat.  The result was a particularly oily version of a dish that is already heavy.  Again, the flavor was fine but it settled into one’s stomach with a rather solid “clunk”.

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Finally, our dessert arrived, a Grand Marnier souffle that was wonderfully light and eggy, with a raspberry sorbet “lolipop”.  While I was taking pictures, the bottom of the candle melted in the heat of the souffle, resulting in a waxy blue streak through the side of the dessert.  Oh, well… happy birthday!

 

Crossing Asoke

The airport link rail line, which will connect Suvarnabhumi International Airport (which opened almost exactly two years ago) to the center of the city, is taking shape.  Even though it still has at least another year to go – probably more like two – it is exciting to see some progress being made.

After my return from the United States, I noticed that the construction of the tracks crossing Asoke Road was finally taking place.  The viaducts on either side were completed first and finally the construction workers inched forward to build this connecting span.

Last week I stopped by the intersection early on a wet morning to take a look.

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The first thing I saw was this monk, waiting halfway across the street, standing on the State Railway of Thailand tracks, for a break in the oncoming traffic.  A minute later, there was a break and he continued across the street.

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Above: This is the bridge itself or, more accurately, the three bridges.  The new in-city airport terminal (where you can check in for your flights before taking the train to the airport) is just out of the frame to the left of the picture.  We are looking here from the southeast corner of the intersection of Asoke and the frontage road that runs along the railway track, towards the northwest.

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Above: The bridges are very high and I was amazed to see this worker standing there without any safety harness.

I walked a little further up Asoke to peer over the construction site fence and see how the terminal itself is progressing, below.

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It looks like the terminal walls have been completed, but the structure over the tracks is still being done.  Also, ramps and much of the other infrastructure remains to be done.  My understanding is the large lot around the building will be developed with car parks underneath and office, retail and other commercial space nearby. 

In the distance you can see Baiyoke II Tower, the tallest building in Thailand and the tallest structure between Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur.

 

The other evening I made pizza at home.  Homemade pizza dough is so easy, I don’t know why more people don’t make it at home.

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We also went to the grand opening party of a new Italian-Thai fusion bistro that is literally across the street from us.  The owner is someone Tawn knows from work, having used one of his other businesses – a tea shop – for several press events.

The place is very cute and I’ll have to get some pictures to share with you.  It actually looks a bit like our place but much larger and white is used much more throughout.

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We thought it would be nice to bring a gift, since it was a personal invitation from the owner, so we brought an orchid with our business cards attached to a ribbon.

 

What do you think is the biggest mistake that people tend to make in relationships?

During the course of all relationships, people make one of two mistakes:

Mistake #1: Being too focused on yourself and not focused enough on the other person.  The tough thing about relationships is that you are no longer the center of the universe.  You have to find a way to share that spotlight with another person.  For many people, it is difficult to remember that and so you subconsciously (or not so subconsciously) keep the spotlight trained on yourself, to the neglect of your partner.  No matter how understanding the other person is, or how much they are too focused on you instead of themselves (see Mistake #2, below), it will eventually sow the seeds of conflict that, if not weeded out, will choke the relationship’s growth.

Mistake #2: Being too focused on the other person and not focused enough on yourself.  This is the situation where people end up in abusive or co-dependent relationships.  For any number of reasons (“I don’t deserve love”, “He’s so good to me”, “He’s so great in bed”, “That’s my role in my culture”) some people put up with an unbelievable amount of crap in a relationship, being subservient to the wishes and desires of their partner, tolerating unacceptable behavior and feeling meek and miserable about it.  No matter how great that other person is or how fearful you are that if you leave, you’ll be alone, people need to stand up for their rights in a relationship, for their dignity and equality.

There may be some people who manage to make both mistakes in a single relationship, but I think generally they are more likely to be inclined to one or the other mistake.  They good news: we can correct the mistakes we make and even if we have to do so several times before learning our lesson, we can learn the lesson and go on to a much healthier and happier relationship.

I just answered this Featured Question; you can answer it too!

Photo Exhibit for His Majesty the King

At the Paragon shopping mall there is a photo exhibit on display, the results of a nationwide contest.  The contest was held on the occasion of His Majesty the King’s 80th birthday last year and the photos were judged on different themes.  There was a category of pictures specifically honoring the Thai’s devotion to their king.  Another category was of general “life in Thailand”.  Another was for nature photos.

The lighting wasn’t great, so I was limited as to which pictures I could capture with my camera.  Here are a selection of the more interesting shots.   The first two and the final one were noted finalists in the contest.

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This first one is particularly interesting.  Titled The Father’s Son, it was selected as an example of how people take His Majesty’s “Sufficiency Economy” theory very literally – to the extent of squeezing out the final drop of toothpaste from a tube.  This picture appealed to me because that’s exactly what my father taught me when I was a child, to the extent of cutting the tube open to get every last bit out.  How’s that for fiscally prudent Midwestern values?

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This second photo shows a gaggle of preschool / kindergarten aged children wildly waving the Thai national flag and the yellow flag of King Rama IX.

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Above, a special celebration around Songkhran (the Thai new year) at the largest Buddhist complex in Thailand, located on the outskirts of Khrungthep (Bangkok).

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Above, a monk collecting alms from a soldier not long after the coup in September 2006.

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The lighting was poor, so I didn’t capture this one very well, but the actual picture is very sharp.  It is taken at the installation of a new Buddha statue at a temple, where community members and workers have a “laying on” of hands during a blessing.  Interesting angle.

 

Dining in Bangkok: Tonkatsu Raku Tei

Tonkatsu 1 Last weekend Tawn and I took a little time to get out of the house, run some errands, and see some friends.  This, despite the heavy load of work.

BK Magazine, a free English-language newspaper, published a list of what they consider to be the best five or six tonkatsu restaurants in town.  Japanese make up the largest expatriate population in Thailand and we live in the heart of the Japanese section of town.

Not too surprisingly, there is some really good and affordable Japanese food to be had.  In fact, every time I head back to the US, one of the things I specifically don’t want to eat (besides Thai food, natch) is Japanese food.

We decided to try one of the recommended restaurants: Tonkatsu Raku Tei, located in the basement level at the Citi Resort service apartments on Sukhumvit Soi 39.

When you walk in, it becomes very clear that Tonkatsu Raku Tei (Hey! They have the same initials as former Prime Minister Thaksin’s political party… conspiracy?) is the real deal because all the other diners are Japanese.  That’s a good sign, right?

What I really wanted to try was the tried and true standard of all tonkatsu: rosukatsu, made from fillet of pork loin, with a thin layer of fat along the side, breaded in panko breadcrumbs, and lightly fried.

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Served with two homemade tonkatsu sauces, an original flavor and a really good spicy one that tastes a bit like barbecue sauce but without the tomato, the tonkatsu was tender and not too oily.  The pork itself was a bit bland, although moist, and served as a neutral carrier for the sauces’ flavors.

One lesson we learned – sadly, after the fact – was that the sesame seeds in the bowl on the left and meant to be ground up, using the wooden pestle on the far right of the picture that we mistook as a chopstick rest.  Oh, silly us!

 

After lunch, we stopped by Scott and Jum’s house to see their new baby.  They live in an interesting townhome development that is very Grecco-Roman in its design.   Too bad I didn’t get a wider picture so you could fully appreciate the number of columns that adorned each building.

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P1090805 The baby, whose name I’m not sure how to spell correctly so I won’t try here, is very cute.  He’s a mixture of Thai and American heritage so has blended features.

He’s so low-key.  He didn’t really mind who was holding him, but apparently really hates being cooped up indoors and his fussing quiets when he is brought outside.

We drove Jum and baby over to a gathering of former United Airlines colleagues.  Tawn flew with UA for a few years around the turn of the century.  (That sounds old, doesn’t it?)  Sadly, we just received news that as part of their further cutbacks, United will be closing their Bangkok flight attendant base for the second time since the 2001 attacks.

The colleague’s house at which the gathering was held is up near the old airport.  It took a bit of driving to get to and we were confused and overshot it by a few kilometers.  Along the way, we passed the remnants of the elevated rail line that was originally going to run from the center of the city up to the old airport and then on out to the Rangsit area.

The project, which was operated by a Hong Kong-based conglomerate called Hopewell Holdings, ran into problems in the late 90s and the contract was canceled by the Thai government.  Due to the inability of the project to ever really gain traction, it became largely derided as the Hopeless Project.  All that remains of the project are a significant number of columns running along the Don Meuang Tollway.

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A sign of optimism, there were several housing estates built along the Hopewell right of way (which has a still-operating train line underneath it), including this slightly over-the-top property called Monte Carlo:

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So the trip to see Tawn’s colleagues was a good use of time if for no other reason than it allowed me to get an up-close look at the Stonehenge of Thailand.  Every so often, there is talk of reviving the project or using the surviving infrastructure to build the extension of the airport link (which is still another year or more away from opening) to connect both the old and new airport.

One final thing to leave you with, a very nice pizza I ate at Bacco restaurant, just at the other end of the soi from us.

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I think the restaurant makes its own ricotta cheese.  It was so good!

 

Your “K” Bank

Thai banking institutions have undergone quite a cosmetic transformation in the past few years.  Hardly surprising in one of the globe’s cosmetic surgery capitals where an afternoon bite can easily be preceded by a nip and tuck.  Within the last five years, the Thai banks have gone from boring to beautiful, with new logos, vibrant color schemes and careful marketing and promotion.

Thai Bank LogosSiam Commercial Bank, the 100-year-old original Thai bank, has its royal purple.  TMB, the Thai Military Bank, has a patriotic red and blue color scheme with an umlaut that is intended to represent two people working together (or two soldiers holding hands in a don’t ask, don’t tell sort of way).  Ayudhya Bank has a very “We Love the King” yellow for its color.  Kasikorn Bank, previously known as Thai Farmers Bank (“kasikorn” being an older word for farmer) has adopted a fertile green color and brands itself as K-Bank.

The competition between the banks is fierce and each works hard to convince consumers that they have something to offer you besides the miserable 0.25% interest rates.  (Which climbs to 3% if you lock at least 5 million baht into a 3-year certificate of deposit.)

Recently, K-Bank has launched a new campaign emphasizing how customer-friendly they are.  (In full disclosure, K-Bank is one of the two banks where Tawn and I have accounts, the other being the Singapore-owned UOB.  Yes, I am a Thai farmer.)

When you enter a K-Bank branch, there are complimentary bottles of K-Bank water to quench your thirst.

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And as the weather is so warm here, you might need to freshen up after entering the branch.  If so, please feel free to help yourself to the K-Bank moist towelettes.

P1090770But the K-Bank hospitality doesn’t end there.  There are also K-Bank condoms, free for the taking.  Yes, you probably saw that one coming, didn’t you?

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The thing about the “K-Condom” is that there is a terrible double-entendre lurking in plain sight.  The Thais have borrowed the word “cock” from English as a slang for, well, you know…

Since “cock” is a very harsh sounding word, they us the word เค (pronounced “kay”) as an abbreviation, much in the same way as in English we euphemistically refer to the “F-word”.  So that makes the K-Condom very much like saying the cock condom, which to a gaggle of juvenile boys would be hilariously funny.

(Have I mentioned that Thai comedies are quite sophomoric in terms of what is considered funny?  Bodily humor is considered the pinnacle of wit.)

Anyhow, after a week of politics both Thai and American style, I thought we deserved a laugh.  Have a good weekend.

 

Sarah Says Obama is a Racist

Interesting back-and-forth going on between me and another Xangan.  This featured post on Revelife (Christian Xanga) was about John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as VP.  The author surmised that perhaps she was chosen specifically because of her conservative Christian and anti-abortion position.  The author posited these questions:

“If you are pro-life, could you vote for a candidate who was pro-choice?  If you are pro-choice, could you vote for a candidate who was pro-life?”

“I guess I am also wondering, should abortion be the only factor deciding our presidential elections?”

 

Among the responses was this one from Big_Esh.  (Emphasis mine)

Well, he might support pro-life, and he might want that quality in his running mate, but I seriously doubt a veteran politician as he would choose his second in command based on one moral value.  The media, as I am sure everyone out there knows, tends to be liberal in how they portray everything that goes on in this nation, and of course they are going to pick McCain apart. 

Nevermind that Obama comes from what looks like a racist background and has no real clue how to “change the face of politics” (see his speech at the DNC for proof of that)…let’s attack McCain because of one value that his running mate happens to have. 

 

To which I responded:

Huh?  Obama comes from a racist background?  With a Kenyan father, a white mother from Kansas, and a very diverse extended family?  How do you figure that as a racist background?

 

To which she responded:

I am, of course, referring to that awful pastor who is so blatantly racist it makes my teeth hurt.

Say what you will, but if you sit and listen to a man spew out such hatred, and continue to show your support by your membership of his congregation, then you are in essence showing support for what is being preached.  People leave a church when they are offended enough, and this clearly didn’t bother him enough to leave.  I know he “denounced” such hate, but actions speak louder than words, and Obama continues to support that man.  Red flag…not to mention his wife said she had never been proud of America until Obama became a candidate…where the heck has she been living?

Being of a diverse background does not give someone a get out of jail free card for racism. And being black, or another minority does not give someone the right to be racist towards whites, although that seems to be more accepted these days.

 

I’m not sure where Sarah (the name Big_Esh gives in her profile) lives, but felt it was worth addressing some of her – what I preceived as – slips of logic: 

Thank you for responding.  Would you agree that Senator McCain’s “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” (sung to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann”) would not be an accurate or fair way to encapsulate his foreign policy positions? 

Would you agree that even though Governor Palin doesn’t disown her daughter after it turns out she’s engaged in premarital sex, that it would be out of context to construe the Governor’s continued support of her daughter as an endorsement of her actions?

If you agree that we should try to judge candidates by considering their words in their original context rather than out of context, if you agree that it is okay for people to support those they are close to, even if they don’t agree with their words and actions, then I think you and I will agree that labeling Senator Obama a racist because of out of context comments his minister and his wife made, really isn’t a sound way to make decisions. 

Much in the same way that, even though I’m not a McCain-Palin supporter, I don’t think that Senator McCain is chomping at the bit to bomb Iran and I don’t think that Governor Palin’s support for her daughter is an endorsement of unwed motherhood and premarital sex.  Although I do have to chuckle, now that we have a good example of why “abstinence only” education isn’t so effective.

 

I’m wondering what her response will be or if she will have one at all.  It is frustrating that in this election, people seem to form their opinions more from pundits than facts.  I’m curious if she ever watched (or read) the sermons in context?  Surely we can agree that we need to have more substantive discussions.

Interesting quote that I came across while preparing this entry.  In the May 5, 2008 edition of the Huffington Post, Lara Cohen, news director at Us Weekly, which is regularly lambasted because of its focus on supermarket tabloid concerns, turned the criticisms back on the mainstream media and their coverage of the Reverend Wright controversy:

“The true hallmark of sensationalized journalism is ginning up controversy to drive sales, and for the mainstream news media Wright was a tailor-made tabloid icon. With newspaper sales at record lows, network news ratings tanking and 24-hour news channels desperate to fill up all 24 hours, Wright’s outbursts were the mainstream media’s equivalent of Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch—a train wreck no one could turn away from. And so they milked it, regardless of the impact on the very race they were supposedly covering objectively.”