Florida For Just 34,852 Minutes

After Ballooning in Europe, Part III

June 6-15, 2001

Wednesday, June 6, 2001

There is a story, no doubt apocryphal, about the lawyer who fights ferociously for his client in a criminal case. He is brilliant in his cross-examination, moving in his summation. The jury, nevertheless, comes back with a conviction. "Where do we go from here?" the frightened and bewildered client asks the lawyer.

"Well," the lawyer answers, "I'm going home and you're going to jail."1


1 Alex Kozinski, federal judge, 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals.

2 "TERRE HAUTE, Ind. A macabre photograph has surfaced depicting kill-crazy Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh as you've never seen him before laid out cold and dead on a morgue slab! ... The haunting picture apparently leaked out despite ultra-tight security surrounding the U.S. Penitentiary at Terre Haute at the time of McVeigh's date with death, by lethal injection, on May 1." Weekly World News, May 29, 2001.

3 Odd ... the Ritter Model 111 has now been dropped from the story. Interest has moved to a 'slab'. Writer's hubris ... and reader's innocent ignorance 'keeps' morgues well stocked with 'slabs'. Today confectioners are practically the only markets for these things; it's the ability of the 'slab' to retain a uniformly distributed deep chill that makes it useful in turning out nice fudge.

4 With the Wall Street Journal it is easy to tell; it has the closing prices or it doesn't. It's right or it's wrong! That 1/8th of a point up or down can't be fiddled with! As to almost everything else anyone reduces to print: well, either ... that toddler wedged in the too-snug irrigation pipe inconvenienced oh so few ... or, the 'when and where' of it doesn't matter ... or, who cares if it's a lie. See the movie, "12 Monkeys", for the provocative way the tale of a 'wedged' child can be employed to tell a bigger story.

Thursday, June 7, 2001

Long time readers will remember the summer of '00. It started innocuously enough: the sign was bolted on first ... way down below, but onto something massive, truly massive ... ALIMAK it read. Then, like the mutating arms of some wildly out of control blood hunting ivy plant, strange and powerful scaffolding quickly sprouted and multiplied in all directions, thrusting rudely intrusive shafts of unwanted shade onto the walls and windows of the next-door French Embassy. Their people were afraid, terribly afraid. Then, with little warning, ALIMAK's sappers broke through onto the 14th floor of my house. And, that was the end of the beginning.

This summer much of The Oriental is once more largely closed. Again, a messy job; not pretty at all.1 But this time we are not there. Paul's journal tells why ... at least, up to now. Now it's back to me. However, before I ...

"This year's overall winner; the Oriental, Bangkok."

The June 2001 issue of Travel and Leisure (the hotels issue) ranks the world's hotels "For Service".2 The mother ship of the Peninsula group ... its Kowloon property ... tied for the second spot. No other Bangkok property even threatened The Oriental. Ruling its own turf is not an easy job; there are a lot of terribly good hotels in Bangkok. How it does it is not a great secret: it is people, more of them and better! Last summer when I lingered on during the ALIMAX era, so did the entire staff. And, for one brief period there were more than a thousand employees looking after only 35 guests; yes, and the nine restaurants kept unabbreviated menus.

1 ... twenty-four hours a day ... thousands and thousands, on six overlapping shifts ... acetylene lamps hissing away the dark ... and all of the hammering done behind great eye-shielding hanging tarps ... but, more amazingly, the building was given back to the owners right on time ...

2 e.g. " ... number of chefs (125) ... number of fresh flowers (45,000) ... number of full-time architect/interior designers on staff (4) ... number of gardeners (22) ... number of cecum (intestinum caecum) irrigation attendants (7) ... and so on...."

Friday, June 8, 2001

"We yearn for the glory years, when our toilets were among the most powerful on earth. Yes, Americans are unhappy with the wimpy toilets we are now required to buy."1

The web site maintained by The Toto Toilet Company of Japan is an eclectic place. Commodes and clothing (branded, of course, with the Toto logo) are the two main offerings of this great Nippon flush giant. Today, the people who brought us Pearl Harbor nearly six decades ago can now thumb through a catalog so deep in toilets and toilet accoutrements that even the purpose of what they want to lose gets lost.

In America, not only are we saddled with weak, flush-miserly, sniveling water closets [332k AVI movie] ... to boot, they are all gravity 'fed'. Top TotoWhile Osaka residents can order their classy hunks of porcelain to kick in with powerful "push 'n pull"2 aids should the chunkier stuff overstay the initial gentle water guidance ... well, by Jiminy ... our old folks over here in Omaha have to prod and break up the bigger pieces with spatula technology before the nasty bits get the message.

But, maybe we deserve what we get. While Kohler and American Standard only met the minimum standards set by The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the Toto Corporation insisted that its designs passed six additional simulated usage3 tests before their bowls were allowed to play with the real stuff.

And, even now the Toto Think Tank does not rest.

1 Dave Barry, International Herald Tribune, June 2001, back page, top of the fold, far left.

2 Toto's "G-MAX" uses compressed air and vacuum chambers to send everything on its way. Incidentally, NASA and Boeing were the minds behind the vacuum assisted commode. Fliers in today's big jets are very familiar with the dark Teflon coated bowls found in these high-flying toilets. Cruising at 600+ MPH, at more than 33,000 feet, these are the 'fast empties' of the toilet world. One "push here" and that great sucking noise takes over; it's the clap of air meeting the near vacuum at K-2 heights that makes everything fly through the pipes.

3 While the Americans were forcing little plastic balls down the throats of their little engines the Japanese were driving great coils of fermented bean curd into the gaping pipes of their machines ... followed by wads of paper and sponges.

Saturday, June 9, 2001

I found these five corkscrews in a box.

Five Corkscrews

Sunday, June 10, 2001

Unless you are kin, viewing will be limited. Even then, if you drew the short straw, you'll just see a television image1; long straw kin will get the window plus the color monitor for eyeing the last moments. Everyone else will have to watch from the street. Naturally, the press and selected inmates will be up there at ringside along with the lucky kin.

Thoughtfully, the Bureau of Prisons2 has published a viewer's guide/map to its still virgin "Execution Facility". Chez McVeighThe spacious "Execution Room" itself has viewing windows on three sides, plus two doors (from which, in a pinch, 'over bookings' could be accommodated). The three walls ... those containing windows ... have a total of six windows.

At this point, to better orient yourself with the map, you should click back a month ... to Newsweek's mid-May photo ensemble of the death chamber.3 The Newsweek Nikon caught the scene from the far left side of the room. From this camera angle, the washing-up facility is to the up and to the left in the picture. The Ritter 111, in the photo, is perpendicular to the long side of the room ... so, you have the broad view of it in its waiting pose ... unlike today's map orientation, which would have the cameraman (would he be still there) staring longwise at the head and toe rests.

Returning to the map (north is up, west is left ... etc.) ... and to the window arrangement4:

On the 'west', one window opens up into the "Victim/Community Witness" room. Another peers into a "Staff" room. Both viewing rooms have their own toilet facilities.5

The rooms (there are two) immediately adjacent to the 'south' of Tim's place also have witness windows; three of them. The room for "Media Witnesses" has two windows; the one reserved for "Inmate Witnesses" has but one window. Each has independently accessible toilet facilities.

The 'north' side of execution room borders on the "Chemical Room."6 Just one window here. It, too, has independent toilet facilities.

1 Beamed live to an Oklahoma City auditorium.*

* Senior officials at the Bureau of Prisons are worried that within hours of Tim's final trajectory his 'launch' will be made public on the Internet. Even as the big needle is squeezed free of its last air bubbles hackers from Terre Haute to Oklahoma City will be doing their cleverest to tap into the phone lines that will carry the digitally scrambled death. This "man in the middle" attack could be made even smoother with a little help from phone company employees.

2 Specifically, the Terre Haute (Indiana, USA) Federal Containment Facility ... as reported to it by the U.S. Penitentiary Execution Facility (also of Terre Haute) ... which is a wholly owned (though not completely independently operated) subsidiary of the U.S. Penitentiary at Terre Haute, which ... naturally ... is owned outright by the Bureau of Prisons.

3 As the Ritter 111 can be swiveled in any direction it would be dangerous to try to get your bearings from the recliner's published head and toe position (as depicted in either room maps or photographs). Media pictures (Newsweek, WWN) show it pointing in various directions at different times.

4 Looking at it from Tim's point of view. Though he might have to crane his neck to get in all the windows. As the glass is probably 'smoked' or 'one-way', afar eye contact is probably out of the question.

5 The Bureau of Prisons web site does not say who was responsible for plumbing the toilet facilities. The Ritter and the Toto names,of course, come to mind.

6 For its stated purpose this is a very large room. Too large!

Monday, June 11, 2001

Gee ... they made it sound so pleasant! His exit. The way Tim checks out.1

Tim Checks Out

1 In the good old days when 'Sing Sing' carried out its executions with early models of the electric chair the prison lights were put on low-lumens emergency battery back-up power four minutes before and six minutes after the lethal juice was fired into the chair. This was done for two purposes: it kept the other prisoners 'in the dark' as to the exact moment of the execution and it allowed the maximum amount of current to be applied to the saline soaked contra-insulations pads. This peak focusing of volts, watts and amps, though disconcerting to internal organs, did little cosmetic damage (aside from some temporary redness that could be easily remedied or patched by the prison mortician). That and a penultimate ('next to last') meal of stewed prunes pretty much guaranteed that the chamber would be free of unwelcome after-use odors.

Tuesday, June 12, 2001

While we await the first pirated pictures of Tim's last glare ...

... Oh, yes, we at corkscrew-balloon.com do have total confidence in America's I-441 phone/internet hackers,2 and the speed of "Google's" robots to smartly post this work product directly into their "I feel Lucky" banner ...

... ANYWAY, while we drum our fingers awaiting Tim's final bit, let's prepare ourselves for difficult walks.

Joshua Piven and David Bogenicht have some wise words for the tourist who finds himself in a DMZ.3 4


The simplest way of avoiding mines is to avoid regions where you suspect they may be, such as post-war countries. If you are in such a region, follow these tips.

Tips for the Mine Field

Ask locals.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians, local women and one-legged children are the best sources of information (in reverse order) for where danger zones are located.

Observe animals.
Field animals are considered de facto mine-sweepers. Fields with large quantities of mutilated animals, untouched by people, may indicate a minefield.

Watch the movements of locals.
Locals who avoid perfectly good trails are probably avoiding a mined area. Observe which routes they will not travel on and avoid them.

Look for dirt that has been disturbed.
Transference of dirt or discoloration of fields may indicate hasty placement of mines.

Look for wires across fields.
Trip wires strung across trails indicate mines or other explosives.

Look for newly destroyed vehicles on or just off the road.
Evidence of recent mine detonations includes burning or smoking vehicles and craters. Never assume that because a mine has already detonated the path is clear.

Avoid brush and overgrown fields and trails.
These will not be clearly marked with mine clearance signs, and are more difficult to navigate on your own.

The authors point out that there are four basic mine types:

TRIP-WIRE MINES. Stepping across a wire attached to the detonator will cause the mine to explode.

DIRECT-PRESSURE MINES. Stepping down on a pressure-sensitive pad will activate the detonator.

TIMER MINES. A timer can be an electrical clock, an electrical digital clock, a dripping/mixing chemical, or a simple mechanical timer that will detonate the mine.

REMOTE MINES. A remote mine can be detonated via an electrical charge across a wire (a "clacker"), via a radio signal, or from a heat or sound sensor.

1 Interstate 44 is the direct link between Terre Haute, Indiana and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It is through telephone wires strung along this highway that the encrypted digitized image of Tim did pass.

2 Telephone company employees ... historically never shy about giving the boss the finger ... had THE wire running temptingly right through their offices. A little alligator clip here; a bit of electrical tape there ... deep bragging rights at the bar, a WWN byline, settling a personal score with the IRS ... oh, just so many reasons why people do things!

3 Most mines don't have expiration dates. Though the stuff from World War II is pretty much gone, some historical mine fields are being constantly refreshed (the border between North Korea and South Korea). The 'abandoned' fields present a unique danger: Cambodia is still rich in anti-personnel, albeit antique, mines. Bosnia is relatively up-to-date. It's in these fields that the Piven/Borgenicht tips are most useful.

4 Though the authors have not provided us with any graphic photographs that illustrate the damage that can be wrought by stepping on a mine, I refer you to my coverage of "Si-Ouey's Place": the second floor of the Songran Niyomsane Forensic Medicine Museum in Bangkok. Here you will find a smorgasbord of injuries and maimings not unlike what you would expect to find in an active minefield.

Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Christie's May 2001

I missed the auction. About three weeks ago (May 22nd) Christie's held one of its semi-annual corkscrew auctions in London. Had I gone to Europe a day earlier than planned I probably would have been at South Kensington for the action.

Would I have bid on the piece? Probably not! But, not because I would have been suspicious of its origin. I have something similar ... not exact ... but, very similar. Though mine is for real. Anyway, I probably would not have even given the piece a thought, plus or negative.

Anyway, to see the piece, click here (and enter the password).1

1 The 'normal' password and user name should work. If you don't remember it, ask me.

Thursday, June 14, 2001

The man1 who 'owns' my Bangkok rooms once said:

"I have been trying to convince Europeans that Americans are not innately stupid but merely ignorant and that with a proper education system, et cetera."

"Prohibition made the United States the world's joke-nation, a title still unceded."

"... the Big Fella2 in the Sky."3

But, how about this from one who does not 'have' his name in the same building:

" ... rooted in (Vidal) is nothing less airy than the belief that sneering becomes him."4

My Bangkok landlord says my rooms will be ready on time. Starting from the end of the third week in May and right up until July 1st all of the floors in the River Wing below the ninth have been pulled apart and put back together again. Though my Gore Vidal rooms and all the other rentals from the tenth floor to the penthouse have been postoperative for more about a year, the work on the down-elevator properties required the closing of the whole building.5

Click here to see the next to final resting spot for two of my old printers: one, a dot matrix from Tandy; the other, an early inkjet from HP.6 These two machines originally cost X-times more than my "Best-Six" corkscrews for their respective years. Today, these once state-of-the-art machines are lying in rain and ruin in a Uhel Polly dumpster. The "Best-Six" corkscrews? Open Don Bull's book! Browse e-Bay!

PS to the McVeigh thing. Is this the last face that you'd like to see? No wonder Tim squinted at the smoked glass.

1 Gore Vidal in the introduction to THE IMPOSSIBLE H. L. MENCKEN: A Selection of His Best Newspaper Stories, edited by Marion Rodgers. Doubleday, 1991.

2 God.

3 His (God's) place.

4 John Updike on Vidal in MORE MATTER, Essays and Criticism, p. 243. Ballantine, 1999.

5 This time I don't think that the landlords will be able to secretly sublet any of the 'occupied' rooms.

6 I did not have the heart to get rid of my Radio Shack Model 100. This, from the early '80s, is a classic/vintage/watershed/tour de force machine that did more for cyberspace than ... well, anything else.

Friday, June 15, 2001


"For sure, even the worst blow job is better than, say, sniffing the best rose ... watching the greatest sunset. Hearing children laugh."1

During my last visit to Florida I checked my Seiko watch against the atomic clock2 that the Bureau of Mines and Indian Affairs (or someone) has buried deep in basalt or granite way far away under the Utah Rockies. Paul will know for sure ... but I recall that my Seiko, at that time, was only off by a couple of seconds.3

Yesterday, my Seiko and the 'standard' were separated by a full 9 seconds. I was fast! And, getting faster! This is alarming! From a one part in nine million error the denigration in accuracy has now reached 1 in 2,947,276. At this rate ... .well ... Oh my God ... that way lies madness; I will not go there.

"Alf, perhaps it's time that you went back to Bangkok!"

1 Chuck Palahniuk, in CHOKE, Doubleday, 2001 ... (also, author of FIGHT CLUB). A page or so earlier Palahniuk muses on sex with the 'jail-girls' in his sexaholic recovery group ... the ones let loose from their minimum security cells for their three hours of sex addict talk therapy: "The old rule about how a thing of beauty is a joy forever, in my experience, even the most beauteous thing is only a joy for about three hours, tops. After that, she'll want to tell you all about her childhood traumas. Part of meeting these jail girls is it's so sweet to look at your watch and know she'll be behind bars in half an hour."

2 Beating in its core is an incredibly accurate pulsating piece of very special rock ... one that has a ... well, really long half-life. As the mainspring of our nation's timepiece, it is capable of measuring the amount of time that it takes light to travel from here to there ... and almost anything else.

3 Of course, for my measurement I was forced to use a proxy clock; a Sharper Image purchase that several times a day gets an up-to-date time feed from passing satellites.

Next: Part II

Search WWW Search corkscrew-balloon.com