Archive for October, 2006

The Ruins of California

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

Alas, even vegetables are suicidal these days, especially the leafy greens. (The center e-coli image is by Dennis Kunkel Microscopy.Inc 2004)

Framed E-Coli E-Coli digital image by Fung Lin Hall

Speaking of California….

The Ruins of California by Martha Sherrill 2006

Oh, no! Another novel of growing up in California in the 60’s and 70’s. Divorced Latino mom is a former Flamenco dancer turned formidable tennis player and real estate salesperson. Father is a serial womanizing silicon pioneer, teaching at Berkeley, living on Telegraph Hill later Marin Headlands, and founding Menlo Park silicon startup. Grandmother is Pasadena club, equestrian, debutante anchor of the family. Half brother has organic gardening former hippie Buddhist mom; is surfing druggie living on Oahu’s north shore. We go through all the trends from Zen to EST. This cliched mess can’t possibly work right? Wrong. Each of these characters could and may have existed in this unique period of California history. Somehow, Sherrill makes each believable as if such characters could have actually lived worked and believed as they did at the time. In fact, this is a near memoir turned novel.

Potata HeartPotato Heart digital image by Fung Lin Hall from Idaho.
(This potato heart loved music once.)

Two Takes on Tibet

Monday, October 2nd, 2006

The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet; Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison, 2002.

The CIA book hardly deals with events inside Tibet under Chinese occupation, mainly because few of their trained Tibetans were ever inside Tibet. The CIA of this book are not the ham fisted bumbling folks of the current middle east. They are competent, most often decorated veterans of WWII. They know to consult experts like Heinrich Harrer (Seven Years in Tibet) and to employ noted Buddhist scholar Mongolian Geshe Wangal as interpreter, teacher, and translator. It was Wangal who helped develop a Tibetan phrase code book for use in coded radio transmissions.

Geshe Wangal
Much technology was developed for this effort including long range high altitude airdrops and steerable parachutes pioneered by Missoula smoke jumpers who were recruited by the CIA for this effort.
Yet, in twenty years of efforts, their most notable success was the accidental ambush of one jeep carrying a Chinese commander with a satchel of documents. Most Tibetan trained agents were captured or killed upon entering Tibet.
This book is mostly a history of the ever changing geopolitical realities for the US, India, Pakistan, China, and the Soviet Union. Tibet and the trained Tibetan fighters somehow get lost and forgotten in these “bigger” realities including Indian Pakistan warfare and the Vietnam war. Two groups of fighters were trained and armed, one in India after the Chinese invasion in 1962 and the other in Nepal in the sub kingdom of Mustang near Pokhara and Annapurna.

Annapurna Pohkara

The only serious fighting ever done by these Tibetans was their Indian sponsored use against Pakistan during the East Pakistan war of independence leading to the formation of Bangladesh. In this war, the Tibetans proved very able and successful fighters.
Still, the book is interesting reading, revealing little known details about the CIA involvement in South Asia. For instance; Nepal today boasts a number of successful Tibetan businesses including carpet manufacturing and hostel hotel operation. These business were made possible by CIA contributions as the Mustang Tibetan fighters were relocated and retrained.
The Dalai Lama appears occasionally in this book but the focus remains clearly on CIA activities.

Manchurian Adventure; Sylvain Mangeot 1974.

Manchurian Adventure is an incredible tale of a Chinese Manchurian soldier of fortune. Trained by the Japanese as a pilot and possessing uncommon skills with machinery and language, Lobsang Thondup (assumed name) moves from one impossible situation to the next in Siberia, Manchuria, China and Sinkiang, Tibet, and Bhutan. In Tibet he becomes the lover of Dhorji Paghmo, Tibet’s only woman “Living Buddha” and ranked third in the Buddhist hierarchy. When the Dalai Lama escapes to India in 1959, Lobsang also escapes to Bhutan where his engineering skills lead him into friendships with the King and the Prime Minister. Of course things go wrong and he ends up imprisoned in a jail of his own design.
In addition to being a great adventure read, this book gives a better idea of life in the area during this time of historic upheaval.

For more on the CIA’s history throughout the world see