Monthly Archives: September 2014

Your Next Adventure: Gili Trawangan, Indonesia (Just Getting There)

trees on kuta beachGili Trawangan is one of the most remote and isolated atolls in the world.

If you want to die creatively, it’s vaguely situated near the two islands where you can get eaten by a komodo dragon.

In a 1924 New York Times interview, George Mallory was asked why he wanted to summit Mount Everest and he famously answered “because it’s there.” When people ask me why I seek out the most distant and lonely places to travel, I say “Because if nobody goes there, it must really be a place worth visiting.”

Specifically, more than its distant hipster obscurity, I wanted to visit Gili Trawangan because it has one of the most accessible, vibrant, and unique coral reefs in the world. From the shore, it is a ten foot walk on a shallow sandbar that abruptly tumbles into a narrow, mile-long, wonder-world trench of eight-foot wide stingless Rays (which, if you’re crass, you can ride), ancient 700 lb sea turtles (which may casually bump you into the reef inviting a coral-worm infection), kaleidoscope colored fish camouflaging among neon-bright shoals, and about ten million tiny violet attacking jellyfish to lightly sting you as you float twenty minutes down a riptide that forcefully transports you from one edge of the island to the other. The scrapes and bruises are well worth it. For a $1 children will be waiting where the riptide ceases with your belongings so you don’t have to hike the mile back to where you began your swim. There is even a return kiosk for your rented snorkeling gear.

I was also lured by rumors of $5 hour-long beach-side back massages, and two-for-one forty cent whiskey happy hour specials. With basic hammock inside a beach hut accommodation, Gili Trawangan is a remote Utopian paradise on a budget.

Getting there proved difficult.

Easy journeys rarely begin with “First, fly to Jakarta.”

I had allotted three weeks for this adventure. I had planned on taking a train for ten hours to Surabaya (which is a place people normally do not want to be), then switch to another train for a further ten hours, ultimately having crossed the Island of Java, to the port city of Ketapang (which is definitely a place people do not want to be).

In an effort to discourage lingering, a ferry operates 24 hours a day to help sleep-deprived foreigners make the thirty minute crossing to the port of Gilimanuk, in Bali. From there, the plan was to jump on any willing four-by-four or bus making the six hour journey toward the Balinese capital of Denpasar. I would have concluded my trip by taking a twenty minute Bluebird Taxi (never use any other company–they will rip you off–it will only be by a dollar but you will feel exploited and, like an ironic cartoon character, start screaming about “fairness” to a guy who lives off $3 a day) to postcard-famous Kuta Beach. Then, obviously still being in a condition to negotiate hotel prices in Balinese, I would find a wonderfully exotic and inexpensive room for a brief forty-hour slumber.

Yes, it was all a very sensible idea.      

I became discouraged when I looked out the window as my flight into Jakarta made its final descent. It looked like the whole city was underwater, which it was, due to flash flooding.

I had wondered why my roundtrip plane ticket from Singapore had only cost $100.

After a very brief wait at customs (lesser tourists having apparently been deterred from visiting the capital of the world’s most populous Muslim country during a humanitarian crisis) I began my vacation outside the airport pickup area which overlooks the city.

I thought I had walked onto a George A. Romero set during filming. Through windy torrents of rain and thunderclaps, there was a hysterical cacophony of screaming, crying, and the unintelligible noises and sirens commonly associated with mass-human suffering.   I stood silently, unable to process it.

“What would pragmatically be the most helpful thing I could do?” I asked myself.

I walked back to the ticket counter. “How much for a plane ticket to Bali?”

Very cheap it turned out–and so I just got out of everyone’s way and left.

Three hours later I was on Kuta Beach.

Kuta Beach Daqauri

I was slurping an overproof $1 strawberry daiquiri in a no-cover nightclub involving swimming pools, multi-tiered suspended glass dance floors, a whole pig rotating on a spit, and naked lesbian contortionists juggling fire whilst lighting customers’ cigarettes. (Well, not exactly, but my situation was in stark contrast from suffocating under a mosquito net while floating down railroad tracks in a Malaria-infested jungle.)

Pig on a spit, Bali, Indonesia.

Pig on a spit, Bali, Indonesia.

What happened that night will one day be subject to the scrutiny of a Senate confirmation hearing, but for now, I’ll just explain that after three days my fast-fading instincts toward self-preservation prodded me onward.

My impossibly cheap Bali accommodation.

My impossibly cheap Bali accommodation.

Kuta Beach

Kuta Beach

Kuta Beach

Kuta Beach

The impossibly ornate interior of TJ's, a Balinese Mexican restaurant.

The impossibly ornate interior of TJ’s, a Balinese Mexican restaurant.

The impossibly ornate exterior of TJ's, a Balinese Mexican restaurant.

The impossibly ornate exterior of TJ’s, a Balinese Mexican restaurant.

From Kuta Beach it is a several hour transit to the village of Ubud, where you can buy indigenous crafts and antiquities that your children will be disappointed to discover are fakes when they attempt to sell them on a History Channel pawn show. Most people will spend a night here so they can get up at 3AM and preposterously scramble the perilous edge of the magma-smoldering volcano Mount Batur near the village of Kintamani or get pickpocketed by a Macaque at the Ubud Monkey Village.

Ubud

Ubud

I instead continued to Padangbai which runs the 24 hour Bali-Lombok ferry service.

Padangbai, Bali, Indonesia

Padangbai, Bali, Indonesia

Whenever you hear a news report involving a ferry crowded with five hundred passengers and three crew sinking in the middle of nowhere, there is a fifty-fifty chance it happened here in the Lombok Strait. The Lombok Tourism Bureau even warns travelers about the vessels’ “poor condition” and suggests visitors not use them–which really says something since at the time the island lacked an operational airport and this was the only way to get there.

Perhaps visitors were supposed to pirate a local’s fishing boat?

If you didn’t drown on the way to the Lombok nightmare-port of Lembar, you were likely to be killed when you got there.

Today, they have sufficiently cleaned the place up that cruise ships occasionally dock there allowing passengers to experience new and shiny Polynesian fire shows, but when I went guidebooks cryptically advised to have onward transport waiting for you on the pier and proffered suicide as a reasonable alterative to spending the night. Crime in Somalia is noted as “high.” At the time, crime in Lembar was noted as “very high.”

I decided to extend my life expectancy by a day with an overnight in Padangbai. The shoreline village is out of a Daniel Defoe novel. A hauntingly empty and sprawling labyrinthine temple complex is a two hour hike up mountainside paths. Dinner is fish and so fresh that you basically explain what you want and they send a local ten-year-old out into the sea to catch it for you. My hotel room was a thatched roof two story bungalow furnished elegantly with indigenous artifacts–$6 per night (including a banana pancake breakfast accompanied by two liters of steaming Balinese tea and a cartoonishly steep and narrow staircase I dubbed the “tort-maker”).

$6 a night for a two-story thatched roof bungalow at the Kembar Inn.

$6 a night for a two-story thatched roof bungalow at the Kembar Inn.

Stairway to Heaven: This is the perilous obstacle course separating a patron who has enjoyed the night from his bathroom below.

Stairway to Heaven: This is the perilous obstacle course separating a patron who has enjoyed the night from his bathroom below.

It is a two-hour hike uphill to  a hauntingly empty and sprawling labyrinthine temple complex.

It is a two-hour hike uphill to a hauntingly empty and sprawling labyrinthine temple complex.

Stairs from the temple complex plunge into the water.

Stairs from the temple complex plunge into the water.

Stone gargoyles guard the hauntingly empty and sprawling labyrinthine temple complex.

Stone gargoyles guard the hauntingly empty and sprawling labyrinthine temple complex.

The hauntingly empty and sprawling labyrinthine temple complex

The hauntingly empty and sprawling labyrinthine temple complex

Dine on the freshest seafood possible.

Dine on the freshest seafood possible.

There is one bar in Padangbai. It is Rastafarian themed and the employees seem to be devout practitioners even while at work. Every purchased drink (which were priced at something-like ten cents for a shot of liquor or a quarter for a local beer) was accompanied by a huge complementary cup of hooch that they lovingly distill from home.

It was a long night and I am not allowed back at the Kembar Inn.

That’s not really true, but they weren’t overjoyed with me.

Upon my late night return my key would not unlock my hut’s door and so I violently kept stabbing the lock with the key while cursing and banging on the door. The lights suddenly went on inside.

Oops.

When I finally located my assigned bungalow, during my energetic sleep I utterly destroyed the bed’s mosquito net. Management, the mother of the family which owned the hotel, asked that I pay thirty cents in damages. Feeling bad, I also arranged my ferry travel and for immediate onward transport from Lembar through the hotel. The whole package set me back $4. (Sure you might be killed; but at these prices. . .)

I was looking forward to the ferry crossing in the way a teenage skateboarder secretly looks forward to cracking his skull–at least there will be adventuresome stories to tell.

The ride certainly seemed fine at a distance.

The ride certainly seemed fine at a distance.

I had read and heard so much hyperbole about the dangerousness of this mariner misadventure that I was siked to differentiate the reality from the hype. The waves were to be twenty feet high, the vessel as seaworthy as a dense stone, and it was told that bloody-toothed sharks would be at the ready for their fleshy American twenty-something chum.

As it turns out none of the gossip or admonishments were hyperbole–actually, the gloomy reports were rather euphemistic.

They hand each passenger a small plastic bag as they board.

“For when you vomit,” they explain with vexus calm.

As soon as we crossed the bay into the ocean our almost mini-cruise ship sized craft rocked back and forth at 75 degree angles causing even the toilet water to spill out onto the deck. In the below deck seating area, the windows smashed into the ocean at such precipitous angles that seafarers could see excited tropical fish pressed against the glass.

The fish were resplendent throughout the spectrum of rainbow colors. It was so enchanting that it would have enthralled the screaming passengers if they hadn’t been preoccupied by drafting wills, making amends with estranged relatives over mobile phones, and second guessing a life of confident atheism.

Twice we had dropped anchor because a lifeboat became untangled with the ship in the tumultuous sea. The first time required a twenty minute effort to rescue it and reattach it to our ship. The second time–I’m not joking–the lifeboat immediately sank.

We just stared blankly for a beat. Then, without comment, the crew drew up the anchor and we progressed with an unspoken pact to not think about what we had just witnessed.

After many more hours than planned, and to the apparent befuddlement of the Captain, we made it safely to the Zombie Apocalypse that was then-Lembar.

Despite being very late, I found my driver waiting asleep atop the roof of his van parked at the absolute point where the dilapidated pier turned into dirt. I therefore didn’t enter Lembar, but from a distance, it appeared to be in more need of humanitarian aid than certain refugee camps I had toured.

The driver was a cousin of the hotel matron. “Better luck with the misquote net here.” Gosh, word travels fast anywhere in the world rural. For the hours journey to Senggigi I stared out vacantly at a world of flooded paddy fields and the occasional lonely kiosk sized vegetable stand. As we approached the impossibly long shoreline of Senggigi the driver started recommending hotels at impossibly high prices–$15.

Lombok Rice Patty fields

Lombok Rice Patty fields

I ended up getting a $6 room on the beach (though it turned out you had to walk a quarter mile down the road to actually access it) which I shared with thirty-five mosquitoes the size of tarantulas.

Here is perhaps the most important travel trip I can ever give you: bring mosquito repellant when visiting Indonesia.

The stores really don’t sell it; the hotel managers really don’t understand what you are complaining about; you will simply be moved to different rooms each with the same problem. By the time I returned to Singapore my body was so consumed with mosquito bites that, after enduring my partner’s attempts at applying odious ancient oriental balms, I finally had to check myself into the hospital.

“Why you no bring repellant to Indonesia, la” the Sumantran doctor inquired shrilly, “you  so stupid?”

Bring your own repellant with you. If you fail to do so, your only reasonable alternative is to execute another tourist and take his.

While visiting the spartan town–there were maybe ten other foreigners–I quickly discovered that the local street vendors were decidedly more aggressive–threatening actually, than the mellow ones on Bali.

There is a material fact universally omitted from the guidebooks about Bali–the overambitious entrepreneurial spirit of its citizens.

A very rare picture of an empty main street Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia.

A very rare picture of a near-empty main street Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia.

Every two feet the tourist will be confronted by business people hawking fake jewelry, novelty t-shirts evidencing your journey to Indonesia, and suspiciously low priced “Prada” bags and “Gucci” sunglasses. They are so zealous in beginning their careers in fraudulent retail that many have dispatched with the need to credibly own or rent a brick-and-mortar store, or even a clean blanket splayed on the pavement or sand, and will abruptly jump in front of you screaming as if they are blocking a bullet. If you assert disinterest by not making eye contact, about half of your assaulters will whisper into your ear: “heroin? cocaine? prostitute?”

In my experience, “no, thank you” translates into Indonesian as roughly, “I’m terribly interested in hearing more about what you have on offer and I’m secretly hoping to pay far too much for it!”

Try “Tidak, Terima Kasih” (exactly translates into “No, thank you”); it is interpreted as “I live here. Go away.” And they usually do.

They are then immediately replaced by someone else who has been refused twenty times in the last twenty seconds, has bore witness to you refusing the exact same items at the exact same prices with the exact same pitches also twenty times, but with that uncanny Balinese optimism, is certain that twenty-one will be a very lucky number indeed.

They are doing this because they are very poor and it is objectively the only way to fill their families’ bellies with rice.

They reason that if a foreigner clearly has enough money to travel to a remote island, they therefore can spare a dollar for a bone-knife or a scrap of coined pyrite masquerading as gold from a “Dutch sunken treasure.” If there weren’t ten thousand of them it would be an emotionally compelling argument.

They (very understandably) fail to differentiate the $1,000-a-night guest in a secured and heavily fortified resort and the decidedly disheveled thirty-year-old backpacker from Surrey who slept in a hammock at his $4 beach thatched-roof hut accommodation and who would have holidayed in Ibiza if he had any actual money.

Reactions to street-vendor solicitation range the spectrum from kindness to frustration to homicidal rage simply because he’s the tenth dude who wants to know if you’ll look at his t-shirts.

Nevertheless, the Balinese, sufficiently relaxed as Buddhists in what is otherwise an entirely secular Muslim county (there is a separation between Mosque and state), are resigned to rejection and just happily harass the next potential customer.

They cannot control the rude attitudes of vacationers, but they can control their own.

In Lombok, they are not Buddhist.

Solicitors on Lombok have a unique approach to customer service–they do not require your purchase to be made voluntarily. The Lombok, not-exactly typical, but frequent enough, sales pitch is aimed at impregnating the targeted patron with duress.

“You Westerners are so damned lazy you can’t even be bothered to stand up while taking a dump. You all have to over-complicate it by requiring a porcelain bowl so you can perch upon it like Colonial overlords. Even that’s not enough, you are unwilling to simply sit on the porcelain, you insist upon a plastic lid, sandwiched under, yet another, plastic lid. Sometimes you even pad the lid with some cushion-like lining–allahu akbar! You’re asses must be so fragile!

Antoine de Saint-Exupery said “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” But what would we Muslims know about engineering–we only invented mathematics.

Don’t even get me started on the Japanese. Their toilet seats must have warmers and include a spouting water feature because they can’t even be bothered to wipe themselves.

Westerners create huge complexes of elaborate piping and wastes Allah knows how much water flushing your decadent excrement into your kleptocratic-governed cities to be cleansed by hugely polluting treatment facilities. Here’s a green tip for you–just dig a small hole and squat like every other living creature, have a bucket of water nearby and use your left hand–it’ll biodegrade in a year without contaminating your water supply.

Now are you going to buy this five dollar Rolex or what!?”

During the whole encounter he has been trying to stab you in the neck with the Indonesian kris he has also been trying to sell you, but is fortunately physically held back by five members of the local tourism board–“Now, Farouk, if you kill this young man it will reflect poorly on all of us.”

While the Balinese seem contented to cheerfully hock wares to ensure basic survival on an idyllic tropical beach to insensitive vacationing inebriants, the Lombok vendor manages to be worldly and irate as an islander who will begin his pleas for sustenance with “hey, dickhead.”

After a few ugly unsolicited confrontations at the beach and then with angry people approaching me while I ate dinner, I retired to the best (and only) lounge. The bartender was unspeakably polite as I asked, which were in hindsight, invasively disrespectful questions like “how do you live on a dollar a day?”

“Carefully,” he nodded while toweling dry a glass. “I have to decide whether to buy my family a protein or a vegetable to accompany our bowl or rice each night. When there is a big problem, like a storm comes and collapses our roof, we depend on our neighbors combining what little they have to our rescue. And when it happens to one of them, we must do the same.”

I yearend for him to ask me how the Western world could sleep at night. He didn’t, of course. He didn’t seem to begrudge the more fortunate for their luckier lot in life. Had he asked I would have probably replied with deep sadness: “comfortably.”

I had about $200 to last me for the next week and a half. I tipped him $20 on a $4 tab and left to sleep and have approximately three pints of my blood harvested by mosquitoes.

I woke up at 5AM feeling anemic.

A three mile walk down the village’s only road introduced me to Senggigi’s postcard stand-sized bamboo-built tourist office. In exchange for about $2, they sell tickets for the 7AM daily departure to Gili Trawangan. This final two hour push first pauses at Gili Air and Gili Meno, each offering their own unique tourist delights. But I wanted Gili Trawangan, the very last and very smallest of the remote islands of the remote itself Lombok.

This portion of the Lombok Strait is tackled with an eardrum-piercing oversized motor haphazardly attached to the back of a wooden canoe. The views compensate for this through their surreal, nearly tear-educing beauty. Cones of verdant granite stab up through the ocean hundreds of feet into the air. Our canoe expertly zigzagged through this oceanic mountain-forest for forty-five minutes before departing for the Lombok sea-proper.

Gili Air comes almost immediately into view and two of our six passengers hop off and disappear into its lush hospitable jungle. The same occurs at the most popular island, Gili Meno.

Finally, there is no pier at Gili Trawangan, and so the canoe just stops a hundred feet off shore, and the four remaining of us jump into the shallow water with our packs raised above our heads.

There are no roads on Gili Trawangan, just one partially paved outer ring and one dirt lane that transverses the island. The only form of transport are wooden carts pulled by donkeys. I eschewed such modern decadence and kept walking eastward until “town”–a collection of a dozen or so bars, shops, restaurants, and hotels spread over a thousand foot-strip–disappeared into a jungle filled with wild goats, and then back into an desolate beach.

The first hotel I came to on the largely undeveloped side of the island was apparently not open, or such is how I interpreted the greeting I received at the threshold–twin kindergarten-aged girls just chillingly laughed at me while giving me creepy steady stares. It was as if they were advertising a telepathic ability to warn me that I was to die that night.

I moved on next door where I plunked down $40 for two nights in my own palatial-furnished bungalow on the beach.

The shower only produced cold salt-water but such was easily forgivable as it was a part of my bungalow’s roofless “outdoor” bathroom-terrarium which came with a rock garden perimetered by lush bonsai trees and other greenery. There was a stone path from the glass sliding door that opened into it to the most agreeably situated toilet in the world.

The street vendor in Lombak would have had a heart attack.

There was no toilet paper but you can’t have everything.

After dropping my back-aching heavy pack I stomped outside for a $1 Nasi Goreng and Bir Bintang. The only other guest in the beach bungalows was a Dutch surfer who seemed more or less asleep with his suspiciously rouge-dilated eyes transfixed at the incoming tide.

“It was arduous getting here, but it sure seems worth it,” I thought aloud.

I started recounting my harrowing tale expecting to hear his own daring adventure in return. From his catatonic appearance, it seemed he was content to live on Gili Trawangan rather than brave it back to the mainland.

Instead he turned to me very slowly: “You do know that there is a cheap forty-five minute speedboat service direct from Bali?”

I swallowed a violent urge to punch the World in its face. Such desires wash over me from time to time.

“I’ll, I’ll, have to look into that for my return trip,” I mumbled stammering.

Logistics:

Fly directly to Bali. Spend some time there scuba diving, snorkeling, trekking, and allowing yourself to vaporize into the raging night-life.

There are now many direct transport services from Bali to Gili Trawangan, which can be researched here.

It is no longer the same idyllic footnote in the National Geographic that it once was, so go now before it becomes even more popular.

Why it’s Important to Support President-designate Thrasher

After the shuttle dropped us off at Doak Campbell Stadium, it was time for pictures with the Seminole cheerleaders! Living the dream, though, perhaps not my own.

After President Barron’s shuttle dropped us off at Doak Campbell Stadium, it was time for pictures with the Seminole cheerleaders! Living the dream, though, perhaps not my own.

To my fellow Seminoles:

Some of us supported Mr. Thrasher’s hard-fought endeavor to be the next President of Florida State University. To those, it is appropriate to acknowledge congratulations and our allegiance to FSU.

To those, including myself, who are disappointed in the duly appointed Board of Trustees’ decision, many warned of a potentially consequential academic brain-drain and drop in FSU’s reputation as a deeply committed Carnegie One Research University.

The decision having been made, it is time for us to come together to prevent such dire predictions.  

Some have expressed their discontent with promises to discontinue alumni donations, to cause the enterprises or research foundations they helm to withhold grants, and most seriously, a few, among them some of the great scientists on Earth, have suggested that they will resign research and teaching positions at the Florida State University we all love.

Well, that’s not very helpful.

Please, don’t do that.

I will borrow the farsighted argument of David Cameron on the eve of what was the potential Scot succession:

John Thrasher will not be here forever.

The current roster of the Board of Trustees will not be here forever.

Rick Scott will not be here forever.

Even the Koch Brothers, will not be here forever.

Until a meteor hits us at just the right angle, the predicted next ice-age sets in, or leaders with a worrying overconfidence in a better afterlife press the button mutually assuring our destruction, the future of our institution and its Voltaire garden of works must continue to be cultivated–even under challenging economic and political circumstances.

This is because:

Thanks to FSU’s advances in cancer research, such as Taxol, a world with children suffering from cancer does not have to be forever.

Opposite the spectrum of human development, recent discoveries from FSU’s Bienkiewicz Laboratory give us hope that our coexistence with Alzheimer’s Disease does not have to be forever.

If FSU researcher Albrecht-Schmitt’s work with “californium” is repeatedly replicated through peer review, radioactive waste, does not even have to be forever.

Disagreement with the majority of a thirteen-person committee is insufficient cause to jeopardize our role in our university’s future accomplishments and continued academic leadership in the world.

Moreover, the John Thrashers of the world, the science-deniers, the pray-the-gay away folks–they may want you to resign from your research and teaching positions. They may want to promptly replace you with people arguing the “other side” of climate change, evolution, tobacco’s role in cancer, sexual equality, and other celestial teapots. They may want you to “go gentle into that good night.”

Your resignation may merely be misidentified as surrender to those who appreciate and understand you most–your supporters, your students, your colleagues who cite your works, those whose livelihoods depend upon your grants and lab budgets, and the segments of our society who do not wish to be drowned under rising sea levels.

It is understandable that you may yearn to succumb to the serene siren’s song that the world isn’t fair and doesn’t appreciate your tireless effort–many of you have suffered divorce and alienation in your quest for knowledge helpful to a seemingly apathetic and unappreciative universe. Consider, however, explaining to a kid with cancer that you suspended your research while looking for employment and funding elsewhere because politics plays too much of a role in Florida’s higher education–you may find an unsympathetic audience.

You chose and endured great hardship to be public intellectuals, and you therefore voluntarily chose to be responsible as scientists, philosophers, artists, and academicians to “rage against the dying of the light” in a world where science-deniers, the nihilists, and wealthy special interests occasionally win the day at the ballot box.

The community needs you to fulfill that responsibility now more than ever.

Some of you have tenure–he cannot make you leave; only you have that power–don’t cede it.

To consider changing where you live and where you work just because the titular head disagrees with you is to give him far more power than he, or his supporters, actually have or deserve.

The faculty, TAs, and students collectively have more actual power to determine the direction of FSU than a single human being–whatever the net-worth of his supporters and whatever his title.

Meanwhile, he has offered to fundraise a billion dollars in one hundred days.

Enthusiastically support him in this endeavor–then spend every dollar of it producing peer reviewed experiments and empirical research to prove his and the Koch brother’s ideas wrong.

If you are feeling particularly charitable, consider giving him a chance. Wait for him to make actual objective mistakes while sincerely working with him to help succeed in bettering FSU before demanding his tarring and feathering. It is possible he wants to pour all of his energy into making this school be the best it can be on its own terms and that he is able to divorce his personal opinions from the process–he wouldn’t be the first political leader to do such in search of a legacy.

The only other remedy is to go get the pitch forks while others rally the village people and see if that makes him more likely to listen to your grant proposals and objections.

In my limited experience in life, this strategy rarely works.

Whatever you do, please don’t give up. Continue to donate; continue your support–FSU is bigger than one man and it is bigger than all of us. It is an idea of intellectually honest cooperation to further the sciences, the humanities, and the observable truth.

Don’t let our transient disagreement with the transient Board of Trustees in its choice of a transient leader distract from the accomplishment and promising future of a 150 plus year Carnegie One Research University and its hundreds of thousands alumni and the hundreds of millions who have, knowingly or not, benefited from its discoveries.

The decision of who shall be FSU’s next President is done.

Please join me in offering full support to FSU’s Seventeenth President-designate, the Honorable John Thrasher.

If his actual job performance suggests such allegiance is unwarranted, I have confidence that we will respond appropriately.

In the meantime, one of FSU’s greatest strengths and defense mechanisms is its sense of humor. I chose to go to FSU for the same reasons I chose to be amongst most people and institutions I associate with–because of a demonstrable lighthearted humor, cooperation,   and kindness.

So, say now, why are all the Environmental Science textbooks at Strozier Library now in the “fiction” section?

Of course, they won’t be. (But it’s still okay to make a joke here and there.)

Remember, “the fun never stops.

Respectfully,

Richard Junnier, Esq.

President, Junnier Law, P.A.
Immediate Past Chair of the Leon County Democratic Party

From November 2012 through January 2013, Richard served as a member of a White House Work Group assembled to successfully discuss and organize grassroots opposition to the Sequester, the Fiscal Cliff, and federal debt default.

From November 2012 through January 2013, Richard served as a member of a White House Work Group assembled to successfully discuss and organize grassroots opposition to the Sequester, the Fiscal Cliff, and federal debt default.

Thank you, Scotland!

The Tower of London may return to its previous use? Well, no, obviously not.

The Tower of London may return to its previous use? Well, no, obviously not.

Okay, goodnight all!

As you read this please listen to Scotland the Brave.

Despite the fact that a “Yes” vote would have meant the “Full International Lawyer Employment Act,” I’m grateful for my ancestral homeland’s “No” decision. While we would have collectively figured out a solution, it would have temporarily been profoundly detrimental to the International economy’s interests, U.S. interests, England’s interests, Scotland’s interests, and I believe, the World’s interests.

Thank you, Scotland!

For those of you who voted for Independence, I applaud your activism and know you’ll keep Westminster to their promise of greater sovereignty.

Though you came short of your goal, you have changed the U.K. forever and Wales, Northern Ireland, England, and, most importantly, the democratic process are the better for it.

You are outstanding examples of the human species!

Thank you,

Richard

Junnier Law, P.A.

Off with his head?

The Tower of London may return to its previous use? Well, no, obviously not.

The Tower of London may return to its previous use? Well, no, obviously not.

Adventure Lawyer’s cocktail party factoid of the day:

Did you know that despite the U.K.’s abolition of the death penalty, that the Queen may still sign a death warrant in incidences of treason to the commonwealth and the monarchy?

So as the vote count appears to be favoring “No” in tonight’s Scotland Independence Referendum, Scottish First Minister “Alex Salmond [head of the vote “Yes” campaign] used his last interview with The Times to stress his commitment to the monarchy.”

I bet he did.

My Comment to the FSU Board of Trustees on their Potential Appointment of a Creationist President

Junnier Law, P.A., Richard Junnier, Esq.

Junnier Law, P.A., Richard Junnier, Esq.

September 17, 2014

Dear Honorable Florida State University Board of Trustees:

I believe it is wholly inappropriate to appoint an individual who neither believes in evolution nor climate change President of a Carnegie One Research University.

Today, FSU is known for being on the cutting edge of cancer research, hosting a Nobel Laureate who helms the world’s largest electromagnet, and, ironically, producing a meteorology program that is one of the world leaders at studying climate change.

I fear that if Mr. Thrasher is appointed–virtually overnight–with the assistance of sensationalist news outlets and blogs, the hyperbole of the Daily Show, a well-deserved sardonic interview aired on the Colbert Report, and being the punchline of a succession of jokes on late night monologues–we will instead be known singularly as the University with a creationist President.

It’ll just be another jab at a state that appears to get nothing right.

Beyond that, there is his temperament to consider.

His conduct during his campus student-faculty discussion evidenced an individual not responsive to questions or criticism. When two students–quite appropriately–laughed at his “I’m not a scientist” answer to a question about the existence of climate change, he threatened to discontinue the proceedings.

That is unlikely the optimal attitude necessary to foster debate and discuss diverse ideas among a group of wily and confidently opinionated faculty and students. When I interview candidates and they threaten to leave the employment interview, as a rule, I move on to the next applicant.

He also obfuscated a series of questions including those as basic as quizzing his knowledge of the scientific method and evolution. A President should be able to offer concise and responsive answers to complicated questions let alone basic ones. It is embarrassing that students and faculty even thought such questions were necessary–but apparently they were.

If Mr. Thrasher is appointed, I easily imagine our university’s top talent will get their CVs in order and high school students interested in science and engineering will look elsewhere for their college education. Sure, he can probably fund raise $1 Billion; but our reputation is worth far more than that.

Bill Nye (the Science Guy) appeared at FSU last night to give a lecture. During the Q&A he was asked about the prospects of potentially having a creationist university president: “Well, I find it heartbreaking.”

I do too.

Respectfully,

Richard Junnier, Esq.
Junnier Law, P.A.

Perez Art Museum Miami Gives Back to its Patrons in a Big Way

Image "borrowed" from http://www.aol.com/article/2014/02/17/fla-artist-smashes-1m-vase-in-miami-museum/20831977/ which discusses a local-Miami artist's expensive and childish publicity stunt in an article titled "Fla. artist smashes $1M vase in Miami museum"

Image “borrowed” from http://www.aol.com/article/2014/02/17/fla-artist-smashes-1m-vase-in-miami-museum/20831977/ which discusses a local-Miami artist’s expensive and childish publicity stunt in an article titled “Fla. artist smashes $1M vase in Miami museum”

Patron members ($2500 a year) of the Perez Art Museum Miami will get an invite to a five day field trip to New Orleans from October 22nd to October 26th.

The trip includes a series of private dinners prepared personally by world renowned chefs, either at their restaurants, or in several cases, at a famous artist’s home. Days are spent touring museums and galleries otherwise closed to the public during the member’s visit, and private collections in the mansions of the super-wealthy. There is also an obligatory visit with a Mardi Gras Indian who will entertain with his “dancing, drumming, and chanting.”

The trip culminates with the “New Orleans For Now” bash which is apparently where “artists, curators, and patrons” gather from around the world in a “cavernous” venue to “wildly” celebrate themselves and their contributions to art and culture.

Cash bar, though.

They also explain that they “literally never hire tour guides” and that the people feeding and leading you around town are “peer-level hosts” and admonishes any attempts at offering pecuniary gratuity.

I don’t know whether to be violently envious or outraged by such naked decadence.

I choose to be both.

So, dear friends who are patron members of the Perez Art Museum Miami, please take me with you. It will be your contribution to the irony of the New Orleans art scene.

The full and flashy itinerary can be in equal parts admired/denounced here.

To learn more about the Perez Art Museum Miami, visit here.

To read the claim that the painting below represents the architecture of Rio de Janeiro, visit here.

Sarah Morris, Le Meridien [Rio], 2012. Collection of Pérez

Sarah Morris, Le Meridien [Rio], 2012. Collection of Pérez

Water Balloons and Silly String in the Square: How to Miss Carnival in Cusco While Experiencing It All

My friends and I managed to spend a week in Cusco and its surrounding environs without quite figuring out we were there during their annual Carnival celebrations.

We thought it was odd that they seemed to throw a parade in the Plaza De Armas every single day. 

“It’s just like Disney World!  A parade for the tourists each noon!” 

We had no idea why children thought it totally appropriate to shoot water pistols and silly string at us despite our protests of confusion. There was a woman who intentionally dumped a bucket of what we assumed to be waste from her third floor window onto my friend’s head–how unspeakably rude! 

Then there were the pigs slowly roasting on spits, sumptuously decorating each colonial cobblestoned square. A Peruvian brass band or flutist was never far off. DJs and raised platforms seemed spontaneously erected among spirited crowds of midday merrymakers. Walking down any central artery risked confrontation with dancers resplendent in Inca period regalia. 

“Christ! These people seriously know how to get the most out of each day!”

View of Cusco Plaza De Armas from  Sacsaywaman lookout as it cleans up after a parade in preparation for yet another parade.

View of Cusco Plaza De Armas from Sacsaywaman lookout as it cleans up after a parade in preparation for yet another parade.

Henry David Thoreau must be the Mayor. 

Inspired to find our own Walden Pond, we hiked and climbed four days in the Andes mountains on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. We returned by train and bus to find that the festivities continued. Scrambling to the lookout at Sacsaywaman, we stared down at yet another cavalcade spectacle galloping the city’s ancient streets.  

At dusk it could get grim–robe adorned masked marchers chanted Latin epithets. The skies smelt of incense as the cortege paced by carrying coffin-sized cathedral artifacts. (Actually, this one thing that we vaguely understood to be some religious or funerary ritual, turned out to be a provocatively morbid protest against utility rate hikes.)  

Then, abruptly, more parties.

We stayed just off the Square of the Church of San Blas and each midnight was punctuated with celebratory fireworks (which we mistook for violent gunfire) and every morning we awoke to what we assumed was some sort of daily religious market.

Everybody seemed to have money while nobody seemed to have a job. They all wept clasping crucifixes while taking a shot of Pisco or downing a third Cusqueña at half past noon. It didn’t make sense but we just went with the notion that the Cusco population was entirely comprised of very religious afternoon binge drinkers. 

Dressed as decidedly lavender Dr. Seuss characters, five representatives from the Cusco Chamber of Commerce toddled passed on stilts.   

I kind of wanted to live there. 

On the last day, after both my friends abandoned this procession of pleasures for the bleakness of reality, I finally asked someone what was going on.

“Why these are the last minutes of the last day of our Carnival!”

I nodded in resignation.  I had once again narrowly dodged an authentic cultural experience while abroad.

Sacsaywaman Sleepytime

Sacsaywaman Sleepytime

New Book Claims DNA Evidence Found Identifying Jack the Ripper

MonasteryofSanFranciscoSkulls

The crypts beneath Monastery of San Francisco, Lima, Peru (the most theme appropriate picture I could find to which I own the copyright.)

This is not the first time an “armchair detective” has claimed to have found forensic evidence identifying Jack the Ripper.

In Patricia Cornwell’s “Portrait Of A Killer: Jack The Ripper — Case Closed,” she accuses impressionist painter Walter Richard Sicker of creatively killing five Whitechapel women and sending taunting dispatches to Scotland Yard. In the book, she claims to have found DNA on a letter allegedly written by Jack the Ripper with a 99% probability correlation with DNA found on letters known to have been written by the famous artist.

Never mind the heavily trafficked and contaminated “Jack the Ripper” letter had already been known to be a hoax–in fact all of the hundreds of sickly mocking letters are probably hoaxes. Even the infamous “From Hell” letter containing a slice of kidney claiming “I ate the other half” was likely the macabre product of a medical student’s unique sense of humor. (An odd but not totally uncommon practice of the time.) Two local women were also arrested for writing hoax letters.

In any event, it turns out Sicker was relaxing and painting in France during the murders, and what with there being no Channel Tunnel at the time, if he is the murderer, he had one heck of an inconvenient and undocumented commute.

In this new book, writer Russell Edwards accuses Aaron Kosminski, a Polish immigrant barber who has historically been considered to be the prime suspect, of being the infamous murderer. Edwards believes he has the shawl of one of the victims that is rumored to have come from the murder scene of Catherine Eddowes. He claims that DNA from Eddowes’ blood and Kosminski’s semen are both on the shawl.

That’s pretty good evidence, even by Florida jury standards.

But I want to see the bench notes before making my own judgment. The methods used in collecting the ancient samples are very unique and have not yet been subject to the scrutiny of peer review.

Mr. Kosminksi had a reputation for “self abuse,” so if it is their shared DNA on the shawl I could offer an alternative theory for how it got there–but that would require me to get pretty graphic and I think we’ve delved sufficiently into the darkness already.

Rotterdam Dining: Parkheuvel–When One Michelin Star Simply Won’t Do.

Parkheuvel--when one Michelin star simply won't do.

Parkheuvel–when one Michelin star simply won’t do.

If you ever find yourself with an extra night in Rotterdam, and you had the foresight to book a reservation approximately 28 years in advance, have dinner at Parkheuvel. If a restaurant has one Michelin star it is considered to be one of the best in the world.

This place has two.

I always have difficulty explaining the sheer intensity of the customer service at these places. They treat each patron as if he or she was royalty, a celebrity, or a Nobel Laureate.

Here’s an illustrative anecdote about Parkheuvel.  Outside the front entrance my friend and I had asked the sole valet to take our picture together.  As he took several from different angles and perspectives, a limo draped with Dutch flags pulled up. My friend was dissatisfied with the pictures and asked the valet if he minded trying again.  I gestured excitedly that Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende was waiting for his door to be opened and the valet might have more pressing matters to attend.

This is how the valet reacted:

He turned his head, saw the limo, returned his attention to us, and said “He can wait. You were here first, and for you, I have all the time in the world.”

We tipped generously, ran out of the way inside, and found ourselves seated in priority over a world leader.