There amidst the junk mail was a pleasant surprise: Sam L., who stayed with me when he got to this country and then went to


Ten years after

There amidst the junk mail was a pleasant surprise: Sam L., who stayed with me when he got to this country and then went to California rather than back to Bangkok and Burma as he was supposed to, had finally won political asylum. I felt a touch of gratification, since I'd written a letter to the Immigration Service noting that the Burmese authorities, who were embargoing all journalists then, probably wouldn't appreciate his helping me sneak into the country. But the recollection is more bitter than sweet. The other night I heard a report on the BBC World Service that was all too depressingly like another report a year ago, and another report a year before that. It was another dry season in the jungles of eastern Burma, and the Burmese/ Myanmar army was carrying out another offensive against Karen rebels and villages, the last holdouts among the many ethnic groups that once battled Burma's uniquely oppressive military regime. Once again, villages were being scorched, villagers were being pressed into forced (and sometimes fatal) service as porters, and rape was being used as a weapon. This year, however, the attacks were especially brutal.

It is almost exactly 10 years since Sam, in Bangkok, introduced me to an official of the Karens' "Free State of Kawthoolei," who in turn took me in by dirt bike. There I saw sights to break the heart. Old soldiers who'd hid in the bush for decades were still drilling and strategizing. Across the river camped more than 300 students who'd fled the cities when the military bloodily suppressed demonstrations against its latest coup. Finding refuge with the Karens, they drilled and spoke bravely of fighting back. They had two rifles between them and were dropping like flies from malaria. They begged me to tell the CIA to come help them.

After 40 years, the Karens' struggle was already the world's longest-running civil war. Ten years later they're still fighting and Burma ("Myanmar" in the newspeak) is still under the iron hand. Last year Seattle, once a City with a Foreign Policy and now a City with a Trade Mission, shirked from adopting a token Burma-boycott ordinance for fear it might encourage an eventual China boycott. Asylum is something we give the few when we're unable or unwilling to help the many.

Flag wavers for Clinton

In politics as in guerrilla warfare, the best weapons are the ones you steal from your enemies. Richard Nixon used to love to flash the peace sign at antiwar protesters and then gloat, "They hate it when I do that." So how will patriotism-flogging impeachment advocates feel if Clinton's defenders start waving Old Glory on his behalf? The Censure and Move On campaign passes along this suggestion from one John Samuelson, who "is 78 years old and lives in Jacksonville, Florida": "I can't do all the things I want, but I can fly my flag to support my President. I've got one through my Representative that flew over the Capitol in Washington. So yesterday I put it out in front of my house. I told my friends, and today they are putting theirs up all over the country. Fly a small one from your car antenna. All this doesn't cost a fortune, but millions of flags will make a statement."

Where to look

Beyond its marvels of marketing and valuation levitation, another of's accomplishments gets too little credit: It's already replaced Books in Print and library indexes as the universal bibliography. One editor at a big East Coast house says when she and her counterparts do "market research" (checking what's already been published on a given subject) they just click you-know-what—and even get links and squibs, which Books in Print doesn't have.

Which is great—unless Amazon should choose not to offer or promote some books. Check and see when the Amazon equivalents of Hard Drive, Microserfs, and The Microsoft File start to appear.

Honest, they just sent me all that trash!

But there are pitfalls to buying from Amazon, as with any catalog shopping. I know some- one who recently placed her first order there, for two books on Victorian needlepoint (I am not making this up). She received four books, addressed to her: Pitbull: Lessons from Wall Street's Champions, Options Volatility & Pricing, and two more volumes on stock options, invoiced to someone in San Jose doubtless looking to vest and invest. "It's Murphy's Law," said the operator at Amazon when she called. "You never get books you can actually use." He apologized, and promised to send her books, with a mailing label so she could return the others. She wasn't pleased at being told she has to take them to the post office: "At least Spiegel sends a UPS pick-up when they make a mistake."

Amazon.come on, now

Mentioning that will probably draw another scorcher from Stephanie Pure, who roasted me (Letters to the Editor) for calling Amazon's marketing "deceptive" because its links on various search-engine sites offer "Books on [whatever subject you're searching for]" when no such books exist. (Q&D, 12/10/98.) She argued that's no different from implying a cologne "will turn ordinary people into irresistible objects of affection." I didn't and wouldn't call such marketing "deceptive"; indiscriminate and overeager, perhaps. But there is a difference between implying sweeping and improbable benefits from a product and offering a product that doesn't exist. The former may be more deceptive; the latter discourages you from using a nifty service.

Cutting to the chase

Another nifty-sounding service is Amazon's offer to "query our network of used-book stores for you and send an update within one to two weeks" when the volume you want is out of print. But you needn't wait, or go through Amazon. Two really nifty sites afford quick searches of thousands of used-book store inventories and instant on-line orders: Advanced Book Exchange,, and, which bills itself as "the world's largest inventory of books for sale," with 8 million volumes. I searched for a a volume I'd been seeking for 10 years; it turned up, at different stores on both sites.


Speaking of scorching letters: If Clarence Moriwaki, Sound Transit's designated attack dog, can't understand the words in front of his face, he might at least quote them intact before lighting in. He accused this column (in another 1/14 letter) of denying that light rail can run on elevated lines (though the same column noted one such line) because I said "rail forces us to choose awkward at-grade or costly tunneling." The rest of that point, which he ignored: "Consider the third alternative—elevated lines—and automated monorail costs less and makes more sense." No less an authority than Paul Bay, Sound Transit's light-rail director, has publicly acknowledged that monorail costs less per mile than elevated light rail. But no, I don't remember him saying it made more sense.

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