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Sad to hear the artist formerly known as Cassius Clay lost his final fight today. He changed boxing and sports by being a rare articulate black athlete. Howard Cosell, a lawyer turned sports gadfly, made his fortune by promoting Clay and keeping him in the public eye. Something which still puzzles me is how he served time for being a conscientious objector but on his release he continued to beat the crap out of people for a living. His conversion to Islam was puzzling too, since his ancestors were probably animists.

But I am telling you a story. My second year in Thailand, my unit, the Rubber Research Center, had a huge long-term project to convince the rubber plantation owners to pull out their trees, and replace them with a new strain which produced 10x the rubber. It takes 7 years for a sapling to grow to be a producing tree, so we had two projects - show the farmers how to divide their field into 8 parts, pulling up 1/8 every year. And then how to grow other cash crops (pineapples and chili peppers were the most profitable) in between the saplings.

My job was to produce slide shows illustrating all of that, plus how to treat various rubber tree diseases and parasites. And I would go out with our A/V unit to all the provincial fairs.

My boss was a genius. He knew that nobody would sit still for three hours of agricultural extension slides, so as soon as we parked the truck and mounted the TV on top, he would pop in a videotape of the Thrilla in Manila and play one round. That would attract a crowd, and between rounds we showed a short slide show. The fight went 14 rounds, and by the end of the fight maybe 100 people had seen our slides.

That was 1976. In 1989 I returned to southern Thailand for the first time, and my bus trip across the peninsula looked like our slide show.

The A/V truck and some of my co-workers. Some of the provincial fairs were a long trip through the jungle, so we carried extra fuel.

Me & co-workers

And more co-workers

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March 2019


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