Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Truethaksin Watch part one: AEC : Part of the Perfect Pla

This is my first analysis of the truethaksin website.

Let me state immediately, this is not a pro junta or "defence of the coup" exercise. Too many people seem to think that we need a clear 'good' and a 'bad' in these situations. This is not how realpolitik works. There is rarely black and white in politics, only shades of grey. The coup was a disgraceful attack on democracy. None of that changes the fact that Thaksin was a deceiver, an opponent of press freedom and heavily, heavily alleged to be corrupt and greedy.

My analysis uses several sources including academic works, web sites, my own interviews and research and more. I can cite these if sensibly requested.

There will not be any order of analysis. I simply examine the articles I find to be interesting.

With this said, allow us to proceed with the article:

AEC : Part of the Perfect Plan (found here)

The Thaksin version:

We see the plan of the Junta clearer months after the coup, though many actions of the junta could be well predicted in advance.

One of the reason for coup d'etat, cited by the Junta under the politically correct name; the "Democratic Reform Council, was the vast corruptions by Dr. Thaksin' government. No doubt, the junta had to appoint the "Asset Examination Committee" to investigate and scrutinize the alleged wrongdoing of Dr. Thaksin's government, even though there are at least 2 other independent government offices already in charge with full power and authority.

My version:
Immediately we see the poor English. This is not nitpicking, a man of Thaksin's wealth and contacts, looking to mount a web site designed to garner international sympathisers should surely have the means to employ someone more diligent in their grammar usage. These mistakes are frequented heavily throughout the site, I will not constantly refer to them unless it is relevant to the point at hand.

The "two other bodies" quoted is likely to imply the NCCC and possibly AMLO or the Office Auditor General (OAG). If the latter was intended, we could note that auditor general Kun Ying Jaruvan Maintaka is already a member of the AEC, so we could accept that the OAG are part of investigations already.

But allow us to consider the other two cases:

The NCCC are well known to Thaksin. They instigated his legendary 2001 assets concealment trial at the Constitutional Court before he took office. It seems Thaksin has a newfound respect for the office, since back then his attitude seemed different when he stated " It seems strange that the leader elected by eleven million people had to bow to the ruling of the NCCC and the verdict of the court....."

It didn't stop there. Thaksin's attitude to the NCCC changed little during his term. The NCCC seemed impartial until 2003. Then, under Thaksin's tenure, the NCCC drafted a friend of Thaksin's from police school, and another individual who was his police cadet school mentor. Other associates of Thaksin were drafted in and no investigations of his government took place thereafter. Back here in 2007, the NCCC also have a backlog of ten thousand cases, they say. So perhaps they felt too overworked to take on the new cases.

As for AMLO, they have never been heavily involved in political cases and lack the experience to do so. They were surprisingly involved in an investigation of 'The Nation' newspaper at around the time Thaksin began to appear hostile to critical media. After a takeover of iTV in which twenty outspoken journalists were surreptitiously fired, The Nation stood as one of the few criticisers of the TRT regime. In 2002, it transpired AMLO had been instructed to investigate The Nation Group and were underway. Who gave the order was never disclosed but when the case came to light, all charges and investigations were dropped. It seemed bizarre that a group set up to investigate organised crime and drug trafficking revenue (not political corruption per se) was directing its resources in such a manner.

So if Mr. Thaksin wants to suggest that independent groups designed to investigate corruption already existed, perhaps he could address the issue of why such groups seemed compromised, slow, inefficient and unproductive under his government. Perhaps we could turn the tables by suggesting the AEC have been fast, efficient, more productive and far more impartial than existing groups. Indeed, secretary Kaesawan suggested his group would work quicker than the NCCC and he has been proved right.

Finally, perhaps Mr. Thaksin can take heart from the fact that the NCCC is scheduled to take over any cases that outlast the AEC's term. With the remarkable run of bad health in the Thaksin family that has caused huge delays, this seems a real possibility.

The Thaksin version:
The Democratic Reform Council issued Order No.23 on September 24, 2006 appointing the Asset Examination Committee, simply to find out within days that it can not exercise full control over this body.

Why? The answer is the wrong composition of member. The initial set of members of the AEC are senior officers, being the head of various government offices (Please See Democratic Reform Order No.23). Take the governor of Bank of Thailand or the Attorney General as examples. Both organization, i.e. the Bank of Thailand and the office of the Attorney General has its own sets of laws, regulation and practice. It is easy for the junta to influence individual not the organization since there could be too many neutral officers within such organization!

Within few days, the composition of the AEC has been changed. It needed to be change to ensure that the junta can influence and direct the AEC to fit its grander plan.

On September 30, 2006, the junta issued the Democratic Reform Council Order No.30 replacing the entire member of the AEC with group of individuals, all of them are publicly known as "Dr. Thaksin's enemy". Each of these individual, though some may be seconded from the Court of Justice, is and will be easier to influenced as they are not attach to any per permanent or formal institution. Just a group of hater get together for personal vendetta and agendas.

My version:
This paragraph took a couple of reads from me to try and understand its full message. The suggestion that the initial AEC was neutral and the later selection biased is ironically biased in itself. The initial AEC (actually called the APC at the time, perhaps the double meaning was deliberate?) included personnel from departments that would be directly involved with investigations. The conflicts of interest were obvious.

Lest anyone suggest I am devoid of sympathy, the new draft of the AEC did indeed include some Thaksin critics. Kaesawan was author of "Stop the Thaksin Regime" , a Thai language book which I am informed contained sensible well made arguments against Thaksin's management style. Jaruvan and Klamrong attended PAD rallies and Banjerd Singkaneti made a most infelicitous "Thaksin and Hitler" comparison.

Klanarong Chanthrik has been labelled as an "enemy of Thaksin" by Thaksin himself. In fact his only crime was to do his job by prosecuting Thaksin in the assets concealment case. An act for which he was later punished by rejection from the NCCC under Thaksin.

The four critics are just one third of the panel. This is a bigger proportion than members of the senate, the ECC , he NCCC and various other organisations that (allegedly were unbiased in TRT and Thaksin dealings during his stint.

(See my footnote for more on the perceived bias issue.)

The public "Dr Thaksin's enemy" charge is ludicrous. Jaruvan was famous - almost trendy - for being unbiased. Nam Yimyean likewise. Sawat (outgoing member) was known as an impartial and fair judge. To label all of these "publicly known as Dr Thaksin's enemy" is nothing short of hysterical, as is its proceeding clause.

The Thaksin version:
The investigation, threat, defamation and many other wrongful things had begun since that very day; September 30, 2006. However, up until now the AEC did not fine a single evidence to confirm the corruption by Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra or that Dr. Thaksin has any personal gain out of those 11 cases accused by the AEC. Never mind, though the investigation of those cases have not been finalized. Let's freeze the assets first, then let them fight for justice and prove that they are innocent!

My version:
The evidence has been found, it has not been publicly revealed because it would prejudice the case. Thaksin knows this and is using the AEC's professionalism as a weapon against them. When one case of UK authorities leaking details of possible account concealment by Thaksin was reported in the mainstream press, AEC secretary Kaeswawan was furious that the media were informed.

To use a crude analogy: imagine a police officer sees a drug dealer trying to throw away his drugs, would the officer be wrong to seize the drugs? The AEC had grounds to believe the cash stocks could be transferred away pending the announcement of charges, and ordered a freeze, no a seizure. It could be argued that Thaksin would have already transferred the money out but this is a straw man in the legal argument.

The Thaksin version:
The civilian back-up of the junta also aware that back in 1993, the Supreme Court has rendered decisions that the seizure of assets by the AEC appointed by the junta of 1991 was unconstitutional and ordered the release of all assets.

My version:
And Thaksin is well aware that the 1993 AEC did an excellent job, uncovering gift cheques and other assets worth approximately 1.9 billion. The High Court ordered that the AEC had no right to act as a court. At no time were the politicians found innocent and at no time was their highly unusual wealth explained.

Two politicians who were absolved of charges before the court case. One of these went on to head the junta's new Samakk hitham political party before he was found to be suspected of narcotics trafficking in America.

So Thaksin's reference to the 1993 case is another irrelevant straw man. The new AEC is protected under new laws.

(Notice the tone of this entire page is geared less towards proclamation of innocence, but more towards the subliminal suggestion that nobody has the right to catch a thief! See my second footnote.)

The Thaksin version:
The draft new constitution therefore need to ensure that history will not repeat itself. Section 208 and 300 of the draft Constitution, drafted by committee appointed by the Junta, (file draft by for the first time in the history of Thailand states that the Constitutional Tribunal appointed by the junta shall remain as the Constitutional Court for another period of 9 years. Further, all Supreme Court judge who supposed to be retired in October get extension of terms for another 10 years simply to ensure that the younger generation of Supreme Judges cannot overrule the political motivated decisions!

My version:
Perhaps such as the politically motivated decision to acquit Thaksin of assets concealment? After all, four of the judges were removed from court following an NCCC complaint some years later.

In fact, judges have appeared to be some of the last few who can still provide some semblance of impartiality throughout the massive political upheaval. The Constituional Court verdicts on the party dissolution case were comprhensively and logically explained.

The Thaksin version:
Good bye to democracy and Rules of laws in Thailand!

My version:
It's true. Democracy and rule of law are under threat. But this threat was not solely caused by the coup. It was caused throughout a culture of free press repression, corruption, and political deceit. Thaksin was as guilty of this as any PN. Two wrongs do not make a right, and if Thaksin is found guilty in court. He must pay his debit to society.

Footnote one:

As this is my first article analysis, I want to share a collection of quotes I compiled from Mr. Thaksin, that I used on my own personal blog. I believe it demonstrates his entire mindset of being above the law or better than the law, rather than being held accountable for his actions:

A few select quotes are:

On taking office:

"I will serve twenty full terms and then retire out of sympathy to the opposition. There will be no crime, no Mafia and no social ills"

In response to academic criticism:
"I have full knowledge of democratic values, those who know less should refrain from talking"
" Some teachers cannot teach and just criticize to look cool. They will have to go".

On concerns about compramisation of independent checking bodies:

"The woman who cautions me is my wife. People needn't worry, my wife keeps me in check"

(Two points of note here: Firstly, Thaksin didn't mention that since he took office, his wife had become the richest woman in Thailand and was heavily implicated in tax evasion allegations. Secondly, this quote was made not longer after HM The King had made a speech in which he mentioned how his mother used to keep his feet on the ground. I wonder if Thaksin simply liked the sound of HM The King's speech).

Talking to the rural masses about the protests in Bangkok:
"These people think they are smarter than you, you must tell them loudly how you feel"

After losing two by - elections:
[to the voters in those two provinces] "
Let me be very clear, we will take care of our own first, we will give priority to those provinces who voted for us"

(NB Thaksin seemed unconcerned that he was publicly declaring a breech of constitutional rule by showing favour to provinces that voted for him)

Now watch for a trend from here on............

After protests against the government decision to privatise public businesses without referendum and sell them to politician shareholders:

"Some people don't understand what we are doing because they don't have enough knowledge"

During protests against Thaksin using public funds to buy Liverpool Football Club:
Some people simply don't understand. They aren't ready for my vision yet"
"Some people might be upset because they don't have access to all the information"

After the Constitutional Court rejected Thaksin's bid to privatise the Electric Authority:
"Some people are confused and don't understand, that's OK"
"Some people might not be aware of all the facts"

After massive Bangkok protests in response to Thaksin selling his main business and avoiding paying tax:
"There are technical issues that most people don't understand so they are confused"

Footnote two:

Some months ago I debated the AEC bias issue with the prolific Bangkok Pundit. He made the suggestion of apprehended bias. While it was a good point, I still took issue on two accounts. Firstly, the issue of apprehended bias is itself ambiguous and unclear. We could all find a point of producible apprehended bias in most cases. Secondly, the AEC - at least up until the assets freeze - had worked flawlessly. Even their critics (i.e. Thaksin supporters) struggled to find a point of contention.

(I enjoy feedback of any type that is relevant and informed. Snipes and petty "I know it all" comments that come from people with nothing to offer are not helpful and reflect on the comment poster.)

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Welcome to truethaksin watch.......

Truethaksin has been launched.

It contains a load of nonsense, badly written propaganda designed to sway the uninformed international audience. Hence the reason there is an English version.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be dissecting each and every page of this nonsense.

Stay tuned......and may crooks get all they deserve.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The best of the Bangkok bloggers (and me, too!)

Thailand has no shortage of bloggers. It's hard to sit in an Internet cafe in a farang area without seeing at least one person updating a blog or travel site about their latest amazing adventure. I call these blogs "superhero diaries". In the mind of the superhero blogger, they are on a fantastic adventure that's never been experienced before, at least not by their friends at work anyway. These blogs are great for "first impressions' and keeping in touch with friends but not in the way of real depth or insight into Thai culture or lifestyle.

However, the circle of bloggers who live in Thailand, blog in English, provide insights into Thai culture beyond beaches and bar girls and update on a semi-regular basis is far smaller. I've seen a few come and go, but I've now established a circle of blogs that I believe are worth reading on a regular basis and can offer something different.

This is not meant to be an extensive or comprehensive list. Just my own personal tastes:

The Lost Boy

Matt Crook is , quite possibly, the most popular blogger in Thailand. He's been in Thailand for less than two years, but in that time has made enough contacts to make himself a regular voice in various publications around the kingdom. Matt's early posts smacked of the "superhero" style mentioned above, but he's quickly settled in, developed his style and found some less indulgent topics to blog about. The Lost Boy is good place to get short, lively and often thought provoking topics on all things Thailand. Matt also happens to be a nice guy.

Bangkok Pundit

Primarily a site on politics, but invest some time into his posts and you'll find BP offers some astute insights into Thai culture simply through his extensive and informed political prose. I'm pretty sure BP must be retired, because of the sheer amount of time he clearly spends scrutinising each piece of media. He has some sympathetic leanings towards the corrupt and arrogant Thaksin but he welcomes debate on issues he raises. His skill at translation offers a unique perspective most bloggers can't offer and during the coup of '06 and the new year's eve bombings, Pundit provided far greater coverage than Thai TV. That's a seriously dedicated blogger.

As the name suggests, the site is actually a collection of Thai blogs with something to suit every taste. At the time of writing, Richard Barrow and Stephen Cleary seem to be the two best bloggers. Many of the blogs are geared towards 'photo blogging' though, and many of the blog debates have slightly arrogant or uninformed "I went to Thailand for a week and meet a girl so I know everything" style remarks. In fact it's only the lack of personality on the site that stops it from being my favourite.

Stickman Bangkok

Stickman is a famous blog amongst long term residents (especially teachers) for two main reasons. Firstly, he has been around from days long before blogging was really popular (in fact his site is a real site rather than a blog) and secondly, he writes about and accepts reader contributions concerning Thai bar girls and sex. What more do most visitors need? Actually he has a fair share of critics as well but either way his site is entertaining. Not as regularly updated as it used to be though.

Kitty: Look what the cat dragged in!
Actually, Kitty is Thai but qualifies for placement here because - by her own affirmation - she is western minded. The first thing you'll notice about Kitty's site is that is run by a young and beautiful woman but there's more. After all, this is the individual who stood up to Sittichai at the FCCT and told him to stop making sexist jokes. What's more, Kitty has a sharp sense of humour and provides a good perspective from a modern minded Thai.

That would be the five blogs I'd recommend to anyone. There are more worth mentioning: Thai crisis is a new blog that shows a lot of promise. Thailandjumpedtheshark is run by the very well informed and open to debate Fonzi, if only he didn't have such an obsession with attacking 'The Nation' newspaper.

Thai prison life is a fantastic blog that has been going for a while but I only recently began to give it the attention it deserves.

Vern runs a blog called Thaipulse! It's a bit salacious for my personal taste but it's not badly written at all.

Phil Roeland (who happens to be my boss) runs a good column at ajarn.com that provides some witty insights into the teaching side of life.

Last but hell no not least facthai.com - a group with which I am affiliated - run a fantastic blog that isn't really about lifestyle but about freedom of speech in Thailand. A crucial battle that cannot and should not be ignored by anyone who professes to love the place.

So that's my lot. Needless to say there are numerous piles of garbage on the web, too. You only have to look at a large portion of the ex-pat community to guess that. The two most recently bought to my attention are Iris the drama queen and Keith Summers, who clearly has 'issues'.

So that's all. Some of these people are friends, some are colleagues, some I've met once and some I wouldn't know if I walked into them.

I guess it wouldn't be fair for me to rate my own blog. Perhaps someone else would like to do it. Matt would be an ideal candidate, since I took an unduly harsh pop at him in his early blogging days and Matt was big enough to rise above it. Fancy your chance for some payback, Matt? :-)

All other blog recommendations are welcome here, too.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Fight for freedom

For anyone who cares about freedom of speech - especially Thais - I would plead with them to sign the petition discussed below.
From my friends at facthai.wordpress.com

THAILAND: Petition for lecturer accused of insulting monarchy
Asian Human Rights Commission: July 23, 2007

FACT supporters, please sign! http://www.petitiononline.com/4bs2007/petition.html

(Hong Kong, July 23, 2007) An online petition has been launched in support of a Thai lecturer who has been accused of insulting the monarchy through the questions asked in a university examination paper.

Boonsong Chaisinghanon, who teaches philosophy at Silpakorn University, has been asked by its administration to hand copies of his examination papers over to the police “to be used in the preparation of evidence for lèse majesté charges”.

Students had also reportedly been told to hand over their notes from the course, Thai Civilization, without being told how they would be used.

According to the Bangkok-based Prachatai news service, Boonsong has refused to give the papers and has protested that answer papers of students should not have already been sent to the investigators without first consulting him.

The questions over which he is being investigated include, “Do you think the monarchy is necessary for Thai society…? How should it be adapted to a democratic system?” and “How should we combat the culture of militarism and feudalism in Thai society?”

The online petition, launched by members of the Midnight University group, calls the investigation of Boonsong “an unprecedented… threat to academic freedom”.

“Such an action also indicates that attempts to use lèse majesté charge as a tool to impede freedom of expression among Thai people still exist, and now they have encroached into the academic realm,” it reads.

Under the penal code of Thailand, causing insult to the monarchy is a criminal offence carrying a penalty of three to 15 years in jail.

The full text of the petition is given below. It can be signed online at:

Basil Fernando, executive director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, expressed his support for the embattled lecturer.

“It appears from this that a good teacher who was simply provoking his students to ask sensible and important questions about their society and form of government has been slapped over the head with an archaic law by persons with exactly the sort of feudal thinking that he was questioning in his classes,” Fernando said.

“It bodes ill for Thailand at a bad time for the country, when there are strenuous efforts to roll back all sorts of modern thinking and institutions in favour of those that serve only the interests of its elite,” he observed.

The head of the Hong-Kong based regional rights group was the 202nd person to add his name to the petition on Monday.

“We are encouraged by Assistant Professor Boonsong’s determination to not be bullied and strongly support calls to end this pointless criminal investigation,” Fernando wrote.

“There are, besides, many other things that the police in Thailand could and should be investigating,” he remarked.

Further details on the case can be found on the Prachatai website: http://www.prachatai.com/english/news.php?id=115


Dear Friends of Thailand,

Asst. Prof. Boonsong Chaisinghanon, a philosophy lecturer of the Faculty of Arts, Silpakorn University is reported to have received a letter from Asst. Prof. Maneepin Promsudhirak, Acting Dean of the Faculty, requesting the answer sheets and score details in Thai Civilization courses that Asst. Prof. Boonsong teaches. The letter reads;

“A request has been made by investigating officers of Muang District Provincial Police Station, Nakhon Pathom, for the answer sheets and scores given to students who sat the examinations for the Thai Civilization courses from the years of 2005 until the present. The documents will be used in the preparation of evidence for lèse majesté charges. Please send the said materials to the Faculty by 20 July 2007 for onward submission to the investigating officers.”

We the undersigned deem the move made by the investigating officers and the university administration an unprecedented gravest threat to academic freedom. Such an action also indicates that attempts to use lèse majesté charge as a tool to impede freedom of expression among Thai people still exist, and now they have encroached into the academic realm.

We the undersigned would like to send our moral support to Asst. Prof. Boonsong Chaisinghanon and demand that all attempts to severe academic freedom be immediately halted.

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The anti-coup and anti-Prem protests

I'm back! A few days ago my blog was locked by 'spambots' who somehow decided my blog was spam!!!

The shocking rumour

Towards the end of this week, an alarming and shocking piece of false news spread throughout my area via SMS. The topic was so sensitive that I don't want to detail it here.

About the same time, The Nation ran a headline that did not mention the rumour but gave clear information to show the rumour was false. I wonder if TN got wind of the gossip but didn't want to refer to it directly
due to the sensitive subject matter.

Did anyone else here this rumour? If you have no idea what I'm talking about, please don't worry.

DAAD vs The Junta
Photo from The Nation

"Pa Prem" is still widely admired and held in great affection by many Thais, to see violent demonstrations outside his residence is cause for alarm...... (This interview is a giveaway of Prem's aged outlook on the world)

On the surface, we see a group calling for one man to protest. Under the skin, we see a whole lot of power plays and various interests colliding, resulting in friction.

As discussed in my "Matroskya" blog, Thailand - like all nations - engages politics on several levels. Some visible to the public, some hidden and protected. A prevalent example of this is the protest and subsequent key members arrest of the DAAD (Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship).

The DAAD are ostensibly a group of civilians against the coup and the coup leaders. They bear a striking similarity in appearance (colours, headbands, etc) and behaviour to the PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy) a group that staged frequent street marches against Thaksin when he was PM and widely credited as being instrumental in his downfall.

The DAAD however, are on the other side of the spectrum. They have strong ties to various elements of the now dissolved TRT party. One of the main speakers of the DAAD is Chakrapob Penkair. His recent interview in The Nation was passionate and shockingly open. Chakrapob spoke undauntedly about who he held responsible for the coup, and suggested Prem "is destroying democracy."

But of course, General Prem is the privy councillor in a country that reveres its king. Prem is widely considered to be a highly trusted aide of His Majesty the King , some even consider the views aired by Prem to reflect those of the palace. It's a tenuous, sensitive issue that has caused charges of lese majeste in the past.

During the build up to the coup of last year, Prem publicly made several comments apparently aimed at Thaksin, who responded by suggesting a "charismatic figure outside the constitution" was conspiring against him.

So when - after the coup - the people's groups against the junta began protesting against General Prem a
nd calling for him to reign his post, concerns were raised. The "mobs" have suggested that Prem engineered the coup and he must take responsibility.

It's hardly difficult to see the sensitivities of this issue. A group claiming that the octogenarian privy councillor engineered the coup alone is precarious. It sets a precedent for unrest between pro and ant
i Thaksin groups, aristocracy and working class, and tradition and progressive democracy.

A small portion of the demonstrators threw rocks and other objects, attacked vehicles and violently assaulted police. The face charges, as do the leaders of the group.

So what will the long term effect be on the country? Certainly the junta face more pressure, the demonstrations are gaining in frequency and attention, despite the junta's best attempts to play the "They are small in number and paid for by Thaksin the devil" card. What's more, the junta are taking a gamble by charging the group leaders, it can be perceived as suppression of freedom by many and simply increase sympathy for the group

Photo from The Nation Thailand

The junta have achieved little except to show they have no capacity or tolerance of protests, Prem is untouchable and they will deal with civilian protests not by arresting the few who cause violence, but by arresting the leaders such as the highly articulate Chakrapob to silence them.

My family has PAD connections. I am no fan of Thaksin, but as the military insult the intelligence of Thais by telling them every democracy group is "paid for by Thaksin", by dealing with every disturbance with intimidation, and by letting us know that Prem can behave as he likes without being held accountable, the tensions and disturbances can only increase.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

More than meets the eye from this blogger

People who know me only from this blog could be forgiven for imagining me as someone ultra serious and into dull politics.

People who know me personally will probably tell a very different story. I post mainly on politics and teaching because it's something that I can actually offer some insight into. Politics in Thailand - reported in English - is not widespread and is an important issue that affects the lives of so many. Teaching is something I have a little knowledge of, accompanied by a desire to "spread the word".

However I actually have a whole other range of interests and habits that I don't usually discuss. I also do have a sense of humor that I hope comes out in my blogs sometimes but if not, just ask the people who sit next to me at work and are tormented by my bad jokes.

I could also blog on:

Why Marilyn Manson's new album rocks.

Why GNR were marginally better than Nirvana.

The ten greatest films of all time. (Stand By Me, Terminator and Ghostbusters would feature)

PS2 and my temptations towards the Xbox360

UFC and my own martial arts training (now ceased).


....and many other topics. The reason I don't is because other people do it better than I do in great quantities and also because I feel that it is the responsibility of some people to keep a focus on politics.

As a microcosm of this opinion: Thai TV has five stations. Each one of them is run by the military or government (one and the same right now) and is full of brain dead , appalling garbage. It's non-stop cheap game shows, "talent" contests and (literally)screaming soap operas interspersed with clips and songs about how wonderful and proud it feels to be Thai, designed the keep the mind of the masses on anything other than the mess the military and leaders are making of the country whilst paying themselves a big fat wad of taxpayer's money for doing so. The last thing the owners of TV want is for people to think about what matters, and how to change it.

Right now however....TRANSFORMERS MOVIE

Transformers was my childhood. It went from He-Man to Transformers toys to Sega Master System (still better than Nintendo) . I had loads of the robot toys and I loved the cartoons. Hell I still do. So when I heard a long time ago that Steven Spielberg was making a movie, I was counting down the days.

The negative reviews put me off a little but a good friend assured me that for big kids, it was a smash. So in I went, and disappointed I left.

There are some good parts to the movie. The opening was great and set the scene for the giant robot battles very well. However there were several flaws I tried to ignore but couldn't. Firstly, the robots now change from car size to twenty foot giant robot size. Bumblebee is now a sports car (though They did pay homage to his VW roots) , Optimus Prime now uses expressions like "my bad" because Autobots learned English from the Internet. Jazz sucks. The film was way too long and loads of old favourites were absent.

It wasn't all bad. Some of the fight scenes were good, though some had too much camera motion. Many of the robot cast had their original voices.

Overall though, a let down for big kids. Still the sequel may be good. Soundwave - the proper Soundwave that releases the robot cassettes - and The Dinobots are due to show up.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Article analysis: Father of Benz driver warns he will take legal action

Note this case will note receive any astute insights or comments from me. Rather I have used it as a true example of "real life Thailand" for it refects the gap between the upper and lower classes not only in terms of income but in terms of influence, atitude and perception in the law.

Published on Jul 6, 2007 in The Nation

Benz driver mows down 3 people, killing one, after incident with bus

Police are preparing to press a premeditated-murder charge against a 20-year-old man who swerved his Mercedes-Benz car into a crowd of people on a footpath in Bangkok shortly after he attacked a bus driver with a rock on Wednesday night.

The incident critically injured three people, one of whom died yesterday.

I'm sure any sane person would feel huge sympathy for victims of this tragic accident. Sadly road deaths are commonplace in Thailand.

The driver was identified as Kanpitak Pachimsawas. He is a son of former Miss Thailand Savinee Pachimsawas, 42, and Kan-anek Pachimsawas. Kan-anek's elder brother is Lt-General Ukrit Pachimsawas, a former assistant commissioner of the Royal Thai Police.

There are three factors here that distinguish this case. The first is the fact that the accident was deliberate and in full view in a tourist area, the second is that it was a 'high society' young man driving the car, the third is, of course, the fact that his mother is a former Miss Thailand.

The driver was identified as Kanpitak Pachimsawas. He is a son of former Miss Thailand Savinee Pachimsawas, 42, and Kan-anek Pachimsawas. Kan-anek's elder brother is Lt-General Ukrit Pachimsawas, a former assistant commissioner of the Royal Thai Police.

That last clause is crucial. Need I say more?

After he swerved his car into the crowd and ran over three victims, witnesses attacked him. As of yesterday, Kan-anek said his son was crying all the time and was depressed.

"He has suppressed his feelings since he was young. He often became stressed out and hospitalised," Kan-anek said.

The father said his son had recently lost consciousness and was sent to hospital. "He has suffered from stress relating to his girlfriend and his mum," he said.

He said he had taken care of Kanpitak from Monday to Friday, while Savinee had taken care of him on weekends. "From now on, I won't let my son drive. He will also enter the monkhood in dedication to his victims," Kan-anek said.

The father also expressed deep condolences to the victims and offered to compensate them

These comments will be met with a contrast later on, as we shall see.

Adisorn reckoned that Kanpitak had an underlying disease that made him unable to control himself. "We have to check his health history and interrogate doctors," Adisorn said. Galaya Rajanagarindra Institute director Dr Sirisak Thitidilokrat said Kanpitak had paid three visits to the institute as an outpatient.

"The first time was on March 9 and the last time was in April," he said.
However, Sirisak declined to disclose any further details because he needed to protect the patient's rights. The institute treats people with mental problems.

On Wednesday night, Kanpitak complained to Pol Sgt-Major Nukool Dechaphan that a bus had brushed against his sedan. "I flagged down the bus," Nukool said.
The bus stopped and Nukool was about to examine the vehicles when he heard Kanpitak fighting with bus driver Sathaporn Arunsiri, 37.

Sathaporn yesterday testified to investigators at Thonglor police station that he was checking on the Benz sedan when Kanpitak banged his face with a rock.
"I became groggy and then saw the man banging his Benz into the crowd," Sathaporn said.

The bus driver insisted that his vehicle did not brush with Kanpitak's luxury car. He believed the young man might have misunderstood what had happened.

"I have been driving for seven years and I have never been involved in any accident," Sathaporn said.

Fare collector Somjit Klaewkla stood by Sathaporn's account. "Our bus didn't do anything. There was no brushing accident," she said.

She said some passengers pointed their fingers at Kanpitak and used their camera phones to photograph his face after they were asked to get off the bus. When a bus is involved in an accident, passengers have to get off and wait for a new bus to come.
"I believe the man got angry and therefore swerved his car into where we were standing," Somjit said. She said she had sustained only minor injuries. Another survivor, Ratchanee Jiew, 58, also said the bus did not brush against any vehicle.

If these facts are found to be correct, this sounds like a brutal and shocking incident.

She said some passengers pointed their fingers at Kanpitak and used their camera phones to photograph his face after they were asked to get off the bus.

When a bus is involved in an accident, passengers have to get off and wait for a new bus to come.

"I believe the man got angry and therefore swerved his car into where we were standing," Somjit said. She said she had sustained only minor injuries.

Another survivor, Ratchanee Jiew, 58, also said the bus did not brush against any vehicle. Sathaporn also told police that a man, who identified himself as the father of the car's driver, threatened to harm his wife and children. "He said he knew many senior police and military officers. The threat was made in front of police officers. I am scared," Sathaporn said.

Why would this woman have reason to lie? If the allegations are true, they cause great concern. We can all understand the reactions of a father who has just heard devastating news might be in denial, but is that what we are seeing allegedly in this case or something else?

Published in The Nation Jul 7, 2007

The father of a 20-year-old man who killed one person and seriously injured three others when he drove over them in his car has hit back with threats of legal action against bystanders.

Kan-anek Pachimsawas yesterday vowed to take legal action against people who damaged his son's Mercedes-Benz vehicle after he had driven into them at a bus stop near Sukhumvit Soi 26 on Wednes-day evening.

One of the victims of the incident died on Thursday and three others remain in critical condition.

And while these people lay dying, their families overcome with devastating, heart wrenching grief, this man appears on TV and threatens legal action against the people who allegedly damaged a Mercedes car.

The incident occurred after Kanpitak apparently became angered by a bus driver following a traffic altercation. A rock was thrown at the bus driver.

Nine victims made police complaints against the driver, Kanpitak, the son of former Miss Thailand Savinee Pakaranang.

But Kan-anek yesterday threatened legal action of his own. He offered rewards for any witness who captured the alleged deliberate damage to the vehicle on video or mobile-telephone camera.

He insisted the incident was the result of a disease suffered by his son and told television news later that an "uneducated and low-class person" had incited the incident.

Note the quotation here, for it is revealing. Every country has class divides but Thailand's gap is far greater than most western countries. The driver of the car would be known as "hi-so" meaning "high society" one of the top ten percent or so whose income would be exponentially greater than even the middle classes. Members of this group often believe - and are sometimes perceived to be - above the law. The bus conductor would be viewed by them as lower class.

The story prompted Internet users to post scathing attacks at popular chat sites, many of them directed at Kan-anek.

"I will compensate the victims as deemed necessary and appropriate. But the compensation amount must not be too much," Kan-anek said later. These comments were made on TV, by the way.He added that his son was unable to move his legs because of thrombosis. Kanpitak is currently in Samitivej Hospital.
"My son is so sad he told me he wanted to die," Kan-anek said. He added it was as if his son had been possessed at the time of the fatal act. "He's a man with a kind heart," the father added.

I believe sons often turn out to reflect the morals taught to them by their father.

Savinee will attend the funeral of victim Saichon Luangsaeng, but Kan-anek will not go "for safety reasons". "I just gave a television interview and used harsh words," he said.
Kanpitak accuses the bus of scraping his luxury car. Following his throwing of a rock at the driver, passengers were asked to leave the bus. When they blamed Kanpitak for the inconvenience and rock-throwing incident, he allegedly drove his car into the crowd.
The bus driver initially maintained there had been no collision but tests show the two vehicles had made contact.

However, Thonglor police maintain the incidents are separate. Superintendent Colonel Jirapat Phumisit said 10 witnesses had been questioned and police would soon interview Kanpitak.

"However, we are yet to get permission from his doctors," Jirapat said.
According to Kan-anek, the doctor who treated Kanpitak at the Galaya Rajanagarindra Institute earlier this year is overseas and yet to explain the young man's condition to investigators. The institute treats people for mental problems.
Saichon's daughter Sucheera Insunawan, 25, is finding it difficult to accept her mother's death.

"He [Kanpitak] should apologise to my mother. If he comes, I can forgive him and I believe my mother will forgive him too," she said.

The recent university graduate said she now had to take care of the family's condominium mortgage and her 15-year-old, mentally disabled cousin.

My heart goes out to this young woman. I hope she finds the strength to carry on and that justice is served.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

An evening with the man who fought the drug giants

Mongkol na Songkhla appeared at The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand on Wednasday night. The minister announced that "no more than three, probably two" further drugs would be introduced with compulsory licencing (CL).

Mongkol na Songkhla introduced himself with an apology for his "broken" English and spoke to foreign journalists and members of Thai drug network groups regarding CL, GP factories and pressure from foreign lobbying groups.

The doctor said CL was introduced "for the poor people" and confirmed some foreign lobbying groups had pressured him but refused to give any names. When asked why other countries such as poorer African nations did not use CL, the minister said that "one or two" countries had approached Thailand for advice on implementing CL, but no names were given.

Minister Mongkol also claimed he had encouraged drug patent holding companies to launch in Thailand with "new" or "high quality" drugs.

The minister appeared to make an error of speech when discussing "family" condoms. As he explained the system of encouraging married couples to use condoms he stated "we recommend condoms to three year olds".

He also announced that a planned GPO standard factory construction under the Thaksin regime had been scrapped due to "corruption". Drugs from India produced in a WHO standard factory was not an option, as Thailand should produce its own, he said. A reporter questioned if this was not a case of allowing national pride to interfere with best choice for patients.

Monkul was hailed as "a hero" by AIDS support activists and members of Thai Drug users networks.

Throughout the night he made several references to conversations with Mechai Viravaidya and plans for condom and HIV prevention campaigns.

Minister Mongkol na Songkhla created a storm of controversy early this year when he introduced compulsory licencing on HIV drugs. The decision created a vexed backlash from pharmaceutical giants such as Abbott Laboratories. The minister later claimed he had suffered from great stress as a result of the pressure created by the backlash.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Five Thai political role models

For the last year, I've been writing a diary for my son. He's only eighteen months old right now and at twenty eight years of age, I'm not planning on going anywhere just yet. But as a colleague and fellow dad who gave me the suggestion explained to me poetically: "You never know when it's time to go, and I have so much I want him to know".

The idea caught on, and since then I've been writing to my son every couple of days with general chat and commentary on his development, but also on what I hope and believe he can achieve in the future.

The more I tried to explain to him about the political situation in Thailand, the more I realised what a Herculean task it was. I ended up making a list of reading material I'd like him to read one day (I must be the only person in the world to recommend "An internal history of the Communist Party of Thailand" to a toddler) and a list of people whom I believe could make great role models.

The list of possibilities was endless and I'm sure it will expand over time. There will be plenty of non political role models too, everyone from Matthew Le Tissier to Roger Daltry will get a mention. But after some deliberation, I managed to produce my own political shortlist. As I typed the explanations for each choice in my diary, I realised that I was actually producing a paradigm of my own political views and principles as well. My list was thus:

Mechai Viravaidya

It's hard to know where to begin with Mechai, a man who has done so much for country. His most obvious contribution was in the AIDS awareness programs in the eighties and nineties. "Mr Condom" became famous for handing out contraceptives, opening restaurants with free condoms instead of mints and throwing in a little fun with some advertisements spray painted on cows. Just as importantly, Meechai served as a senator. He told one magazine "The senate is supposed to be impartial but only about twenty percent really are. Everyone tells you they love your ideas but when voting comes it's all 'as planned'. We are wastig the people's time". A more perspicaciously stated summary would be hard to find.

Like my son, Meechai is also half Thai and it's highly probable that this fact was played upon by some rival politician trying to score points by whipping up pseudo partisan emotions. I fathom that's a challenge many mixed race people around the world have encountered in similar form at some point.

My favourite image: Mechai in his restaraunt, the ambiance of the backdrop cogently enhanced by multi-coloured condoms

Kaewsan Atibhoti

Like the rest of the AEC, Kaewsan has been accused of a witch hunt, a set up for a kangaroo court, working under military pressure and general bias. The irony of this is that Kaewsan was critical of Thaksin when the former had nothing to gain by doing so. He has never swerved from being critical based on solid evidence. Critics of the AEC frequently draw reference to bias, but have rarely, if ever, produced any legal or logical arguments to support their claim. The undoubted dangers and threats on the AEC must be hard to take, but the group have remained professional, impartial and humble in their work.

Gender pronouns aside, Khun Ying Jaruvan Maintaka could easily be substituted in Kaewsan's place, here.

My favourite image: That no nosense 'looking down my glasses ' intellctual look, as sought after by scholars worldwide

Pridi Phanomyong

When considering Pridi, there is so much to be said and yet, paradoxically, the truth can be hard to trace for various reasons. Those who have studied the life of Pridi usually see a man who stood bravely against public opinion and dared to challenge the status quo duringa time of globally erractic change. One of his most courageous moves was refusing to acknowledge the declaration of war on Britain in World War Two. One can only wonder what the man who died in exile would think of Thailand's current political situation. Pridi died before I was old enough to realise who he was, but the passing of his wife bought home the importance of his legacy.

My favourite image: The black and white caricture, that somehow emphasises his legacy.

Supinya Klangnarong

The only one of the five I've had the privilege to meet. Supinya's story is simple and remarkable. She told the truth, and refused to be bullied out of retracting it. Faced with a lawsuit - exponentially greater than her profession could pay her - from a huge corporation that happened to be linked with the ruling PM , Supinya stood up for press freedom. Even when offered a drop of the charges if she made a written apology, she held firm and came through victorious. She knew the value of a free press not just in moral terms, but in its placement as a symbol of a healthy, thriving and progressive society.

My favourite image: Clutching flowers, with her arm raised in victory.

Anand Panyarachun

Anand is living proof that unelected officials can be liberal and progressive. In a time when Thailand was still in its infancy in terms of actively combating corruption, Anand entered as a military nominated PM and set in place economic reform and constitutional modifications that have left their mark to this day. Some sources state he was so liberal he actually upset some of the people that gave him the post. Anand later went on to become a critic of the Thaksin regime. He also headed the National Reconciliation Commission. One of his key suggestions for abating violence in the south of Thailand was making Yawi an acknowledged language in the region. Prem Tinsulanonda responded "We cannot accept that, as we are Thai. The country is Thai and the language is Thai... We have to be proud to be Thai and have the Thai language as the sole national language". The idea was lost.

My favourite image: Usually we see him at work, as an official should be. Could Thailand do worse than to see him return as PM?.

And that is my list. None are heroes in media terms, none are likely to be known widely outside Thailand. But that's the reality of politics. In a profession that theoretically involves working for the people, very few truly put principles and honesty before themselves. Those that do are (usually) not famous or celebrated. They are normal human beings with flaws, annoying habits and bad hair days (Well, except for Supinya, maybe). The fact that they touch lives and precipitated a drop of positive change both inside and outside the dark sea of politics is what makes them special.

There will be the natural right of passage of choosing trendy pop singers and their ilk as role models. It takes a while for us to recognise what truly constitutes a special quality in a human being. But in the long run, if my son could achieve half of what any of these above listed people have, I'll die quietly but happily. Then again, just staying out of trouble would do fine, too :-)