Thursday, July 31, 2008

History in the making

Something special happened in Thailand today, a 'Khunying' (roughly equivalent to the western title of "lady") and wife of a very influential politician was found guilty of a crime.

As Pundit points out, the length of the sentence is significant as it disallows suspension. The appeal will be heard at the Supreme Court. Many are predicting a lesser sentence for the appeal but then many - including myself - predicted a fine rather than a jail term for this hearing.

Politicians in Thailand have always been corrupt and many have argued that in this context the Shinwatras are being persecuted. However, two wrongs don't make a right. Thai politics is immature and is still struggling to get past the stages of rampant corruption, but whatever the reasons surrounding this sentence (old money vs new money , the old elite stifling development of younger politicians, etc.) the fact remains that the decision was just and sends a signal that money doesn't always buy you justice.

Thaksin must be worried about his upcoming cases. The number of cases alone is cause for worry. In the past, post-coup trials of politicians have always ended in a farce, this time it looks like things could be different. Still, it's not over yet.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

It's all a big joke!

According to The Nation (I will post a link when I can get one) Kwanchai Praiphana, leader of the anti- PAD protesters in Udon Thani, admits:

"I do offer 10,000 bhat to anyone who punched Chidchob and I said if it was Chamlong's blood, I would pay 20,000 bhat. But it was a joke, I didn't mean it to be taken seriously"

Perhaps K.Praiphana should choose his jokes more carefully. After all, he is leading a band of working class people to whom 20,000 bhat is a lot of money and I'm not sure the "joke" defence would stand up in court, though I do recall one TRT MP stating his offer of 2 million bhat to a Democrat MP to step down from local elections was "a joke" also.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

National security strikes again!

Amongst the violence and political turmoil that rages on in Thailand, this little article caught my eye:

Military wants bigger budget
By The Nation
Published on July 22, 2008

High-ranking military officials yesterday requested a 17.8-per-cent budget increase for 2009 - Bt25 billion more than in fiscal 2008.

The military cited the need to improve its competence and maintain superiority over its counterparts in neighbouring Laos and Cambodia.

Royal Thai Navy commander Admiral Satirapan Keyanon, Royal Thai Air Force commander Air Chief Marshal Chalit Pukpasuk and Defence Ministry permanent secretary General Winai Pattiyakul gave reasons to the House special committee scrutinising the budget as to why they requested an allocation of up to Bt169.09 trillion or 1.68 per cent of the country's GDP.

Winai said the ministry's budget had been cut over the past nine years as the country was hit hard by economic crises, while the military lacked equipment and maintenance funds. At the same time, the country faced new security threats (I think this qualifies as my favourite expression!) . The military needed to secure new weapons because it could not depend on the low efficiency of the old weaponry.

"Our survey found that our military power is lower than that of Singapore and South Korea but a bit higher than Cambodia and Laos,'' he said.

Satirapan said the Navy has spent Bt120 million to maintain HTMS Chakri Naruebet, Thailand's first and only aircraft carrier, keeping it ready for use in warfare and social functions such as disaster relief.

Maintain superiority over Laos and Cambodia? That would be the same Laos that until this year had no train tracks, and no international ATM's? The same Laos whose biggest attraction is the fact that it is a sleepy backwater nation whose capital features a fountain and a very delicious Scandinavian bakery? The same Laos whose government is so lax it still has a few rogue anti-communist fighters left in its jungle from the conflicts in the seventies?

And of course, we have Cambodia. What a convenient time to mention a "threat" from Cambodia. Just like the junta had very convenient timing to mention a threat from Singapore a couple of years ago.

Singapore poses zero threat to Thailand and South Korea has far greater and closer threats to worry about.

Duncan McCargo quotes Benedict Anderson as saying: " [the Thai military is] a cluster of self absorbed, status conscious, privileged bureaucratic factions" before describing them himself as: "an armed bureaucracy which has not fought a real war in modern times".
Both observations are completely correct.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Frogs in pots and Islam in the UK

A shameless cross post from my other blog that I wanted to share due to the focus on the southern insurgency.

One of the hardest concepts that I try to explain to my students is the "frog in a boiling pot" concept. It's not the actual analogy that is difficult : if you place a frog in a pot of water on a stove and suddenly turn the heat full blast, the frog will jump out. If you turn the temperature up slowly in minuscule fractions, the rise will be so slow that by the time the frog realises what is happening, he's being served up in some French restaurant.a

No, the hard part is actually getting students to understand how this concept can be, and certainly is, used in so many parts of Sociology. The theory is also known as "creeping normalcy" and another example might be cutting down trees on an island. Do it in one fell swoop and you'll create havoc, do it a few trees per day, you'll encounter far less resistance.

And this creeping normalcy is hitting us in the UK right now. what's more, those who are aware of it and raise it as an issue are demonised and screamed down. But that does not change the facts: Britain is becoming increasingly Muslim.

Now of course the usual counter argument here is: "It's only three percent of UK residents who are Muslim" , which is true. But let's look at some trends.

The exact number and growth of UK Muslims is hard to track due to the fact that, previously, the UK census did not ask about religion, now it is an optional question. However the most recent 'official' figure seems to be around one point six million, though that is most likely higher now. Quite an increase from 10,000 before 1925, no? The number of Mosques has increased proportionately from four in 1960 to 618 (source).

But what is the evidence that this trend will increase? There are two absolutely crucial factors. First, one third of the Muslim population is under sixteen. This means that with the Islamic culture of multiple marriages for men, a population boom can be expected to come. Secondly, the Muslim birthrate - though not always as high as reported - is still far higher than the native birth rate which is dropping alarmingly. Muhammad is now the second most popular name for baby boys born in the UK.

The facts do not lie in this case. Don't take my word for it, have a look at the data provided by a Princeton professor.

Now, if you are a multicultralist then you are probably jumping for joy at this news. But the rise of UK Islam should be a cause for concern. The two cultures are considerably different, which is why asides from the obvious, we have problems with arranged marriages, incest, support for stoning and beating and many, many more. And don't tell us it's a tiny minority that support terror, it may be a minority but it isn't tiny.

Whether you are a multicultralist, a civic nationalist or an ethnic nationalist, Muslim, Christian or Atheist, immigrant, migrant or native, the fact is that these trends will certainly present social problems and challenges. We must deal with them peacefully be we must deal with them. While those raising objections are screamed down as being "racists" (read: 'spawn of the devil in PC Britain) and "hate mongers" , etc. the problem will simply escalate.

As we ponder this problem I have another modicum of thought - why do we not see this kind of problem developing in Muslim nations? The answer is that foreigners in these nations are welcomed and tolerated as long as they accept local customs, rules and cultures. Most importantly, the identity of these nations is never threatened by catastrophic increases that threaten to irreversibly change the makeup of the nation and the culture and history that come with it.

Round up

The ceasefire announced by alleged leaders of the southern insurgency in Thailand is something that I - like all sane people - desperately wish to believe in and that is why it is almost certainly a form of mental warfare by the terrorists.

Since the insurgency perked up post 9/11 , more than three thousand people have been killed in the deep south. Some have been beheaded (crime: Buddhism) , some burned alive (Crime: Buddhism) , some executed in front of their students (Crime: being a teacher) and of course (this one still makes my heart sink when I think about it) the totally innocent female teacher who was captured and beaten into a coma by over one hundred villagers. (Crime: Being in the wrong place at the wrong time as Muslim villagers were angered by events elsewhere)

Would a group that employs and condones these tactics announce an unconditional cease fire out of the blue? Why?

The reason that the insurgency has been so difficult for the army and authorities to stop is no doubt partly due to the incompetence and corruption of these authorities, but it is also due to the secrecy, networking, clandestine and guerilla style tactics employed by the insurgents.

After such a campaign, why would these alleged leaders suddenly decide to expose themselves on national TV and promise an end to their insurgency campaign? It simply does not make sense.

So while I'm impressed that at least one soldier has staked his credibility on the claim, I hold little hope. If I am wrong, it will be the most glorious mistake I have ever made.


The building tensions on the Cambodian border are another cause for concern. Should this lead to violence, certain politicians will have blood on their hands. The temple (which is a Hindu temple, less than one percent of either Thais or Cambodians are Hindu!) has been whipped up in a storm of nationalistic frenzy. As much as I admire them on occasion, Chamlong, Aphisit and everyone else who has used the temple boundary as a political weapon have contributed to this problem.

The border settlement was dealt with reasonably well, and should have been left alone.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Political tricks

Politicians have always been experts not just at outright lies, but also at clever mind games such as push polling , straw man arguments , weasel words ( want some examples?) and the politics of fear. It's important to be aware of these methods as awareness and understanding of how they work is the best way to defend against them.

However, one method that works particularly well - a method related to the politics of fear - is very simple: opinion presented as fact (OPAF).

OPAF is rampant in politics. Often the claims can be subtle or malicious enough to seem true, and a favourite trick is to use exaggerated or embellished evidence that seems to corroborate the claim. In other cases however, the accusation or observation is simply based on strong dislike or even hatred.

It never ceases to amaze me that people take some outrageous claims for granted.

Let's take one random example of a ridiculous claim.

"The XYZ party is a party of drunk drivers".

The chances are such an OPAF is being stated because of one or two news items about members of the XYZ party being arrested for DUI. However, with liberal media being what it is and psychological elements such as the belief confirmation bias , people often lose perspective of quantity. They can begin to truly believe that the actions of two people can represent the actions of two thousand people.

The antidote is simple - ask for genuine evidence that the majority or even a significant portion of the party have been caught DUI. When such evidence cannot be presented, ask why somebody is stereotyping a whole party for the actions of a tiny fraction. In short, simply point out the truth - the accuser is using OPAF.

So how can we take a moral high ground and rise above OPAF? Simple, use citeable, credible evidence whenever making factual claims. Of course, not everything on the net is reliable evidence for use in a debate. However, the wealth of information is such that a credible source relating to almost any topic can be found if the user looks hard enough. Government sources (despite their obvious vested agenda) , the Election Commission web site , broadsheets or Berliners such as The Times or The Telegraph (though again, there is an NUJ vested interest) and scholarly papers are just some examples of credible sources that can be used. Credible sources such as these add value and respectability well over that of OPAF to any educated person.

Of course many other sites - such as my own here - are not neutral. But some non-neutral sites can offer useful links or at least present logical arguments against OPAF. A cognisant person should be able to detect the difference and discriminate accordingly.

Don't forget to cite your sources. At the very least, a mention of the web site (not just a link, but an actual sentence stating the site's name and source) should be used when copying chunks of text or any other situation where he writer could even risk being seen as using plagarism or simply when sources are likely to be scrutinised or queried. For citing academic works such as books, use one of these styles.

Again, a simple link with no description is not enough and would be considered very poor taste.

Using such evidence should help you wade through the murky swamps of politics, but take heart! At least we have a swamp to wade in. Less than half The World's nations live in a democracy and fewer still have a democracy as mature as ours. For all its many faults, the UK political system remains one of the best.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The judiciary stuns the government

You read it here just days before the new wave of big stories. In fact, I was so spot on that just eight days after my blog, Samak highlighted the issue himself.

And now we have the SC decision upholding the charges against Youngyuth of vote fraud.

The comminque by foreign minister Noppadom concerning Preah Vihear is declared unconstitutional. (The cabinet could be impeached by the 49% appointed senate).

And health minister Chaiya Sasomsup disqualified from his post by the Constitutional Court.

It's also worth noting the former charge was initiated by the Election Commission and the later by the post -Thaksin NCCC line up.

The courts are now reeling off a series of verdicts on various cases that is heaping pressure on the government and there are more to come. The ongoing charges against Thaksin and his family could change the face of Thai politics.

Judges in Thai courts are selected by a Judicial Commission panel of senate appointed experts (remember the senate is 49% appointed itself) and serving judges. The choices must be submitted to His Majesty the King for formal selection and approval. The junta of 2007 increased the retirement age of judges to sixty five and oversaw the dissolution trial of Thai Rak Thai.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Unruly TV stations and mad doctors

PTV is a TV station set up by affiliates of Thai Rak Thai and PPP (People Power Party) initially to voice opposition to the junta, and now to counter the reasonably successful campaign by the PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy). The PAD are led by Sonthi Limthongkul who is the owner of ASTV. As such, ASTV supply almost 24 hour coverage to PAD activities. The PPP obviously see the resurrection of PTV (it was closed down for unclear reasons during the junta's rule) as the ideal counter strike.

There's just one problem. It is a blatant and shameless constitutional breech. One of the (few) plus points of the new constitution is that it clearly states people in positions of political power cannot hold a financial interest in any media outlet. It's a progressive, positive rule.

So how can Chaturon (former TRT leader) and Jakrapob get away with this?

The Nation:

Amid growing pressure from PTV's opponents to ban the station's broadcasts, Phachern Khampho said such authority actually lies with the National Broadcasting Commission, which will be established in the near future.

Great, so it's goverened by a group that does not yet exist and, if the National Telecom Commission is comparable, will not exist for some time yet.

Still, hopefully someone will lodge a complaint with the Constitutional Court.


Another interesting side show is Democrat MP Malinee Sukwenworakij's bizarre rant in Parliament claiming that Samak suffered mental deficiency. MP Malinee claimed that Samak's behaviour such as glaring at reporters displayed evidence of mental sickness. Malinee went so far as to hold up a book entitled "Sick people that ruled the world" (Samak hardly rules the world does he?) which apparently includes Hitler as one of its case studies.

Samak rightly responded that her medical licence should be reviewed as no doctor should be diagnosing people in Parliament.

Malinee responded by claiming she was speaking from personal opinion. If that was so, why did she need to cite her qualification as a doctor to back up her arguments? I doubt many medics want to be dragged into the circus of Thai politics and I personally would not want a GP who is so childish as to do such things. I have no love for Samak and I wonder myself if he is not a cymbal short of a drumkit, but Dr Malinee is just as bad.