Archive for June, 2010

One dimensional thinking

Posted: June 29, 2010 in Politics

I finished reading Michael Moore’s “Dude, Where’s My Country”. It was fun, in the sort of way that it’s fun to watch stupid people suffer. He includes quite a list of references at the back of the book. It is particularly interesting that some of the most damning information about how truly scummy and sleazy the U.S. government is comes directly from…the U.S. government. That’s one of the great things about America – people can still force release of (some) information that the people in power don’t really want released. Lots of truly despicable things that the government has done is on display at easily accessible government websites.

It means little, however, because the stupid masses don’t care. Most are so preoccupied with their meaningless little consumerist lifestyles that even if they did read about the heinous acts of terrorism committed by their own government the only thing that would matter to them is that it “protects their way of life”. I love that one. Crap on the entire world to make sure that the American way of life is protected. “They hate freedom” as Bush famously quoted, and the masses ate it up. Any manner of atrocity is deserved by freedom haters.

But, and I mean BUT, this Michael Moore character is totally full of much of the same crap as everyone else. When he gets into his cheering of things he thinks are important he loses much of the punch from his book. Should have stopped at Chapter 8 Mike. A point by point debate is less than uninteresting.

However, there is another takeaway from his rant that I see time and time again. It’s about one dimensional thinking in American politics. You are either liberal or conservative or somewhere on a line connecting those two points. Geez, life is multifaceted to the extreme. How can people attempt to reduce politics to a single line? They bundle all manner of issues together and call that left or right. I think this kind of thinking might be a significant factor in how screwed up America is. There are only two choices each election, bad and worse. There hasn’t been a candidate or party that was close to representing my views since I have been of voting age. Some variety would be good.

I kind of enjoy the parliamentary system here in Thailand. Lots of parties with a variety of interesting (often silly) platforms. At least people have some choice.

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I got stung again

Posted: June 27, 2010 in Thailand

I really like all the animals I get to see in our area. Lots of wildlife here, including lots of things that are pretty dangerous. But even the extremely deadly blue kraits that I encounter once in a while I find quite beautiful.

It’s the same with all the insects. There is such an enormous variety compared to what I was used to southern California. I observed some interesting animals and insects back there but here in the topics the variety seems ten-fold. A small problem I have is that many of these wild animals don’t admire me as much as I admire them, particularly the stinging kind.

There is a large variety of bees, wasps and hornets here and they frequently build nests around our property. Lots of trees, bushes and flowers make it pretty inviting. The problem I have is that I am out there trimming quite often and sometimes stumble upon a nest.

The bees don’t seem to be bothered much as long as I don’t actually strike their hive. They build some beautiful structures. A tiny dwarf variety of bee builds a wax hive that is shaped like a small frisbee. I find this one quite often and just leave them alone until they are finished and abandon the nest after a few months, and then I save it in my little museum.

There is a large hornet that builds a very unusual nest that looks like it is made from dark paper mache and can grow to the size of a basketball or larger. This hornet is said to be quite dangerous and people are killed every year by it. I suspect it is people who are trying to harvest the larvae from it – villagers say they are very tasty. We have had several of them over the years, including one that became quite huge. We didn’t bother them and they didn’t bother us, even when I forgot and almost stumbled into their nest.

The wasps, however, are a different story. They are territorial and aggressive. I have been stung many times by them. Each time it was when I was trimming branches near their nest, not actually the tree where they had their nest but a short distance away. They don’t like it and each time they ambushed me before I even knew they were there. One time I was stung in the face three times and the side of my face swelled up so bad that my eye swelled shut and I looked like ET for three days (should have taken pictures).

Today they got me again. Same story, trimming a tree a few meters away from their nest and they attacked me from behind. Got me good in the middle of the back and on the top of the shoulder. This time I took a photo.

That little white spot at the top of the swollen area is where the stinger got me. The swelling is rather pronounced and the whole area is red. Strangely, however, I didn’t even feel this sting. The one in the middle of my back hurt like crazy, however.

If you are stung often enough do you develop any sort of tolerance to their poison? Or do you eventually take on wasp-like characteristics?

Did Senator Dodd really say that?

Posted: June 27, 2010 in Politics

As I said in my previous post about the book I am reading by Michael Moore, I like seeing scumbags called out, and U.S. bureaucrats are the biggest scumbags on earth (maybe in the universe?). But then there are times when the bureaucrats don’t need calling out, they call themselves out as complete idiots.

I saw it on the Reason.com blog and it was titled “Quote of the Day“. This was Senator Dodd describing how he felt after passage of the new financial overhaul bill. The interesting part was this:

No one will know until this is actually in place how it works. But we believe we’ve done something that has been needed for a long time.

Uh, did he really say that we don’t know how it will work but we went ahead and passed it anyway? So it might make things worse but they felt they needed to do something.

The truth is that the best thing that could possibly happen in America is if all the politicians were voted out and replaced with people who would just do nothing.

One of the things I really miss here in Thailand is English language reading material. There is a dearth of it since few Thais read English very well, or at all for that matter. About the only place that has a good selection of English language books and magazines is Asia Books in Bangkok. As a result, I do almost all of my reading online. But it’s nice to have a book in hand when there is time to kill, a real book not one of the new e-readers that requires you to purchase DRM-infected content.

Today I was having lunch at a nice little coffee shop and restaurant that recently opened in our area. The Khao Yai land boom is stimulating a lot of new development of things that we actually like, such as eating places. This little place called Coffee Memories is pretty good and the added bonus was they have a tiny little book sharing space that had a couple of English language books. So I borrowed Michael Moore’s “Dude, Where’s My Country”.

I wouldn’t say that I’m much of a fan of Michael Moore but his stuff makes for a good read mostly because I enjoy seeing scumbags being called out. And U.S. bureaucrats are undoubtedly the biggest scumbags on the planet. Whether or not you subscribe to Moore’s line of thinking his books do give plenty of references to his sources. Today I particularly enjoyed the section about how cozy the U.S. government was with Saddam Hussein prior to them deciding he was the biggest evil on earth. It was the U.S., after all, who provided him with all the chemical and biological weapons and technology that he had. That was during the Iran-Iraq war – the U.S. wanted Iraq to win. The U.S. government is famous for that kind of thing, arming one group against another to achieve some political goal, and then turning against them later, much to Saddam’s dismay as he found himself dangling by the neck.

But that’s sort of old news and everybody in America who isn’t clueless knows it already, which is to say very few Americans. The part that was new to me and sort of entertaining is that during the Bush story-telling frenzy after the start of the war there was a little video clip shown on the Oprah show of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hugging Saddam Hussein when they had met years earlier. I guess Oprah popped it as a surprise on the audience and there was an audible gasp when they saw the two being chummy. After all, Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld had painted Saddam as such an evil monster and the ignorant American masses had bought the whole story. Little did they know that Saddam was a key ally just a few years prior.

So like I said, Moore’s books give plenty of references and with the wonderful world of Google it’s usually pretty easy to check other sources to corroborate. I could not, however, find the video of Rumsfeld hugging Saddam. I did find a number of videos of the two of them meeting and shaking hands. Pretty boring stuff with no sound track, but here it is.

 

Get a globe

Posted: June 21, 2010 in Thailand

I regularly check out the headlines at the Reason.com blog and one caught my eye yesterday. It was “South Pacific Countries Crack Down on Free Speech” with this excerpt

There must be something in the water down in the South Pacific. Following the recent news that an Australian state is considering tough new legislation banning swearing in public, comes word that Thailand has blocked 43,000 websites accused of defaming the king.

I thought, uhhh (that’s a long pause with my jaw slack) this is not news, or rather, this is ancient news. Why is this writer reporting on it now? And a little geography lesson is in order since Thailand is not located in the South Pacific. Fortunately a couple of comments pointed out the problems with the story, like this one:

Thailand is in the Northern Hemisphere, you moron.

Which was my first reaction but I am far too polite to say such a thing. Another comment pointed to a recent cartoon by XKCD about JFK’s famous geography fail over here http://xkcd.com/753/.

The story kind of bothered me not because I am a Thailand apologist (I’m definitely not) but because I thought that most of the stories I see on Reason are pretty good in a contrarian and irreverent sort of way. But this makes me wonder how many other stories contain flip comments that are fundamentally flawed like this one.

I aspire to be realistically skeptical and I believe that most of the time I am. But I admit there are times when I am sometimes a bit cynical. Maybe this is one of those times.

I saw this news story on Thai TV and then later read about it in the newspaper about “Positive Network”, a new initiative by many major communications associations in Thailand. They say it is a “social campaign meant to reflect the voice of Thais from all classes and social groups”, that’s quote from The Nation. The organizers are the Advertising Association, Public Relations Society, Media Agency Association, and cable and TV associations. They say they will hold activities designed to promote awareness of the country’s real issues (emphasis mine), which include various events, forums and polls around the country throughout the year.

So this is where the skeptic in me turns cynical. It sounds like a lot of window dressing for a propaganda and dissent suppression campaign. I bet the participants in those events will be carefully chosen to showcase nice moderate ideas compatible with Thai sensibilities with proper deference to the government and revered institutions. “Fiery” (in quotes because it is more than a metaphor these days) anti-government sentiment of many up-country folks will certainly be filtered out. And in light of the recent large scale burning by rioters in Bangkok I thought the name they gave to a forum they are putting together was quite odd. They are calling it “Ignite Thailand”. Do they know what the word “ignite” means? If you were to replace “Thailand” with “Bangkok” or “Central World” it would be horribly obvious what a bad name it is.

In my post Suggestions for Thailand’s new MICT I looked at his list of priorities and offered a few suggestions directly related to it. In this post I have some additional suggestions.

It happened that the June 17 issue of The Nation had both the story about the new MICT and also a story about Singapore’s “OneInBox” service. That’s a service that Singapore will launch in 2012 to automate correspondence between the government and the city-state’s five million residents, of which mone million are foreigners. My suggestion for Thailand’s new MICT is to look at that closely and follow their lead.

The OneInBox service establishes an email account for every resident and business entity that provides one-stop access to all correspondence to and from government agencies. It’s a very simple concept, isn’t it? Implementation is certainly complex since all government agency systems have to be integrated with it so that instead of using paper correspondence to transact business it all becomes electronic. From the public’s point of view it certainly seems easy. Just log in and see if you have email from the gov’t or submit any required documents. You can set up SMS alerts to notify you if a new email has arrived. Through the system you are able to conduct many government transactions such as renewal of residency permits, payment of traffic fines, etc.

It may be too ambitious for Thailand to roll out something like this since it is so far behind Singapore whose five million residents enjoy nearly universal computer access. But a partial roll out could still go a long way toward improving life in Thailand and services could be incrementally added as they make sense. Why not make it opt-in so that you can choose government transactions to handle online if you have the ability to do so.

Take one of the banes of foreigners living in Thailand, the 90 day report. The normal routine is to make the trip to your nearest immigration office where you fill out a simple form, wait in the queue to submit it, then it’s stamped and you leave. Why not save the environment by eliminating the paper to file and the fossil fuel to get you there, cut down on traffic – do it electronically instead. There is no fee for the 90 day report, not unless you forget and miss the deadline which can’t be that many people. There are zero security issues since you don’t even have to show up yourself; you can send someone else with your passport. So save the earth by making this an online process.

That’s one very simple example. MICT should follow the OneInBox program for ideas on what might work in Thailand.