Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Relative Calm Returns to City of Angels

The Army have taken control of Bangkok once again after the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) leaders called off their rally at 11am yesterday.

Many in the capital have hailed the army as their new saviours after enduring 48 hours of anarchy on the streets.

A state of emergency was called 24 hours ago and after pitched battles the 'Red Shirts' leaders called off the protests vowing to re-organise and re-group at the later date.

Nearly 10,000 soldiers were sent from Bangkok, Prachin Buri, Kanchanaburi and Lop Buri to quell the riots and end the UDD protests with tanks on the streets of the capital for the secone time in as many years.


Songkran Thailand 2052

The most obvious celebration of Songkran is the throwing of water. People roam the streets with containers of water or water guns, or post themselves at the side of roads with a garden hose and drench each other and passersby. This, however, was not always the main activity of this festival. Songkran was traditionally a time to visit and pay respects to elders, including family members, friends and neighbors.

Besides the throwing of water, people celebrating Songkran may also go to a wat (Buddhist monastery) to pray and give food to monks. They may also cleanse Buddha images from household shrines as well as Buddha images at monasteries by gently pouring water mixed with a Thai fragrance (Thai: น้ำอบไทย) over them. It is believed that doing this will bring good luck and prosperity for the New Year. In many cities, such as Chiang Mai, the Buddha images from all of the city's important monasteries are paraded through the streets so that people can toss water at them, ritually 'bathing' the images, as they pass by on ornately decorated floats. In northern Thailand, people may carry handfuls of sand to their neighborhood monastery in order to recompense the dirt that they have carried away on their feet during the rest of the year. The sand is then sculpted into stupa-shaped piles and decorated with colorful flags.

Some people make New Year resolutions - to refrain from bad behavior, or to do good things. Songkran is a time for cleaning and renewal. Besides washing household Buddha images, many Thais also take this opportunity to give their home a thorough cleaning.

The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddhas for cleansing and then using this "blessed" water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder. Among young people the holiday evolved to include dousing strangers with water to relieve the heat, since April is the hottest month in Thailand (temperatures can rise to over 100°F or 40°C on some days). This has further evolved into water fights and splashing water over people riding in vehicles.

Nowadays, the emphasis is on fun and water-throwing rather than on the festival's spiritual and religious aspects, which sometimes prompts complaints from traditionalists. In recent years there have been calls to moderate the festival to lessen the many alcohol-related road accidents as well as injuries attributed to extreme behavior such as water being thrown in the faces of traveling motorcyclists.

The water is meant as a symbol of washing all of the bad away and is sometimes filled with fragrant herbs.

Songkran is also celebrated in many places with a paegant in which young women demonstrate their beauty and unique talents, as judged by the audience. The level of financial support usually determines the winner, since, to show your support you must purchase necklaces which you place on your chosen girl.

Church Going

Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence,

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new-
Cleaned or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
"Here endeth" much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate, and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort or other will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognizable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for whom was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.

Philip Larkin

Monday, 13 April 2009

'Mobocracy' and the Land of Smiles

"I believe the darkest days in Thailand's history are yet to come, as we see no swift solution to ongoing divisiveness," said Prinn Panitchpakdi, an Asia-Pacific analyst.

Today is the Thai New Year, Songkran. For the uninitiated, it is a wonderful celebration that marks the end of the dry season and heralds the start of the wet season with much frivolity. Whole communities take to the streets and propel water by whatever means possible at anything that comes within their visual range. Overloaded pick up trucks stacked with barrels of water drive the streets soaking anyone and everyone with indiscriminate, non-confrontational splashes of new year cheer.

These are the scenes that I have witnessed today in Phuket but the same can not be said of Bangkok. News bulletins are beaming in to my computer screen showing a violence and escalating anarchy on the street of the kingdom's capital. The 'Red Shirts' as they are colloquially know, have been part of highly organised and intricate anti-government campaign calling for the current government to step down. Their campaign has been thrusted forward in recent months and one can't help feeling that an attempted revolution is not far away. If this were to occur, it would be Thailand's nineteenth revolution in sixty years, and the fifth change in prime minister in four years. Political unrest and instability are becoming the norm for this country which is bad news for the fragile economy and wafer thin infrastructure.

Thailand's immediate future will depend on the ability of the Thai army to hold their nerve in the face of petrol bombs and extreme violence. The army have been firing off rounds from M16 assault weapons over the heads of riotous protesters today pushing tensions to a dangerous cliff edge.

The red shirts vitriol is being massaged by the ousted former prime minster Thaksin Shinawatra who is in exile as a result of a corruption conviction he recieved in 2008. Mr Shinawatra has been giving tele-conferences to crowds of thousands on the street via video links from Dubai, stoking the flames with incendiary language and imagery.

The next few days are critical and its impossible to predict what will happen with a very real possibility of more bloodshed or worse.


Sunday, 12 April 2009

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

Review and analysis by Carlo Cavagna.

At the end of the millennium, few people give a moment's thought to the indigenous religious faiths of the so-called "Western" world (i.e., Europe, North America, Australia). They have virtually disappeared from conscious awareness, existing only within the confines of academia and in the minds of a few eccentrics. Yet Europe gave birth to numerous spiritual traditions that worshipped various personifications of the features and forces of nature, or the forces of nature themselves. Other indigenous pre-Christian traditions, such as the Australian aborigines, held similar beliefs. The common thread among all these traditions was a profound reverence for the earth and a belief that certain sites, such as rocks, hills, or mounds, were places charged with special power.

All of these "pagan" traditions were supplanted by Christianity. Although Catholicism admittedly was influenced over the centuries by pagan ritual and thought, Protestantism rejected pagan influences in favor of a more austere, intellectual approach to spirituality. Regardless of sect, however, Christianity teaches that, in general, God has made humans the masters of the earth, which is devoid of power or vitality of its own. To the extent that Christianity recognizes that raw natural forces exist--sexual energy, for example--it tends to associate them with temptation and evil. Such forces must be repressed and denied. The world is flawed and imperfect; only in heaven, a distinct and separate place, does perfection exist. Nothing could be more contrary to the teachings of the religions that existed before Christianity arrived.

In Picnic at Hanging Rock, director Peter Weir's second feature film, Weir explores what happens when long-disregarded and discounted "pagan" forces touch the inhibited world of Victorian/Edwardian-era society in Australia, circa 1900. The story opens at Appleyard College, a boarding school for teenage girls. The girls are all perfectly molded china dolls trained to conform to the strictures of the time, their vitality and budding sexuality suppressed by their regimented schedule and constricting clothing. Early in the film Weir shows us a blooming rosebud being flattened in a flower press--a harsh metaphor for the girls and the school.The girls at Hanging Rock

On Valentine's Day, Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts), the strict headmistress, sends the girls on an ill-fated outing to Hanging Rock, a massive outcropping of volcanic origin. Before they go, the disciplinarian Mrs. Appleyard describes the rock in unintentionally suggestive terms, describing it as forced up from below the ground in a "highly viscous state." The fact that the outing occurs on Valentine's Day is also suggestive of carnality. The holiday itself originates from an ancient Roman festival of sexual license called Lupercalia, which occurred on the ides of February and was dedicated to Juno Februata, goddess of the fever of love. Young men would select partners for erotic games by drawing small papers with women's names on them--obviously the ancestors of modern-day Valentine cards, which the girls give to one another in Picnic at Hanging Rock. As with other pagan celebrations, Christianity attempted to suppress Lupercalia by co-opting it, designating it the day of the martyred St. Valentine.

Hanging Rock itself turns out to be a raw, primitive place. The solitary outcropping is a craggy maze of passages and hidden recesses, and its exposed cliff faces feature odd formations that look unmistakably like faces. With dreamy cinematography and portentous music, Peter Weir gently evokes the presence of something supernatural without being obvious about it.

After lunch, three of the Appleyard girls request permission to go for a walk by themselves. One of the girls is Miranda (Anne Lambert), a graceful, pretty blonde who is the most popular student at the school. Everyone seems irresistibly drawn to her. Miranda's roommate, the melancholy Sara (Margaret Nelson), appears to be actually in love with her. When Mrs. Appleyard excludes Sara from the outing to Hanging Rock because her tuition hasn't been paid, Sara is heartbroken. Similarly, Michael Fitzhubert (Dominic Guard), a young man who spies Miranda as she and her friends begin their walk, is immediately enchanted. Yet Miranda seems to be preparing to depart Appleyard. She quotes from A Dream Within a Dream, a leave-taking poem by Edgar Allan Poe. She tells Sara that she "won't be here much longer."

Just as there is something otherworldly about Hanging Rock, there is something otherworldly about Miranda herself. It's as if she, too, is the incarnation of some sort of elemental force. Miranda at Hanging RockAs Miranda leaves to explore the rock, she turns and waves goodbye to one of the teachers, Miss DePortiers (Helen Morse), who exclaims, "Now I know!" "What do you know?" asks Miss MacCraw (Vivean Gray). "I know that Miranda is a Botticelli angel," responds Miss DePortiers. The Renaissance artist Botticelli was one of the first to paint classical (i.e., pagan) scenarios after centuries in which Biblical scenes were the only acceptable subject matter for an artist. Tellingly, Botticelli's most famous paintings include Venus Rising from the Waves, depicting the nude goddess standing on a large seashell floating on the sea, and The Rites of Spring, which portrays the nymph Chloris being transformed into Flora, the goddess of the spring, while the Three Graces, the companions of Venus, dance nearby. Three is also the number of girls who leave to explore Hanging Rock.

It will not spoil the suspense to say that the three girls vanish without a trace, because Weir gives this fact away in a caption at the beginning of the movie. Miranda and her two friends float like nymphs through the trees and boulders, while poor dumpy Edith (Christine Schuler), who has insisted on tagging along, has difficulty keeping pace. Edith pleads with the girls to return back to the others. They ignore her, and continue their surreal ascent of Hanging Rock. Gradually, they strip away layers of clothing, the confining trappings of civilization, until finally the three figures, dressed in a few stitches of white and holding hands, disappear into the upper reaches of the rock.

The second half of the movie examines the enigma of the girls' disappearance and the deleterious effects of the incident on stodgy Appleyard College. Weir never explains exactly why the girls disappear, and the movie is stronger because of it. Numerous explanations are suggested, ranging from the mundane to the supernatural. Did they fall into a hole? Were they raped and kidnapped? Or were they spirited away some supernatural power? Weir suggests at times that Miranda has turned into a swan, an obvious symbol of beauty and metamorphosis, but also more than that. The Heavenly Nymphs (Asparas) of Hindu mythology were swan maidens, and in European folklore, the swan was associated with Venus and with the Valkyries (warrior maidens who wore magic swan-feather cloaks to transform themselves) of Norse legend. Viewers are left to draw their own conclusions about the girls' fate.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is no simple mystery. Appleyard College comes into direct, visceral contact with unseen forces--forces about which the film's characters have little knowledge, and what knowledge they do have is scholarly and theoretical. After her almost sexual description of the origins of Hanging Rock, Mrs. Appleyard reduces the rock to a homework assignment, informing her charges that she expects them to write an essay on its geology. Later, the students amuse themselves by reciting Shakespearian sonnets ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"), but they have no experience with the passions behind the words. At the moment of the three girls' disappearance, Edith, who is trailing behind, becomes terrified and lets out a piercing scream. She witnesses something, but she is unable to explain, or even remember, what she saw.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is not a movie that I would recommend to everyone, but if the film's themes sound at all interesting, you will find that Picnic at Hanging Rock is a highly absorbing and thought-provoking two hours. No detail in the movie is accidental. You will be able to watch it over and over and continue to discover nuances and possibilities that you hadn't seen before.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

The Hitch Bodyslams Paul Edwards

Pull My Daisy

"Pull My Daisy" is a poem written by three of beat poetry's most famous sons; Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady.

It is said to have been written with one person writing the first line, the other writing the second, and so on sequentially with each person only being shown the line before.

I like the poems discordant nature, surrealist imagery and powerful use of alliteration. Childish language, combined with sexual innuendo, leave one dizzy with contemplative wonder.

Pull my daisy
tip my cup
all my doors are open
Cut my thoughts
for coconuts
all my eggs are broken
Jack my Arden
gate my shades
woe my road is spoken
Silk my garden
rose my days
now my prayers awaken

Bone my shadow
dove my dream
start my halo bleeding
Milk my mind &
make me cream
drink me when you're ready
Hop my heart on
harp my height
seraphs hold me steady
Hip my angel
hype my light
lay it on the needy

Heal the raindrop
sow the eye
bust my dust again
Woe the worm
work the wise
dig my spade the same
Stop the hoax
whats the hex
where's the wake
how's the hicks
take my golden beam

Rob my locker
lick my rocks
leap my cock in school
Rack my lacks
lark my looks
jump right up my hole
Whore my door
beat my door
eat my snake of fool
Craze my hair
bare my poor
asshole shorn of wool

say my oops
ope my shell

Bite my naked nut
Roll my bones
ring my bell
call my worm to sup
Pope my parts
pop my pot
raise my daisy up
Poke my pap
pit my plum
let my gap be shut


A Nine Minute Beat Poem

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

G20 protests: Riot police, or rioting police?

From George Monbiot's Blog.

At the G20 protests in London only one group appears to be looking for violent confrontation – and it's not the protesters

The trouble-makers are out in force again. Dressed in black, their faces partly obscured, some of them appear to be interested only in violent confrontation. It's almost as if they are deliberately raising the temperature, pushing and pushing until a fight kicks off. But this isn't some disorganised rabble: these people were bussed in and are plainly acting in concert. There's another dead giveaway. They are all wearing the same slogan: Police.

The police have been talking up violence at the G20 protests for weeks. They briefed journalists and companies in the City of London about the evil designs of the climate campaigners intending to demonstrate there, but refused to let the campaigners attend the briefings and put their own side of the story. They also rebuffed the campaigners when they sought to explain to the police what they wanted to do.

The way officers tooled themselves up in riot gear and waded into a peaceful crowd this afternoon makes it look almost as if they were trying to ensure that their predictions came true. Their bosses appear to have failed either to read or to heed the report by the parliamentary committee on human rights last week, about the misuse of police powers against protesters. "Whilst we recognise police officers should not be placed at risk of serious injury," the report said, "the deployment of riot police can unnecessarily raise the temperature at protests."

But there has always been a conflict of interest inherent in policing. The police are supposed to prevent crime and keep the streets safe. But if they are too successful, they do themselves out of a job. They have a powerful interest in exaggerating threats and, perhaps, an interest in ensuring that sometimes these threats materialise. This could explain what I've seen at one protest after another, where peaceful demonstrations turn into ugly rucks only when the police attack. The wildly disproportionate and unnecessary violence I've sometimes seen the police deploy could scarcely be better designed to provoke a reaction.

If this is so, they lose nothing. They might get the occasional rap over the knuckles from MPs or the police complaints commission. It doesn't seem to bother them. By planting the idea in the public mind that the streets could erupt into catastrophic violence at any time, were it not for the thick blue line thrown around even the mildest protest, they establish the need for a heavy police presence. While the public lives in fear, no government dares to cut the policing budget.