Thursday, 25 March 2010
Picture from: http://www.impactlab.com
In recent days my head has been spinning. The internet is getting to me: Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Blogger, Myspace, Wikipedia, youtube - the list goes on snaking its way ever skyward like some serpentine colossus. Where is this new cyber world located? Its physical tangibility is something that perplexes me. How can we rationalize this global phenomenon, and make sense of this pulsating beast of ever growing complexity, when its whereabouts are beyond the imagination of the majority of its users?
What got me thinking about all this was something that happened during my reading skills lesson this morning. For me this was a first and I am sure it is a sign of things to come.
After pre-teaching a handful of new adjectives and adverbs to two new excellent students, I gave them the opportunity to take down the work from the whiteboard into their notebooks – they declined. Instead a mobile phone appeared and a student began to take pictures of my semi-legible scrawl at the front of the classroom. Intrigued, I probed the eager students further to figure out the point of all this technological posturing. They stated that the pictures would be sent via email to each other, and then copied into their notebooks at home. I don’t know why, but this blew me away. Feeling introspective, I sat looking out at the rapidly rising sun as the mid-morning heat pulled dance moves in continuous waves scorching the leather on my desk.
The internet is a first in our history. It has made the unfathomable, fathomable; the unthinkable, thinkable. In the 1950s science fiction writers had shiny, metallic visions of the future full of flying motor vehicles, robotic servants, and delicious meals in a pill, but not one foresaw the advent of the internet
The late great Aldous Huxley in ‘Brave New World’ and ‘Brave New World Revisted’ demonstrated his belief that technology would eventually lead to our collective enslavement and subsequent downfall as a race. Could Huxley’s stirring of the predictive tea leaves turn out to be correct? Is man destined to over play his hand? What will be remains to be seen, but one thing we know for sure is that things can’t be un-invented.
The internet has the capacity for being the greatest tool for individual freedom the world has ever seen; but, what if it was used to thwart our development, and create something demonstrably awful. Could Huxley’s dystopic vision of technological dictatorship become a reality?
I don’t see the future as a bleak, shapeless and monotonous like Huxley. Expounding views such as these does little for the advancement of human kind, but at the same time it does not negate the possibility. The internet is an amazing resource when used responsibly.
The wealth of information at our fingertips has never been greater. It it an opportunity to grow intellectually, socially and financially heralding in a new age of understanding and coexistence on this planet. Advantageous information is out there and we can all access it and grow together in unison. In these terms the future is filled with wondrous possibility, rather than enslavement.
An eastern scholar once said that enslavement is only in the mind. The actions of my students today started a flow of thoughts running though my head, reverberating like a tuning fork. It took the form of a mantra, one that will have a succinct grounding for generations to come.
The future is the internet; the internet is the future.
Tuesday, 23 March 2010
Friday, 19 March 2010
All political systems are flawed – This creates a fundamental problem when attempting to beat a path thought a dense thicket of societal inequality. Idealistic notions of cooperation between men, intellectual advancement and the slicing of society’s cake into equal pieces are dreams of any would be revolutionary.
Throughout history one problem has remained for those who desire to dismantle what is: the overthrowing of the state requires by default a need to defend oneself from the inevitable backlash, by the use of force – in other words, to become what you have opposed. Marx’s prediction that the state would ‘wither away’ has thus far in our history not proven to be a natural inevitability. More odiously, secrecy and ruthlessness have soon appeared on the revolutionary stage before the final piece of bunting has even been removed.
This paradoxical mirror imaging of the enemy is of course a matter for one to digest and rationalize in whatever way fits - One man’s revolutionary is another’s terrorist after all. Thus, what’s a budding Trotsky to do when faced with this seemingly intractable dilemma? He can sit on his hands and dream about a future that will never come, or puff out his chest, clear his throat, and embrace the unavoidable – it’s a do or don’t situation.
The reason for all this talk of subversive is this: as soon as night gives way to day tomorrow the sauna like streets of Bangkok will be shimmering with renewed revolutionary intent. The dramatically diminished numbers of UDD protestors would have had even the tightest fisted of gamblers laying his mortgage on a red free Bangkok by the weekend, but tens of thousands are to come from the Northern and North Eastern provinces tomorrow. For all those involved in grass roots politics, a collective tilt of the hat must be given for this admirable organizational feat that in reality gives the red shirts their last bite at the revolutionary cherry.
The potent whiff of violence is in the air once again - As long as the UDD’s mass gathering fails to achieve the dissolution of the lower house, there is a real possibility that the group could change tactics in favour of disruptive or even violent direct action. The blocking of main thoroughfares and shutting down the cities sky train system are the most likely cards to be played in tomorrow’s showdown.
Prime Minister Abhisit has now called for talks with the red shirts leadership on at least two occasions, both of which have been vehemently denounced from the stage at the main demonstration in central Bangkok – an amicable solution looks increasingly unlikely.
Within a democratic system the prize of protest is dialogue. This has been rejected by the red movement and could prove to be terminal to the group’s future. Participation in a process could have cemented the way for possible alliances with more minor parties in the coalition. In Democratic terms, changing the balance of power by these means has more weight when compared to a rushed stick-em-up job, which could end in tragedy.
As the history of revolution has clearly shown, disposing of the status-quo is a business in which idealistic intentions quickly become dogma. The political freedom that opposition grants dissolves frantically into a despotic and dangerous mirror image of what came before; like Siamese twins, inseparable in terms of action. The red shirts refusal to speak to the government may come back to bite them if violence takes centre stage tomorrow.
There is a fine line between agitation and violence, likewise democratic means and undemocratic means; therefore for the UDD to remain a credible political force they need to tilt their heads towards the past and learn form the succinct lessons that history has to offer.
Wednesday, 17 March 2010
The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship’s offensive on Thailand’s capital Bangkok looks to be entering it’s twilight hours as thousands of supporters make their way home, weather beaten and hungry.
Paradoxically, security levels have been beefed up in response to alleged CIA intelligence concerning a ‘hardcore’ element within the movement bend on stirring violent unrest. Security authorities in Bangkok claim to have cause for concern as possible acts of ‘sabotage’ are planned around the city. The U.S government vehemently denies these claims. Deputy Prime Minister Southep Thughuban commented yesterday stating, ‘If these attacks take place it would have a devastating impact.’
Numbers at the protest have fallen from a peak of around 100,000 on Sunday, to about 15,000 yesterday morning according to Bangkok Post estimates. The UDD leadership acknowledged the dwindling numbers but remain defiant saying fresh reinforcements will soon arrive from other provinces. Ousted Prime Minister Thaskin Sinnawatra called for all within the movement to keep up the pressure on the government: ‘We have to maintain our strength” he said via video link yesterday. Reports say he is presently in Montenegro. Despite this hard talk, investigators on the ground said that the majority of red shirts would be on their home by Friday.
Yesterday Prime Minister Abhisit reiterated his wish to hold talks with the UDD leadership to discuss the situation, although he refuses outright to dissolve Thailand’s lower parliament.
Tuesday, 16 March 2010
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MARCH 16:
Picture 1: Red-shirted supporters of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra (one of them wearing a mask of the man himself) shout slogans.
Picture 2: A supporter of deposed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra holds a syringe full of blood after making a donation at protest site on March 16, 2010 in Bangkok, Thailand. Protesters are donating blood with the intention of collecting one million cubic centimeters of blood to be thrown in demonstrations outside Government House, as the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva continues to reject calls for a dissolution of the House and a fresh election.
Picture 3: The streets outside the 11th infantry battalion barracks and at other protest sites in Bangkok remain full, although some reports on the ground say that, on day three of the protests, numbers are beginning to dwindle.
All morning specially set up blood donation points have been extracting claret from the arms of red shirt protesters in central Bangkok Thousands are queuing to have their vein spiked in the name of democracy. The blood will be thrown around the entrances to government buildings at 3pm this afternoon, in a symbolic act akin to scene from a Sam Raimi movie.
The political significance of this move has to be questioned. Yes I agree, a point is being made, but with the clock ticking and peoples’ patience on both sides wavering, could efforts be used more effectively to achieve the movement’s main aim? – Dissolution of the lower parliament resulting in subsequent snap election.
The last few days have seen the red shirts frustrations grow with Prime Minister Abhisit brushing away their ultimatum with typical Ox-Bridge nonchalance. The message is clear: this government is not for budging.
Aside from the obvious health risks associated with throwing blood around in central Bangkok (in a country with a high aids rate), one has to wonder what tangible political gains will result from all this mayhem?
This sadomasochistic act certainly is a graphic and original show of defiance, but its measurable political impact remains to be seen. After all, Prime Minsiter Abhisit’s government is highly unlikely to change their mind and dissolve the parliament as a result.
The balance of power seems to be slipping away from a red movement that is visibly running out of steam and resorting to seemingly more desperate measures to bolster their campaign.
Fellow Thai blogger Somtow Sucharitkul summed up the situation perfectly with this masterstroke of close reasoning. ‘I suppose that the red shirts' other measures, such as breaking a pot in front of the statue of King Taksin, calling down a curse on the government, throwing plastic bags of rotten fish, and having the ex-PM descend through the airwaves from a place variously described as Germany, Cambodia, and Montenegro, have not worked. They were all very imaginative methods of bringing about political change, but when you have the all the resources of witchcraft and the supernatural at your disposal, why stoop to such mundane devices as, for instance, lobbying one of the smaller parties to switch sides so as to shift the balance of power?’
The question is how much longer is the collective ‘jai yen yen’(Thai phrase – ‘Have a cool heart.’) going to last before all hell breaks loose, and the streets of Bangkok are once again dripping with blood – this time non-consensually.
Saturday, 13 March 2010
It seems that the sea of red expected in Bangkok is more of a medium size estuary. Having said that, tributaries are still flowing steadily from the source, and by tonight who knows how grand the spectacle will be. On Friday red shirt officials had expected 1,000,000 protesters to fill the capital’s streets, but presently, this looks highly unlikely. More realistic estimates lie around the 200,000 mark; sizable, yes; capable of forcing the dissolution of the lower parliament, I think not.
What could be the reason for this massive underestimation of people power? It could be the reduction in ‘expenses’ paid to the movement for travel costs. As in any country political influence does not come without considerable expense; Thailand is no exception. A handful of cash, a red t-shirt, and a plastic clapper can arguably buy you a political activist for the day, with whole villages seemingly reveling a collective sense of purpose.
From a Western perspective this practice is questionable, but with the majority of the reds shirts support coming from the abstractly poor North East, it can be excused. This is political expediency Thai Style.
The movement’s grievances have been exacerbated in the last two years by a government that has openly questioned the reds intellectual prowess, and thus, political credibility. Crass arrogance such as this is a major issue in a county where face, or the loss of it, is everything. But, as an objective observer it takes some effort to swerve around this cash for protest politics.
Somtow Sucharitkul, an noteworthy Thai blogger based in Bangkok (http://www.somtow.org/) has this to say: ‘What I am sure about it that my housekeeper told me that according to her sources upcountry the fee for protesting is 500 baht, minus 300 which must be paid to an agent. The newspapers printed that it was 1,500 and that people were objecting to how little money they were getting to protest compared to last time. If it's 500 a day for 3 days, I guess the figures match. My housekeeper said, "My village isn't coming to the protests. They're not getting enough money, and last time it was too hot and it wasn't what we were expecting.’
What ever your opinion a fine line exists between poverty and political exploitation, especially when an aggressive propaganda machine promises imminent wealth to those adorned with a red t-shirt. It would be too cynical to doubt red shirt sincerity entirely, but in the developing world a little money can go a long way.
Wednesday, 10 March 2010
September 19, 2006 feels like only yesterday. I was coerced out of a bar in Bangkok’s Sukhumvit district by menacing men dressed in kaki, declaring Marshall Law from loud speakers, as Vaxhall Tanks rolled insidiously down the road in front of me. On this day, Thailand’s Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted from government, and sent packing to a life lived outside Thai borders. Thankfully I made it back to my bedsit unharmed that evening, albeit with the odious sent of violence in the air and a feeling in my stomach, that to this day, I can’t quite put into words. That day in October the ‘yellow shirts’ over threw the government, and ushered in the new age of colour politics.
Today, the dark undercurrents of political violence are threatening again, casting up reminiscent shadows that are all too familiar. A mass anti-government demonstration is to be held in Thailand’s capital at the weekend, and with Thailand’s record of violence at such events, the situation has the potential to explode.
The demonstration at the weekend is being held by the UDD.
Clad in red t-shirts, the UDD movement (The National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship), support the former prime Thaksin Shinawatra. (Bizarrely involved in Cambodian policy making at present)
The ‘red shirts’ as they are colloquially know, have a highly organized (and financed) grassroots movement based mainly in the heavily populated north east of the country. They are a self-styled party of the poor, and claim to have purer democratic intentions that the current government. The movement denounces Prime Minister Abhisit (leader of the Democratic Party), claming he and his party took power 'illegitimately', backed by the Thai army and bureaucrats. It calls for the Thai Parliament to be dissolved and a general re-election to be held. The ‘reds’ speak openly about their non-violent nature of their activities and discourse, and have a highly active propaganda machine; including a television station that pumps out the party message on a loop. Daily, I walk past road-side houses which have large televisions, hooked up to bass bins; in front a sea of red shirts sit crossed legged, drinking whisky, eating snacks, glued to the images ahead.
An armchair analysis of the situation will conclude that the ‘reds’ still lack vital inspirational/visionary leadership. They lack charisma at the top, and this could prove to be their undoing. The era of Thaksin as a tangible political force within the democratic system is undoubtedly over; and, if the ‘reds’ are going to advance within a democratic framework, they need to solve this problem. It seems clear that the way forward for the UDD, is to compact their deep and far reaching support base, and form into an independent labour party. This way they would have a clear vision, instead as acting as the ‘hired hands of a corrupt politician,’ as one writer succinctly put it in the Bangkok Post this week.
After examining the UDD’s six party principles, there is little that any Thai would disagree with: establishing a true democracy with HM the King as head if state; overthrowing the bureaucratic system; acting in a strictly non-violent manner; establishing justice and the rule of law; improving the economic well-being of all people; and bring back the 1997 constitution.
It can be stated unequivocally, that the ‘reds’ have not only a democratic right to protest, but a good reason for voicing their grievances in the current political climate. In recent times, leaving aside last months liquidation of 1.2 Billion Dollars worth of Thaksin’s assets by the central government, there have been a number of economic blunders that deserve a more attention than a raised eyebrow: For instance, the GT200 bomb detectors, bought from a British company last year, have been proven ineffective in finding explosives in Thailand’s war-torn southern regions. Prime Minister Abhisit has spoken out against this purchase by the military, criticizing the top-brass, referring to the GT200’s as ‘useless.’ But, even in the face of scientific fact, and ministerial abhorrence, Army commander-in-chief Anupong Paojinda is defiant. Contrast this situation with the 350 million Baht ‘Sky Dragon’, the world first counter-insurgency blimp. The military are now in doubt to whether it is capable of flight. These two issues have compounded anti-government sentiment.
These issues have caused embarrassment in full view front of the medias watchful eye, but worryingly for Thailand, there have been many other such crippling misadventures with the public wallet.
Two wasteful episodes on their own are worth shouting about, and provide the ‘reds’ with a legitimate focus outside the arena of Thaskin worship. The ‘red’ leaders have called for justice on these issues, stating that those responsible should be brought to account, and righty so.
This situation leads me to some contradictions concerning the ‘red’ movement and their fight:
In their six party principles the UDD state firmly that they want justice and a rule of law, yet call the judicial system bias in the recent Thaskin liquidation case even though it previously acquitted Thaskin himself, his ex-wife, and five of Thaksin’s cabinet ministers on another charge Now, these don’t sounds like pre-determined judgments considering the seriousness of the latter changers and the equital that followed. Surely any bias system would have brought the heavy hand of the law down hard at this stage of the proceedings? Is the ‘red’ movement interested in true democratic justice, or some kind diluted ‘red’ justice.
Also, stated in the UDD’s six party principles was the avocation of non-violence. Now, one only has to cast one’s mind back to last years Asean Summit in Pattaya when a sea of red shirts attacked Prime Minister Abhisit’s car at the interior ministry. This stands in stark contrast to the movement’s claims to non-violence. And, with the fiery rhetoric being lambasted from the ‘reds’ leadership over the last few months, few would be surprised if events at the weekend turned sour.
The events in Bangkok at the weekend will be watches closely by many around there world. It is sincerely hoped that violence will not spoil the political aspirations of a movement that has built up a legitimate voice in Thailand, and has a realistic future within a democratic framework.
Saturday, 6 March 2010
A man with a blank expression sits on a rock. He watches in silence as the early morning mist begins to lift within the temple grounds. A horizontal line marks the underbelly of the mass of moisture. It moves slowly upward, as if pulled by a giant magnet in the sky. Day break signals the end of the battle between darkness and light. At sundown darkness is the victor, at daybreak light prevails.
He looks on in awe as the surrounding area is illuminated with a luxurious pastel hue: the horizon is shaded with a beautiful softness. Roosters signal the day’s arrival with their trademark throat clearing, cutting through the still air like a knife through damp clay.
He raises his notepad horizontally to his forehead, enabling him to avert the sun glare. In the distance, a Buddhist temple sits quietly below a hill, patiently waiting for the day to unfold. He is fascinated by the intricate patterns of light that are reflecting from the stained glass, casting spells of timeless beauty. As he walks slowly down a manicured lawn, the smell of Orchids drifts delicately in the breeze. Bees and butterflies appear from nowhere, aroused by the sensual smell perfuming the air.
At the far end of the lawn, a small path takes its place. Here, stray dogs cast watery eyed glances at his cautious movements. They pant mechanically, in a futile struggle against the elements. Their efforts are in vain. The man unbuttons the top three buttons of his shirt as the cold morning air retreats, leaving only a memory in its wake.
The path meanders past giant green shrubs and delicate flowers until it reaches a small wooden bridge. Perspiration trickles down the man’s back, creating a wet patch on his shirt. Ornately carved teak doors become visible to one side, their tearful departure from the shadows now complete. The man raises an eye brow impressed with the intricacy of the design.
He passes a wonderful golden archway that stoops down as if attempting to kiss the ground. Its physical beauty electrifies his imagination.
Everywhere he looks pinks and purples, reds and greens, mauves and yellows, compete as if in a beauty pageant. Natural selection is their make-up artist. The man’s stony demeanor is broken; he breaks into a smile. Two coconut trees sway like drunkards; between them a red hammock is stretched.
As the sun begins to assert itself, the man sits on the grass. Monks chant. The monosyllables are powerful and engage him. His attention is drawn upwards. Birds begin to sing, their mouths controlled by invisible thread. Melodious softness covers everything like a sea mist, momentarily sight and sounds melt into one.
A butterfly floats seductively like a silver feather and lands on an Orchid. It rests. Tentatively, slowly, and with great effort, the wings come back to life as he watches. It flies out of sight.
He stands up and brushes the dry grass from his shorts and back. Dry leaves crackle under his feet causing an unprecedented commotion. Panicking lizards retreat to a safe haven somewhere in the thick undergrowth.
The path comes to an abrupt end. Humble monastic dwellings hug the walled perimeter. In front of the huts he observes freshly washed orange robes sway leisurely to nature’s rhythm. To the left of the huts gawky chickens play medieval games of joust, baking under the white-hot plate in the sky. Their movements, like those of martial arts masters, deftly move between placidity and aggression. A cloud of dust forms above them. The man covers his eyes and tries not to breath.
Everywhere he gazes, symbols jump out at him: Brave stallions stand on hind legs, their expression that of utter fearlessness. Elephants raise trunks triumphantly, as if trumpeting in a new dawn in human understanding. Ancient Papal trees dressed luxuriously in brightly coloured silks, ward off evil spirits. His head spins wildly contemplating the meaning of it all.
An open expanse of sun-burnt grass leads him to a lone pineapple bush. Its isolation compounded by the barrenness of its immediate surroundings. On its own, like the robed men who eat its fruit, it lives out life without complaint. He exhales this thought, and breaths it in again: it resonates deep within him.
In the distance he sees, a shimmering golden spire peeping out of the dense jungle, pointing upwards towards the cloudless sky. The jungle intimidates him: ever encroaching. During daylight hours it gives off a silent, but intense energy. At nighttime it reverberates, teaming with life.
The sun slowly, but steadily climbs. The temperature accompanies this assent and pounds the man with wave upon wave of stultifying heat. He begins to tire.
With this his journey ends. A shady patch of grass silently commands his attention. Here he walks, dragging his feet on the gravel, listening to sound.