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by Tom


Thursday, September 18, 2003

Bangkok, Bunkum, Bangkok... BUNKUM

I never thought I'd live to see this day; the Bangkok Post published my letter! (Ed.-- So now it's "Bangkok Post", not "Bunkum Post", huh? Tom-- Yes, but chances are it'll revert to the latter very soon.)

The printed text is not, however, without some minor editing, which is definitely for the better in two places but quite suspect in the other two. That's still not counting the removals of my italics and quotation marks (over "protectionist" and "distortion and inefficiency" and "free trade"). What does the Bunkum Post (Ed.--There you go!) have against that, anyway? The quotes, especially, are direct and the marks are there purposefully and rightfully there to caution the reader. Also, that humdrum title is certainly not mine, which was "Is the Post protectionist?".

All in all, though, this made my day. Many thanks to the Post.

Now, if you haven't already, please go read the letter, which debunks this communist propaganda perfidiously disguised as, of all things, an appeal for "free trade".

Update The more I think about it, the more pissed I am that they took out the scare quote on "free trade". I need it there to show that I reject Weisbrot's brazen abuse of that beloved term of mine. My day is unmade and another letter is in order.

What? You mean it's not legal yet?

Khun Surin writes:

One last question, do you like the legal 2 and 3 numbers lotteries running by the government ? I think they are going to have it sold in the police station in the near future. Since we cannot fight them we legalize them. May be more to come such as legalized prostitute.

I haven't been following the lottery issue at all, so I'll refrain from comment on it as of now. I'll say this, though, about legalizing prostitution: Yes, yes, yes and yeeeaasssss.

Two reasons:
Philosophical Consensual sex between adults is really nobody else's business, least of all the state's. What one party gives to the other afterwards, whether it is money, wedding ring or crabs, doesn't change that in anyway.

But I exaggerated. It is the state's business when you're providing service to the mass, which is why you need a license to run a restaurant but not to cook for yourself. That brings up my second reason.

Practical Underground prostitution, as is now the case in Thailand, breeds all sorts of intractable problems, from AIDS to forced and/or child labor to corruption in the law enforcement. Might as well bring it above ground and wrest back the control over thousands of lives from the gangsters. Done right, licensed prostitutes will get regular medical checkups, education about safe sex (and perhaps even career counseling) and the same protection that all other workers enjoy (meaning they can do away with those hideous pimps).

And, of course, once this whole business is legit, the state can TAX it (and feed some to the ever hungry police, who'll be even hungrier off the gangs' payroll).

So happier workers, more assured clients, cleaner police, less revenue to the mobsters and more to the treasury, why not? It can't be any worse than it is now, can it?

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Not our martyr

Asia Times Online has more than a fair share of US-bashers in its ranks, yet gems like this keep me coming back:

Agence France Presse reported that Lee "took his life to protest what he and other militants contend is the damage being done to peasant farmers the world over by the WTO's corporation-friendly policies".

That may be true, but it obscures a key fact: Lee and his fellow South Korean farmers are on the opposite side of the debate from the poor countries advocating an end to agricultural subsidies in the developed world. Lee and company may be peasants, but South Korea is a developed country and a heavy subsidizer of its uncompetitive farmers.

South Korea is self-sufficient in rice production, thanks to heavy subsidies that it has repeatedly promised to cut without following through. Current subsidies to farmers like Lee total 480 billion won (US$411 million), $75 per ton. That helps explain why South Korean consumers pay about five times the world price for their rice.

Notice how AFP turns the conflict between poor-country farmers and their rich-country counterparts (in France, for example) into a class war between peasants and corporations. There's a double benefit in that for the Frenchies: deflect the blame they partly share and direct it exclusively toward you-know-who (which country are "corporations" synonymous with today?). Sly folks, but, hey, we know that already.

The piece has a killer conclusion. Go read.

Frikkin' idiots
Those are the words OxBlox's David Adesnik. I'm not the only frustrated soul in the universe after all.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Anti-Americanism explained

It must be great to have Prof. Fouad Ajami's piercing insights. Great, and gloomy as well: [from Foreign Policy]

Envy of U.S. power, and of the United States' universalism, is the ruling passion of French intellectual life. It is not "mostly Bush" that turned France against the United States. The former Socialist foreign minister, Hubert Védrine, was given to the same anti-Americanism that moves his successor, the bombastic and vain Dominique de Villepin. It was Védrine, it should be recalled, who in the late 1990s had dubbed the United States a "hyperpower." He had done so before the war on terrorism, before the war on Iraq. He had done it against the background of an international order more concerned with economics and markets than with military power. In contrast to his successor, Védrine at least had the honesty to acknowledge that there was nothing unusual about the way the United States wielded its power abroad, or about France's response to that primacy. France, too, he observed, might have been equally overbearing if it possessed the United States' weight and assets.

His successor gave France's resentment highly moral claims. Villepin appeared evasive, at one point, on whether he wished to see a U.S. or an Iraqi victory in the standoff between Saddam Hussein's regime and the United States. Anti-Americanism indulges France's fantasy of past greatness and splendor and gives France's unwanted Muslim children a claim on the political life of a country that knows not what to do with them.

To come bearing modernism to those who want it but who rail against it at the same time, to represent and embody so much of what the world yearns for and fears -- that is the American burden. The United States lends itself to contradictory interpretations. To the Europeans, and to the French in particular, who are enamored of their laïcisme (secularism), the United States is unduly religious, almost embarrassingly so, its culture suffused with sacred symbolism. In the Islamic world, the burden is precisely the opposite: There, the United States scandalizes the devout, its message represents nothing short of an affront to the pious and a temptation to the gullible and the impressionable young. According to the June BBC survey, 78 percent of French polled identified the United States as a "religious" country, while only 10 percent of Jordanians endowed it with that label. Religious to the secularists, faithless to the devout— such is the way the United States is seen in foreign lands.

It's a long piece, as there are many strands of anti-Americanism to cover. But I implore you to read the whole thing.

P.S. Prof. Ajami leaves out, however, one kind of anti-Americanism. For good reason, as it really isn't worthy of a place in his erudite essay. I'll put it here, though, just for the record. This strand infects first-time, me-too activists around the world -- from Hollywood celebs to Australian schoolchildren to Thai socialites. These are people who would normally be dazzled, not repulsed, by America's preeminence and yet all of them now hate the superpower. Why?

Because US-bashing is IN! It's en vogue! The latest wave started in Fall 2002, peaked in Spring 2003 and has only slightly let up since.

What can you say? All the top-tier fashion designers are European.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Dateline Bunkum
From Matichon:

นายชัยอนันต์ สมุทวณิช กรรมการ ก.พ.ร. กล่าวถึงข้อวิจารณ์ของนายธีรยุทธที่ว่าการใช้ระบบซีอีโอเป็นการเดินตามก้นตะวันตกว่า ไม่ใช่เป็นเรื่องการตามก้นใครและไม่ได้เป็นความคิดของฝรั่งเพราะความจริงๆ เป็นภูมิปัญญาของคนไทย ตั้งแต่อเมริกายังไม่ตั้งชาติด้วยซ้ำ คือเกิดขึ้นครั้งแรกในสมัยรัชกาลที่ 5... [emphasis added]

Mr. Chaianand Smutvanich, member of Kor Por Ror, [countered] Mr. Thirayuth's criticism that the use of the CEO system is following the West's butt [footsteps], that [the system] is not about following anyone's butt and is not a farang's idea, because [it] is actually Thai wisdom, dating back to the time when America had not been founded as a nation. That is, taking place for the first time in King Rama V's era... [my translation from Thai, emphasis added]

Don't look at me if you don't know what "Kor Por Ror", "the CEO system" and "Thai wisdom" are; I haven't got a clue, either. But I can tell you this: King Rama V ruled from 1868 to 1910.

Yes, that means that at the start of his reign, Andrew Johnson was America's 17th president, the American Civil War had ended for three years and the Declaration of Independence had been signed for 92 years (or four score and twelve years, as Lincoln would've put it). Indeed, it was likely that the Thai king took the American experience into consideration when he chose to abolish slavery gradually. By the time he made the first of his famous two European visits in 1897, the United States had already celebrated its centennial and received the Statue of Liberty from France. When the king died in 1910, William Taft was America's 27th president and World War I was looming.

So what kind of idiot is this Chaianand not to know any of this? A google search reveals that he:

1. Is the professor who in 1995-1996 chaired the special parliamentary committee entrusted with considering the draft constitution (which later became the constitution of Thailand No. 16 -- or is it 17?);

2. Is the "respected Thai academic" drafted to help an ailing state-owned oil company;

3. Held a position of power at an airline company (presumably THAI, the national carrier), which allowed him to change its internal rules;

4. Has a Ph.D.

So if you've been wondering why Thailand is still a poor, underdeveloped third-world country despite its proverbial "potential", that's four reasons for you. Want a fifth? Matichon, the self-styled "quality newspaper", not only published Chaianand's flawed comment unchallenged, but also put it in the front-page lead headline (and giddily, too, I might add).

P.S. Perhaps I am being a bit harsh on Old Dr. Chaianand. After all, the constitution he helped deliver is supposed to be the best of the sixteen we've had, and at THAI, he axed the outrageous perk that allowed former board members to fly free for life. As for this "CEO" episode, I do appreciate his coming out against Thirayuth Boonmi, who is the real odious anti-American babble-rouser and is way, way below Chaianand's league.

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