Archive for June 2011

No to Corruption! Yes to Brothels!

30 June 2011

One of the contestants in Sunday’s election here in Thailand is a man by the name of Chuvit Kamolvisit, seeking to represent part of Bangkok in the nation’s parliament. That’s him, at right. He’s a very rich man with a very dirty moustache, and he’s notable primarily as the former owner of a string of massage parlor brothels that once made him the biggest pimp in Thailand. Since then, he’s made a name for himself exposing corruption (i.e. the bribes that police demand of brothel owners), and occasionally running for governor of Bangkok.  Last time he did so, his campaign took a dive after he punched a journalist in the face.

You can read more about him here, but for your convenience, I’ve pulled out a few of his choicest quotes from this campaign:

“Politicians are like diapers – you have to change them. Otherwise it’s too dirty.”

“I’m not asking for much. If you are a family of 10, just give me five votes!”

“Honesty, trustworthiness. Why they have that in the dog, and you don’t have that in the politics?”

“I should go back to the massage parlors. Because that was better – cleaner than politics.”

Maybe you don’t want him running your country, but you’ve got to admit, the guy has a certain appeal.

New Town, New Faces

27 June 2011

I left the Philippines on Friday five kilos heavier (pork, mostly), one cell phone lighter (sticky-fingered cab driver, probably), and so much the better for a quorum of new friends in Cebu, many of them my colleagues in the fight against dengue fever.

I’m in Bangkok this week, and let me tell you, this city is enormous and the food here is really delicious. Yesterday was the “pre-election day” — one week out from the July 3 poll, those citizens with good cause can cast their vote early.  Over two million people showed up, suggesting very heavy turnout to come on Sunday. Interestingly (at least, interesting to those deleteriously affected, such as myself), the sale of all alcoholic beverages is forbidden on pre-election day, presumably to prevent erroneous ballot-casting. The finer hotels in town to go great lengths to ensure that minibars remain fully stocked; I stuck to some orange drink for the day. (It’s just as well… on a hot evening, a malty Chang Beer can’t compete with a crisp and refreshing San Miguel Pale Pilsen– the choice of the Philippines.)

Here are a few of the characters I met during my first weekend in Bangkok:

Grilled Meat Market

23 June 2011

NYT on Internet Freedom

17 June 2011

The New York Times has lately been doing an admirable job wrestling with the impact of social media, mobile phones and the internet on democracy movements and activism around the world.  Perhaps partly thanks to a certain ambivalence about social media among the paper’s top brass, the NYT has managed to avoid getting too caught up in the “Twitter Revolution!” zeitgeist, and has managed to present both the positive and the negative effects these new tools are having on the global prospects for democracy.

On Wednesday, Neil MacFarquhar had a piece on how activists in Saudi Arabia are taking to the public sphere of the internet for lack of the ability to convene in any real, physical space. Money quote:

Social media, which helped drive protests across the Arab world, seems tailor-made for Saudi Arabia, where public gatherings are illegal, women are strictly forbidden to mix with unrelated men and people seldom mingle outside their family.

Virtually any issue that contradicts official Saudi policy now pops up online, including the status of prisoners being held without trial or a call to boycott municipal elections this September.

Louai A. Koufiah, a Twitter enthusiast, quipped: “Saudis cannot go out to demonstrate, so they retweet!”

And last weekend, James Glanz and John Markoff covered the State Department’s growing and increasingly broad approach to supporting democracy activists using new technology, with a particular focus on constructing mobile networks in places like Afghanistan and North Africa that are entirely separate from the state-run apparatus and thus more (but, note, not entirely) secure.  From that story:

The Obama administration’s initiative is in one sense a new front in a longstanding diplomatic push to defend free speech and nurture democracy. For decades, the United States has sent radio broadcasts into autocratic countries through Voice of America and other means. More recently, Washington has supported the development of software that preserves the anonymity of users in places like China, and training for citizens who want to pass information along the government-owned Internet without getting caught.

But the latest initiative depends on creating entirely separate pathways for communication. It has brought together an improbable alliance of diplomats and military engineers, young programmers and dissidents from at least a dozen countries, many of whom variously describe the new approach as more audacious and clever and, yes, cooler.

Particularly glad to see them put in that historical context.  We’ve always supported democracy. The “internet freedom” push is simply an effort to defend our values in a modern context.

The Jeepney

16 June 2011

This is how we Filipinos get around town. (Click to make it big.)