Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Very Thai Coup

By now, you've probably heard about the overthrow of Thaksin Shinawatra. It caused some interest in the staffroom this morning. My fellow teachers were ambivalent about the coup itself, but were unanimous in wishing the back of that particular ex-P.M. On the other hand, the Vietnamese I spoke to about the episode thought the coup was a good thing - "The military getting rid of incompetent and corrupt politicians? What a good idea! It should happen..." Well, actually I don't feel like saying where they thought it should happen. Think laterally, folks.

A lot of governments are tut-tutting the affair, and calling for the quickest resumption of democracy, and issuing travel advisories like Wiemar banknotes. If I were in the same position I'd still issue the warnings (and strongly hint that democracy is a good thing), but I'd refrain from the tut-tutting. It has been that rare thing - a totally bloodless coup - but there's no 100% guarantee it will remain bloodless in the future. So I'd "reconsider your need to travel" to the country, to quote the similarly bloodless language of my DAFT.

Personally, I'd give it a 98% guarantee that Mr. Thaksin is not coming back, and there's not going to be any soldiers fighting for him either. It now appears that the king of Thailand blessed the whole episode. They take the monarchy seriously over there - far more than Australia has for at least a century. They still have lèse majesté on the books - up to 15 years for insulting their king. They really believe "the king can do no wrong" over there.  The matter has been fucking resolved.

As for the mild signs of disapprovals coming from foreign ministries over the globe - well, is it going to do any good? Thailand is an unusual place. Apart from China and Japan, it's the only country in the region that wasn't colonized by the Europeans - and unlike China, it wasn't conquered by the Japanese either - and unlike the Japan, they weren't even conquered by the Americans. Are you sensing a pattern here? In short, this is a country that has never really needed to listen to bloody "farangs" except when they think it is in their best interest. (For example, when money is involved.)  Plus the whole concept of "face", and the related idea of "saving it" is far more important that the west, or even in Việt Nam. Related to this is their ability to ignore unpleasant facts. (Sometimes, that's an ability I wish I had.) I'd gather that the military will politely but firmly ignore pontificating politicians and do what they want to do regardless. If you ignore them too much, they won't do what you want them to do. 

Oh, and if you have 30 minutes to spare, read Toppling Thaksin, courtesy of The New Left Review. It's eerily prophetic, considering it was written about four months ago. But it's not prophecy that I'm interested it - the article may get both the date and the manner of Thaksin's passing wrong, but that's not so important. What the article does is eschews dry legal fictions and gets into the interlocking powerplays of various factions in Thailand over the last 40 odd years - leading to yesterday's coup. It's essential reading for anyone interested in the region or political junkies - or in my case, both.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years

Yes. I remember when I first heard about the disaster. I was holidaying in Cairns at the time. I woke up, and there were those pictures of the towers and the airplanes on the morning tellie. I remember being surprised. Impressed, really. Then I remembered that my godfather (as in the baptismal bath - not the movies) also lived in New York, and then I got really, really worried quickly. Since I didn't own a mobile at the time, I had to use those bloody blue Telstra phones in the backpacker lobby. I hated those phones - there was something wrong with the handset, and I never could hear the speaker clearly. I recall chucking lots of $1 and $2 coins down the crevice, trying to contact my parents across 1700km of Queensland. I got hold of my parents. No, my father hadn't heard anything either. He would keep trying to phone NY. I bought another edition of The Australian (one of their rare second daily editions) because of the pictures of the disaster. It's still in a box somewhere back in Brisbane.

After a few days, we heard that my godfather was safe. That was good, or so I learnt this after finishing my holiday. Yep, I had it anyway. Well, what else could I do - just get on with life. It was an utterly horrific event, but apart from the aforementioned "relative", it didn't affect me too much directly. (Directly - but I'll get back to that.) I'd sort of been through it before in the 1970s, when I was a mere infant. There were these two stopovers in Rome. Both were delayed - one so much that the airline decided to check us into the airport hotel for the night while they checked the plane for bombs. Yep, I might have been too young to know much about the Baader-Meinhof gang, or Carlos the Jackal (the real version, not the Ludlum spinoff), but I did know what a terrorist was.

Directly, no. But indirectly... yes, the world changed after 9/11 - for the worse. There were two other terrorist attacks that affected me more emotionally. First, there was the Bali Bombing, with its dead Indonesians and Australians. That was a little closer to home. And a year or two later, the train bombs in London, closer still -  to where my sister lived. Yep, I was a little bit afraid... But she was unscathed as well. So I go back to real life. But it's not terrorist attacks that concern me. Not really. 

It's Peak Oil. Which would have happened anyway, but actions taken after the disaster aggravating the process. Since that day, petrols has been going up and down and up and down and down and down and up and down but mostly up. That wasn't due directly to the bombing, but indirectly - when Bush decided to pin the blame (under dubious circumstances) on Saddam Hussein. Oh, and the WMDs as well. The WMDs that were never really found. This attempt to annex all the Iraqi reserves is now FUBARed as we speak, with Shi'ites killing Sunnis, and refineries burning, and no electricity for those hot, 42 Celsius Baghdad days, and U.S. reservists now on their third and fourth successive tour of duties. And there may be just as much petrol in the world now as then, but it is a lot more expensive now. And could become a lot more expensive still if Bush decided to attack Iran, which in turn decides to block the Straits of Hormuz. All this leads back - in one form or another - to 9/11.

Yes. Everything changed after that day.

As for the victims: Rest in Peace. And I will say no more for now.