Tuesday, 22 May 2012


As of April 28th, 2012 this blog has migrated to I-nomad.com

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Contemporary street food

Seen at a food stall near Wangcome hotel, Chiang Rai
Angry birds fishballs on a stick

Politician, a dangerous job in Thailand

Chiang Rai, 24-4-2012
This house has been empty for the last month.
Since it looked like a nice house on a fairly good location, I inquired whether it was up for rent.
It turns out to belong to a local politician who temporarely moved out to an undisclosed address in fear of getting threatened or hurt by members of other parties to force him to withdraw from the coming local elections. The politician is said to return to his home after the elections. I was told in Thailand this is common practice if one cannot affort adequate security.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Boiling Buddhists

Mea Salong, Chiang Rai, 19 Apr. 2012:
A Buddhist monk sits in a bowl of boiling water on a wood log fire for an extended period.
Somehow his body and skin remain unaffected.
Sorry for the quality, but I took this photo
from the display of someone's camera.

Here's a video of a similar event held last year:

Monday, 16 April 2012

CAG, Computer Aided Governance: Will future governments be replaced by a computer?

I have been mentioning this last week in a comment on Lani's ever-inspiring blog.
As far as I know the idea was first put forward by Martin Amstrong in 2011. Amstrong explicitely refers to expert systems, but fails to address how such a system will be implemented.
One of the oldest examples of an expert system is IBM's Deep Blue, a computer specifically made to play chess. In 1997 Deep Blue managed to beat world champion Kasparov.
More recently PC software has been able to beat grandmasters with low cost hardware. The first unmanned car is soon to get it's driver's licence.

Expert systems are at the moment still quite expensive, but are already able to manage to beat humans in broader skills, such as expertise knowlegde in specific subjects. See also the Watson beats human contestants in Jeopardy.
It is expected that experts systems will be taking over human tasks such as helpdesks within this decade, ie. they would be able to takeover human tasks right now, but the hardware is still too expensive to replace humans. An obvious advantage would be that the quality and availability of service would increase whereby the costs would decrease. (How many times have you been connected through for the same question, not to mention the waiting time.) In the further future it is expected that computers will aid and partly replace scientists.
In the future computer scientist will have the reverse meaning.

In analogy to the helpdesk systems it is easy to foresee that one day we run certain hardware and software which has more present knowledge than a politician and his assisitants.
This will certainly not be the beginning of big brother, but a choice of reliability, efficiency and costs.

Politicians gain peoples trust trough their ego, but their ego is often the cause of unsound judgement.
Democracy needs to set new standards for people who are getting better informed.
As a whole, politics is intransparent, and this is what makes people mistrust their government.
A lot of tax-money is spent on people talking, debating and stretching their ego.
In principle a government is a service product we put in place and pay for to make us feel more comfortable. Quite often people feel dissappointed, the service didn't turn out as it was advertised.
Especially in times of economic recession people will mistrust their government.
Economic recession comes forth from negative thoughts about the future and a mistrust in government(s) to repair the damage.
In the beginning expert systems would be a merely a tool of assistance for lawmakers and politicians.
An expert system would know all existing laws and legislation. It would also contain common human knowledge and case laws, to judge the human interpretatation of specific laws.
At a certain moment in time the systems will become open to party members and in a later stage to the public to show greater transparency.
As soon as it will have proven it's effectiveness, politicians will not need too many human assistants anymore. If proven sound, a big part of government's bureaucracy can be replaced by expert systems as well. Basically all middle-management would be replaceable, just the executive and top branches would remain.

The system of governance could still be democratic and based on human parties, with a party program, just like it is now. In monarchies (symbolic) heads of state would still symbolize the unity of certain countries, as much as presidents will try to represent this function in a republic.
Opposition parties are still able to question the government, but questions need to be asked to the ruling party's expert system first. Any flaws in law and party policy will be open for debate.
Parties can act on questions, flaws or suggestions put forward by voters.
Expert systems will not be holy, certain things need time and public acceptance in order to change.

Coalitions could still be formed to represent a majority if required.
This can take place either based on human negotiation, or in a later stage based on negotiation sofware.
Negotiation sofware takes in account the party policies, importance, and outcomes of earlier human debates.
An expert system could advise to hold a referendum on moral issues or key issues.
A human court of justice again aided by expert systems could oversee any flaws or wrongdoings of the computer aided government.
Provided the technology is transparent such a system would better serve it's voters, through sound judgements, costs and effectiveness of policy.
In a later stage governments could be purely based on input by citizens.

The first open source software used for crowdsourcing is already operational in Reykjavik and will be available soon for all citizens of Iceland, see:citizens.is.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Monday, 9 April 2012

To obey or not to obey, that's the question

Today I read a moving story titled In North Korea, a brutal coice.
It is about a woman called Han who escaped from the country with her two daughters to China and was finally permitted to live in the US.
Along the way she faced the cruel choice of leaving her 5 years old son behind or let all die of starvation.
Her Christian faith and structural undernutrition caused her to doubt the dictatorial regime, and in the end make a run for it.
Christian teachings tells followers their obedience is to the devine and above human authority.

Christianity has been and still is being suppressed by dictatorial regimes to prevent people to question authority.

Actually, Christianity became the religion of choice among slaves held by the Romans.
The Jewish people formerly enslaved by Egypt directly influenced the way how they treated their slaves,
provides certain human rights for slaves. This is shared by Christian teachings in the Old Testament.
Christianity made the Roman slaves aware of ill treatment by their Pagan masters. It also helped them to keep their dignity while doing their daily duties. Ultimately their faith was adopted by emperor Constantine and led them to freedom.
Had it not been for the these slaves, Christianity could very well have been vanished into obscurity.
There is no doubt that Christianity gives people excellent aid in escaping suppression either mentally such as with the Roman slaves or also physically such as in case of Han.

Currently, the (North)-Western hemisphere has been declared to have the highest civil and political freedom in the world. Notably in Europe however, churches are closing their doors one after the other.
It seems that the sense of high personal freedom and human development is less compatible with the dogmatic religion than a low one.

I will not claim this is for the good, but while people are trying to figure this out, I remind myself that I come from a more or less Agnostic family and that this dates back from at least three generations.
Religion, especially Christianity played the role of a past station, but for believers, it's a reality, and they deserve to be respected.
While growing up, the only thing I had to question was the validity of authority.

The Netherlands, famous for it's high freedom in civil and political rights, and (in)famous for it's soft-drugs policy, is becoming hopelessly overregulated. Italy and France seem to beat the Netherlands with an even more impenetrable jungle of laws and regulations.

To a certain extent the term "obediphobia", which has been used by several authors to explain the fear of needing to obey, applies to me.
This phobia manifests itself in a fear of large structures, systems, and rules. Or in a broader sense; authority and order.
Viceversa the term "obediphylia" has been used to express the opposite; the need for structure, systems, and rules or authority and order.
I do recognize the need for structure and rules, but there's a certain point that a nation becomes in my idea too patronising and intrusive in the name of a freedom which is not mine.

I have known crisis managers who excelled in restucturing chaotic business environments, but completely failed when everything was in order. Perhaps some people like chaos, but get bored when everything gets a routine. In the West these people are certainly being denied their rights to a healthy amount of chaos.

Perhaps obediphylia is also the reason that spree killers at a certain moment simply snap.
Well, that's not are not very good association for my word of the day anyway.
But talking about spree killers; for those interested to simply to let off some steam in a blunt way, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam facilitate military tourism, where amongst others one can shoot with (semi-automatic) weapons and even use rocket launchers. I do hope however that military tourism will not inspire new wannabe terrorists.

If you allow for a bit of chaos rather than too much order, everything feels much more exciting.
I've read and heard from quite a few expats in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam that they experience a similar sense of freedom in their new country of choice.
I guess an obediphobiac's first need for order will be confined to their own house or accommodation, in order to compensate for chaos outside.

Thailand, famous for its high tolerance towards a diversity of people is a so-called developing country, so it is somewhere half way on a roadmap to become a so-called developed nation.
As such it's the Asian country of choice for expats who seek both a bit of adventure as well as still feeling safe.
Life in in certain places in Cambodia (Phnom Penh) and Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City) still can be pretty rough.
Illegal drugs, organised crime, poverty and to some extent child/teenage prostitution are more visible here than in the Kingdom of Smiles. However there are enough places to go or live without this becoming a fact of live. I found Hanoi for example, extremely organised and in fact a bit boring, but perhaps I haven't met the right people or came at the wrong time. Siem Riep in Cambodia and Dalat in Vietnam would be my cities of choise.
As far as Thailand is concerned I really like Chiang Rai and at times some of the smaller Southern islands near Krabi and Phuket such as Coral Island / Koh Hae, (If you can stand that there's no nightlife whatsoever!).
Finally, for the more daring; Myanmar is opening up, go up there and see how Thailand was 20 years ago before it is too late..

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Why Myanmar's expected democracy will not be soon and not for everyone

Ahead of elections in Myanmar tomorrow, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is not optimistic about the way it will be conducted.
Speaking at the final news conference before the poll, the pro-democracy advocate highlighted voting irregularities discovered – such as thousands of names of dead people on the electoral roll – and intimidation that stopped her party holding rallies during the campaign.
“I don’t think we can consider it a genuinely free and fair election if we take into consideration what has been going on in the last couple of months, but still as we wish to work towards national reconciliation we will try to tolerate what has happened,” Suu Kyi told reporters.

Wa State militaries
As the world is watching and countries are eager to move onward lifting sanctions, seventeen parties will field candidates. The by-elections however will only fill vacancies of those elected in 2010 polls who became ministers and deputy ministers. This concerns 45 seats, 43 of 664 seats both in Lower House (440) and Upper House (224), or fewer than 5 percent in the bicameral national assembly, and 2 regional assembly seats.
Assuming the by-elections will be favourable for Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), to form a minority opposition, she and her party members will face hard times achieving any social reforms. Myanmar is the biggest country in S-E Asia, it is rich in natural resources such as petroleum, timber, tin, antimony, zinc, copper, tungsten, lead, coal, limestone, precious stones, natural gas and hydropower, yet the country has been left in an underdeveloped state since the military coup in 1962. It is currently the only country in the Asean which does not have ATM's.
Myanmar ranks as no. 5 lowest GDP per capita in Asia with 804 USD, just above the levels of Bangladesh, Timor-Leste, Nepal and Afghanistan.
Myanmar is also one of the most ethnically-diverse countries in the world with key non-Myanmar ethnic groups demanding equality and/or their own governance. Big corporations are eager to join Myanmar's efforts towards a market economy. Time will tell if an 'institutionalised' Suu Kyi will 'sell' better to legitimise tricky actions by the military in power, rather than that it will bring Myanmar a real step forward towards democracy. General elections are planned to be held in 2015, which will be the first opportunity for more radical reforms needed for a democratic roadmap.
Quite a few Myanmar people will not be able to vote tomorrow; this includes hundreds of thousand refugees living in surrounding countries and 2 million people working in Thailand, where they carry out unskilled or low skilled labour.
A less well known group which is much more remote from any democratic rights are the people  who live under the unquestioned authority of the so-called Wa State.
The Wa State has formed a de facto independent state in Myanmar, and is the most heavely armed of the 20 ethnic rebel groups.
The Wa Special Region 2 of Myanmar (the Wa State) is made up of two territories, or a total area of 17,000 square kilometers. Wa population estimates range from 400,000 to 700,000 people. The southern region borders Thailand. The Wa State leaders mostly belong to the Wa minority. The defacto capital is Pangkham.
After the Communist Party of Burma lost control of its bases in central Myanmar in the late 1960s, it re-established itself in the northeast including Wa State, with the support of China. The Wa, like other ethnic groups were fighting for autonomy from Myanmar, and supported the Communist party of Burma.

Here's a Wa State News broadcast after the commercial:

The Wa State politics, economics and culture are on a small scale very similar to those of China.
The Wa State's official language is Mandarin and the government is a Central Committee. They regard themselves as a semi-souvereign nation more or less modeled after old school China. Their relation with the Myanmar central government is that of a fragile cease-fire agreement where they recognize the central government’s rule over all of Myanmar, but that's only on paper. The United Wa State Army (UWSA) has  30,000 soldiers and is according to the US State Department the largest narcotics trafficking organization in Southeast Asia. The UWSA cultivates vast areas of land for the opium poppy which is later refined to heroin. It also controls some 80% of Burma's equally lucrative trade in methamphetamine pills, a cheap and highly addictive drug better known in Asia by its Thai name yaba, or crazy medicine. Together, these businesses earn the UWSA's Elite commanders and their associates up to $550 million a year, according to TIME magazine estimates made in 2002. Today the UWSA reportedly controls such companies as the Myanmar May Flower Group and, through it, a large private bank. Inevitably the Wa leaders grabbed a hefty piece of the action for themselves. The Myanmar May Flower Group used to own Yangon Airways, at that time one of the country's two domestic airlines. In 2010 all flights were suspended, since their commercial transport license had been withdrawn by the Myanmar government, motivated by earlier anti drug related sanction by the US.

The United Wa State Party slogan is: “Unity under the leadership of the Central Party under secretary comrade Bao Youxiang”. Little is known about Boa Youxiang who prefers to be called Chairman Bao. Few outsiders have met him..
In 2002 two journalist from Time magazine were permitted an interview, read the full story here.
As Chinasmack.com puts it: "From the currency, cell phones, Chinese network or China’s postal codes, in Wa state there isn’t a place without Chinese commodities". As such it's a perfect platform for Chinese involvement to get it's share in the anticipated economic growth.

In Myanmar and in Wa State in particular, there is little hope for democracy in the near future. There's still a long way to go, hopefully Aung San Suu Kyi (67) may live to see her aspirations come true.

Friday, 30 March 2012

I nomad


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