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,

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..


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