Sunday, December 21, 2008

Blogging, identities, and ideal web space

When I was introduced to blogging some five years ago in a media class, I spent a lot of time surfing other people's blogs.  I was lucky to have others guide me to where the best blogs can be found.   Through those guides and reading famous blogs, good blogs, bad blogs, I discovered different kinds of pitfalls of blogging and learnt what to expect, what not to expect.  My few blog companions guided me to understand certain laws of media and we had a great time witnesssing the blogosphere bloom to its highest ideal in the political campaign of Howard Dean. 
As all things that go up, they eventually settle down, as did that first generation of quality blogs.  When a few journalists and famous bloggers were dramatically exposed as liars, blogging became just another quirky mode of expression as the internet moved on to exploring other forms of connectivity.   
Occasionally checking in on the emerging Thai blogosphere, I was reluctant to join in any group because they seemed to be dominated by certain identities and technical structures that were limiting for a true free or equal expression of personal thoughts.  However, out there in the wider blogosphere it was difficult to find fellow bloggers who shared similar focus or interests and it was getting boring just talking to myself.  Usually when there was some kind of crisis going on I would feel more strongly the need to join in some conversation in trying to make sense out of the world, so that was what brought me to this space here.  Now I'm starting to have some doubts.
I don't know if it's too much to hope that the Nationa Weblog will move towards a kind of space for grassroot "journalism" to develop as it did with the Jordanians or the Koreans.  Even a lesser ideal of simply becoming a space where people will have diverse and entertaining expressions over a variety of topics would be an encouragement to keep blogging.  Maybe, I'm too "new" in this space and expect too much, but I cannot help but worry when I see development of flamingfueds that just simply bring down the quality of any forum.  One was recently started around the question of identity, an Achilles' heel of this narcissistic media form.  
Here's a bit of my say about identity, (through the luxury allowed by this form of other people's words):
On the blogging identity:

Something about identity and transparency:

An entertaining "Pop Psychological Look at Blogger Identity":

An example of about what/how to blog:
In the general interest of having a geniunely interesting blogging space, would I be too naive to plead with my fellow bloggers here to let's be constructive and avoid falling into these degrading pitfalls and waste of blogspace?

Some thoughts about Rich Dad's philosophy

This is a response to a question from Khun Leela. (I find unrelated remarks refreshing and good ideas for blogposts, thank you.)

When Rich Dad's books first hit the bookstores somewhere between 1997 and 2000, being the book nerd I was, I read it. It was advertised as bestseller and the word "rich" often sparks curiosity, it also was an easy read, so why not?

My first reaction to his book was, "Yeah, this kind of thing would only works in the States". So I shelved the book and eventually gave it away to clear my bookshelf. As someone who has loved reading from a young age, I've slowly learnt not to take books too seriously because it's usually written for a certain kind of audience and not necessarily relevant universally. Years were spent thinking I belonged to that world of thought, always feeling there was so much to read, so much I didn't know. Years spent living in an imaginary world; one would be quick to say. Until, I came back to my homeland, and it was in a Buddhist ethics class taught in Thai that taught me how question the authenticity of books and other worldviews. (These words of wisdom are in this other blogspot.)

Since shelving Rich Dad's book, I've noticed how it has risen to fame. In Thailand, it was translated into Thai, and I found myself going to one gathering of people who were playing his popular board game, Cashflow, translated into Thai as well. It was quite entertaining. In my table (there were about 10 something tables of players in the room), we were about maybe 4-5 "teams" (you could either play individually or with a partner). What was funny was the couple opposite me, a husband and wife team. Each time they threw the dice and made decisions we were hearing a bit of their life story and their financial conflicts.

The book recently came back to attention when my then 17-year-old son found some inspiration in it. So I re-read it again and discover this whole network of websites and other Cashflow playing groups, even one right around the corner where I live in another totally different country and language.

I think the book and its related products did some good for all those millions who read and believed. One, it got you seriously thinking about how financially literate you were. Most of us are pretty hopeless, even an economist like me. For myself, I figured it simply wasn't our culture, but when being financially hopeless starts to hurt you when you are looking at your retirement prospects, you pay more attention to these things and try to get something out of it.

Two, Rich Dad's books got people who weren't raised in business-oriented environment like my son to think about the possibility of making business. As he grew, and fast he did, he eventually dropped the book and started reading other more worthwhile things but still keeping his goal to one day be a successful businessman.

Would I recommend the book, Rich Dad's philosophy? Well, I'm already compromised by writing this blog. However, I've included below some interesting links about the book that I knew were there on the internet but never felt compelled to search them out until Khun Leela asked the intriguing question. We can all make up our own minds once we've clearly looked at more sources other than the well known.

"Why people buy Rich Dad, Poor Dad's nonsense":
Analysis of Kiyosaki's book:

Not Just another financial crisis

In September, I went to a conference organized by the Mayor of Mexico City's Office,  called"Science and Innovation Week".   This popular mayor, a hopeful Presidential candidate had contracted the New York Academy of Sciences to bring world class speakers to talk about how to grow concepts of "knowledge cities".  
One of the prominent speakers in this conference, among nobel prize winners, experts, and academics was Alvin Toffler, author of "The Third Wave", famous during the 80s.  Toffler's book had achieved fame even in Thailand.  I own a Thai version of his book that was translated by a panel of Chulalongkorn academics.  
Alvin Toffler made an interesting remark at this recent conference, refering to the looming financial crisis.   His comment rested in the back of my mind as I read article after article detailing interest rates cuts, stock market reactions and rescue packages.  As the US Treasury in effect nationalized its favored mortgage houses and some investment banks, the US automakers comes begging for money.  That was when Toffler's remark made a loud bang in my head.  He said something like, "Wait and you will see more major corporations toppling down." "Why?"  "Because this is not just another stock market bubble burst, not another business cycle down, what we are seeing are second wave industries going through death throes."  The financial system is crashing because it was structured to support an old dying industrial economic paradigm.
As an amateur economist listening in to all these other economists from diverse places, I can't help but get the feel that this is a historical moment as we watch the West not only doubt their core ideology but act against it as well.   The neoliberals are either denying the depth of this destructive phase or looking really hard at assumptions they had believed to be the best possible option.  What strikes me among all these discussions is that nobody really knows how they are going to get out of this mess of too much liberalization they themselves so strongly supported.  A comment under a recent article in The Economist posted an interesting question, "Why do these people think the problem can be solved simply by throwing in more money?" The German Finance Minister himself refuses to do that, as Paul Krugman, our newest Nobel Prize economst writing with the New York Times points out, and that in effect is preventing the EU from having any effective financial rescue plan.
For Thailand's new government, I think the advice given to Obama about any rescue package to the automakers applies equally for any government budget to be dished out to prop up the Thai economy.  That is, be careful with how the budget is allocated.  It was suggested that in order for the American automakers to recieve any financial help they should be made responsible for re-organizing their outmoded industry in support of a greener economy.  The Thai government can also be more responsible if they make sure they allocate money to position Thailand firmly on the new wave that is developing and not simply just patching export targets and growth rates for a paradigm that is nearly already gone. 

A Citizens Dream Wish for PM Abhisits Economic Rescue Package

The Nation's offered poll for Finance Minister got this remote citizen thinking beyond just who could be the new person running the fiscal and monitoring the monetary policy of Thailand.  This citizen's dream may seem as far removed from what could be possible as the distance she lives from Thailand.  Hence, these wishes may seem naive but adamantly wished for with hopes that they will be sportsmanly considered by some readers who are free to add their own thoughts and help these wishes find their way to their final destination. 
It is said that in complex systems (no doubt, our politics is such) when polarization occur the system has moved close to stagnation and eventual death.  It was frightening to watch how close to that abyss Thai politics has moved, so it is with cautious relief this hopeful element on the edge finds confirmation that strange mechanisms of complexity do reverse, allowing emergence of new agents such as our young new Prime Minister.  Hope is thus given that the edge may be heard, coupled with a gut feeling somewhat connected to the Ox rising with Obama, gives one a daring to dream.
So I say, Dear Prime Minister, please form and rule your cabinet with inclusion as opposed to exclusion.  Do not allow segmented short-sighted views of the economy which government ministries have pied out obscure your vision, do not set up ministerial panels that will take months to provide studies that will propose policies and plans only to set up further panels.  Do set up a crisis management team akin to the Baan Pitsanulok group, which Democrat runner for Bangkok Governor used to belong to. (Without installing the team there, don't forget the curse.)  Please include the younger generation to return the favor that gave you such a high reaching chance in politics so that we may have a new generation of politician that will see things differently from the old.
Please include among advisors not only prominent business people but also innovative entrepreneurs who are willing to put their venture capital in new sustainable energy, information technology, and appropriate financial engineering.  Include as well, some artists, poets and some wise village leaders.
Be mindful that Thailand is a medium-sized economy that was never really suited to lofty dreams of being a new "tiger".   A creative cultural policy may save tourism, create those extra jobs needed to carry us through the crisis, and rescue the badly damaged image of Thailand all in one coordinated dance.  Art festivals, street festivals, local celebrations, every village stop can be a cultural event that not only creates jobs on the spot, but leave our grassroots armed with SME initiatives that can absorb the many that will be laid off from factory jobs. You'd be getting great PR when you do your country circuit. Something to offer beyond the usual fiscal incentive of infrastructure investments are real strategic multi-modality transportation needed to link the greater peninsular market and support the closer movement of an ASEAN community.
Don't just host ASEAN, remember and push through the Asian financial institutional alternative.  While you're at it, have a good look at our national debt and follow the current wisdom of washing our hands off that IMF/WB sanctioned public robbery.  Create new instruments to pay off foreign debt with local money like a sovereign wealth fund. Why not repack that old rice surplus fund?  Re-invest in local companies and strengthen the local stock market so local business can raise funds in other ways apart from expensive loans.  Watch out closely that rising inflation, with such a low growth prospective, inflation may in fact make it seem like null.
So with this dream, I playfully place my bet on The Nation's poll and vote for Finance Minister, Mr. Prasan Trairatvorakul, President of Kasikornbank because all the others are old hands that have had their chances and didn't seem to be able to do much.  With this dream I also invite other Thai citizens, and even non-citizens who live under Thailand's umbrella as well, to dream also what they would wish from our new Prime Minister. 
A New Year wish I would place on any sacred shrine in Thailand would be the hope that while imagining a more peaceful and successful Thailand together we may achieve the near impossible and heal our wounds of anger and polarizing drama of this past year.

Social Mobility and Transportation

I am so enjoying this blog space (Nation Weblog) because so many ideas are being thrown at me from my fellow bloggers.  Thanks to Massein for this one.
Tricycles, bicycles, tuk tuks, buses (public and private), affordable efficient/clean railway systems, cheap taxis, pickup trucks, ten wheelers, cheap cars, brand name cars, anyone being able to move from the center to the periphery or from periphery to center in about 12 hours, and pedestrians claiming the roads when they feel the need, are pretty much vibrant representatives of social mobility.  Not only physically moving themselves around but actually moving between their symbolic and social positions as well.
Next time my dear readers have a chance to travel to a strange place, try to notice how people have different behaviors on their roads.  I've found it can provide some interesting insights into a society's social mobility.  
Like when I went to Beijing, that was one of my first eye opener on the meaning of roads. I realized, "Oh, bicycles (armies of them) have the same rights to roads here as cars do, as do the pedestrians zig zagging between the bics and cars, cool!"  I had a ball when I travelled their country side and discovered that even their grain had a right to dry out on interstate highways.  When I was in India in the early nineties, I felt I stepped back in time because all the cars seemed to belong to another era, now I expect it to be totally different.  In Thailand, I love it when the buffaloes come out on the roads in Isaan (sadly that doesn't happen much anymore).  In the middle east, I loved the Bedouin and their sheep pressing against our car.  In Singapore, I was careful not to cross a driver's path.  In Montreal, I learnt that you don't need to wait at the red light when there were no cars approaching because over 5 minutes in that kind of cold can severely damage your heath.  In Mexico, it was amazing to travel one of the world's oldest and longest subway for only 30 cents, but I learnt that I needed to cultivate a special awareness when traveling in their taxis and peseros.  Living on Mexico City's main avenue, Reforma, which can be seen from the airplane as you enter the city from the south (one of which crashed recently close to this same main avenue as I mentioned in an earlier blog), I have witnessed poeple in thousands and on rare occasions a million, claiming their road with marches, football victory celebrations, religious pilgramage, parades, and even regular Sunday closure for bicycle enthusiasts.  After crossing the US-Canada border with both Greyhound and Amtrack, hearing the fascinating story from an Amtrack employee about how the railway expanded in the US and how Walmart's inventory doesn't sit in a warehouse but are constantly moving on those rails was both impressionable and a discovery about humanity's ingenuity to conquer the lands.
When you see that a country has so many transportation modes, that its people have the confidence to claim the roads in so many ways, you can be pretty sure that is a lot of social mobility going on, again it is not simply the movement of people, it is people moving between positions in societies, up and even down.  Like when I saw the homeless in sleeping bags on the streets of Toronto in the middle of winter, that's a pretty depressing down to see.  Some of whom were interviewed only to reveal that they actually didn't need to be there but it was their choice to turn their backs on their society, makes you wonder what went wrong.
Then come back to where you started your journey and you will be able to see how vibrant the road is where you are.  
There's the taxi driver whose sister was a hairdresser who bought the business and then the taxi he was driving.  There's the monk stepping up onto the bus finding a free education that brings him away from the country into the city who may one day receive the veneration of even the highest of the social class.  There're the young, innocent teenagers taking the skytrain securely to their public schools who may one day discover the cure to cancer or design a solar car.  There are huge transportation trucks trucking goods to remote areas and bringing back to commercial centers products to be sold on the international market, some of which ranks first in world exports.  There are businessmen flaunting their new riches in Mercedes Benz who have hired hundreds of people to grow his business who are now re-adjusting their worldview questioning the obvious limits of growth.  
Don't tell me that there is little social mobility in Thailand, you may not have allowed your eyes to witness and your heart to hear.  If your imagination can't help, I offer you the humble words of this great grand-daughter of traders who moved over the Mekhong river to avoid war and poverty and learned how to be farmers, whose grandfathers' volunteerism built one of the first law houses in the remote northeast, whose father through night school and his own merit became an honorable bureaucrat who blessed his daughter with an open mind to see the world, not by any deliberate personal education, by the way, just by following the flow of the social structure we all belong to.

Rise of a tabloid economist

The day I signed up for this blog with The Nation, three important things happened that supported my decision to sign up with a confidence that my writing from Mexico City will have some reference to readers in Bangkok.  Leaving the presentation of a documentary at an International Buddhitst Film Festival, "Peace in Every Step" (about the Vietnamese socially-engaged monk Thich Nhat Hanh) I recieved a call on my cell from my husband warning about possible traffic jam that may cause problems for my getting home,  a plane had just crashed in the middle of Mexico City.  Shocking enough that a plane would crash in the middle of Mexico City, more numbing that it was a government jet carrying the President's right hand man, Interior Minister MouriƱo!

I got home to discover that the crash news were being eclipsed by news about Obama's victory.  Obama's victory was important because it represented a new America that would definitely have new policies towards Mexico and Thailand.  The plane crash was important because it emphasized how wrong it was that the Mexican president hoped to use a public war against strongly entrenched druglords as a political campaign.  It cost him the dear loss of his most trusted man no many how much it is denied that the plane crash had nothing to do with the drug war.  We can always learn from someone mistakes.

My silence on this new blog was due to the political crisis in my beloved homeland having me live two days in one for the past weeks (worried and exhausted).  I was checking the news mornings and evenings because the day turns at a 12 hour difference instead of the usual 24 when you are living on the other side of the world from where you were born.

Having blogged on my own pages with Blogger for some time, I've adjusted to a rule for blogging one eventually learns, "Blog when time allows me".  I am writing on my own time, noboby's paying me for it. (My only "paid" blog is in Thai, btw, about the boring subject of trade and investment, if you care to visit is:, and if you're a curious soul, follow my blogger profile to my other pretty eclectic blogs-in English, thank you.)  The above rule gets bypassed only when an issue really bothers me and emotionally motivates me to blog.  That happened this morning.

I was testing the freedom of speech allowed by a highly esteemed magazine, a supposed defender of "freedom of speech" to only discover that it was all indeed a sham.  This magazine just got itself self-censored by local distributors (here in Thailand) for printing a biased poor journalistic report about our even more highly esteemed "Soul of the Nation".

This serious magazine seems to be heading down to the lowly levels of tabloid journalism.  Sad because there are so little good journalism left.  Sad because in these crazy days one does seem to have to resort to censorship to ensure a right to say something.  My two lines of comments linking a Utube vdo titled "Lies by Simon Ellis" posted under the controversial article printed by this esteemed magazine were ERASED!  My link was simply a parody of the circus the article on this magazine's electronic page was becoming.  Obviously my comment was erased by a not so fair moderator who also erased several other comments by another commentator who wroted about and posted links to the Nation's reports about the newly hired publicist, Sam Moon.

Now if my clever readers knows which article and which magazine I am referring to (my apologies, I cannot even provide the service of linking to that article because it just gives them more credit),  I am asking you to please censor that article by no longer writing any more comments, nor using their "recommend" function because as I said it just allows that article to rise to more prominence due to the arithmetic non-logic of internet driven media.  Some time ago they even had a poll/vote about a subject related to Thailand that they managed to totally distort the nature of the poll and we innocent voters just kept giving them the polls.
Sorry for writing in riddles, but as I said, freedom of speech is developing into some strange things nowadays.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Japanese Trading companies

Article from the Economist.  Japanese trading companies provide loans to their subsidiaries, a cushion in the financial crisis.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Bridging the digital divide

A project by Princess Sirindhorn for using computers to help the disabled.  Most interesting about digitizing of Lanna palm leaf manuscripts.

Thai Next PM

"Follow it with the editor", Tulsathit Taptim