Friday, 31 January 2014

El Universo

El Universo
Ecuador's state media watchdog SuperCom, the Superintendency of Information and Communication, today fined the newspaper El Universo 2% of its revenue from the past three months, in relation to a cartoon by Xavier Bonilla (known as Bonil). The newspaper was also ordered to print an apology and a revised version of the cartoon.

Bonil's cartoon, published on 28th December last year, depicted a police raid on the home of journalist Fernando Villavicencio, who had been investigating allegations of government corruption. The cartoon's caption stated that the police were removing evidence to avoid incriminating the government. President Rafael Correa criticised the cartoon in a speech earlier this month.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Jesus & Mo Volume I

Jesus & Mo Volume I
Jesus & Mo Volume I
Jesus & Mo Volume I: Where's The Soap? is the first of six compilations of the online comic Jesus & Mo. This first volume, published in 2006, contains the first fifty comic strips. Subsequent collections were published in 2008 (volumes II, III, and IV), 2010 (volume V), and 2013 (volume VI).

Jesus & Mo is one of many Mohammed cartoons published in solidarity with Jyllands-Posten, which printed twelve Mohammed caricatures in 2005. Charlie Hebdo published a Mohammed comic book last year, La Vie De Mahomet (volume I; volume II). Technically, Jesus & Mo does not depict Mohammed, as its first comic reveals that Mo is Mohammed's body double.

Jesus & Mo

Jesus & Mo Jesus & Mo
Jesus & Mo
Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis appeared on the BBC1 programme The Big Questions on 12th January, wearing Jesus & Mo t-shirts. Phadnis's shirt depicted the Jesus & Mo logo. Moos's shirt featured a cartoon from 2008, a satirical comment on the reprinting of Kurt Westergaard's Mohammed caricature by various European newspapers.

Jesus & Mo is an online comic strip which began in 2005, one of many Mohammed cartoons published in solidarity with Jyllands-Posten, which printed twelve Mohammed caricatures in 2005. The comics have subsequently been published in six Jesus & Mo books.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Conversations With Thaksin

Conversations With Thaksin
Conversations With Thaksin - From Exile To Deliverance: Thailand's Populist Tycoon Tells His Story is a collection of interviews with Thaksin Shinawatra conducted by Tom Plate. The interviews took place in Dubai, where Thaksin is living in exile, and lasted for over ten hours, thus Thaksin's life - both political and personal - is covered in considerable depth.

As its title suggests, the interviews are conversations rather than probing interrogations: Thaksin is essentially given a platform to rehabilitate his reputation, and the author rarely challenges his version of events. (In that sense, the book has unfortunate echoes of Sunisa Lertpakawat's Thaksin, Where Are You?) The title also implies a certain informality, and this is reflected in Plate's colloquial writing style. Phrases such as "wow, everyone seemingly is in an excellent mood!" feel inappropriate for a political interview.

Astonishingly, Thaksin suggests that he could return to Thailand by royal appointment: "if the monarchy were kind enough to appoint me as an advisor to the Crown Property, I can help Crown Property do better financially." He adds, "But I don't want to have a Privy Councilor position", as if such an offer were even remotely possible.

The various controversies of Thaksin's premiership are reconfigured with Thaksin in the role of victim. He says that the sale of Shin Corp. to Temasek (arguably his biggest miscalculation) was actually his children's idea: "My children, they came to me, they said... it might be a good idea for us to sell." The confiscation of his assets is mentioned only in relation to his decision to sell Manchester City FC: "With assets frozen in Bangkok, I didn't have enough money to support the club." Thaksin even uses the notorious Tak Bai incident to elicit personal sympathy: "the tragic and embarrassing incident was part of the plot to topple me".

Plate sides with Thaksin and his wife over the Ratchada land deal conviction: "In fact, there was no duplicity. She didn't hide anything." He glosses over the thousands of deaths following Thaksin's drugs crackdown: "Innocent people were being scooped up in the military sweeps", though devotes multiple pages to softer issues such as Thaksin's sporting interests and shopping trips.

Even though the book was published in Singapore, Plate removed any material that could potentially contravene Thailand's lese majeste law. This self-censorship becomes apparent when Thaksin discusses the origins of the 2006 coup: "they thought that they would make the monarchy so happy with them by getting me. [content here deleted]". (The effect is the same as the "expletive deleted" redactions in the Watergate transcripts; Thaksin's comments are similar to those he made in a Financial Times interview on 20th April 2009.)

Plate is less cautious when it comes to General Prem, referring to "Prem Tinsulanonda, one of the men behind the coup". (Note the omission of the word 'allegedly'.) Later, he mentions "such an openly gay officer like Prem". (Rumours of Prem's homosexuality have not been officially confirmed or acknowledged by the Thai media; Paul Handley's The King Never Smiles notes that Prem "was so discreet that no one could ever expose his homosexuality".)

[Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party won its first Thai general election in 2001, and its second term began in 2005. Following protests against him, he called an election in April 2006. He won the election, though it was later nullified by the Constitutional Court. Following the coup, TRT was dissolved, and Thaksin was banned from politics for five years. He left Thailand while on bail for corruption charges, and currently lives in exile in Dubai. His sister Yingluck became Prime Minister in 2011; her proposal for an amnesty, which would have whitewashed Thaksin's conviction, led to Suthep's protests last year.]

The Wolf Of Wall Street

The Wolf Of Wall Street
The Wolf Of Wall Street, directed by Martin Scorsese, was based on the memoir of Jordan Belfort, a former stockbroker convicted of fraud. It was written by Terence Winter, the creator of Boardwalk Empire (which Scorsese has also directed). The script was intentionally modelled on the style of Scorsese's GoodFellas, and The Wolf's voice-over narration and direct-to-camera monologues are familiar devices from that earlier film.

Leonardo DiCaprio (in another totally unsympathetic role, following Django Unchained) gives a tour-de-force performance, though his character is so OTT that the three-hour running time is exhausting: the entire film feels like the hyperactive final reels of GoodFellas. This is Scorsese and DiCaprio's fifth collaboration, following Gangs Of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, and Shutter Island. It's one of Scorsese's most explicit and excessive films, with even more drugs and profanity than The Departed; like Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, its sex scenes were edited to avoid an 'NC-17' rating.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

"There will be violence..."

Suthep Thaugsuban's "Bangkok shutdown" began on 13th January, when his protesters blocked seven major intersections around the city in a campaign against Prime Minister Yingluck. Tens of thousands of protesters took part on the first day, though fewer than the estimated 100,000 who joined his anti-amnesty protests last year.

By the second day of the shutdown, however, the crowds were noticeably reduced, and they have been dwindling ever since. There has been no attempt, by either the police or the army, to disperse the protesters, though the government declared a state of emergency in Bangkok on Wednesday.

An election has been scheduled for 2nd February, though it is being boycotted by the Democrats. Advanced voting began today, however Suthep's protesters obstructed polling stations around the country. The protesters were so disruptive that they succeeded in closing all fifty polling stations in Bangkok. The leader of one faction of protesters, Suthin Taratin, was shot in the head and killed after he closed one of the city's polling stations.

The success of the election depends on the co-operation of the Election Commission, though today the EC appeared to acquiesce to the protesters. In the past, the EC's competence and impartiality have been questionable: its members were jailed following their mismanagement of the 2006 election, and PPP MP Yongyuth Tiyaphairat was disqualified after the EC hastily endorsed him.

The Election Commission petitioned the Constitutional Court, asking it to determine who, if anyone, could legally delay the election. The Court's ruling did nothing to clarify the situation, however. The judges announced that it was possible to delay the election within the bounds of the constitution, though they did not adjudicate on who had the authority to authorise such a delay. Instead, they simply called on the government and the Election Commission to negotiate and reach a mutual understanding. A meeting between the government and the EC has been called for 28th January, in an attempt to end the current stalemate.

In its judgement on Friday, the Constitutional Court argued that an election delay is legally possible because the constitution does not directly forbid it. However, article 108 says that an election must be held within forty-five to sixty days of the dissolution of parliament; it does not explicitly rule out a delay, because the sixty-day deadline does not require further clarification. There are provisions to postpone voting and vote-counting in cases of emergency, according to articles 78 and 85 respectively, though these apply only to individual polling stations, not to an entire election.

The Court cited 2006 as a precedent for a delay, though this seems to be a misinterpretation of the 2006 election. An election was held on 2nd April 2006 (also boycotted by the Democrats), though that election was later nullified by the Court. A second election was then scheduled for 15th October, though it was prevented by a coup d'etat. Thus, the 2006 election was not delayed; it took place as planned, but was later declared void and rescheduled. It does not, therefore, provide an adequate precedent or justification for a delay this year.

The Constitutional Court has a history of anti-Thaksin judgements. It dissolved TRT though exonerated the Democrats, it disqualified Samak Sundaravej for hosting a TV cookery show, and it dissolved the PPP to placate the PAD protesters.

More recently, the Court prevented the government from amending articles 117 (restoring an elected Senate) and 190 (authorising international agreements) of the constitution. Last week, the Election Commission rejected the government's request to borrow the money required to fulfill its commitment to rice farmers. With parliament dissolved, power currently lies with these two unelected bodies whose neutrality is in question yet who have the authority to over-rule government policy.

Closer

Closer
Closer has been ordered to pay 2,500 euros in damages to French Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti, who sued the magazine for invasion of privacy after it published a paparazzi photograph of her on holiday in Mauritius. The photo appeared last year, in the magazine's 12th January 2013 issue.

Earlier this month, the magazine was sued by Julie Gayet, the mistress of French President Francois Hollande. It was sued by Hollande's partner, Valerie Trierweiler, in 2012. In that same year, it published topless photographs of Kate Middleton.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Quote of the day...

The New York Times
Election Commission member Somchai Srisutthiyakorn has repeatedly called for the election to be delayed. In an interview with The New York Times, he made the oxymoronic and scaremongering claim that an election would lead to another coup.

Somchai's public statements have added to the perception that the EC is a partisan group intent on obstructing the election. Previous quotes of the day: hypocrisy from Suthep, the army chief on the GT200, a PAD leader says Thailand should be more like North Korea, the ICT Minister openly admits to violating the Computer Crime Act, and a patronising Ministry of Culture official.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Rebel Art Space

Rebel Art Space
People Fuck The Police
Rebel Art Space, one of Bangkok's newest art galleries, opened on 11th December last year. The gallery's inaugural exhibition, portraits of Narin Klung by Vasan Sitthiket, runs until 8th February. There is also a permanent collection, selected from Vasan's previous works, including self-portraits from his Chaotic Victory series.

Rebel Art Space also serves as Vasan's studio, and his current works are responses to the anti-government demonstrations in Bangkok. People Fuck The Police, a life-sized print criticising the Thai police's political bias, has a typically direct message, inspired by NWA's controversial single Fuck Tha Police from 1988.

In Thailand, criticisms are almost always made indirectly to save face, and discussion of sensitive subjects, even in the media, is usually camouflaged by innuendo. Vasan, however, pulls no punches; unusually for an established Thai artist, he is refreshingly blunt in his treatment of politics, sex, and religion. Hypocrisy and Ten Evil Scenes Of Thai Politic, for example, portray politicians such as Thaksin Shinawatra and Suthep Thaugsuban as thoroughly corrupt figures succumbing to the sins of lust and greed. His self-portraits, as in The Human Clay, often depict him not only nude but also tumescent.

In 2001, Vasan created an installation featuring wooden effigies of politicians hanging from nooses, unambiguously titled Hang Forty-Nine Thieves: Sentence The Cabinet To Death. The installation was a response to Chulalongkorn University's decision to ban forty of his paintings (The World Is Not The Theatre), which were eventually exhibited the following year. Like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Withit Sembutr, and Anupong Chantorn, Vasan's depiction of monks has also caused controversy: his 1992 painting Buddha Visits Thailand depicted a monk raping a woman, and Obsessive Compulsive included paintings of monks having sex.

In Flavours, his book on contemporary Thai art, Steven Pettifor describes Vasan as "the country's most outrageous artist". Some of his video works, including the scatological There Must Be Something Happen, were shown at From Message To Media.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Quote of the day...

The Nation
Suthep Thaugsuban issued a threat to UDD protesters before the 2010 military massacre. Three years later, and Suthep is now attempting to "shut down Bangkok" using precisely the tactics that he formerly condemned.

In another example of hypocrisy, Suthep is campaigning against corruption despite his own reputation as a corrupt MP. Previous quotes of the day: the army chief on the GT200, a PAD leader says Thailand should be more like North Korea, the ICT Minister openly admits to violating the Computer Crime Act, and a patronising Ministry of Culture official.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Closer

Closer
Closer
Actress Julie Gayet has issued a lawsuit against the French gossip magazine Closer, suing for breach of privacy and seeking 50,000 euros in damages. In its 10th January issue, the magazine published a series of photographs that it claims depict Gayet and French President Francois Hollande meeting for an affair.

Following Gayet's writ, the magazine has pixelated the Hollande and Gayet photographs on its website. Gayet is also suing over a picture in the current print edition, taken by Laurent Viers and published today, showing Gayet in her car.

Hollande has not commented directly on Closer's allegations. His partner, Valerie Trierweiler, sued Closer and other magazines in 2012. Hollande is unpopular due to the country's weak economy, though the French respect for privacy means that the controversy is unlikely to be politically damaging.

Closer previously caused a scandal when it printed topless photographs of Kate Middleton. Middleton and Prince William sued successfully, and the magazine was ordered to cease all distribution of the photos.

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Tuesday, 14 January 2014

50 Photo Icons

50 Photo Icons
50 Photo Icons: The Story Behind The Pictures, by Hans-Michael Koetzle, examines fifty acclaimed photographs. (Nick Ut's image of a napalm attack in Vietnam is one of the most famous examples.) The selection includes portraits, fashion, and war photography, and begins with the earliest extant photograph, taken by Joseph Niepce in 1827.

Koetzle, who also wrote Photographers A-Z, describes the circumstances in which each picture was taken, and their places in the careers of each photographer. Further context is provided by images taken during the same sessions as the photos in question, and examples of how the photographs have appeared in print.

The book, published by Taschen, was originally issued in two volumes as Photo Icons I and II. (In fact, the introduction has not been updated, and still refers to "the two volumes".) Each chapter presents an in-depth account of each photograph, together with a full-page reproduction, though only fifty images were selected, thus many classic photos were omitted. (There are no images by Irving Penn or Andreas Gursky, for example.)

Many of the world's most famous photographers - including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, and Sebastiao Salgado - are featured, though each photographer is represented by only one key photograph. Some notably controversial photographers, such as Joel-Peter Witkin and Robert Mapplethorpe, are also included.

Koetzle describes 50 Photo Icons as a "potted history of the medium". Beaumont Newhall's The History Of Photography, Naomi Rosenblum's A World History Of Photography, and Mary Warner Marien's Photography: A Cultural History provide a more complete account of the history of photography. Marien's 100 Ideas That Changed Photography and David Prakel's Visual Dictionary Of Photography are concise guides to photography's technical development.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

"That door is neither open nor closed..."

On 21st December last year, the Democrat Party confirmed that it will boycott the upcoming general election, scheduled for 2nd February. Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said: "The Thai people have lost their faith in the democratic system." More accurately, perhaps, the Thai people have lost their faith in the Democrat Party. The Democrats have lost the last five elections, though rather than revamping their party or refreshing their leadership, they chose to abandon parliamentary democracy altogether, resigning from parliament en masse and joining Suthep's street protests.

The Democrat Party's election boycott was hardly surprising, though it could have very dramatic consequences. The Democrats previously boycotted the 2006 election, and that election was subsequently invalidated. The consequent power vacuum ultimately led to a coup later that year.

On 28th December, General Prayuth was asked to comment on persistent rumours of another military coup, and his answer was highly ambiguous. He said, "That door is neither open nor closed. Everything depends on the situation", an extraordinary public admission and a sign of the army's continued sense of impunity.

Prayuth was speaking after violent protests in Bangkok on Boxing Day, during which a police officer was shot and killed. Protesters led by Suthep were blocking access to the stadium where candidates were registering for the election. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets against the demonstrators, as they did in December when Suthep's supporters occupied Government House and other state buildings.

Suthep has announced another protest scheduled for next week, claiming that he will "shut down Bangkok" on 13th January by blocking major intersections surrounding the city centre. He also set another of his many deadlines, issuing an ultimatum for Yingluck to resign before 15th January. 

After the protests, Election Commission member Somchai Srisutthiyakorn called on the government to postpone the election. He even hinted that some commissioners might resign in order to delay it. However, Pheu Thai leader Charupong Ruangsuwan insisted that the election would go ahead, and instructed the Election Commission to do its duty by facilitating, rather than obstructing, the election.

Because of the chaos surrounding the registration process, candidates in only 472 constituencies were able to register before the deadline. At least 475 MPs, from a total of 500, are required to form a new government; thus, even if the election were to go ahead, it would be open to legal challenges as there are not enough candidates to form a quorum.

In an unfortunate echo of 2006 and 2008, the government is facing pressure not only from protesters but also from the Constitutional Court. The Court ruled in November that Pheu Thai's bill to amend article 117 of the constitution, restoring a fully-elected Senate, was unconstitutional. Yesterday, the Court ruled that another attempt to amend the charter (article 190, relating to the signing of international agreements) was also unlawful. (The constitution was drafted by the military in 2007; Abhisit also proposed amending article 190 when he was in office in 2010.)

On 7th January, the National Anti-Corruption Commission announced that it will begin impeachment proceedings against 308 of the MPs who voted to amend article 117. Yingluck herself also faces potential NACC impeachment proceedings relating to her rice subsidy policy. The Constitutional Court is also currently investigating Pheu Thai's proposed high-speed rail scheme, and its judges yesterday declared that the project was un-necessary and contravened the King's 'sufficiency economy' philosophy.

The bill authorising the loan for the high-speed rail project had already been passed by both houses of parliament, though it is now being vetoed by the Constitutional Court. With the Court over-ruling government policies, and the NACC planning to impeach most Pheu Thai MPs, are we seeing the beginnings of another judicial coup, as occurred in 2008?

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Noir Month

Noir Month
The Killing
Bangkok's Jam cafe begins a season of Film Noir screenings this evening, as part of their weekly Cult Movie Night. The first Noir Month film is Stanley Kubrick's classic The Killing. Jam previously screened an extract from Kubrick's 2001 at last year's Dark Side Of The Rainbow event.

Anime: A History

Anime: A History
In his new book Anime: A History, Jonathan Clements explores a century of Japanese animation. The masters of the genre, such as Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy), Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), and Hiyao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Ponyo, Spirited Away), are included, though Clements also highlights many overlooked and obscure anime productions.

The first half of the book covers the rarely-seen animation made in the early 20th century. The subsequent explosion of anime on television (Astro Boy) and video (Dallos), and the global successes of Pokemon and Ghibli, dominate the book's second half. Clements notes that "There is... no full-length history of Japanese animation available in English - an omission this book seeks to remedy". He previously co-wrote The Anime Encyclopedia, the most comprehensive English-language guide to anime. The World Encyclopedia Of Cartoons (Maurice Horn) and Cartoons (Giannalberto Bendazzi) also discuss Japanese animation.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Castles, Candles, & Kubrick

Castles, Candles, & Kubrick is a radio documentary about the making of Barry Lyndon. The programme interviews several of the film's cast and crew, who discuss Kubrick's decision to shoot the film in Ireland and the IRA threats issued during the production.

The documentary was produced by Pavel Barter, and was first broadcast on the Irish radio station Newstalk on 19th October last year. It was repeated the next day, and was broadcast again yesterday. An episode of the Italian TV documentary series Stanley & Us (A Lume Di Candela, 1999) also covered the making of Barry Lyndon.