Thursday, 28 September 2017

"The defendant was found guilty..."

Yesterday, former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison, after the Supreme Court found her guilty of dereliction of duty in relation to her government's rice subsidy policy. The Court's verdict had been postponed from 25th August, when Yingluck left the country. In its written judgement, the Court said: "The defendant was found guilty of the offences under Section 157 of the Criminal Code and Section 123/1 of the Organic Act on Counter Corruption 1999 and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment."

The guilty verdict was related specifically to contracts with private Chinese companies, arranged by the Thai Ministry of Commerce, which were falsely designated as non-competitive government-to-government deals. Last month, former Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom was jailed for forty-two years for his part in the scandal. In its judgement against Yingluck, the Supreme Court ruled that she was aware that the government-to-government deals were fraudulent, as she had sacked Boonsong on 30th June 2013. Also, the enquiry she established to scrutinise the deals was an internal investigation conducted by Boonsong's subordinates.

Starting in 2011, Yingluck's Pheu Thai government bought rice from farmers at up to 50% above the market rate, intending to withhold it from the world market and thus drive up the price. When other countries in the region increased their rice exports, Pheu Thai was left with vast stockpiles of rice that it could not sell, and that it was unable to pay for. (Yingluck was deposed by the Criminal Court in 2014 on an unrelated issue, and subsequently retroactively impeached.)

Yesterday, the Court ruled that Yingluck was not responsible for the financial losses incurred as a result of the rice subsidy policy itself, thus calling into question the $1 billion penalty she was fined last year to compensate for the scheme. The Court also determined that she was not guilty of corruption herself, and was not accountable for any irregularities associated with the operation of the scheme. The Court's guilty verdict rested solely on her failure to expose the fraudulent government-to-government contracts.

The Court's decision is another instance of déjà vu, as Yingluck's political trajectory precisely echoes that of her brother, Thaksin. They were both elected with majorities (Thaksin in 2001, 2005, and 2006; Yingluck in 2011). In both cases, their elections were boycotted by the opposition Democrats (in 2006 and 2014, respectively). Those elections were both nullified by the Constitutional Court (also in 2006 and 2014). They both faced long-running street protests (the PAD and PDRC) that provoked military coups (in 2006 and 2014). They both had their assets seized (Thaksin in 2010; Yingluck in 2016). Finally, they were both jailed in absentia (Thaksin in 2008; Yingluck yesterday).

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Postmodern Design Complete

Postmodern Design Complete
Postmodern Design Complete, edited by Judith Gura, is the latest in Thames & Hudson's series of in-depth studies of twentieth century design movements, after Art Deco Complete and Mid-Century Modern Complete. The book, which will be published at the end of this month, includes sections on postmodern architecture, design, graphics, and interiors.

There are more than 1,000 illustrations, and profiles of designers including Ettore Sottsass ("the figurehead of postmodernism"), Michael Graves, Philippe Starck, and Frank Gehry. The book includes an essay by graphic design historian Steven Heller, who also contributed to Mid-Century Modern Complete.

The Language Of Postmodern Architecture (1977), by Charles Jencks, first popularised the concept of postmodernism, and Jencks writes a foreword to Gura's book. The Victoria & Albert Museum's Postmodernism: Style & Subversion exhibition (2011) led to a revival of interest in the movement, and Gura reprints a Jencks infographic from that exhibition catalogue.

More conventional than the V&A catalogue, Postmodern Design Complete is described by its publisher as "the definitive overview of the movement's seminal years," though its editor is more realistic: "Notwithstanding its title, this book does not presume to tell the complete story of postmodern design, which continues to evolve, but to document its most dominant years." Hal Foster's The Anti-Aesthetic (1984) remains the standard anthology of postmodern theory, though Gura's book is the most comprehensive survey of postmodern design.

Sunday, 17 September 2017


สรรพสาระสำหรับผู้แสวงหา, by Sulak Sivaraksa, was published in 2005. It includes a reprint of an interview Sulak gave to the editor of Same Sky. When the interview was first published, the journal was banned and the editor was charged with lèse-majesté. Sulak has also published an English translation of the interview, in Rediscovering Spiritual Value. (His most recent English-language book is the provocative Love Letters To Dictators.)

Sulak has been personally accused of lèse-majesté several times, and has contributed to various censored films, television programmes, and books. He published an article on the death of King Rama VIII in Seeds Of Peace. His book ค่อนศตวรรษ ประชาธิปไตยไทย was (briefly) banned. Part of his interview in Paradoxocracy was muted. He was interviewed on ตอบโจทย์ประเทศไทย. He also appeared in the once-banned film Tongpan.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

"Unprecedented in
defamation litigation..."

Woman's Day
Actress Rebel Wilson was awarded $4.5 million in damages by an Australian court yesterday. She had sued Bauer Media for defamation after one of its magazines accused her of lying about her age. In a 25 May 2015 article headlined "Just who was the REAL Rebel?", Woman's Day alleged that Wilson had changed her name to hide her true background. Setting the highest damages ever awarded in an Australian defamation case, the judge described the publication as "unprecedented in defamation litigation in this country" as the article received wide distribution online.

The case is likely to set a precedent similar to that of the PJS injunction in the UK, which established that the publication of kiss-and-tell stories could no longer be justified. Earlier this year, Melania Trump won substantial damages for defamation from the Daily Mail newspaper, and Kate Middleton was awarded damages for invasion of privacy in France. In America, however, the 'actual malice' requirement makes defamation cases against celebrities almost unheard of.

Monday, 11 September 2017

The Nation

The Nation
Myanmar Pongpipat, a Thai mining company, has reached a settlement with The Nation newspaper over an article on the Heinda tin mine in Myanmar. The company sued The Nation and journalist Pratch Rujivanarom after a report published on 1st March claimed that the mine had contaminated local water supplies. The report has now been deleted from the newspaper's website.

When the lawsuit was filed, I speculated that the newspaper had failed to contact the company before publishing the story. This was confirmed in an apology printed on page six of The Nation today: "Pratch admitted that he did not contact the plaintiff about the allegation that appeared in the report".

Today's clarification, headlined "Pongpipat follows Myanmar environmental regulations", does include the mining company's response to the allegations. Pongpipat's dropping of the lawsuit was conditional on The Nation publishing the correction: "The court has arranged mediation session for the plaintiff and the two defendants during which they have agreed to settle the case without proceeding to court trials."

Saturday, 9 September 2017

The First Artists

The First Artists
Helen Gardner began her landmark Art Through The Ages (1926) with a question: "When in the long development of human life did art first appear, and why?" Michel Lorblanchet and Paul Bahn's new book The First Artists outlines the available evidence for the origins of art: "This book aims to analyse the earliest human creative behaviour and identify the first artistic expressions, trying to distinguish apparently non-utilitarian products that were detached from the immediate needs of survival."

The First Artists: In Search Of The World's Oldest Art discusses Neanderthal tools and Palaeolithic engravings, artefacts whose status as aesthetic or symbolic objects remains unresolved. The book also examines equally ambiguous figurines that predate the famous Willendorf and Hohle Fels Venuses. By contrast, the earliest examples of beaded jewellery are more easily verifiable as decorative in nature. Lois Sherr Dubin also discusses these adornments, which are up to 100,000 years old, in The Worldwide History Of Beads (2009).

Most histories of art begin with cave paintings, particularly those of Chauvet in France. Lorblanchet and Bahn, however, dispute Chauvet's generally accepted status as the earliest example of parietal art. Both authors are experts in the field, and Bahn's Images Of The Ice Age (1988; revised as Journey Through The Ice Age) is the most comprehensive book on the subject.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

"Reminiscent of... the press and
paparazzi during the life of Diana"

La Provence
The editor and publisher of the French gossip magazine Closer have been fined €45,000 each, after a court ruled that paparazzi photographs of Kate Middleton and Prince William were an invasion of privacy. Closer printed topless photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge on 14th September 2012, and the couple obtained an injunction to prevent the magazine from republishing them. They have now been awarded €100,000 in damages.

A statement read in court on the couple's behalf said: "The incident is reminiscent of the worst excesses of the press and paparazzi during the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, and all the more upsetting to the Duke and Duchess for being so." In a related case, a regional French newspaper, La Provence, published a photograph of the Duchess in a bikini on 7th September 2012, and has now been fined €3,000.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

World History Of Design

World History Of Design World History Of Design
World History Of Design, by Victor Margolin, was first published in two hardback volumes in 2015, costing around £600. Last month, this unprecedented and definitive book was issued in paperback for a tenth of the original price. Both volumes include a selection of colour plates, and each chapter has an excellent annotated bibliography.

The first volume (Prehistoric Times To World War I, at more than 500 pages) is significant for its extensive treatment of pre-industrial design. In contrast, most histories of design begin with the Industrial Revolution; The Story Of Design is a notable exception, though it lacks the depth of the World History.

Volume two (World War I To World War II, at almost 1,000 pages) is remarkable for the scope of its non-Western coverage, making the World History a truly global account of design. Again, this sets the book apart from other design histories (such as The Story Of Design, and David Raizman's History Of Modern Design), which focus only on Europe, America, and Japan.

Margolin notes in his introduction: "One exception to the geographic limitations of prior design history narratives is the recently published History of Design: Decorative Arts and Material Culture 1400-2000". That superb book remains the most comprehensive single-volume design history, though the World History's multi-volume format allows Margolin to cover not only the entire world but also the entire history of the subject.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Bad Taste Cafe

The Birth Of A Nation
What could be more tasteless than Pink Flamingos or Thriller: A Cruel Picture? How about a month-long season of films featuring offensive racial stereotypes. The Racism season begins on 6th September at Bangkok's Bad Taste Cafe, concluding on 27th September with DW Griffith's The Birth Of A Nation.

Hollywood's first epic, The Birth Of A Nation remains an incendiary film more than a century after its release. Depressingly, its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan is still relevant today, after Donald Trump's equivocation following last month's KKK rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

The Power & The Story

The Power & The Story
The Power & The Story: The Global Battle For News & Information, by John Lloyd, assesses the news media of Egypt, China, Turkey, Russia, and other countries in which state censorship predominates: "Journalism is controlled and suppressed in authoritarian societies because their rulers believe they have a better grasp of the truth than journalists could ever have. Theirs is not the truth of mere facts. It is an alternative truth of what keeps social peace, promotes development, preserves necessary power and serves faith."

The book, a unique worldwide survey of the state of contemporary journalism, also covers "the problems of practising journalism that lives by one form or another of market rules, and the pressures market exerts on the creation of truthful accounts." Lloyd discusses some less reputable aspects of journalism - sensationalist tabloids, and the rise of 'fake news' - though he also stresses the vital importance of "a journalism of revelation through leaking of confidential information" and public service broadcasting.

Of course, the shadow of President Trump looms over any discussion of political journalism, and Lloyd shows how Trump has repeatedly attacked America's leading news organisations. He also assesses the increasing influence of online news companies such as Vox, Buzzfeed, and Vice (which made headlines recently with its exclusive report on the neo-Nazis at Charlottesville, Virginia).

Friday, 1 September 2017

The Godfather: The Complete Epic
The Godfather: A Novel For Television

The Godfather: The Complete Epic 1901-1959
The Godfather: A Novel For Television
Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now has been released in four formats, which differ widely in their running times: 70mm (without closing credits), 35mm (with closing credits), Redux (with an hour of additional footage), and the bootleg five-hour workprint. But that's nothing compared to the myriad alternative edits of The Godfather and its sequels.

The Godfather and The Godfather II were broadcast, in chronological order, as a four-part miniseries on NBC in 1977. The Godfather: The Complete Novel For Television featured more than an hour of additional footage not included in the theatrical versions, though some of the violence was censored for network TV. Twenty years later, in 1997, the cable station USA Network broadcast an alternative two-part chronological edit, The Godfather Saga, with less additional footage than the NBC version.

Another chronological edit was created for the video market. The Godfather: The Complete Epic 1902-1959 was released on VHS in 1981. (It was rereleased on VHS and laserdisc in 1990 under the corrected title The Godfather: The Epic 1901-1959.) In 1992, The Godfather III was inserted into the edit, for the limited edition The Godfather Trilogy 1901-1980, on VHS and laserdisc.

There have been two chronological versions of The Godfather and The Godfather II broadcast on HDTV. In 2012, the cable channel AMC screened The Godfather: A Novel For Television, which was the first chronological edit shown in widescreen. Last year, another cable station, HBO, broadcast a slightly longer version, The Godfather: The Complete Epic 1901-1959. (Confusingly, the title is very similar to the videos released previously.) Also in widescreen, this was the first chronological edit to be broadcast without commercial breaks.