Friday, February 29, 2008

Thai Elections - March 2, 2008

Tomorrow, Sunday, (it's Saturday afternoon in Chiang Mai as I write) is election day for the Thai Senate. I know an election is going on because of all the signs up and the election trucks. Plus where I work they are supporting one of the candidates and so there was election work going on and the truck have been at our compound. But I wasn't sure of the date.

Apparently, according to this Bangkok Post story not that many Thais really know that much about the election either.

There's a senate election?

By Mongkol Bangprapa

Despite campaigns by the Election Commission (EC), fewer than 30 per cent of Thais were able to tell a pollster that they know there is to be an election for 76 senators countrywide on March 2.

According to the latest Suan Dusit poll by Suan Dusit Rajabhat University, of the 3,266 people surveyed, only 29 per cent could tell the interviewers how important the election is for the parliament, while 57 per cent said they had "scant knowledge" of it.

A surprising 12 per cent of respondents admitted they knew nothing of the coming election.

Most people surveyed admitted they were less aware of the senate election than they were of the Dec 23 election for House of Representatives.

There are 18 people running for the seat from Chiang Mai I was told - one seat per province - and the candidate my Thai colleagues are supporting is one of the candidates who has a chance to win. They think he needs at least 100,000 votes. This is for the Senate.

74 people have already been appointed to the Senate, according to MCOT English News. The rest get elected tomorrow.

Election Commission names 74 appointed senators

BANGKOK, Feb 19 (TNA) - Thailand's Election Commission on Tuesday announced the appointment of 74 members of the Senate who will represent half of the Upper House while the other half will be elected nationwide on March 2.

The 74 senators represent a ratio of 6 men to one woman. The oldest is 72 years old and the youngest 42.

EC secretary general Sutthiphon Thaweechaikarn said the appointed senators came from diverse backgrounds including academics (15), government officials (14), private sector (15), various professions (15) and other sectors (15).

They represent almost every field of career from university lecturer to former national legislator, lawyer, journalist, medical officer, nurse, engineer, architect, former provincial governor, farmer, university student, telecommunication specialist and financial expert.

Bangkokians dominate the list with 43 representatives while five are from the South, three from the North, two from the Northeast and 21 from the central region.

Asked if there has been behind-the-scenes lobbying for the seats, Mr. Sutthiphon affirmed that the screening committee has thoroughly and carefully studied the background of each appointee and the votings among committee members were carried out in an open manner.

The EC allows 30 days for anyone objecting to the appointment to file his/her complaint while those disagreeing with the screening committee's decision can file their complaints with the Supreme Court within one year.

The appointed senators will be in office for three years. The other 76 senators, one from each province, will be elected nationwide on March 2. They will serve for six years. (TNA)

J's Back in Town

Friday, February 29, 2008 10:40pm (This is my Thailand time, the blogger stamped time is normal Alaska time)
Got up early and enjoyed the birds a bit.

I tell my students to do something you've never done before every day, so I decided to ride the bike to the airport and we could take a song tao home. The map showed a road that cut through neighborhoods and missed all the detours with the one ways at the moat around the city center.

I even asked a policeman if I could get to the airport taking that road before leaving the main road. He said yes, in Thai and English, with that "look the foreigner is riding a bike to the airport" grin on his face.

And the road was quiet and peaceful. Too quiet and peaceful for such a useful short cut to the airport. I stopped to get a picture of this delightful potted backyard fence. (Catherine, that one's worth double clicking on to enlarge it.) And then I took I got to a dead end. Various people assured me there was no link to the main road. I could even see the high fence of the golfing practice range that's there, but there were no ways to get through. But I got to the airport in time. Joan was ready to walk, not ride a song tao back. (I better put up a picture before long. It's a (usually) red pick up with a covered bed that has a bench on each side for passengers.

Two people walking with a bike (fortunately J didn't take much to Singapore and her small duffel fit into the basket) on Chiang Mai streets is not the easiest thing to do. As you can see, sidewalks disappear.

But sometimes we walked through parking lots, and this new building even had a ramp!

Before long we were at the vegetarian center - where'd I'd been taken for lunch once before - and stopped for brunch. The yellow sign says 0 Baht, You still can eat. This has some sort of Buddhist affiliation and they had clothing recycling, and there were separate garbage bins for glass, plastic, paper, food, etc.

Although the first block on my bike this morning felt chilly, it's been getting hotter - at least a lot more humid. When we got back from the airport, (It took about two hours including brunch, and we walked pretty slowly, hampered by my having to get the bike up and down curbs and steps along the way) I really wanted a shower. I shut off the water heater in the bathroom, the 'cold' water was even warmer than I wanted.

Then off to work to get my presentation ready for Monday morning. I think it will be fine. I've had different people look at different parts of the presentation, so there is someone who understands my intent and can help when I need the right word in Thai.

Taxi Drives from Discovery Side to HBO

The good news is that Discovery Channel has worked out a deal with HBO who will air, Anchorage International Film Festival (AIFF) feature documentary runner up, but Academy Award winning, Taxi to the Dark Side in September.

So my grim fear that Discovery Channel's link (through its Military Channel) to the Defense Department's America Supports You program that I discussed several days ago meant that their intent was to block it from being shown on television was wrong.

And in defense of AIFF judges, they chose a movie that had its own historical and Northern interest - The Prize of the Pole - about Robert Peary's grandson's quest to learn more about the Greenlanders that Perry took back to New York with him. Anchorage was an appropriate place for that movie to win an award as the movie examined how a Euro-American adventurer used Native peoples for his own glory with no apparent concern for the people whose lives he essentially destroyed. The legacy of similar ventures still plagues many Alaska Natives today.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Someone at PSI is Checking on Frank Murkowski

Performance Systems International is an international human capital consulting firm that helps build business success by enhancing and aligning organisation, team and leadership activity.

We work with our clients’ unique culture, challenges and business aspirations to convert strategy into practice, achieve meaningful change and realise long-term organisation development.

I don't know if it is idle curiosity or professional, but someone there looked him up today.

And someone at the National Futures Association looked up "fbi agent sean mcdermott."

National Futures Association (NFA) is the industrywide, self-regulatory organization for the U.S. futures industry. We strive every day to develop rules, programs and services that safeguard market integrity, protect investors and help our Members meet their regulatory responsibilities.

Managing risk by trading futures and options on futures contracts is a vital component of the global economy. Every business day tens of millions of futures contracts are traded on an increasingly broad spectrum of products, including agricultural commodities, oil, precious metals, equities, treasury bonds, financial indexes and foreign currencies.

Investor confidence is crucial to the success of the futures markets, and the best way to gain investor confidence is to ensure that the highest levels of integrity are demanded of all market participants and intermediaries.

In these cases if I reveal my sources, people will stop googling on their corporate internet servers and then I wouldn't learn these things. Is this a little like accidentally hitting redial on your cell phone and leaving a message on someone's voice mail?

Feds Busy Elsewhere - CH2M Hill Played Veco in Ohio

While Alaskan's are all absorbed in our own corruption scandals, the Feds seems to be pretty busy all over the country. Here's a website covering what they call the Cleveland Ohio Water Scandal.

One of their entries mentions CH2M Hill:

Prominent Cleveland consultant Nate Gray and five others indicted in federal probe of corruption in Ohio, New Orleans and Houston

The 45-count indictment charges Gray with creating a secret machine that corrupted public officials with cash, Super Bowl tickets, massages and limousines. Also charged were former Houston building department director Monique McGilbra, prominent Cleveland lawyer Ricardo Teamor, consultant Gilbert Jackson, former Honeywell Inc. salesman Brent Jividen and Cleveland City Councilman Joseph Jones. The indictment also accuses Gray of bribing then-East Cleveland mayor Emmanuel Onunwor involving a no-bid, $3.9 million contract with Denver-based CH2M Hill, which managed the water and sewer systems in East Cleveland starting in March 2002. According to federal prosecutors, CH2M Hill provided as much as $10,000 a month in consulting fees to Cleveland engineer Ralph Tyler, who carried the money to Gray, who used it for bribes. Attorneys for CH2M Hill and Tyler say their clients did not know the money was used for bribes. Cleveland Plain Dealer_ 1/19/05 [Emphasis added]

This could be called old news, but they [the Feds] apparently are still at it. When I reported the changing of the guard at the Veco building, I gave CH2M Hill the benefit of the doubt.

With luck Anchorage is getting a new corporate player with strong ethical standards that will work generously with our community

But commenters weren't as generous. And this story about consulting contracts that were bribes, sounds terribly familiar to what happened with the Alaska Company they bought. Let's watch these guys carefully.

Part of My Daily Life Here

Beginning of my bike ride to work in the morning. Passing here part of Wat Pa Daeng where we went to Macha Bucha ceremony. The steps up to that part are just a short ways ahead.

I'm sure this is the source of much of the crowing before sunrise and much of the day. At lunch the other day we went through the ways we say animal sounds in Thai and English to much laughter. Cockle Doodle Doo had them rolling.

My boss and the T shirt he hates.

A small fish pond in the work compound. One of the people cleans it and feeds the fish regularly.

One of the offices in the compound. I went down here to work on an English editing project today. It was in Word and I thought it made sense to do track changes in word. I think it would have worked just as well and been easier had I done it on my Mac. But it was an interesting report - about training village youth how to be local reporters of what is happening since their local stories don't normally get covered. Then the stories go up on a website and others make it to mainstream media. This would be a neat idea for Alaska too. The way they finished the concrete in this building is quite attractive just as it is.

There are a lot of nice houses between home and work. I posted pictures of former Prime Minister Thaksin's brother's house the other day. Thaksin returned to Thailand today after the new government allowed his return. The BBC spent a lot more time Gee Whizzing about the new terminal at Beijing's airport than they did reporting Thaksin's return. This house is one of my favorites. It preserves traditional style and isn't as ostentatious as many of the places, though this garden surely takes a lot of work to keep up.

Dogs do like sleeping in the road.

And drivers do avoid them. Remember, they drive on the left side in Thailand.

My boss had these worms on his jacket at lunch yesterday.

Walking back through Wat Ramphoeng from lunch. There's enough in there for me to take a picture a day.

When is a Term not a Term?

Thursday, February 28, 2008, 10:34pm
The ADN says that Dr. Peter Mjos is challenging the City Clerk's decision to let Dick Traini run for a fourth term because the charter says you can only serve for three consecutive terms. The City Clerk's decision is based on an opinion written by a hired attorney. The attorney concludes that partial terms were not intended to be counted in the term limit provision and since Traini's first term here (he had served prior to that and then was defeated by then future mayor George Weurch if I recall correctly.) There's lots here to chew on.

1. The political consequences of this lawsuit for this race and the next mayoral race
2. How good is the opinion of the hired attorney?

1. Political Consequences

1. For this race. If I understand it right, there are only two candidates. If Traini were deemed ineligible to run, then his opponent Elvi Gray would win. But it also seems to me problematic to have a candidate yanked off the ballot by the courts and for the voters to not have a choice. This could cause a backlash. What if the courts don't finish by election day, and Traini wins. Then the court says he shouldn't have run? The people voted for the term limit provision, but they also would have voted for Traini despite the term limit provision. They would be saying with their votes that the term limit provision doesn't include partial terms.
2. For the upcoming mayoral race. If, in fact, Mark Begich runs for the US Senate, (and that has gotten more likely while I was writing this) and gets elected, a big 'if', he would leave his mayoral position several months before the next mayoral election. If I remember right, the Assembly chair would become acting Mayor. It seems to me better to decide this issue now in an Assembly election than to have it still an open issue if we have a partial term mayor running.

On the one hand, if the law is ambiguous - and if it weren’t the City Clerk would not have asked for an opinion - it should be clarified. But ideally the timing for the clarification should be such that if a candidate is eliminated, others can run for that office. Levesque’s opinion is dated January 7, 2008. I don’t know when the Clerk made her decision or when it was made public - before or after the closing date for candidates to file. To that we must add the time it would take a citizen to decide to file a law suit, since that isn't a casual decision.

On the other hand, are the additional few months Traini served worth depriving his constituents a choice in the election? Shouldn't there be another way to challenge the meaning of the law so it could be done between elections when it doesn’t have immediate consequences on specific people and specific political races?

Does the motivation of the person filing - for political reasons or to clarify the law on principle - matter? Can we ever know the real motivations? Could it be a mix of both? If it is for political gain - to Elvi Jackson’s advantage if Traini were to be found ineligible - one could also say that Traini pushed the limits by running for a fourth term when there was a three year term limit. (He's not the first according to Levesque's analysis - Ossiander did it on the School Board and Daniel Kendall did it on the Assembly. That doesn't make it right, it just means no one challenged them.) Even if the ruling is technically in his favor, it would seem to violate the spirit of the charter. While an attorney’s opinion went in his favor, only a judge’s opinion or a charter amendment could - as I understand it - be legally binding.

2. Levesque's Opinion

Joseph N. Levesque, the attorney who wrote the opinion for the City Clerk concluded
A review of the language used in the MOA Charter term limit provisions reveals that the term limits for elected offices are for either two full consecutive three-year terms or three full consecutive three-year terms. The meaning of the language is clear and unambiguous, partial time served through either appointment or election does not count for the purpose of counting terms. Both the available legislation history and established precedent support this conclusion.
To write that the language is clear and unambiguous seems to suggest that his client, the City Clerk, is a little dim. If it's so clear and unambiguous, why does she have to hire an attorney to tell her that? But an attorney once told me that if he wrote an opinion, it would be a strong, firm opinion, whichever side of the issue he took. So maybe this just reflects that, once Levesque decided it should go for Traini's position, he went for it strong.

How does Levesque reach that conclusion? Partly by logic and partly by referring to the legislative history and intent. The logic doesn't work for me at all. The history and intent - at least the part he refers us to - is more supportive.

The "Logic"

I'll comment on a few things he writes, the whole opinion is here.

Quote 1: (Levesque cites McQuillin whom he describes as "a legal authority on municipal law")
Although an unambiguous statute prescribing the term of an officer will be construed as written, where the legal provisions prescribing the term is [sic] uncertain or doubtful an interpretation will be adopted that limits the term to the shortest time. (p. 2)
So if the Municipal Charter isn't clear on this, we should adopt an interpretation that limits the term to the shortest time possible. That would mean, not allowing someone to run for a fourth consecutive term even if one term was only a partial term. But Levesque comes to the opposite conclusion quoting McQuillin again as saying "the phrase 'term of office'... means the fixed legal period during which the incumbent may legally hold the office."

Do you think the Charter Commission that wrote this language read McQuillin and knew that this was 'the' definition of 'term'? Levesque's opinion talks about 'terms,' 'full terms,' and 'partial terms." Each one uses the word 'term.' But let's move on.

Quote 2: Here Levesque is citing a case called Pope.
"No person shall be elected as a member of the city council for more than two four-year terms..." According to the courts [sic] reasoning, the words 'elect' and 'appointed' have different meanings and a 'four-year term' is not the same as a 17-month term. (pp. 2-3)
But in the Pope case the law specifically said 'elected' and in the Anchorage charter, the word is NOT 'elected' it's 'served.' "[a] person who has served on the assembly for three consecutive terms may not be reelected to the assembly until one full term has intervened."

Note: it says "three consecutive terms" (not full terms) but it also says, "until one full term has intervened." So when they were writing this, they were aware of the difference between full and not full terms. When they wrote about how many consecutive terms someone could serve, they didn't use the word full. But they did use it when they wrote about how much time must intervene before one can be reelected. I would guess this is the precise language on which Mjos is basing his challenge.

Quote 3 - I include this under logic rather than intent, because it is so logically flawed.
Morever, if the intent was for the term limits to include partial terms then language addressing partial terms would have been included. (p. 5)
Don't buy a used car from this guy. You could just as easily make the opposite argument: "If the intent was for the term limits to only be full terms, then language addressing full terms would have been included." This is pure sophistry. And since they did, as I pointed out just above, include 'full term' when talking about how long one had to wait before being elected again, one could logically imagine that they didn't intend the consecutive terms to be full terms or they would have said so.

Since Levesque himself uses the term ‘partial term’ and the charter talks about ‘three year term[s]’ and “two year term[s]” (for mayor), it would seem that the word ‘term’ means time spent serving as assembly member, however long that turns out to be. There could be partial terms, two year terms and three year terms, but all are ‘terms.’ Thus a partial term is a term. The charter prohibits three consecutive terms.

Legislative History and Intent

Levesque cites the original Charter Committee Report #4 and the Charter Review Commission Report to get to the intent of the ordinance. This is after citing legal precedence that legal intent trumps the literal meaning of the law.

He has two citations that logically support his position that one has to serve consecutive FULL terms before term limits apply. (Or should I say "full term" limits apply?)

Intent Quote 1: On page 6 of Levesque's opinion, he cites Committee Report #4:
The charter will limit the Mayor to two successive full terms. A policy question for the Commission is whether a limit on successive terms of Assembly members should be imposed...
He has already decided that what applies to the Mayor regarding full or partial also applies to the Assembly (and School Board) and that from this it means the Commission clearly intended it to mean full terms.

My problems with this are:

1. This is plucked out of Report #4. I'd have to know how many reports there were and what they said (did a Report #6 change its mind?) and read the context of this quote to be sure it means what he says it means. And given some of the other stuff he's written here, I'm not inclined to do that without checking.
2. If the Commission discussed full terms and partial terms and were conscious of this distinction, why, in the end, didn't they say 'full term' when they wrote the Charter? Perhaps at the end, they voted to strike the term 'full.' Of course, I'm playing devil's advocate here. The rest of the context may well support his contention.

Intent Quote 2: On page 8 Levesque writes:
The Charter Review Commission recommended that the term limit provisions be evaluated and voted on by the public, but that any adopted term limits be applied prospectively allowing any incumbent eligibility "to run for two additional full terms."
From this he concludes that they meant (for the Assembly) consecutive 'full' terms. I didn't know you could run for partial terms. And this is talking about what the limbo Assembly members (those serving when the rules were being changed) could do.

It's possible the Charter members did mean what Levesque says the meant, but it isn't possible logically, from these scraps of evidence to jump to the conclusion that Levesque presents:
A review of the language used in the MOA Charter term limit provisions reveals that the term limits for electd offices are for either two full consecutive three-year terms or three full consecutive three-year terms. The meaning of the language is clear and unambiguous, partial time served through either appointment or election does not count for the purpose of counting terms. Both the available legislation history and established precedent support this conclusion.

Personal Note

Anchorage is a small town. Dick Traini was a student of mine and I respect him and have voted for him. But Elvi Gray's positions are closer to mine and I have contributed to her campaign. Furthermore, I know Dr. Peter Mjos and even posted a picture of him on the ski trail not too long ago. I'm also trying to balance my desire to share all I know with my obligations to respect the confidentiality of personal conversations I've had with friends. The rules about sources are being debated for professional journalists, and as a citizen blogger, the trust of my friends and family trumps my obligations to my readers. I don't want my friends to stop talking to me if they fear I'll blog it. If I can find an independent source of information, I might use that but not confidential conversations.

I also don't believe in term limits. I recognize that the system tends to favor incumbents, but term limits imply the public is too dumb to vote right and so we have to prevent them from reelecting someone. But it is the law, and we should follow the law or change it. One way to do that is to challenge it when one has legal standing to do that.

My Conlusion

My conclusion is that this is not clearcut and that a hired attorney is not how we determine law. Getting this to a judge gives us a final decision. But it is also problematic that this decision is coming so late in the game that if Traini were determined to be ineligible, another candidate could not run. I also think that things could get seriously messy if the decision is not final before the election and/or Traini should win and then be declared ineligible. It would put a cloud over Elvi Gray if she got elected that way. It would be better for her to ask the voters, as part of her campaign, to show the meaning of the term limits by voting for her and not voting for a candidate who, if elected, could serve more than nine consecutive years, which would seem against the intent of the term limits.

But I think it will be messier if this issue is not resolved before the next mayoral election when there could potentially be a candidate running who will have served a partial term. If reelected, would that person be able to run for a third consecutive term? (Mayor is limited to two terms.) We need to get this cleared up. Unfortunately, it appears that the only way to do that is to challenge a candidate who is running for a fourth term.

In in the big scheme of things, if someone can serve an extra year, even two, it probably is no big deal. But I don't think that things are nearly as unambiguous as Levesque would have us believe.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Happy Birthday Mom

Just in case the card doesn't make it on time, I'll wish you a happy birthday from here. This is two years in a row I'm in Thailand on your birthday. The one thing that wouldn't have worked out well if you'd have come with J is that we live on the fourth floor and there's no elevator.

Well, at least J and J2 are together today. The rest of us are scattered, as you celebrate - I know you don't like me putting your age down so I'll just say, a birthday with two even numbers that add up to 14 and the larger number comes first.

Lineated Barbet and Mystery Bird

Thursday, Feb. 28, 2008 12:20am

At lunch at the same place as yesterday, the white crested laughing thrushes were gone, but this bird was there instead. But I can't figure out what it is.

I thought maybe a minivet, but the colors are definitely not right and I'm not sure of the shape. But it certainly modeled nicely for us, showing all sides for anyone who really knows their Thai birds.

When I got home, I heard a bird calling from not too far and there was this largish bird sitting on the bare tree top a 100 yards away or so. With the binoculars it was very clearly visible - yellow orange beak, yellow rings around black eyes, and the wings and back green like a parrot.
It was fairly easy to narrow this one down in the book. And when I then googled lineated barbet images, it was clear that was what it was. It was there quite a while, but just out of range for a good picture. Here's a picture showing the overall setting, and then one greatly enlarged.

Getting the Thai and English Together

As I try to read through the Thai in my organization's work plan, the words that I've put on my list are now recognizable. But as I work toward Monday's seminar with the people in the office, I realize that I have to use more of the Thai in my presentation and things I hand out. As I move to asking questions about how exactly they are determining whether they have reached their goals or not (and thus how they will write their next set of goals) I need to use the Thai. They do have a basic structure of goals and expected outcomes, which they needed for their Oxfam grant. So I've been reading the English and Thai and meshing the two. Without the English, I would be hard pressed to get the exact meaning of the Thai, but with the English, and I can work it out. So that's what I've been been working on today.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Working Barefoot

One of the many things I like about where I'm working is that I can work barefoot.

Prosecution Responds to Kohring's Requests

Brendan Joel Kelley reports in the Anchorage Press website about the prosecution's response to Vic Kohring's motion for a retrial and the recusal of Judge Sedwick. Here's an excerpt:

The government refers to Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure that—barring newly discovered evidence—any motion for a new trial would have had to been filed no later than November 12, 2007, within seven days of the guilty verdict.

The government also aggressively argues that Kohring’s supposed discovery that the Sedwicks were related—7 to 10 days after his conviction—doesn’t constitute new evidence.

“Assuming for a moment that a ‘deep animosity’ truly existed between Kohring and Mrs. Sedwick in or around 1998, it is illogical and unreasonable for Kohring to suggest that he did not realize the familial relationship between Mrs. Sedwick and the assigned trial judge during the several months prior to his trial or, at the latest, when Mrs. Sedwick was reportedly in the courtroom near the end of the trial,” a portion of the government’s argument reads. “Kohring’s ‘new evidence’ argument might have some air of plausibility had Mrs. Sedwick’s last name been Jones or Smith, but Sedwick is a surname that is not commonplace within Alaska.”

I had pretty much the same reaction when I heard about this in early February:

And it never occurred that Judge Sedwick might be related to this Sedwick who he says was "worst political rival and enemy" until the end of the trial? How many Sedwicks do you know? I certainly would be asking questions if the judge hearing my case had the same name as my worst political rival and enemy. I wouldn't wait until a few days before my sentencing to bring it up.

[A few minutes later: Phil Munger's report on on Kohring's response to the prosecutors' filing is worth reading. A real scoop.]

Work, birds, running, French movie, laundry, NY symphony in Pyongyang

Spent most of the day working on my seminar. Preparing a presentation in Thai and English with pictures to help get the points across. My Thai is frustrating. On a basic level - market Thai - I’m fine. But when I wander off to try to explain things of a more complex level (and some things not so complex) I stumble, my tones are terrible, and I feel kind of stupid. I really need a good teacher who can diagnose my Thai and design a lingual and cognitive therapy that will get the most improvement in the shortest time.

At lunch, Bun and I walked over to Wat Ramphoeng and ate in the lovely garden. A pair of striking white crested birds with a black band through the eye hopped around in the trees around us taunting my Canon.
My shots are great, but you can see them. It appears that one was much more black and white, the other had a lot more brown. After going through the Thai bird book, I’ve decided that they must have been White Crested Laughing Thrushes. (And in the lobby with internet connection, I've confirmed it.)

The temple dragon was much a more cooperative photo model.

After work, I rode my bike over to the track at Chiengmai University - maybe a kilometer a way at most - and finally ran. Time, traffic, heat, and particularly dogs have been my excuses for not running. But I pushed myself over there and did eight slow laps around the track. I’m guessing I did a little over two miles. That’s ok for the first time in weeks. And I hate going around the track - it’s so easy to stop. When you go off on a run, once you get out there, you have to come back. But going around the track you can stop at any time. But it was very pretty. Here’s a shakey picture of Doi Suthep from the track.

Rode through the campus afterward to the main gate and had dinner at the vegetarian restuarant we ate at yesterday for lunch. Very good. When I got back to the southern gate, it was locked. There was enough room to walk through between the posts, but the handle bars wouldn’t fit. I was seeing if I could lift the bike high enough for the handle bars over the poles - I could but I couldn’t get through the narrow opening holding the bike - when a guard showed up and unlocked the gate to let me out.

Did some laundry and watched a French movie with English subtitles. I’ll post about television here soon. We have a wide choice of national televisions. Watched Hong Kong television with Japanese news programing in English covering the New York Philharmonic Orchestra playing in Pyongyang. This was a very political event, with the announcer speculating on the timing a day after the new, hard-line toward North Korea, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak's inauguration. With China, the first event was ping-pong, here it’s the symphony. Who says orchestras are apolitical?

The internet isn’t working again, so I’ll go downstairs and use the wifi and then go to bed. It’s Tuesday and J won’t be back until Friday morning. The manager offered me his car to go pick her up, but I don’t think it’s worth it for that one short trip. The soi is very narrow and you drive on the left side. But it was a very nice offer. He has a sticker to go through the Air Force compound so it’s just a quick shot.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Democracy v. Capitalism - Discovery Channel Takes Taxi to Dark Side

Anchorage folks had the opportunity to see this year's Academy Award winning feature documentary , Taxi to the Dark Side, before it was released to theaters. The Anchorage International Film Festival showed it here in December.

It was my choice for best documentary, but an arctic themed movie won that title here.

But while Taxi beat out Sicko for the Oscar Sunday night, it turns out director Alex Gibney has sold the broadcast rights to the Discovery Channel because they told him, “Look, we love this film. We’re going to give it a broad and very prominent airing.”

Now they are putting it on the shelf because it is "too controversial." Below is an excerpt from a Democracy Now interview (where you can get the whole interview) earlier this month:

ALEX GIBNEY: Well, it turns out that the Discovery Channel isn’t so interested in discovery. I mean, I heard that—I was told a little bit before my Academy Award nomination that they had no intention of airing the film, that new management had come in and they were about to go through a public offering, so it was probably too controversial for that. They didn’t want to cause any waves. It turns out, Discovery turns out to be the see-no-evil/hear-no-evil channel.

AMY GOODMAN: They bought the rights, though.

ALEX GIBNEY: They did.

AMY GOODMAN: So they own it.

ALEX GIBNEY: They own the rights for the next three years. They own the broadcast rights. It’s currently playing in theaters, where people can see it, but we had hoped that it would have a broad airing on television. And indeed, you know, one of the reasons I went with Discovery was because they had told me, “Look, we love this film. We’re going to give it a broad and very prominent airing.”

AMY GOODMAN: But if they still own the rights, can they just not air it for three years and keep you from airing it anywhere else?

ALEX GIBNEY: Yes, they can. That’s their right, because they paid for it. Now, we’re hoping that they’ll agree to sell it to somebody else, you know, maybe for a profit, if they need to do that. But I’m hoping at the very least that they’ll allow somebody else to take it on so it can be shown to the American people.

While this appears to be a strictly business decision -

"that new management had come in and they were about to go through a public offering, so it was probably too controversial for that. They didn’t want to cause any waves"

- there's a real possibility that Taxi never had a chance to get on the Discovery Channel, because Discovery also owns the Military Channel which joined with the Department of Defense program "America Supports You." From a news release dated October 10, 2007:

America Supports You recognizes and facilitates citizens’ support for our military men, women and families, and communicates that support to members of our Armed Forces at home and abroad. The Military Channel and America Supports You first worked together in support of the 2006 Freedom Walk in Washington, D.C. to mark the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11 and honor veterans, past and present.

“We are so pleased that the Military Channel has joined the America Supports You team,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Allison Barber, architect of the America Supports You program. “With their capacity to reach large audiences on an ongoing basis, the Military Channel will help broaden national awareness about America Supports You and connect many more people to the ways they can support and serve the troops and their families.”

The Military Channel brings viewers compelling, real-world stories of heroism, military strategy, technological breakthroughs and turning points in history. The network takes viewers “behind the lines” to hear the personal stories of servicemen and women and offers in-depth explorations of military technology, battlefield strategy, aviation and history. As the only cable network devoted to military subjects, it also provides unique access to this world, allowing viewers to experience and understand a world full of human drama, courage, innovation and long-held traditions of the military. Visit the Military Channel online at

While I thought that Taxi did a good job of taking "viewers “behind the lines” to hear the personal stories of servicemen and women," somehow, I don't think Taxi to the Dark Side tells the story that the Defense Department wants large audiences to see.

The idea of wealthy people and organizations buying silence for ideas they don't like, or buying accolades as Exxon did with the Anchorage Concert Association last Saturday, is contrary to the free and open debate of ideas that our Constitution was intended to promote. In Confessions of an Economic Hitman we also heard about how the author was paid very well NOT to write a book about what he knew.

Thanks to Battlefield of a Peaceful Warrior for the link to this story. Peaceful Warrior also provides a link to the Discovery Channel to urge them to air the movie. (Beware, you have to fill out a lot of information first and it is really designed to get questions about their current shows. Trying to find other ways to contact Discovery proved difficult. The corporate website is impenetrable - its a very slick, but real-information-free site. You can read about the various corporate officers (26 listed, five women, none in program related positions). But there is no contact information at all. No business information.)

However, the America Supports You news release does give us phone numbers and email addresses for two Discovery Channel employees.
Jill Bondurant
Discovery Communications, Inc.
(240) 662-2927 or
Kate Hawken
(240) 662-2947
The idea of buying a film or book of current political relevance and then locking it away so no one can see it (not quite the situation here since it is in theaters now) is clearly in conflict with the idea of free speech. One could say that Gibney didn't have to sell, or should have had a clause in the sale that gave him back the film if it didn't get airplay. But Gibney is a film maker, not a business man or an attorney. People who have great skill in one field, usually don't have the time or aptitude to develop skills in other areas. But given his film topics, he is politically savvy, but still got taken in here.

What would you do if you were offered $1 million for rights to your important political work? (I have no idea what Discover paid, the million is purely hypothetical.) Would you just take the money? Or would you stick by your principles?

I recall when a friend got hired by Alyeska Pipeline. They paid him way more money than he'd ever made before. But there was an expectation that they were buying his loyalty and silence too. How many people get that kind of job, then get subtly pressured into moving to a better neighborhood and living a spendier lifestyle? To the point where they are now just getting by, even at that much higher income?

That's when you become ethically susceptible - where the loss of your job jeopardizes your mortgage, your health insurance, your kids' college education, or even just the glitzier life style and the new 'friends' that come with it. If you buy into that, then they can get you to do things that compromise your basic values, compromise what you deep down know is right, to protect your new life style. If you've been coopted cleverly enough, you might actually believe it all.

Blogging Notes - What I learn from Sitemeter Data

A few observations about visitors to the site from Sitemeter.

  • All hits from Thailand list Bangkok as the location. I know that people from Chiang Mai have been here, so I suspect everything gets routed through Bangkok.
  • "Victor Lebow" and "famous people born 1908" (and variations thereof) continue to be Google search words that bring in a fair percentage of hits.
  • Someone at Naussau Insurance Company got here googling "how often do pirates take over cruise ships" Hmmm, was that just idle curiousity or is something happening?
  • "Taxi to the Dark Side" got a bump from winning the Oscar for best documentary
  • "Maytag A207" gets a couple of hits a week, suggesting there are others trying to keep their old washing machines alive
[Later, and this one hurts: From Istanbul, Turkey "writing rejection letter to a person in need of charity"]

๋ีMonday - random shots

I got a good look at a Koel this morning. It had been kuuuuwow- ing in the tree, but I couldn't see it. Then it flew out and over the building. Unmistakable. But gone to fast to even think about the camera. I pass this temple on the way to work. It's Wat Pa Daeng, where we went to Macha Bucha. Then you saw the stais from the top.

As we got into the pickup to go for lunch, I was told that the vegetarian restaurant we'd been to before was closed because of Macha Bucha. So we went to another vegetarian restaurant north of the Chiang Mai University campus. By the main entrance.

It was really good - B160 - a little over a dollar a piece.
I took this picture to help me remember where this place was. That's the entrance to Chiang Mai University in the background,

And this T shirt was for sale in a shop next to the restaurant.

At the office I'm working on a seminar to kick off my actual management coaching - I'm working on a Keynote (Mac's powerpoint) presentation. This allows me pictures, the words written to help people understand them better, as well as Thai words for key terms that I can't remember, because I never knew them. While I'm not a Powerpoint fan in general, if you do it right, especially when there are language barriers, the written word helps considerably, as will the Thai words and the visuals.

On my way to work and back, I pass this huge property with two houses that you can see from the road. We stopped at my apartment on the way home after lunch so they could see it. They thought it was overpriced. But we went back by the large property, so I pointed it out. It belongs, they gold me, to former prime minister Thaksin's younger brother. Thaksin was ousted by a military coups and exiled. Rumors say he's coming back soon, now that his party won the last election.

Here's a glimpse at the main house

And this is the front gate.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Organic Strawberry Party

Monday, February 25, 1:30am
I went to an organic strawberry party last night (Sunday). All the food had some sort of strawberry connection.

M. on the left is a volunteer in the compound where I work and one of the hosts for the evening. The man on the left was the main cook.

Even the miang kam, a northern Thai specialty, had a strawberry accent in the sauce. And along with all the traditional foods you wrap in the miang leaf (ginger, lime, coconut, hot pepper, peanut, onion, and dried shrimp) there were pieces of strawberry too. This is a favorite treat of mine from the old days which is getting harder and harder to find these days.

Recently married, she's not a Thai, but an American of Philippine heritage working for an NGO here, and he's meditating.
We had a strawberries on a string game.
And mostly a lot of people, Thai, American, French, Dutch, Irish (that I was aware of) working in various NonGovernmental Organizations - mostly related somehow to organic farming and/or sustainable farming got a chance to talk and eat great food. All in support of organic strawberry growers in nothern Thailand.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

"the only thing wrong with tainted money is there tain't enough of it"

The title comes from the Grantsmanship Center News by way of Mike Burns raising the question "when is tainted money "keepable"?

The topic comes up because of Phil Munger's letter to the Anchorage Symphony about tonight's (in Anchorage it should be happening as I start to write) concert underwritten by Exxon/Mobil and the Association's custom of asking the audience to applaud the donors. Phil felt that since Exxon hasn't paid the plaintiffs in the 1989 oil spill case and that the final arguments are going before the Supreme Court this week, that rather than applaud, they should ask the audience to observe a moment of silence for those plaintiffs who have died waiting for their settlements. [Note: Munger isn't just some crank off the streets. He's a professor of music at UAA who has composed a number of serious musical pieces, at least one of which, I believe, the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra has premiered.]

The letter Munger got back said, "While some organizations exist to engage political and economic issues, that is not the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra's mission."

It was also my intent when I started this blog to stay out of political issues. However, it became clear to me that to say nothing was to support the status quo. To accept Exxon's money and then to ask the audience to applaud Exxon is a political act whether the Orchestra wishes to acknowledge that or not.

The question then is whether there is anything wrong in that. First, is the money 'tainted.' Second, must all tainted money be declined?

Looking for guidelines on this topic was interesting. I couldn't find much in the way of guidelines for declining charitable contributions.

Jewish law has thoughtful guidelines for giving charity.

The Talmud describes these different levels of tzedakah, and Rambam organized them into a list. The levels of charity, from the least meritorious to the most meritorious, are:

1. Giving begrudgingly
2. Giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully.
3. Giving after being asked
4. Giving before being asked
5. Giving when you do not know the recipient's identity, but the recipient knows your identity
6. Giving when you know the recipient's identity, but the recipient doesn't know your identity
7. Giving when neither party knows the other's identity
8. Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant

These guidelines really were developed for individuals, not corporations. They suggest that the most meritorious giving is when the giver doesn't know who gets the money and the receiver doesn't know where the money comes from. And the money helps move the recipient to self-reliance. So, ideally, Exxon-Mobile would have, under this standard, given money to a third party who would give the money to the Orchestra without the Orchestra knowing the source or Exxon knowing who got it. And it would be given in such a way that it would help the Orchestra become self sufficient.

Of course, this is a high standard. Orchestra board members and donors would all tell you very little money would be donated on those terms. But that also means that they aren't doing it simply to be good citizens and because they believe in the orchestra. If they want their name on it, it means Exxon's (and others who give) purpose is to be seen as an organization that supports the community. The intent is to improve its image. And there is nothing wrong with that.

But what guidance is there for organizations for evaluating whether money is 'tainted' or not? It's hard to find.

Politicians decline money, or give it back, if they think accepting it would lose them votes. From MSNBC
Jack Abramoff has already pled guilty and many politicians, including President Bush, are rushing to return money linked to the disgraced former lobbyist.
The decision is made, not on moral grounds, but practical grounds.

Ethics of receiving organ donations
revolves around whether donors risk their lives because of their poverty to the benefit of wealthy receivers. This is a clear moral decision that is in opposition to market rules - let the buyer and seller make their own deal. Of course, the ideal market assumes the buyer and seller have an equal ability to walk away from the deal.

Department of Interior has a list of prohibited sources of donations

D. Prohibited Sources

1. Departmental agencies, or employees on behalf of their agencies, should not accept (or solicit or accept under a cooperative Foundation program) donations from persons and entities who:

(a) Have litigation pending with, or have or are seeking to obtain a contract, lease, grant or other business, benefit or assistance from the agency that would receive the donation.

(b) Conduct operations or activities that are regulated by the agency that would receive the donation.

(c) Appear to be offering a gift with the expectation of obtaining advantage or preference in dealing with the Department or any of its agencies.

These are really conflict of interest issues, concerned with whether the donations affect agency decision making or appear to, not with whether the money is tainted.

This is similar to the James Beard Foundation Code of Ethics which discusses donors' rights and discusses avoiding donations from suppliers and others with business with the Foundation that might bias business decisions. But they don't talk about dealing with tainted money.

Blind trusts are one option so that one does not know where the money is coming from. Here's a Maryland ruling about a judge setting up a blind trust for his legal defense. But once again, here the purpose is to avoid bias or compelling donors to give, not with whether the money is tainted.

The one article I found that dealt directly with the question of accepting tainted money was again using Jewish law, discussing the Marc Rich pardon case. Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz identifies three problematic aspects of receiving charity from questionable sources:

1. Accepting Charity from Disreputable Figures
2. Charity With Ulterior Motives
3. Speaking on Behalf of a Donor: Corruption or Advocacy?

The Orchestra, like most non-profits, needs money. Large corporations have lots of money. So the Orchestra has to wrestle with the question of whether they should take money from an organization that first soiled Alaska with the biggest oil spill we have ever had, and second, has fought the court judgments for almost 20 years, leaving plaintiffs without the payments the courts ruled for them. Of course, Exxon has every right to take this to the Supreme Court. And I'm sure there are people on the Orchestra board who are fully supportive of Exxon's actions in Alaska.

You could make a good argument for accepting the money, even money from someone with a disreputable past. If someone has amassed a great fortune, through questionable means, should they not be allowed to try to make some amends by giving it away later on.? But if that is what they are doing, the charity receiving the money could set conditions for accepting it. According to the Jewish guidelines it would be better to give it away anonymously. Without the recipient even knowing where it came from.

Ideally this would be a blind trust for donors so that they don't know where the money went and the receivers don't know where it came from. And gifts that make the non-profits more independent of future donations would be the best.

But Exxon doesn't fit into the reformed sinner category. They plea before the Supreme Court this coming week, I believe, to appeal the judgment made in the oil spill nearly 20 years ago. Even the State of Alaska and several living former governors have briefs in opposing Exxon on this

One story that explains corporate giving as honest interest in improving the communities where they live. And I'm sure there are Exxon employees who believe this story. It's in their moral interest to believe they work for a good, ethical company. But just like large corporations want politicians to need lots of money so that they can have influence on them, having financially starved non-profits makes it possible for large corporations to launder their reputations, cheaply.

And at the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra washing away oily memories comes pretty cheap. To get into the Maestro's Circle, the highest level of donor according to their website costs a mere $1500 or more. Even I could afford that if I really, really loved classical music. In contrast, the Anchorage Opera has four levels above that:
Sustainers ($2,500-$4,999)

Benefactors ($5,000-$7,499)

Guarantors ($7,500-$9,999)

Founders ($10,000+)
Now Exxon's 2007 after tax profits were about $40 Billion. Let's say they kicked in $40,000 (I'm guessing it might not be that much, but it's easier to calculate. Someone making $100,000 before taxes, if I calculated this right, would have to donate 10 cents to donate an equivalent percent of their income. [We're working with a lot of zeros here and it's late, so someone check the math.]

Do we applaud those who worked hard last year and gave ten cents to the Orchestra, the same percentage of his net profit that Exxon gave?

A lot of people have complained about how Anderson, Kott, and Kohring took money from lobbyists in return for favors. All three have said, in their own defense, "The money didn't change how I voted or what I did. I already believed in these causes." But most of us know it was wrong.

And we've all (except Ray Metcalfe) winked and nodded at the money our Congressional delegation has brought home. And we know that it is no coincidence that Exxon is getting itself applauded at the Atwood Center the same week it is announcing "a new project to develop and produce hydrocarbon resources from the Point Thomson field on the Alaska North Slope" and just before the US Supreme Court will hear its appeal on the Prince William Sound oil spill.

So it seems that Munger is asking the Orchestra to ask itself what they are willing to do to get Exxon's money? He didn't ask them to give it back. He only asked that they not have people applaud Exxon this week in Alaska. But hey, I've got a dime I'm willing to contribute, that's a larger percent of my income than Exxon's donation was of its income. Will you read my name and ask for applause for me too?

Gays Depicted in Temple Paintings

From the Bangkok Post:

Mention homosexuality and many Thais will blame it on recent Western influences. Ask Varaporn Vichayarath what she thinks, however, and she would simply smile before providing a list of old temples with murals depicting same-sex courtship.

Yes, homosexual courtship between both men and women.

And yes, at temples.

"Contrary to conservative beliefs, homosexuality has long existed in our society, as evidenced by these mural paintings," said Varaporn, a book editor who has researched the topic.

The rest of the story is here.

J Should be Taking Off as I Post

Sunday, Feb. 24, 2008 11:15am
The advantage of an early Sunday morning flight is that there's no traffic, it's cool (it says 66F/19C), the monks are out with their alms bowls, and you get to see the sun rise. Our cab was waiting for us when we got downstairs 15 minutes early.

Here's J at the airport. Isn't she beautiful? Even squinting into the rising sun.

From getting into the cab to saying goodbye at the passenger lounge entrance, even getting a lot of red lights, and not taking the short cut through the air force compound, to the passenger lounge took 20 minutes total. It's a three hour flight to Singapore on Tiger Airways, an Australian discount airline I found online. Our son has school break next week so they should have a good time.

I was going to walk back in the cool morning air. If you have the right decal on your windshield, you can go through the air force compound to the airport. It's a direct shot, maybe a couple of kilometers at the most. But the cab didn't so we had to go around the long way, compounded by one way streets that take you out of the way around the moat of the old city center. But the cab driver thought pedestrians didn't need a pass. He was wrong. I thought about hitching a ride with someone who had a pass, but decided to walk the other way.

But I got pestered by tuk tuk drivers and song tao drivers and finally said ok. He dropped me off at the entrance to the soi. A soi is a street off a main street. Alley isn't the right translation. The main street here is Suthep (the name of the mountain, means angel in Thai, and was the Thai name I was given long ago because it is close to Steve.) So we live on Tanon (road) Suthep, Soi 4.

I had the song tao driver (I looked, but don't seem to have a picture of a song tao - it means two rows. It's a pickup truck with a covered bed and in the back are two rows of benches for passengers to sit on. In some places they go on regular routes. I'm not sure if that's the case here, most seem to be for hire like taxis here) drop me off where at the soi entrance on Suthep Road.
After getting most of the way up the soi, I saw the sign announcing our place - Baan Nai lek - and thought I should take some pictures in the early morning light. (It's the white sign on the pole on the left that says 300 meters to go.) It's about a seven minute slow walk up from the main road.

And a little further is the sign for Mi Casa. We're told this is an expensive Mediterranean restaurant. Expensive is a relative term - dishes are B200 - B500 (about $12-15) I was told. One day.

Here's the old house it's in and the hours it's open. Maybe we'll try it for lunch one day.

They're still working on this, though there are people inside in the afternoon. (You could see this building and the white fence in the pic with the yellow Mi Casa sign) Not sure what it is. There's what seems to be a recording studio back closer to the road. You can see our building in the background.

A little closer. Just after I took this picture, a huge rotweiler threw itself against the gate next to me. He was inside the fence.

And here at the entrance to my building are three members of the welcoming committee. There are dogs all over. The ones that bark the most are inside a closed gate. Most just move out of the way. A couple of times dogs have chased the bike a little, but those times people called them back.

And since I haven't posted a picture of my bike yet, I thought I'd get our parking lot. My bike is the green one on the other side of the white barrier.

I was going to have this posted before J's plane took off, but my daughter got skype and called and we talked for over an hour. If you don't know about skype and you make long distance calls, especially overseas, you should know. Two people with skype can chat, talk, and video for free. If you have skype you can also call regular phones for very low rates. The sound quality is usually better and I'm told the encryption is very good too. I'm sure the CIA and FBI will be working on skype calls before long if they haven't already though.

I've got a seminar to give next week some time, so that's what I'll work on today. More on that later.