on this day

Conor David Purcell: “Nobody in this country has authority over me”

He can also bend spoons with his mind.

“He can also bend spoons with his mind.” — The Bangkok Post, while not especially fond of holding senior military figures to account, never resiles from the chance to make western expats look like fuckwits

On this day in 2010, Irish-born Australian national Conor David Purcell, then 29, took to a makeshift stage in downtown Bangkok, and gave his account of the April 10 assault on anti-government protesters which left 25 dead and 800 injured.

Some men are born to tilt at windmills, others have their windmills thrust upon them. A resident of Thailand for less than five months, and claiming to be a member of Australia’s Special Air Service of seven years’ standing (in truth a former part-time army reservist), Purcell was working as an English teacher and living off the kindness of strangers when the redshirt movement, aligned with ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, began protests the previous month calling for the resignation of the Democrat Party government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva. In the article above, he told the Bangkok Post that he has lost an emergency passport issued by the Australian embassy along with his last 1,400 baht (~AU$50) in the April 10 fracas, during which he was shot with rubber bullets by the Thai military.

“You need to take what he says with a big dose of salt. He’s a big noter who gilds the lily big time,” was the unofficial response of the embassy, apparently already rather well-acquainted with Purcell—sometime before his onstage debut, he had emailed dozens of media organisations and MPs back home demanding an official Australian response to the actions of the Abhisit government.

One would think that advertising your lack of legal documentation in Thailand’s newspaper of record would make one a little circumspect about seeking publicity, let alone attaching oneself to an opposition protest movement during a State of Emergency. Sure enough, Purcell was arrested on May 24 on suspicion of violating emergency decree laws that forbade participation in the protests, carrying a maximum two-year custodial sentence. While his continued detention was considered in court, he berated the judge and insisted he was being unlawfully held, disregarding an embassy representative who repeatedly asked him to be quiet. “Nobody in this country has authority over me,” he said at one point, demonstrating once again the timeless maxim that white privilege is the last refuge of the Australian abroad.

Lawrence of Siam arrives back in Sydney

“Ask me about my PTSD” — Lawrence of Siam arrives back in Sydney to rouse the masses, while a handsome young graduate at DFAT’s offices 300 kilometres to the south sets a Microsoft Outlook reminder to cancel Purcell’s passport ~15 minutes after he expects the press pack to head back to Holt Street

Away from the media he evidently calmed down and accepted the embassy’s counsel, serving six weeks of an eventual three month sentence once he admitted to addressing the redshirt rallies on two occasions. With no-one either back in Australia or at the embassy to spring for the $460 plane fare home, he spent a further two weeks in immigration detention before his flight was paid by Dr Pongsak Phusitsakul, a Thai surgeon who met Purcell during the crackdown and encouraged him to speak to the crowd on April 18. Upon his arrival in Sydney, Purcell told reporters he was beaten by prisoners on the order of guards, and said he would soon travel back to Thailand and continue to “fight for democracy”. I have found nothing to indicate his return, and his Facebook page suggests he is now living in Brisbane.


Xi takes his bat and ball

"Smash the Four Olds of the Chongqing Model!"  — all Xi agitprop now 1080p compatible

“Smash the Four Olds of the Chongqing Model!” — all Xi agitprop now 1080p compatible

It took me a while to get to the end of the latest Evan Osnos thing in the New Yorker—building a profile of the Chinese president around quotes from Kevin Rudd erects an imposing psychological hurdle. If you’re acquainted with the man’s voice, reading him on the page is impossible without your consciousness being penetrated by the measured tones of his technocrat babble—self-assured and condescending to the last, even after the Rio Tinto boardroom Ides of Marched him back in 2010 and he lost big to the leftover dregs of Howard’s B-team three years later. Now that he’s comprehensively fucked the domestic political landscape, he’s off reinventing himself as the philosopher-statesman of the East: gala dinners at Rockefeller III’s Asia Society HQ in New York one night and TED talks the next. Maybe he’s still gunning for UN secretary-general;¹ failing that I’m sure he’s an odds-on bet to be the first laowai in the Chinese politburo. Jokes!

Anyway, one anecdote stood out from Osnos’s piece, describing how Xi consolidated power in the aftermath of the Bo Xilai fallout in Chongqing:

“Beset by crises, Xi suddenly disappeared. On September 4, 2012, he cancelled a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and visits with other dignitaries. As the days passed, lurid rumors emerged, ranging from a grave illness to an assassination attempt. When he reappeared, on September 19th, he told American officials that he had injured his back. Analysts of Chinese politics still raise the subject of Xi’s disappearance in the belief that a fuller explanation of why he vanished might illuminate the depth, or fragility, of his support. In dozens of conversations this winter, scholars, officials, journalists, and executives told me that they suspect he did have a health problem, and also reasons to exploit it. They speculate that Xi, in effect, went on strike; he wanted to install key allies, and remove opponents, before taking power, but Party elders ordered him to wait. A former intelligence official told me, “Xi basically says, ‘O.K., fuck you, let’s see you find someone else for this job. I’m going to disappear for two weeks and miss the Secretary of State.’ And that’s what he did. It caused a stir, and they went running and said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa.’ ” The handoff went ahead as planned. On November 15, 2012, Xi became General Secretary.”

Holy shit! Did they put old episodes of Borgen on the curriculum at Tsinghua University? Tell me that’s not a baller move.

1. And maybe support for his candidacy was the quid pro quo he negotiated with Julie Bishop. The press gallery being so easy-breezy about Rudd using the opposition to bring down the prime ministership of Julia Gillard has to be the greatest case of professional negligence by journalists since the Courier-Mail in the ’80s. At least this guy gets it: “On Valentine’s Day the Liberal Party deluged Rudd during Question Time in Parliament House with chocolate roses. The roses had been given, one to each MP, by veteran Liberal MP Warren Entsch as a friendly Valentine’s Day gesture. The Opposition decided to use the roses as a means of publicly thanking Rudd for his treachery in destabilising Gillard and sent their roses one-by-one, to the nauseatingly obsequious Rudd.”


Malevolent Dictatorship

"Woke up this morning! You got a blue moon in your eyes!" —A keen scholar of SLORC-era Burma, Prayuth knows that karma debts arising from secret military courts can be repaid by making merit at the nearest pagoda.

“Woke up this morning! You got a blue moon in your eyes!” — A keen scholar of SLORC-era Burma, Prayuth Chan-ocha knows that karma debts arising from secret military courts can be repaid by making merit at the nearest pagoda.

It’s not martial law if you return to constitutional rule, even if the military drafted the constitution. Just ask Myanmar!

Yep, this checks out.

One of the reasons behind the April 1 decision to end martial law was its impact on international tourism (around 7-10% of GDP, depending on your measure), a curious rationale given that Thailand’s had more coups in the last 50 years than you and I’ve had hot dinners. All the same, if international arrivals are down, one should never underestimate the power of a thin coat of PR. Everyone’s freaking out about Article 44 of the interim constitution and why investing Gaddafi-tier powers in someone with a history of public temper tantrums might be a little ill-considered—but on the bright side, if the New Junta™ rebrand doesn’t work, you can shave another hundred of the list price of those Jetstar flights to Phuket by the end of the year.


Don’t mourn, despotise!

"Brother, can I hit you up for that 40 mil? 16 storey bronze Hun Sen statues don't come cheap you know." The Cambodian PM holds court at the Autocrat's Picnic on Sunday.

“Hey brah, can I hit you up for that 40 mil yet?” —Hun Sen holds court at the Strongmen’s Picnic on Sunday.

Strongman funeral roll-call time!

  • Hun Sen, Cambodia — The Cambodian judiciary last year released the two men accused of gunning down trade union leader Chea Vichea in broad daylight back in 2004. Despite numerous witnesses placing them hundreds of kilometres away, and the first trial judge (later sacked by the government) throwing out the case, the pair spent years in prison. Back in 2013, the government agreed to partially fund and erect a two-metre tall statue of Chea, on the condition that garment unions put a halt to an annual anniversary march to the site of his assassination in Wat Lanka. Hun Sen recently announced a plan to build a 16-storey tall statue of himself across the river from downtown Phnom Penh.
  • Thongsing Thammavong, Laos — Last year criminalised online criticism of his government and made internet service providers liable for the online conduct of their subscribers.
  • Park Geun-hye, South Korea — Remains the subject of an ongoing investigation as to whether the National Intelligence Service was conscripted to promote her presidential campaign, a flagrant breach of the country’s 1988 constitution.
  • Nguyen Tan Dung, Vietnam — Didn’t let missing out on the General-Secretary post dampen his enthusiasm for locking up pro-reform bloggers.
  • Vladimir Putin, Russia (absent with apologies) —”In post-Soviet Russia, steel beams melts YOU!
  • Xi Jinping, China — Last year 79-year-old Hong Kong editor Yiu Mantin was apprehended and brought up on smuggling charges during a visit to mainland China, after his publishing company announced plans to release a critical biography of Xi. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, or a shade under 18 months for each of the seven cans of paint he was accused of illegally importing.
  • Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand — “‘We’ll probably just execute them,’ said Mr Prayuth, without a trace of a smile, when asked by reporters how the government would deal with those who did not adhere to the official line.”
  • Thein Sein, Burma — Three men sentenced to 2.5 years with hard labour in March for “religious offence” after releasing a promotional nightclub flyer featuring a picture of the Buddha wearing headphones. Former opposition member and prominent columnist Htin Lin Oo facing at least two years in prison for having the audacity to claim that Buddhism strictly forbade violence against other religions. Despite his promise to grant amnesty to all political prisoners at the end of 2013, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reports 170 political prisoners remain behind bars, with another 238 activists awaiting trial, mostly on “unlawful assembly” charges. Some are under the age of 18.
  • Shinzo Abe, Japan — Along with 13 of the 20 members of his cabinet, and 289 of the 480 members of parliament, Abe is a member of Nippon Kaigi, an organisation which argues, inter alia, that “the 1946-1948 Tokyo War Crimes tribunals were illegitimate, and that the killings by Imperial Japanese troops during the 1937 ‘Nanjing massacre’¹ were exaggerated or fabricated.” OK, LOL. In government, has sought constitutional workarounds to remilitarise the country.
  • Najib Razak, Malaysia — Denied the interference of Barisan Nasional, which has ruled continuously since 1957, in opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s prosecution and return to the clink.
  • Tony Abbott, Australia — Fuckwit.
  • Voldemort, United States — The only man with more Cambodian blood on his hands than Pol Pot and Co. Somewhere in a parallel dimension better than this one, France and the States swapped him for Polanski and they both went to rot in a dungeon somewhere (preferably before the latter released Carnage).

You can kill the man, but you can’t kill the weltanschauung. At least these guys made the trains run on time, am I right?

"Mein Führer, I can walk!" Oh fuck off, if Kubrick can then I can.

“Mein Führer, I can walk!” (Alternate caption: “ROSEBUD!”)

This Salon article misses the mark, so let’s start tearing down this fire hazard-sized straw man before Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicks over a lantern and the whole fucking place goes up.

First clue: “Clinton & Kissinger should be ashamed,” reads the teaser—as if the man who executed a death row convict so mentally stunted he saved the pecan pie dessert from his last meal “for later”, or the man who turned Chile into the world’s first neo-liberal petri dish, had the capacity for shame.

Clue Part Deux: “While Singapore’s material progress is beyond question, the argument that democracy and economic advances are mutually exclusive rests on paper-thin logic of the kind Lee did all he could to promote.” Speaking of paper-thin logic, haven’t heard many vocal proponents of the idea that economic advances necessitate democratic governance lately. China’s economy just overtook America’s: where you at, Fukuyama? Anyone whose Nostradamus act relies on Hegel will always get smacked in the face when the pendulum comes swinging back, so off with you to the chateau in Salò to eat your words.

Clue the Third: the author rests his case by quoting Amos Yee, the 16-year-old kid now facing a spell in old chokey for having the audacity—the sheer nerve of it all—to claim that money + prosperity ≠ happiness: “Lee was a dictator but managed to fool most of the world into thinking he was democratic…” WRONGALONGADINGDONG. Sorry kid, I’d say your age is a mitigating factor but your government certainly doesn’t agree.

Lee didn’t pull the veil over anyone’s eyes. For the West, so long as you’re not drinking from goblets fashioned out of the skulls of your enemies, commerce > human rights.² The less objectionable members of his Eastern fanclub (China between Deng and Xi, Mahathir) admired him for his economic success, which in their eyes was inextricably linked to his autocratic leadership. The worse ones (Suharto, post-’97 Hun Sen, about half of the Burmese junta c. 1988-2010) admired him because he was an autocrat, jettisoning all that superfluous nation-building malarkey and raiding the treasury to bankroll their families and crony networks.

They say if you wander the subterranean halls of the RAND Corporation at midnight, you can still hear the ghostly voice of Francis Fukuyama, faintly calling: "One out of three ain't bad! One out of three ain't bad!"

They say if you wander the subterranean halls of the RAND Corporation at midnight, you can still hear the ghostly voice of Francis Fukuyama, faintly calling: “One out of three ain’t baaaaaad”

There is precisely one timeless law of political science to emerge from the 20th century. Take it away Robert Michels, court philosopher to Il Duce: “after amount of time, any organization or polity, no matter how democratically structured, will inevitably become oligarchic.” There is a reason that Asia looked to Singapore as the Paris of 1789 looked to America, and you and I both will spend the rest of our lives in the shadow of Marina Bay Sands, learning just what it means.

Lee is dead. The Age of Lee is just beginning.


1. Also known as the Rape of Nanking, a title earlier in vogue within WWII historiography. Why was it called the Rape of Nanking, you ask? [SPOILER ALERT] There was a lot of rape.
2. For the years 1945-89, substitute for Cold War scuttlebutt > human rights.