Agam's Gecko
Monday, April 13, 2009
Roses for troops
A citizen offers roses to symbolize the people's love for the soldiers in their efforts to re-establish peace in their city, April 13, 2009.
Photo: AP / Wong Maye-E

irect clashes between Thai military forces and the Thaksin-backed "revolutionary" red mobs broke out this morning at around 4 am as the troops moved in force to clear the Din Daeng intersection. Demonstrators commandeered a city bus and drove it into the ranks of soldiers who responded by firing their weapons, reportedly into the sky. Petrol bombs were used by the rioters, and around 70 people were reported injured in the incident — about one-third of these were military personnel, several of whom sustained wounds from gunshots allegedly fired by the demonstrators.

Demonstrators have also commandeered at least two LPG tanker trucks, in addition to the many city buses (several of which have been set ablaze) which they have used to blockade roads and hamper the troops' movement. Fires are also set at several locations using large tires for fuel. If this sounds like a dangerous combination for "non-violent" protest tactics, it's because Thaksin's mobs care nothing about this capital or the safety of its people. One of the LPG tankers was parked right next to an apartment building, and protesters taunted the soldiers by opening the gas valve and threatening to send the whole place sky high.

The main rail station is closed and all city bus services have been stopped for passenger safety. The security forces seem to be slowly gaining the upper hand in this second straight day of anarchy in the City of Angels. The push to regain order (over a situation in which widely-spread flashpoints are kept going by relatively small groups of protesters) appears to be proceeding methodically. An effort to disperse the main grouping of Thaksin's "revolutionaries" ensconced with their big stage at Government House may be expected before day's end. Or, let's just say before dawn tomorrow.

Thaksin's lieutenants who are directing these mob actions are claiming that a number of their followers have been killed in the crackdown, but hospital officials have flatly denied this. At last report no one has been killed so far, but the total number of casualties is not precisely known. [Security officials have just confirmed (4:20 pm) that no lives have been lost as yet. Injuries have been sustained by both protesters and soldiers.]

Some time ago I saved a quote by the late Michael Crichton, found in comments on a news story about a completely unrelated matter, for later use at an opportune moment. This seems as good a time as any.
"Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.

"In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

"That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I'd point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all.

"But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn't."
Naturally this effect is as relevant to television news as it is to newspapers. This morning I took a short break from constantly bouncing my receiver between all the local broadcasters, for a brief look at how CNN and BBC are covering this.

Thaksin's men
Thaksin supporters are looking for bloodshed. From their idol's latest phone-ins to incite them, this is precisely what he's hoping for as well.
Photo: AP / Wong Maye-E
If you have a choice, I recommend to pick BBC for accuracy on this story. Their man on the street at the moment, Alastair Leithead is very good, and not at all given to theatrics. CNN on the other hand has the incorrigible drama queen Dan Rivers, who was a Thailand rookie when the 2006 coup d'etat took place and distinguished himself with spouting the most inane rubbish about Thai history I've ever seen on any media. Dan's been providing some very breathless reports today, but none of it very enlightening.

BBC also has the veteran South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head on the scene here. This is one journalist who really knows what he's talking about in this region, and who has had my respect for many years for his work in Thailand and Indonesia.

While the CNN anchor this morning was talking with Rivers by phone, breathless Dan needed to relocate himself and "rang off." Then it was, "And now for some deeper background information on the crisis with [other anchor lady] who is monitoring events at our News Center." She then proceeded to go over some bullet points of essential information for people to understand things in context. And nearly all of it was absolute crap. Anyone who absorbed it would understand things less than if they hadn't seen it at all.

For just two examples (I didn't write it down, too busy yelling at her for being so stupid), she talked about the Thai Rak Thai party (Thaksin's original personal political vehicle) as though it was one of the main players today. The party was disbanded years ago! Then she got into the red - yellow thing, proclaiming that "yellow is the symbolic colour for Prime Minister Abhisit's Democrat Party." Aaaggghhh! Just shut up already if that's the best your "researchers" can do.

I've had this experience enough times in recent years on subjects that I do know something about (Burma, Tibet, Thailand), that I now feel well inoculated against the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. Some news sources may be judged as more trustworthy than others, but don't extend complete trust in any of them. The "most trusted source in news" has different nicknames around my house, and when I come up with a printable one, I'll let you know.

The news photo stream from the wireservices on the Thai crisis can now be found here. English daily paper The Nation has begun a timeline of events starting early this morning, and continually updated.


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