Cambodia Politics and Development, Kampot, Cambodia

It was quite a circus on Kampot’s riverside last new year’s with every centimeter of the park strip that wasn’t occupied by parked cars and motorbikes taken up by Khmer picnickers and revelers. They laid out their straw mats on the hard ground and partied up. Some brought their boom boxes, others brought tents for overnight. It’s too bad the park strip is so narrow right at old town, because Khmers love to congregate, they hate being alone and only feel really comfortable when lots of other people are around. So while there were locals picnicking all along the 3 kilometer waterfront it was most crowded where it could least accommodate them.

In the aftermath there was trash all over the place, though actually, the majority was piled around the small inadequate trash bins. Maybe they just don’t have any additional ones they could’ve placed there, but it sure would’ve made a difference in the clean up phase.

The road itself was also jammed with vehicles and people. The absence of usable sidewalks doesn’t impact life and livability in a small city like Kampot with about 50 to 60,000 people the way it does in the capital, because traffic is generally relatively light, but on a holiday like new years, it can get pretty treacherous out there trying to get around.

Kampot has become a prime destination for locals on holiday. They flock to the little burg at every opportunity. Especially from Phnom Penh, since the capital has done and is doing its best to cover every public park and vacant space with buildings. If you don’t live near the river or Olympic stadium, there’s no place to go for respite from the noise and concrete. I just don’t get it: The people who run the country have certainly been to other cities in the region and the world that have wonderful natural parks. Just in our neighborhood, Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok, Rangoon all have beautiful parks. In Cambodia’s cities, there isn’t a single natural park outside of Siem Reap. The country is great at securing riverside space for the people, but after that, zilch, nada, nil.

High season is in full swing with everybody, or nearly everybody enjoying the rush of customers. Still, it doesn’t seem as busy as in the past, though maybe only because new establishments are proliferating. There’s been lots of live music around, not like rainy season when the place was dead. In addition to the old regulars like the Playboys which I mention often, there’s a threesome called the Potshots. Ant and John are on guitars and Hugh on drums make a really tight sound, they’ve literally been playing together for years. Ant and John also play around town as a duo. After a long hiatus, I’ve started to bring my instruments at open mics so the action is welcome.

Potshots is also the name of a paintball park partly owned by Ant. Sounds like great fun, though I personally probably shouldn’t be running around on rough terrain at my age. I can take off on a sprint without a problem, if I’m thinking and careful, but the old bones get brittle and I could easily get sprained if I got too excited and rambunctious while out on the kill.

Speaking of traffic let me unload some pet peeves and proffer a little advice. Here in Kampot car drivers will stop their vehicles wherever they happen to be in the street, even right in the center of a traffic lane. Sure, most times there’s little traffic and plenty of room to get around, but it still seems weird to me. The rule is to always get your vehicle as far as possible off the traffic lanes, cause you never know if the necking down you are causing will in turn result in an accident. That’s especially true on highways where people are driving really fast: get out of the way or you may be in for a rude awakening. Even just a motorbike can cause problems when it’s on the edge of the roadway instead of completely off it. Stopping anywhere you feel like also happens in Phnom Penh, where I saw drivers everywhere double parking, causing minor jams. Cambodia’s cities were not built for the automobile, so as the number of cars in the country ramps up there’ll be gridlock and chaos. The problem will also be exacerbated by the large multistory buildings filling up the center city since they will be drawing large numbers of cars. Even if they provide parking spaces to residents, there’ll still be a lot more traffic.

The government is working on traffic legislation. One proposal is establish a minimum driving age of 18 for cars and 15 for motorbikes. Sounds reasonable enough, but if the moto age restriction is ever enforced here in Kampot there’ll be lots of very disappointed little kiddies who you can see bopping around on their little bikes. I see them as young as 6 or 7 years old. While they may be fully capable in a technical sense of handling their Chalys or what have you, they have almost no sense of safe driving practices and will cut corners, snake around traffic and pull in front of vehicles without thinking, not to mention often drive very fast. And of course it’s very rare to see one wearing a helmet. Personally, I’d be scared to death to have a little kid of mine out in traffic with all the crazies out there doing cowboy tricks on the road.

Also the PM has ordered that drivers of motorbikes with 125cc or less engines be exempt from having a driver’s license. I’m sure everybody who drives one of those little bikes – what we call scooters in the west – was happy to hear that, but what about the need to know the traffic rules? For that there’s no substitute than passing a test.

One of my driving pet peeves is how motorists will stop their cars at night but leave the headlights on, including when they’re facing the wrong direction. It’s very disconcerting when you’re facing bright lights on your side of the road. Didn’t anybody teach them what parking lights, sometimes called running lights are for? You want people to know you’re there, you don’t want to blind them.

And let me reiterate, when you’re out walking at night, especially if you’re going to be on a road that’s not well lit, you need to wear something white or light colored even if you think all black is more stylish, because otherwise you are invisible to drivers until they get very close. I usually drive slowly, but I do get distracted at times and old eyes generally lose some of their night vision so you really want me to see you far in advance, not have to swerve out of the way at the last minute.

A large scale drug crackdown is in force here in Cambodia, maybe sparked or inspired by the Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous assault on small time users and dealers. Summary execution for selling a few nickel bags of meth to fund your addiction? Or just using? No evidence, no trial, no lawyer, no opportunity to claim your innocence? He even bragged about participating in a few extrajudicial murders himself while mayor of Davao in the southern island of Mindanao. The result of 18 years of his tenure as an anti-drugs anti-crime mayor?: Davao has one of the highest murder rates in the country, in a country where violent crime is rife. And all those bloody murders where official numbers show the country has 4 million ‘addicts’, which mysteriously grew from only 1.3 million just a couple years ago. That would be a lot in Cambodia which has 15 million people, but the Philippines has more than 100 million, so at most a minor irritant. Also, rumor has it that Duterte is addicted to prescription pain killers, so if true, a hypocrite besides.

Other countries in the region maintain a mandatory death sentence for relatively small amounts of drugs: In Malaysia and Singapore 15 grams of heroin or 200 grams of pot qualify for the death penalty. Talking to a Malaysian a few years back, he said that traffickers figure if they’re going to die for a small amount, they might as well do large amounts.

With the advanced world moving towards looser, more humanitarian attitudes towards drugs, this type of crack down is an insanely regressive move.

Instead of education and harm reduction, people are getting draconian sentences. A friend knows a woman who was duped by a boyfriend into carrying a kilo of meth and got 27 years. A truck driver who got $100 for moving a ton of marijuana got life in prison. Another woman duped by a boyfriend into importing 2 kilos of cocaine also got life. He kept pressuring her until she gave in. She had no idea what she was transporting. She aroused suspicion by not having any check-in baggage. These are not the big fish, but merely couriers. In a country where murder sometimes only gets 15 to 20 years, a travesty of justice.

The place to start easing up is of course ganja. With nine American states making recreational pot totally legal and another 20 or so making medical weed legal; Uruguay legalizing pot and others loosing up, there’s no reason whatever for going after pot here in Cambodia, especially with the anomaly of ganja being quasi-legal for happy pizzas. Colorado, the first state to make it legal, is getting twice as much in taxes from pot as from alcohol. With surrounding countries on drug killing sprees, it’d be hard for Cambodia to buck the trend, but it would nonetheless be wise to try, since an open attitude would be good for the country and for tourism. It costs a lot of money to nab, prosecute and imprison drug offenders. And it costs society a lot in peace and security when a large scale underground business in contraband flourishes, bringing crime and corruption.

Cambodia is already the easiest place to smoke weed in the region and there are no discernable negative impacts on the country from the drug itself; that is, aside from its illegality. In the same way that Cambo makes it easy and is tolerant of all types of people living here, having a gentle touch with marijuana would only be good for tourism and drawing expats.

The key to minimizing use of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, whatever is education. Tobacco is the perfect example. When I was a kid in the forties and fifties around 70% of adults smoked and lots of kids too, considering I started at 12. Tobacco advertising was everywhere, including on TV and so many adults smoked that it was difficult for them to tell you not to. Camel advertising claimed ‘9 out of 10 doctors prefer Camels’. I once had an old advertising sign from Old Gold cigs that said ‘Not a cough in a carload.’ Filters didn’t come into use until the late 50s. The tobacco companies tried to convince people that their product was harmless decades after everyone knew inherently that it was dangerous. We kids were aware of its dangers back in the fifties: we referred to cigarettes as coffin nails.

Now after many years of research debunking the industry’s obfuscating and clouding the issue of health problems associated with smoking, restricting of advertising and widespread education, the percentage of smokers is down below 20%. Tobacco is so cheap here in Cambo that a lot of expats will smoke here but not when they return to their home countries where it can be very expensive.

I believe everybody has a right to their own poison; it’s your choice. The only important point on that score is to know your poison. Some people justify their addiction saying they like it and don’t care if they don’t live as long. Unfortunately for them it’s not that simple. If you could enjoy your habit for three or four decades and then die nice and quickly, that’d be one thing, but generally when your cells turn cancerous you die a slow and terribly painful death, wasting away to nothing. That could happen when you are in your fifties or sixties when you still might have had decades of good living to go. When I was in my teens and people warned me about smoking, I would haughtily declare that I was going to enjoy life now and wasn’t worried about the future and as long as I lived to the year 2000 (when I’d be 59) I’d be happy. Well the year 2000 is long gone and I’m still having a great time and getting a kick out of life.

It took an extreme effort to quit 35 years ago, and it’s certainly made all the difference. I quit by overdoing it, sometimes called immersion therapy. Most of the time I smoked it was cheap, harsh, unfiltered, roll-your-own cigs. When that was combined with smoking pot for the last 14 years I smoked tobacco, it got so I was coughing all the time. Smoking both at the same time is much worse than either one individually. I couldn’t attend meetings or such without disrupting them.

I’d known from past experience that there were times I was so sick I positively could not take a single hit, so I purposely made myself sick. I smoked one after another non-stop of that cheap tobacco. When I finished the package, I started rolling the butts and then the butts of the butts until I felt so bad the thought of a single puff was so repulsive, I stopped. That was 35 years ago and I haven’t had a hit since, except for mistakenly smoking mixed joints.

The point being, whatever the addiction, tobacco, drugs, alcohol, gambling, it’s the individual’s responsibility, with whatever education, guidance or rehab efforts the state can provide. In that scenario, the damage and cost to the society and individual is far less than the kind of repression that happens now.

Besides, the whole anti-drug thing is stinkingly hypocritical. In Singapore, you can kill yourself with tobacco or alcohol, you can eat yourself to death, you can gamble away your family’s future in the local casinos, but if you smoke a joint you get locked away. A couple years back a Singaporean couple returning from a vacation in Australia were drug tested and since they’d smoked pot in Oz and pot lasts 30 days in your system they spent two years in prison for their terrible transgressions.

 

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Kampot, Cambodia, US Politics

Dreary October in Kampot

 

 

It’s been a dreary October so far with rain every day for almost three weeks. Some people are getting that old cabin fever feeling, except it’s so warm, getting out and wet seems no big deal. It’s not like when you were a kid and purposely went out to wade and splash in the heaviest rain, but once you’re out there caught in a torrent, What the hell? Of course having lived in western Oregon where it’s cloudy and/or rainy and cold – well, cool anyway – for at least six months a year and worked outdoors for much of that time, I barely notice the rain. Paradoxically, while it’s warm enough to not mind the rain, it’s generally cool compared to other seasons, so quite comfortable, even if humidity is very high.

Since I’ve become Kampot’s official, unofficial weatherman, I’ve taken on the burden of reporting from the web and keeping track of local stats. To that end I have a simple five dollar plastic rain gauge to measure precipitation. It can’t go wrong, not like one digital gauge I had which read way off. I’ve got a weather station with indoor and outdoor temperature and humidity and barometer. In order to get an accurate outdoor temp I have what’s called a Stevenson box. It’s a wood box with louvers on all sides to allow air to flow through. It’s painted white to reflect all sunlight and has a small roof over it to prevent direct overhead sun and it’s 1.3 meters off the ground to prevent radiant heat from the ground affecting the reading. I caught a lot of flack for my (incorrect) readings before I got the Stevenson.

I generally use Weather Underground website for predictions, not because it’s necessarily more correct, but because it’s easier to use and the site goes into technical details about big storms and such, not that I understand all that much about the science, but it’s just

kinda interesting to get a glimpse of the deeper aspects of the game. It’s easy enough to get an accurate anemometer – wind gauge – but I’m lazy about getting it high enough to get a proper reading.

The Weather Underground Kampot page frequently says ‘station offline’ anywhere from 1 hour to 70 hours. In fact, we do have a station here but it’s inoperable, so where then do they get their information from? I assume Phu Quoc since it has the closest functioning station, but being an island, the weather, especially temperature and wind speed, is going to be much different than Kampot which is about 9 kilometers inland. Large bodies of water moderate temperature. When it’s hot, Phu Quoc will be a little cooler than Kampot, which will be a little cooler than inland. When it’s cool the opposite happens, locations on or near water will be a little warmer.

Every year is strange or different or exceptional when it comes to weather: no two years can ever be the same. Still, this year so far has been an odd one. There was an exceptional drought until May when we got 300mm. June and July were relatively light, but August was very heavy at 378mm until the 22nd when a 2 week very hot dry spell began. Then September came in at the lowest since May. Very odd. October is charging back. On October 17 we received nearly 90mm in less than 2 hours and more than 100 overall that day. It was a record, at least since I got my rain gauge three years ago. October’s on track to be the heaviest month.

I’m currently trying to manifest a couple more rain gauges to place around town since other people sometimes report much heavier rains than I do, but since they don’t have regulation gauges, it’s all anecdotal and impossible to confirm. Better yet would be to have personal weather stations hooked up to Weather Underground’s international network. For a ‘mere’ $450 – the cost of a semi-professional Davis weather station – Someone here could put Kampot on the weather map.

There is great confusion as to Cambodian climate, even official publications sometimes get our climate all wrong. I have a map put out by a government agency which has a graph that shows August as the rainiest month nationwide with September half as much and October almost nothing, when in fact the latter two are generally the heaviest months. In Phnom Penh and other points north it’s October which is the heaviest month. Even here in Kampot, different websites have diverse statistics. Like one says August is heaviest and another October.

It’s hard to pin down variables by month with so many differing numbers but annually, they’re relatively consistent. Phnom Penh receives about 1.4 meters of rain a year, most areas in the north a bit less. Kep gets 2.2 meters, Kampot 2.4 meters. Sihanoukville gets 3.5 meters and Koh Kong beats all with 3.8 meters a year… soggy town.

I’ve become the go-to guy for predictions since I’ve become Stan the Weatherman, but I’m not a meteorologist, I just report what I see or read. However you don’t need a weatherman to know that stormy conditions are ahead around the region and the world.

Thailand’s king has died after years of spending most of his time in the hospital. Next in line, the crown prince has said he wants to wait a year before he takes up his responsibilities (he’s too busy being a royal playboy and ass). As opposed to Bhumipol who was revered, Vajiralongkorn is widely reviled, hardly anybody likes him, but because of Thailand’s very strict Lese Majeste law it’s not possible to comment in public. Criticizing anyone in the royal family is an easy 15 year sentence and the current military government has been very zealous in finding and prosecuting offenders. If I were in Thailand, having made the above comments, I might be in for rough times.

Many people I talk to here are concerned about or are predicting unrest. The generals seem to have the situation under control, but intense anger remains in the opposition camp over having their consistent electoral wins hijacked by the military, which is backed by the Bangkok elite. The opposition reds fought hard: they haven’t gone away and neither have their grievances, though the elite is starting to catch on to the need to serve the whole population. For instance, a loyalist interviewed on radio, when referring to Taksin’s low cost health care for villagers, said, It’s a bitter pill but we have to swallow it, referring to the need to adopt the same policy. The guy was in agony over having to match Taksin’s generosity to the peasantry: it was no longer politically possible to ignore the wider people’s needs.

The military got its new constitution passed, partly because no campaigning against it was allowed. It gives the military virtual veto power over legislation and it included an electoral system which makes it hard for a single party to win a majority. Taksin was the first and only leader to receive an absolute majority in the history of Thai elections and he or his party did it multiple times. Many expats who’ve spent time in Thailand despise Taksin and insist that he only won by buying votes, but I don’t buy it. He might’ve been the country’s richest person, but the Bangkok establishment aren’t exactly paupers either. What’s more, buying votes is a long Thai tradition. When I lived there, it was common knowledge that all the parties did it.

Repression only works so long, especially with a people so used to demonstrating and voicing their opinions. And with no king to calm things down, to prevent conflagration and confrontation, there may be some fireworks ahead on our western border.

As a lifetime lefty, I give Taksin a lot of credit for thinking about the masses. People who hate him say he only did it to gain power, that he really didn’t care. That may be true but regardless, he’s the first one to take their needs into account. Taksin haters should hate the ruling class; i.e., themselves, for being so stupid and clueless that it never occurred to them to think about the needs of the proletariat and the electoral advantage that would give them.

Taksin on the other hand was thoroughly corrupt: he had a special law enacted to allow him to sell his billion dollar telecom empire without paying taxes. He was also a mass murderer. The focus now is on Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines for extrajudicial killing of ‘drug dealers’ but Taksin wrote the playbook on that one. 2500 people were killed in the first few months of his administration. Say what you will about the awfulness of drugs and the need to suppress their use and distribution if you believe that’s appropriate, but when 2500 people die without benefit of a fair trial and the ability to defend themselves, you can be absolutely certain that somewhere between 5% and 20% were either innocent or guilty of crimes so insignificant they would at most net a short stint in jail or rehab in an advanced country. So then, how many good guys is it okay to kill for every 100 bad guys removed from society? Is there a point at which the sacrifice of good guys goes too far? What’s acceptable? One innocent for every 100 guilty? Ten for every 100? Twenty?  Is any number acceptable?

When Obama cautioned Duterte about his killing spree, the latter told Obama to butt out, said the Philippines wasn’t America’s colony anymore and called him what’s variously translated as a son of a bitch or son of a whore. In another tirade he told Obama to go to hell. He also said he didn’t care if 3 million died. Wow, only Hitler could claim a bigger genocide than that. The country’s drug office estimates there are 1.8 million addicts in the Philippines, not even 2% of the population. All that spilled blood for 2%.

Duterte toned down his murderous rhetoric very quickly after the head of the International Criminal Court suggested she was going to look into the situation there. Suddenly he didn’t know anything about it. Mass murder is a crime against humanity. Brought to trial he would likely spend the rest of his life in prison, and deserve every minute of it.

When a government spokesperson was asked, What about alcohol and gambling? He could only muster a blank stare. As if alcohol doesn’t cause more problems than illegal drugs. Besides it’s the illegality of drugs which causes most of the problems associated with them. If they were legal they’d cost a lot less and people who need them wouldn’t have to commit illegal acts to get their fixes. There’d be no gangs and mafia to run the trade. Gambling has destroyed many lives, turned many families into paupers. How about arresting people for being fat, obesity takes years off your lifespan.

America has its own Duterte, aka, Trump. And he could easily have become US president if he weren’t so much a boor, buffoon and serial abuser. I know I’m making an assumption here in the third week of October, but the composite polls have Hillary with a 96% chance of winning. She was at less than 60% chance about a month ago, but his awful first debate performance followed by his grossly inappropriate bragging about sexual abuse started the dive. The only other presidential candidate in the history of polling to achieve Trump’s abysmal approval ratings is Clinton, though she fares just a bit better, so if he were just halfway plausible presidential material he could’ve had it. Now with him whining about the election being rigged by the media and vote stealing by Hillary, thus firing up his base with barely veiled calls for violence, there could easily be turmoil after the election. Democrats were angry enough after Bush stole the 2000 election but liberals aren’t the type to take up arms.

Fact is, Hillary did steal primary elections: In the Massachusetts primary every precinct with hand counted ballots went for Bernie, every precinct with machines that can be manipulated went for her. In a state with more than 7000 precincts, astronomical odds. Anyway in a close race, she would’ve needed those thieving skills, because of the Repugs long history of election theft. The first Repug to steal an election was Chuck Hagel, senator from Nebraska. Leading up to the election the Dem was ahead in all the polls and was ahead in exit polls on election day. But he won in a landslide, even winning by a large margin in the state’s few African-American precincts, which had never voted Repug before. After the election it turned out he was part owner of the company that ran the election. Many elections in the US have been outsourced to the private sector. All the companies who run elections are owned by Repugs. Their machines leave no paper trail and the software code is proprietary so the people aren’t allowed to see how the machines work or if anything is amiss. A perfect scam and the decider of many recent elections.

As for the accusation of media bias, that’s rich coming from a candidate that was showered with free time during the primaries. ABCs nightly newscast devoted 82 minutes to Trump in 2015, while giving only 20 seconds to Sanders, even though Sanders drew more people to his events than any other candidate on either side. The CEO remarked that Trump might be bad for the country but he was great for the company’s bottom line, so he was happy to pump up Trump on prime time.

The good thing is Trump is destroying the Repug party, pitting the know-nothings against the batshit crazies. Some Repugs think it’ll take a decade for the party to recover. Democrats will also be in turmoil after putting in office a person in the top job who’s widely reviled and despised. If you think Obama’s divided the country and brought gridlock to congress, she’ll be a lightning rod of anger, vitriol and discontent. The Dems could’ve had someone who was loved and respected across the board, but they chose old-style status quo politics, just what supporters of both Bernie and Trump were railing against. Being a corporate whore, she’ll be bad for the country, but still far superior to Trump. At least she’s presidential material; he’s an upchuck of mental diarrhea.

There are a lot of reasons to dislike her and her politics, but if there was one reason, if there was only one reason to vote for her it’s the supreme court. Justices are appointed for life. Considering the present make up of the court and that two of the oldest members are liberals, if she gets in there’ll be a 5 to 4 majority of liberals. If Trump were to win it’d be 7 to 2 or 6 to 3 conservative and the country would be set back at least a generation.

 

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