September 2008 Archives

What's New at ITS4Thai


It has been a few months since I have said anything here about the Learn Thai Language website we have been working on for the past couple of years. We continue to work behind the scenes to improve the technology that is running the site, as well as creating new Thai language content and improving the user interface.

I am excited about some of the big user interface improvements we have made over the past couple of months, and thought I'd share a little bit about them here. Our goal is to build a site that keeps track of the Thai words and sentences that you have learned and be able to personalize the site content to teach you what you need to learn next. Many of these new features take us one step closer to realizing that goal.

Here are some of the features we have released in the last couple of months:

  • My Thai Dashboard: This page is customized for each ITS4Thai student, and answers questions such as "How many words have I learned?" as well as "What words am I struggling with?"

  • Flagged Words List: As students go through the lessons, they can "flag" words that they want to study later. These flagged words show up on the My Thai Dashboard. They can also take a print out of these words to study when they are away from the computer.

  • Sometimes you can guess the right answer to a word in our exercises, but that doesn't mean that you know the word. Now you can tell the website that you "just guessed". This helps the site figure out which words you have learned and which you are still working on.

  • Up to this point, all of our multiple choice games have had 4 choices. Now, you can choose to have 4, 6, or 8 choices on the "Word Practice" games. This makes the exercises a little more challenging.

  • And today, we released PDF flashcards for all lessons. You can now print out a page that lists the vocabulary for that lesson in flashcard size (English on the front, Thai script and Thai phonetic on the back) to help you study. Take ITS4Thai along with you where ever you go!
Whenever we release a new feature on the ITS4Thai site, we make a note of it at our What's New at ITS4Thai page. Feel free to check it out to get more information about the features I briefly mentioned above (as well as some screen shots).

My Thoughts on the Bush Doctrine


I've been having some interesting email conversations with a few family members back in the States this past week. It all started when my sister forwarded a McCain vs Obama "fact sheet" that was a little bit less than accurate. I couldn't help myself and clicked "Reply All" to give my thoughts to everyone who received the email.

Since then, there have been some followup emails from family members, both to the entire original distribution list, and some just to me and my sister. All of the replies so far have come from McCain supporters. Most of the farang in Thailand I have met are Obama supporters, so this week has been an interesting exercise in "preaching to those outside the choir".

I should say here that I hesitate talking too much about politics on this website. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And if you can back up your opinion with facts, then I can respect your stance. However, I am not seeing many true facts coming from the Republicans this year, and so I felt that I had to speak out to my family.

And now I just can not resist posting some of the thoughts that have been running through my head today. All of the things that have been swirling my mind this week came to a head today, and I wanted to write down my thoughts and feelings.

The catalyst was a home-made video by an American soldier from Iraq that was sent to me by a family member. The video was an open letter to "Mr. Obama" and put forth the position that the Iraq war was not a mistake, because we have liberated the Iraqi people and thrown off the shackles of tyranny. The invasion and continuing occupation was not a mistake, because Iraq is better off now than they were before the war.

The young soldier goes on to say that if you call the Iraq war a mistake, then you "disrespect the service and the sacrifice for everyone who has died promoting freedom". At the end of the video, the soldier turns and walks away, showing that is leg has been amputated.

The video was very moving and emotional indeed. And, with all due respect, it is a video that I absolutely and completely disagree with.

Don't get me wrong, I think it is great that the Iraqis are better off now than they were in 2002. I hope that they can nurture their new and very fragile democracy. And yes, I think that America's values of democracy and freedom and hope for the future are great ideals to aim for, and I think that the U.S. should stand up for and support those ideals around the world where they can.

I also believe that the U.S. should do what it needs to do to defend itself. However, that does not mean that I think we should invade foreign countries and overthrow governments to try to meet these goals of spreading democracy. In my opinion, there is no doubt that the Iraq war was a mistake. We went there for all the wrong reasons. And that does not disrespect the young soldier or anyone else in the army, but instead points the finger directly at the failure of George W. Bush's government.

There has been a lot of talk the last couple of days about the phrase "the Bush Doctrine". To me, this means that the United States can use its military unilaterally and preemptively to promote democracy and freedom around the world. If there is a country that has anti-American groups inside their borders (Afghanistan), or if the people in that country deserve to have democracy (Iraq), then the U.S. has the right to invade that country, overthrow the government, and set up a government that is more democratic and more friendly to American interests.

According to the non-profit, non-partisan Freedom House organization, there are 43 countries around the world that are considered "Not Free". Is the U.S. going to start invading these 43 countries and overthrowing their governments and setting up democratic ones? Of course not. So perhaps invading Iraq was not just about "promoting democracy and freedom"? Perhaps George W. Bush sent those soldiers in for the wrong reasons? Or is it 1 down, 42 to go? I don't think so.

On the list of 43 countries who are "Not Free", there are seven countries that top the list as getting the "worst freedom score". They are: Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The first country there -- Burma -- is especially close to home for me, as it is a neighboring country to Thailand. When I visited Burma a couple of years ago, I was absolutely heart-broken to see that such good people had to live under such a repressive military regime. And there was absolutely nothing they could do about it, as the monk-led protests showed almost exactly one year ago.

After seeing what I saw in Burma, one of my greatest hopes and dreams is for the Burmese people to be free, and to have the results of their democratic elections of 1988 upheld. So this is a good test for my thoughts on the Bush Doctrine. Should the US military promote democracy in freedom in Southeast Asia by invading Burma and re-instating the democratically elected government of Aung Sung Su Ki? There's no doubt that the US military would crush the Burmese army and its government and liberate its people in a very short amount of time.

Without a doubt, the answer is NO. Even here, as great as the results would be, as much as the ends might justify the means, as much as I want the Burmese people to be free, the U.S. has no right to preemptive and unilateral attacks on Burma, or any other country. And the fact that the U.S. has never invaded Burma (or Cuba, or North Korea, or Uzbekistan) shows that there were other motives than just "promoting freedom" in Iraq.

In that video I mentioned above, the soldier said, "Freedom is always worth the price". Yes, I agree, when you are defending your own freedom. Is the freedom of Burmese, Cubans, Libyans, North Koreans, Somalians, Sudanese, Turkmenistanis, or Uzbekistanis worth billions of dollars of America's money and thousands of lives of American soldiers when we have so many problems at home?

What about Americans who are losing their jobs? What about those whose homes are being foreclosed? What about developing a better government response system for natural disasters? What about the failures of our school systems? What about ending America's reliance on foreign oil by developing technologies that do not hurt the environment?

And even from a global perspective, there are ways that the U.S. can promote democracy and freedom around the world without relying so heavily on our overtaxed military. We can repair our alliances and turn away from being an arrogant, bullying superpower.

We can do more for humanitarian efforts at local levels around the world.

We can talk to friends and foes alike because even if you disagree with someone that doesn't mean that you should give up on communication with them.

We can fight poverty around the world because once people stop worrying about if and when they will eat, they can work on improving themselves and their country.

And believe it or not, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Take a look at Barack Obama's plans for Foreign Policy under his administration and then come back and tell me if he's headed in the wrong direction. There is so much that we can do, so much that we should do to take the lead on these issues.

As much as I am proud of the effort of the Americans in uniform over the past 200+ years (immediate family members included), it shouldn't be our military that is taking the lead now. It should be our President, our Congress, our organizations, our ideals and our experiences and our best practices, and yes, even our empathy and our money that should be leading the way. By using its premier position in the world, the United States can lead by example and not by force.

I hope that in November, Americans make the right choice and turn their back on the so-called "Bush Doctrine" of the past and forge a new, brighter future for Americans and for both free and non-free people around the world.

Colorful Politics and Colorful Taxis

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One adjective I could use to describe Bangkok is "colorful". That word has a lot of meanings, but in this case I am actually talking about all of the different colors one sees as they walk around town.

For example, Thai people like to wear certain colored shirts on certain days to show their support for some person or group. Yellow shirts represent the King. Light blue shirts represent the Queen. Many people wore black every day for weeks after the King's sister died earlier this year. And now in the current political deadlock, we have the yellow-shirt wearing anti-government PAD vs the red-shirt wearing pro-government DADD.

Speaking of PAD vs DADD, it seems like all I have been thinking about lately is politics, and it hasn't been looking very good this past week. If I am not clicking refresh on the websites I mentioned in the last post to see what is going on with the mess in Thailand, I am reading reports about a woman from Alaska who aspires to be one 72-year-old heartbeat away from one of the most important jobs in the world.

These two political situations are both very "colorful", but not necessarily in a good way. So let's talk about something less polarizing, but still very colorful: Bangkok Taxis.

As anyone who has been in Bangkok know, the meter taxis that cruise the streets of Bangkok are very colorful. When I first moved here, there were two kinds of two-toned taxis: red/blue and yellow/green. A couple of years ago, the spectrum exploded and now we have orange, pink, blue, green, red, and purple taxis.

But what I didn't realize until I read it in the weekly BK magazine this morning is that each of the different colored taxis come from different companies. And some people think that some colors are better than others. One person was quoted in BK as saying that the green colored taxis were their favorite, as they are always clean and have white cloth covering the interiors.

Now that I think about it, I think he is right. But I have never really noticed before that some colors were better than others. Although I try to always take a bright mono-colored taxi because they are usually newer and cleaner than the old-fashioned two-tone cabs. But I never noticed the difference between, say, hot pink and orange (taxis).

Perhaps I should start taking notes? Or has anyone reading this page have an opinion aout which color is best? There are so many taxis on the streets these days, I would definitely be willing to wait an extra minute or two for the "right color".

Or, should I just follow the advice of another BK reader who said, "I love the pink ones! How could you possibly feel threatened by a guy who drives a pink car for a living?"

For More Information on Thai Protests


Although I always enjoy trying to figure out what the heck is going on with the circus that is Thai politics, the truth is that I still really have very little insight into what is happening in the current situation. As I have said before, one of my least favorite things about living in Thailand is the lack of information, the lack of reported facts, and the lack of reputable analysis that is available in English.

However, over the past few days, I have found myself hitting refresh continuously on a handful of websites that have kept me up-to-date with what is going on. If you are interested in the latest news and punditry on the current protests in Bangkok, I'd recommend the following:

The Bangkok Post newspaper's special section with updates on the latest news articles.

Bangkok Pundit Blog. Although the author tends to be a bit pro-Taksin for my tastes sometimes, he seems to have good insight into what is going on behind the scenes. I assume the author is Thai

New Mandala. An intellectual look at current events in SE Asia, written by foreigners.

Absolutely Bangkok Another blog (written by a farang?) that has some interesting insights as well.

Oh and by the way, things are still "life as usual" for most of the city. The trains were full of people heading to work this morning, and so far the protests haven't really affected day-to-day life, other than making people worry about what the future will hold.

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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