Monday, November 22, 2010

Stampede in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Azuriel, posting on the bulletin board at, left an eyewitness report of the deadly stampede in Phnom Penh that has taken hundreds of lives:
November 23, 2010 - 3:06am
Just arrived back home after the missus and I spent some 4 hours stuck on Koh Pich ... we were just about to cross back to the mainland from the island when the stampede started, and police started cordoning the area off ... total chaos' prolly the best way to describe it ...

spent most of my 4 hours trying to help out, inclusing performing CPR on 4 girls that got fished out of the river ... unfortunately only managed to revive 2 of them ... ( ... of the other 2, only 1 had a pulse when they rushed her to hospital, but nevertheless, hope the ambulance crews managed to do more than my meagre first aid skills ...

From talking to the locals, some of the security and event management staff, and first-hand experience, I gather the following chain of events occurred; not sure these events occurred in this order though, but it's close:
  • about 30-odd people were electrocuted (few direct deaths, but many losing consciousness, suffering severe burns) from contact with the metal guard rails on either side of the bridge ...
  • about a dozen people fainted from the crush of the crowd, heat exhaustion, dehydration, or a combination of these, and fell underfoot ...
  • Crowd panicked from the electrocutions and surged into a stampede; More people tripped or got pushed over, and got trampled underfoot ...
  • People started jumping off the bridge into the river below to escape the mob; some were electrocuted climbing over the railings; some died from jumping into shallow water, or missing the water altogether, and landing on the concrete escarpments. One of the girls I performed CPR on had a nasty gash stretching from her collarbone down to just past her belly button ... not bleeding too badly, but was still a pain to patch up half-decently ...
  • Curious onlookers surged towards the bridge from both ends trying to find out what was going on. POLICE WERE VERY FORCEFULLY PUSHING BYSTANDERS BACK, USING FISTS, BATONS, PISTOLS, AND PIECES OF METAL PIPING!!! ==>> AND IN PARTICULAR, SHAME SHAME SHAME ON THE BIG BLACK GUY WITH THE AMERICAN ACCENT THAT PHYSICALLY ASSAULTED MY WIFE AND I, NOT ONCE BUT TWICE: WHEN I TRACK DOWN YOUR DETAILS, I'LL BE USING ALL MY POLICE AND LEGAL CONTACTS TO PRESS CHARGES!! <<== Wish more foreigners could've put their energies into helping the wounded, as opposed to bashing up on the innocent bystanders ...
  • Some police near the Koh Pich end of the bridge fired warning shops to try to disperse the crowd, but it only served to set off a 2nd panic, since no-one at that stage knew who was shooting, nor at who or what ...
  • The crowd was warned to stay away from the metal guard rails along the easter edge of Koh Pich, for fear of electrocution. Around the same time, all the neon lights on the bridge were turned off, along with most of the street lamps along the eastern shore of the island.
As of 3am on Tuesday morning, the official death toll sits at 332 deaths, and 329 injured ... a moment of silence please ...  ironically, the bayon TV concert a couple of hundred metres away blasted on throughout all of this ...  

This video was shot on the morning of Nov. 23, showing the debris from the stampede:

More on the tragedy at Jot ASEAN.

Monday, November 15, 2010

John Tyner video of TSA at San Diego International

John Tyner, a California man who elected not to be subjected to either an Backscatter X-ray scan or a full-body search (the latter which would have included allowing an official to touch his crotch), was detained by TSA officials at San Diego International Airport. The TSA officials later advised John Tyner that -- despite his having agreed to relinquish his ticket -- he faced the prospect of a $10,000 fine.

CNN covered the story -- see here.   Unfortunately, the CNN hosts discussing the story provide a distorted interpretation of the passenger's dilemma.    When John Tyner discovered that the alternative to the X-ray was a full body search, Tyner reconciled himself to the fact that he would not be allowed to board the plane.

The incident raises serious questions that deserve more than a snicker from a couple of CNN hosts:  Having agreed to relinquish his plane ticket, on what sensible grounds should John Tyner face the prospect of a hefty fine?   Do actual risks to the traveling public justify the indignities of forcing the public to endure humiliating full-body searches?  Are evasive body searches constitutional without "probable cause?"

Fortunately, we don't have to rely on smug CNN commentary.  We can read about the encounter at JohnnyEdge, John Tyner's blog, where the would-be air traveller and citizen-journalist posted thirty minutes of video.   John writes:
These events took place roughly between 5:30 and 6:30 AM, November 13th in Terminal 2 of the San Diego International Airport. I'm writing this approximately 2 1/2 hours after the events transpired, and they are correct to the best of my recollection. I will admit to being particularly fuzzy on the exact order of events when dealing with the agents after getting my ticket refunded; however, all of the events described did occur.   I had my phone recording audio and video of much of these events. It can be viewed below.
At some US airports, the alternative to a full-body pat-down is stepping into a Backscatter X-ray scanner machine.   The professed safety of Backscatter X-ray machines is questioned by some scientists.  They claim that although the overall radiation dose appears low (when it is calculated relative to the total volume of a person's body), targeted areas of the body (i.e. the skin) receive a focused dose of radiation. "While the dose would be safe if it were distributed throughout the volume of the entire body, the dose to the skin may be dangerously high," wrote a group of American scientists in a Open Letter to President Obama.   Hence, travelers concerned about the risk of radiation have no choice but to submit to having some of America's lowest paid federal workers touch them anywhere.

Incidentally, an American serviceman serving in Afghanistan recently commented that TSA rules can compel American women and children to undergo a more invasive body search than an American soldier can require of Afghan women and children in near proximity to a battlefield.  

John Tyner's experience provides a wake-up call to the long-term implications of TSA security theatre.    If citizens consent to allowing government officials the right to touch any part of their bodies without "probably cause" in airports, in the future, what invasions of privacy and person will Americans not accept?   Where do they draw the line?  Is there still a line?   What--if any-- of their rights are Americans not willing to relinquish in return for the perception of greater security? 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Students march on Conservative Party HQ in London

When fifty-thousand UK students marched to protest the Conservative government’s cuts to education, the news media only wanted to talk about the violence.

Foreign news media headlines labeled the massive student protest outside Conservative Party headquarters in London simply as "violent."  That wasn't the whole story, as the firsthand accounts of there-live bloggers reveal.

Matt, who has is usually there-live blogging major events in Thailand and East Timor, was on the scene of  the massive protest in London today.   Matt details where the protests got out of hand, and comments:
"The world's media has picked up on the story and of course the violence is what has made the headlines and provided the photo fodder. National Union of Students President Aaron Porter condemned the violence, which really put a dampener on what had otherwise been a positive day.

As I left at about 6 pm, the numbers had dwindled considerably, although some diehards were still milling about and a few were staging some kind of sit-down protest...."
You can read Matt's entire account of the protests, including photos and a video, at his blog, The Lost Boy.

Socialist Worker and the Guardian extensively live-blogged the protests.   Socialist Worker lists a number of additional there-live reports at the end of their main account of the protest.   The Guardian provides a concise summary of the day's events.

Experienced live-loggers are saying that today's protest, large as it was, was just a taste of things to come.   For example, Lenin of Lenin's Tomb,  a blogger who has covered previous UK demonstrations, writes,
"It reminds me a bit of the anticapitalist demos in London at the turn of 2000s, in terms of its militancy, and the fact that it happened in the middle of the week - but it's actually much bigger than any of those protests was.... And not a moment too soon, because if the Tories get their way then higher education is finished for millions of working class people."
For an analysis of the UK government's budget-slashing mania, see  "British Fashion Victims" by American economist Paul Krugman.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

2010 election in Burma

On Nov. 7 Myanmar's military rulers held the country's first election in twenty years. Because parties backed by the military are assured of victory, it's unclear whether the outcome of the vote will make any difference to ordinary Burmese. As the NY Times puts it, "The process was expected to cement military rule behind a civilian facade but also to open the door slightly to possible shifts in the dynamics of power." Foreign journalists have not been allowed to cover the election, and some Western diplomats in Rangoon are refusing to participate in junta-sponsored tours of polling stations.
  • Pollard's photos of a protest against the election in London.
  • Photos of a protest held in Mae Sot on the Thai-Burma border.
  • Reuters live-blog of the elections. 
The Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) has a fantastic live-updating map tracking developments across Burma relating to the election.  Incidents of violence, arrests, coercion, harassment are presented as color-coded tabs which you can click on to read a report.   Another such interactive tool is Burma Partnership's election tracker.  

DVB has also posted a video secretly taken from inside a Burmese polling station, along with several other election day clips.  Blogger Newley has links to background and analysis.

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