A Vast, Small World After All

We, the fortunate and overstimulated masses of the early 21st century can watch the whole world pass by on our computer and smartphone screens. The picture often isn’t pretty, and we would all do well to lift our heads up more often to see what’s happening right in front of us. In real life, as we’ve learned to say.

But sometimes, the digital connectivity comes at us from a new direction that can help us look closer, and think differently. Here is a expand=1] video, made solely by piecing together Google Maps satellite images, that takes you along the entire U.S.-Mexico border in six minutes. “Good luck with that wall, Mr. Trump,” is the immediate political message of this view from above. But as you watch the haunting journey through the desert, past small towns and snaking around the Rio Grande, you can imagine the invisible lives passing by below in the very moments the images were taken, and how vast and frightening the spaces of the real world can be for the most vulnerable among us.

Meanwhile across the ocean, technology allows us to watch another migrant drama playing out â€" in real life, and real time. The dismantling of the so-called “Jungle” migrant encampment in the French seaside city of Calais was the immigration news story of the week. Unlike Trump’s silly wall talk, the situation in Calais shows the complexity of immigration for any government to confront. Where, for example, will each and every person forced from the Jungle (an estimated 6,400) wind up? That is where the real-time video streaming app Periscope comes in. Here is footage of the tent village that has popped up in the past 24 hours, as some of the migrants forced out of Calais have made their way to Paris. From where we sit in our Worldcrunch offices, that video was shot five metro stops away. Even when the world gets closer, we watch it from afar.

  • Protests intensify in Venezuela, general strike expected today.
  • Prince’s Paisley Park home opens today as museum.
  • Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy hopes to form new government Saturday.


In a surprise verdict, the Bundy brothers and 5 other members of an armed group that occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in a 41-day standoff earlier this year, were cleared of all charges yesterday by a federal jury in Portland. Read more from The Oregonian here.


Syrian rebels have announced the start of the offensive aimed at breaking the government siege in Syria’s second-biggest city. According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, rebels have fired "hundreds" of missiles into western Aleppo, killing at least 15 civilians.


Warning: You may end up singing Pretty Woman all day, thanks to our 57-second shot of history.


"I heard a voice telling me to stop swearing or the plane will crash in mid-air, and so I promised to stop," Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte said, after a flight home from Japan. Meanwhile, the mayor of a southern town in the Philippines, identified by Duterte earlier this year as being involved in the drug trade, was gunned down by anti-narcotics officers.


The Ross Sea in Antarctica will become the world's largest marine reserve, after EU leaders and 24 other countries signed a landmark deal today in Hobart, Tasmania, at the end of two weeks of discussions, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. This 1.6 million-square-kilometer (600,000 square-miles) chunk of the Southern Ocean will be free from commercial fishing for the next 35 years.


Only when an abortion is legal, can we begin to speak of moral decisions and love. Writing for Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, Katazyna Wezyk has some frank words for men: “Perhaps, for those frustrated and frightened men, somebody at the protests should have written on a banner: ‘Dear men! We love you, we admire you, you are the best in the world, the most clever and handsome. But, just by the way, only if you have time, can you please consider that the new abortion bill threatens our lives and health, and maybe it's not such a good idea to pass it. But you know what â€" no rush. Thanks for your attention. Signed, Polish women. P.S. We apologize for going to work. It won't happen again"."

Read the full article, Poland’s Abortion Battle, Why Free Women Are Done With Weak Men.


Some 75 schools in Poland today also happen to be marking the first-ever “Rainbow Friday,” intended to make students of all sexual orientation feel welcome. But in the conservative Catholic country, with a conservative government in power, the occasion was not met kindly. Read more here.


The Bataclan concert hall in Paris unveiled its new facade yesterday, after six months of renovation work. The venue, in which terrorists killed 90 people last Nov. 13, is scheduled to re-open on Nov. 16 with a Pete Doherty concert, Le Monde reports. Here is a recent Le Figaro article on the Bataclan’s past, present and future.


McDonald’s German Blend â€" Heidelberg, 1988


According to a report by the World Anti-Doping Agency highlighting serious failings at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, up to half of planned drug tests had to be aborted because the athletes “could not be found.”



Quick! Tune in to this live Facebook feed of Alaskan northern lights!

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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