The suffocating heat continues to enfold Phnom Penh in its brutal embrace: apart from waiting for the rainy season to start and give us all something else to moan about, nothing is happening here. A friend of mine asked me to take over his stringing position for one of the most prestigious news magazines in the world while he took a couple of months off. I was excited at first, but have come to realise that I won’t be getting my feet underneath the desk, because nothing is going to happen here at all.

Casting my mind back over the past few weeks, apart from the Russian gangster Sergei Polonsky finally getting booted out of the country (for overstaying his visa), very little of any import has happened here for weeks.

Sergey Polonsky on his way home.

Sergei Polonsky on his way home.

Indeed, the only story that stands out is one that involves a 13-year-old girl who was told that she was to be reunited with her mother on live television. The girl, Autumn Allen, who despite being Caucasian, sings in Khmer, appeared on a variety show called Penh Chet Ort (Like It or Not), and was told she would meet her mother, whom she hadn’t seen or heard from since she was six years old. However, after plenty of build up, a cross-dressing comedian appeared instead, to much hilarity in Cambodia, and much disgust across the Twittersphere. It does seem a bit heartless to target motherless 13-year-olds for a cheap laugh, but the media here can be a bit clueless.

Autumn Allen

Autumn Allen

The Autumn Allen debacle follows an equally stupid piece of media promotion by a local cinema chain for the mindless car-porn film Fast & Furious 7, that encouraged contestants to break the speed limit, and to take pictures of their speedometers as they drove as fast as possible. This is in a country where some six people die every day on the roads. Before the cinema pulled the competition, the fastest entry was 145kmh, or about 90 miles an hour, which might not seem that fast, but, trust me, if you think that, you haven’t seen the roads here. And the urban speed limit is 80kmh.

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Again, it was the Twittersphere that caused a backlash and apologies all round. Much as it pains me to say it, but it seems as if Facebook and Twitter might have a use after all, as a kind of corrective conscience.

So it’s something of a worry to see that the government has threatened criminal proceedings against Facebook users who insult or defame government leaders.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, in a post to his own Facebook page titled “A Letter Regarding Prejudiced and Unethical People,” claimed that some Facebook users have recently been abusing the freedom of expression they get online.

“In recent times, I have noticed that there have been some people who have used social media to use words that are rude, insulting, scornful, exaggerating and defaming toward civil servants,” Siphan said. “We will take any action, technical or legal, in order to maintain freedom and dignity in online use.”

Rude, insulting, scornful, exaggerating and defaming? Nope, can’t be having that…

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A swine of a man

May 5, 2015

While anyone watching the news on Southeast Asia at the moment will be sated with anniversary retrospectives of the fall of Phnom Penh, followed swiftly by Saigon, forty years ago, there is another anniversary that is worth mentioning: last Sunday marked the 45th anniversary of the Kent State shootings in Ohio, where National Guardsmen fired over 60 times into a crowd of unarmed college students peacefully protesting the illegal war in Cambodia, wounding nine and killing four. No one was ever found responsible for the killings.

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And despite decades of efforts by a Kent State Truth Tribunal, the US government will not accept responsibility, and, in 2012, the Justice Department refused to reopen the case, citing “insurmountable legal and evidentiary barriers.”

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Clearly, I don’t remember Kent State, but I can remember the sense of outrage I felt when I found out about it (helped by Neil Young’s magnificently potent Ohio). And the anger I felt towards President Richard Nixon and national security advisor Henry Kissinger.

I was thinking about Nixon recently, as I often do when I’m in a bad mood. But specifically about the release last year of extended versions of Nixon’s papers that now confirm the long-standing belief that Nixon was a traitor to the US.

Nixon’s newly released records show that in 1968, as a presidential candidate, he ordered Anna Chennault, his liaison to the South Vietnam government, to persuade them to refuse a cease-fire being brokered by President Lyndon Johnson.

Nixon’s interference with these negotiations violated the Logan Act, banning private citizens from intruding into government negotiations with a foreign nation.

Nixon’s sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks has been confirmed by transcripts of FBI wiretaps. On November 2, 1968, LBJ received an FBI report saying Chennault told the South Vietnamese ambassador that “she had received a message from her boss: saying the Vietnamese should “hold on, we’re gonna win.”

In the four years between the sabotage and what Kissinger termed “peace at hand”, just prior to the 1972 election, more than 20,000 US troops died in Vietnam. More than 100,000 were wounded. More than a million Vietnamese were killed.

And as Wikipedia has it, “with limited data, the range of Cambodian deaths caused by US bombing may be between 40,000 and 600,000.”

But in 1973, Kissinger was given the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the same settlement he helped sabotage in 1968.

Nixon won re-election in 1972, then swiftly became the first American president to resign in disgrace, in 1974. Hunter S. Thompson’s obituary of Nixon is probably a good place to end this, for the good of my blood pressure.

He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.”