Archive | June, 2011

A Buddha in Bangkok

27 Jun

In 1955 or so, in the shadow of Bangkok’s Hualampong Railway Station on the edge of Chinatown, a nondescript temple called Wat Traimit had almost completed their renovations.

One of the remaining tasks was to move a stucco Buddha from the yard into the newly enlarged building.

The Buddha had been too big for the old temple so it sat in the yard under a humble tin roof, ever since its arrival from another temple in the 1930s.

Now it had a proper home.

Accordingly, an engineer was contracted to calculate the weight of the Buddha and a crane hired.

A generous safety margin was added to the estimated weight.

But when the crane operator hoisted the Buddha a few feet into the air, the cable snapped.

Since it was rainy season, the Buddha fell into the heavy mud below.

It cracked in several places.

This was seen as a bad omen.

Next a tumultuous storm started.

It drenched the city all night long.

This was seen as an even worse omen.

The following morning the Abbot squelched through the mud to evaluate the situation.

Where the stucco had cracked, the rain had eroded it, making the cracks bigger.

And through one of them the Abbot could see something glistening, something that looked like gold.

Encased inside the stucco was a second Buddha.

It was 3 metres tall.

It weighed 5.5 tonnes.

It was solid gold.

Today, just the bullion value would be around $300 million and the total value, somewhere north of priceless.

Buddhism doesn’t really endorse miracles.

But the Abbot may perhaps have been forgiven if he thought he was witnessing one.

The most probable explanation for this extraordinary discovery is, perhaps sadly, a little more prosaic.

The Buddha made been sculpted during the Sukhothai period of the 13th century.

At some point, probably in the 15th century the Buddha had been camouflaged to outsmart a marauding Burmese army who were laying siege to its home city of Ayutthaya.

As we know, the Buddha survived, but over the centuries the Buddha’s provenance was forgotten.

For centuries the Buddha was thought to have little value.

For centuries people had venerated the Buddha without understanding its true nature.

Without suspecting what lay beneath the dull surface.

Without an inkling of the priceless artefact, sitting under a humble tin roof in the temple yard, for 25 odd years.

If you’re unsure what this has to do with advertising, you must read between the lines Grasshopper.

{visit the Buddha}


Who’s Zooming Who?

13 Jun

When it comes to prediction George Orwell was at least as good as Nostradamus.

1984 is a truly prophetic book.

It convincingly predicted the internet, food shortages, perpetual war, and stockpiled atomic weapons.

And of course it gave us Big Brother.

And Big Brother is still watching.

In Britain, the average citizen is recorded by CCTV cameras 300 times a day.

A fact that’s so well known in the UK it could be a pub trivia question.

Maybe it already is.

We’re talking routine daily surveillance here, not covert ops.

{Anytown UK} by gray 318

And other developed nations are catching up fast.

But prediction is at best, an inexact science.

And Orwell didn’t get everything right.

Because although it’s true that most governments and many corporations have the resources to keep tabs on us 24/7 — digital/social media increasingly gives citizens the ability to turn the tables.

The biggest example of this is WikiLeaks, about which millions of words have already been written.

And it’s by no means an isolated example.

As Congressman Anthony Weiner recently discovered, indiscrete tweets are not a good idea.

Maybe it’s the arrogance gene, but politicians especially, seem slow to grasp that there is no privacy anymore.

And where there is no privacy there has to be less secrecy.

Certainly nothing digital can be classified as secret.

It only takes a click.

And as an Original Gatester, H.R. “Bob” Haldeman astutely remarked, “You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube”.

{cover up?}

What was true for Watergate is truer for Weinergate.

Even riches and influence can’t erase a digital footprint.

Tiger Woods’ extracurricular activities came to light through a string of text messages.

And as Ryan Giggs found out to his cost, high-priced lawyers and super injunctions are no match for 140 characters.

It’s not just a prurient interest in the sex lives of celebrity sportsmen.

There’s a business story too.

Sponsorships have been pulled, and some commentators claim Mr. Woods’ antics cost shareholders as much as $12 billion.

That’s a sweet swing if you’re short selling, and someone usually is.

Back in 1998, it took a blue dress laced with DNA to make an ass of Bill Clinton.

Now a little string of 1s and 0s can carry the impetus to unseat dynasties.

The Arab Spring was largely broken to western media via social media.

Sure, the story would have broken eventually but when people are being killed lead times are important.

The movements were also largely orchestrated through Facebook and Twitter.

Well you try calling 10,000 people personally.

Of course the rise of citizen journalism has been well chronicled.

What interests me more is a phenomenon created as a side effect.

Because an unexpected and far-reaching consequence of the social media revolution is the answer to an old question: who watches the watchmen?

And the answer is – now we do.

And that’s what Orwell didn’t see coming.

Big Brother may still be watching us – but we’re watching Big Brother like never before.

The populous may well have more power than any time since the French Revolution.

And this levelling of the playing field is a good thing.

Unless or course you’re a dictator, dodgy politico, unscrupulous oligarch, or philandering celeb.

And if you are, watch out.

We’ve got our eye on you Pal.