Royalist dog lovers

7 07 2009

Prachatai (7 July 2009: “Khun Thong Daeng as prototype of Thai dogs”) has a story that would be hilarious if it wasn’t a sad but reflection of the kind of complete royalist nonsense that grips the defenders of the monarchy far too often in Thailand.

The king’s favourite bitch has been re-enlisted in the fight to rebuild the monarchy’s dwindling prestige. A few years ago there was a flurry of interest in the dog Thong Daeng when it became clear that the dog was the king’s favourite and he published a book lauding the mutt. Lots of people like dogs, but this became, for a moment, a national obsession, with staunch loyalists appearing in Thong Daeng shirts.

Now the Ministry of Science and Technology, which would usually be considered an abode for sensible people, has decided to “set a standard for authentic Thai dogs, using Khun Thong Daeng as a reference, to protect them and prevent foreigners from claiming patents.”

One might think that such a silly idea might be the result of ultra-royalists thinking that they could curry a bit of palace favour. Apparently not, for this comes direct from the palace.

Science and Technology Minister Kalaya Sophonpanich said that the Ministry was “trying to follow His Majesty the King’s advice given when Ministry officials were granted an audience on June 24 at the Klai Kangwon Palace in Prachuab Khiri Khan to report on the patenting of the aroma-control gene in rice.”

PPT won’t comment on this idea regarding patenting rice aroma, as it has been criticized elsewhere. However, Kalaya goes on to explain that “HM spoke about the standardization of Thai dogs, and, citing his pet dog Khun Thong Daeng as a reference, said that the characteristics of Thai dogs included medium size, coiled tails, prick ears, and loyalty to their owners…”. These are old notions that the king first set out in his somewhat childish Thong Daeng book a few years ago.

Kalaya trumpets: ‘Initially, the Ministry will follow HM’s advice using Khun Thong Daeng as a prototype of authentic Thai dogs for the purpose of conserving the authentic Thai breed and preventing them from disappearing from the country. The number of authentic Thai dogs has decreased because people prefer foreign breeds…’.

Kalaya is reported to have “assigned the task to the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (NECTEC) which … will collect data on all authentic Thai dogs, and work with academic experts to find the specifications of authentic Thai dogs, with Khun Thong Daeng as the reference.

Adding nationalist fervor to silliness the apparently serious minister says, ”Afterwards, the ministry will report to HM on implementation, and will register the standard size of Thai dogs under the Geographical Identification Law to protect the Thai breed. This is similar to patenting a product, but the patenting of life forms, including animals is not allowed. But the law can protect Thai dogs to prevent other countries from claiming Thai dogs as theirs, as has happened with Thai rice, plants and products which were patented by foreigners. Although they are Thai, Thai people are robbed of the ownership. It’s a pain for the nation…’.

Kalaya is also reported to have advised the king that his fears that “Thai buffaloes were on the brink of extinction” was already being handled by the Ministry following the orders of Princess Sirinthorn. The results of this study are expected in the next two months.

Apparently Sirinthorn is worried about the “farmers’ way of life, and doesn’t want farmers to use chemicals or machines too much, or they will get poorer and poorer. [She prefers] … them to live as farmers, having a sufficiency way of life.”

From the article it seems that NECTEC is engaged in working on and with 3-D Body Scanners for Thai people, buffaloes and now dogs. The frontiers of poverty and ignorance are clearly being pushed back by such work. We know, some boffin will tell us how important some of this is, but really, is this what science is meant to be about? Establishing arbitrary standards on the orders of a few influential people who happen to have some not so bright ideas? We think not. However, this silliness may well be emblematic of a deep malaise in Thai society.

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