Archive May 2012
|Black Magic Karma Changing Crimes
Last week I discussed the way writers, among others, can gather up unconnected events, people and things and find an underlying theme that binds them together. The mental process involved also explains the infatuation with shamans, gurus, fortunetellers, palm readers and crystal ball gazers. Those who claim access to the hidden forces of the universe in the coupling of unrelated events that lends them a magical quality and promises success in love and business.
It can also be a good term to examine a police case.
Last week in Bangkok, the police received a complaint that hotel guest had heard the sound of ‘ghostly’ babies crying from a room. That’s right: babies. Not just one baby crying. The police immediately dispatched their ghost buster unit to investigate. It might seem strange that the police would rush to a hotel because someone heard babies crying. Babies are known to cry. At any given time, there must be thousands of crying babies in Thailand. Some of them may even sound ghostly.
But in this case, the ‘ghostly’ crying babies launched something not unlike a ghost busting SWAT team to the scene.
The Crying Baby Unit discovered the hotel guest wasn’t in the room where the reported crying had been heard. They couldn’t hear ‘ghostly’ crying babies either. The babies had apparently stopped crying or maybe there was a more sinister reason. Not satisfied they had an adequate answer, the police returned to the hotel several hours later. This time they found a British national, a twenty-eight-year-old ethnic Chinese man named Choe Hok Kuen, in room 301. (That could be a ‘lucky’ number for those who connect numbers associated with accidents, deaths, suicides and other misadventures with the number on lotto tickets.)
The police search earlier hadn’t turned up one crying baby that sounded like a ghost. Not even a non-ghostly crying baby could be heard. Hotel rooms tend to be small in size. I imagined the police looked around the room, maybe knelt down and had a look under the bed, checked out the bathroom. They found no sign of a baby, crying or otherwise. Room 301 was baby clean. But there was something new to search this time. Mr. Choe’s shoulder bag became the focus of attention. Inside, like in a good mystery, was a key to another hotel.
One of the police must have reasoned, “Could the suspect have stashed the crying babies in another room, in another hotel?”
There was only one way to find out. The police escorted Mr. Choe to the second hotel.
The police likely tossed the second room looking for crying babies and had no more luck than in Mr. Choe’s first room. Someone decided it would be a good idea if Mr. Choe opened his luggage. Just to be on the safe side as that was the only place left they hadn’t search for crying babies. After all, they did find a key in his shoulder bag. The MO of this criminal suspect was to keep incriminating evidence in some kind of a bag.
Instead of a crying baby, the police discovered as they opened Mr. Choe’s luggage, according to the Bangkok Post, “six fetuses wrapped in gold leaf and tied with religious threads.”
Rather than a crying baby, the police announced, “I believe it’s the world’s first body snatcher bust involving the commercial trade in fetuses,”
Following this investigative coup, the police interrogated Mr. Choe about the six dead babies in his luggage. He confessed to the police that he was a Master of Witchcraft. He didn’t say which university had conferred the master’s degree or if it was done through a correspondence course at a polytech in the East Midlands. Mr. Choe said he also had a website where he offered black magic and divination services, which could be ordered as easily as biscuits and a cup of tea from room service.
After Mr. Choe’s promotional and marketing statement was recorded, the police steered the conversation back to the six fetuses in his luggage. He must have raised an eyebrow and stared at them as if only a child could ask such a silly question. The babies—called kumarn thong (‘golden baby’ in Thai)—were essential elements in a black magic ritual. And he sometimes sold one or two fetuses to believers who wanted one for home ritual use. He bragged he sold one for a million dollars. It always comes down to money.
This hadn’t been Mr. Choe’s first time on shopping expeditions for kumarn thong. Since 2007, he’d been shopping in Thailand 16 times for dead babies. The police speculated Mr. Choe’s supply chain likely led to abortion clinics. An investigation is being launched to determine which clinics might be in the fetus selling racket.
Returning to the beginning of this essay, the market for kumarn thong is a classic example of apophenia. The gold leaf, the religious threads, Khmer writing on the dead babies—all unconnected items are vested with a magical über-connection empowering a person to succeed in business and love. This is the kind of connection that requires ‘faith’ or ‘belief’. It is without any testable foundation. Not experiment can confirm or deny the claims. It stands outside of science, logic or reason.
It is at the mad, extreme end of superstitious end of human belief systems. Who doesn’t wish for success in business and love? The answer—there are enough rich people willing to believe that a dead baby, a shaman, and a ritual will bring such success to keep Mr. Choe returning to Thailand 16 times in five years.
As for Mr. Choe, he faces charges of concealing human corpses, and could face up to one year in prison and a 2,000-baht fine. Only our black magic ghost story doesn’t end here. The six fetuses found in Mr. Choe’s room have been stored in the evidence cabinet at Plabpachai Police Station. A women police made an offering of red Fanta soda and yoghurt. Afterwards, several police officers at the station claim to have heard a whispering voice “the white chubby lady is very kind.” Stay tune for a follow up report as to whether the ghostly whispering and crying is next heard in the courtroom as part of the testimony in this case.
Apophenia sounds like the
name of a band from Macedonia sent to perform at the annual Euro Song
Contest. The term was coined by Klaus Conrad in 1958 to describe a
psychological state of a person who spontaneously made connections between
unrelated events, people, object and infused that connection with a powerful,
abnormal meaning. Apophenia began as a term to characterize a type of mental
Over the years the
definition of apophenia has broaden from a specialized medical condition to be
used as a more general description of the mental states of gamblers, paranormal
believers, religious believers, conspiracy theorists, lotus and mushroom eaters.
The underlying impulse is the search for causation. It is difficult for a person
to accept that randomness kicks out all kinds of events that aren’t casually
connected. Promise a casual connection and you’ll find an audience for the
connectedness you are pedaling. Politicians and economists exploit this mental
In Thailand, when someone
famous is killed in a car crash. Thousands of people will buy a lottery number
based on the number of the registration plate on the crashed car of death.
Apophenia. Parliament is opened after consulting astrologers or monks (or both)
for the auspicious time for the opening. Or a new cabinet minister wishes to
arrive at the office at the most auspicious time to start his job. Apophenia.
Thai culture is no different from most cultures. Cultures around the world,
politicians, pundits and priests tell stories riddled with apophenia. It is a
behavior so ingrained that we no longer see it for what it is.
And of course, apophenia
is necessary condition state of mind for writers of fiction (and non-fiction). A
mild case of apophenia is a novelist’s secret weapon that brings readers and
literary success. We spend our working days seeing spontaneous connections
between unconnected events, people, and lives, and weaving meaning into those
We experience a scene, a
smell, a sound or a taste and our automatic impulse is to fill the patter into a
story. Think of the last time you were on a train at 10.30 p.m. in a major city.
The rush hour has flushed down that the time drain. People on the train that
time of night are different from the rush hour crowd. Have you looked around and
thought about possible connections among the strangers riding in the same
There’s a middle-aged
woman holding a boutique of flowers leaning in a space near the door. She could
sit down as there are empty seats. But she stands with her flowers. Across from
her is an older man. They are likely strangers. But you see a connection. They
have matching gold bands on the third finger of their left hand. You suddenly
tell yourself they are married. They are poor. They don’t have a car. They’ve
been out celebrating a wedding anniversary but it didn’t go well. They had an
argument and aren’t talking. He gave her flowers earlier, and now they are a
mockery of the silence between. That’s apophenia. They are actually strangers.
They’ve never met. They will never meet. Except in your mind.
Seated down the car are
three workers in matching light blue uniforms with dark blue collars. There is a
company logo over the front right pocket. The three women are in their late
twenties. Two of the women are slightly overweight. They sit together. The third
woman, who is prettier, sits four seats away between a retired man and a
teenager with a New York Yankees T-shirt. They are going home from work. They
are office cleaners. The two women sitting together have received pink slips
from the company. This is their last day. The money in their pocket is all the
money they have. The woman sitting apart has kept her job. The two women who
have been laid off believe she has been giving sexual favors and that is why she
has been kept on. In fact, when the three got on the train, there were not
three empty seats together. They were separated not by choice but by
availability. They haven’t been fired. It is another workday, and they
will be back on the job tomorrow.
That is a simple train
ride. Someone with apophenia makes these spontaneous connections throughout the
day, in every setting, and out of all the unrelated people, events and objects
that she has experienced. If your mind automatically switches into this method
of assembly of people and events to tell a story, then you have the right mental
stuff to be a writer.
There is a bit of insanity
in a writer. Normal people—meaning those who rarely write out of imagination
(except for expense account vouchers) live in a different mental world. One
separated by how one goes about interpreting patterns, meaning, and purpose from
ideas, thoughts, images, objects, the driftwood of materials that lands on our
beach each day.
Apophenia is our brain
trying to make sense out of unrelatedness of things and people we experience. We
recoil from randomness and chaos. We don’t go around telling ourselves there is
a pattern in everything, and that, if one peers long enough, there is a
connection of meaning. But our behavior suggests that we don’t have much free
will to do anything but continue to make such connections. What appears to be
‘noise’ in the system is merely an invitation to an artist to interpret the
‘noise’ as have a relationship among the parts and those parts put into a whole
suddenly are meaningful.
Most people can’t resist
being seduced by such connections.
People who claim to see
images of religious figure in a toasted cheese sandwich or in clouds are an
example of apophenia. It isn’t only religious people who suffer from this
condition. So do gamblers who see connections that aren’t there. Astrologers,
mystics, drug users, and others occupy a world where the lego bricks of reality
are all around them and they spend their time assembling castles in the
Films like the Twelve
Monkeys and The Matrix tap into our inner desire to embrace
apophenia. Blue pill, red pill choices of how much apophenia you can handle is
an enduring metaphor of The Matrix. Films like these tapped into that
apophenia that lurks below the surface in many people, drawing connections
between all kinds of unrelated persons, events, and places with patches of
non-linearly woven into the fabric of the story. Philip K. Dick, the science
fiction author, took drugs, which he claimed opened a gateway to a secret
knowledge or insight into an underlying, unseen casual agent that connected
everything, fleshing out a deeper meaning. He also thought that he saw a stream
of gold light radiated from a fish necklace. Drugs. Did I mention, Philip
K. Dick linked this vision with the drugs he’d taken?
Mystics and religious
figures take apophenia to the logical extreme—all of the world is information
and all of that information is interconnected. Seeing this unified oneness is
An epiphany is making a
connection between two unrelated events that illustrate a deeper meaning, and
underlying casual connection others have glossed over or ignored. Science has
A powerful emotional
experience can create the need to creatively connect that experience with
unrelated events. Kurt Vonnegut’s novels are an example. During WWII Vonnegut
had been a prisoner of war in Dresden. He was in the city when Allied bombers
fire bombed it turning “the cellars where 135,000 Hansels and Gretels had been
baked like gingerbread men.” Slaughterhouse Five was his way of
connecting the unconnected into a meaningful story of massacre. Other novels
danced around that event, drawing from that experience.
What vests a fiction
author with the mantle of credibility over another author who can turn a phrase
just as well in the contest to attract the attention of readers? Many factors
come into play. But one element does matter when we read a narrative that asks
us to believe in the connection between people, events and it can be summarized
in three words: “I was there.”
I bear witness to the
experience. I saw the bodies, experienced the terror, suffering, pain and
horror. On the train, I saw the woman holding flowers on her way somewhere. I
connected her, the flowers, a stranger across from her into a story. Other
people in the train had their faces in their iPhones or iPads, with the
connections uniting their world being made online for them in a digital world.
The nature of what we mean by ‘experience’ is evolving from the world of Kurt
Vonnegut. We shelf life fire exercises for computer simulated games. Predator
aircraft for manned fighters. Slowly we are removing ourselves from the world of
first hand experience where all that unrelated, confused, and random bits float,
collide, bounce off each other, waiting for someone to connect the
Readers still seek to know
the meaning of unrelated things and events. We thrive on clean, cool, compelling
connections, ones that give us a sense that our ideas of causation have not been
violated. Chaos makes us frightened and lack of casual connectedness frightens
us even more. Evolution has wired apophenia into us allowing us a convenient way
to experience the world. Even though some of the attributed causation may be
false, or the connections turn out to be dubious and phony, apophenia is what
gets you through the day and night. Rather than a definition of insanity, at the
least in the mild forms, it may be a precondition to remaining sane.
We look to the imagination
of an eyewitness to bring us to where he or she stood and we want to know what
it was like for the small golden fish to radiate the meaning of the hidden
universe where all things are connection in a vast empire of
Next time your financial
advisor or best friend emails you with a surefire way to make a financial
killing, you can reply that you are waiting for the average rainfall in
Vancouver in October to correlate with average number of tourist arrivals in
Bangkok for the month of December in order to trigger a sell order for your
shares in Apple and to execute a buy order in gambling casino business in
After you finish this
essay, pick up any newspaper, go to any blog read what the writer has to say, or
flip (or scroll) through the book you’re reading and give the author a rating on
the apophenia on a scale of 1 to 10. Assign a ‘1’ is for no connections of
unrelated events or things. Give a ‘10’ for so many such connections and
offering a causal bridge linking them all that the person is insane or
enlightened. Remember the greater speed in making patterns from data, the higher
the IQ. That’s right. This is what is tested when given an IQ test. We have a
cultural bias that we all buy into—slow pattern-making means a person is
mentally less capable, less bright, and less able to pull together, assemble the
correct pattern in front of him.
It seems we suffer either
way. When a person finds it difficult to draw patterns from unrelated symbols,
events, or experiences, means he has a low IQ. But the person who easily finds
the underlying causes that spontaneously brings meaning to unrelated things has
a high IQ. How effectively you deal with such pattern making determines whether
you are crazy, stupid, or on drugs. Finally ask yourself, what rank would you
assign to yourself in the way that you connect unrelated events and
After all, one thing is
certain: Only you can say “I was there.” And only you can also say that in
Twelve Monkeys and The Matrix only an imagination created that
space. No one was ever ‘there’ and the Hansels and Gretels gingerbread men are
not the same as a 135,000 people who had been incinerated while Vonnegut had
survived. The science fiction inside Vonnegut’s head didn’t spring solely from
his imagination; his way of connecting events came from the way things had been
connected during his WWII experience. Everything Vonnegut wrote connected back
in one way or another to his experience of the firebombing. He had been there.
And he took us there with him, connected us to those events through his
|When Poo has the Wrong Bad Smell
Governments in most places
want to help citizens who struggle to make a living. Thailand is no exception.
The law of unintended consequence unfortunately comes into play when government
policy attempts to control market forces. Greed is a bulldozer that ploughs
through Wall Street, it also rolls through the rubber plantations and rice
fields of Asia.
In the South of Thailand
there are many rubber plantations. Rubber trees require fertilizer. The
essential ingredient of fertilizer is? One assumes it is poo. The people who
make fertilizer, like all good capitalize, seek to maximize their profits from
every bag of fertilizer. If this becomes a highly regulated business where the
government sets the price, then one way to boost the profits is to sell the
farmers “fake” fertilizer. It is difficult to believe that there are cheaper
substitutes for poo but apparently that is the case.
What the English language
newspapers in Thailand fail to say is the “fake” fertilizer story has shit
hitting the fan in more than one ASEAN country. What seems to be an eccentric
story from Thailand is actually a story that is spreading through the region.
America had the subprime mortgage meltdown in 2008, while Asia has a subprime
fertilizer story in 2012.
Vietnam also has bad boys diluting the
fertilizer in their country. In Vietnam, test showed rather than 20% of organic
content, the fertilizer has less than 15%. What’s a farmer in a remote area
without testing to do? That’s the problem. Remote areas where the fake
fertilizer is used won’t really know the problem until their crop yields tell
them. The Vietnamese authorities responded with a crackdown, raiding five
companies selling the fake shit. But with light fines on the light side, the
crackdown won’t solve the problem. The Vietnamese solution is for the State to
get into the shit business. They’re building a huge fertilizer factory. I am
certain we can revisit this story in a couple of years to see just how well that
Not to be left out of the
biggest shit story to hit the region in years, the Philippines is also
investigating fake fertilizer in Mindanao. The police seized thousands of bags
of fake ammonium sulfate, ammonium phosphate, urea, muriate potash, and
monosodium sulfate salt. This happened after the cops found the safehouse where
the fake fertilizer gang had warehouses.
“The suspected leader of the gang, Edgar Calledo, and seven of his workers were
caught mixing, rescaling, and resacking of suspected adulterated fertilizer
products inside a warehouse in Maa, Davao City.”
They were caught
red-handed. It would be good if the local reporters kept us informed about the
trial of that gang of corporate thugs. How this is any different than the
average derivative trader on Wall Street would require a separate essay. But I
am certain by now you can see the general theory is roughly the same. Only on
Wall Street, they mixed shit in with the good stuff, while in this region, to
save on the cost of shit, they put in the fake stuff.
The problem can be traced
to government capping the price of fertilizer. That is called price control. It
means that to keep farmers and producers of agricultural products contented
voters, the price of shit has to be kept below market price. If the manufacturer
is a state enterprise, then the taxpayers subside the true cost of shit. But if
the price control is on private manufacturer, and the cost is rising, you
would expect one of two outcomes: (1) the use of fake materials that cost much
less; or (2) a refusal to manufacture and sell their product at the controlled
price. The first is fraud, the second is civil disobedience.
According to the Nation, in Thailand, fertilizer
producers and retailers have put the government on notice they won’t be selling
any more of their shit under the government’s current price structure. The
national stocks of fertilizer are dwindling. The government is looking to import
fertilizer from Malaysia to fill the gap. The government is caught between
farmers who want cheap fertilizer and fertilizer companies that want a
profitable return on their investment.
The lesson is that even
shit has a market price and when the government policy is the private sector has
to bear the cost of production even though this not only wipes out their profit
margin but puts them in a loss position, something has to give. The
alternatives aren’t pretty: fake fertilizer, fraudulent fertilizer gangs, black
market fertilizer, and damaged crop yields.
Wall Street bankers and
Southeast Asia fertilizer manufacturers have more in common than anyone would
have thought. They could recruit from the same pool of executives who know the
best techniques of getting people to believe that a little fake shit doesn’t
spoil the crop yields.
|When Things Go Terribly Wrong in the World of Crime
The laws of unintended
consequences and collateral damage apply to criminals just like they do anyone
else. I’d like to give some examples of ‘crimes’ that might have the judge
and jury shedding tears—ones of laughter.
A driver went to the
trouble to find a replica of testicles. He displayed them in the back
of his truck. The sheriff’s deputy stopped him and gave him a ticket. The
motorist is back in the news. He’s got a second ticket for the same ‘crime’. One
more time and that is three strikes and he’s out. A life sentence in a South
Carolina prison where a set of replica testicles might not work out all that
well for him.
A drunk driver had his
truck pulled over early on a Thursday morning by the police. He’d been clocked
doing 70 mph around midnight. His companion who was riding shotgun was a ‘small
monkey’. The police seized the truck and monkey and arrested the driver who’d
had a history of DUI arrests. No word on how much the monkey had
A 17-year-old biker made a
point of giving the finger to one of those CCTV cameras that monitor the
traffic. Not once but 26 times. He cleverly covered his face and removed his
license plate. The police laid a trap for him at the end of a tunnel and the
biker confessed to crime of displaying his middle finger at the CCTV
It wouldn’t be a good
German crime story with out further evidence that comes from a strong scientific
background and understanding of procedures, permits and technology. It turns out
the biker had the wrong license for the bike he was caught in carrying out his
crime. No middle finger usage endorsed on the license. And the police technical
expert said the 125cc bike was ‘illegal’ based on his assessment, allowing the
police to confiscate it. The biker was fined, points deducted and banned for 26
months from driving. One month for every time he flipped the bird.
A fifty-year-old policeman
was arrested after he approached a 25-year-old woman in a restaurant. He
crept up on her and began to lick her hair. The cop was attached a forensic unit
and had been on a medical leave. The authorities were certain when the cop would
return to work, or what crime, if any, to charge the hair licking forensic
One difficulty of being an
identical twin is if your criminally inclined brother commits a criminal act,
flees the scene and leaves you to take the heat as the witnesses identify you as
the bad guy. Back in November 2010, Anek Ounwong had a fight with a group of
teenagers and he used a grass cutter in what sounds like a bonsai attack on
them. Anek, as often happens in these circumstances, didn’t stick around and
headed for the hills. Last week he went home to find that his brother had
received a four-year prison term of the grass cutter attack. The brother had
tried to explain to the police that it wasn’t him. The police refused to buy his
“I am a twin and my evil brother did it” story as did the trial and appellate
courts. Now Anek is back in town, he’s gone to the police and confessed he was
What was the reaction of
the police? “It’s out of our hands. We can do nothing.” But the police suggested
a course of action. Anek might want to petition the prosecutor’s office or the
courts and explain to them what had happened.
As cases are known to move
through the Thai criminal justice at a vast speed, it takes about four years
before there is a final outcome—just the right amount of time for the innocent
brother to get out of prison. Then the prosecutor can launch a new criminal case
against the twin who committed the crime. I doubt Anek will be able to
claim credit for the time served by his brother. Though he might try. No doubt
the authorities will adjust criminal statistics on assaults with a glass cutter
which might well half the number of cases for 2010.
What these and many
similar cases show is the role of bad luck, bad companions, bad brother, and
hair licking police in the day-to-day criminal cases that happen right around
I studied law. I taught
law. I acted as a lawyer. Still with that legal background, I find it difficult
to wrap my mind around systems where people are “above the law.” In practical
terms that means if they commit an offense, they are not processed through the
legal justice system. They receive a free pass. This is the real world. Not one
you find in law textbooks except in footnotes.
In Thailand, there are
multiple examples of someone with political and social influence getting away
with murder. There were witnesses. The act was caught on CCTV cameras. But the
evidence is lost along the way. Nothing comes of the case. After a few months,
it disappears from the newspapers, from the public mind, lost from collective
memory. Time erases the crime. In the real world, our memories can only have so
much overload before they no longer function.
The victim’s family in
such cases is lost in the void. There is no public accountability, no
explanation, no reconciliation of the rules of the system. In the real world,
none of that matters a great deal. Power accumulates. Power is the gravity that
shapes, bends the rules to fit the interest of the powerful.
A few days ago in Cambodia
an environmentalist was shot dead as he sought to lead a couple of reporters
into a forest where illegal logging was apparently going on. He was shot dead by
a soldier guarding against troublemakers like Chut Wutty, who led a Natural
Resources Protection Group. He sought truth and justice. In the real world,
people on the side of truth and justice get into conflicts with powerful people.
Push becomes a shove, and a shove moves to the next stage of a gun. “Above the
law” means the death of this kind is unlikely to lead to arrest of the gun. Who
it turns out was a soldier who was said later to have shot himself (twice) in
the chest with his own AK47.
Chut Wutty is an example
of someone who confronted powerful interest. In this part of the world, that
confrontation is more likely than not going to end badly and when the gun smoke
clears, there will be a body of the man seeking truth and justice. In the real
world, there will be an “investigation” and no evidence will be found linking
anyone powerful to the crime. There will be no trial. Only a dead gunman who
China is in the spotlight
for the impunity of Bo Xilai, ex-political heavy weight, who by press accounts
waged a reign of terror against “enemies” in his city of Chongqing, which has a
population of 30 million people. Bo Xilai’s wife is charged with murdering by
poison British national Michael Heywood. She showed up shortly afterwards
dressed in a Chinese Army general’s uniform.
In the real world, the
most powerful people in Asia have political power. This is the
get-out-of-jail-free card for them, their family, friends and associates. But
what Bo Xilai’s downfall—a huge political event in China—illustrates is that a
man may be powerful but there may be more powerful men above him. It appears
that Bo Xilai wired taped the phone of President Hu Jintao who was in Chongqing.
No doubt he only wanted to know what good things the president was saying about
him. Unlike American banks, Bo Xilai wasn’t too big to fail. The Communist Party
pulled the plug and Bo Xilai, a feared, ever powerful force who ruled with an
iron-fist, is now on the sidelines. In the real world, the powerful fall only
when they double cross someone more powerful than they are.
This year the Chinese
government will spend around $110 billion on domestic security—the surveillance
and information technology system don’t come cheap. Regional leaders like Bo
Xilai had access to such systems. That allowed him and other powerful regional
leaders to keep watch on the Chinese counterparts to Chut Wutty. In the real
world, people who seek to remedy injustice need to be watched. And as we can see
in the case of China, some significant cash is put into high systems to scan the
citizens for such troublemakers.
When a forty-year-old
blind Chinese lawyer named Chen Guangcheng escaped from house arrest, he found a
way into the American Embassy in Beijing. His fate is still unresolved. One
thing is clear. The impunity game once it is thrust into the international
spotlight, the authorities scramble for cover, citing the usual reason: it is a
matter of internal interest and outsiders shouldn’t poke their nose in domestic
affairs. The powerful don’t like other powerful people looking down at them.
That causes loss of face.
Chen’s “crime” was making
noises about forced abortions and the like and the powerful wanted to turn down
the volume by putting him and his family under house arrest—after having already
served over four years in jail for “damaging property and organising a mob to
disturb traffic.” His other crimes included: organizing a petition to eliminate
taxes on disable farmers, signatures on a petition to close down a polluting
paper factory, and a successful law suit to force Beijing’s subway operator to
allow the blind to use the subway for free.
Clearly Chen was a world
class troublemaker for the powerful. They did what powerful people who are above
the law do, they take the person out of circulation. No more official charges
for him? No problem, just put him and his family under house arrest. Have a
squad of armed men circle the houseand beat upthe man, his wife and kid because
in the real world, you can.
Chen complained of
mistreatment at the hands of authorities, and that included abuse of his wife
and six-year-old daughter.
What has Chen asked?
Basically he’s asked the government officials not to be above the law. The
Toronto Star quotes Chen, “I also ask that the
Chinese government safeguard the dignity of law and the interests of the people,
as well as guarantee the safety of my family members.”
The breaking news is Chen
checked out of the American Embassy in Beijing and into a hospital—out of his
own volition or so the American officials say. The American Embassy is gaining
the reputation of a half-way house from embattled police chiefs to blind
activist lawyers. They get shelter, food, some counseling before being sent back
to the street. The Americans apparently received the assurance from Chinese
authorities that Chen would be treated like “an ordinary citizen.” That
shouldn’t be a hard promise to keep because that was exactly how he was treated.
Ordinary citizens are below the law; those in power above the law, and they get
to find a middle ground in the foyer of the American Embassy. You just know that
ain’t going to work the way they think it will.
Here’s the executive
summary. Chut Wutty is dead in Cambodia. Blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng who was
hiding out in the American Embassy in Beijing, has decamped to a hospital where
he will be treated as an ordinary citizen. And strict criminal libel lawyers in
Thailand prevent naming the powerful killers who walk the streets of major
cities in Thailand. That’s another thing worth mentioning. Speech in the
above-the-law jurisdiction is inevitably censored to make certain ordinary
citizens don’t start asking awkward questions about truth and
Because in the real world,
those above the law, remain above the law, and those who seek truth and justice
will wind up in an early grave, house arrest, or the Chinese transitional guest
room in the American Embassy with a map of China and suggestions of where they
might next want to live.
If you live in a country
where the rule of law applies to the powerful, then you should light a little
candle tonight and, despite all of the misfortunes of class, race and
inequality, count yourself lucky that as an ordinary citizen you can raise your
voice and ask for justice. You can go public with your grievances, proposals for
change, no matter that others disagree with you, and you can go home, turn on
the TV and not worry that the government won’t send men around to beat up your
wife and kid. Or put a bullet through your head.
Because if you lived in
the real world that most people occupy, you’d understand just how dangerous
truth and justice can be and the costs fall like a ton of bricks on the person
making such a noise.
Christopher G. Moore’s
latest novel is The Wisdom of