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Blog Archive June 2013

Existential Fear in a Secular Age

Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and John Paulos have written best selling books subjecting religion to the rigors of science, testing, evidence and logic. The belief in the sky god was never able to withstand such a compelling analysis. The borders of faith have shrunk inside many people’s lives. Those who describe themselves in surveys and polls as atheist continue to remain a minority in most Western countries. It may be that many people nominally remain under the cloak of religion. Strip away the cloak and the reality is they have all but in name abandoned faith in the sky god. But the rituals of faith continue like a steam locomotive. We love the experience of ritual—the sight, the smell, and the ride with fellow passengers. We temporarily close our eyes to the fact that other forms of transportation have long ago overtaken us.

What is the evidence for this covert loss of faith in religion to supply satisfactory answers to the large existential questions about death? It is found in the rise of government as an alternative manager of fears. The second bow in the string religion brought was the fear of being a sinner, doing wrong, angering the sky god. The old violin has lost both strings. Our existential angst goes unanswered by faith and no one worries much about being a sinner. Guilt, like sin, is a word no longer functions to keep anti-social behavior in check.

The old hierarchy of fear managers—monks, priests, rabbis, ministers—historically have claimed jurisdiction over ministering to our existential fears for centuries. As absolute faith in religious answers no longer is comforting to a growing mass of people, who have switched allegiance to the scientific method, a gap has opened. Our secularization has brought about a great leveraged buy-out of the fear business. The private sector has co-ventured with the government in the acquisition, data mining, storage, and analysis of big information business.

The new secular clergy are organized around the language of mathematics as the church once used Latin for their elite. Mathematicians are our new cardinals. Their algorithms communicate the sacred and the secret. Outside the inner sanctum of Government, a large, private group of lay novices are often ex-clergy who shuttle back and forth from public to private, and vice versa.

In gaining control over the fear business, governments and their private partners have found an effective way to expand and consolidate power. The medieval role of the Church found that fear of the sky god’s wrath was effective to control kings who ruled under its grace in Europe. History teaches an important lesson about those who claim the mantle of fear managers—power, whether religious or secular—takes our fear of the ‘other’ and our fear of death to serve their own interests. Like the church before our secular age, the population has been excluded from the modern process of fear management. The new secular priesthood determines, in secret, what actions work best in the war against fear. Fear needs a face. Fear needs an enemy. In religious times, it was the devil; in secular times, it is the terrorist, who have brought us to the edge of the apocalypse; it is these people who haunt us and make us fearful.

Secular governments have learnt what large religious institutions have known for centuries—the masses will abandon claims to civil liberties and rights in return for guarantees that the enemy, the non-believer, whether within or from the outside. They have no issue with giving a free hand to officials and private contractors waging this war against fear. Priesthoods rely on magical thinking. To defeat the enemies who cause fear, all-out war is necessary. In this worldview, there is no choice but to permit the authorities to collect metadata, mine it for threats, and pursue those threats by all available means.

Institutions that work in the fear business are not only good at data mining—math as the new Latin gives them a huge edge—they are also adroit at understanding the psychology of the faithful. The reality is that people are highly vulnerable when it comes to fear. They want to be cleansed of fear. Churches no longer offer a sanctuary to repress these destabilizing emotions. We are witness to a great shifting of the guards as religious institutions are going the way of the manual typewriter. In the digital age, the amount of fear has increased at the same rate of Moore’s law for computer speed. Fear increased with our information about the dangers of the world. The uneasy anxiety of the masses demands something to be done to contain their fear.

In response to that demand, we are witnessing the results—a huge, spawning intelligence gathering empire, one justified and tailored to managing the globalization of fear. Intelligence agencies in America gather, store and process metadata about millions of ordinary people’s personal messages hovered from their email, telephone, social networks who had not been accused of any crime. The majority of those people have no problem with the government keeping information about their lives. They feel they’ve done nothing wrong. It is only people who would harm them or kill them that should be worried.

Don’t tie the hands of the fear managers, let them mount their steads, draw their swords, and vanquish the bad people from our existence. In the religious realm, heaven is on the side of the righteous. For the modern, secular population, heaven requires mass storage facilities, algorithms to mine the huge amounts of data. This new secular church, and the vast network of lay novices, operates under the watchful eyes of hundreds of thousands of the workers with the sacred task of monitoring those who generate fear. They are our representatives of righteousness—the high priests who have been granted top-secret clearance—the vanguards to guard us against the fears once the preserve of sky god and his representatives.

Our secular masters have become the new class of priests and new digital, technology installed as the sky god who sees all, is everywhere, omnipotent, and watching.

We use our new technology like prayers, believing that it will allow our secret clergy to acquire patterns, knowledge about probable associations and outcomes, and prevent a crime before it happens and identify the criminals before they commit a crime. In the ancient days when religions played a central role in people’s lives, we had to wait until a criminal acted, investigated for evidence to catch him, and extracted a confession after having caught him. In our secular, technological age that process from the steam locomotive age is no longer convenient.

We live in a new age, one in which fear propels us to allocate resources to identify people who are, or possess the potential, for violence, aggression, and brutality. We no longer rest at night knowing the sky god keeps their primitive impulse in check. Just as we have begun to have serious doubt that the sky god is waiting on the other side of death. We are alone, troubled, insecure, short-lived creatures and seeking shelter in a violent species on a rocky planet, trying to get by day by day.

This new secular regime has crept up on us. We blinked. One moment it suddenly appeared. We are all part of the congregation. Dismantling the new clergy, or effectively controlling their actions, won’t happen easily. And for a reason—we yearn not for freedom or liberty, but seek security from the terrible uncertainty of meaning to lives without the sky god, and the oblivion we confront in our death. As with all great religions, the day will arrive when one among them follows Martin Luther by challenging the right and authority of the digital Leviathan over our lives. We wait for that edict as it travels at the speed of light through cyberspace to offer a secular order where the clergy cedes power to the congregation it serves. Only then will there be any chance for a reformation.

Posted: 6/27/2013 8:53:10 PM 

 

Re-enactments of Crimes—Reality checks

Theatre since the time of Greeks produced plays as a mirror to hold up to a society to see the reality of their existence. We are accustomed to the division of drama into the two different aspects of our lives—comedy and tragedy. We respond with laughter or tears as the emotional chords are played on our heartstrings with the virtuosity of the great dramatist. Not all cultures draw their dramatic heritage from the Greeks or Romans, nor are all dramas the product of professional stage producers, scriptwriters and directors.

In Thailand the police have an exclusive on the right to stage the drama of a criminal reenactment. A number of times a year it is show time in the Land of Smiles.

The police re-enactment of crimes has been refined over many years in Thailand until it has reached the level of an anticipated theatrical event. The reconstructions of actual crimes might be thought to be closer to carnival or street theatre than Shakespearian tightly scripted plays. The police having caught the criminal arrange for him or her (most of the time it’s him) to appear in front of the media and show how the suspect committed the crime. The police are casted in the role of heroes, the villain (sometimes there are more than one) is the real-life suspect and everyone plays their role before news reporters and TV cameras.

This is a different concept than the TV show like Crime Stopper, where to catch a criminal, the police reenact the crime in order to engage the public with a request for information to assist in identifying and arresting the suspect.

In Thailand, the police arrest the suspected criminal who has “confessed” to the crime. What follows the confession is a media presentation where the suspect, actors, and the police stage a reconstruction of the crime.

Reenactments can carry a light note, a hint of comedy with a suspect who has the media spotlight. That certainly proved to be the case with Carlo Konstantin Kohl who escaped from the airport by a German national where he’d been held in the transit lounge on his journey from Australia to Germany.


The Bangkok Post

Sometimes the ‘theatre’ moves from the realm of controlled drama produced and directed by the police, to ‘live’ drama, which shows just how badly things can go wrong with a staged re-enactment of a crime.

In a recent criminal case, a Vietnamese national, a suspect in an abduction case was on his way to a crime scene reenactment, escaped out of the back of a police van.


Phuket Gazette

When a 17-year drug addict reenacted the vicious stabbing of a maid in Phuket—she was stabbed 80 times and her throat slit—relatives and neighbors tried to beat  up the suspect and the police had to intervene to protect him. As he was a minor his face was covered by a balaclava.


Pattaya One

In the case of a sexual assault and robbery of two Russian women, the police  had Thai actresses play the role of the Russians in the reconstruction of the crime.  Obviously a ‘reconstructed’ crime doesn’t actually reproduce all the elements of the crime. It is more like a power point presentation of how to fly an airplane than actually getting in the cockpit and taking off.

The Nation reported the police rationale for reenactments of crime:

“A Metropolitan Police specialist said a re-enactment is important for an investigation because each criminal or each gang behaves differently in committing a crime. Details on how criminals commit each crime help the police understand the pattern of a crime. This can help them track down other criminals showing the same behaviour pattern and help reduce the loss of life and property.”

Reenactments as a police school teaching tool for crime investigators strikes me as an interesting, though implausible, heuristic tool. I think the jury is out exactly how such reenactments expand the range of knowledge about criminal behavior. Watching Superman in Man of Steel might impart some knowledge about criminal conduct as well. Crime re-enactments, in my view, touch on a much older idea about communities gathering to witness a wrongdoer repent, confess his crime, show his contrition by assisting the authorities in demonstrating what he did. Reenactments are a ritual, like rituals surrounding birth, marriage and death. Rituals of cleansing the wrongdoer—with the police as high-priests—are on hand as representatives of the gods who punish those who do wrong, so that victim’s family, friends and neighbors can watch the suspect admit his sin.

If the police explanation is correct, the re-enactments ought to take place in an actual theatre or classroom. From the photos below, you can see the Thai police staged a re-enactment of the murder of a well-known and controversial businessman is being witnessed by only two officers (with one having his interest engaged elsewhere).


The Nation

Another point, which also isn’t explained, is why the press is invited to record this piece of theatre, the large number of police officers who attend such reenactments, or onlookers who are allowed to watch the whole proceeding up close. Are they training sessions or workshops? Or is this staged reconstruction more like theatre? May be it is a ritualized repentance and request for forgiveness as I discussed earlier. Or could it be an effective way of communicating with the public that the police not only have solved the crime, protected them, and by locking this man up they are keeping them safe? As we’ve learnt with recent events in the intelligence community in America, the desire to feel safe is a license to do whatever is necessary to accomplish that goal. Reenactments are hatched from a primordial fear of danger from other people.

A member of the National Human Rights Commission, Paiboon Warahapaitoon, requested that the police take into account the human rights implications arising from staging a reenactment of a crime. Even under Thai law, the accused can’t be convicted solely based on a confession. A reenactment is no more than a dramatization of a confession that cannot be used to convict, unless it is supported by independent evidence of guilt.

Western lawyers have come out to argue that the Thai police reenactments would be illegal in most countries.

Most of the Thai reenactments are young Thais with little education and from poor families. These are the faces one sees among the suspects reenacting crimes. The rich and well-off are not actors in these dramas. They have their lawyers, day in court, and are usually out on bail, denying the charges against them.

Last week a Thai diplomat stationed in Cario was involved in an altercation in a luxury hotel. The facts are yet to be finally established, but the preliminary reports having the young Thai woman diplomat kicking, scratching and biting an Egyptian lawyer in front of her husband and other witnesses after a round of insults at Egypt and Egyptian people .  The diplomat has claimed self-defence, but offered no details as to what caused her to be threatened. The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs has recalled her to Bangkok and said it will investigate the matter. Whatever is found, one thing you can be assured won’t happen is a reenactment of the incident.

If you want to see how the rich carry on, watch primetime Thai TV lakorn (soap operas) on free TV channels. They are the next best thing to crime reenactments of assaults and other crimes the privileged commit. Lakorn is wildly popular amongst a large segment of the population. This shows there is a popular appetite for reenactments of crimes, nasty and anti-social behavior which don’t quite rise to crimes but nonetheless inflict a fair measure of emotional damage to the victims.

For this reason I think it is unlikely that the popularity of the Thai lakorn will wane any time soon. And the same can be predicted for criminal reenactments starring members of the underclasses. All societies need a way of staging drama. Each culture evolves a set of expectations, roles, producers, directors and media stars. The Thais give the starring roles to the poor in reality news entertainment in crime re-enactments, and the rich get theirs in soapy primetime TV dramas.  Thai audiences are as entertained as any member of the old Globe Theatre in London. The show must go on. And when the price of admission is free, and the villain at center stage performs his role, for that moment, he achieves a moment of fame. And the police reinforce their image as heroes, defenders, protectors against the ‘other’ who are out ‘there’ waiting to kill, maim, rob, rape or assault.

Shakespeare in Richard II wrote: “As in a theatre, the eyes of men,
after a well-graced actor leaves the stage, are idly bent on him that
enters next.” And who enters next may well be someone caught on a
video camera. Digital video recorders in cell phones have the
potential, over time, to replace the police reenactment. The purpose
of the reenactment is for the suspect to show how he committed the
crime. In this YouTube clip a Thai man confronts Russian man with a
handgun in Phuket. It is over a woman.

Videos like this eliminate the need for a reenactment.

Posted: 6/20/2013 9:01:23 PM 

 

Where the Wild Things Are: Bangkok

Bangkok this week has secured its reputation as the place (to borrow Maurice Sendak’s book title) Where the Wild Things Are. Wild things like in wild, feral animals are a good place to begin a Conrad-like journey into the heart of urban darkness.

Noah, according the myth, collected a pair of each animal and loaded them onto an arc as he had advanced warning that a flood would wipe out life on the planet. This week a modern version of Noah was busted in Bangkok, although no arc was found on the premises. But that is a minor detail, as no self-respecting face displaying local would be caught dead shoving animals into a wooden Arc. The new Arc is an imported luxury cars.

Before we move on to the animal selection process for filling up an Arc, let’s start with the noise animals make. Noah must have had neighbors, too. We never heard their side of the story. Noah didn’t work in silence. He banged nails day and night to construct the arc, while his animals caged up kicked up a chorus. Never heard that part of the story? Right. That merely proves that some great background stories never are told, or if told, are remembered and passed down from generation to generation.

In Bangkok, after a drinking session the music is usually turned up … and up … and at some point it blares through of the neighbor’s walls. The racket Leeches through the floors and ceiling and sucks you dry. Welcome to the neighbor from hell. The one with the teenagers who has formed a rock band with his buddies but no one has ever taken a music lesson.  The wannabe rock stars bang away on electric guitars and drums from midnight to four in the morning. You complain to the police. They do nothing. As Thailand is a hub of the unconventional story about hellish neighbors, at last there is a story where the police actually came, saw, held their noses, and returned with very large trucks to remove the source of the noise. Only in this case, it wasn’t loud music that caused the misery.

In one of the remote neighborhoods in Bangkok, Khun Lek bolted up in bed as he tries to awake for a nightmare of roaring lions and a distant tingling of pigs and peacocks. You are awake but the sound of jungle hasn’t disappeared. And then he smelled something foul as if a hundred sewers have backed up and overflowed in your bedroom.

The police discovered the neighbor—a Mr. Montri runs a pet shop at the Weekend Market also known as Jattujak or JJ Market. He’d previously been convicted of trading in wildlife and had gone back to his old ways as officials found: 14 white lions, 4 otter civets, 2 hornbills, 1 oris, 23 meerkats, 1,000 sugar gliders, 12 peacocks, 13 turtles, 6 minks, 4 miniature pigs, 17 marmosets, a number of birds, and some stuffed animals. It seems the police got tired of counting after the exhaustion of counting 17 marmosets (those little buggers race around like rats on speed and all look alike making counting an ordeal) as quantities grow vague when it comes to birds and stuffed animals. There it is. After the great flood, the world starts over with this population of animals.

Mr. Montri told the police that he had the paperwork to legally import the lions from South Africa. Apparently a lion cost Baht 200,000 wholesale or about $6,700.00. There was a slight problem with the papers. The import documentation showed 16 lions coming into Bangkok, and there were only 14 in the cages on Mr. Montri’s land. The paperwork hasn’t stopped the police from charging Mr. Montri with offenses that could delay the sailing of the Mr. Montri’s Arc by up to 4 years.

Where were the missing 2 lions? That question is one Mr. Montri’s neighbors are seeking answers to as they gingerly rush from their front doors, climb into their cars or on to the seat of their motorcycles and get out while the getting is good.

The rich in Thailand apparently have a strong desire to own unusual pets. There is also a dark side, too, as the delicate bits from some of these animals are also made into medicines usually to increase the vitality and virility of aging men.

The secret sex lives of some old men include harvesting organs from rare, large African animals. Others go for luxury sports cars.

This leads us back to the on-going investigation by a large number of agencies into the smuggling of luxury cars into Thailand. The 300% import taxes are staggeringly high for someone using the normal import channels. That provides an opportunity for someone who can figure out a short cut. Somehow 2,000 luxury cars were smuggled into Laem Chabang port in Chon Buri and stored, making it one of the world’s largest luxury car parking lots in the world. As one would expect, cars began disappearing from the port as importers began selling them off at bargain prices.

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) is looking into 600 luxury cars to see if they were legally imported. DSI has impounded a 100 luxury cars so far this year.

News reports indicate 90% of the luxury cars imported into Thailand came in illegally. That is more than just a little leakage in the system. That’s the sound of Niagara Falls roaring next to those missing lions. Like prohibition of alcohol, criminalization of drugs, or 300% taxes on for a luxury item is guaranteed to fuel a grey and black market, corrupt officials and create a wealthy criminal class of middlemen. In the case of Thailand, the grey and black markets are the lion’s share of the luxury car market. The grey market includes luxury cars used abroad by students and imported into Thailand—just think about it. You come home from year of study abroad with a half-million car that slides under the tax regulations. Or if you have a luxury car assembled in Thailand, another free pass. Though the assembly of such cars require technicians and facilities that rival NASA, and the local ‘assembly’ shops appear to have no more than the usual screwdriver and hammer. And the luxury car has to be registered. Basically the luxury car market is a legal mess with many fingers pointing and many more fingers in the pot.

The owners of luxury cars are a who’s who of Hi-So personalities, senior government officials and even an abbot. Their sons and daughters also have a taste for the exotic import that distinguishes them from the lower orders running around town in their government subsidized locally assembled cars that cost less than the upholstery on a Bentley.

You need vitality to drive one of these babies. With a white lion in the passenger’s seat no one, I repeat no one, is going to have a larger face than the man behind the wheel. Most people are status obsessed and the Thais are no exception to the rule. Face is important. What you drive, wear, and the animals you collect, if of the right sort, can create a face the size of the moon. Capitalism in its full glory has provided a mechanism to achieve the elevated heights undreamed up in Noah’s day of mere arc builders.

If we stand aside from the personalities and the distracting images, we can see more clearly what is at stake. The lions and the luxury cars are really a story about our uneasy, troubled relationship with nature and each other. Our problem has caused a problem with nature once it became apparent that there is vastly more profit in destruction than in maintenance of natural resources.

We are a species of Deceptive Apes, Killer Apes, and we are a danger to ourselves and all other species. Our ancestors passed laws and wrote constitutions to protect us against ourselves. In the digital age we have found those in power have discovered new and powerful ways of deception, means far beyond the imagination of prior generations.

We deceive ourselves that nature can absorb our rapacious behavior. We deceive ourselves that those who collect information will never use it for their benefit rather than our own.

We deceive ourselves into believing that the rule of law will continue to protect us like a dyke against the rising tide of government intrusion. Apathy is the bedfellow of deception. We are enablers of the worst excesses that should worry us but don’t. A majority of Thais accept corruption as part of the system. A majority of Americans don’t object if their government accesses, stores and analyzes their emails, Amazon purchases, Google searches, Facebook likes and posts, and telephone calls.

Collectively we’ve fallen into a state of denial that a price is paid for deception, and we are the one’s who pay it. Our minds fill with the soma of the media and the government officials, and we miss the context and the larger issues. Like a great magician, who knows how to distract his audience, we are easily fooled. We focus our attention on the slightly amusing personal stories that limit the damage to a couple of dodgy schemes that the authorities are investigating. Imported lions and luxury vehicles are a good laugh. Until we realize that we are laughing when we should be weeping.

We live in a time of great loss—nature, privacy, freedom, honesty and fairness. One by one, these values are dying. Like Old English words, one day no one will remember what such words meant back in our day. The natural habitat of the Deceptive Ape is in transition. What that new space will look like? Perhaps our descendants will occupy a mental cage with as much space to roam as the cages that the Bangkok resident white lions were housed.

We can only guess. Where the Wild Things Are is just beginning to unfold.

Posted: 6/13/2013 8:28:56 PM 

 

Bangkok’s 300 Exits

Some weeks provide an avalanche of events—enough to fill a book of essays. For example, a German national who’d finished serving a prison sentence in Australia for theft and drug law violations, escaped his private security guards at the Bangkok airport and had a two-day holiday in Bangkok before the police caught up with him. Carlo Konstantin Kohl, a German national, with an Australian accent aged 25 (a contemporary of Mr. I Am Awesome, the 25-year-old Thai drug dealer with five wives I wrote about a couple of weeks ago) was being extradited to Germany. Here’s an account in the Australian:

Kohl’s escorts were two private security personnel whose job was delayed at Suvarnabhumi Airport due to bad weather. The security detail had decided to wait for the onward flight to Germany in the transit lounge with Mr. Kohl. It was a long overnight wait and the guards fell asleep according to the Bangkok Post  (although the Australians denied that). Mr. Kohl decided he wasn’t all that anxious to return to Germany where he was wanted on parole violation charges. According to local reports he wandered around the airport for hours.


Mr. Kohl on his way to a foot massage in Suvannabhumi Airport in Bangkok.

The Bangkok Post:

His escape from the airport confirmed that it has more exit doors than  Bangkok’s illegal gambling casinos—300 doors—and is far less secure. Any one of the airport exit door, apparently, is easily disabled by snipping an electric wire.

Rumours are unconfirmed that Immigration—having discovered all of these doors may be in surplus for emergency use—might convert a half dozen of these surplus exits into Fast Track lanes for those willing to pay an extra fee. Of course, I made that up, but anything your can conceive in your imagination just might have a counterpart in reality in Thailand.

Thais love stories about handsome young rogue farang giving the authorities in Australia and Thailand a dual set of black eyes. He was bound to endear himself to a Thai audience by stopping at the airport for a foot massage before high tailing it to Soi Cowboy. The local press played the sanuk angle of the story as if Mr. Kohl’s tour of Bangkok’s hot spots was a blend of Home Alone and Hangover II. A handsome young rogue for a star, fumbling, sleeping Australians, and a tour of the hot spots of Bangkok.

Establishing the facts has been illusive. Like objects in zero gravity, facts in Thailand have a habit of floating free, bouncing off the shell of reality, untethered they remain fluid and forever just out of reach. The Thais have a way of dealing with facts that appear to incriminate someone important—those facts fall into the category of insufficient evidence. In Kohl’s case no Thai officials of rank were incriminated (that was news in itself). His romp through Bangkok was an adventure, and besides everyone was quite happy to lay the blame the Australian security detail—including the Australians. Falling asleep on the job? That could never happen in Thailand. What about all of those doors Mr. Kohl rattled? Some of the doors had been kept open for the convenience of airport staff. A bolt hole might be useful when the time comes to sneak a cigarette, hide from the boss, or to find a cozy spot for a quick nap.

Even the circumstances of Kohl’s capture/surrender/ambush—take your pick—are unclear. He was arrested in the vicinity of the German Embassy (the exact circumstances of his apprehension like most other aspects of the story are vague). One press report said Kohl had applied for a replacement passport two weeks earlier. That was the first clue that he’d been enjoying himself in Bangkok for some while. And he’d been flying under the radar.

Hadn’t anyone notified the Germany Embassy in Bangkok to be on the outlook for him? Apparently not, but facts like elementary particles in physics apparently only allow you to measure location or velocity. I’d hazard a guess that Heisenberg’s head would have been spinning to explain the facts in this case. Was Kohl on his way to the German Embassy to pick up his replacement passport? Did he suddenly have a pang of guilt and walked up and turned himself in to a Thai cop he saw on the way to the embassy? We don’t know those facts. You can’t find them anywhere in the press accounts.

In one week, Carlo Konstantin Kohl managed more front page coverage in the English language newspapers than the Prime Minister or her brother—the one who was prime minister when the airport with the 300 exit doors was opened, and the one through which he exited some years ago. This was exactly the kind of story the local media love—a Hollywood bankable rogue, keystone private cop foreigners, and no one of importance had been accused of corruption, thuggish behavior, or displays of gross arrogance. Allegations of negligence, well, to complain about that is to complain about the oxygen we breath. Though the Thai press had a report that the taxi driver that drove Kohl from the airport into Bangkok charged him Baht 3,000 for a ride that normally would cost under Baht 300.  It’s not certain Kohl was aware that he’d been grossly overcharged. I suspect his gave the driver a hundred dollar bill. Unless after his foot massage Kohl made a trip to one of the airport exchange booths.

With a bit of time to reflect, the Bangkok Post ran editorial suggesting that if Kohl could use a coin to open a security door at the airport, well-trained terrorists who’d been trained with escape and evasion skills could easily have popped open all 300 doors at once.

Kohl, who was fined Baht 6,000 ($200) and given a two-year suspended sentence for illegal entry, later conducted what appeared to be a workshop in front of about 50 officials who watched Kohl show how he had used a coin to open a security door and how he cut the wire. It was less a reenactment of the crime than the usual photo op the local papers run of a foreign guest speaker, guru from abroad, holding one of those seminars at a five-star hotel, lunch included, for the professional development and the transfer of foreign know-how and technology.

Kohl’s fun holiday in Bangkok overlooks one or two issues that I’ve not seen raised in the press accounts. Shouldn’t someone be asking the question as to whether there are protocols that require foreign police agencies, or private security firms used by law enforcement to transport prisoners to other countries, to notify local authorities that a criminal will be passing through as a transit passenger? Wouldn’t the Thais like to know in advance of arrival of someone like Mr. Kohl at their airport? Would they have rules to be observed such as don’t fall asleep in the transit lounge while escorting a prisoner? Can any serial killer show up in the custody of a couple of sleep deprived private security guards, take a power nap in the transit lounge, and let their charge take a tour of the city? What other people or things are going on in transit lounges that Thai officials might be interested in as a matter of public security and safety?

Or is this the international transport of prisoners one of those black boxes, like the renditions the Americans ran out of Thailand for some years, where flights come and go out of shadowy world with a wink and a nod? Do other countries have procedures that set out what notices and process must be complied with in flying prisoners in and out of their country?

The problem with such questions is they take the fun out of Kohl’s story. Better to keep a lid on the broader implications of what happened by limiting attention to the official response which is to send a crew around to rattle the 300 security doors at the airport. The questions are also embarrassing to both the Australians and the Thais. By asking why the Thai authorities didn’t receive advance notice of Mr. Kohl’s arrival raises the uncomfortable possibility that the Australians were under no obligation to give the Thais any such notice.

Credit must go to Mr. Kohl was exposing the security problem at the airport. Additional credit is due for establishing the abiding metaphor whenever an influential person is facing a ‘fact’ that causes a major loss of face and serious criminal charge—he will find 300 exit doors, and one of those door will allow him to escape. Call it the ‘insufficient evidence’ door.

The more interesting story this week was the explosion and fire that destroyed a carrier lorry loaded with six foreign luxury cars that somehow had entered the country and avoided import duties, and the parties have links to major politicians and government officials.

The six luxury cars have caused a turf battle between the police, customs, revenue department, and the anti-corruption agency—that no doubt other agencies will seek to have the cars and jurisdiction under their authority. Doors. 300 doors, and the question is which doors will open and close before the mystery of who owned and imported the six luxury cars. Next week, reading the local press will be an exercise in observing multiple doors opening and slamming shut like a nineteenth century prison cell. Could the Australians take the fall for those luxury cars? Did someone fall asleep again? Somewhere, official wheels are turning, door knobs to power tested.

Posted: 6/6/2013 8:54:13 PM 

 

 

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