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Last light as night falls in Rangoon. Shwedagon Pagoda framed against the twilight. It is like watching a great diva knowing in less than a generation she will be reduced to a walk on role. But that is the future. At this moment such a command performance can only leave you in awe. Our world has lost something. And I am witnessing what is front of me and remembering what we’ve left behind with a sense of joy and regret.

From my balcony the Shwedagon Pagoda is on a hill enveloped in a forest of trees. One way to understand a place is to move beyond the iconic view and into the region of folk tales, proverbs, and legends. Buried in these narratives are the treasures that define a people, their morality, ethics, and worldview. As you will have gathered from the news headlines over the past couple of weeks, Burma is a society undergoing important political changes.

The people of Burma are like travelers who have been on a dusty road for a long time and are able to enjoy a simple meal.

There is a Burmese folktale* about a weary traveler who stopped along the road to eat his lunch. The traveler was poor and his meal was a meager helping of rice and vegetables. Nearby a food vendor was selling fried fish and fish cakes. The stall owner watched the traveler eating as she fried fish. The smell of the fish drifting toward the traveler who squatted alone, lost in his own thoughts.

As the traveler finished his meal and was about to depart, the woman from the food stalls shouted at him, stopping him in his tracks: “You owe me a silver quarter for the price of one fried fish.”

“But madam, I did not eat one of your fried fish.”

“You are a cheater,” she replied. “A person who takes without paying for what he takes.”

“But, madam, I’ve taken nothing from you. I have not come within five feet from your stall.”

“Ah, ha. And you’re a liar to boot. I have many witnesses who will testify that they saw you enjoying the smell of my fried fish as you ate your meal. You would not have been able to eat that disgusting mush of rice and vegetable without taking in the sweet aroma of my fish frying. So pay me the silver quarter and don’t make any more trouble for yourself.”

The confrontation soon drew a crowd around the traveler and the fried fish seller. She plays to the crowd who had to agree that indeed the traveler had availed himself of the smell of the fish frying. Even the traveler could not deny he had smelled the fish frying. But he insisted that he had no duty to pay for that privilege.

The matter was taken to a royal judge who heard the evidence. The judge deliberated on the matter in a courthouse nestled under the shade of a coconut tree, chickens pecking for grain along the road. Several minutes passed before he announced to the parties and the crowd who had accompanied them as to his verdict.

The judge found the basic facts weren’t in dispute. The traveler had indeed enhanced the enjoyment of his meal because of the pleasant smell of the fish frying. He had received a benefit. But what was the value of that benefit? The fish seller said the price for a plate of fish was a silver quarter. The judge ordered the parties to leave the courthouse and to walk out into the sun. The traveler was then to hold out a silver quarter and allow the fish vendor to grasp the shadow made by the silver quarter. The judge reasoned if the plate of fish cost one silver quarter, then the exchange value for the smell of the fish was the shadow of one silver quarter.

As the gold rush of investors are jumping headlong into the newly opened Burma, they might be reminded that so far the Burmese, like the traveler, have only had a whiff of the frying fish called freedom and democracy. Whether they will be left only with a scent or will be allowed to enjoy the full plate, remains to be seen. The future will tell whether the price of freedom 60 million travelers’ benefit will be judged to be payable silver or a mere shadow of silver.

*Story adapted from Maung Htin Aung’s Folk Tales of Burma.

Shadow of Freedom is an essay from Fear & Loathing in Bangkok.

* Shadow of Freedom was originally published on 19 January 2012.

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Posted: 10/23/2014 9:03:53 PM 

 

What we forget may play as large a role in our lives as what we remember. Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence, Paths, Dangers and Strategies (2014) outlines the cognitive limitations of the human brain. Paying attention to our brain’s capacity to remember, how it remembers, the speed of remembering, and the capacity limits of memory is useful in placing amnesia into context.

We can’t understand how and what we forget without understanding something about the architecture of the brain where our memories are stored. This is summary drawn from Bostrom’s Superintelligence:

The speed of at which our brain makes calculations—what Bostrom’s calls computational speed of our biological neurons—is painfully slow. As it is natural to us, it doesn’t seem slow. But when we compare that with reading this essay on a computer housing a microprocessor operating at 2 GHz, our brain (and everyone else) plods along at 200 Hz. Our computational brain operates seven orders of magnitude slower than a computer than costs less than a thousand dollars.

The other slow lane where we find the operational limitations of the brain is the speed of axons communications within the brain. We limp along at 120 m/s while an electronic processing core communicates at 300,000,000 m/s. Our brain’s incredibly limited communication speed means we are way out of our league on the electronic expressway. This is the slow lane speed at which we take processing our information. If you owned a computer that operated at this slow speed, you’d return to the shop and demand your money back. We don’t have that option.

All the computation in the brain occurs inside slightly less than 100 billion neurons. Whether you are the village idiot or Einstein you have roughly the same number of neurons. Forget, for the moment, all of the hype about cognitive enhancements; no matter what you do to enhance the speed of a horse it will never win a Formula One race.

The brain not only makes calculation and processes data input from the outside world; it also has a storage capability. Unfortunately for us, this capacity is as limited as our computational and communication operating speeds. Bostrom observes our brains hold between 4 and 5 chunks of information in memory as working memory at any given time. Long-term memory is also limited but as Bostrom notes it is unclear whether we use it up during a normal lifetime due to the slowness of processing information. The accumulation of information is slow, subject to errors, miscalculations, and mistake for a number of reasons including old of date cultural filters, multiple biases, chemicals, drugs, alcohol, and propaganda. Our brain memory storage capacity is at the level of a moderately priced smartphone.

Amnesia is used to describe deficits in memory resulting from brain damage, disease or psychological trauma. The loss of memory can be either loss of short-term or long-term memory. An unfortunate suffers from the loss of both. The causes can be biological as the case with brain structure irregularities or chemical protein processing. While the medical side of amnesia is of great interest, there is a cultural component of amnesia that is less well understood and discussed. It may be the function of culture is to create amnesia among a population, creating a system of short and long-term memories that have a degree of uniformity, consistency, and plausibility.

The educational system in most countries is the primary delivery system. Students are taught to ‘forget’ or ‘ignore’ contrary information. Students are rewarded with high marks when they demonstrate they recall specific information on their examination. The examinations are designed to test their memory and understanding of historical, cultural, and normative information. In Tokyo Joe, one my early novels, the plot revolved around the Ministry of Education in Japan seeking to erase from public memory the role of the 731-Corp during World War II. That unit in the Imperial Japanese army, while based in China, carried out biological research including subjecting them to disease on prisoners of war. Recently in Thailand, a former prime minister’s name was eliminated from school history books.

In an authoritarian system the teacher’s role is a conduit to transfer knowledge and information to students, and the students’ role is the passive receiver. The process is memory formulation based on the orthodox cultural narrative. Not even the slightest variation from the narrative is sanctioned. The student who challenges the teacher’s conventional story may expect to receive severe punishment. In such a system, amnesia is the goal. The schools aren’t the only actors in memory formulation or manipulation. The media, government, civil service, courts and other officials work to reinforce the cultural message taught in the schools. This social modeling gives ‘culture’ the seamless feeling by instilling a shared set of social signaling and preference. When a small gap opens, it is quickly shut down or isolated from the mainstream.

The problem in the post-digital school system is that teachers find themselves in competition with other information sources. Social media along with the search functions on the Internet allow for leakage into the state authorized information system disrupting the social and political modeling and design matrix . Outsiders, in other words, are tampering with the collective cultural memories of their citizens. The reaction is fairly predictable from criminalization of expression, to censoring websites, and consolidating forces to fight against unwanted memories from being spread in the population.

In Thailand following the May 22nd coup, the military government has sought to implement techniques and training—including the so-called ‘attitude adjustment’—with the purpose of erasing specific memories, altering other memories, and redesigning memories.  Such a goal requires the official monitoring and control.  Such a course of action is not surprising. Traditionally cultural authorities under the watchful eye of governments and religious authorities have established and updated the mental content of people under their jurisdiction as if education and normative social values were a proprietary operating system, self-contained with only authorized by approved social engineers. In a closed system, whether software programming or cultural programming, what is created is deemed propriety—it is owned by the State, which uses laws, propaganda, education and media to exclude others from the process. By contrast, in an Open Programming Model, an innovation of the digital age, hundreds or thousands of ad hoc individuals are encouraged to improve, revise, amend and alter the original program. Cultural authorities and governments that strictly control the kind of attitudes, values, wish to appoint their own trusted engineers to ensure the ‘right’ thinking processes remains pure.

Access to information is not open-ended. Controlling memories about past events, personalities, successes and victories form a core collective memory shared by citizens. A political culture seeks to establish a commonality of interest and purpose among people. It may be self-serving for a powerful elite who benefit from manipulation of collective memory or it may allow the authorities a basis to call upon citizens to sacrifice to the larger good.

Amnesia, in this cultural sense, is programmed by political forces on behalf of governing institutions. These institutions depend for their legitimacy on how people they govern remember, forget, access, acquire and store information in their memory. In all social, cultural and political systems people are taught to submit to the unwritten understanding that their memory isn’t exclusively theirs to develop. They learn to submit or yield to the cultural imperatives of the memory palace of their country. Freedom, as developed in the West, has been a fight to bring the right of debate, challenge and consent to balance the calls for submission. The Internet has accelerated the idea that consent should prevail over the absolute power to force submission. No democratic system can exclude ‘consent’ of the people. No authoritarian system can rely on submission and repression to bring stability.

Waking up happens when significant numbers of people discover the amnesia induced by their culture is not from nature. Memories instilled from the official cultural channels are man-made, produced, distributed, and monitored for the benefit of the system. Once that insight is glimpsed the cultural memories become unstable and the authorities, in Thailand and many other places, have doubled-up on their attempts to gain control of what information is stored, rewarded, prized, prohibited and criminalized.

Around the world from the Middle-East to Africa and Asia, the collective amnesia is wearing off. People are waking up. You see them being reborn on social media. They discover their memories were products of submission and not choice, that what they recall are memories of others. The massive impact of this awakening is playing out inside millions of lives, and no one can predict what new processes of remembering will take their place.

Nor can we predict how our cognitive capacity may change over time, or how it may be marginalized with a superintelligent AI. Bostrom’s Superintelligence may be the most profoundly disturbing book you will read. In the world ahead, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren may look back to our time of repressive governmental regimes filling our memories with nonsense and conclude that at least in our lives, compared to their own under the control of an AI superintelligent entity, we stood had a fighting chance to gain choice in modeling the content of our memories and thoughts. Perhaps only then will we have looking back understood the true meaning of freedom.

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Posted: 10/16/2014 8:59:46 PM 

 

Forensic science is no longer a mystery to the general public. It has technical components that require expert knowledge. However, countless hours of TV drama like CSI have been watched not just by the public but by the police, too. They believe, rightly or not, that their knowledge is equal to the expert investigators who process evidence in a criminal case.

01

Crime scene preservation is now widely understood even by school children. Don’t touch!

DNA processing information, the techniques, timing, history, limitations are a Google step away.

Our information about the nuts and bolts of crime investigation is available to anyone with a computer and Internet link. This has disrupted the information/knowledge monopoly previous enjoyed by law enforcement authorities. That information and knowledge is ubiquitous. If you have an Internet connection, you don’t need to rely on what someone in authority claims is the ‘truth’. You have a world of authorities to choose from, thousand of other voices. Authorities fear that with such power you’ll discover their local opinion is out of synchronicity with the generally accepted opinion of experts.

02

Social media has provided an outlet for experts, pundits, activists, and along with a cynical, suspicious public who gather on Facebook and Twitter to exchange views, opinions, and criticism.

Once upon a time a high profile criminal case like the killing of two tourists in Thailand might attract fleeting international attention but the attention faded quickly as old media focused on a new domestic crime. For the old media, the rule of thumb was murder close to home attracted more attention from its audience than one that happened in a foreign country.

03

The terrain of the new digital world is beginning to emerge and the authorities are only beginning to react with horror that their place inside this new social media driven world operates along lines that are outside of their experience.

The pre-1990 generation or those raised and educated in a pre-digital world, and that includes most of us, had a different social construct of the police, crown prosecutors, and courts. Members of law enforcement rarely suffered sustained public assaults on their authority, competency or trustworthiness. As the Thai police force are discovering, they no longer control the information, they no longer are ceded absolute control of the case, and they no longer are given the benefit of the doubt.

In the case of Thailand, we have up to date statistics that demonstrate the how widely spread social media has become in Thailand. The Thai social media exceptional growth has been noticed inside the tech world. Worldwide, Thai Facebook population ranks No. 9, and comes in No. 17 in the Twitter rankings according to latest 2014 stats: Note as well that 42% of Thais or 28 million have Facebook accounts, representing a 53% growth and 4.5 million Thais with Twitter accounts for a 350% growth rate).

The Koh Tao murders illustrate a long free fall from the august heights of authority and there is no indication of where the bottom will be once the authorities land. Members of the wider public read accounts in newspapers or watched the nightly TV news, which filtered information to them about crimes, suspects, pleas, verdicts and sentences. It is a process that worked like clockwork like acts in Shakespeare’s most popular drama.

The Internet and Social Media has overturned the old order. The old scripts no longer work. Thais and foreigners are going to a Facebook page called CSI LA for latest updates and analysis of the Koh Tao murders.

The lead actors, supporting cast, producers and directors assemble to speak at news conference, to talk to reporters, and to explain how they are about to arrest the killers. Welcome to the high-tech world where things are done a little differently. In an international, high profile Thai criminal case, the fault lines between how the old crime story dramas played out and how a contemporary crime story does, in contrast, falls into incoherence.

04

The age when police officers’ uniform or crown prosecutors’ or judges’ robes were symbols of authority that shielded them from the outside is rapidly fading from sight The automatic shield of authority is gone. But the fight isn’t over. No better example of the revolutionary role in this process is found than in the Koh Tao double-murders of two young Britons, Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24 who were on holiday. Others have set out the details of the crime scene on theSairee Beach, Koh Tao, where the battered bodies of the two were discovered. (Andrew Drummond summaries the twists and turns in the case here.)

Allegations of local mafia involvement, bribery, torture, forced confessions, sexism, racism, mishandled evidence, false leads and misleading statements have left a digital vapor stream that the police have desperately tried to erase.

In the pre-digital world, the restraint against abuse of authority arose from a constitution, written or unwritten, and protection against such violations against a citizen’s liberty had a legal foundation. In the post-digital world where constitutional protections have been eroded almost everywhere, what is emerging is a digital citizen code of protection that transcends the old geo-political borders. What unites most officials is an abhorrence of being made to look foolish, corrupt, incompetent, psychopathic, cruel or arbitrary. Of course there are places where militants will violate all such social norms, kill as many people as necessary, spread terror all in the name of a belief and to secure a complete victory. Thailand isn’t one of those places. But it is a culture where face plays a significant role. Admitting a mistake or error is rare.

When someone is caught in a lie, a cover-up, or a misdeed the usual retort is there was a misunderstanding. It is the culturally graceful way of allowing someone who has been cornered to save face. The social media has backed the police into a corner. Internet petitions have urged the case against two young Burmese to be reconsidered or dropped. This petition on change.org has over 45,000 signatures. Here’s an example of how the word of the petition is spread onlineHuman rights activists have called for an independent investigation. News articles and editorials (Thai as well as Burmese) have raised doubts as whether the two young Burmese, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, each man 21 years old, arrested in the case confessed of their own freewill or whether the bruises on their bodies is consistent with their story that they were tortured during the interrogation process. But young men have recanted their confessions saying they’d been tortured and beaten. Link.

05

Then disturbingly, on a social media, it has been suggested the police have expressed concern the Burmese suspects might be a suicide risk. You can let your own minds sort through the range of possibilities inherent in such an announcement. Meanwhile, the police are sticking to their story:  that they have evidence that the two Burmese men committed the murders

The two Burmese suspects have no constitutional rights or protection. They suffer from the stigma of their ethnicity and nationality, which has been traditionally promoted by the Thai education system and media. They have no money, power, or friends. In the pre-digital age they would have been doomed. The names of Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun would soon have been forgotten.

But the murder case brought against them shows how rapidly social media have given birth to Netizens who will challenge the authority and exclusivity of a  criminal charges perceived as biased and unfair. The fairness and adequacy of the actors within the Thai justice system has attracted the interest of a massive online international audience.

Check out the FB posts, some in Thai, some in English: https://th-th.facebook.com/CSILA90210

Look at this post, showing number of people reached by this FB page (3.5 million in Thailand, and tens of thousands each in many other countries)

A survey done at this FB page shows over 90% of readers don’t believe the thai police.

And the verdict of that audience is not one that is to the liking of the police or others in authorities. That verdict is the case against them is tainted and it would be a gross travesty of justice to continue the case.

06

If the intention of the police was to clear a high profile case by prosecuting the two Burmese men to impress an international audience from whom millions of tourists are drawn annually, they have failed. The handling of the case, rather giving foreigners comfort of their safety on holiday in Thailand, they have scripted a dark tragedy.

Whatever the fate of Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, we are witnessing the birth of a new appellate process. It doesn’t have a name yet. Nor is the process or the personnel static. The digital guardians, with social justice and fairness as their brief, have organized themselves on social media platforms, and their judgment is overwhelmingly negative in the handling of the investigation. The concerns expressed online are that the case against the Burmese suspects is riddled with uncertainty, flaws, and suspicions and it is unsafe to continue. If the digital community’s verdict is ignored, no one can predict if these same guardians of liberty will find digital ways to spread collective action to impose sanctions.

Addendum: The Koh Toa murder case against the two Burmese continues to move, or perhaps lurch, from pothole to pothole on the bumpy road to justice. The latest development just in from Surat Thani’s prosecutors who have concluded the 850 page police report flawed and too long, and have sent it back to the police. So far no news on whether the reward promised to the police for ‘solving’ the case has been withdrawn.

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Posted: 10/9/2014 8:53:50 PM 

 

What is the last question? It appears, at first blush, to be a trick question. Last question means a long line of previous questions leading to the end of the line. Is the last question another way of asking the meaning of life, existence, the origin of the universe? That’s not one last question, that’s multiple last questions. Looking beyond the last question is the last answer.

01

Douglas Adams’s answer to the last question was directed at the meaning of the universe. He provided a brief and simple answer: 42. Terry Eagleton wrote a 200-page book titled The Meaning of Life. Did he have the answer to the last question? The Guardian reviewer Simon Jenkins summarized Eagleton’s answer as: Happiness. This verdict is shared by Thailand’s coup makers.

On the other hand, Schopenhauer counseled us not to bother as “the whole human project [was] a ghastly mistake that should have been called off long ago.”

What is the last answer to the last question from which the meaning of life and existence emerges?

One preoccupation that unites all of humanity is the quest to discover an answer to this final question. Philosophers, scientists, writers, poets, intellectuals, religious leaders, old people, young people, the poor and the rich, a rich ore of curiosity that runs through every culture through time. Conflicts, confrontations and wars emerge over the belief that some culture or political system has discovered the correct answer. Hatred and suspicion arises over the process best designed to extract that answer. Who is given the task to find such an answer? And how can we judge whether that answer is true? It gets complicated.

Most of the time we don’t aspire to the lofty heights of worrying ourselves about the Last Question. We are practical people who avoid abstractions. We are more interested in the just-so answer to the latest news cycle of daily questions. Will the police catch the actual killers who killed two British tourists on Koh Tao in the South of Thailand? What will stop the latest cycle of terror and violence in the Middle East? When will Thailand return to democracy? When will the United States return to democracy? Not to mention the mundane questions of daily life: Where to have dinner this evening? When to start writing an essay? Should I invite a friend to lunch? Should I skip a workout on Tuesday? We live our lives by seeking answers to small, immediate questions. We don’t just skip the workout; we skip the hard workout that the Last Question demands.

Our lives represent a series of examinations. We are deemed a success not by our pursuit of answers to insoluble questions, but to the effortless way we fit in to our culture, the workplace, the club, the family and co-operate among friends. When midlife crisis arrives, the dam bursts and the questions come from all directions. No sooner have we answered one and another pops into view. We panic. We’ve been asleep. When we wake up, it is with an understanding that there never was a moment without the Last Question hovering nearby; only we chose not to ask it.

Writing books is a way of putting down on paper the answer to questions. Think about the last novel you read, one that stayed with you, made you think in a way you’d not done before. The characters inevitably struggled with a whole set of questions, anticipated and unexpected, and the reason you kept on reading was to find out how that character processed information to come up with an answer. We judge fictional characters, as we judge those who occupy our ‘real’ lives, by the quality of their answers to the universal questions that we all face.

I’ve been thinking about the question and answer process specifically in the context of a fictional series. The Wire, Dexter, House of Cards are examples of hardboiled dramas which attract millions of viewers. The fans of these series return time and time again in order to learn how the characters will resolve a conflict or problem, what resources they will draw on, what code of conduct they will follow (or violate) along the way, and what impact their answers will have on the lives around them.

I am aware when I write a Calvino novel, that Vincent Calvino and the other recurring characters (and the new ones) succeed in connecting with readers on the basis of how they persist, collapse, cheat, run, lie, improvise in their quest to find answers to questions that fall over their lives like a long shadow. The reality is that the shadow never leaves. The wisdom that life bestows is not to try to outrun the shadow, but to find an umbrella, and when a question rages with wind and rain, to keep on walking. As the old saying goes, you never walk alone. Writing a novel is tracking behind such characters, demonstrating their doubts, fears, and sorrow while celebrating those moments of joy and success.

Finding how that balance between the two emotional states is never stable. Like a moth, we flutter close to the flame, and in the best of writing, we discover that moment when a wing touches the fire or when it breaks away and flies free. That’s why I take walks on writing days. The questions aren’t in my office or in a Google search on my computer. They come to me when I walk and look around at the world I am walking through.

You don’t need to be a writer to devote time to asking yourself questions, and then taking a quiet walk and allow your mind to sort through some answers. Remember: Everyone around you is in precisely the same situation. Don’t be fooled by the appearance of wealth, reputation, status or privilege. The same walk catches all of us and demands attention about what can and can’t be known or controlled. We are on a long march, a collective walk, with no clear sense of up or down, left or right that helps, bumping against the edges of our life, blindly heading toward an oasis where the truth exists. We drink from that oasis to quench our thirst for the answer of the question of today, or this month of October, or biggest question of all: what is on the other side of nothingness?

02

Isaac Asimov’s The Last Question is a brilliant example of how the best of our story tellers can show us the long view of what that Final Answer looks like. Do yourself a favor this weekend, read The Last Question and then take a long walk and ask yourself whether the questions that caused you so much anxiety and grief this week are the questions that really matter.

What is your answer to the Last Question?

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With many thanks to my friend John Murphy and his daughter Melissa, who sent me Isaac Asimov’s The Last Question.

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Posted: 10/2/2014 8:52:15 PM 

 

Two young Britons were killed less than two weeks ago on a beach in Koh Tao, a small island, Surat Thani province located in the South of Thailand. There is no need to set out the horrible details of the killing. It is sufficient to acknowledge that the double murder was the result of a brutal and vicious assault by one or more unknown persons. The young woman’s face was mutilated in the course of the attack that claimed her life. Both victims were found dead on the beach semi-nude.  Since the murder the Thai police have sought to apprehend the killer or killers. The process of investigation, from the handling of the crime scene to announcing possible suspects, has been closely followed by the local and international news.

01
British tourists murdered on Koh Tao: David Miller, 24 and Hannah Witheridge 23

At best it can be said the investigation has been shambolic, with conflicting statements about motives, the alleged wearing of a bikini by the female victim, evidence of the murder weapon, identity of possible suspects, reports of sealing the island, mass testing of DNA, including old and young migrant women, and participation of foreign forensic experts to assist the local police.

Many others have reported on the professionalism and competence of the police conducting the investigation. What has been missing from the discussion is the role of the media, including social media in reporting the story. This essay touches the surfaces of what should be a comprehensive survey of contemporary efforts in many countries to devise new policies and guidelines governing police and social media. By social media, I am specifically referring to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. There are other platforms but these are the main ones most people currently think of when they come across the phrase social media.

02
Beach, Koh Tao

It is unclear whether the Thai Royal Police force has a Police Social Media Protocols or Guidelines. From the handling of the Koh Tao murders, one might safely conclude there are no such guidelines for social media, or if there are such guidelines they have been so loosely applied as to be meaningless. These murders have revealed that the Thai police procedures, policies and guidelines are ripe for reform to bring them into the digital age.

International examples of Police Social Media Policies

This is a brief survey and only covers a small amount of the available resource material about current social media policies and practices, updates being called for to existing rules, and specific examples of policies that, if in place in Thailand, would have avoided a great deal of the problems the Thai police have found themselves confronting.

USA

In the United States, discussions are taking place as to formulating social media policy guidelines for the FBI. American experts have written about the need for new policies to take into account social media and view it as an opportunity to enhance their operational and investigative capabilities. There is also the danger of blending personal and working lives in a way that discredits the police. The need for a media policy that takes into account social media security and privacy that also define what can and cannot be shared on social media by police officers and staff.

Attention in US law enforcement has focused on using social media for tactical advantage in policing, with an emphasis on using social media as an investigative tool in law enforcement. The US Justice Department funded a study Social Media and Tactical Considerations for Law Enforcement looking at flash mobs, riots, and mass demonstrations. This is the other part of social media that enlarges the police footprint through the digital world. That potential of social media has already attracted the attention of law enforcement authorities in Thailand. It is another way to monitor the conduct of citizens online. The tendency has been to increase the reach of Big Brother into people’s lives through social media activity rather than restraining the scope of police power.

UK

An investigation launched in the UK into the misuse of social media by police is instructive as to the nature of the problem. The Guardian reported that hundreds of police officers are under investigation for breaching restrictions imposed on officers who use Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. In 828 reported cases over a five-year period, police officers were found to have made racist and threatening comments on Facebook and Twitter.

Another problem is the use of social media during working hours of a police officer. One police resigned over “‘excessive and inappropriate use of the internet during working hours’, in particular online auction sites, internet banking and social networking sites.”

The police will likely increase among their ranks officers and staff who may post on social media their comments, photos, gossip and speculations. Having more police on social media may also lead to a higher volume of careless, reckless, boastful, racist, sexists, or xenophobic content.  This type of communication would tarnishes the police and may jeopardize an investigation. In Thailand’s Koh Tao double murder case, there have been allegations of police and charitable organizations (who removed the bodies from the crime scene) of uploading graphic photographs of the murder victims. An independent Thai investigation ought to be commission and its mandate would include an audit of Thai police social media accounts from the date of the murders being reported.

The 2010 guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland are instructive on the nature of such guidelines, which include traditional and social media. Here are some examples of the 2010 Guidelines:

Article 4.25: Newspapers will wish to report deaths that have occurred in unusual circumstances. However, there are limits on what can be published and on the approaches that can be made to bereaved family and close friends. For instance, the Editors’ Code of Practice, overseen by the PCC, states that “in cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively” (Clause 5, i). The broadcasters’ codes have similar stipulations.

An important issue at a crime scene is the right of the press and others to take video or still photographs. Article 4.38 establishes a guideline for the police to follow:

  • There are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place. Therefore, members of the public and press should not be prevented from doing so.
  • We need to cooperate with the media and amateur photographers. They play a vital role as their images help us identify criminals.
  • We must acknowledge that citizen journalism is a feature of modern life and police officers are now photographed and filmed more than ever.
  • Unnecessarily restricting photography, whether for the casual tourist or professional is unacceptable and it undermines public confidence in the police service.
  • Once an image has been recorded, police can only seize the film or camera at the scene on the strictly limited grounds that it is suspected to contain evidence of a crime. Once the photographer has left the scene, police can only seize images with a court order. In the case of the media, the usual practice is to apply for a court order under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act for production of the photograph or film footage.

The issues of social media and the police forces are specifically addressed in Article 13, which covers not just operational offices but staff, police IT specialists and possibly commercial partners. As the Guidelines indicate, the rise of social media is a ‘growth area’ and each force is to “determine the level and extent of police use of digital technology to support community engagement.”

The Dorset Police work under a set of Media Relations Guidelines that is also instructive on how to co-ordinate efforts into the investigation of a murder. One of the first acts is to designate a Senior Investigating Officer (SIO). A media relations officer is appointed at an early stage of the investigation who works with the SIO on statement to be released to the press and media strategy. And all statements to the media go through the Media Relations Office after prior consultation with the SIO.

Part of the problem in the Koh Tao murder case is the chorus of voices coming from policemen. This added to the confusion surrounding the investigation. Once a murder has occurred, the police can release information about the location, time and date of report, gender of victim and scale of the inquiry. But no details should be released that would allow the next of kin to find out through the media that a loved one was killed prior to be notified first by the police.

The traditional and social media have reported multiple statements from many police sources as to the identity of possible suspects in the Koh Tao murders.

“The Dorset Media Guidelines limit this speculation. Never confirm to the media that someone that they name is helping police with their enquiries, is under investigation or has been arrested. Dorset Police does not confirm the identity of anyone who may, or may not, be the subject of a criminal investigation and who has not been charged. It is the journalist’s risk and not that of Dorset Police if they choose to broadcast or publish information that cannot be confirmed by the Force.

“Dorset Police cannot comment on speculation related to an on-going criminal investigation because of the risk of prejudicing that investigation.”

India

One question is who should be responsible for drafting Social Media Guidelines for the Thai police? In India, the Supreme Court is drafting such guidelines. In Thailand, including human rights groups, the law association, judges, the police along with foreign experts would be a good start to reaching a consensus as to what protocols or guidelines are appropriate for Thailand’s police force.

Australia

In New South Wales, the police also work under a set of media policy guidelines dated May 2013. The NSW police force has a Police Force Media Unit, with a mandate to make media release, hold news conferences, to managing inquires from the media. In other words, the Australian police have institutionalized as a unit within the police force, a unit responsible for media management and co-ordination, and training of police officers in media relations. The police media unit is the exclusive outlet, and this has the advantage of closing down various police officers talking directly to the media about a case.

In the NSW police force:

“Staff must not contact the media in their capacity as Police Force employees to make any comment about any incident, police policy or procedure without prior authorisation. This includes contacting talk-back radio, commenting on social media platforms, and submitting letters or emails to the editor.”

Had such a policy been in place, the free for all atmosphere surrounding the Koh Tao murder would not have taken place.

Here’s a list of information from the NSW Media policy guidelines as to what should never be released by the police. Ask yourself how many of these restrictions, if in place in Thailand, would have been breached in the Koh Tao murder case. Or indeed in many high profile criminal cases in Thailand.

“Never release information that:

  • Hinders or jeopardises an investigation
  • States or implies that a particular crime has been committed (eg:“the victim was murdered with a blunt instrument…”)
  • Speculates on the cause of a death
  • Goes beyond broad statements of facts to reveal details of evidence which may later be disputed by an alleged offender
  • Prejudices a trial
  • Reveals distinguishing methodology used by criminals (beware ‘copycat’ criminals) or investigating police
  • Details or speculates about a motive or absence of motive
  • Details amounts of stolen money
  • Goes beyond broad statements of facts to detail forensic or other examinations or identification ‘line-ups’”

Canada

Social Media and the police are widely discussed in Canada. A YouTube video provides an inside look on the use of Google+ by the Toronto Police. Media experts in the police department engage and inform the public through social media. This video approaches social media not unlike the report commissioned by the US Justice Department discussed above. The number of booksat the Canadian Police College published on the subject of intelligence analysis and data mining in the digital world gives an idea of how the new technology has shaped attitudes about policing, investigative techniques, and police training.

Canada does have a lesson for other countries. Social media policy guidelines can’t be formulated or successfully implemented without first identifying the main elements of police culture and management. Here are seven core values identified in a report titled Rethinking Police Governance, Culture & Management Prepared for the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP, Public Safety Canada: solidarity, authoritarianism, suspicion, conservative, prejudicial, cynicism, and blue collar.

Summary

The Koh Tao murder case opens the door to an examination of ways to reform the Thai police force. The narrow goal would be to write policy guidelines and make organizational and management changes concerning police and media relations. The broader goal would be to use the experience of Koh Tao as the basis to rethink police governance, culture and management. To be realistic the culture of the police force mirrors its social media policy. It would be difficult to sustain to adopt the police social media policy from another country without alterations to the local culture of policing. Depending on the police culture, it may be very difficult to import a foreign social media model for policing without also importing the foreign police culture.

The Thai police culture includes reenactments by suspects with a seminar-sized group of uniformed police officers photographed looking on. The Thai culture is to one of extending face to the group of officers positioned by rank. It is difficult to fit a Social Media Police Unit into that Thai police cultural picture. But ignoring this opportunity to move ahead will certainly result in other Koh Tao cases emerging again and again.

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Posted: 9/25/2014 8:56:51 PM 

 

The New York Times film critic, A.O. Scott, has written an interesting article about why in his view that Americans have become less adult and more juvenile over the past few decades. The tile of the article The Death of Adulthood in American Culture is premised on the idea that American culture is responsible for a terrible disservice. “It seems that, in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grown-ups.”

Scott’s conclusion is Americans, if judged by their TV, movies and fiction have entered a stage of perpetual adolescence. In examining this premise, a couple of points are useful when considering Scott’s analysis. Like a blind man describing a wolf by running his hand along a wolf’s tail. It’s not wrong; it’s just not a very good description of a wolf. And you run the risk of mistaking a wolf for a dog.

01

The divide between adults and juveniles isn’t just an American cultural issue. As with most states of being, it is better to avoid a binary view and see a continuum with concepts such as a complex network of various degrees of wisdom, maturity, experience, empathy, attitudes, or belief systems. The problem with isolating the issue as mainly about the consumption of modern film and TV programs is to miss the broader and deeper layers that go with adulthood.

Let’s start with some basic information about process of domestication. Homo species did not begin as domesticated animals. Domestication is a relatively recent event for dogs and for people. It required thousands of years to create a docile, dependent mindset necessary for people who no longer live in a state of ‘nature’ but live cheek by jowl in megacities beside millions of others. That concentration of strangers is abnormal. We never evolved to live with millions of strangers. The psychology had to be manufactured into broadly accepted social constructs first. Remove those social constructs and revert to the traditional adult member that evolved in our species, and you’d likely find that our cities would be far more like Mad Max rather than Hangover II.

Neoteny isn’t a word you come across every day. Think of an animal that occupies the state of being an eternal juvenile. The idea has both a biological and psychological component. Neoteny is reflected in biology when the animal retains traits that appear childlike. It is the difference between wolves and dogs. The domesticated dog has floppy ears, a curly tail, and puppy like snout and face. Compared to a wolf, the dog lacks the aggressive, adult look of a wolf. No one would think of training a wolf to be a seeing-eye companion for a human being.

02

Here are some numbers I’ve extracted from Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. There are around 250,000 wolves remaining in the ‘wild’ and around 400 million dogs in streets, houses, farms living as pets dependent on human beings. The adult wolf, in the wild, isn’t man’s best friend. He is aggressive, hunts to kill, attacks for food or when threatened. There are 200,000 chimps on the planet, and seven billion homo sapiens. Scaling the wolf population to 400 million or chimps to 7 billion is an interesting thought experiment.

03

What would life be on a planet with such numbers of wolves and chimps? Fill the BTS in Bangkok with chimps from different groups and run it between two stages, and open the doors and you’d find blood, hair, and severed limbs splattered across the seats and walls. Feral, wild creatures outside of their group turn aggressive and violent in the presence of strangers. We have no reason to believe that the innate nature of homo sapiens is little different from that of his close cousin, the chimp. Yet we ride the commuter train without violent attack. Either our biological and psychological conditioning has through accelerated evolutionary pressure fundamentally changed our nature, or that nature remains under a surface and the lid is held on for other reasons.

We can conclude that the changes to the way we process our reaction to strangers has made our species far less hostile. Whatever our current chaos—terrorism, wars, plagues, natural disaster—would be trivial compared to sharing the planet with the scaled up populations of wolves and chimps.

By all scientific accounts (which won’t match the holy books) for the vast amount of our 100,000 year run as a species we lived in small bands or groups that rarely numbered more than a couple of dozen members. The total homo sapiens numbers ranged from the hundreds of thousands to the low millions for most of this period. Evolution produces a biology and psychology that equips an adult with a high level of aggressive behavior. While within the small band or group, the adults may battle for Alpha status, the adults in the band normally don’t turn and maim and kill each other. But if you are a stranger, that is a different matter altogether.

Richard Wrangman’s Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence is a brilliant examination of the nature of violence arising in primate bands and culture. Those outside the ban can be beaten, raped and killed. There is no taboo against the murder of a stranger. There is no social construct that renders the murder of a stranger into a ‘sin’ or a ‘morally’ reprehensible act. How can we reconcile civilizations if we are a species who possess such an evolutionary pedigree? Clearly, no society of millions of people could exist that rested the foundation that cold-blooded murder of strangers was permissible behavior.

A lot of public and private resources are spent on domestication programs, e.g., schools, universities, churches, and associations. The failures of these programs often fall into the category of psychopath, a person who experiences no regret or remorse in the act of harming or killing another person.

Another reaction is to blame the violence on a ‘foreigner’—someone who is not one of ‘us’, someone suspected of being less than human. In the recent brutal murder of two British nationals on Koh Tao, local police are quoted as saying they suspected a migrant worker had committed the murders. The Bangkok Post noted no evidence was offered to support the speculation. It is a hard pill to swallow that people inside your own culture are as capable as anyone to engage in savage acts of violence.

Neoteny is not limited to biology or the physical difference between a feral and domesticated animal. Psychological neoteny occurs when the domestication is internalized. We socialize the aggression out of human beings. We create social constructs from religion and ideology to expand our feelings about people who are not kin. Strangers become brothers in arms. You couldn’t have a modern army without first establishing the belief that the person in the foxhole next to you won’t slit your throat in the middle of the night. The aggression trigger is reset by instilling the prevailing social construct in a large population of strangers who overcome the strangeness of others and replace it with a feeling of unity and solitary. Domesticated and feral aren’t binary choices. There is long continuum with domesticated and feral at either end. Depending on the time, place, history and culture, large groups of people cluster towards the domesticated end of the spectrum. We are a species that tends towards the kind of large-scale social co-operation that comes from successful domestication.

We are, for the most part, juveniles living inside our group or culture with the psychological settings established by ideology or religion, and this defines the borders of our comfort zone. But we can easily descend into chimps on a rampage when our leaders target non-believers as non-human and command us to attack. This chimp-like aggression isn’t always easily tamed in every member of the community, and we have violent actors who are dealt with by the police, courts, and prison system. We can say these ‘adults’ lack impulse control. Or we can say the social constructs haven’t sufficiently repressed the inherent violence that is part of our biological and psychological heritage.

These are the traits of adulthood, a mature member of the species, feeding, fighting, fleeing and fucking as opportunity, reward and threat appear in his environment.

Scott wrote in his article, “I have watched over the past 15 years as the studios committed their vast financial and imaginative resources to the cultivation of franchises (some of them based on those same Y.A. novels) that advance an essentially juvenile vision of the world.” That should be no surprise. Our social constructs are intended to maintain a juvenile vision of the world. Without them, our world of seven billion people wouldn’t be one anyone would wish to live in.

04

Then Scott raises an existential question about adulthood and violence:

“Adulthood as we have known it has become conceptually untenable. It isn’t only that patriarchy in the strict, old-school Don Draper sense has fallen apart. It’s that it may never really have existed in the first place, at least in the way its avatars imagined. Which raises the question: Should we mourn the departed or dance on its grave?

“Before we answer that, an inquest may be in order. Who or what killed adulthood? Was the death slow or sudden? Natural or violent? The work of one culprit or many? Justifiable homicide or coldblooded murder?”

What killed adulthood wasn’t a TV show or a movie? Or what has happened in the United States over the last fifty or two hundred years. We have created an illusion of adulthood because calling people over the age of eighteen children is thought patronizing or demeaning. We don’t really want the mature, aggressive adult wolf or chimp. We want the softer version of the housedog that obeys and wags its tail when you come home.

And now for Scott’s conclusion, “It is now possible to conceive of adulthood as the state of being forever young. Childhood, once a condition of limited autonomy and deferred pleasure (‘wait until you’re older’), is now a zone of perpetual freedom and delight. Grown people feel no compulsion to put away childish things: We can live with our parents, go to summer camp, play dodge ball, collect dolls and action figures and watch cartoons to our hearts’ content.”

Where the analysis goes off the rails is to associate childhood with perpetual freedom and delight. The reality is we’ve long cultivated a juvenile mindset, as that person is comfortable being a dependent. And once a person accepts dependency, he or she is far easier to control and manipulate. Political leaders in number of countries including England and Australia have publicly expressed their anxiety in their young men traveling to the Middle East to join ISIS.  As the rest of the world watches ISIS use social media to recruit fighters from around the world. They hope to attract more young male recruits by circulating YouTube videos of beheadings. The message is clear. Leave aside the domestication of your country, and join us on a jihad to kill the infidel foreign journalists, AID workers and other non-believers. They make their murdering into a righteous cause. A certain personality will find an attraction in that act of murder and the ideology that justifies and condones it.

05

That anxiety is about the return of these recruits to their home countries. The fear is once back in London, Toronto, Sydney or KL, their mindset has been fundamentally altered. Their social construct is closer to the ‘wolf’ or ‘chimp.’ The home country domestication has failed in its mission and the new psychology is one based on our most ancient and primitive nature, where violence, aggression and murder are widespread.

The problem is illustrated in a Bangkok Post article with Kuala Lumpur as the dateline: “Police have arrested at least 19 suspected militants loyal to the IS this year and say they uncovered their plan to bomb a Carlsberg brewery near the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Prime Minister Najib Razak condemned the IS militants in a statement in August, saying their actions were ‘counter to our faith, our culture and our common humanity.” A case is being made that we should prepare ourselves for many more such stories coming from an increasing number of countries.

The need to maintain our social constructs that reinforce a dependent-like state, one that falls short of the fully autonomous adult, may be the price to be paid for social co-operation among strangers.

“Humans have been evolving toward greater ‘psychological neoteny’.” Dr. Bruce Charlton, a Newcastle University psychology professor, said what looks like immaturity — or in his terms, the “retention of youthful attitudes and behaviors into later adulthood”— is actually a valuable developmental characteristic, which he calls psychological neoteny. Physical neotenization in humans has, likewise, caused psychologically neotenous traits in humans: curiosity, playfulness, affection, sociality and an innate desire to cooperate.”

Adulthood hasn’t died. American culture hasn’t killed it. Our adulthood has been resized to accommodate billions of people. Our ancient adulthood equipped us to live and interact inside an environment and way of life long since vanished.  Our ancestor had much more detailed knowledge about the natural world. They survived in the wild through their knowledge about hundreds of plants and animals and terrains. Throw a modern person into a jungle and the ignorance of nature, which is the default state of the domesticated, and our fate becomes obvious. Domesticated man can only survive through co-operation with thousands or millions of others within a system much larger than any of us, a system which no one person fully understands or could explain in sufficient detail to rebuild it should it be destroyed.

We have inherited our emotional reflexes from vanished world where higher levels of aggression, fueled by self-reliance and independence, provided an advantage.  That aggression, in part, served to enhance the breath and depth of our knowledge about the untamed world. In 2014, an argument can be made that our emotional gearing suffers from over specification. Not enough time has passed for our emotions to naturally evolve to fit the demands of a life our vastly more limited knowledge about the world and is sufficient to support a repetitive life of routine.

Adolescence (Lord of the Flies) can be aggressive and violent as any adult. The crucial difference is the control over the child by the parent, who is the adult. We’ve evolved a redefinition of adulthood.  Whether the end result is called immaturity, juvenile, or childlike is beside the point. Those are categories that distinguish human traits that fall short of what is perceived to be adulthood.

We are forced by the sheer scale of numbers to accept that domestication is necessary and is bound to mirror the values in our culture. There is an important caveat— our historical violence is receding but the violence that remains indicates that our domestication remains an incomplete process. And when the ISIS fighters who return to their home countries in the West ‘radicalized’ with a radically different social construct about murder, the fear is the returnees have reinvented themselves as the original ‘Adulthood”, the one who worked in small bands and took no prisoners.

A number of governments’ fear, based on uploaded YouTube horrors recorded about the violence of a few thousands of such fighters, is spreading. The deep fear is the security headaches once these fighters return radicalized to their home countries. They also fear that ISIS ex-fighters may change the frequency on the domesticated and feral bandwidth, making social co-operation more difficult. They will have to confront the possibility of a couple of hundred ex-fighters whose experience has caused a reversal of neoteny and reversion to the demonic male. The day that your golden retriever reverts to its true wolf nature will make coming home a different experience.

Looking ahead to the immediate future, what is likely to replace the crude religious/ideological social constructs that are collapsing in many parts of the world will be a combination of chemicals and brain-computer interconnectivity.  This idea isn’t ripped out of a science fiction novel. We are already some distance down this road. News reports hint at what we can expect:

“Currently, brain-computer interfaces can detect emotions. Some technologies, such as deep brain stimulation, can induce emotions directly into the brain. It’s only a matter of time before input is connected with output. This would be a form of telepathic empathy — a technology that lets you feel some piece of what another person is feeling.”

The potential for governments, the police, the military and the superrich to use such technology raises many issues. But this never stopped the spread and use of religion and ideology as means of social control. The new technology will finish the job started by religion. We’ve only begun to explore the digital world for the means to perfect mind control.

As Leonard Cohen said in 1992, “I have seen the future, it is murder.”

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Posted: 9/18/2014 9:01:11 PM 

 

Obedience has a long history. The assimilation of this principle over thousands of years has allowed the creation of empires and nation-states. In the bible we find that, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) The scriptures designation 5.5 (minus the full stop) is frequently used by Thais to signify laughter or a joke.

Religion, culture, society, and politics wouldn’t exist in the absence of obedience. We are too far down the road to turn back. In other words, as it turns out biblical quote or the idea of obedience isn’t a joking matter. It is a deadly serious one. To obey is the bedrock of all monotheistic religions. It also underscores political ideologies from communism, socialism, fascism, capitalism and democracy. Although if Thomas Piketty’s research holds, it appears inheriting the earth hasn’t quite worked out well for the meek.

Last week in an essay titled Obey I briefly examined Henry Miller and George Orwell’s legacy with the subtext (and in Orwell’s case in the text itself) that issued a warning to be watchful of those in power. In the name of obedience to a principle or belief, the true intention of the powerful is to control us for their benefit. Both Miller and Orwell lived, wrote and died in a pre-Internet world with different tools and methods and opportunities being used by the powerful. For those born after 1990, they have only experienced a post-Internet world, and that set of experiences and tools has shaped their identity, attitudes, beliefs and values, including those surrounding obedience. An identity separate from the digital world would be unthinkable.

Miller and Orwell are for the most part to the post-netters, artifacts frozen in a world that is alien to them as the world without electricity and cars is to the pre-1990 population. In my recent books I have sought to begin building a literary bridge between the pre-netters and post-netters. This essay is an example of an attempt to examine the infrastructure of society that manufactures identity in the way any mass product is designed and assembled. In the process a key to our psyche removed barriers to full-blown 24/7 narcissism. Our big data and capitalistic system refine ever more and newer products and services that raise the pleasurable desire bar, and consumers become group of individuals wishing to pole vault over that bar. Our new gods and rituals are in the digital world where celebrities offer salvation chatrooms, Facebook and Twitter the new confessional booth are all available to any individual with an Internet connection. A narcissist never had such a perfectly ordered world to experience his or her self-love. The contradiction is having created a mass market of individuals, who live inside a society that demands they obey rulers, leaders, teachers, police officers, judges, and a long list of people and institutions that narcissists can’t eliminate by going online. Obedience is a concept that is under construction. This essay looks at how the rebuilding of obedience is coming along.

*

Obedience is built into social systems at many levels. Someone who is convicted for a crime is often released from prison before serving the full sentence as a reward for good behavior. And what is this good behavior? It is steadfast obedience to the prison’s rules and regulations. A person who has adhered to the rules and the norms of cellblock is thought ready to follow the rules and norms waiting for him on the outside of the prison walls. Though recidivism rates suggest that such a causal connection is illusory.  In Thailand, just admitting guilt for failing to obey the law is rewarded by halving the sentence for those convicted of a crime. A person who insists on maintaining his innocence but who is found guilty by a judge is doubly punished for his failure to show obedience to authority’s judgment of his or her wrongdoing.

The Thai word for ‘obey’ is chua fung, which translates as ‘believe and listen.’ That is likely as good an explanation of what ‘obey’ means in any language. This two-step formula assumes a consensus that flows from a cultural understanding of who you are required to listen to. By the time you are nine years old, if not long before, your mindset is conditioned to know who these people are. Your parents and teachers are the earliest people to be listened to.

In team sports, unless the team followed the play called by the quarterback of an American football team or the captain of a football team, with each player improvising, the result would be an exercise in chaos. Teams, like armies, are destroyed by disobedience among the ranks. The team captain, military general, air traffic controller, judges, wardens, politicians, teachers, or investment bankers expect and receive obedience from those within the cone of their power and influence. Eliminate this socially conditioned automatic impulse to obey and games, plans, prisons, schools, markets, competitions and political systems fail to function. Playing chess without obedience to the rules of the game means there is no game called chess that is being played. That same is true of poker, blackjack, or any other game. Not to obey is not to play the game.

01

To obey is to accept subservience to a set of rules, institutions, or persons. To restrict our freedom of choice and free will is the price we pay and the currency is paid in units of subservience. It is a price most people are conditioned to pay as if they had no choice in the matter. Those who refuse to pay up in units of subservient behavior and break the law are classified as ‘criminals.’ But even criminal gangs have their own code of obedience and subservience so it isn’t that outsiders are inevitably ‘free’ of compliance obligations. We have to go deeper to understand why we willingly obey some people and institutions but are defiant in obeying others.

We appear to be at a stage of development where the manufactured narcissist’s identity rebels against obedience in the offline world. Online is another matter and a digital world exacts its pound of subservience as a price of being ‘liked.’ The post-netters aren’t happy with the baggage the pre-netters wish them to carry.

Traditionally, enforcing obedience on a large population, living within the same geo-political space, is the use of or the threat to use coercion or violence against anyone who disobeys. History isn’t always a reliable guide, but one thing it teaches that remains true can be summarized in a few words—most people, if you put a gun to their head, will obey the gunman. Duress underwritten by such violence works in the short term, as fear is a powerful emotion and obeying is the default response to fear. Over long stretches of time, though, people tend to become less fearful. At some stage they realize that there are more of vastly more fearful people than the handful holding a gun on them. When that moment crystalizes you witness an event like the Berlin Wall. The larger population stops being fearful. They tear down the wall and overnight no one obeys the soldiers with guns, large numbers of whom have dropped their weapons and joined the ex-fearful masses to dismantle the wall.

02

Why is one wall torn down while another wall remains a fortress? The history of obedience is fused with vesting ‘trust’ and ‘legitimacy’ in the person or institution seeking subservience. Not everyone sees a wall as a restriction. Others see it like the Great Wall of China to give safety and protection against barbarians. While most people in the West welcomed the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, for example, there is no movement (mass or otherwise) to destroy the air-traffic control system at airports around the world. Passengers, pilots and crew on aircraft have no issue with obeying the orders of an air-traffic controller. Human error, lapses of judgment, or equipment malfunctions may cause a plane crash. An investigation and inquiry often follows such an incident to restore confidence. What one doesn’t find is a massive, worldwide distrust of the air-traffic control system that disintegrates into pilots landing wherever and whenever they wish.

Political systems, unlike air-traffic control systems, are based on beliefs and ideology that are fine-tuned to inspire trust and confer legitimacy. A political system risk defections if the subservient believe the system is corrupt, self-serving, or incompetent. Opinion polls are released around the world daily as a weather vane to show which way the political wind is blowing—and politicians ignore the ones that embarrass them and broadcast to all near and far if they support their policies. Do the masses agree that the government or its leader is going down the right path, doing a good job, forming and implementing the right policies? If a poll shows a 1% approval of a policy, the issue of legitimacy is raised and one would expect to find large-scale disobedience in following the policy. Beliefs and norms shift over time, and political actors who depend on popular elections learn to stay in power; they either govern in a fashion that at least creates the illusion they reflect the popular will or they take repressive measures to head off mass disobedience. The challenge to the war on drugs is an example of a political shift. Changes in social norms concerning sexuality and gender are resulting in a change of laws.

03

It is never really a choice of choosing to live in a world where everyone marches to their own drummer, or a world where there is one drummer and everyone falls in behind him. With a population of 7 billion people we have no other choice but to create systems that enforce obedience but stop short of falling into tyranny. That has been the great challenge, and in the post-Internet world the task is more difficult to manage. The power to make others do what you command is subject to abuse. If you control the guns and the polls, you can maintain in the short run the illusion that people consent to be confined inside the Berlin Wall for their own good and happiness. In the long run, without a foundation of trust, order givers who refuse to have their power checked, revised, and limited will suffer from loss of legitimacy. As legitimacy isn’t something found in nature. It is a social construct, a sentiment, a belief, and once people no longer believe in it, the wall comes tumbling down.

04

We have been conditioned for thousands of years to be obedient followers. Our population size before the agricultural revolution 12,000 thousand years ago was around 8 million. Obedience inside small-scale bands would have been a far less complicated affair. Without a modern concept of subservience it would have been impossible to scale to the current size of population. We’ve been domesticated. The wolf-like nature changed to that of a domesticated house pet. For most of that history, subservience was enforced by the sharp edge of the sword. Only in the last 500 years has the basis for obedience been questioned. And role of the larger population expanded into a process of questioning the basis of their servitude. Parliamentary democracies, while imperfect, turned out to be one way to guide the process.

With the diminished role of religion in the West and the contradictions of ideology, the world has become less stable, less subservient. The Internet is filled with thousands of communities of the new digital disobedient who challenge their overlords. Focused on computer screens, the analogue masters are in another room and can see or hear them. Anonymous disobedience is the new virus in the old pre-Internet process.

05

The digital heretics, seeking comfort in emotional and intellectual support provided by their online communities, refuse to bow to authority. They can play cat and mouse, hide and seek with censors. It is no surprise to find the elites inside existing political system, nostalgic for bringing back earlier political arrangement, which relied on official violence and unquestioned acceptance of authority. Whether it is America, the Middle East or Asia, the battleground is playing out a version of the same life and death struggle—who do you listen to and who do you believe? And the evidence is abundant that post-netters aren’t listening to analogue authority as their parents and grandparents once did automatically. Cynicism and skepticism has reduced the range of people will believe and what they are prepared to believe in. Meanwhile, the reality show of modern time is a talent search toward the establishment of a new legitimacy that connects and creates a paradigm for obedience in a digitally networked world. As there is every indication that narcissism has gone deep into the post-1990 population, it is only a matter of time that obeying must have a narcissistic payoff for them individually. I have little doubt that some committed, well-financed and clever people are working to manufacture a tailored made political product that once it appeals to our deepest well of vanity, that product will go viral.

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Posted: 9/11/2014 8:57:01 PM 

 

I have felt the gravitational pull from a number of writers over the years. Most writers go through stages of falling under the spell of another author who they’re convinced has a grand creative mind perfectly designed to tell stories about the human condition. Two of these authors standout above the others—Henry Miller and George Orwell. These two literary writers, literary jugglers, whose lives overlapped during the 1930s and 1940s, have a small bridge that connects them. I’ve explored that bridge crossing a number of times: in an anthology of essays titled The Orwell Brigade, in a short-story titled Star of Love, and in two essays. The last two novels (Missing in Rangoon and The Marriage Tree) in the Vincent Calvino series, and a new Calvino novel, the fifteen in the series, weave the Orwell and Miller worldviews into the lives of the characters.

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Henry Miller

Both authors continue to be read and their books remain in print. Both remain controversial. Their books have been banned and censored. That is a testament to any writer’s success in hitting an official nerve. It is also evidence their literary work touched upon universal human values that persist through time but are sheltered behind a wall of taboos. It is also evidence that the powerful have an interest in monitoring our reading choices.

In most times and places, there is a unifying theme: What is not propaganda is a threat. Neither Orwell nor Miller wrote propaganda, and instead sought to explore the truth.

03
George Orwell

The truth telling is a dangerous business.

In the world of noir, the world is a shabby, corrupt place and the whip cracks on the backs of those who fail to make the required compromises. Most readers don’t think of either Miller or Orwell as noir writers. Orwell created dystopia worlds; Miller created neither dystopia nor utopian worlds. Henry Miller placed a literary magnifying glass over a sub-culture in Paris where hedonism, creativity, poverty, the arts and friendship bloomed.

Usually there is a reason why a writer continues returning and drawing water from the same well. In this essay, I will explain why I continue to toss a bucket into the Miller and Orwell drinking hole.

Henry Miller and George Orwell shared an obsession with one word that sticks in the crawl of a man—obey. You can sometimes find it as graffiti. A one-word reminder of our condition makes everything clear.

We’ve been domesticated for so long that our condition is accepted as the ‘normal’ and obeying leaders the bedrock of our survival. Not to obey is an indictment that someone has gone feral. In that case, those with the guns put the beast down to stop the rest of the herd of learning dangerous ideas.

We live in servitude as our parents, grandparents before them, a long string of people who obeyed. Disobedient people are less likely to pass along their genes. To disobey carries penalties from social censure and disapproval to disappearance. It all depends on who has disobeyed and to whom. We know of people who disobeyed, and continued disobeying after warnings to obey, that they disappear.

No one would ever hear of them. No body, no final words, no one found to be responsible. Sometimes you come across a news story marking the fifth or tenth or twentieth year of the disappearance. The police are still investigating.

The disobedient are routinely imprisoned, impoverished, exiled or executed. The newspapers are filled with cases. People glaze over with the latest 24-hour news cycle of casualties of those who failed to follow an order, instruction, decree, or a whim.

01

Henry Miller’s world of disobey was played out in the bars, cafes, and streets of Paris in the 1930s. Tropic of Cancer was a first-hand account of a writer who found his muse and subject in tales of sexual disobedience. The strict puritanical rules over sexuality struck in Henry Miller’s crawl and when he spit them out, the Americans censored him. Barney Rosset fought on behalf of Miller in multiple court battles. He took the matter to the United States Supreme Court. It cost Barney Rosset a fortune and his security in old age was compromised as a result. But Barney never regretted that decision. He would have done it over again knowing the real cost of fighting against the forces of “obey.”

Given the politics of the United States Supreme Court for many years, it may be hard for a new generation to believe there was once such a court that could be convinced that an author had a right to write novels where the characters disobeyed the prevailing sexual mores. Even though Henry Miller’s book offended the sensibilities of those with the power to make others obey, a line was drawn. Henry Miller had a right to disobey them. That included writing about prostitution, using explicit language about sex and bodily functions, and to portray a life of decadence and debauchery.

Rabelais had prowled inside these bedrooms long before Henry Miller’s arrival. Every generation needs a Henry Miller to keep the tall grass from growing and the new ambush points set up by the latest sources of power seeking to enforce the obey commandment over sexual matters.

George Orwell’s essays and novels cast a larger shadow over our overlords who use guns to force us to obey. While Henry Miller was a sensualist, George Orwell thought preoccupation with the sensual was a diversion away from the real war zone. The political implications of “obey” were far reaching and threatened to enslave people in all areas of life. In the essay An Orwellian Look at Henry Miller, I found an ambivalence Orwell felt toward Miller’s writing. As a genuine working-class writer, Miller was the last writer Orwell would have attacked. But that didn’t stop Orwell from expressing his fear that Miller was shooting at small time targets that weren’t worthy of his talents. Orwell had, it seems, a secret wish—to take Henry Miller aside, sit him down and lecture him on the real threat in the 1930s such as Hitler and Mussolini. He might have said to Miller, “Please pay attention. These men have large-scale plans for extending the concept of ‘obey’ across Europe.”

George Orwell was fearful of what he saw—the jackboot on the face of freedom grinding it into the dirt as a warning of what happens when the man in charge is not obeyed. Henry Miller was off in the streets exploring neighborhoods, exchanging stories, gossip, dreams, and rushing back to type them out at 90 words per minute on a manual typewriter. The sound of Henry Miller’s machine was said to be like a machine gun. The rush of exploration into a new language, culture, city and down and out expats fueled Henry Miller’s imagination. He’d disconnected with America. Finding liberation from its constraints created a raging fire inside his imagination.

The coolness of George Orwell’s version of the obedient hell like a sharp blade slowly pierces the skin, then the flesh, and finally the bone. It is surgical in its accuracy of the main malady affecting the patient. His willingness to ignore the cost of his obedience was the message in the bottle found throughout Orwell’s writings.

Like it or not, we are stuck with some system that creates mass obedience, as it is a way to achieve co-operation across a population of millions. In Yuval Noah Harai’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, he makes a persuasive case is made that beliefs, myths, and legends are essential ingredients in order for there to be cooperation required when millions of people occupy congested space in modern society. Since the Agriculture Revolution, every culture that scaled its population has accomplished the task, in part, through the use of a sacred store of ‘ghost stories.’ The storytellers have given rules the means to unify its population.

Those who dare to question the sacredness or validity of the local version of the sacred ghost story endanger the emotional bases for mutual co-operation. Myths only work when they are not too closely examined. When activists, scholars, artists, and critics challenge and question the prevailing myths as serving the interest of the elites, the authorities fear chaos. Chaos is the word we use when co-operation breaks down and it is every man and woman acting individually, shedding a sense of a collective self. What glue that bound a band of a couple dozen people before the Agricultural Revolution 12,000 years ago, and what superglue has been used since illustrates how the puzzle pieces have been kept in place.

When millions of people live cheek-by-jowl in megacities, co-operation among people is the only alternative to conflict and strife. This explains why a threat to the emotional infrastructure of belief that binds people will ignite an official crackdown. Those in power fear the loss of control of the population. Orwell saw through the cynical use of myths, beliefs and legends as disguised power grabs by elites that resulted in the exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few. He warned that propaganda was the enemy of truth. But this is a two-edged sword, an enemy of truth in the form of constructed reality has allowed vast numbers of people to largely co-operate with one another as they share the same constructs.

Miller’s novels subverted a set of beliefs about marriage, relationships, and family units. These are social institutions, which are embedded in the structure of co-operation. They regulate and define the limits of what is permissible within our co-operative social, economic and political lives. By freeing oneself from the straightjacket of sexual restraints, Miller’s worldview threatened, in the view of the censors, to bring down the whole house of cards in a sexual free for all.

In the last two Vincent Calvino novels, the conflict of vision between Henry Miller and George Orwell is explored. A private eye novel may seem an odd location to report on the battle line between the narrow and wide version of resistance, but that is only because we have a bias about the scope and purpose of such novels. I refuse to accept that a novel about a private eye must be contained solely within the boundary of storytelling, an entertainment. A reader is searching for more than story. She or he wishes to connect on a deeper level with the characters. When a character faces choices that humanize or dehumanize him and others, a mirror appears. The reader can feel the process, the doubts, emotions, irrational thought that accompany such choices especially those made under great stress. What a reader wishes to know as well is what price a character will pay. Strip a book of these dilemmas and the story and its characters are the literary equivalent of a can of Zero Coke.

In Missing in Rangoon and The Marriage Tree, the issues that bound and separated Orwell and Miller reveal crucial elements of the characters.

In Missing in Rangoon (2013), Calvino enters the lobby of a shabby hotel in Rangoon and the old woman at reception is reading a book:

“The second bag was heavy; inside he had two one-liter plastic bottles of coke. He walked back to the guesthouse carrying the bags. The old woman behind the reception desk glanced at him as he turned to walk up the steps. She lowered her glasses. “Mr. Smith buys his dinner at the Savoy Hotel,” she said. It was out of the ordinary in her part of the universe where the Savoy lay in an inaccessible part of the Rangoon universe for her guests. She looked up from another Georgette Heyer novel. He caught the title—The Toll-Gate.

“How’s the book?”

“Stolen gold, highway men, mysterious strangers,” she said.

“Makes you feel right at home,” he said.

“Mysterious strangers and a missing toll-gate keeper,” she said.

“I am familiar with the plot,” said Calvino.

“I thought you might be,” she said. “You don’t look like a reader.”

“I’ve been reading Orwell.”

“That man had no romance in his books.”

Calvino thought about it; she was right. Orwell was a lot of things, but writer of romance novels wasn’t one of them. “But he had a lot to say about the toll-gate keepers.”

In another scene, a bar owner captures the magic power that Henry Miller unleashed in the Black Cat:

“Gung took the spliff from Alf, inhaled, eyes hooded, and the smoke rolled from his lips, “She wanted Rob to be Henry Miller walking the earth, fucking whores, hungry at midnight with no money, but a fire in his belly and figuring out to stop the world from stepping on his shadow, capturing his soul, selling it to the devil for a weekly pay check. Fuck that,” Mya Kyaw Thein had said according to Gung.”

It is a feeling shared with Vincent Calvino:

“In the back of the cab, Calvino’s thoughts drifted. It’d been a long time since he heard that name. The writer was from Brooklyn. He’d written Tropic of Cancer, a diary of sexual adventures as Miller lived down and out in Paris in the 1930s. Miller’s wife had sold her body to support him. Vinny Calvino was from Brooklyn. He knew of the legend of Miller who had defied morality, family, marriage, and home to break free—to roam as a free man. Some men escaped; most were trapped. Who were the saddest of them all? Those without a home, living free under Paris bridges, or those who stayed behind in their old neighborhoods thinking they were free?”

In The Marriage Tree (2014) Henry Miller plays the role of the nihilist who believed no one could protect you. No one could be trusted to cover your back but you. The way to freedom from the force of violence was escaping into a smaller world of like-minded outsiders on the run from ‘obey me’ mantras of the shepherds watching the sheep.

“In Rangoon I had a similar discussion with a singer about taking sides. She said there’s a war raging inside everyone. On one side you have George Orwell, and Henry Miller on the other. Those who refuse to accept injustice and violence and inequality quote Orwell’s work. Miller accepted that the murderers would continue to roam free, making the rules to their own advantage, and for the free man, escape was losing oneself in the world of song, dance, wine and sex. Miller didn’t believe that any principle could protect you against those with real power. He thought that nothing could blunt the exercise of power over the exploited. Miller’s idea was simple: stay off the predator class’s grid. When someone puts their life in the hands of a human smuggler, they ignore the fact that it’s his job to deliver them to their new masters. It doesn’t matter that you pray for a savior who thinks like Orwell because you’ll never have a chance to live the free life of a Henry Miller.”

Missing in Rangoon (2013) and The Marriage Tree (2014) are part of trilogy within a larger series. The final book in the trilogy will be published in January 2015. The territory of obeying is mapped in each novel and the fingerprints of Orwell and Miller are to be found everywhere at the scene of the crime.

In 2000 when Chairs was published, the collection of interconnected short stories included one titled Star of Love. It was based on a long conversation one afternoon with Barney Rosset at an outdoor beer bar in Patpong. The premise of Star of Love is Barney’s view on how Henry Miler’s life would have changed had he chosen to travel, live and write in Bangkok rather taking the boat to Paris. Miller would still have escaped from New York but the experiences as a writer would have been shaped by very different cultural, historical and linguistic forces.

The second piece is an essay titled Re-Imagining Henry Miller, which examines the influences on his life in Paris, especially the two women who held a special place in his affection. It is also an exploration of what it means to be an expat and how that experience shapes the creative powers of a writer. The essay raises the question as to what happens to those memories after the expat returns to his or her home shores? Are the memories of that time harvested for further books? Are the memories locked away and the key thrown away?

The third piece, An Orwellian Look at Henry Miller contrast the two authors’ literary commitment to fighting against the command to obey. Their differences were far more than literary taste. They had different biases. Their education, upbringing, and culture made them as alien as any two writers could be. Orwell patrolled the corridors of power. Like Paul Revere in the 18th Century American Revolution he warned that the powerful were approaching with guns at the ready; Orwell swung a bright lantern to expose their hypocrisy, abuses, and lies. To Henry Miller, it didn’t much matter, local tyrants or foreign ones, none of them could be trusted, and none of them were worth dying for or arguing with. He laughed at them, turned his back, and manufactured a life of minimal contact with those who retained the right to inflict violence.

Those who had mastered the nightlife of the street, the bars, and the cafes could run their grifts and were largely left to the margins; the powerful left them alone, a self-contained amusement in the pre-Internet world. They had an ocean of fish to fry. These were the ones who were scared into obeying. Fear and obedience, the twin monsters harnessed by tyrants, will never succeed by threats of violence on everyone. Somewhere, in some crack of the wall joint, a Henry Miller and his gang of expats, sing and dance and drink and make love and forget the rest of the fish in the ocean are scooped up in industrial strength nets.

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Posted: 9/4/2014 8:59:44 PM 

 

It is difficult to find a reliable number of gold shops in Thailand or specifically the gold shops in Bangkok. One Internet source put the number at 6,000 gold shops in Thailand. I’d venture a guess there are at least a couple of thousand gold shops scattered throughout Bangkok. And China Town along Yaowarat Road is gold shop Mecca. There are 2,170 bank branches in Bangkok according to the Bank of Thailand  and 405 sub-branches of banks in Bangkok.

The above statistics show how Bangkok dominates the banking industry by centralizing it in Bangkok. But that is another story. This essay is about robbers.

01
Off-Duty Police officer working as gold shop security guard

An American bank robber Willie Sutton is alleged to have said in reply to a question of why he robbed banks, “That’s where the money is.”

02
Willie Sutton

Thai robbers also know that gold shops are as good as gold when it comes to a robbery. Gold shops, along with banks, are a natural target for robbery. This makes it natural to ask a few questions:

1) Is there a serious problem of robbery of gold shops and banks?

2) What security precautions do gold shop owners and bank branches use to protect their staff and inventory against robbery?

3) What role does the new technology play in improving security?

4) Have traditional security jobs been disrupted by the new technology?

 

Is there a problem?

According to one report in the Bangkok Post (which gives no statistics to support the claim), gold shops have become a high-profile target and the robbers are running off gold worth in excess of one million baht. The police, it is reported, have made little headway in solving these robberies. That is alarming on the face of it. Until you read the lead story in the same edition of the Bangkok Post stating that between August 2013 and July 2014 there were a total of 5 gold shop robberies (4 banks were robbed during the same period). I don’t know about you but the robbery of five gold shops out of several thousand and four banks out which operate thousands of branches qualifies as a rounding off error.

It amounts to low probability of any one gold shop or bank being robbed over the course of a year. Of course, if it is your gold shop or bank, the robbery is hardly insignificant. Like lightning, when it strikes, it can cause considerable damage, and that is why landowners buy insurance. It’s also why gold shop owners buy insurance. Some in the insurance industry can set me straight, but I suggest that the premiums paid for robbery and theft insurance were increased based on the 5 gold store and 4 bank robberies reported during the one-year period. Only one arrest was recorded for each category: one gold shop robber and one bank robber.

That’s 20% and 25% clearance respectively of the caseload. In the other 80% and 75% cases, the police, one presumes are still looking for clues. With a total of 9 robberies in one year an observer might conclude this falls below the threshold of a crime spree. The police low success rate supports the Bangkok Post theory that these are well-planned heists, unlike the convenience store robberies committed by drunken teenagers who live in the neighborhood and act on an impulse. Robbing a neighbor when you are drunk is bound to cut down on your odds of getting away with the crime.

A senior police officer was quoted as saying gold shops are the hardest nuts to crack. Certainly compared to the convenience store robbery, which is a nut with a very soft shell.

We can conclude that, in the scheme of things, gold shop and bank robberies are a minor part of the crime industry operating in Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand.

 

 What security arrangements are used by gold shop owners?

I’ve written about the poor pay of the police in Thailand in an essay titled The High Cost of Badly Paid Cops.  Many rank and file Thai cops work a second job to make ends meet. One of the popular moonlighting gigs is working as a security guard in a gold shop. For many years, you could walk past a gold shop in the main shopping areas along roads such as Yaowarat, Silom, or Sukhumvit and spot a uniformed Thai police officer through the window. He (I never saw a female cop working in a gold shop) appeared inside the shop, usually seated on a chair, looking bored.

03

The use of regular police officers rests on two premises: 1) the presence in a gold shop or bank of a uniformed cop, a gun strapped to his hip, means only the most hardened and determined criminal are expected to rob the place; and 2) there is a ready supply of police willing to act as security guards as they are underpaid. With enough of the security moonlighting jobs for lowly paid cops, it takes the heat off the politicians to increase police pay. The authorities can factor in the second-job income received from the security detail and conclude that overall the average cop is able to get by. In the traditional system, everyone benefited. The shop owner from enhanced security, and the government in underpaying the police.

 

What role has new technology played in disrupting the old arrangements?

Two things have happened.

04
CCTV camera

CCTV cameras became cheap, reliable and robbers except for the total morons know that gold shops and banks have cameras recording everyone coming in and out. The thing with CCTV cameras is they work 24/7, they never get tired, bored, or read newspapers. They aren’t fitted out with guns (wait five years for that development), which deter robbers, though may also terrify some customers. A terrified customer is less in the mood to buy gold.

05
The Internet Connection

Point the finger in the direction of the Internet. The trail of disruptions mostly leads back to new technology and the use of the Internet. CCTV cameras can be linked directly with police stations. Why continue to employ human security guards when CCTV cameras can do the job cheaper and better?

The disruption of the security job sector in gold shops and banks

Most employment sectors are bleeding jobs. It started with ATMs, an easy way to do banking without joining a queue. This trend line will only become worse over time for bank employees. Computers and robots can simply do the work cheaper, longer, better and without expecting a bonus at New Years. Gold shops and banks are in the business to keep costs low, revenues increasing, and profit margins high. In the cold-blooded, rational world, security guards are a cost to be measured against the costs of alternative methods of providing security. If the costs of new technology plus the insurance premium paid to insure against theft and robbery are lower than the wages and benefits paid to an off-duty police officer, doesn’t the capitalist mind conclude—no more security guards. Money is saved. Profits go up. Shareholders are rewarded with higher dividends.

If the premiums on the insurance are low, then the cost to the bank for a robbery is not the money stolen, but the premium paid. It’s like health insurance, you have a heart attack, and the insurance company pays the cost. But if you are in good health the premium is low and the probability is you won’t have one. That’s why insurance companies become rich. We overestimate the probability of something bad happening because we read about someone who died of a heart attack, or we read about a plane crash, or a bank robbery. We suddenly feel vulnerable. It’s irrational. And business is there to take money from irrational people who want protection.

This didn’t stop a senior Thai police official from telling the Bangkok Post that Kasikorn Bank’s robbery record (it is not clear how many of the 4 bank robberies occurred at a Kasikorn Bank branch) happened because the bank failed to hire security guards. As the police are mainly the ones hired as security guards, one would expect a senior cop to take that position. He’s looking after the welfare of his men and packaging it as the welfare of the bank. That sleight of hand is normal in such circumstances.

A senior vice president of Kasikorn Bank agreed with this official assessment. It seems that the bank hadn’t employed security guards at its branches because it feared clashes between the guards, thieves and customers. That’s an interesting scene in a movie. A shoot out in the bank as guards and thieves and customers trade gunfire. Though there was no evidence this has happened in a bank or gold shop in the immediate past. Still, it makes you understand how fear drives corporate policy when it comes to security and worst case scenarios are used to justify an expense.

06
Banking moves online around the world

The possibility of a shootout, however improbable, raises another point in the disrupted banking employment world. It’s not just that security guards are no longer needed, most bank employees are in the cross-hair of losing their jobs. It’s called internet banking. Which of course raises another issue: in the past customers had no choice but to go in person to a branch to transact business, but with online banking most transactions can be conducted on line.

What has the bank decided? To hire security guards for its 1,000 branches (this number of branches isn’t consistent with the Bank of Thailand numbers, but that is, likely a mistake in the report or another story). That’s good news for the moonlighting police. It is good news for the Thai taxpayers who won’t worry the officials in charge will seek a tax hike to pay higher salaries to the police. Instead that money comes out of dividends paid to the shareholders of the bank. I am certain the shareholders will be happy to subsidize police salaries. When it comes time to layoff tellers, it will be interesting to revisit this issue and find out as compensation is fought over amongst the dwindling staff, whether robbery is the least of the problems faced by an industry in the midst of major disruption.

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Posted: 8/28/2014 8:58:53 PM 

 

Twenty-four-year old Japanese national Mitsutoki Shigeta, who hired multiple surrogate mothers in Thailand, has been a leading news items in the both the Thai and English press for a couple of weeks. There is no sign that the news desk or pundits (or their readers) are growing tired of feeding the public a diet of speculation, outrage, moralizing, finger pointing and official statements. Mitsutoki Shigeta has ignited social media from Twitter to Facebook. He is becoming one of the most famous Japanese personalities ever. And there is a reason. Actually a number of reasons why his story deserves a second look at the fall out of this baby factory dad.

01

The Daily Mail has demonstrated that there is a large appetite for scandal, gossip, conjecture about the famous, and when sex is added to the mix, even the non-famous suddenly appear day after day in news accounts. The shambolic local Thai press reports and op ed pieces show a remarkable ability to rearrange the facts faster than a cop caught with a car full of drugs. This is a caveat to bear in mind as you read through the ‘facts’ below. The point is, no one has personally interviewed Mitsutoki Shigeta to get his side of the story, his motive, his future plans, and, the biggest question of all, what happened at age 21 years old to make him determine to embark on a personal repopulation program?

Mitsutoki over the past two years has traveled to Thailand approximately 60 times (the press hasn’t settled on a precise figure, and the range is 60 to 65 times). He has, if reports are accurate, a Japanese, Hong Kong, Chinese and Cambodian passports. Big money buys lots of airfares, passports, and, as we shall soon see, children. Apparently he didn’t come to drink those tall tropical drinks with little bamboo umbrellas on the beach. He hired a local lawyer. That’s always a sign of someone is very careful or is up to no good, or both. He also hired the services of several clinics that specialized in surrogacy. Mitsutoki managed in 24 months to use surrogates to give birth to 15 children. Allegedly a number of these children have been moved from Thailand and have been reported to be with nannies in Cambodia.

From his base in Tokyo, he has submitted DNA samples to prove that he is the father. The eggs came from women whose identity has yet to be determined. Local Thai women were paid a fee (up to $10,000) to carry the babies to term. All expenses were paid, including hospital, medical, housing, food, and the services of a nanny when the children were born.

02

The press has speculated without the slightest shed of evidence that Mitsutoki wanted the children for: 1) trafficking purposes; 2) sell organs; or 3) other dark, evil purposes they imagined must lurk behind the decision to produce so many babies over a relatively short period of time. The clinics offering surrogacy services are under investigation. A bill that has been knocking around parliament for 10 years is suddenly being pushed through by the Junta led regime. The politicians, the press, polite society, the gangsters, the farmers, the workers—all of them are united that Misutoki has done something wrong. Broke some law. They can’t be certain what law, but they want him to return to Bangkok and tell the police why he wanted so many children.

I have a theory that may or not be true for Mitsutoki’s case. Rather than Mitsutoki of whom we know little at this stage, let’s examine a Super Baby Maker Dad. His case raises a larger issue—a world where there is no law against a wealthy young male fathering a small town of offspring. The possibility demolishes one of our most cherished and widely agreed social constructs—that people live in family units of a certain dimension. The family niche is ‘typically’ occupied by one mother, one father, and one to six children. In reality the family is much more diversity. We know some couples have more than six children. There are also single-family households and LGBT households. And some men of wealth maintain more than one family. The hypocrisy and secrecy surrounding these variations from the norm are the stuff of legend, film, books, and reality TV. Some men may have two or three wives, and two or three children with each one. A high achiever male might sire nine or a dozen children or at a stretch, a couple of dozen children. At some threshold, eyebrows are raised. They come to us through papers like the Daily Mail whose reporters are dispatched to gather the lurid details.

From the little we know, it appears that Misutoki’s has scaled biological fatherhood beyond what the average philander could imagined possible. It is as if the starting gun has been fired in the intergalactic population race and Mistutoki has determined to go for the gold. The rest of us are simply running in a very different race, with new ground rules modeled after Moore’s law combined with Darwinism and Ayn Rand’s version of capitalism and the finish line starts to look very different.

03

A fair number of Thais and foreigners expressed outrage over the number of babies he fathered especially in light of the narrow window of time in which they were born (two years). This raised all kinds of suspicions. The Thai police apparently have requested Mitsutoki return to Thailand and explain his behavior. Mitsutoki is in Tokyo and has shown not signs of wishing to come in and have a chat over his philosophy of fatherhood. There is a Mexican standoff.

The burst of outrage, the demands of officials, and the hurry for legislation are signals to which we should pay close attention. It is evidence that an important social construct that shapes our identity is being threatened. There is nothing in nature that says a man can’t have as many children as he can find women who agree to bear his children. No one has thought there is a limit on the number of children a man can father. The social construct about fatherhood and motherhood are, with minor variations, so similar, the subject rarely comes up. What Mitsutoki actions have done are consistent with reengineering the meaning of ‘father’ and ‘mother’.  Children born to a surrogate removes the ‘mother’ from of the normal sexual reproduction cycle. How does that work? The father acquires (presumably through donation or purchase) suitable ‘eggs’ from a female. This is a medical procedure. The woman who has been selected, goes to a clinic or hospital, some of her eggs are removed. The eggs are stored and transported to a clinic that offers surrogacy.

At this juncture, one woman has provided the eggs, and another woman has provided the womb for the fertile egg to be implanted. The father is not treating either of the women as ‘mothers’ but as his ‘employees’. Once the surrogate mother has delivered the baby, she’s contract bound to ‘give up’ the baby to the next level of the bosses employees. These post-birth surrogates—nannies—act as the primary caregivers. It is starting reproductions start to resemble the Henry Ford’s first auto assembly line. Henry Ford hired employees. Mitsutoki Shigeta appears to also have hired employees for the baby project. Assembly line babies, assembly line cars, it all makes sense in a world where unrestrained, unregulated capitalism is allowed to produce ‘efficient’ exploitation of resources.

Mitsutoki Shigeta comes from an ultra wealthy Japanese family (billionaires) that has extensive economic interests in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Cambodia and Thailand. Japan is also a country where the demographic future appears especially bleak. Let’s add the insular Japanese perspective that believes, at the extreme, that Japanese culture, values, and blood are superior to others. If your country is no longer producing the next generation, how will you maintain the ‘Japanese’ identity of your empire in the future? You will be forced to recruit from the locals throughout your empire, but your personal socialization causes you to look down on these locals as inferior.

Beyond the specifics of Mitsutoki Shigeta case, Super Baby Maker Dad appears on the scene with the necessary resources to organize, recruit and sustain over time a breeding program. What is his reason for siring all of these children? He wishes to staff future upper management positions across a vast business empire. If he had a 1,000 children over twenty-years (50 children a year) and could organize their education, system of values, and shape their attitudes to the father’s heritage, that might allow him to plan for perpetuating his customs, traditions, values, language and biases and act an invisible hand to ensure his way of doing things continues through the end of the century. While his competition is putting all of their eggs in a basket, he has gathered eggs of a different order of magnitude giving Super Baby Maker Dad a edge in business over his rivals.

04

The top 0.1% have sufficient resources to sire, support and educate a 1,000 children.
This is a good case of the power of a social construct—one reinforced by religion, ethics, and morality—that programs us to believe about family, parenthood, fatherhood and motherhood. There is no law of nature violated. But we feel somehow violated on a personal level as the idea challenges our values, attitudes and perceptions that are on automatic pilot. Suddenly we are hit by a typhoon. Only then to we realize, it is our culture that chooses for us; these beliefs circulate like the air we breath, we are drilled in them at every turn, we defend them as ‘right’ ‘ethnical’ and ‘moral’, and condemn and wish for punishment to be inflicted on violators.

Any current look at intergenerational conflict is bounded by a narrow ratio of older and younger people. One generation co-exists with an earlier generation, waiting for them to retire and die off. As the seniors and juniors overlap, and they inevitably clash over values, priorities, policies and allocating benefits. It has always been so. Once a mega-corp-family comes of age, it is hard to foresee what kind of new conflicts will emerge as one thousand siblings compete for the attention and favor of one father. How will such conflict spill over and destabilize the larger community? No one knows. Also intra-generational conflict might spawn alliances and factions as the half-brothers and half-sisters compete for power against each other. They will be likely structured more along the lines of a corporation with the siblings as shareholders rather than a traditional family enjoying a holiday to Spain.

Once the taboo is breached others with extreme wealth may decide that they have no choice but to enter this baby production race. Bill Gates has created a charitable foundation, which does good work with a reach around the world. The Gates Foundation, one day, will be run by blood-strangers. Bill’s vast wealth will be in the hands of other people who have no DNA connection to him. By contrast Super Baby Maker Dad, with a city-sized population who share his DNA (all of whom are half-brothers and half-sisters with a father in common), has the human power to control the future not available to his peers. Super Baby Maker Dad’s children will have the opportunity to continue the family business in a way that maintains the genetic and cultural connection into the distant future. As a cohesive unit, they would have leverage that other families would lack to exploit future opportunities in information, data mining, bio-medical, nano-technology by being able to educate and staff multiple labs, offices, and other facilities. And herein lies the difference between East and West. In the East, a dynasty is family based and is central to controlling the family fortune. In the West, business has traditionally been built (in theory) around ideal of merit, which results in the best and brightest being recruited to run the business. In the West the corporation relies on strangers; the founders lack sufficient family members to run a big, diverse business empire.

In fifty years, when superintelligent AI runs the day-to-day operations of government, business, medicine, entertainment, travel, Super Baby Maker Dad may be viewed as a visionary, who saw that in the future, those with the most off-spring, had the best chance in this Brave New World of machines to survive, prosper, reproduce and defeat human and machine rivals. Meanwhile, the Thai press will continue to follow his story and that of the surrogate mothers in Thailand. They will struggle to make sense of what the story means.

How do journalists prepare the public to understand the implications that arise when one of the founding pillars of our social constructs is questioned? We stare dumbfounded into that wreckage and try to come to terms with the meaning of a young heir to a fortune, who has a missionary zeal to spread his message across time. We seek to understand the game that is being played. A man of immense fortune has hedged his bets in outsourcing reproduction; he has hired ‘employees’ in developing countries to act as human incubators for a breeding program designed to mass produce hundreds of children, who one day will carry his gospel to the masses.

Run the numbers for five generations, with each of Super Baby Maker Dad’s offspring each producing 50 children, and his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on follow the family tradition soon the numbers balloon. While Generation 1 has 1,000 babies from Super Baby Maker Dad by the Generation 5 his descendants have increased to 125 million. This comes close to what might be described as a biological singularity.

05

Technological change has accelerated. What Mitsutoki Shigeta’s saga indicates is that future shocks are likely. Once a lab can create an artificial womb, the employees in the birth cycle can be eliminated, and all the laws on surrogacy will become redundant, and politicians will scramble to regulate such labs. There will always be a place, which allows activities that others find reprehensible. Sooner or later, how we regulate reproduction, and particularly how we control the 0.1% from using their vast wealth to increase their DNA legacy will require a new consensus of what it means to have children. Meanwhile, expect conflict, tears, and teeth-gnashing, and accept that the very, very rich will always find a means to disperse their wealth.

A thousand children would be the ultimate immortality-vanity project. When you are that rich, you likely get bored with the old game. Super Baby Maker Dad is a new diversification game for the elite club to explore. If something can be done, ultimately it will be done. Whoever is Ground Zero Super Baby Maker Dad won’t be looking to the stars to make his mark; he will be looking at this planet, and behold the potential after five generation of leaving a legacy population of genetically related people who will shape the political, social, economic and demographic fate of more than one country.

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Posted: 8/21/2014 8:56:26 PM 

 

Where do you put your police: on the streets or online? This modern question would haven’t surfaced twenty years ago. Now it is a major issue. As austerity measures worldwide have squeezed law enforcement budgets, policy makers are placed with a stark set of choices. How do you recruit and deploy your resources to detect, arrest and process through the court system to stop crime that has migrated online?

01

What becomes confusing is the huge number of ‘crimes’ that have enhanced capability of success once transferred online. Some of the suppression of the so-called computer ‘crimes’ in countries like Thailand is dubious in nature and nothing more than repressive measures to silence dissent. In a number of countries (including Thailand), governments have ordered officials (and recruited an army of private volunteers) to detect and report online critics of their regime. Once caught, they are sent off to prison. The idea is to chill certain kinds of speech, but in practice, when thousands no longer fear the police, such tactics are counterproductive and make the authorities look out of touch, out of date, weak, and ridiculous.

Law enforcement can’t be too far detached from the realm of what is possible. The problem is, the online world is redefining what is possible to suppress certain conduct whether it is political speech, dissent, gambling, prostitution or drugs.

02

The old methods of dispatching a police cruiser, foot patrol, networks of paid informants are gradually being replaced with cyber-patrols of chat rooms, Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

One category of the online activities that run afoul of local laws is worthy of examination—the victimless crime. The point is Voluntary prostitution has found a natural ally with the Internet.

For some years, so-called victimless criminals have migrated from the streets, back alleyways, nightclubs, bars, public parks and massage parlors to online venues. Gambling, designer drugs and prostitution are the best examples of the online commercialization that are overrunning the frontlines of law enforcement. The trend line indicates the old battle to contain victimless crime is unlikely to be won. When historians look back decades from now, 2008 will be a watershed year.

Why 2008? 2008 is the year Amazon began selling ebooks. In retrospect, 2008 was also the beginning of the end of traditional publishing (though few would have predicted it), and the start of an entirely new way to produce, market and sell books. If it worked for books, why wouldn’t it work for other products? Some of those products happened to be illegal in many but not all jurisdictions. It is that diversity of morality and law that allows the opportunity to exploit an untapped, previously dangerous, risky market.

03

The Economist in an article titled “More bang for your buck”  takes a close look at the domestic and international implications of the growing online sex trade. Capitalism combined with the Internet, cyber banking, cheap airfares, has succeeded in creating a largely untapped market for sex. (This issue of the Economist was, according to my bookstore source, banned for distribution in Thailand based on political content not related to the sex industry story).The commodification of sex has found a good, efficient environment in which to expand in the online world. Simply put: the Internet has allowed for an expansion of the customer base. In many jurisdictions in the West, the customer of a sex worker is committing a criminal act by engaging the service of a prostitute. The pool of sex workers, at the same time, has rapidly increased. Sex workers are also violating the law in many jurisdictions.

Is there the political will to declare war on the sex trade? The chances are that won’t happen. It is too late. Too many people are engaged as providers and customers for effective law enforcement. Resources are better allocated to fight crime in other areas.

04
Tart cards in telephone booth King’s Cross Road

As The Economist observed, before the advert of the Internet, prostitutes left ‘tart cards’ in telephone kiosk along King’s Cross Road in London. It was an inefficient way to find customers, and an impossible way for those who didn’t venture down King’s Cross Road to find a prostitute. There are now specialized apps that connect buyers and sellers as well as review sites where buyers can read reviewer comments, which represent a full range of opinions of the kind one would find in abundance for books on Amazon.com or hotels and restaurants on Traveladvisor.com

This is the brave new world where the amateur and semi-professional can enter a market that traditionally was staffed by the hardcore professionals. The expectation to be paid for sex suddenly was no longer limited to a small, isolated group. Online prostitution expanded the scope of the market beyond that group of professionals and the customer base that bought the services.

05

Something similar happened in publishing. The New York and London publishing houses acted as gatekeepers, and unless they opened the door for you, your book was doomed to gather dust in the bottom of your filing cabinet drawer. Because you’d typed in on a typewriter and you kept a copy in your filing cabinet. You were a professional writer, only if you’d been published by a traditional publisher. Otherwise, you might write, but it was a hobby and you passed around your manuscript to your friends and family. Then the computer and the Internet came along. With the availability of ebooks and the sudden newly emerged market for cheap ways to format ebook, to find editors, and cover designers, it wasn’t long before a lot of people figured out that self-publishing might be the ticket for writers who for any number of reasons couldn’t break into the traditional publishing business. In a few years, self-published writers had shown there was a serious amount of money in the ebook business. A few self-published writers earned millions and became publishing superstars. The ebook self-published success stories became ‘evidence’ to prove the days of snobby, closed world of big publishers was finished. A whole new world of writers climbed onto the ebook bandwagon. The old filters are no longer functioning to exclude authors from publishing and finding an online audience for their books.

With a cheap new way to make the goods widely available on the market, the new controversy becomes over pricing of traditional paper books, as in traditional commercial sex—compared to their online versions. From an economics point of view the fact that one is legal and the other not, isn’t relevant. Instead the emphasis is on how old markets have or are in the process of being destroyed, and how the configuration of providers and users have mushroomed. The commercial sex market—its location, pricing, its players, and participants significantly altered and that has implications.

What the ebook market and online commercial sex market have shown is that in economic hard times, people who aren’t professionals will seek ways to earn extra income. The online world has ushered in the part-time worker, the amateur, and the semi-professional, and on your screen it is difficult to determine how far is their distance from the professional performance you expect.

Writing a book and self-publishing isn’t a crime. Although reading a poorly written book you may feel that you have been mugged. The point is, online commerce is disrupting the old methods of screening, filtering, and limiting the access between service provider and customer. Pimps and brothels are being disrupted in the commercial sex world. Likewise, publishing houses like Hatchette, who is in a very public dispute with Amazon over the pricing of ebooks, are finding their business model disrupted by online powerhouses. Once the middle-men (and women) get out of the way, then all that stops someone from selling sex online is acquiring some basic computer skills and marketing savvy, and it becomes very difficult to police such activities. A number of people will point out that prostitution has a core problem that cannot be trivialized—human trafficking makes the voluntary participation by the prostitute illusory. This is a problem worthy of a separate discussion.

The major problem facing sex workers and customers has been one of information. The Internet is exactly the place to allow large data banks of information to grow. Sex workers can create a ‘brand’ like any other commodity or celebrity. Details of service, price, age, ethnicity, photographs, and descriptions start to take on the appearance like any other commercial menu. The amount and scope of information and the range of broadcast dwarf the old ‘tart card’ King’s Cross Road paradigm. Women from the poorer Eastern European countries have gone to England, Germany and the Netherlands to seek out opportunities in the sex trade, driving down the local price. Another reason for price compression is the number of part-time sex workers. Sex workers now compete with housewives, students, or someone with a regular job and supplement their income with part-time sex work.

06
Nana Plaza (Bangkok, Thailand) www.stickman.com

Bars, nightclubs, escort services, and entertainment complexes from Amsterdam to Bangkok are likely to find their comparative advantage eroded. It is also likely as The Economist concludes, that the number of customers for sexual services will increase as paid-for sex is more prevalent and hook-ups can be discreetly arranged.

If the future is an increase of commercial sex, how will law enforcement officials respond? Some websites may be shutdown and the web masters charged with a crime. That is whack a mole as the website reopens in some other country outside the reach of another country’s law enforcement agencies. As online commercial sex grows, attitudes about procreation, fidelity, marriage, children, and family may begin to change. Remember AltaVisa and Webcrawler in the pre-Google days? There were many such search engines. We remain at the AltaVisa stage with online sex services. Will there be the equivalent of a Google and Amazon.com moment? A time when the online commercial sex market is controlled by one large corporation? That would be interesting as a new group of lobbyists would have all kinds of incentives to secure favourable legislation from lawmakers.

07
The time may have passed for this key option

Gambling, drugs and sex are usually identified as permissive, anti-social activities to be repressed. When the dealings were left to the street, the police had ways to containing the activities. Once the customers go online by the millions, worldwide, they send a message to law enforcement—the jails and prisons will never be sufficient. The service has been absorbed into the capitalist model, which loves a market where demand continues to grow and the prices continue to fall. Moore’s law may apply as well—the doubling of capacity every 18 months. The digital world is serving notice that the analogue world of law enforcement has passed it expiry date. TrickAdvisor may go into the dustbin like AltaVisa or become the next ‘hot’ IPO, soon thereafter to be bought in a bidding war between Google and Amazon. And so it goes, from the traditional notion that certain aspects of our humanity such as ‘sex’ are priceless and thus outside the realm of commerce, to the new reality that the old TV show—The Price is Right—was way ahead of its time.

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Posted: 8/14/2014 8:47:41 PM 

 

Jim Thompson, Novelist and Essayist
Born 1964, Died 2nd August 2014

01
James Thompson

Forty-nine years is a short time to be resident on this spinning rock hurling around a star. We mourn those who leave us at such an early age. We wonder why fate has shortened their time among us, deprived us of the pleasure of their company, their words, and their wisdom.

In the case of Jim Thompson, the forty-nine years is a deceptive number. He packed a couple of hundred years of passion, learning, observation, travel and writing in that forty-nine year box. A man or a woman would need to live a very long time to have accumulated Jim’s experience of the world. And that’s how I think of Jim—someone who belonged to the world. He’s left behind a powerful legacy in his Kari Vaara series.

All of us at International Crime Authors Reality Check send our condolences to Jim Thompson’s family, friends and many fans. Jim contributed twenty-seven essays to our website. His first essay titled “Who has the right to write?” ran on 2nd December 2011. Jim’s final blog titled “On the Brinks” appeared on 20th February 2013.

Jim was born in Kentucky in 1964 and died in Finland on 2nd August 2014. He authored five crime novels set in Finland. Kari Vaara, police chief in the town of Kittilä, Lapland, debuted in Thompson’s first novel, Snow Angels. Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Thompson_(author)

A summary of Jim’s life, in his own words is posted on the author’s bio page at Amazon.

I maintained an email correspondence with Jim both before and after his time as a blogger on this site. In November 2011, I had invited Jim to join the blog and he replied with questions about our focus. I wrote him, “The main thing is to bring a new perspective to thinking about the nature of crime, law enforcement, social issues such as poverty, fairness, inequality, and gender into the mix.”

Jim replied, “Deal. My Inspector Vaara novels focus on exactly these themes, as do my rants in interviews, so this fits in perfectly with my agenda. I’ll have the first piece for the 28th. And thanks again. I’m looking forward to being part of this.”

In June 2012, Jim emailed me, “It’s terribly difficult to find people I would like to have a conversation with, or ideally a few conversations, to delve into subjects, but I can only think of three, counting you, and we’re all so far flung that it’s terribly difficult. My idea is to convince book fair organizers to invite people like you and me to the same events. For instance, I’m going to the Semana Negra noir festival in Spain in July. If we could make it to the same festivals, we could hang out for a week, and all expenses paid.” Unfortunately that didn’t plan out. I’d been invited in 2007 and Jim was invited for 2012.

Jim was passionate about social and cultural problems such as racism, and we corresponded about our views on how to deal with these issues in fiction. He was a truth teller, no matter where that truth led him or how much difficulty he confronted with those who wished to hide the truth.

Jim wrote me in June 2012, “Racism. A difficult topic to write about, especially for a primarily American audience who call nigger “the N-word,” as if pretending as if it doesn’t exist will make it disappear. I mostly just write the truth in the details of books, things I’ve observed. I think many publishers wouldn’t have released Helsinki White. My editor at Putnam has been supportive. A lovely person, she often surprises me.”

How to put a writer’s life into context? My friend Roger Beaumont, in observing the passing of his friend, reminded me of this Shakespeare quote, one that I believe that Jim would have liked:

Be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air.
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself –
Yea, all which it inherit – shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Words. Those are the legacy left behind. The life of a writer continues to live after he’s gone. Death robs us of friendship and support, but the words we remember and they remain. Whether any writer’s words disappear into the void or are passed down from generation to generation, no one can predict. It’s as close to immortality as any man or woman who lacks the resources to build an Angkor Wat. The future, a place where you and I will never visit, is as much a place as the now. The future is the destination where flocks of words take wing and seek a nest. And I am betting that the birds of wisdom that Jim released will find a roost in that distant place.

In memory of Jim, we are posting his classic essay about the passing of another young writer Stieg Larsson that was posted on this website in January 2012:

Breaking News: Stieg Larsson is Dead

By Jim Thompson

That’s right. I said it out loud. Larsson is dead, and I’m sorry to be the bearer of such unsettling news, but he’s not coming back. Despite being anointed the literary Son of God by the media. Despite article after article predicting who will be the next Stieg Larson, he’s dead. He died, and the requisite three days and resurrection have long since come and gone, so apparently he won’t rise from the dead. Or if he did, he’s keeping mum about it. My cat, Sulo, was born around the time that Larsson died. Maybe Sulo, a foundling but presumably of Nordic origin, is the reincarnation of Stieg Larsson, unable to reveal himself because of a lack of prehensile digits that render him incapable of holding a pen or typing. It’s possible, but I doubt it.

Day after day after mindless day, critics, reviewers and journalists tout yet another Nordic writer as the next Stieg Larsson. I myself have been compared to Steig Larsson dozens if not hundreds of times. Our work has little in common. I don’t mind though, it helps me sell books and earn a living.

As nearly as I can tell, every inhabitant of the Nordic region able to string enough words together to form a coherent sentence is a potential next Stieg Larsson. Some months ago, I read a quote in a Finnish newspaper, discussing Purge (Puhdistus) citing a British newspaper extolling Sofi Oksanen as the next Stieg Larsson, and referring to Oksanen as a ‘crime writer.’ I quote neither the original publication nor the writer in question, because I can’t make myself believe that anyone could make such a moronic mistake, and the British newspaper is unavailable on the internet without a subscription, so I couldn’t check this fact for myself.

Still, either the author of the piece or its translator apparently misunderstands the meaning of crime fiction. I will enlighten. Crime fiction is a genre that explores crimes and their detection, criminals and their motives. I’m a crime writer by profession and so fairly certain about this. The aforementioned author writes mainstream literary fiction, and is extremely talented, but no more a crime writer than I am the author of Harlequin romances. Or could it be, just possibly be, that the writer of the original article knows what crime fiction is, but didn’t know that Oksanen isn’t a crime writer because the journalist in question hasn’t read a single word of her work? That the journalist just wanted to spew out the name, Stieg Larsson, in the hopes that it would sell more newspapers? Nah, now I’m just being silly.

Please don’t conclude from this essay that I don’t like Stieg Larsson’s novels. I think they’re too fat and under-edited, but I enjoyed his first two books, haven’t read the last one yet. And further, I think society owes a collective debt to Stieg Larsson. Once in a great while, a writer comes along who sparks the popular imagination: Larsson, J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown. Whether you like their books or not, their tremendous popularity encourages people to read, and many people have discovered the joys of reading because of them. In today’s world of fractured attention spans and the plethora of entertainments to choose from (and reading is one of the few common entertainments of our time that makes you smarter, not dumber), that’s no easy trick. Still, Larsson is gone, there will be no next Larsson, nor should there be. His body of work was unique, and what the world needs is new and unique voices to spirit us away.

This constant harping about who will be the next Larsson is simply an exploitation of his name, in a way I feel demeaning to his memory, and repeating Larsson’s name over and over again like a printed mantra in the belief that it will sell more papers is insulting to the reading public.

Journalists, critics, reviewers, I’m pleading with you. Stop this madness and move on before I cut my own throat out of ennui. Find fresh voices, new ideas, authors that expose the world to us in a way we’ve never before encountered. I think Stieg Larsson might have wanted it that way.

In a few closing words on the subject, let me say only this, in the hopes of getting a few more web hits and reposts: Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Stieg Larsson.

Get it now? Annoying, isn’t it?

Some Thoughts on the Scandinavian Crime Wave

I didn’t know I was a Scandinavian Crime Wave writer until Snow Angels came out internationally, and a number of reviewers said that I am one. Here in Finland, despite my nationality, I’m often considered a domestic writer, and obviously I write noir, but I never gave my placement as a writer much thought beyond that. Probably because I’ve never cared about it, I just want to write good stories. It didn’t really sink in until I was in a bookstore in Barcelona, and saw Snow Angels (in Spanish: (Ángeles en la Nieve) placed alongside works by Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, Karin Fossum, etc. Some reviews have said that I’m clearly influenced by the work of Arnaldur Indriðason. Sorry, never read any. I guess now I will though. Reviewers also sometimes inform that I’m influenced by Ian Rankin. I had never read any of his books either, so I picked one up (good stuff), and I see where they got that idea, but wrong. Sorry, I’m digressing…the point is I’m part of a literary movement, some might even call it a genre, and didn’t even know it until I was told so.

So what is the Scandinavian Crime Wave, where did it come from, and why is it so popular?

First, I’m not a huge fan of the genre myself, and the reason is obvious. I’ve lived for well over a decade in a Nordic country, and so unlike most international readers, authors exposing this part of the world and its way of life are telling me things I already know. Second, the protagonists in the genre tend to be middle-aged, divorced men, sick of their jobs and have drinking problems. They’re depressed, their kids don’t like them, etc., and I’m bored with the stereotype at this point. Which isn’t to say I don’t like some Nordic crime writing. I do. I enjoy Larsson, Mankell (I’m using these names in particular because most readers of this article will likely be familiar with them, so let’s stick with them), and some others, it’s just that my tastes are more eclectic.

Larsson, to the casual observer, because of his overwhelming popularity, might be considered the father of the genre, which is a mistake, but more about that later. He was a good writer, but I have some mild criticisms. I haven’t read The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest yet, but by the end of The Girl who Played With Fire, he had set Lisbeth Salander up as a kind of dysfunctional waif superhero. She has a photographic memory, and the implication and setup for the last book seems to be that she has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is supposed to explain her sociopathy. Now, I think Salander is a brilliant character, but there are a couple problems here that I’ve never seen commented upon, and they bother me. 1. There is no proof that photographic memory exists. There are people documented as possessing vast powers of memory, but as written for the Salander character, nope, sorry, not buying it. 2. Granted, the symptoms of Asperger’s vary so much from individual to individual that they’re nearly unique, but Salander just doesn’t fit the profile. I researched these topics in-depth for a book released in Finland, Jumalan Nimeen, and I feel confident about these statements. If you disagree, sit in front of your computer for a few days and read some hundreds of blogs by people with Asperger’s and see if any of their voices remind you of Salander. I know I’m digressing again, but what the hell, it’s my article.

My analysis of the reason behind the success of the Millennium series, in brief: I’ve never heard anyone say the Millennium Trilogy was well written, yet it sold a gazillion copies. As I said, I don’t find Salander a believable character. A pint-sized Superwoman. But here’s the rub. She’s been brutalized as a child and an adult. She’s emotionally damaged beyond words. Her appearance is diminutive and child-like. Everything about her screams victim. But she overcomes all. She finds a way to live life on her own terms and refuses to be a victim. When others try to victimize her, she punishes them in the most vicious ways. The kinds of punishments people dream about when figures in their own lives mistreat them. It sends the message that no matter how cruelly life treats you, you can overcome it and survive, even thrive. I think it’s that message that made the series a success.

But people who do love the Scandinavian Crime Wave genre. Why? Obviously, they’re getting something they lacked from novels by authors from other regions. At least for U.S. and UK readers, I suspect a prime reason is the aforementioned cultural reading experience, but also and more importantly, is that the depth of characterization in the best of Nordic crime fiction is, in my humble opinion, often far superior to that of most crime novels on the bestseller lists by writers from those regions. Yet another difference between Nordic and Anglo crime fiction is the weighting of the crime vs. social commentary in the novels. In Nordic fiction, the crime is often no more important, sometimes of less importance, than the descriptions of the societies in which the stories take place. All this hints to me that the international reading community is bored with cardboard crime novels and demands something more and better.

Mankell is sometimes referred to as the father of Scandinavian crime fiction. Yet his first book, Faceless Killers, in the much acclaimed Wallander series, didn’t appear until 1997. What, in the formation of the Scandinavian Crime Wave, preceded it?

The Scandinavian Crime Wave truly originated with the Martin Beck series, a decalogue written by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö between 1965 and 1975. Although they seem a bit dated by today’s writing standards, I love this series. They feature a great cast of characters and solid crimes. Most notably, in terms of this discussion, is that they contain scathing critiques of Sweden’s social democracy, from a Marxist viewpoint. These critiques sometimes seem to come out of nowhere, delivered by an omniscient third person narrator, and this technique, to me, carries with it an almost Victorian feel, hence my comment about dated writing. However, these small tirades are often delivered with humor that I think enhances rather than detracts from the writing as a whole.

I read that Larsson’s Millenium trilogy was intended as a decalogue, but he died before he got further along in it, which makes me tend to think that, at least to some extent, the Millenium series was intended as a homage to Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. I think you would be hard put to find a Nordic crime writer who would disagree with this statement: no Martin Beck series, no Scandinavian Crime Wave as it exists in its current form.

So, who influenced Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö? I read an interview with Mankell, in which he stated that Ed McBain influenced the Martin Beck series. This doesn’t surprise me. I did some minor research to try and find out if Sjöwall and Wahlöö had mentioned their influences, but found nothing. Per Wahlöö died in 1975, but Maj Sjöwall is still with us, so I had a look to see if her contact information was readily available. I thought it would be fun to just e-mail or even call her and ask about this. However, I didn’t find it, and thought that if her contact info is hard to find, she values her privacy and doesn’t want to be bothered.

When I read the Beck series though, I get the distinct impression that it’s heavily influenced by noir and pulp. As well as McBain, I see echoes of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and even Jim Thompson (not me of course, the guy who wrote The Killer Inside Me, etc.). If I’m correct about this, the Scandinavian Crime Wave of today was in part born in the U.S.A. and took the long way home over the course of the better part of a century. And so, in a sense, the Scandinavian Crime Wave is in part a retro movement. I’ve long considered myself in some ways to be a retro writer, but that’s the topic of another discussion.

Also interesting to me is that the bleak outlook of noir and pulp and their tales of social injustice have often carried with them fascist ideals through the voices of their narrators, but that, in the hands of Sjöwall and Wahlöö, they turned those nihilistic societal worldviews into left-wing arguments, and to good effect. And so in retrospect, their work makes all crime noir seem like socialist propaganda. Does this mean that all these years, I’ve been writing political and crime noir and protagonists with sociopathic tendencies and never knew I was a Communist sympathizer in disguise? Me. A Comsymp. Whodda thunk?

James Thompson
Helsinki, Finland
24.01.2012

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Posted: 8/7/2014 9:02:54 PM 

 

To understand in any meaningful way a police force requires information about the culture in which the police are recruited, educated, paid, promoted, and disciplined. In a recent Bangkok Post article highlighting the suicide statistics among Thai police officers, it was noted:

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“At present, the force is divided into two distinct classes — the bosses who graduated from the Police Cadet Academy and junior officers from schools for corporals. The classes operate in an oppressively feudal and closed society where subordinates have no say whatsoever. Due to their low pay, the police tend to get involved in all sorts of underground businesses.”

There are the bosses and then there is the vast underclass that carries out their commands. The division is officially designated as between commissioned and non-commissioned officers. Source: http://www.aseanapol.org/information/royal-thai-police The national police force is a quasi-military organization that comes under the Ministry of Interior. Source: Wiki Senior appointments by the government have been routinely been controversial. For years there have been many studies, commissions and reports delegated with a mandate to recommend reforms. The members of these study groups and commissions have recommended a variety of reforms to the structure and culture of the Thai police force. But no substantial reform program has been implemented from these recommendations.

The size of the police in Thailand exceeds more than 230,000 officers according to Wiki. By comparison with countries with the same or larger populations: the UK has 167,318; The Philippines has 149,535; Myanmar has 93,000; and France has 220,000. In other words, in Thailand, there are by international standards, a relatively large number of police to the size of its population. In 1987, Thailand had 110,000 members in the Royal Thai Police Force. It would be interesting to analyze the political processes that resulted in more than a doubling of the police force over a quarter of a century.

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The statistics and brief background fail to convey the day-to-day reality of the non-commissioned rank-and-file police officer. Who is this man or woman behind the uniform in Thailand? What story can we tell about the ‘self’ behind the uniform?

“We are also the story we construct about ourselves, our personal narrative that interprets and assigns meaning to the things we do remember and the things other people tell us about ourselves. Research by the Northwestern University psychologist Dan McAdams, author of The Redemptive Self (2005), suggests that these narratives guide our behaviour and help chart our path into the future.” Source: http://aeon.co/magazine/being-human/where-do-childrens-earliest-memories-go/

The police training and culture are material out of which that self is constructed. Another block of ‘self-worth’ and ‘self-image’ is the economic conditions in which a person lives, works, and interacts with others. The sense of self also takes a battering in Thailand where many people view the police with a sense of mistrust and suspicion. This likely causes the police to withdraw further into their own sub-culture for emotional and psychological support further increasing the feeling of ‘us and them.’”

The inequalities of wealth are experienced by police officers like anyone else. Unlike the rest of us, the police are authorized to carry guns and to use them inside such societies. And where there are businesses that operate at the margins of the law and those outside the law that are hugely profitable, policing by cops who don’t have a living wage can be compromised with cash payments.

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This chart shows the pay scale for police. The first three columns are the salaries of non-commissioned officers and the other columns for commissioned officers, with the last two columns reserved for those with the highest-ranking officers.

Unless you are a non-commissioned, column 1, Thai cop who entered the police department with a high school education you are paid after four years on the job (assuming no additional step increase beyond the usual annual increase). a salary of Baht 5,580 per month or US$177.42 a month. That works out to be 183 baht or just under $6 bucks a day. I don’t know about you, but I’d pay for a book that promised: accommodation, food, transport, sidearm, uniform, haircuts, food and entertainment in Thailand on a budget of $6.00 a day. The minimum wage in Thailand is 300 baht a day, which is closer to $10.00 a day. While there are possibilities to supplement the meager pay packet with per diems and overtime, the overall monthly amounts paid to police are, as the chart demonstrates, small.

If officers are appointed to a position, such as inspector, chief inspector in suppression or forensic units they receive an additional 3,000 to 5,700 baht, or if they are investigation officers (regular to expert) they receive an additional 12,000-30,000 baht, in executive positions (5,600 – 21,000 baht) or special expert/teaching positions (3,500 – 15,000 baht), increasing with rank. As is evident, the chance for supplemental pay is limited to the higher ranks with officers who’ve received specialized education or training. Typically a university graduate would start as an officer with a higher pay.

How could there not be corruption in a police force when the pay scale for non-commissioned officers condemns them to poverty? A man or a woman faced with a spouse and children waiting food on the table and doesn’t have the money to feed them can easily cross ethical and legal lines on a routine basis. If you were in that position, what would your consciousness tell you to do: feed your family or ask for a 100 baht from a driver who made a turn out of the wrong lane? It might be assumed (and it is impossible to prove with solid evidence) that the division of spoils falls mainly to the benefit of the high-ranked officers. Such a lopsided division would be consistent with how money flows between the ranks inside any feudal based organization. No one has ever suggested that egalitarian principles feature large in such a mindset. In a feudal structure, like the police, most of the workforce can be thought of as extras in the larger drama and there is only room for a few of the big names on the marquee. The rank, status and money is, in the main, set aside for the stars.

There are also psychological and social consequences arising from a police force modeled on a feudal structure. Most of these issues have not received serious attention by any of the many recent governments. One is the suicide rate among the rank and file police. The Bangkok Post reported a story about such an officer.

“On Wednesday, 24-year-old Police Lance Corporal Nitikorn Kulawilas shot himself in the head with a pistol and died at the Phaya Thai police station. The young traffic policeman was the fifth officer to take his own life since January.

“If the average police suicide rate per year is anything to go by, 25 more families may lose their beloved son or daughter this year.

“According to the Police Department, the number of officers taking their own life is steadily on the rise. The annual average number of suicides over the past five years is 29.17. Last year, it rose to 31.”

Suicide rates have been in decline in Thailand since the peak of 8.4 per 100,000 in 1999. Source: Hanging is the most common method to end one’s life, and is ten times more prevalent than a handgun. The police officers rate of suicide works out to be about double that of the suicide rate for the population as a whole.

What is it about being a cop that increases the odds of suicide? The dead officers superiors explained the suicide as caused by work stress and family problems. In other words, the suicide had nothing to do with the culture and the low pay environment in which he worked. This is the kind of denial that isn’t restricted to the attitude of his superiors. The explanation is based on a widespread perception that when an officer is caught stealing or aiding and abetting a crime, or kills himself, that is wholly the individual responsibility of the officer.

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It is this consensus that explains that despite all of the recommendations for reform, the continuation of a current system that hugely benefits a select few should consider the collateral damage that drives officers to crime and suicide as incidental, personal, and individual to the man or woman who felt they had no other choice.

What mental health screening and counseling is done for police officers? I can’t find any answer to that question. I suspect that silence is significant. Suicide rates are only one small sampling of those with mental health problems. Rates of depression should be examined and the results made public. The rate of divorce, domestic violence, alcoholism, or drug abuse is additional indicators of personal stability problem worth exploring.

Suicide rates of police officers compared to the rate for the general population have been analyzed in the States. The American police officer is statistically more likely to kill himself (or herself) than a Thai police officer. (Source)  There is, and likely never will be, any clear, unbiased or unambiguous set of statistics to support the premise that low pay is the cause of suicide amongst police officers in Thailand. One needs to accept that some of these suicides may have occurred no matter what job the person worked at, and needs to be viewed along with mental problems such as depression, assignment to high anxiety areas such as the South of Thailand, family or domestic violence, separation and divorce.

The Bangkok Post hammered a point that has been over the years but the political will to change the culture of the police has failed. “But an honest and efficient arm of the law is not possible if low pay, poor welfare, and a lack of unaccountability and meritocracy remain the norm.”

The correlation between low pay and the hidden economy is difficult to establish as the data is largely inaccessible and must be drawn from stories in the press. All that can be said from a common sense point of view with no set of viable statistics to back it up, is the low salaries paid to a number of police (certainly there are honest, not corruptible Thai police as I’ve met some of them) are likely subsidized by other opportunities that are only available to a man or woman in a uniform and carrying a gun. The question is whether there is the political will to change the salary and policing culture in Thailand.

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Posted: 7/31/2014 8:40:58 PM 

 

From pre-historic times, we have been slapping handcuffs on an intruder, stranger, criminal suspect, violent lunatic or someone you simply don’t like. The idea of handcuffs is not to kill, but to restrain a person by limiting the movement of their arms and hands. From the beginning of our kind, we’ve used vines, reeds and animal hide as handcuffs. As our technology in the Iron and Bronze ages evolved through Greek and Roman times, our handcuffs also improved allowing us to securely bind felons and prisoners of war with fetters, chains and irons.

The big technological breakthrough came in the nineteenth century with W.V. Adams’ invention of the ratcheting mechanism. The Adams designed handcuff became the staple of handcuffs used by police forces around the world. Since the nineteenth century, we’ve witnessed incremental changes to the technology, including plastic disposal cuffs.

The images below will help you visualize the traditional handcuffs. Wikipedia along with a useful article on handcuffs displays three of the most widely used handcuffs.

Handcuffs used by law enforcement officers and soldiers, have until recently, been distinguished primarily by whether the dual wrist enveloping feature: 1) is secured by a chain, 2) is fixed, or 3) is a solid bar.

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Hiatt type 2010 handcuffs

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Dutch police handcuffs

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Solid bar handcuffs

The handcuffs have been standard issue for police and soldiers for many years and used to restrain and limit the movement of arrested demonstrators or protesters, or suspected criminals. They also have been used on prisoners of war or those captured in a civil conflict.

High-tech has caught up with the world of handcuffs. Here’s the latest invention to scale up an arresting officer’s ability to restrain and control a prisoner.

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The Scottsdale cuffs

Take a close look at The Scottsdale cuffs. What does the state of art bring to the world of handcuffs? Built into these handcuffs are wireless controls and sensors. The theory draws from those dog collars where you want to train a dog not to chew on your new shoes. Each time the dog puts his snout on a shoe, you give him a mild shock through his collar until the dog is able to register that getting close to your shoe will cause him pain. The dog learns to avoid your shoes.

Our history as species demonstrates that we are inclined to use violence against our own who put their nose anywhere near what we define as the ‘shoe zone’. The new cuffs have the capacity to deliver a high-voltage Taser-like charge. Not only is the person handcuffed, by the touch of a remote control, the authorities can disrupt his or her nervous system.

The implications for freedom and abuse of liberty are enormous. If you don’t follow an instruction, the shock runs through your body. You don’t walk fast enough, more shock; or too fast, here it comes again. The cuffs can be programmed so that they shock at five-minute intervals. Of course, the program can be overwritten if only you will co-operate. The cuffs have sensors that restrict the prisoner to a certain pre-determined area, and move from that area, and a large electric jolt runs through the body. The restricted area might be the back of a police van, or a room, or a house.

If that isn’t enough to give you nightmares, here is what the hi-tech handcuffs already patented have in store for your encounter with the police. Future handcuffs will come with built-in timers, needles, gas dispensing capability, gauging of vital signs, emotions, and movements. They will be used for arrest, court appearance of suspects, certain classes of prisoners, in mental wards, and perhaps to adjust the attitude of political detainees.

“In addition to radio proximity sensors, the cuffs could include an accelerometer, inclinometer, potentiometer, location sensing device, microphone, camera, a biometric sensor or a combination of devices. These could not only allow guards to keep track of prisoners, but also allow the cuffs to automatically deliver a shock if they detect violent or aggressive movements or even if the detainee shouts.

Aside from their deterrent functions, the Scottsdale cuffs could also keep track of prisoner movements, behavior and number of shocks administered, plus they include safety cutouts to prevent administration of an injurious or fatal jolt. In a truly Orwellian twist, the cuffs could also release gases, liquids, dyes and even inject the prisoner with sedative drugs.”

Link: http://www.gizmag.com/shock-cuffs/25421/

Think of the countries on the list of the eight least-free places. These are countries where exercising near complete control over their citizens actions, opinions, and attitudes is viewed as a paramount goal of maintaining the power of the authorities. The list includes: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. The local franchise owner of The Scottsdale cuffs stands to make a small fortune. There might be a viable market for such handcuffs in Thailand to deal with unhappy critics of the military government who are viewed as threatening the goal of universal harmony and unity.

Our hi-tech future promises many exciting innovations to improve our lives, environment, health, education and workplace. It also has the capacity to erode our freedom and dignity, and to transfer more power over our lives to those in authority. When the future of the handcuff is to require total submission to a police officer or a soldier, whatever convenience and comfort hi-tech innovation has provided us won’t be sufficient to compensate for the loss of the most basic human rights.

Not even Orwell could have imagined a world of the handcuffed underclass whose members obey like well-trained dogs. Those holding the remote control to the taser-cuffs will follow the orders of the elite few who decide whose shoes are protected. They say you should walk a mile in another’s shoes before you can judge a person. In a world where most will be barefoot, that old rule of thumb may no longer apply. It’s more likely that you won’t ever get a chance to put on such shoes, or if you did, you wouldn’t have to walk far to know that in the not too distant future those with the shoes will have created a world where there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

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Posted: 7/24/2014 8:55:19 PM 

 

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Two unrelated Thailand crime stories shared a common theme this week—impulsive, violent behavior. In one case, a sixty-two year old mother confessed to the police that she had shot he daughter dead with a .38cal handgun. The killing occurred in the bedroom of the family house, and was, according to the mother, caused by her sudden anger over her daughter’s outstanding debts totaling a million and a half baht. According to the Thai press reports, after killing her daughter, the mother said that she turned the gun on herself, fired but missed.

In the second case, a 26 year-old katoey had gone on a surprise visit to her lover but he wasn’t at home. Frustrated on her return, at 5.30 a.m. she came across a paralyzed 72 year-old grannie. The katoey told police she felt an irresistible urge to have sex and was also drunk at the time. The katoey’s attempted rape of the grannie was interrupted when the grannie involuntarily evacuated her bowels.

The sudden impulse of the killer mother and drunk rapist katoey propelled them to commit violent criminal acts. The killer mother told the police that she’d been overcome by a-rom chua-woop or a sudden impulse to explain her action. My Thai sources tell me this phrase is commonly found in local crime reports.

To what degree are cultural issues useful to understand psychological conditions?

The criminal justice system, whether in the West or the East, often faces offenders who claim a mental disorder. The way we process reality and control our impulses, at least in part, have a cultural foundation. How the Chinese and Thais view of gambling as part of their culture, will translate into the attitudes that people and authorities have towards casinos, lotteries, and slot-machines. There are two related issues: mental disorders such as impulse control and cognitive traps or illusions which handicap rational choices. In other words, we can be irrational over a range of activities; some of those activities involve crimes.

Starting with the cognitive process, Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow divides our thinking self, the one that reacts, contemplates, considers what someone has said or done, an event caused by man or by nature, or the thousand and one small decisions we make everyday such as where to have lunch, hitting the ‘like’ option on FaceBook, choosing a movie to watch or book to read. This is fast thinking for many. This is representative of System 1 thinking that happens in an instant.

System 1 is our automatic, auto-pilot decision-making process which requires little or no deliberation such as when we see 2 + 2 = (  ). Leaving aside the political implication of Orwell’s 1984, we don’t have to think; we ‘know’ the answer is 4. System 2 is a deliberative, slowed down decision-making; it is hard, takes up time and mental resources and most people avoid it in favor of the easy-rider feeling of System 1.  A System 2 example is 29 x 347 = (  ). There are people for whom this is a System 1 equation but for most of us, we have to do sums  and make a calculation. Or open the calculator app on our computer or cellphone to come up with the answer: 10063.

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System 1 Thinking

Both System 1 and System 2 are normal tools we apply throughout our day. The first is unconsciously decision-making, and the second is conscious, calibrated decision-making. There is another system that is pathological, and considered a psychological disorder—Impulse Control Disorder. It is a psychological disorder listed in the 4th Edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The lack of impulse control unleashes aggressive conduct that features in many areas of criminal behavior. The offender either easily loses control or lacks control over his emotions. Law enforcement officers are called to the scene of a crime to confront someone who has destroyed property, physically assaulted or killed another whose resorted to violence or aggression. Other criminal areas where this type of offender turns up is theft, gambling and arson.

A person with such a personality is often called, in the West, a ‘hot-head’ or in Thai jai rong (‘hot heart’). Though the mental condition may be something a person chooses. Some scientists have traced the disorder to neurological and environmental causes. Others are more skeptical as to the underlying cause found in mood disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse and personality disorders. “It can become clinically difficult to disentangle them from one another, with the result that the impulsivity at the core of the disorders is obscured.”

A person with this disorder usually blames the victim for doing something to cause the act of violence. It is rare such a person would accept responsibility. They believe they were right in their response and feel no guilt for the suffering or harm they’ve caused.  People with this disorder are disproportionally represented in domestic violence and rape cases. They lose control and in an irrational mental state harm others.

Criminal charges and penalties often are determined by whether the crime was ‘planned’ or ‘premeditated’ as opposed to impulsive or spontaneous. The difference between a hit man and a wife killer often turns on judging whether the offender had planned the murder or it was an explosive, irrational act.

We hold people who plan and use logic to commit a crime more blame worthy. These are the System 2 deliberate thinking criminals who calculate the odds of the crime, weigh the risk against the benefits, and contemplate the optimal time to strike. Our criminal laws reflect an assumption that people who are planners are more easily deterred by a heavy penalty. Conversely, as manslaughter counts indicate, there is an assumption that someone with an impulse control disorder, wasn’t in full control of himself and wouldn’t have been deterred.

While the death penalty might deter the planners it will be useless to stop those with a personality disorder, where logical, rational thinking is disabled. These assumptions take us into the realm of ‘free will’, ‘self-control’ and ‘personality disorders.’ The authorities select out those whose crimes are the of ‘unplanned’ and ‘spontaneous’ behavior as suffering from decreased responsibility for their acts.

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There are limitations on this analysis in Asia where culture is a factor in assessing what in the West is viewed as a personality disorder. For example, there was a 2008 study of Thai lottery gamblers. One group was guided by superstitious methods such as obtaining a ‘lucky’ number from a temple or divining a number by dripping candle wax into water. The other group didn’t report using superstitious methods. The use of superstition was found to increase the probability of the ‘gambler’s fallacy’, creating an illusion of predictability and control. The study indicates that one shouldn’t assume that cognitive problems and psychological disorders, as defined in the West, are applicable in places like Thailand.

The System 2 type of thinking also has a large cultural component reflected in the educational system. Hard or difficult thinking is nurtured in schools and universities where critical thinking is valued and promoted. Rote learning is a way to reinforce System 1 automatic thinking. This isn’t to suggest that System 1 translates into impulse control disorder. They are different concepts and involved different mental processes as well as different underlying causes. Where a culture promotes superstition, magical-thinking, and prophecy, people educated in that culture will have an increased probability of failing to recognize circumstances where their beliefs have created cognitive illusions. That way of thinking colors the approach to impulsive control disorders. The way of dealing with the disorder is less based on science than on the belief that non-scientific exorcism will solve the problem.

The next time you read one of the ‘strange’ crime stories from another country, you may have stumbled upon an example of why it is strange to you. The way thinking is taught, rewarded, honored is different, and the way of dealing with mental disorders reflects a different way of thinking. In Thailand, should you encounter someone in the throes of a-rom chua-woop, clear away the knives and guns, hide your daughters and grannies, and quickly run for the exit. You won’t have much time.

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Posted: 7/17/2014 8:57:40 PM 

 

In July 2009 I posted my first essay on International Crime Authors Reality Check. In the last five years, I have posted 260 essays. (Note to self: buy a lottery ticket with 260.) To have written that number of weekly essays requires a certain kind of personality—one predisposed to an internalized tyranny.  It is not unlike going to the gym. After a few weeks, the urge to put off working out or writing an essay grows. I haven’t figured out whether such discipline is a good or bad thing. All I can say is that truly surprises myself—looking back and finding that I managed each week to overcome the terror of not knowing what to write next. Yet each week, I discovered a subject, an idea, a pattern or trend worth exploring.

My style is to write an essay as if I am talking out loud to an old friend. Someone I urgently want to communicate information to about what I’ve stumbled over, whether it is a cultural artifact, a technological development, a scientific study, crime investigations and stories, or a new book that opens a door to new ideas. The large range reflects my eclectic interest in law, politics, economics, science, history, psychology, and sociology. I think of these categories as layers of analysis that focus on a specialized aspect of our world.  To understand reality means overcoming illusions and biases, and judgments in favor of examining different perspective on hard questions that life raises.

An unexamined life is not a life worth living. I have that taped to my computer.

The purpose of an essay is a kind of personal pattern making from a noisy information charged environment, one that is constantly changing, spinning a litany of contradictions, paradoxes, and uncertainties. The best essay raises the hard questions that lie submerged below the surface of our consumer society with its slogans, headlines, and sound bytes. The best essay refrains from the temptation to give a facile answer.  The shadows of doubt can never be eliminated. And that is precisely why there isn’t an Essay Channel on TV.

It is normal to want resolution. Even if that requires distortion, illusions and lies the comfort of believing that the author has solved a problem is irresistible. If you’ve followed my essays over the past five years, you have likely witnessed an evolution in my own thinking and writing. While, I may offer my own meaning of events, I’ve tried to understand that context and multi-perspective giving is a better approach. I’d rather a reader draw his or her own meaning. Events and forces are a roll of the dice. There is never any certainty what numbers will come up next.

I am a searcher and essays and novels are my tools. Like most tools they have their limitations. The way we use words and the situations in which we employ them is a confession of our bias. Each week I roll the dice. What caused those numbers to come up? One valuable lesson that comes from this kind of writing is to understand how much we take causation and agency for granted. And for that reason, most of our analytical tools fail the task of extracting the truth. We find it exceptionally difficult to accept that very small causes can have outsized effects. A nineteen year old shoot and kills an archduke in 1914 and ignites World War I leading to the death of millions of people. Any nobody who rolls the dice has the potential to bankrupt the casino. We look for meaning in a chain of causes even though the best minds such as Daniel Kahneman (“Thinking Fast and Slow”), tell us that all the evidence is that such a chain is an illusion. Causation and agency are our shields against the forces of randomness and chance. We don’t leave home without that shield.

Essays are either shield building or shield destroying. I tend to write the latter. That is likely a huge career mistake if I want to be popular.

We are hungry for narratives that give us plausible alternatives to explain life in the face of doubt and chance.  Storytellers who create the simple, complete and satisfying story as a guide have our admiration and loyalty. There is a kind of cruelty that comes from the truth that there is no escape from the uncertainties of life. It makes readers uncomfortable. They look for the exit. Who can blame them? No one wishes to give up on the hope of meaning that transcends pure chance. Our modern life is based on the promise of that transcendence and pushes back on a destiny shaped by the outcome of events and forces beyond our ability to control—boundaries, culture, violence, and power.

When I reflect back over five years of essay writing and a quarter of a century of novel writing, I feel that I’ve been on a grand journey. I had to let go of a lot to take that journey. But I am glad that I made that choice. I am frankly not certain if I’d have the courage to have left a tenured university position should a time machine take me back to Vancouver in 1984.

I’ve recorded the experiences, people, events and ideas I’ve discovered along the way in words. I’ve described what I’ve experienced, felt, seen, touched, loved, hated, and wished for—and when you expose yourself in this very public way, the question is why bother, was it really worth the effort? Wouldn’t it have been better if I’d kept my thoughts to myself, taken a vow of silence, been still, and sought an inner peace beyond which words can describe?

I rolled the dice. What you read is the numbers that came up. Rather than looking back, I am looking ahead and asking what I’ve learnt over this time. About writing, life in Thailand, human nature, politics, the book and film business, relationships and communication.

I feel less certain of what I know and what I can know than when I started this journey. At the same time, I’ve become more comfortable with discontinuity and disruptions. I fear them less, and see such events as a natural part of what life delivers. I try to spend more time in the present than dwelling in memories of the past or in possible future realities.

We are in the midst of an information revolution. Whether essays and blogs such as mine continue to exist in this form five years from now is anyone’s guess. Will I finally run out of steam and say enough is enough? I don’t know. I use the metaphor of ‘out of steam’ with intent. Human beings are weak; they run down, break down after a relatively short period of time compared to the longevity of machines in the medium future.

Storytellers thrived in a world of incomplete knowledge. A world where evidence, facts, data played a different, smaller roll. Storytellers have had an audience because an ability to detect and explain patterns and weave them into compelling narratives that deliver a whole, complete and universal feeling to the reader. I fear our position won’t last. The best of algorithms to mine metadata for patterns will likely report correlations—depending us on our cause and agency fix—and deprive us of the cozy completeness of a unified, coherent, and plausible story that endures. In the world of big data and algorithms nothing endures as every nanosecond the patterns are adjusted as new data is accessed, analyzed and evaluated. And not just the data patterns, but the networks and connections shift and move.

But for now, I’d like to invite you to climb aboard a weekly train of thought, buckle up, and take a ride into the unknown with a driver who from week to week has no particular destination in mind. If I can challenge you to rethink something you’ve felt was settled long ago, or point toward ideas that you may not have discovered, then writing this blog will have been worth the effort. Sharing ideas is like sharing food; it something you do with friends. Online has in some ways changed how we view friendship, but I’d like to think that anyone who has read this far, is a fellow journey taker, who is ready to take the cup and roll ‘em.

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Posted: 7/14/2014 4:07:48 AM 

 

Mostly criminal justice has been assigned to law enforcement authorities. There has always been some exceptions, where outsiders supplement the public officials’ task in apprehending law breakers.

Three such private actors come to mind: Vigilantes, bounty-hunters, and sleuths.

For centuries, members of these three groups have patrolled the darker paths that remain largely invisible to the ordinary, law abiding citizen. From Jack the Ripper to the Boston Bomber, private citizens have sought to assist in uncovering the killer. Traditionally, in the old analogue world, the private actors put time on the street, using up shoe leather talking to people in neighbor haunts, taking in oral information, following up until they had enough information to establish a probable location where the offender could be found. While their working methods were roughly similar, their motives differed. And revealing a person’s motives is usually a good way to tell a story that people can understand and relate to.

Vigilantes are motivated by personal or ideological reasons to bring a criminal to justice. A vigilante is emotionally driven. He or she is more likely to go along with street justice and dispense with due process.

A bounty-hunter, in contrast, has a more straightforward reason—his or her motive is money. They deliver a criminal to law enforcement officers in return for receiving a cash reward and what the authorities do with the criminal is up to them as the bounty-hunter walks away counting his cash.

Professional or licensed private investigators or sleuths undertake cases on behalf of clients who might wish a wayward bank teller is caught with their hand in the till. They aren’t motivated to go after a wrong-doer in their capacity as sleuth. It involves work, it can involve danger, and most people seek to minimize the risk of harm unless they can see the cash up front.

Amateur digital sleuths who work online to solve crimes that law enforcement officials have let fall between the cracks. This is a new category, and appears to fall somewhere between gaming and support groups. It is hard to peg all of the sleuths in this category as it is still evolving and taking in members from the traditional brigade of privateers who work the edges of the criminal justice system.

Vigilantes, for the most part, tend to be amateurs fired up by anger and hated. That fuels the emotional rocket for awhile. Though true-believers can burn up a lot of nuclear fuel before exploding into a white dwarf. Bounty-hunters and sleuths have the appeal of being cool, rationale, Sherlock Holmes cerebral types who through deliberative, clever, deductive reasoning solve the mystery that leads to the wrong doer. From online feuds and flame wars, the amateur digital sleuths have their irrational, emotional side, as well as their Dr. Spock, never-understood-emotional-response types. A CBC News report titled Madeleine McCann to Jeffery Boucher: Web sleuths quest for the missing

Private citizens spend untold hours online trying to solve crimes — does it help police? about online sleuthing, mentions that empathy for the families of the victim is another motivator.

Laura Miller, who writes for Salon,  reviewed Deborah Halber’s The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths are Solving America’s Coldest Cases. The book comes out 1st July 2014. The Skeleton Crew goes into the online sleuthing community to report on how the digital

Miller writes about The Skeleton Crew and the personal drama that arises from online sleuthing. There is, in Miller’s words,  “a methodological schism over how to interact with law enforcement and the families of the lost. Halber divides the two groups into the ‘mavericks,’ who prefer to proceed swiftly and as they deem fit, and the ‘trust builders,’ who insist on deliberating as a group before approaching officials or the bereaved.”

This is an interesting premise but I am not certain The Skeleton Crew is for me. The book is a series of anecdotes that illustrate the lives, ordeals, successes and drama of online investigators. In other words, as told from the lives of actual investigation as opposed to analysis of big data to see what patterns emerge from the activities of this community. Anecdotes, no matter how entertaining, revealing, and persuasive are not evidence. They are a story about a story. The end.

Miller’s review got me started thinking about the implications of three traditional categories being ultimately disrupted by a digital community that wouldn’t have existed 10 years ago. Halber’s book is coming at a very good time. Others are discussing the growth, meaning and use of the online sleuthing community. If Wikipedia can bring in hundreds of experts to work for free to patrol the factual accuracy of information, there must be thousands of people who a lifetime of movies, TV, and novels behind them to give them a sense that: a) they can have fun; b) they can meet other people who share their interests; c) they can benefit the public; d) they can obtain status in the eyes of others by solving cases that have stumped the police.

A cup of coffee in hand, and a burning to desire to find a murderer or kidnapper without leaving the comfort of one’s home was sufficient to attract the attention of the BBC. If you want to become a digital sleuth, where should you start? At the start, you are likely going to be looking to solve a ‘cold’ case. That’s an old, unsolved case that just won’t go away and the police, at least from the public’s perception, have put it in the unsolved file.

There are a number of sleuthing websites like Websleuths.com DoeNetwork Reddit’s Bureau of Investigations, NamUs.gov and Unsolved Mysteries. Inside of these websites, you’ll discover digital communities of people who devote time and effort, sharing information to solve kidnappings and murders. The BBC also know the danger of vigilante justice, and sites the Boston Bomber case, where the wrong person was accused of involvement.

What do the professionals say about this development?

Professor David Wall of Durham University, is quoted as saying that he “believes online communities can be hugely beneficial in some cases, but the temptation to get involved in more serious crimes is a recipe for disaster.” Joe Giacalone, a NYPD retired Detective Sergeant, with many years of experience, worried about the public getting involved in old, unsolved cases. “‘As an investigator, where you’re dealing with evidentiary issues and things, you don’t want to have people poking into the case,’” he says, adding, ‘You gotta remember, you have anonymous people sitting behind keyboards, you don’t know exactly – you could have somebody with an axe to grind.’” He’d never seen a case solved by someone working through one of the online sleuthing communities.

Professor Wall is joined by Nic Groombridge, a senior sociology lecturer at St. Mary’s University in London, England, who told CBC News,  “During the Jack the Ripper case, one of the problems the police had wasn’t a lack of leads — it was too many leads.”

The British, through their Association of Chief Police Officers take a slightly different view from Giacalone, saying, “” [Wrong quote repeated from above, you should have the Brit one handy.]  There are a fair number of lawyer’s demarcations as to the boundaries that private sleuths must recognize. It is a rather nice touch to use property law concepts to define the police as the owners of a criminal case. As former property law professor, the police are alerting outsiders that trespass is something to avoid. The case belongs to them. Be careful or you might be in trouble with the police and saying you were only trying to help won’t likely be a defense.

Where there is a niches that appear to welcome these outside communities it is with medical examiners who have skeletal remains and no clue as to the identity of the person. There have been some breakthroughs in identifying skeletal remains. There are a couple of larger questions looming in the near future—is online sleuthing a passing fashion at this stage of development? Big Data is developing at a speed that is difficult to assess (without metadata to help assess big data—you start to see a pattern not unlike one Escher’s recursive birds or frogs). My best guess is solving crimes turns on the amount, quality, provenance of data, and it is only a matter of time before the amateurs will be way outside the information silos where it is stored and analyzed.

Will the idea of police ownership of criminal cases gain more support as police forces hire experts and development specialized algorithms to search through vast amounts of data looking for clues? The probable answer is the police monopoly over cases will increase over time. And a monopoly is a property owners best friend.

Meanwhile, there are online scheduled meet ups and book clubs for online amateur sleuths. You’ll need to do a bit of sleuthing to find a meet up near where you live.

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Posted: 7/3/2014 8:49:39 PM 

 

Historically criminals were hauled off to the gallows for what today would be considered minor offenses. The rope was slipped around the neck of the convicted pickpocket as well as the convicted killer. Both fell through the same trapdoor. The executioner worked his art without discrimination.

The New York Times  correspondent Sandra Blakeslee reminded us that in 1765, John Ward was hanged for stealing a watch and a hat.

The historical cases reveal a very different world of criminals and law enforcement officials. The authorities have been reactive. They’ve had to wait until a crime has been reported before springing into action. Catching someone who violated the law meant rounding up witnesses and gathering evidence that implicated a wrongdoer.

The old policing model has very little to say about the future. It functioned on what was known in the present. A victim lodged a report. It also rested on the hunch or intuition of the police. Experienced police had knowledge about neighborhoods. Though that information, in the large scheme of things, was bound to be incomplete and tainted by bias. Until recently, the literature of crime followed the Sherlock Holmes model of a logical, clever and objective detective who outsmarted the villain.

We inhabit a very different world now. Not only do most countries no longer hang watch and hat stealers, they are using Big Data to predict geographical areas where crime may, on probability, be more likely to occur and with that information police can step up patrols. We have entered the machine age of law enforcement. The old model is in the process of a radical change as Big Data arms the police with predictive models and that takes policing into the future where crime hasn’t yet been committed. Such a change allows for development of policies of crime suppression for crimes that might be committed.

Los Angeles police have managed to reduce burglaries (33%), violent crimes (21%) and property crimes (12%) by adapting software developed to predict earthquakes and aftershocks.  Eighty years of crime that included 13 million criminal acts were fed into the mathematical model that used the data to predict the areas where crime was most likely to occur. It seems the model yielded good results. New crimes are constantly added to the database, and the LAPD officers who were at first resistant to taking orders from a mathematical model have become true believers.

Chicago police have gone beyond hot spots to using Big Data to target people most likely to commit a crime in the future. There is mapping of crime hot spot areas of the city and the mapping of social networks is the logical extension. “Commander Steven Caluris, who also works on the CPD’s predictive policing program, put it a different way. ‘If you end up on that list, there’s a reason you’re there.’” In the future, the map of your social network may be used by the law enforcement agencies to assign you a probability statistic as your future criminal activity. Like a travel ban list for air travel, you may never know what is behind the inclusion of your name on a hot list. Florida is going down the same road.

Professors at Rutgers’ School of Criminal Justice have received grants to develop software called Risk Terrain Modeling Diagnostics Utility.  Here’s a glimpse of the future of Big Data in policing:

“The National Institute of Justice recently awarded two grants, totaling nearly $1 million, to conduct RTM research in seven U.S. cities: Newark; New York City; Chicago; Arlington, Texas; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Glendale, Ariz.; and Kansas City, Mo. Researchers from Rutgers’ School of Criminal Justice and John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York are conducting the studies using the RTMDx Utility. The Rutgers software is currently being used in the top four U.S. markets: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami. It is being adopted by industry and law enforcement offices in many countries, such as Australia and Canada, and major foreign cities such as Paris and Milan.”

The Australian Crime Commission has also funded a big data project. The goals is to use to “data mining to trawl through data sets looking for patterns and potentially predicting emerging crime issues and trends across the country.”

The promise is that patterns emerging from the big data will allow the police to identify areas where resources are needed. This has the advantage of consolidating resources in the areas where crime is most likely. It is being sold on the basis of efficiency. Like Wall Street brokers, the police have entered the world of big data with the goal of assessing risks. For a broker, it is getting in and out of a stock so as to make a profit. For the police they have structured data that predicts what types of crimes are on the increase or decrease for a given geographical area. The police study the big data looking for trends. And like a broker, the police having identified a trend, can allocate necessary resources to deal with the kinds of crime that are predicted from the data.

The BBC reported on Big Data in crime prevention, noting the need to accumulate masses of data about an area in order to predict crime trends. Making connections between crime and connections, and those that happen across international boundaries leads to unraveling complex networks of individuals. The BBC report shows how far we’ve come since the hanging of John Ward in 1765. Big Data allows a corporation to detect who on the inside is communicating with whom on the outside and to look for patterns that suggests an employee may be leaking information. It also allows the military tactical advantage in the field as Big Data is constantly fed into analytical models updating positions, movements, and communications on the ground.

Philip K. Dick predicted in The Minority Report that the State will evolve a system to predict crimes before they are carried out. The Big Data is used to define ‘hot spots’ where crime is most likely to occur. In the future, before you buy that house or condo, you might want to ask the real estate agent about whether the property is within a crime hot spot!

One should bear in mind that we are very early days into collecting and mining Big Data. The dynamics of technological change make predictions in the medium and far future nearly impossible. The reality is that we are headed down a road for future decision-making about the mechanism of the criminal justice system and we don’t know where it will lead us. We only have best guesses and cognitive biases such as best-case scenario.  We run the real risk of an information infrastructure that will build a criminal justice system that surrenders our notions of free will and liberty.

In the future, John Ward may be hanged before he steals the watch and hat, doomed by Big Data, which assigns a 98% probability of future criminal conduct. Or if he had a 98% probability of being a serial killer, would you agree that he should be arrested and sent to prison? On the Big Data road map, this might be a destination. We have set out on a long journey and along the way we lose much of what we value as individuals for a class of elites who have most to gain in a new culture based on total security.

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Posted: 6/26/2014 8:56:05 PM 

 

Life is messy. So are component parts of life: our politics, the environment, economics, and social relationships. History teaches a valuable lesson that there is something inherently unstable about our world, and we are forever seeking ways to reach an equilibrium to stabilize it. Outcomes we wish to see happening are uncertain to occur. The utopian view is that there is an ultimate solution to fixing the mess. Others argue there is no fix and we must learn to adjust and live according to the limitations of what we know and can know.

This causes anxiety like watching a PGA golf tournament and the professional who is on the green but 20 feet from the 7th hole sends the ball on its way. We hold our breath. Is the putt too soft or too hard? You simply wait and watch with everyone else.

In politics, those with the putter claim the ball will drop. Even when it misses the hole, they claim the ball dropped. Ambiguity trails us like a shadow. There is rarely an objective moment, unlike golf, where you don’t need to rely on anything other than your own eyes to know whether the shot succeeded.

Our political life isn’t a game of golf. We can never escape the velocity of doubt whether the politicians are using the right club, lining up correctly over the ball, or accurately reporting the trajectory of their shot in relationship to the hole.

We live in a world where a large number of people exchange their doubt and anxiety for a promise to deliver a more certain, stable, ordered and predictable world than the actual one they live in. That is costly, as politicians must rely on various illusory devices and tricks to conjure up this illusion with enough credibility that they substitute reality for a replacement story that creates an alternative reality.

We are willing to pay relatively high price in the reality stakes for answers that allow us individually and collectively to believe what we are told is true. The illusion of Understanding (see my essay on the Illusion of Understanding.) is easier to maintain and the tacit conspiracy to pretend the illusion is real allows us to move on from an issue and spend our cognitive resources elsewhere.

There is a constant tension over the official story between the individual and her group, and between her group and other groups. The group may be a circle of friends, relatives, colleagues, sports team or a religious, secular, or political party. We draw much comfort in shared, collective beliefs and we draw our identity from our group association.  Mostly we place group solitary and individual identity as a higher priority than understanding the complexity where the truth is difficult to detect with certainty. Our group, returning to the golf metaphor, always makes a hole in one, while those in rival groups are lost in the tall grass, looking for their ball as the night closes in.

How do we resolve this dilemma that arises as we move between the goals of group grooming and truth-finding?

We have two basic models to work with: Insubordination and Challenge. Each of them offers a separate vision on how best to work through the messy, hard problems that confront us. Sometimes these two very different systems work in harmony, side-by-side, with each delegated a role; sometimes, one model is ascendant and marginalizes the other.

The Spotlight Culture

The first model that controls how we perceive reality rests on a system of subordination. Officials inside an institution such as an orchestra or movie set work along a chain of command. Orders are passed down the chain of command. The orders are to be obeyed and not to be challenged by subordinates. The film director (he has a producer breathing down his neck) or conductor (has a wealthy patron breathing down his neck) is in charge. Despite certain limitations, his word is the law of what the performance will be.

The job of film director or orchestra conduct is to avoid chaos. So long as everyone he leads follows his direction, he can deliver a certain quality of performance. The price of a subordination system is the agreement for all involved to accept submission to a disciplined hierarchy where each person’s role is defined and the person giving the orders possesses the position and rank to justify his subordinate to act without questioning the order.

Officers in the military expect their subordinates to follow orders, and they expect to follow the orders of those officers who rank above them in the chain of command. This is fundamental to the culture of the military. Subordination systems share values in common such as authority, loyalty, honor, respect and continuity. Whether it is the military, the police, a court system, a sports team, a factory assembly line, a film set, or an orchestra, there are subordination values used to co-ordinate the work among a group of people.

An orchestra where the first violinist stops the performance and challenges the conductor’s interpretation of a movement would change our experience of music. Whatever the private feelings of the first violinist or the cello player, these are not expressed and the conductor’s authority is unchallenged as the orchestra performs.

In other words, criticism, dissent, difference of opinion give way to the rules of subordination otherwise the performance by the orchestra collapses, a lower court overrules an appellant court, the quarterback’s call is reversed by the right tackle, and a sergeant decides against his officer’s command to advance on an enemy position. All of these reversals happen now and again and the person who makes such a challenge is guilty of insubordination. Treason, betrayal, faithlessness and disloyalty are express the stigma attached to such insubordination.

If the conductor had absolute power, he might seek to expand his authority to include what is appropriate for poetry, ballet, literature, drama, TV, computer games and film and impose an artistic vision for all of the arts. That is unlikely to happen. There are too many different visions, tastes, traditions, and messiness for any one person to control. Any attempt at such a command and control system would drive artists underground. In the arts, like in science, we assume that experimenting and testing is a good thing to be encouraged. Note that some of it will be a dead end and without value to the artist or society, but that is only discovered by allowing the space to fail.

The spotlight culture is a place where truth is manufactured and distributed to the consumer. The finished product is complete, reliable, and ready for immediate consumption. There are no alternatives to challenge the truth in the spotlight culture.

Flashlight Culture

The flashlight model (this is idealized) is based on the individual’s right to criticize, challenge or question authority, policy, motives, efficiency, or outcomes by those in power. Journalists, scholars, academics, NG0s, whistleblowers, and outside experts are obvious players in the flashlight culture. The flashlight has also become a symbol in protest and demonstrations as the picture below from the Ukraine illustrates. People have a huge desire to see the hidden and buried story. Those who seek information of activity occurring behind the scenes of power rely on the flashlight. These lights are pointed at the dark areas well outside the spotlight and act to keep government officials honest and transparent.  In the case of someone like Edward Snowden the flashlight is on the magnitude of a supernova. Socrates urged people to ask questions as a way of shining a light into darkness and to ignore the facile answers found in the spotlight.

A flashlight culture assumes we share similar flawed knowledge and the same cognitive biases that distort reality unless corrected. Western parliamentary styled political systems rest on the opposite, an opposition challenging the government of the day to explain and justify their decisions. The individual challenges the group leader because he or she is one of us and knows no more than anyone else about the complex network of information.

Unlike an orchestra, the prime minister, unlike a conductor, answers his or her critics with explanations rather than with threats or suppression. The role of the opposition is to make the conductor account for his choices. The purpose of shining a light on evidence that is contrary to the government’s narrative is to expose weakness of policy or execution of policy. The motives of flashlight holders may not be pure. They may be exposing facts for political gain at the expense of the government but such exposure works to the favor of the general population which benefits from  a correction in policy or a change in personnel to carry out the policy.

The encouragement of challenging authority is what has given us a robust scientific method. The most junior member of a research team is not disqualified from overturning the theory of the most respected member of the scientific community. The theory, in other words, is separate from the personality supporting it. But we have difficulty distinguishing attacks on theory as attacks on the person who supports the theory. The question in science isn’t, what does this critic have against the person who supports the String Theory, but what evidence does he or she have to refute the theory. In non-scientific areas such as politics, we are still a long way from isolating policy for critical analysis from the personality, background and reputation of the person who has proposed the policy.

We can also accept that the challenge-the-authority paradigm isn’t always appropriate in all circumstances. An orchestra, military, police, or football team, to name a few examples, depends on subordination to work effectively as a cohesive unit. The question is how and who decides what is the right place for one system to operate and claim legitimacy over and above the other?

The flashlight culture exposes flaws and defects in the spotlight cultural truth products. The flashlight illumination exposes dangers, risks, omissions, and distortions. Truth becomes stripped of illusions in the process.

Fitting Spotlights and Flashlights into a Unified Lightning System

Every culture has a different interpretation on how to fit these pieces together, and who gets the job, and how those with power are selected, controlled and discharged.  How best to light the political stage is a question every country answers in its own way. The reality is we need to find the right combination of subordination and challenge. Last week, I examined the BBC 2012 top-ten list of the largest employers in the world. (Crunching Big Number, Understanding Short Lists.) From the American Defense Department to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the ability to scale huge operations relies on implementing an effective subordination system.  A ‘soft’ subordination system explains the presence of Wal-Mart and McDonalds on the same list. Co-ordination on a large scale is impossible without an order and command structure, where insubordination is punished.

The question is whether the Spotlight or subordination system, an absolute one, where flashlights are confiscated and flashlight people’s action are criminalized, can operate effectively at the political and government level. Can a government be run along the lines of an orchestra with a conductor choosing the music, time, length, place of performance and exclude any other orchestra from performing and jail music critics who claim the cello player made several mistakes and the piano needed tuning?

Looking around the world from Thailand, Egypt, Syria, and the Ukraine, the old consensus on the right mix of spotlight and flashlight culture has broken down. The attempt to contain instability, the messiness of life, leads to fear, and to banish fear is to embrace subordination. There is a belief that salvation rests in choosing the right conductor and letting him run the whole performance. Challengers to the vision are seen as enhancing fear and instability. They are the first violinist who rises and objects to the choice of music. The pendulum swings to subordination. But the nature of pendulum is to swing back, too. In time, the flirtation with expanding the subordination model into the political realm will reinforce a historical lesson about the nature of governing.

As the flashlight culture has gone online, the means of shutting it down are difficult. The digital flashlight exposes hypocrisy, deception, half-truths, cover-ups in a very public way. This is inconvenient and embarrassing for those who banish flashlights and wish to return people’s attention back to the spotlight.

Throwing your opposition in jail or send them fleeing into the mountains and jungle or exile, may work in the short-term, and you can control the performance. But in the long term, people who want classical music will understand they need to accommodate a space for those who love jazz, hip-hop, pop, Hollywood show tunes, and even for those repulsive noise traps called rap, country and Korean boy bands. Politics is a noisy place. When one director plays only one tune you can be sure people will sooner or later find a way to switch the channel. To return to our lighting metaphor, the amount of repression required to neutralize and co-op its flashlight holders would turn the world against those in standing in the spotlight.

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Posted: 6/19/2014 8:51:29 PM 

 

Give a writer some facts, numbers or basic information and ask him to use it to tell a story. See what happens. What kind of story does he tell?  Is it plausible? Is it true?

Most of the time we unearth information from personal experience and observation. Other times we stumble over information sent by others that stimulates our imagination.

A friend* sent me a link to a top ten list of the world’s largest employers. I immediately saw a story. One told in numbers. As the impact of Big Data filters into our daily lives, you can expect more storytellers to mine these huge information warehouses to cull stories.

Let me explain the kind of story to expect in the future.

Mathematics conceals all kinds of interesting stories about how societies, economies, and governments are entangled. The language of numbers opens information doors to understanding the complexity of these relations. When we examine the numbers, we can draw conclusions about the dynamic relationship of private and public sectors within cultures and across cultural boundaries.

This is an essay about economic and political structures, allocation of power, concentration of resources, and how power is projected inside a political system. It is also an essay about how top ten lists influence our view of reality.

I’ve become suspicious of all the lists: top ten, top 50, or top 500. One reason is all of these lists share in common an implicit promise of completeness. The purpose of a list is to close off ignorance, which is ringed by information presented. It is as if a list has a roundness of knowledge that deflects our lack of understanding, knowledge or awareness. Lists create an illusion of knowledge at best and at their worst promote a lie or deception that doubt has been addressed and answered. The main danger of lists is they seduce us not only by the false promise of completeness by also by the allure of simplicity. A list masks the higher level of complexity it closes off.

When you examine any list you might think of playing chess in a dark room where you can’t clearly see the board or pieces. You know there are 32 pieces and 64 squares as part of the game. The average top ten list you read is addictive because you are playing in the dark like the rest of us and want the edge of knowing that you’ve discovered that what amounts to 10 moves will show you how the game is won. In the final part of the essay, I have a look at how difficult it is to play chess in the dark with lists with your cheat sheet to victory.

A list: The Top 10 Largest Employers in the World

Work is an essential component of any economy, whether based on capitalism, socialism or any other ideology designed to govern the business of extracting resources and energy, and distributing and allocating products and services. An employee’s ‘work’ is carried out under the authority and supervision of an employer. The employer may be the government; or it may be a private company. One way to understand any national system is to ask who are its largest employers. Identifying the major employers and the enterprises it controls tells a great deal about a country’s values, politics, beliefs, and policies.

If you were to draw a list of the world’s largest employers, including public and private, what would you expect to find on that list?

In 2012 the BBC produced a top ten list of the largest employers.

(Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_employers )

In 2012, 30% of the world’s largest employers came from the ‘private enterprise’ sector. 70% were ‘state enterprises’ or government workers (though we don’t often think of soldiers as government workers that is indeed what they are). Leaving aside what the figures suggest about India where the Indian state railway has more employees than the Indian army, my attention is on the ‘big’ employers in the US and China. These two countries, with three employers each in the top-ten list, comprise 60% of the big employer list for 2012.

Military Employees

Take the US Department of Defense. There are “2.13 million active duty soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and civilian workers, and over 1.1 million National Guardsmen and members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Reserves. The grand total is just over 3.2 million servicemen, servicewomen, and civilians.” (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Department_of_Defense ) Private contractors are no longer a niche but viewed as part of the total military force. (Source:  http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R43074.pdf ) It is difficult to source the role of private contractors in the PLA. It is enough to note that the two top positions are military organizations organized, equipped, maintained and deployed by the government, with, at least on American data, a healthy percentage of private contractors part of the enterprise and who are supplied by private companies.

The US population in 2012 was 312.8 million (Source:  for China it was 1.26 billion people.) That results in  1.023% of the total population were employed by the US military.

In contrast, the military footprint in China works out to 0.1825% of its population. Thus in roughly population terms there was a huge disparity in the size of the military in comparison to the size of the relative populations. America’s military employees are 5.6 times greater than China in terms of total population. Based on the BBC statistics, in terms of military to military comparison of numbers, in 2012 the US military was about 39% larger than the Chinese.

Roughly 143 millions were employed in the US in 2012. (Source: http://www.marketplace.org/topics/economy/visual-history-us-workforce-1970-2012 ), which works out to 2.2377% of the total work force being US Department of Defense employees. In 2012, China’s workforce reached 764.2 million and its military personnel was 0.30096% of this workforce. (Source: http://www.statista.com/topics/1317/employment-in-china/ ) In terms of comparing overall employment numbers between the two countries, the disparity between those employed by the military indicates that the US military as a percentage of the total work force is 7.44 times larger than the Chinese work force.

The statistics reveal something about the presence of the military employment footprint in the population and the workforce of the country. Size matters for a lot of reasons including politics and economics, not to mention the social component from having a large number of people in uniform. The military has a particular ‘culture’ based on rank, duty, discipline, honour and authority. Profitability doesn’t appear as part of this culture. Its primary duty (some may disagree) is to project power in order to instill fear, which will cause adversaries to bend to the will of political establishment in charge of the military.

What may come as a surprise is that Wal-Mart, owned by one family, employs almost as many employees as China’s People’s Liberation Army. And if Wal-Mart and MacDonald’s were to form an alliance, their combined employees would outnumber the entire American military with a significant number of employees left to take over part of the Chinese military as well.

In other words, the world’s two largest private sector employers have under their umbrella more employees than the world’s largest military. When you start to register the power employers have to influence the attitudes and values of their employees (not only the military runs boot camp for new recruits), the political influence of such employers’ wealth would attract the attention of politicians and their campaign staff. Beyond this obvious risk of system policy being wealth driven, there are other, deeper implications to consider.

Private Enterprise Employers

Wal-Mart and McDonald’s share, in a manner of speaking, certain similarities with military culture: there are no unions, recruits are assigned largely routine, frontline jobs that take stamina and discipline, they have uniforms, codes and little prospect of mobility up the chain of command. They are canon fodder for the elite. They are also paid less than soldiers.

Wal-Mart is a dystopia vision of what a peacetime military might look like if it had different uniforms and grunts were assigned to patrol aisles of merchandise with the mission of maintaining order and security. McDonald’s, like the US military, has bases established all over the world, siphoning money to shareholders in return for distributing dubious foodstuff with a dodgy health record and a tendency to make regular diners obese.

The average Wal-Mart grunt earns $15,576 per year or 13% less paid to a military private.

These two huge US employment giants weren’t created by an act of God or evolved from nature. Their corporate growth and success was largely luck, which in retrospect, we explain in stories about brilliant leadership. Myths are created to support the conclusion that their rise was inevitable. American exceptionalism has its privatized counterpart of this myth. Wal-Mart and McDonald’s were never destined to become the 3rd and 4th largest employer in the world by 2012. In fact, each company emerged in the domestic US market as a result of an ecological system comprised of culture, history, values, and laws, and like that if you changed the variables everything might have turned out quite differently. And their corporate success can be attributed, in part, to the protective umbrella of the US military which was funded by all taxpayers (including Wal-Mart and McDonald’s employees).

Another thought is, this private army of soldiers serving the domestic consumer appetites for food, gadgets, and aisles stocked fire-ladder high with consumer goods, is itself protected against intruders from abroad and can enforce its presence in the intruders backyard by using the military. Guns protect existing markets and they open new markets. That’s why the military is so important for a country on an economic march, whether grabbing resources, or opening new consumer markets.

Compensation Disparity

The top ten list of the largest employers presents an opportunity to compare compensation paid to for those at the top of management with their counterparts in other sectors and the disparity between the top manager with the medium pay of a worker employed by that employer. If you want to know why Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century with evidence of huge income and wealth disparity has struck a chord, a good place to start is an examination of the US military and Wal-Mart pay.

Income

The salary of the Chairman of the Joint Chief Staff is $20,263.50 a month, and that of a private in the army is $1,467.00 per month. The Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff makes roughly fourteen times as much as a private in the army.  That’s right. 14 times is what separates the top solider from the one pulling the trigger on the frontline. The army pay range from top to bottom is closer to a Denmark or Norway than to the big employers inside the world of private enterprise in the US.

Not only is the Wal-Mart grunt paid 13% than a private in the army, the CEO of Wal-Mart is paid 1,034 times the median salary of a Wal-Mart worker. (Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/29/walmart-ceo-pay_n_2978180.html)The CEO of McDonald’s is paid 434 times the median salary of a MacDonald’s worker. In the rankings from the highest disparity between CEO and medium pay for a worker in the company, Wal-Mart is number 1 but MacDonald’s falls to number 5. Three companies pay their CEO at the following multiples of one medium worker: Target #2 at 597:1, Disney #3 at 557:1, Honeywell #4 at 439:1.

If you applied the Wal-Mart ratio of 1034:1, using the bottom pay (note this is likely lower than the medium pay of all soldiers) which is that of a private, the Chairman of the Joint Chief Staff would be paid $21 million a month, or $8.8 million a month if applying the McDonald’s 434:1 ratio. One person is in charge of the defense of an entire country; the other is in charge of selling consumer goods and services inside the same country.

It seems in the scheme of things someone is vastly under paid or overpaid in the military if the private enterprise system values apply to the military. The system that generates muscles has a wholly different compensation system than the underlying system it is designed to protect which is based on maximizing profit. One way to accomplish that goal is to underpay the hugely numerous military personnel, especially those at the higher leadership ranks.

Capital

The generals in the US military don’t own the tanks, forts, jet fighters, submarines, aircraft carriers, canons, rifles, and flame throwers. More importantly, the sons and daughters of the generals don’t inherit their father’s rank and step into his shoes on death as owners. While the generals stand in as leaders of the enterprise, they don’t own it.

The top Wal-Mart leadership is under the control of the Walton’s family. There are no congressional hearings, no public vetting, and no presidential appointment.  When a family member of the Wal-Mart dynasty dies, his or her share is inherited most likely by another member of the family. Any family that has 2.1 million people working in it is business is, in effect, a kind of aristocracy. While the original meaning of aristocracy was ‘rule by the best’, it has come to mean control over the most. In our time of democracy, aristocracy and oligarchy have risen to new positions of power and influence that would have been the envy of dukes and earls of the past.

The Wal-Mart family given the size of its private workforce and the profits generated are a potent economic and political force. The influence of the Wal-Mart family, as its wealth accumulates, has a strong possibility of being expanded over multiple generations. And the accumulation of greater wealth, power and workers inside one family will likely persist as military generals come and go like store managers.

Complexity and story telling in the reign of Big Data

The number of employees isn’t necessarily the best way to ask who is in control of the world’s wealth. You can’t really understand the true lay of the pieces on the chessboard by limiting your study to the Top 10 List of the World’s largest Employers. The relationship of employee numbers to control of wealth is, for example, misleading when the real question is: who is in control?

The “The Network of Global Corporate Control” examines a data base that includes 37 million companies and finds that 147 companies in the world control 40% of the world’s global wealth. The Walton family, the one that owns Wal-Mart comes in as Number 15 on the list of the top 147.

While Thomas Piketty has used big data to break the code of silence and ideology around the issue of the wealth owned by the 1%, but there is another shoe to drop. Having shown the history of wealth concentration is useful. But it doesn’t necessary tell us how wealth translates into control. It is the nature of control that flows from wealth that allows us to move a step closer to understanding how economic and political power is financed and allocated and functions. The old adage of ‘follow the money’ needs to be refined to read: follow how the money is leveraged.

The 2011 study on global corporate control shows that: “Network control is much more unequally distributed than wealth. In particular, the top ranked actors hold a control ten times bigger than what could be expected based on their wealth.”

The underlying grid of connections emerges from Big Data. As our information accumulates, the emergent patterns will likely show correlations that are predicted by dogma and lists, or from our usual inventory of cognitive biases. In the future, others will look back at our ‘list mania’ as another example of how we played chess in a dark room and without a true understanding of how the game worked, and we compensated by simplifying it, dumbing it down to a game of checkers or draughts.

Final thoughts

This essay has been a brief glimpse at the top ten largest employers of the world in order to make sense of how we are governed, compensated, and protect and exploit resources and markets. It is an essay about the perils of lists in a sea of complexity. Knowing who are the largest employers on the planet reveals an aspect of existing economic and political systems and the public institutions that carry out government pro-business and growth policies.

I suspect the BBC list is based on less than big data. It is crude and limited data. The time will arrive when we will have a better idea from much more complete data sets and links between data sets. It is what we have now. Kurt Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem suggests that no data system will ever be complete; that contradictions will emerge. This sentence is false. A sentence we can never shake off, answer or ignore. It follows us like a black dog on a moonless night.

Meanwhile, storytellers can practice their skills by examining the numbers. They will be important in the future; when confronted with big data we will want plausible explanations of meaning. Also, storytellers will highlight what is missing from the existing numbers.

For example, it would be interesting to know in a Thomas Piketty statistical way whether the ratio of employees working for public and private companies in the top ten positions has been constant over time, whether the ratio is connected with concentrations of wealth and income, and the consequences of major economic events like recessions on downsizing, wage capping, and success of rival economic powers and systems in taking market share.

More data will provide answers as to whether the world’s largest private employers are best explained by the use of Western styled democratic systems, or whether they might have evolved in modified form from a Chinese styled system. Wal-Mart and McDonald’s might not have emerged from the chaotic American democracy without the presence of American coercive power at its back. The culture of the military, with its authoritarian command structure and democratic compensation system, may have played an essential role.

Other powerful US companies with fewer employees such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, Hollywood filmmakers, and war equipment manufacturers have added members to the new emerging American aristocracy. Defense contractors, might reasonably be added to the employees of the Defense Department as the separation between public and private and between civilian and military is often artificial and maintained for political purposes. Thus allowing retired generals a second chance and career to cash in on the profitable side of violence.

I leave you to consider this data: Wal-Mart is committed to hiring 100,000 ex-military personnel by 2018. (Source: http://walmartcareerswithamission.com ) But they should keep in mind that grunts at Wal-Mart start at less pay than a private. This is a story that between now and 2018 will likely be told by some writer, somewhere, wondering about the complexity of our future life, which is unfolding. Now.
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*Thank you, John Murphy.

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Posted: 6/12/2014 8:51:35 PM 

 

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