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Blog Archive May 2012

Black Magic Karma Changing Crimes

Last week I discussed the way writers, among others, can gather up unconnected events, people and things and find an underlying theme that binds them together. The mental process involved also explains the infatuation with shamans, gurus, fortunetellers, palm readers and crystal ball gazers. Those who claim access to the hidden forces of the universe in the coupling of unrelated events that lends them a magical quality and promises success in love and business.

It can also be a good term to examine a police case.

Last week in Bangkok, the police received a complaint that hotel guest had heard the sound of ‘ghostly’ babies crying from a room. That’s right: babies. Not just one baby crying. The police immediately dispatched their ghost buster unit to investigate. It might seem strange that the police would rush to a hotel because someone heard babies crying. Babies are known to cry. At any given time, there must be thousands of crying babies in Thailand. Some of them may even sound ghostly.

But in this case, the ‘ghostly’ crying babies launched something not unlike a ghost busting SWAT team to the scene.

The Crying Baby Unit discovered the hotel guest wasn’t in the room where the reported crying had been heard. They couldn’t hear ‘ghostly’ crying babies either. The babies had apparently stopped crying or maybe there was a more sinister reason. Not satisfied they had an adequate answer, the police returned to the hotel several hours later. This time they found a British national, a twenty-eight-year-old ethnic Chinese man named Choe Hok Kuen, in room 301. (That could be a ‘lucky’ number for those who connect numbers associated with accidents, deaths, suicides and other misadventures with the number on lotto tickets.)

The police search earlier hadn’t turned up one crying baby that sounded like a ghost. Not even a non-ghostly crying baby could be heard. Hotel rooms tend to be small in size. I imagined the police looked around the room, maybe knelt down and had a look under the bed, checked out the bathroom. They found no sign of a baby, crying or otherwise. Room 301 was baby clean. But there was something new to search this time. Mr. Choe’s shoulder bag became the focus of attention. Inside, like in a good mystery, was a key to another hotel.

One of the police must have reasoned, “Could the suspect have stashed the crying babies in another room, in another hotel?”

There was only one way to find out. The police escorted Mr. Choe to the second hotel.

The police likely tossed the second room looking for crying babies and had no more luck than in Mr. Choe’s first room. Someone decided it would be a good idea if Mr. Choe opened his luggage. Just to be on the safe side as that was the only place left they hadn’t search for crying babies. After all, they did find a key in his shoulder bag. The MO of this criminal suspect was to keep incriminating evidence in some kind of a bag.

Instead of a crying baby, the police discovered as they opened Mr. Choe’s luggage, according to the Bangkok Post, “six fetuses wrapped in gold leaf and tied with religious threads.”

Rather than a crying baby, the police announced, “I believe it’s the world’s first body snatcher bust involving the commercial trade in fetuses,”

Following this investigative coup, the police interrogated Mr. Choe about the six dead babies in his luggage. He confessed to the police that he was a Master of Witchcraft. He didn’t say which university had conferred the master’s degree or if it was done through a correspondence course at a polytech in the East Midlands. Mr. Choe said he also had a website where he offered black magic and divination services, which could be ordered as easily as biscuits and a cup of tea from room service.

After Mr. Choe’s promotional and marketing statement was recorded, the police steered the conversation back to the six fetuses in his luggage. He must have raised an eyebrow and stared at them as if only a child could ask such a silly question. The babies—called kumarn thong (‘golden baby’ in Thai)—were essential elements in a black magic ritual. And he sometimes sold one or two fetuses to believers who wanted one for home ritual use. He bragged he sold one for a million dollars. It always comes down to money.

This hadn’t been Mr. Choe’s first time on shopping expeditions for kumarn thong. Since 2007, he’d been shopping in Thailand 16 times for dead babies. The police speculated Mr. Choe’s supply chain likely led to abortion clinics. An investigation is being launched to determine which clinics might be in the fetus selling racket.

Returning to the beginning of this essay, the market for kumarn thong is a classic example of apophenia. The gold leaf, the religious threads, Khmer writing on the dead babies—all unconnected items are vested with a magical über-connection empowering a person to succeed in business and love. This is the kind of connection that requires ‘faith’ or ‘belief’. It is without any testable foundation. Not experiment can confirm or deny the claims. It stands outside of science, logic or reason.

It is at the mad, extreme end of superstitious end of human belief systems. Who doesn’t wish for success in business and love? The answer—there are enough rich people willing to believe that a dead baby, a shaman, and a ritual will bring such success to keep Mr. Choe returning to Thailand 16 times in five years.

As for Mr. Choe, he faces charges of concealing human corpses, and could face up to one year in prison and a 2,000-baht fine. Only our black magic ghost story doesn’t end here. The six fetuses found in Mr. Choe’s room have been stored in the evidence cabinet at Plabpachai Police Station. A women police made an offering of red Fanta soda and yoghurt. Afterwards, several police officers at the station claim to have heard a whispering voice “the white chubby lady is very kind.” Stay tune for a follow up report as to whether the ghostly whispering and crying is next heard in the courtroom as part of the testimony in this case.

Posted: 5/31/2012 8:53:48 PM 

 

Apophenia

Apophenia sounds like the name of a band from Macedonia sent to perform at the annual Euro Song Contest.  The term was coined by Klaus Conrad in 1958 to describe a psychological state of a person who spontaneously made connections between unrelated events, people, object and infused that connection with a powerful, abnormal meaning. Apophenia began as a term to characterize a type of mental illness.

Over the years the definition of apophenia has broaden from a specialized medical condition to be used as a more general description of the mental states of gamblers, paranormal believers, religious believers, conspiracy theorists, lotus and mushroom eaters. The underlying impulse is the search for causation. It is difficult for a person to accept that randomness kicks out all kinds of events that aren’t casually connected. Promise a casual connection and you’ll find an audience for the connectedness you are pedaling. Politicians and economists exploit this mental need daily.

In Thailand, when someone famous is killed in a car crash. Thousands of people will buy a lottery number based on the number of the registration plate on the crashed car of death. Apophenia. Parliament is opened after consulting astrologers or monks (or both) for the auspicious time for the opening. Or a new cabinet minister wishes to arrive at the office at the most auspicious time to start his job. Apophenia. Thai culture is no different from most cultures. Cultures around the world, politicians, pundits and priests tell stories riddled with apophenia. It is a behavior so ingrained that we no longer see it for what it is.

And of course, apophenia is necessary condition state of mind for writers of fiction (and non-fiction). A mild case of apophenia is a novelist’s secret weapon that brings readers and literary success. We spend our working days seeing spontaneous connections between unconnected events, people, and lives, and weaving meaning into those connections.

We experience a scene, a smell, a sound or a taste and our automatic impulse is to fill the patter into a story. Think of the last time you were on a train at 10.30 p.m. in a major city. The rush hour has flushed down that the time drain. People on the train that time of night are different from the rush hour crowd. Have you looked around and thought about possible connections among the strangers riding in the same carriage?

There’s a middle-aged woman holding a boutique of flowers leaning in a space near the door. She could sit down as there are empty seats. But she stands with her flowers. Across from her is an older man. They are likely strangers. But you see a connection. They have matching gold bands on the third finger of their left hand. You suddenly tell yourself they are married. They are poor. They don’t have a car. They’ve been out celebrating a wedding anniversary but it didn’t go well. They had an argument and aren’t talking. He gave her flowers earlier, and now they are a mockery of the silence between. That’s apophenia. They are actually strangers. They’ve never met. They will never meet. Except in your mind.

Seated down the car are three workers in matching light blue uniforms with dark blue collars. There is a company logo over the front right pocket. The three women are in their late twenties. Two of the women are slightly overweight. They sit together. The third woman, who is prettier, sits four seats away between a retired man and a teenager with a New York Yankees T-shirt. They are going home from work. They are office cleaners. The two women sitting together have received pink slips from the company. This is their last day. The money in their pocket is all the money they have. The woman sitting apart has kept her job. The two women who have been laid off believe she has been giving sexual favors and that is why she has been kept on.  In fact, when the three got on the train, there were not three empty seats together. They were separated not by choice but by availability. They haven’t been fired.  It is another workday, and they will be back on the job tomorrow.

That is a simple train ride. Someone with apophenia makes these spontaneous connections throughout the day, in every setting, and out of all the unrelated people, events and objects that she has experienced. If your mind automatically switches into this method of assembly of people and events to tell a story, then you have the right mental stuff to be a writer.

There is a bit of insanity in a writer. Normal people—meaning those who rarely write out of imagination (except for expense account vouchers) live in a different mental world. One separated by how one goes about interpreting patterns, meaning, and purpose from ideas, thoughts, images, objects, the driftwood of materials that lands on our beach each day.

Apophenia is our brain trying to make sense out of unrelatedness of things and people we experience. We recoil from randomness and chaos. We don’t go around telling ourselves there is a pattern in everything, and that, if one peers long enough, there is a connection of meaning. But our behavior suggests that we don’t have much free will to do anything but continue to make such connections. What appears to be ‘noise’ in the system is merely an invitation to an artist to interpret the ‘noise’ as have a relationship among the parts and those parts put into a whole suddenly are meaningful.

Most people can’t resist being seduced by such connections.

People who claim to see images of religious figure in a toasted cheese sandwich or in clouds are an example of apophenia. It isn’t only religious people who suffer from this condition. So do gamblers who see connections that aren’t there. Astrologers, mystics, drug users, and others occupy a world where the lego bricks of reality are all around them and they spend their time assembling castles in the sky.

Films like the Twelve Monkeys and The Matrix tap into our inner desire to embrace apophenia. Blue pill, red pill choices of how much apophenia you can handle is an enduring metaphor of The Matrix. Films like these tapped into that apophenia that lurks below the surface in many people, drawing connections between all kinds of unrelated persons, events, and places with patches of non-linearly woven into the fabric of the story. Philip K. Dick, the science fiction author, took drugs, which he claimed opened a gateway to a secret knowledge or insight into an underlying, unseen casual agent that connected everything, fleshing out a deeper meaning. He also thought that he saw a stream of gold light radiated from a fish necklace.  Drugs. Did I mention, Philip K. Dick linked this vision with the drugs he’d taken?

Mystics and religious figures take apophenia to the logical extreme—all of the world is information and all of that information is interconnected. Seeing this unified oneness is enlightenment.

An epiphany is making a connection between two unrelated events that illustrate a deeper meaning, and underlying casual connection others have glossed over or ignored. Science has such moments.

A powerful emotional experience can create the need to creatively connect that experience with unrelated events. Kurt Vonnegut’s novels are an example. During WWII Vonnegut had been a prisoner of war in Dresden. He was in the city when Allied bombers fire bombed it turning “the cellars where 135,000 Hansels and Gretels had been baked like gingerbread men.” Slaughterhouse Five was his way of connecting the unconnected into a meaningful story of massacre. Other novels danced around that event, drawing from that experience.

What vests a fiction author with the mantle of credibility over another author who can turn a phrase just as well in the contest to attract the attention of readers? Many factors come into play. But one element does matter when we read a narrative that asks us to believe in the connection between people, events and it can be summarized in three words: “I was there.”

I bear witness to the experience. I saw the bodies, experienced the terror, suffering, pain and horror. On the train, I saw the woman holding flowers on her way somewhere. I connected her, the flowers, a stranger across from her into a story. Other people in the train had their faces in their iPhones or iPads, with the connections uniting their world being made online for them in a digital world. The nature of what we mean by ‘experience’ is evolving from the world of Kurt Vonnegut. We shelf life fire exercises for computer simulated games. Predator aircraft for manned fighters. Slowly we are removing ourselves from the world of first hand experience where all that unrelated, confused, and random bits float, collide, bounce off each other, waiting for someone to connect the dots.

Readers still seek to know the meaning of unrelated things and events. We thrive on clean, cool, compelling connections, ones that give us a sense that our ideas of causation have not been violated. Chaos makes us frightened and lack of casual connectedness frightens us even more. Evolution has wired apophenia into us allowing us a convenient way to experience the world. Even though some of the attributed causation may be false, or the connections turn out to be dubious and phony, apophenia is what gets you through the day and night. Rather than a definition of insanity, at the least in the mild forms, it may be a precondition to remaining sane.

We look to the imagination of an eyewitness to bring us to where he or she stood and we want to know what it was like for the small golden fish to radiate the meaning of the hidden universe where all things are connection in a vast empire of information.

Next time your financial advisor or best friend emails you with a surefire way to make a financial killing, you can reply that you are waiting for the average rainfall in Vancouver in October to correlate with average number of tourist arrivals in Bangkok for the month of December in order to trigger a sell order for your shares in Apple and to execute a buy order in gambling casino business in Cambodia.

After you finish this essay, pick up any newspaper, go to any blog read what the writer has to say, or flip (or scroll) through the book you’re reading and give the author a rating on the apophenia on a scale of 1 to 10. Assign a ‘1’ is for no connections of unrelated events or things. Give a ‘10’ for so many such connections and offering a causal bridge linking them all that the person is insane or enlightened. Remember the greater speed in making patterns from data, the higher the IQ. That’s right. This is what is tested when given an IQ test. We have a cultural bias that we all buy into—slow pattern-making means a person is mentally less capable, less bright, and less able to pull together, assemble the correct pattern in front of him.

It seems we suffer either way. When a person finds it difficult to draw patterns from unrelated symbols, events, or experiences, means he has a low IQ. But the person who easily finds the underlying causes that spontaneously brings meaning to unrelated things has a high IQ. How effectively you deal with such pattern making determines whether you are crazy, stupid, or on drugs. Finally ask yourself, what rank would you assign to yourself in the way that you connect unrelated events and experience.

After all, one thing is certain: Only you can say “I was there.” And only you can also say that in Twelve Monkeys and The Matrix only an imagination created that space. No one was ever ‘there’ and the Hansels and Gretels gingerbread men are not the same as a 135,000 people who had been incinerated while Vonnegut had survived. The science fiction inside Vonnegut’s head didn’t spring solely from his imagination; his way of connecting events came from the way things had been connected during his WWII experience. Everything Vonnegut wrote connected back in one way or another to his experience of the firebombing. He had been there. And he took us there with him, connected us to those events through his novels.

Posted: 5/24/2012 9:05:51 PM 

 

When Poo has the Wrong Bad Smell

Governments in most places want to help citizens who struggle to make a living. Thailand is no exception. The law of unintended consequence unfortunately comes into play when government policy attempts to control market forces. Greed is a bulldozer that ploughs through Wall Street, it also rolls through the rubber plantations and rice fields of Asia.

In the South of Thailand there are many rubber plantations. Rubber trees require fertilizer. The essential ingredient of fertilizer is? One assumes it is poo. The people who make fertilizer, like all good capitalize, seek to maximize their profits from every bag of fertilizer. If this becomes a highly regulated business where the government sets the price, then one way to boost the profits is to sell the farmers “fake” fertilizer. It is difficult to believe that there are cheaper substitutes for poo but apparently that is the case.

What the English language newspapers in Thailand fail to say is the “fake” fertilizer story has shit hitting the fan in more than one ASEAN country. What seems to be an eccentric story from Thailand is actually a story that is spreading through the region. America had the subprime mortgage meltdown in 2008, while Asia has a subprime fertilizer story in 2012.

Vietnam also has bad boys diluting the fertilizer in their country. In Vietnam, test showed rather than 20% of organic content, the fertilizer has less than 15%. What’s a farmer in a remote area without testing to do? That’s the problem. Remote areas where the fake fertilizer is used won’t really know the problem until their crop yields tell them. The Vietnamese authorities responded with a crackdown, raiding five companies selling the fake shit. But with light fines on the light side, the crackdown won’t solve the problem. The Vietnamese solution is for the State to get into the shit business. They’re building a huge fertilizer factory. I am certain we can revisit this story in a couple of years to see just how well that solution worked.

Not to be left out of the biggest shit story to hit the region in years, the Philippines is also investigating fake fertilizer in Mindanao. The police seized thousands of bags of fake ammonium sulfate, ammonium phosphate, urea, muriate potash, and monosodium sulfate salt. This happened after the cops found the safehouse where the fake fertilizer gang had warehouses.

Tempo reported:  “The suspected leader of the gang, Edgar Calledo, and seven of his workers were caught mixing, rescaling, and resacking of suspected adulterated fertilizer products inside a warehouse in Maa, Davao City.”

They were caught red-handed. It would be good if the local reporters kept us informed about the trial of that gang of corporate thugs. How this is any different than the average derivative trader on Wall Street would require a separate essay. But I am certain by now you can see the general theory is roughly the same. Only on Wall Street, they mixed shit in with the good stuff, while in this region, to save on the cost of shit, they put in the fake stuff.

The problem can be traced to government capping the price of fertilizer. That is called price control. It means that to keep farmers and producers of agricultural products contented voters, the price of shit has to be kept below market price. If the manufacturer is a state enterprise, then the taxpayers subside the true cost of shit. But if the price control is on private manufacturer, and the cost is  rising, you would expect one of two outcomes: (1) the use of fake materials that cost much less; or (2) a refusal to manufacture and sell their product at the controlled price. The first is fraud, the second is civil disobedience.

According to the Nation,  in Thailand, fertilizer producers and retailers have put the government on notice they won’t be selling any more of their shit under the government’s current price structure. The national stocks of fertilizer are dwindling. The government is looking to import fertilizer from Malaysia to fill the gap. The government is caught between farmers who want cheap fertilizer and fertilizer companies that want a profitable return on their investment.

The lesson is that even shit has a market price and when the government policy is the private sector has to bear the cost of production even though this not only wipes out their profit margin but puts them in a loss position, something has to give.  The alternatives aren’t pretty: fake fertilizer, fraudulent fertilizer gangs, black market fertilizer, and damaged crop yields.

Wall Street bankers and Southeast Asia fertilizer manufacturers have more in common than anyone would have thought. They could recruit from the same pool of executives who know the best techniques of getting people to believe that a little fake shit doesn’t spoil the crop yields.

Posted: 5/17/2012 8:59:59 PM 

 

When Things Go Terribly Wrong in the World of Crime

The laws of unintended consequences and collateral damage apply to criminals just like they do anyone else.  I’d like to give some examples of ‘crimes’ that might have the judge and jury shedding tears—ones of laughter.

In South Carolina

A driver went to the trouble to find a replica of testicles. He displayed them in the back of his truck. The sheriff’s deputy stopped him and gave him a ticket. The motorist is back in the news. He’s got a second ticket for the same ‘crime’. One more time and that is three strikes and he’s out. A life sentence in a South Carolina prison where a set of replica testicles might not work out all that well for him.

In Florida

A drunk driver had his truck pulled over early on a Thursday morning by the police. He’d been clocked doing 70 mph around midnight. His companion who was riding shotgun was a ‘small monkey’. The police seized the truck and monkey and arrested the driver who’d had a history of DUI arrests. No word on how much the monkey had drunk.

In Munich, Germany

A 17-year-old biker made a point of giving the finger to one of those CCTV cameras that monitor the traffic. Not once but 26 times. He cleverly covered his face and removed his license plate. The police laid a trap for him at the end of a tunnel and the biker confessed to crime of displaying his middle finger at the CCTV camera.

It wouldn’t be a good German crime story with out further evidence that comes from a strong scientific background and understanding of procedures, permits and technology. It turns out the biker had the wrong license for the bike he was caught in carrying out his crime. No middle finger usage endorsed on the license. And the police technical expert said the 125cc bike was ‘illegal’ based on his assessment, allowing the police to confiscate it. The biker was fined, points deducted and banned for 26 months from driving. One month for every time he flipped the bird.

In Shizuoka, Japan

A fifty-year-old policeman was arrested after he approached a 25-year-old woman in a restaurant.  He crept up on her and began to lick her hair. The cop was attached a forensic unit and had been on a medical leave. The authorities were certain when the cop would return to work, or what crime, if any, to charge the hair licking forensic cop.

Pathum Thani, Thailand

One difficulty of being an identical twin is if your criminally inclined brother commits a criminal act, flees the scene and leaves you to take the heat as the witnesses identify you as the bad guy. Back in November 2010, Anek Ounwong had a fight with a group of teenagers and he used a grass cutter in what sounds like a bonsai attack on them. Anek, as often happens in these circumstances, didn’t stick around and headed for the hills. Last week he went home to find that his brother had received a four-year prison term of the grass cutter attack. The brother had tried to explain to the police that it wasn’t him. The police refused to buy his “I am a twin and my evil brother did it” story as did the trial and appellate courts. Now Anek is back in town, he’s gone to the police and confessed he was the attacker.

What was the reaction of the police? “It’s out of our hands. We can do nothing.” But the police suggested a course of action. Anek might want to petition the prosecutor’s office or the courts and explain to them what had happened.

As cases are known to move through the Thai criminal justice at a vast speed, it takes about four years before there is a final outcome—just the right amount of time for the innocent brother to get out of prison. Then the prosecutor can launch a new criminal case against the twin who committed the crime.  I doubt Anek will be able to claim credit for the time served by his brother. Though he might try. No doubt the authorities will adjust criminal statistics on assaults with a glass cutter which might well half the number of cases for 2010.

What these and many similar cases show is the role of bad luck, bad companions, bad brother, and hair licking police in the day-to-day criminal cases that happen right around the world.

Posted: 5/10/2012 8:57:21 PM 

 

ABOVE THE LAW

I studied law. I taught law. I acted as a lawyer. Still with that legal background, I find it difficult to wrap my mind around systems where people are “above the law.” In practical terms that means if they commit an offense, they are not processed through the legal justice system. They receive a free pass. This is the real world. Not one you find in law textbooks except in footnotes.

In Thailand, there are multiple examples of someone with political and social influence getting away with murder. There were witnesses. The act was caught on CCTV cameras. But the evidence is lost along the way. Nothing comes of the case. After a few months, it disappears from the newspapers, from the public mind, lost from collective memory. Time erases the crime. In the real world, our memories can only have so much overload before they no longer function.

The victim’s family in such cases is lost in the void. There is no public accountability, no explanation, no reconciliation of the rules of the system. In the real world, none of that matters a great deal. Power accumulates. Power is the gravity that shapes, bends the rules to fit the interest of the powerful.

A few days ago in Cambodia an environmentalist was shot dead as he sought to lead a couple of reporters into a forest where illegal logging was apparently going on. He was shot dead by a soldier guarding against troublemakers like Chut Wutty, who led a Natural Resources Protection Group. He sought truth and justice. In the real world, people on the side of truth and justice get into conflicts with powerful people. Push becomes a shove, and a shove moves to the next stage of a gun. “Above the law” means the death of this kind is unlikely to lead to arrest of the gun. Who it turns out was a soldier who was said later to have shot himself (twice) in the chest with his own AK47.

Chut Wutty is an example of someone who confronted powerful interest. In this part of the world, that confrontation is more likely than not going to end badly and when the gun smoke clears, there will be a body of the man seeking truth and justice. In the real world, there will be an “investigation” and no evidence will be found linking anyone powerful to the crime. There will be no trial. Only a dead gunman who killed himself.

China is in the spotlight for the impunity of Bo Xilai, ex-political heavy weight, who by press accounts waged a reign of terror against “enemies” in his city of Chongqing, which has a population of 30 million people. Bo Xilai’s wife is charged with murdering by poison British national Michael Heywood. She showed up shortly afterwards dressed in a Chinese Army general’s uniform.

In the real world, the most powerful people in Asia have political power. This is the get-out-of-jail-free card for them, their family, friends and associates. But what Bo Xilai’s downfall—a huge political event in China—illustrates is that a man may be powerful but there may be more powerful men above him. It appears that Bo Xilai wired taped the phone of President Hu Jintao who was in Chongqing. No doubt he only wanted to know what good things the president was saying about him. Unlike American banks, Bo Xilai wasn’t too big to fail. The Communist Party pulled the plug and Bo Xilai, a feared, ever powerful force who ruled with an iron-fist, is now on the sidelines. In the real world, the powerful fall only when they double cross someone more powerful than they are.

This year the Chinese government will spend around $110 billion on domestic security—the surveillance and information technology system don’t come cheap. Regional leaders like Bo Xilai had access to such systems. That allowed him and other powerful regional leaders to keep watch on the Chinese counterparts to Chut Wutty. In the real world, people who seek to remedy injustice need to be watched. And as we can see in the case of China, some significant cash is put into high systems to scan the citizens for such troublemakers.

When a forty-year-old blind Chinese lawyer named Chen Guangcheng escaped from house arrest, he found a way into the American Embassy in Beijing. His fate is still unresolved. One thing is clear. The impunity game once it is thrust into the international spotlight, the authorities scramble for cover, citing the usual reason: it is a matter of internal interest and outsiders shouldn’t poke their nose in domestic affairs. The powerful don’t like other powerful people looking down at them. That causes loss of face.

Chen’s “crime” was making noises about forced abortions and the like and the powerful wanted to turn down the volume by putting him and his family under house arrest—after having already served over four years in jail for “damaging property and organising a mob to disturb traffic.” His other crimes included: organizing a petition to eliminate taxes on disable farmers, signatures on a petition to close down a polluting paper factory, and a successful law suit to force Beijing’s subway operator to allow the blind to use the subway for free.

Clearly Chen was a world class troublemaker for the powerful. They did what powerful people who are above the law do, they take the person out of circulation. No more official charges for him? No problem, just put him and his family under house arrest. Have a squad of armed men circle the houseand beat upthe man, his wife and kid because in the real world, you can.

Chen complained of mistreatment at the hands of authorities, and that included abuse of his wife and six-year-old daughter.

What has Chen asked? Basically he’s asked the government officials not to be above the law. The Toronto Star quotes Chen, “I also ask that the Chinese government safeguard the dignity of law and the interests of the people, as well as guarantee the safety of my family members.”

The breaking news is Chen checked out of the American Embassy in Beijing and into a hospital—out of his own volition or so the American officials say. The American Embassy is gaining the reputation of a half-way house from embattled police chiefs to blind activist lawyers. They get shelter, food, some counseling before being sent back to the street. The Americans apparently received the assurance from Chinese authorities that Chen would be treated like “an ordinary citizen.” That shouldn’t be a hard promise to keep because that was exactly how he was treated. Ordinary citizens are below the law; those in power above the law, and they get to find a middle ground in the foyer of the American Embassy. You just know that ain’t going to work the way they think it will.

Here’s the executive summary. Chut Wutty is dead in Cambodia. Blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng who was hiding out in the American Embassy in Beijing, has decamped to a hospital where he will be treated as an ordinary citizen. And strict criminal libel lawyers in Thailand prevent naming the powerful killers who walk the streets of major cities in Thailand. That’s another thing worth mentioning. Speech in the above-the-law jurisdiction is inevitably censored to make certain ordinary citizens don’t start asking awkward questions about truth and justice.

Because in the real world, those above the law, remain above the law, and those who seek truth and justice will wind up in an early grave, house arrest, or the Chinese transitional guest room in the American Embassy with a map of China and suggestions of where they might next want to live.

If you live in a country where the rule of law applies to the powerful, then you should light a little candle tonight and, despite all of the misfortunes of class, race and inequality, count yourself lucky that as an ordinary citizen you can raise your voice and ask for justice. You can go public with your grievances, proposals for change, no matter that others disagree with you, and you can go home, turn on the TV and not worry that the government won’t send men around to beat up your wife and kid. Or put a bullet through your head.

Because if you lived in the real world that most people occupy, you’d understand just how dangerous truth and justice can be and the costs fall like a ton of bricks on the person making such a noise.

—————————————————

www.cgmoore.com

Christopher G. Moore’s latest novel is The Wisdom of Beer.

Posted: 5/3/2012 8:57:55 PM 

 

 

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