Archive August 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Guarding the Gold in Thailand
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
Banking moves online around the
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
|Baby Factory Dad—The Coming of the first Super Baby Maker Dad Singularity
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
|Online Commercial Sex—the Digital Age of Victimless Crimes
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.