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Blog Archive August 2014

Obey

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.

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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.

Posted: 9/4/2014 8:59:44 PM 

 

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 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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Posted: 8/28/2014 8:58:53 PM 

 

Baby Factory Dad—The Coming of the first Super Baby Maker Dad Singularity

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.

Posted: 8/21/2014 8:56:26 PM 

 

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 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.

Posted: 8/14/2014 8:47:41 PM 

 

 

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