All books can be indecent books,
Though recent books are bolder,
For filth (I’m glad to say) is in the mind of the beholder
When correctly viewed,
Ev’rything is lewd. - Tom Lehrer, “Smut”
My miscellanea and update columns have always been popular, but I’m getting so many items now that it’s become too cumbersome to organize them on a monthly basis as I have been; since I write most of my columns days or even weeks before they appear, my present format tends to make some of the features “stale” by the time I present them. So I’ve modified an idea used by SWAAY and Tits and Sass (both of whom present “Week in Links” columns) and by The Agitator (which presents such a list nearly every day) to create “That Was the Week That Was”, a weekly feature which will appear every Saturday (though sometimes shifted by a day where necessity demands). This won’t just be a list of links; it will look pretty much like my traditional miscellanea and update columns, but combined and appearing weekly. The first few installments will cover stories from January and early February, but by the end of the month each column will feature only items which came to my attention in the preceding week (even if the actual story is somewhat older).
Incidentally, I’ve borrowed the title as well as the concept. Readers over 50 (or those who, like me, are fans of vintage television which aired before they were born) may recognize the name as that of a satirical sketch comedy show hosted by David Frost which ran in the UK for two seasons (1962-63) before moving to American television for one more (1964-65). It satirized current events and did not shy away from controversy; it was thus in a way the ancestor of programs like The Daily Show, Not the Nine O’Clock News and Politically Incorrect…and considering the way I lampoon the writers or characters in many of the articles I cover, I felt it was an appropriate title. I’ve never actually seen an episode, but I know of it from my reading on the background of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and from the work of Tom Lehrer, who wrote a number of current-event-inspired songs such as “Wernher von Braun”, “National Brotherhood Week“ and “The Vatican Rag” for the American version.
Without further ado, let’s look at a story from Week 1 of 2012:
Update to “Sex, Lies and Busybodies” (January 27th, 2012)
The news about the rescue industry scam run by a group of Australian cops called “The Grey Man” broke on January 6th, but wasn’t mentioned here until three weeks later. In a perfect example of why this format change was necessary, this follow-up to investigative reporter Andrew Drummond’s initial “Grey Man” story was published on January 7th, yet isn’t appearing here until today. See what I mean?
The village of Baan Khun Suay in Northern Thailand is populated by people of the Akha Hill tribe. They earn a living from farming rice, tea, and coffee, and are poor but self-subsistent…they hit the headlines when The Grey Man, an Australian registered charity which boasts it comprises ex-Special Forces men and police officers announced that its ‘operatives’ had rescued 21 children – 13 boys and 8 girls – and saved them from certain slavery and sexual exploitation…[they] also claimed that one of the girls, aged 13, had also escaped from a brothel and been taken to a police station where she was held for two days and raped by a police officer before being returned to the brothel, and…that [they] had videos of the traffickers fleeing the scene…But our investigation shows that [the children shown in pictures as “rescued victims”]…were going to school as they normally do…
…[After the "rescue" was announced] Trafcord – The trafficking co-ordination unit of northern Thailand – [told Grey Man president John Curtis that it]…was eager to get involved…Curtis [then] wrote to Trafcord saying: “…it seems that we were misreported in the Australian press that we rescued those kids. Embarrassing for us and I have pulled the story off the net. It must have been one of the other groups up there.” This was not true. The Grey Man organization had in fact put out their own press statement and the story was covered by [many press organizations and]…websites. Meanwhile Trafcord had done their own investigations and had confirmed that three grey men, had on two different occasions visited Baan Khun Suay, together with an unregistered American charity called COSA – Children of South East Asia. They had gathered a group of children together [and] posed with them for a picture, and then returned to photograph individually for the charity’s records and to show they were providing medical assistance and transport to school.
Trafcord reported its findings to [the Thai government]…who issued a statement on December 7th saying that the rescue was a scam…Curtis reacted in anger and issued threats to Trafcord…saying the rescue HAD taken place after all…readers of the Grey Man Facebook page had been getting regular updates at what was happening to the children still allegedly being held in a secret location…
Faced with this massive clash of stories… [Drummond travelled to the village and found it] comparatively prosperous for a hill tribe village…coffee shops can be found throughout Thailand selling their produce. When [Drummond] asked where the trafficked children were – it was a school holiday – all but one, who posed for [the original picture] appeared within half an hour…The missing person was…from another community. [Drummond] reconstructed The Grey Man picture outside the house of farmer Jaimuk Laisai who said: “The three foreigners came to the village…They said they wanted to help kids in the village and asked what sort of help we needed. We said the kids needed help with the school and healthcare. There was no talk about prostitution at all.” [Village elders are upset that] “…Other people are exploiting our children” and the children themselves seemed upset…about the taunts of “prostitute” given by children from neighbouring villages…
… the future for The Grey Man in South East Asia seems limited unless they can now find someone to trust in Thailand and who trusts them. They claim they work closely with Thai police and foreign police agencies, and [though] that has been true with individual police agencies and even charities in the past…they are [now the] subject of both a DSI investigation and a Thai media frenzy…[which] accused “foreign gangs” of faking the rescue to stuff their own pockets with cash. The Grey Men were even accused of being the traffickers…
Drummond (who also produced this 15-minute video on the affair) goes on to say that though his investigation indicates it’s unlikely The Grey Man has made any real money from Thailand,
The way The Grey Man presents its information using military and police jargon…and stories it puts out of attacks by men with Molotov cocktails, and bullets ricocheting [off] of cars in high speed chases, has raised a few eye-brows. On behalf of organisations in Thailand I myself have gone into brothels and massage parlours to bring out under aged girls. I am careful about it, but have never seen it as a real risk and don’t normally expect to be petrol bombed or shot at…
Going by the evidence and what we know of the rescue industry, it seems most likely that the Grey Man’s profits come from grants and from their well-meaning supporters rather than from their victims or innocent bystanders in Thailand. Their real motivation is probably not profit but rather the desire to play hero; as I said in “Schadenfreude”,
…when the speaker dwells lovingly upon lurid details, treats humans as passive objects to be done to (“rescued”, “saved”, kept from making their own choices, etc) instead of helped, arranges as many photo-ops with starving children/trafficking survivors/disaster victims as possible and makes sure that his own name and image are always prominently associated with his crusade, one can be…certain that one beholds a narcissistic “baby person” whose interest in tragedy is his own self-aggrandizement and a paternalistic satisfaction in controlling “lesser” (usually brown-skinned and/or female) people “for their own good”. The “rescue” industry is stocked to the rafters with such people…
In the next edition of this feature tomorrow, we’ll look at items from the second week of the year.
One Year Ago Today
“A Distorted Lens” is an introduction to Iceland’s particularly nasty variety of the Swedish Model, which has also banned stripping and is now taking aim at porn.