Monday, June 27, 2011

Murder Mystery

The truth is elusive. That's what intrigues us about crime cases – real or fictional. What really happened is rarely ascertained, nor why it did. That's certainly true in the case of Alex and Derek King, who killed their father Terry when they were only 12 and 13. Their story raises more question than it answers. Is it only in fiction we can reach solid conclusions?

It happened in Florida in November, 2001. Derek, the slightly older brother, smashed his sleeping father's head repeatedly with an aluminum baseball bat. His kid brother watched it. Then they set fire to the house and fled to the home of Rick Chavis, a 40 years old friend of their father, where they hid for a couple of days before turning themselves in to the police.

Tried as Adults

The prosecutor decided that the boys should be tried as adults, which is deplorable in itself. How can they be tried as adults when they are not? That's an idea stemming from a vindictive society, taking pride in refusing to consider circumstances – as if crimes are committed out of malice alone, as if some people are evil from birth. As if compassion is perversion.

But it got more complicated, once trial procedures started. The boys changed their story, now claiming that Rick Chavis had killed their father, in order to pursue his love affair with Alex, the youngest. Alex said that they had a sexual relation. Chavis had previous been convicted of child molestation.



For some reason, the prosecutor chose to have two separate trials – one where Chavis was accused of the murder and the other where the boys were accused. This seems like a travesty of justice. The prosecutor hardly believed that there were two equally true sequences of events, not in this universe. If he couldn't decide on who was the murderer, then how could he expect a jury to do that?

Chavis was tried first, but the jury's verdict was kept secret until the trial of the boys had finished. It turned out he had been acquitted, whereas the boys were declared guilty to murder of the second degree. Later it was revealed that their jury believed the boys had been accessories to the murder, but that Chavis had been the one swinging the baseball bat.

For this and other reasons, the judge wisely decided to throw out the conviction of the boys, calling the prosecutor's double trial “unusual and bizarre”. He ordered for mediation, in which the brothers admitted to third degree murder and were sentenced to 7 and 8 years.

Chavis was acquitted from accusations of having had sex with Alex. Instead he was sentenced for hiding the boys for a couple of days after the murder and destroying evidence – washing the blood off their clothes. For that he got the maximum penalty, 35 years in prison.

It's an absurd punishment for washing clothes, so it seems he was in fact punished for other crimes from which he had been acquitted, or plainly because he was a convicted child molester.

Why Is Still a Mystery

The circumstances around the murder remain confusing, although there's little doubt as to how the actual killing took place and the whodunit. Most of all, the why is still a mystery. Why would the boys kill their father, who seems not to have abused them?

What appears most likely is that Alex feared that his father would stop him from pursuing his love affair with Chavis. Alex had confessed something of the sort, also claiming to have pushed his brother to the murder. But how could he have gotten his brother along on that?

Alex and Derek King on trial.

For most of their lives, Alex and Derek had been separated. Only seven weeks before the murder, Derek was thrown out of his foster home, where he had lived for six years. He returned to his father, with whom Alex had lived just about all of his life. So, Alex and Derek would have been strangers to one another. What bonds could they have formed in seven weeks, to make the one kill for the other?

Had their father been extremely abusive, it might have triggered Derek to defend himself and his brother, but not even the boys themselves claimed this. Instead, they both said that he was doing a decent job as a father, although in poor circumstances.

Derek's foster parents regarded him as an increasing menace and wanted to send him to military school. But his father objected to that, which is why Derek was returned to him instead. Derek must have regarded this as a noble and loving fatherly intervention. Why would he in just seven weeks grow to hate the man enough to agree to kill him?

This mystery seems not to have been investigated at any depth, neither in the trials nor after them. Maybe that was a consequence of the boys being tried as adults, so their psyches and motivations were of little interest. Only their deeds mattered and not what caused them.

Children Are Victims, Constantly

I don't understand how this could have been neglected. When children commit a terrible crime there are always circumstances leading up to it, circumstances of which the children have very little control, if any. Simply put: when children are brutal it's because adult have been brutal to them.

Adults are expected to be rational, even in moments of crisis. If abused, they should go to the police instead of taking revenge. They are supposed to control their desires, get over their disappointments, and so on. Very often adults do not. So, how can it be expected of children, who are yet to learn self discipline and to let their actions be ruled by the conscious mind?

The world of children is different. They are helpless against the injustices and misfortunes of which they may be victims, since they have no say in the adult world. In a way, they are prisoners in it. Therefore, it cannot be expected of them to act rationally in straining situations. When they try, they are usually ignored by the adults around them, sometimes even punished for it.

Mugshots of Alex and Derek King from their time in jail.

Alex and Derek King were just 12 and 13 at the time of the murder, so they had no chance of behaving in an adult way. They should not have been tried and convicted before their mental and emotional states had been properly examined and considered.

Instead, some people involved in the proceedings made smug remarks about the boys not seeming to take it seriously, not showing remorse, et cetera. Well, they were kids.

Also, it's only in the movies that people cry when they are sad, laugh when they are happy, and shout when they are angry. In reality, the relation between emotion and expression is a complex one, often confusing both to the person in question and to others.

Not Much to Gain

It's quite possible that Alex and Derek planned and committed the murder, because they calculated on somehow gaining from it. They thought they could go and live with Rick Chavis, once their father was out of the way. Then, Alex could continue his sexual relation with the man. Derek enjoyed the idea of living in a home with much less restrictions.

Rick Chavis at his first trial.

Alex seemed indeed to have some affection for the man at that time. He had written notes expressing it clearly, and he admitted readily to it in court. He was still doubted – by the jury acquitting Chavis, as well as by others. But would he have come up with such a story, especially when he would have gained much more sympathy if claiming to be the unwilling victim of a child molester?

Derek had no such interest in Chavis. Instead, he enjoyed the freedom Chavis allowed the boys – smoking weed, playing video games, watching big screen cable TV, and staying up late. Chavis obviously made sure that both the boys got what they wanted, so that he did, too.

Nonetheless, these imagined gains would hardly have been enough for the boys to go ahead with the beastly murder, were they not scarred to begin with. Deliberately killing their father with a baseball bat – I doubt that any benefits would tempt them to it. Such desperate acts are rarely done in order to get something, but to get away from something.

Cracks on the Polished Surface

It's odd that the court didn't explore the possibility that the boys might have had something they really wanted to get away from. Not even their defense lawyers seem to have investigated the possibility, although there were several indications that there might have been something rotten in the state of Denmark, so to speak.

For example, the boys never experienced an ideal home environment. Their mother left when they were very young, their father was struggling to make ends meet. He sent Derek to foster parents when the boy was around seven, and still had problems managing the home. Derek's foster parents gradually grew tired of him, returning him to his father seven weeks before the murder.

Alex was seemingly well adjusted, participating in Pentecostal church activities, as did his father. But that's an environment far from perfect for a child who might nourish feelings of sexual ambiguity.

After the trial, their paternal grandfather spoke to a reporter about his belief that the boys were guilty. He also mentioned meeting the boys when they were incarcerated during the trial, and they suddenly got very angry with each other, starting to fight so viciously that a guard had to break them up.

At another moment, Derek mentioned to his grandfather that the church he went to was prejudiced, because they were against homosexuals. Derek asked his grandfather if he was, too. He replied that he was, adding: “It's dirty. It's filthy. The Bible is against it.” The grandfather, reverend of the Pentecostal church, then asked if Derek was a homosexual, to which he replied by throwing up his arms and saying: “No, I'm not.”

Derek was obviously protective of his brother. But enough to kill, just to ascertain his brother's love life? Maybe, if their father had the same intolerant views as their grandfather did.

The grandfather also suggested that there were additional problems in the family, such as a custody battle between Terry, the father, and their mother.

Anyway, although they looked like two angels in the courtroom, Alex and Derek didn't have an easy life. This should have been examined in order for the trial to be fair.

The Court Drama

We know what Shakespeare said: “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” That's true for everything we engage in, as soon as we are two or more to interact. Well, in some cases, we do it on our own. In childhood we learn about playing games. We never stop.

It's certainly true for what happens in a court. It's a stage, where everybody is eager to show himself at his very best. The players all want to be believed, although they contradict each other. They use every trick in the book to seduce the audience, which is the twelve members of the jury – but also, nowadays, the media reporters present and through them the general public.

Of course, nobody is more desperate to make a good impression than the one accused. They make sure to dress up and behave their very best. That was true also for the King boys, when they appeared at court on their own trial. Neatly dressed, with their hair combed as if for Sunday school. Defense lawyers not making sure of it would not have done their job.

With Alex and Derek the effect was striking. They looked like two little angels worthy of occupying spots in a Leonardo da Vinci painting. Neither the jury nor the American audience watching them on Court TV could imagine such little darlings capable of striking their father's head repeatedly with a baseball bat. Probably, only Oscar Wilde would have expected it.

But in the case of these two boys, no elaborate metamorphosis was called for. Vicious tongues compared their court appearances to their prison mug shots, claiming that the latter were truer representations of them – but who would look good on a mug shot? There are photos of them from before they were arrested, proving that they did indeed look as innocently sweet as creatures of Eden.

Derek King at their trial.
The contrast between these pretty faces and the terrible crime was a sensation that added tremendously to the drama of it all. The beauty and the beast in one.

I'm not at all sure that it was to their advantage. At first, it was sure to gain them some sympathy, but through the proceedings they may have invoked a strange rage in many spectators – the indignation of beauty soiled, as if the boys were guilty because of their looks, instead of in spite of them. As if their sweet appearances were of devilish origin.

Angels or demons, instead of just children. Spectators either adored or despised them. The trial became biblical.

In Their Own Words

One of the terms of the mediation was that Alex and Derek King had to hand in two-page written confessions. Since the mediation was their last chance to avoid very long and severe prison sentences, and the content of their confessions made little difference, it's likely that they wrote those as truthfully as they were able. The documents can be found online.

Derek's confession is typed. Its structure and language strongly suggest that his lawyer helped him with it. Alex made a handwritten confession, quite hard to read because of its many spelling errors and abbreviations. The confessions have one thing in common: they deal mainly with Rick Chavis and his actions.

The first page of Alex King's confession.

It's blatantly evident that although they were supposed to write confessions, they used most of their words to blame Rick Chavis, directly and indirectly. His negative influence and manipulations are pointed out, whereas the actual crime committed by the boys is dealt with in passing.

The reason they got away with this in their confessions can only be that all those involved in the mediation really agreed with the boys about Chavis' role in the crime.

About the actual murder, Derek only writes: “Alex suggested that I kill dad. I murdered my dad with an aluminum baseball bat. I set the house on fire from my dad's bedroom.” Alex elaborates minutely more on their crime (in his own spelling): “We talked 'bout killin my dad. When we got home Derek got bat and hit dad in hed. After wile dad didn't mov. We set bedro. on fire.”

Alex's confession might not have sufficed like that, because there's an addition on a second page, separately signed: “I suggested that Derek kill my dad and that started a short talk about it. (I don't remember what exactly was said.)”

These recounts are strangely sparse. Were they not made by children, one would get the impression of complete detachment, as if the brutal murder of their own father had no impact whatsoever on them. Except for the repeated blaming of Rick Chavis, there is no explanation to the deed.

What is implied is that Chavis led the boys to it, by slandering their father (Alex even mentions that “Rik told me my dad wasn't my rel father.”) and offering his home as theirs – pointing out that their father would never accept it.

“Rik told me he was afred of wte my dad would do to 3 of us if Derek said anything,” Alex writes in his confession. In his long list of accusations of Chavis, Derek states about him that he “Told us that dad would kill us before he would let us live with Rick.”

Now, to make the two sons that afraid of their own father in such a short time period as was the case here, would hardly be possible if it were not somehow in line with their own impression of their father. If they feared him to begin with, and regarded him as prone to excessive violence in some situation, then they might be easily manipulated into exaggerating the threat. That could make them panic and act at the first opportunity, which the timeline shows is what they did.

Alex and Derek use many words in their confessions to describe how Chavis spoiled them, but they say nothing about what their home situation with their father lacked. It would probably not have been accepted in the mediation if the boys put any kind of blame on the victim of the murder, so that can be of no surprise. Still, for Chavis to be able to tempt the boys at all, not only would he have offered what they didn't get at home, but also they must have felt a strong need of getting away from their home situation.

If so, they saw their father as the only obstruction to get a much better life, which would make them even more prone to believe that he would go to extremes to stop them. In the quick escalation of events, and Chavis feeding the fire, this could have made the boys desperate. Not that their confessions spell it out, but that's where a compelling motif can be found.

The Speedy Chain of Events

Although Alex got to know Rick Chavis already when he was seven years old, their relation started several years later – probably when the boy had grown to an age attractive to Chavis. Alex wrote in his cofession: “We first had sex not long after my 12th birthday.” He was born on July 12, 1989, so that would have been in the summer of 2001. No doubt, this changed everything.

That summer was also when Terry moved to the house where he was later murdered.

Only seven weeks before the murder, Derek joined the Terry King household, after spending more than six years with a foster family and having no contact with his blood relatives. That would be early October.

The boys spent time in Rick Chavis' trailer home, now and then, until their father reacted and forbade them. He was probably not at all aware of what took place in Chavis' home, but he had become suspicious of the situation.

On November 16, the boys ran away from home, hiding with Rick Chavis. Their father reported it to the police and struggled to find them. They stayed with Rick for more than a week, before Derek was found by the police on November 24. He was returned to his father.

The next day, November 25, Chavis told Terry that he had “found” Alex. He was returned to his father in the evening. The boys pretended to have stayed in the woods. Terry and his boys spent the evening taking down the signs of the boys being missing that Terry had posted in the neighborhood. Sometime after midnight, they were back in the house.

During that night, November 26, Terry was killed. A neighbor noticed the house on fire and called the fire department shortly before 1:30 AM, and at 1:37 the boys called Chavis, who quickly came and picked them up.

Next day, November 27, Chavis drove Alex and Derek to the police station in the afternoon, where they surrendered themselves and confessed to the murder, but hiding Chavis' involvement completely.

This escalation of events through little more than four months moves straight on to the climax of the night between the 25th and 26th of November. It's like the plot of a movie. It's even in accordance with Aristotle's ideas about the drama, expressed in his Poetics. What happens seems unavoidable, where one event leads mercilessly to next.

Once Rick Chavis had made his relation with Alex a sexual one, the chain of events commenced and could not end in anything but tragedy.

Crime of Passion

What emerges in this sad story is a crime of passion. There were overwhelmingly powerful emotions erupting in all the persons involved. Indeed like a tragedy of Ancient Greece.

Chavis was probably at length unable to resist the temptation of the boy developing into something more and more desirable in his eyes. Alex was seduced and thought he had found love and a life of happiness, which he could not bear to let go once he had experienced it.

One of Alex King's notes about his love for Rick Chavis.
Terry could certainly never accept that his son was Chavis' lover, whatever he would have to do to stop it. He had not yet found out about it, but there was an increasing threat that he would.

Derek entered about halfway into this boiling drama. He obviously took the side of Alex and Chavis against the father. Although not at ease about the relation between his brother and Chavis, he accepted it. Also, it was evident that he preferred staying with Chavis instead of at home. He had no doubt that Terry was a severe threat to the situation.

Derek's role in the drama is still the most puzzling one. He had the least to gain and the least to lose, so how could he allow himself to be the very instrument of the murder? It can only be explained by immense affection for Alex. That affection was obviously mutual, since Alex later repeatedly insisted that he had urged his brother to commit the murder.

Whatever love there might have been between Chavis and Alex, the brotherly love between Derek and Alex surpassed it. It grew quickly, since they only had seven weeks together before the crime. But that's a much longer time for children than it ever is for adults.

Had they spent more time together, their mutual affection might even have worn down some, by the quarrels and fighting that's also common among brothers.

Another necessary ingredient is the home their father offered them. He was strict, isolating them from any social life outside school. That can't be done to children growing up. He also lived an isolated life. In his efforts to make ends meet he must have struggled with a sense of personal failure. There is much about that home environment not told, out of respect for the murder victim.

Also, the boys had been deserted repeatedly by their parents, who sent them to foster homes more than once. Especially Derek, who had only spent a few weeks with his father this time around, must have had little trust in any fatherly love or commitment. How could he know that he would not be sent away again, disposed like garbage?

So, there we have it. Two boys living in what they would describe as a kind of prison, fighting for their freedom. One man offering that freedom, but really intended on using the boys for his own pleasure. Another man standing in the middle of this, like a fence. How could he be anything but the target?

Terry King, father of Alex and Derek.
They were victims, all of them, but Terry seemed to be the obstacle for the others to get what they desperately wanted. He stood alone, facing allied foes and not even knowing it.

At the night of the murder, the climax of the drama, Terry must have made it clear to the boys that they would wake up to a very different situation, one they could not bear. Unaware of how much was really at stake for them, he made the mistake usually seen in action films – threatening with something horrible to happen later. It would have been enough if he just implied that drastic changes would come, for the imagination of the boys to run wild.

Alex and Derek felt they couldn't afford to wait for it. So they acted on the same night. That's desperation. What followed was despair.

Judgment Is Irrelevant

We have this ugly tendency of jumping to the opportunity of judging the conduct of others, although we rarely know all the circumstances. That reflex of ours is unbecoming. It's also irrelevant. Good and bad are inventions dependent on tradition and context. They rarely apply with any accuracy to specific situations.

I guess that everybody would hurry to agree that Rick Chavis was the real villain in the above drama. The bad guy. Well, that's only true if he had chosen his sexual orientation out of free will and was able to restrain it, which is highly unlikely. Also, it requires that the others would live happily ever after, if he had not interfered. That, too, is highly unlikely. The boys were deeply displeased with their family life and their father seems to have been miserable. That would lead to tragedy, be it of another kind.

Some people commenting the case on the Internet have suggested that Alex was the evil force of the drama, manipulating his brother to the murder, just to pursue his own lustful desire. He has been described as a narcissist, which is almost categorizing him as a sociopath. That's jumping to conclusions about a boy his age, still in the process of growing up to be whatever.

He may have been manipulated and mistaken about his true feelings for Rick Chavis, but it seems clear that he was convinced of them at the time. Although only twelve, he surely knew how his father, and most of the world, would react. If, for the first time in his life, he found satisfaction, what could he do but fight with every means for it?

And Derek, who had been discarded again and again in his short life, struggling with what is described as ADHD and emerging rebellious behavior, how could he not jump at the opportunity to live in the tolerant environment he thought that Chavis was offering? Also, knowing about intolerance, how could he not jump as eagerly to the defense of his brother, whom he had found to be just as oppressed as he was?

No, they all did what they could not refrain from doing. It could have been demanded of them to rise above themselves and overcome without submitting to violence, but we learn nothing about humankind if we just insist they should have.

When I write a work of fiction, I have one basic principle about the characters of the story. I have to understand them all, I must be able to portray them so that they make some kind of sense. I have to feel that in a given situation, that could have been me. Otherwise I'm completely unable to have the story make any kind of sense. I think that every writer would agree.

Honestly, in this sad story, the one I would have the most trouble portraying understandingly is Terry, the father of the boys. As I see it, he was unable to show his youngest son enough affection for the boy not to seek it in a predator, and he was unable to give Derek a sense of value and trust. On the other hand, it was a man deserted twice by the mother of his children, a man failing to provide even the basic necessities for a family. Also, he was probably a man entrapped by a religion without sympathy for his failures.

It's possible to understand them all, without needing to excuse or defend them.

What a Story!

Now, I look at the long text I've written about this terribly sad crime case. I had no idea I would, but I came across the story when surfing the Internet, and I got stuck. What a story!

Let's turn to Shakespeare, again: “never was a story of more woe.” There are thousands upon thousands of such stories and they all deserve to be told. What strikes me with this one is how close to the formal structure of the drama it comes. Of course, that's not because reality imitates fiction, but the other way around.

Human life is indeed one of stories, as if written in books. Some happy and some sad, comedy and tragedy. We all get both kinds in our lives. The proportions vary, though, and the world is not really fair. Some get comedy in abundance, others have their lives shadowed by immense tragedy, with few reasons to smile and none to laugh out loud.

As a writer, I am addicted to telling such stories, again and again. I'm a parasite on the lives of others, real and imagined. The sad fate of Alex and Derek grabbed me, although I knew from the start that it's not the kind of story I would turn into a book. Still, this long text is on the verge of becoming one, so I have to round it up.

Are there lessons to be learned from what happened to the King family? Certainly. Otherwise there would be no point in telling the story. Actually, if lessons would not emerge we just didn't pay enough attention to the story.

I think that this story is primarily about tolerance. Like countless times before and since, adults treated children with insufficient care and still refused to be patient and sensitive to their reactions.

The mother who left, only to return when her boys became famous, remained reluctant to face what they had become and why. The father who isolated them in his own hermitage refused to consider what it did to them. The man who lusted for them didn't care what he caused them. The court system didn't bother to see them for what they were and the situation they were in, but only considered their deed.

Actually, the only innocent ones in this story were the children. Because they were victims with no real choice of their own. The Bible states that man was given free will. Well, that's still not true for children.


Not that real free will and the power to act on it is any guarantee of children behaving exemplary. Adults don't, so children would probably not manage much better. But until they have this option they cannot be damned for their actions, no matter what they do. Whatever their own hands do, they are always in the hands of others.

Aftermath

Alex and Derek King have both ended their prison sentences, in 2008 and 2009. They made some talk show appearances and quickly reunited, though shortly. Since then, they struggle separately to continue with life in a regular manner. They are in their early twenties.

Derek and Alex King on a talkshow, after their release from prison.
This year, Alex has had renewed trouble with the law after fleeing the scene of an auto accident, probably panicking due to his previous experience with justice. He is still on probation, which can lead to him never escaping a continuing spiral of punishment, like a noose tightening around his neck.

When he was released, he joined an anti-violence campaign with Deepak Chopra, the New Age writer and spiritual adviser. That seems to have ceased. Kathryn Medico, who wrote a book about the case and acts like sort of a mother to Alex, introduced them.

Derek has succeeded in living outside the news, except for a few TV appearances soon after his release. Both of the brothers study and try to find work, which is not easy for people with a criminal record.

Their ordeal is far from over.

Two books have been written about the Terry King murder: Angels of Death, 2003, by crime writer Gary C. King (no relation), and A Perversion of Justice, 2004, by the above mentioned Kathryn Medico and Mollye Barrows. I have not had the opportunity to read any one of them. Instead, I've used Internet sources. They exist in abundance, of course. Here's a good place to start: The murder of Terry King.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Facebook Fading?

There is such a thing as a maximum, even for Facebook. Now, it seems to be declining in the parts of the world where it has the most subscribers. Internet users are an impatient lot – because they can be.

The web based news source Inside Facebook writes about a declining number of active users in parts of the world. In the USA, they have dropped from 155.2 million to 149.4 million the last month. Canada has the same tendency.

Worldwide, though, Facebook keeps on growing – from 675.4 million to 687.1 million in the last month. That's simply because the Internet users increase, especially in parts of the world where it's still not a household thing.

In the past 12 months, Facebook has increased its active users worldwide with 45%. The countries with the biggest increase are Brazil (300%), India (152%), and Thailand (133%). Now, they hope for expansion in China, which is probably the only way Facebook can reach one billion active users.

The figures still indicate that there's a limit to Facebook spread, and it's reached in countries where it has been around the longest. We see Internet fads come and go so quickly that they are very hard to predict. The only thing we know for sure is that behaviors will continue to change.

A Grown-up Myspace

The Facebook story is unusual. It started as a rather boring grown-up version of Myspace (which is still around, but way past its peak). Instead of go-crazy visual and audio designs, Facebook was the stiff white and blue setting for people terrified by the fireworks of Myspace and the chaos of the Internet in general. Sort of going back from the computer to the typewriter.

They had some silly thingys, pretending to introduce a bit of fun for the users. Poking, sending virtual beer bottles and birthday presents, and so on. Quite ridiculous. I tried it for a couple of days, but then deserted my Facebook account for about a year, maybe two.

The buzz about Facebook increased, but mainly among adults. They joined and bragged about it, as if participating on a daring expedition into the unknown. They spoke with awe about Facebook, revealing that they didn't know much about the Internet and its resources. I doubted that the fad would last, since Facebook seemed to be aimed at strangers to the Internet, and that's a dying breed.

The Internet Is an Adolescent

Well, I was wrong. What changed it all, as far as I understand, was that young people started to use Facebook as their social network. Teenagers, tired of the limitations of chat rooms and Myspace, invaded Facebook and molded it into something relevant for their needs. I believe that was what created the big boom, at least it was what made Facebook trendy. Maybe the teens are now the first ones to abandon it?

Internet is still young. An adolescent. So, to see its future, we should follow the teens. Their use of it points the way. It's like any cultural phenomena. Popularity comes and goes, trends appear and fade away, as the restless ones rush on through life in search of new sensations. We don't necessarily change to improve things, but because we need change.

The Internet market place is based on the mistaken assumption that what grows really big will remain forever. Instead, what has reached its peak is destined to crumble. The main difference between the real and the virtual world is that the latter has no solid structures. It can all go away as quickly as by pressing DEL on the keyboard. Therefore, when a website has grown ridiculously big is not the moment to buy its stock, but to sell it.

The Users and the Used

Another mistake often made by engineers as well as entrepreneurs of the Internet is that they believe it to be able to create needs in the users. But that's denied already by the term “user”. People are users and the Internet is being used. The success of a website depends on how well it can be used and how readily it adapts to user needs.

Facebook is good for creating a social network online, but not as good at allowing the users to deepen, chisel, and target that network. That's because it's aimed at expansion, not at specialization. Most Internet businesses dream of taking over the world, so they can't avoid making the mistake of swelling beyond their functionality. Size is a quantity, not a quality.

Facebook will remain if it manages to recognize and adapt to the increased needs of the users. Otherwise another solution will take over, and that can happen from one day to the next.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Don't Wanna Stay Alive When You're 25

I was a huge fan of David Bowie in the 1970's, but gradually lost that fascination as the 80's approached. He seemed to lose his edge and that desperation contained within, just barely kept from erupting. I wonder if rock'n'roll is something reserved for the young.

I still feel that David Bowie was at his best when his young voice was on the verge of cracking and he experimented wildly with appearances. Nowadays, he's a laid-back former champion, behaving and performing with the most attention to being reserved and polished in the manner of British nobibily. Just like Madonna, actually.

He must have felt it, himself. At the last gig of his Ziggy Stardust tour of 1973, he announced that he would never perform again. Then he sang Rock'n'roll Suicide, as seen on this YouTube video (unfortunately, embedding is unabled). He was 26 years old at the time.

But he didn't retire, fortunately. He produced several formidable albums and continued to revolutionize stage performance over and over. But after the release of the Heroes album in 1977, he lost that edge, those shivering nerves, and became complacent. He was 30.

It seems to happen to almost every rock artist. The fire they had within is extinguished. What remain are living legends, repeating their old hits and enjoying the fortunes they assembled mainly during their young triumphs. That money might have something to do with it. They went from hungry to saturated. That's not rock'n'roll.

Some of the greatest rock icons died when they were about 30. The others are retired, even if they don't know it. Nothing wrong with that. Several professions have early retirement. Athletes usually quit in their early thirties. Ballet dancers when they push 40.

Rock is the expression of young underdogs taking on the world. When they become privileged and middle-aged, they should change to music more appropriate for that state of being. Like old showtunes or swing. Well, some of them do.

It's not necessary to suffer in order to produce great art, although it kind of helps. But if you don't even have a gnawing in the soul or noisy thumping in the heart, then you aren't very likely to come up with anything that helps the audience reach catharsis.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Few Get More

The rich ones keep on grabbing more of the world's wealth. One percent of the world population owns 39% of its wealth. Greed is insatiable.

The Boston Consulting Group reveals this and other injustices when they present the 2010 global wealth figures. The millionaire households are 0.9% of all, but they own 39%. In 2009 the figure was 37%, so their share increases rapidly.

The total global wealth is estimated at USD 121.8 trillion, a 9 trillion gain since 2009. The figure is so high that it makes little sense. What does it mean to us in our everyday lives?

Well, the world population is 6.9 billion, making the global wealth equal USD 17,650 for each person – but that's surely not how it's distributed.

The richest 0.9% share 47.5 trillion, giving them the mean fortune of USD 765,000 each, while the rest has to settle for USD 11,000 each. Actually, most of the latter have much less and some of them significantly more. The world is far from just, especially when it comes to money.

It has to change. Injustice starts fires. It's not realistic to hope for the wealthy to give up their fortunes, but it would be nice with a world economy where they were at least hindered from increasing them at the cost of everybody else – especially the most needy.

That's the bottom line, ever since the days of Jesus. The rich are reluctant to share their wealth, or even to halt its growth. It's the poor that pay for the poor. You don't have to be an economist to figure out that this will not work.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Shooting on My Street

Hollywood came to my street in Stockholm. For a day and a night, they were shooting scenes for the Stieg Larsson crime story The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The size of it! Hollywood is a flashmob Caesar.

Stieg Larsson's trilogy became world best sellers soon after his own death, and they remain on top the the lists to this day. So, filming the stories, Hollywood brings the whole artillery.

For the short scenes they were shooting on my street in Stockholm, they brought a fleet of big trucks, a staff of more than 70, and tons of equipment. They used a crane reaching high above the buildings, just for holding up a white screen to even out the light. And for the night scene they covered the whole block with artifical snow, to make it winter.


All of it was just for a few seconds of film, showing Daniel Craig arriving in a Volvo and stepping into a building. They had additional cars and drivers to simulate regular traffic, and a number of extras walking around as regular pedestrians. Nothing was left to chance.

The text on the back of the spotlight says Daylight.
The story has been filmed before by a Swedish movie company, but that was done with significantly less resources. Hollywood is in its own league. I marveled at the size of the project, as it kept me up all night.


By five in the morning they were finished filming, and three hours later there was no other trace of them than some small remains of artificial snow in a few corners. Like a flashmob. Come, perform, be gone.

I took the photos with my simple mobile phone camera, so the quality isn't great. Click on them to see larger versions.

Here's the official trailer for the movie, which will open in December this year:


Here's the Swedish film version on DVD at Amazon

Friday, June 3, 2011

Religion Has Always Been Doubted

I've just published a new edition of my book about the Greek philosophers and what they thought about religion, their gods, and the myths about them: Cosmos of the Ancients. I was curious about how much they actually believed in their gods. Not much at all, I found.

Generally, we tend to take for granted that in ancient times, doubts about religious matters were almost unfathomable. We expect that the further back in time we go, the less people were able to see through the religious concepts or question them at all. The gods were as real to them as the sky, the sun, and the moon.

I was not so sure of it, considering the nature of the human mind, which has been about the same – as far as we know – for hundreds of thousands of years. That's how long the human brain size has been about the same. This big thing must have been put to use in all kinds of matters, especially those that appeared from inside of it.

We are unable to scrutinize human though in any detail, way back to the stone age, but there are lots of thoughts preserved from Ancient Greece. That's at least some 2,400 years back, in a time where gods were worshipped and myths about them were common knowledge. So, I decided to investigate what the Greek philosophers revealed about their thoughts on religious matters.

They were the finest minds of the time, no doubt, so what they concluded might not have been the views of the common man. But if they were at all able to question the existence of the gods and the accuracy of the myths about them, then all the people of that time would at least have had the ability to do the same. It could not have been beyond their mental capacity.

Indeed, most of the philosophers expressed some kind of disbelief regarding religious views. Several of them were outright atheists, others regarded the gods as symbols of sorts, or imagined supernatural powers of other kinds. Actually, philosophers with a belief in the common myhtology were hard to find.

This might very well be true for any time and any culture. The religious beliefs are not embraced by all, at least not entirely. There has always been doubt and alternative ideas about it all. This needs to be considered wherever religion is studied. We can't take blind belief for granted, even when we go far back or examine a culture where religion seemed to rule the world view. Its rule was probably never absolute.

People's minds wander. They've always done so. The one thing that is the hardest to find, upon closer examination, is consensus. That's probably how we progress at all.

Here's my book about the Greek philosophers and their religious views on Amazon.
It's also a Kindle ebook.
And here is more information about the book on my website.