Social media helped the hunt for the murderer of Jill Meagher

September 28, 2012

The investigation of the disappearance of Jill Meagher in Melbourne, Australia appears to have been accelerated through the use of social media and CCTV footage released by the police

The search for a missing woman in Melbourne, Australia ended tragically but was immensely speeded up through the use of social media.

Jill Meagher a young Irish woman working for an Australian media company, ABC radio, went missing after leaving a bar in the early hours on Saturday [20th September 2012].

A Facebook page was set up to raise awareness drawing on CCTV footage. Within days the police were able to identify and interview a suspect, and locate Jill Meagher’s body.

The breakthrough

The breakthrough came a day after police released CCTV video taken from the store, which showed a man wearing a hoodie talking to Ms Meagher, 29, at 1.43am on Saturday as she walked home after a night out with ABC work colleagues. Police say they were led to the scene by the man charged with the murder and rape of Ms Meagher.

The role of social media

In a statement issued on behalf of the family, Mr McKeon [Jill’s uncle] said: “We are devastated…There are no words to describe how we feel at what has happened. We acknowledge the role that social media has played in the search for her. It has helped us to reach a conclusion, although it is not the one we had hoped and prayed for.

The down side

Social media coverage is not a universal good. On the down side, even in this case, a senior Melbourne police chief joined with Jill Meagher’s grieving husband in calling for people not to post anything on social media websites which might prejudice the trial of the man accused of killing her.

Technology and crime

Police investigations often take advantage of the potential of technological inventions.

In 1910, less than a decade after the commercialisation of wireless system, the captain of the westward bound SS Montrose, asked his Marconi operator to send a brief message to England: “Have strong suspicions that Crippen London cellar murderer and accomplice are among saloon passengers. Accomplice dressed as a boy. Voice manner and build undoubtedly a girl.” A detective from Scotland Yard boarded a faster ship and arrested [Crippen] before SS Montrose docked in Montreal.

See also

Crime investigator outlines procedures


Chavs, plebs, and military language: Andrew Mitchell’s outburst

September 25, 2012


This week in the UK, Andrew Mitchell, a Government Minister and former military officer, faced a career-damaging episode in a dispute with police, when he was leaving the Houses of Parliament. It was to become a news story and an example of inappropriate use of military language

The critical encounter was over in minutes. In essence, what is undisputed is that Andrew Mitchell, a senior Government minister, attempted to leave the Houses of Parliament in London on Wednesday 19th September [2012] by bicycle. He was prevented from using the main gate and was requested to leave by a smaller pedestrian way adjacent to the main gate. The minister later conceded that he had become angry after ‘a hard day’ and had spoken inappropriately to a police officer.

The F word and the P word

What became the core of the dispute is what was later reported by the police. The offending words according to the police including a few popular expletives, and one curious term of abuse “plebs”.

A pleb is shorthand for plebeian or a member of the general public, and implies inferiority to a ruling elite. It is not a particularly widely used term. When uttered it is often used by someone in authority with a whiff of irony and a dash of patronising about “the masses” or “the great unwashed”.

Plebs, chavs and military language

At a meeting with military officers a few years ago, I was surprised to hear the term “chav” which appeared to be popularly applied in a somewhat similar fashion. The “chav” analogy may be irrelevant, beyond my casual assumption that “military language” is another British euphemism and implies a way of speaking which is too offensive to be repeatable in public. Mr Mitchell was a former army officer.

Background to the developing story

The Sun newspaper broke the story over the weekend [September 22nd-23rd]

Andrew Mitchell — newly-promoted by PM David Cameron — raged: “You’re f***ing plebs.”
John Tully, Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation has backed The Sun’s account after speaking to the abused officer.

Mr Tully reportedly said: “I know what the officer has told me and I know who I believe.”

“I know Mr Mitchell has apologised and that’s good, but it’s not enough.”
The cycling Tory’s outburst came the day after two women PCs were shot dead
An eyewitness said Mr Mitchell, 56, also branded them “morons”.

Speaking on a visit to Greater Manchester Police headquarters in the wake of the murders of Pcs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, Mr Cameron said: “What Andrew Mitchell said and what he did was not appropriate. It was wrong and it is right that he has apologised.

Later

The Sun’s very close relationship with the police was examined in the Levenson enquiry. Once again it seemed to have good inside sources. Its lead on Mr Mitchell was picked up by other print and electronic media. The police story appears to be officially recorded as a logged incident expanding on the earlier Sun version
“Mr Mitchell was then silent and left saying ‘you haven’t heard the last of this’ as he cycled off. “I forward this to you as all officers were extremely polite to Mr Mitchell, but such behaviour and verbal expressions could lead to the unfortunate situation of officers being left no option but to exercise their powers [of arrest] I write this for your information as Mr Mitchell’s last comments would appear to indicate that he is unhappy with my actions. I have recorded this fully in my pocket book.”

How not to apologise

The Guardian considered that Mr Mitchell’s subsequent apology to the press [the morning of September 24th] compounded his problems, quoting a few useful “does and don’t” for effective apologies.

The political battles ahead

Mr Mitchell remains beleaguered. The timing of the event, during the national conferences of the main political parties, suggests that the story will unfold further over the next week or so.


10 Headaches for the Drugs Industry

September 22, 2012

GlaxoSmithKline has pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $1 billion in criminal fines and $2 billion in civil fines following a nine-year federal investigation into its activities. The Pharmaceuticals Industry is facing dilemmas which threaten its existence in its current form. Here are ten dilemmas which are keeping executives in Big Pharma organizations awake at night

Onece upon a time, the search for scientific knowledge was associated with contributions to human well-being and enlightened progress. One of the great economists who held that view was Joseph Schumpeter, who also visualised great knowledge-creating laboratories. Such medical laboratories came to pass. Many millions of lives have been saved through their products. Even the humble aspirin was made safely and widely available by such technological processes, as were increasingly sophisticated vaccines and drugs. But today, the firms operating the research laboratories have acquired an increasingly poor image for criminally corrupt business practices.

Their leaders, if they have not resorted to effective drugs, may well spend sleepness nights worrying over the emerging dilemmas

[1] The demise of the ‘funnel’ model of discovery of new drugs. This was the standard business model for finding the next generation of mega-drugs. The model has struggled to retain credibility as fewer financial winners emerged out of the funnel.

[2] Fines for criminal wrongdoings. The global pharmaceutical industry has racked up fines of more than $11bn in the past three years for criminal wrongdoing, including withholding safety data and promoting drugs for use beyond their licensed conditions. In all, 26 companies, including eight of the 10 top players in the global industry, have been found to be acting dishonestly.

[3] The scale of the wrongdoing, revealed for the first time, has undermined public and professional trust in the industry and is holding back clinical progress, according to two papers published in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine [September 2012]

[4] Prosectution of business leaders. Leading lawyers have warned that the multibillion-dollar fines are not enough to change the industry’s behaviour so that criminal prosecutions of executives may be considered more seriously in the near future.

[5] Corporate social responsibilities. The drug companies would like to concentrate on profitable areas and leave research into socially important areas such as alzheimers disease to governmental and other not-for-profit agencies.

[6] Big Pharma’s image problem, fuelled by such high-profile scandals, may have made doctors so suspicious of the industry’s claims that it is warping their clinical judgement

[7] Cynicism of pro-bono efforts. Pressures continue for low-cost drugs delivered to the poorer countries in the world with increasing opportunities for reducing the security of intellectual property such as patents. Industry’s pro-bono efforts are viewed cynically.

[8] Conspiracy theories abound in popular culture. These feed into TV and movie dramas in which leaders of drug companies are part of secret and illegal alliances.

[9] Drug compaies perceived as thoroughly corrupt. Drug companies may be the next industry sector to become increasingly regarded as institutionally corrupt, and its leaders will take their place alongside financial executives, politicians, journalists and the police, in future legal investigations.

[10] More government intervention rather than self-regulation of industry practices will become increasing easy to introduce.

Conspiracy Theory or Leaders We Deserve?

There has been an enormous level of interest in the working of Pharmaceutical Companies as part of a gigantic conspiracy theory. I took a look at the blogs which appeared most prominent via a Google search. The conspiracy theory implies that the big companies are broadly colluding with powerful elites including prominent figures in Governments, the Federal Drug Agency, and in some variants of the theory with other more shadowy groups who meet in clandestine fashion.

One way in which conspiracy theories persist is that they are very difficult to test applying the canons of empirical analysis. That, incidentally, is one interpretation of what a theory is, an abstraction helping to explain the world in which we live.

An alternative abstraction is to consider the wrongdoings in drug companies as episodes to which there is a pattern which does not require the presence of a wider global conspiracy or an ultimate (evil) architect. I like the label of Leaders We Deserve as a start to approaching the means whereby organizations develop their cultures and behaviours.


Julian Barnes, the Parrot and the Albatross

September 17, 2012

Book Review by Tudor Rickards

Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes is widely recognised as a modern classic. It has already found its way on to courses of modern literature, and its author has indicated that he believes it one of his greatest achievements

I came to it only after reading his more recent work, this year’s Booker Prize winning Sense of an Ending. Both books reveal an author deeply aware of literary style. Barnes is a noted literary critic, and in some way I was left wondering if the critic sits like an albatross on the shoulders of the creative novelist.

Creative licence

I admired the intellectual effort which went into the crafting of Flaubert’s Parrot and (to a lesser degree) into Sense of an Ending. In the former, Barnes engages in quite a bit of prolepsis, anticipating and addressing naïve criticism that readers such as myself may incline towards. He challenges us to ask why an author should be compelled to tell a story holding to the established canons of narrative form. It’s an appeal to the creative rights of the artist, and there is quite a bit in the book to enlighten the reader about the nature of the literary issues involved.

The reader’s demands of an author

The book incorporates a melange of arguments (a manifesto?) of the merits and shortcomings of literary criticism. That is not to say the book is not worth some effort in the reading. It does have a story, but as I read, I increasingly wanted to develop more sympathy for the [fictionl] narrator, Geoffrey Braithwaite, an obsessive medical doctor and would-be novelist in search of unrevealed truth about his literary hero Gustave Flaubert. Barnes had not adequately engaged me (or maybe I had not adequately engaged myself) in the pursuit of the issue as to whether I had any right to make such a demand of the author.

But willy-nilly, in the reading, I had taken on board some of the author’s pre-occupations. I even found a wonderful image about perceptions of reality. The following is a slightly abbreviated quote from p101 [of my 2009 edition].

“The past is a distant receding coastline, and we are all in the same boat. Along the stern rail there is a line of telescopes; each brings the shore into focus at a different distance. If the boat is becalmed, one will seem to tell the whole, the unchanging truth. But this is an illusion. As the boat sets off again, we return to our normal activity: scurrying from one telescope to another, seeing the sharpness fade in one, waiting for the blur to clear in another. And when the blur does clear we imagine we have made it do so all by ourselves.”

Making sense of the past

It set me thinking about the way we attempt to make sense of the past. The meaning of leadership stories, but much more beside. How beliefs are less reliable than we tend to assume them to be. How anxiety sharpens the search for new meaning, which will always be prone to illusions and delusions.

You may also have noted the echo in the quote of the famous dictum from Mao about the sort of leader who influences events unnoticed, so that the followers afterwards believe they achieved things all by themselves.


BAE and EADS in merger talks as Woodford site closes

September 13, 2012

by Tudor Rickards

As someone living close to Woodford aerodrome, the proposed merger of BAE and EADS [announced September 13th, 2012] had more than professional interest for me.

Last rites

Each morning, I drive or walk past the little airfield at Woodford in Cheshire, where BAE systems has conducted part of its aerospace business for many years. From time to time, sleek military aircraft would swoop past above. Transporters, each carrying one wing for the mighty Airbus, would trundle down Woodford Road, which had its plastic road furniture regularly removed and then replaced to permit easier access to the site. Each year, a flying show featuring Britain’s most loved aircraft blocked the roads around the village.

Now, only glimpses are to be seen of the last rites. Construction has been replaced by dismantling of aircraft such as the Nimrod shown in the image above.

Planning permission

Woodford aerodrome is now waiting for planning permission before conversion to new build which would produce private housing and mark the end of such commercial activities. While BAE systems faces the most serious job-losses, the site occupies a slice of aeronautic history going back to 1910. Local residents are still involved in community discussions.

Creating a global giant

At a strategic level, the merger between the two organisations has considerable face appeal. Woodford is probably of little significance in the wider scheme of things.

Dealbook, a New York Times publication, reported the news that the merger of the two biggest European aerospace and defence companies would create a global giant with a combined market value of nearly $50 billion.

“On the face of it this will create one of the largest aerospace and defense organizations on the planet,” said Guy Anderson, a senior defense industry analyst with IHS Jane’s in London, who added that the combination would “change the European defense market beyond recognition.”

Shares of BAE Systems rose 10.8 per cent by the end of trading in London on Wednesday [12th September 2012], while shares of EADS were down 5.6 per cent.

BAE and EADS (for European Aeronautic Defense and Space) have a history of collaboration. They are partners on a number of projects, including the Eurofighter jet. BAE also held a direct interest in the Airbus consortium for many years before selling it back to EADS in 2006.

The deal could give the two companies more lobbying muscle to compete with Boeing and other American military companies. BAE already has a strong presence in the United States, but EADS has had only limited success with American military contracts. Last year, the company lost a coveted $35 billion Air Force contract for aerial refuelling tankers to Boeing.

Regulatory Hurdles

Any deal would face its share of regulatory hurdles. The European Commission would have to approve the merger. The American government might also weigh in on the transaction. BAE’s Sanders unit could especially face scrutiny.

Leadership issues

The merger will bring with it some complex leadership issues. EADS over the years has been involved in many tortuous strategic decisions as the competing pressures from French and German stakeholders played out. Government involvement will now be compounded by British political interests.

Leaders We Deserve will be among the millions of interested parties watching the situation as it develops. Maybe, just maybe, for local residents and BAE employees there is renewed hope for a sensational last-minute change of plans for the Woodford site.


Banks continue the soul searching in search of boring credibility

September 12, 2012

In a speech to The Scottish CBI, Lloyd’s banking chief António Horta-Osório took another step to redefining banking culture. In his new model, boring, is a virtue alongside trustworthiness and transparency

Speaking to the Scottish CBI, [September 2012] Mr Horta-Osório argued that:

The banking industry has done itself no favours. Issue by issue and scandal by scandal, the faith and trust in our industry has been eroded. The industry must change. We must recast the banking model … retail and commercial banks should be simple and they should be boring.

His own bank is moving away from bonus schemes which have been seen as encouraging mis-selling, and focused too much on sales targets. In future, pay will be “increasingly linked to the long-term performance of the bank … and capable of being clawed back where decisions turn out to have damaged the bank’s performance or adversely affected customers”.

Such a customer-orientation is becoming more widely-accepted. Yet more than rhetoric is needed. Bob Diamond was calling for better citizenship before he was forced to resign from Barclays.

Actions not rhetoric

Mr Horta-Osório outlines practical steps he is introducing to move towards such a culture so that past mis-selling such as Personal Protection Insurance schemes [PPIs] will be “proactively” addressed [not waiting for legal claims to arrive]. However, he stops short at the other current candidate for change, the splitting of banks into lower and higher risk corporate identities.

Background

We reported earlier on other unusual aspects of Horta-Osório’s recent career. The Telegraph [in December 2011] also commented on his return to work from a stress-related illness.

The Telegraph article pointed out that he had recently purchased a holding in Lloyds equivalent to 600,000 ordinary shares, for $226,962 (£146,606). Is this to be taken as a signal of support for his Bank, or a self-interested gesture?

This is not intended to challenge Mr Osario’s competence or his integrity. He has waived his most recent bonus arguing it was unacceptable in the current financial circumstances But it does illustrate the difficulties arising when we seek to explain the behaviours of our leaders in black and white terms, and their nature as heroes or villains.


Striking teachers story (but not what you might expect)

September 10, 2012

There are several stories about striking teachers in the news this week. This one is about how a little girl snapped and was videod kicking her bullying teacher in the groin

The story of the bully bullied went viral [September 2012] It was presented as taking place in a Russian class-room. A web-debate followed on whether the U-tube was simply a spoof publicity stunt of some kind.

No matter, it prompted comments recalling similar sorts of teacher bullying, with some of the bullying teachers ‘named and shamed’.

Not what you thought?

In the US a teachers’ strike seems imminent.

In the UK, strike plans are being reported by a teachers Union, [the National Union of Teachers] after a ballot of its members.

Vicarious pleasure

The U-tube hints at one way in which a story may go viral. It permits identification with the victim, and a wish that “I wish I’d done that” as a stereotyped baddy gets his [or her] comeuppance. It’s particularly strong when we can identify with a victim who fought back on behalf of all of us, showing how powerlessness can be shattered.

Note to school children

What are your doing reading this? Anyway, the post is not intended to encourage you to commit acts of violence against your school teachers, who themselves often become victims of bullying. Better just to share the video with your friends.