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[Commentary] © 2000 Philip Hyde, The Timesizing Wire™, Box 622 Cambridge MA 02143 USA (617) 623-8080

Work-Related Suicides, 12/2000 & previous

12/27/2000  2 stories to highlight -

1. [Again on the idea that when you've decided to do this kind of thing, you've decided your own life is over, we include -]
7 die in rampage at company; co-worker of victims arrested, by Carey Goldberg, NYT, front page.
[So, another reason to work at home - or at a nursing school or anywhere with all female coworkers.]
WAKEFIELD, Mass...- A software tester at an Internet consulting company here came to work as usual today, talked with his coworkers and then...took our a semiautomatic rifle and killed seven of them. The police, responding to emergency calls about 11 a.m...found the employee, 42-year-old Michael McDermott, sitting silent and unresponsive with his loaded weapons in the lobby of the company, Edgewater Technology Inc., and arrested him without resistance. ...Mr. McDermott might have been upset about the company's plans to comply with an IRS request that his wages be garnisheed to pay off back taxes he owed. Of those killed...five were in [the] accounting section.... Only about 80 of the office's 150 employees were at work today because of the holidays....
[Here's the slew of Boston Globe articles associated with the incident -]
Slaughter at the office, by MacQuarrie & Klein, Boston Globe, front page.
Workers mourned as 'cream of the crop', by Stockman & Paulson, Boston Globe, front page.
Neighbors tell of giant whom none knew well - 'Basically he got up in the morning, went to work, came home, went to his apartment, and did the same the next day. He never went out.' Keven Forzese, McDermott neighbor, by Douglas Belkin, Boston Globe, front page.
The alleged weapon - Semiautomatic rifle is easily obtainable, by Higgins & Dabilis, Boston Globe, B6.
A town reacts - 'I thought it had to be a mistake' - Shock, disbelief among residents, by Klein & Greenberger, Boston Globe, B7.
A typical picture, experts say - Some killers do fit a mold, by Michael Rosenwald, Boston Globe, B7.
..."It's a pretty predictable profile," said Jack Levin, director of Northeastern University's Brudnick Center of Violence.... For starters...McDermott...
• is white and middle-aged...
• ha[d] no friends or family to turn to..\..
• [possibly felt he] should have reached a pinnacle of [his] career...only to find [him]sel[f] sliding back....
Workplace homicide is...the leading cause of fatal occupational injury in the United States, with nearly 1,000 murders occurring each year, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of the 860 workplace killings committed in 1997, 7% were by current and former coworkers....
[And right beside this last story -]

2. Workplace slayings, AP & news reports via Boston Globe, B7.
Some other multiple killings in workplaces during the last decade -
1. Tampa, Fla., Dec. 30, 1999 - 5 dead...hotel [industry]
2. Seattle, Nov. 3, 1999 - 2 dead, 2 wounded...shipyard...
3. Honolulu...Nov. 2, 1999 - 7 dead...Xerox Corp...
4. Pelham, Ala., Aug. 5, 1999, 3 dead...[unidentified office]
5. Atlanta, July 29, 1999...killed 9 and wounded 13 at two brokerage firms before killing himself. He had earlier killed his wife and 2 children at the family's home.
6. Newington, Conn., March 6, 1998...Conn. Lottery Corp. accountant involved in a pay dispute killed the lottery president and 3 of his supervisors before killing himself.
7. Orange, Calif., Dec. 18, 1997, 5 dead (including killer [by police])...maintenance yard...
8. Aiken, SC, Sept. 15, 1997, 4 dead, 3 wounded...assembly line...
9. Santa Fe Springs, Calif., June 5, 1997...killed 2 [plastics factory] co-workers and wounded 4 others after an argument...then killed himself.
10. Corpus Christi, Texas, April 2, 1995...killed the owner of the..\..refinery inspection station [where he used to work], the owner's wife, and 3 workers before killing himself.
11. Santa Fe Springs, Calif., March 14, 1994...recently fired from a local electronics factory, shot 3 people to death before killing himself.
12. Oxnard, Calif., Dec. 2, 1993, 5 dead (including killer [by police]), 4 wounded...unemployment office [killer was unemployed computer engineer].
13. San Francisco, July 1, 1993...opened fire in a law office, killing 8 people before taking his own life.
14. San Diego, June 4, 1991, 2 dead...electronics plant...
15. Jacksonville, Fla., June 18, 1990...went on a shooting spree in a General Motors Acceptance Corp. [GMAC] office, killing 8 and wounding 5 others before killing himself. GMAC had repossessed his car.
[Nearly half of these 16 incidents (counting yesterday's) were murder-suicides, 7/16 = 44%: #5,6,9,10,11,13,15. Looks like the Post Office just lost its title, despite the continued popularity of the phrase, "going postal." Only four of the incidents are blue-collar: #2,7,8,9, although it also helps to not live in California, which has 6 of the 16 = 38%, the land that raises the most, not the highest, expectations and delivers the most car wars and video violence.
[Five of the incidents (=31%, the largest single industry represented) are high-tech related - #0 (yesterday's), 3, 11, 12, 14. Could it be that the brainless irony of working longer and longer hours on evermore "work-saving" technology to "make life easier" is finally getting to people? And all because we won't make a few high-tech adjustments to bring our "social software" up to speed with our computer software? Such as? Such as redesigning overtime to target, trigger and fund its own resolution in the form of training and hiring, and if that doesn't absorb our record under-employment (including welfare, disability, homelessness and prisons), we lower the workweek and cut the definition of "full time" for humans down to somewhere remotely close to where it should be in an increasingly robotized economy. A hundred years ago people fully expected tht by the year 2000, we'd ALL be working 16-20 hours a week for much much better pay, and it's only our own stupidity and cowardice that's kept us sinking into a third-world nightmare of high-tech sweatshops and flat pay next to a guy, one guy, with $65,-100,000,000,000 dollars that he wouldn't need or spend in 1000 lifetimes, not to mention the pervasive featherbedding and makework as we desperately scheme for something, ANYthing, remunerative to do for 40+ long hours a week, and buying the barf of the two-guy media that it's "our free choice" to work round the clock and accept high-risk stock ops in place of job security. "What fools these mortals be."] 12/19/2000 Plunge ruled suicide, AP via NYT, A20. SAN FRANCISCO...- The Sacramento County coroner ruled today that an employee of the Hewlett-Packard Co. who plunged to her death from a [15-seat] corporate plane [flying from the company's offices near Sacramento to San Jose] had committed suicide. The woman, Elisabeth Mathilde Otto, 29, apparently opened an emergency exit and jumped from 2,000 feet on Thursday evening. Her body was found on Friday in a vegetable garden just south of Sacramento. Ms. Otto, who was from Holland, had recently moved to San Francisco from Europe to work in Hewlett-Packard's purchasing dept.... 12/18/2000 Canada's bleak north is fertile ground for suicide, by James Brooke, NYT, A3. ...In Nunavut, suicide has become so prevalent that it is hard to find a family that has not lost a loved one that way..\.. The territorial capital [Iqaluit, on Baffin Is.] has the highest suicide rate in Nunuvut, which in turn has the highest suicide rate in Canada. ["As for life - I'll none of it!"] ...In the last half-century, the free-ranging Inuit shifted in status from lords of the Arctic to wards of the welfare state. Abandoning their traditional, never-give-up view of life... [...or rather forced off it by government kidnapping of their children and "educating" them in southern Canadian culture in centralized government schools - the Danish government followed a much more humane and laissez-faire policy in Greenland but the suicide rate there is similar - the Inuit's never-give-up view of life was enabled by a kind of "survival humor" that laughed uproariously in the teeth of disaster, as when someone fell through the ice, and kindof broke the panic reflex and facilitated logical solutions...] ...the Inuit now commit suicide at seven times the national average. Since 1997, an average of 26 people have killed themselves every year in Nunavut, a territory with 28,000 people [so, 1 suicide per 1,077 people] sprinkled over an area almost three times the size of Texas. Across North America's far north, suicide cuts into once hardy peoples who already have been undermined by alcohol, unemployment and a deep sense of powerlessness. [The Hopi of N.E. Arizona have also been somewhat afflicted with alcohol and unemployment, but with their kachina cult and social dances, masked-dancer woodcarvings, silverwork, sacred clowns and *prophecies, one gets the feeling that powerlessness is not an issue. The Hoka of the high Andes are the most intact native culture in the Americas. The Hopi are the most intact in North America, and we've always felt that the Eskimo or Inuit are the second most intact native culture on this continent, with their stonecarvings, songs, and "survival humor." Perhaps the two in North America could strengthen each other. The Hopi's secret lies in those masks and their sacred clowns. Perhaps they could help the Inuit thicken and multiply their masks and regain their uproarious survival humor. Many thick masks and deep humor are important for us all. The two cultures could swap tales of life in a desert - the Inuit's millennia-long life in a frozen desert and the Hopi's mere centuries-long life on three desert mesas, where they retreated for defence against invading Athabaskans from the Canadian north (Navajo) - and they could compare wounds caused by arrogant European-American kidnappings of their children for "education" at government boarding schools in the past century and design healing and reconstruct traditional alternatives.] Suicides actually increased here after the Inuit won their own territorial government on April 1, 1999. [April Fool's Day is never a good day to start anything.] ...In the western Arctic, Canada's Northwest Territories [NWT] have the nation's 2d-highest suicide rate [and they are Indians (mostly Athabaskans, not Eskimos/Inuit, but they also had their traditional ways undermined by "saintly" missionaries etc.)]. In 1999, it was about 1 per 3,000 people, double the rate of 1998..\.. East of here in Greenland, 21 years of home rule...have also coincided with increased suicide rates, usually by hanging, called locally, "Our Lord's lasso." "We lose 50-60 people a year, said Jorgen Waever Johansen, minister of social welfare in Greenland, which has a population of 55,000. "No matter how well off your economy is, if you have a high suicide rate, it is a sign of something deeply wrong." ..\..For hundreds of years, the Inuit or "Eskimo" lived off the land in one of the world's harshest environments. In that tough struggle for survival...the only suicides were the elderly or the infirm who saw themselves as burdens when the nomadic band had to move on.... While youth suicides were unthinkable in traditional societies, most of Nunavut's suicides in recent years have been healthy young men, ages 15 to 29. [The connection to unemployment?] For generations, boys were brought up to be hunters. But with the destruction of fur markets after anti-fur campaigns in Europe and the U.S.... [Oh so that's who's going to get the blame in this one! Never mind that the Inuit survived for millennia without commercial fur markets!] unemployment rates in northern villages have risen above 50% . In this territory, the largest employer is the government. While the Nunavut has Canada's highest birth rate, boys approach the end of high school and see no future. [A typical 3rd-world pattern. Third world in Canada, just like the uncasinoed reservations throughout the USA. Only an advanced socio-economic technology of "sharing the vanishing work" can address this situation, and neither Canada nor the U.S. is even in the foothills - for that we must look across to France with its reduced national workweek (currently 35 hours) and Europe in general with its reduced national workyear (currently 5-6 weeks annual vacation), and 'down under' to Australia (4 wks vacation even for beginning employees).] Tim Atherton talked to hundreds of native youths...when he was an Anglican minister in Iqaluit and in the NWT in the early 1990's. "Young people would tell me, 'We are seeing all this stuff on TV, we watch the hockey games, we read the magazines - yet it is all out of reach for us,'" he said.... "They graduate from high school and there is nothing to do at the end of it...." ..\..Caroline Anawak, a...government mental health specialist, has embarked on a school and prison campaign of Inuit pride to raise self-esteem battered by the television barrage from southern Canadian society [and let's not forget the "education" barrage]..\.. Athletic and stylishly dressed, Geela Patterson, adviser to the new territorial government on women's issues [and] a suicide prevention counselor..\..was the kind of woman Inuit youth admired.... In the June 30 issue of...a weekly newspaper \in Nunavut\ an Inuit columnist...begged..\.."For those of you who consider suicide a release, please pause."... Around dinnertime on June 30, Ms. Patterson's family found her body. [Since just before and just after his 13th birthday when his grandfather and father launched a family tradition of male suicide, Phil Hyde has had the finger of suicide pointing at him day after day and a voice saying "You're next." His initial reaction was the realization that he had better find out what's really going on in this crazy world at a deeper level than his male predecessors, or he would cave. This translated into a determination to find a really convincing reason to "stay around." That, in turn, translated into a mission to identify and solve the biggest human problem of his lifetime. This website is the result.] 12/09/2000 Sogo chairman [Hiroo Mizushima] told to repay [$54.7m] losses, AP via NYT, B2.
[Hey, even that is cheap compared to what some of the others paid -]
...The Sogo Co., the bankrupt Japanese retailer...sued Mr. Mizushima and 18 other former executives over what the company said were failed or fraudulent business deals...; 2 of the 18 were acquitted and 2 committed suicide.
[See stories below on 10/11/2000 and 4/19/2000.]

11/03/2000  Hearing explores personal side of push for suicide prevention - Both federal officials and families touched by suicide see it as a preventable problem, by Carey Goldberg, NYT, A20.
...Three women offered...some of the faces of the suicide problem in America, and they implored federal officials to so more to fight it.... The public hearing where they spoke was...part of a push by the U.S. Surgeon General, David Satcher, for a national strategy to combat suicide as a public health problem, one that can be reduced with sweeping preventive measures.... [Is it a public health problem, or a private hell solution?]
Many speakers also called for the government to allocate the money needed to prevent suicide. They said that groups like the Samaritans...had valuable experience but were short of money....
[But how much of taxpayers' money is "enough" money to someone in a state of shock and grief? And why do we always have to drag the federal government and everyone else in the country into our private sorrows? (- and regrets?) Suicide is inherently something that cannot be prevented if it is done well. Calling it a "sin" (by churches) or a "problem" (by the Surgeon General) does not change the fact that participants see a previous sin or problem elsewhere, to which suicide is the best or only solution.]
...The U.S. Air Force had become concerned that suicides caused one-quarter of the deaths in its ranks, second only to accidents.
[For an airforce, suicide could be a problem, but how much of the Air Force's type of suicide is relevant to 'the outside'?]
So it analyzed its suicides and found, for example, that Air Force members were much more likely to kill themselves if they had recently split up with a spouse or if they were in trouble with the military law.
[Splitting up has outside relevance, but, how similar to outside law is military law?]
...One simple measure, Colonel [David] Litts said, was to change the rules so that members with legal trouble could seek psychological counseling without having to worry that anything they said could be used against them. According to 1999, figures, he said, the Air Force has cut its suicide rate from 16 per 100,000 at its peak in 1994 to about 5.6...last year.
The suicide rate has remained steady in the U.S. at large...averaging between 10 and 12 deaths per 100,000 people. But speakers emphasized [yester]day that those figures meant that many more people died from suicide than homicide each year. In Massachusetts, the suicide rate of about 500 per year is almost five times the homicide rate, which was 120 statewide in 1999.
Overall, suicide is the 8th-leading cause of death in the country, killing more than 30,000 people each year, and the third-leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24.
[See also our story below, "Americans are killing themselves much more than each other," on 2/08/2000.  Isn't it strange how we insist on discussing suicide as something tragic that befalls someone, rather than an act of will and control on their own part that they welcome? This attitude is a strange relic from the pre-ecological age, when humans were a rarity on this planet rather than verging on overpopulation everywhere. It's a relic of the ages when nothing but quantity of life counted. But it is getting increasingly obsolete in an age when quality of life is what counts.]
Speakers...also called repeatedly for the wall of silence and shame that surrounds suicide to be torn down.
[Then admit the possibility of good, rational and appropriate, even enviable, suicide.]
Parents and children and siblings of suicides spoke, and virtually all said they thought greater awareness and lessened stigma might have helped prevent their family tragedy.
[It might also have helped in some cases for the survivors to view the suicide as a family triumph - as perhaps some of the suicides themselves viewed the impending event. Witness the rather inspiring example of Guy Waterman who took a final hike up Mt. Lafayette to die at the spot he loved most (see our Good News story on 2/20/2000). This is a highly controversial discussion, currently dominated by people in intense grief, and as such is super-vulnerable for the discussion-deadening descent of Political Correctness (PC), and more hopefully, is a prime candidate for the relegation of the whole discussion, at least as far as government involvement is concerned, to issue-oriented public referendums decided by all interested individual voters in a secret ballot in a private voting situation. Like so many other unending, more-heat-than-light controversies today - strung out between the religious right and the PC left (compare immigration, gay marriages, gun controls, abortion,...) - it cannot possibly be resolved satisfactorily by "representatives" in public votes in legislatures - because they have no incentive to cross the religious right or the PC left. Clearly in the ecological long-run, as long as we are not to simply accept Keynes' cynicism ("In the long run, we are all dead"), we need people who are a lot more conscious of the gift aspect of life and a lot more committed to it in terms of extended self-interest, extended both in space (inclusiveness) and time. But looked at from that point of view, suicide takes its rightful place as an option that is always present and open to every intelligent being - an option that has not infrequently been exercised to save others. Indeed, some people believe that Christ's return to Jerusalem towards the end of the third year of his ministry was such an act, in the knowledge that he was about to provoke his establishment rivals (by violently assaulting the Temple concessionaires during the high holiday of Passover) to relentless, murderous fury (Mark 11). See also today's article in the Boston Globe, "Taking the initiative - Mainers weigh tough issues at ballot box," by Beth Daley, Boston Globe, B1 - "tough issues" like physician-assisted suicide featured in the photo caption.]

10/11/2000  Second Sogo suicide, by Miki Tanikawa via NYT, W1.
A former VP of the failed Sogo department store chain was found dead in his home after hanging himself, the police said. Yukio Nakazawa, 74, the second executive at the company to commit suicide [see below, 4/29/2000], was one of the [former] managers at Sogo sued by the current management for mismanaging the company, leading it into bankruptcy in July with $17B in debts, one of Japan's biggest corporate failures.... [Isn't this kind of bizarre, when a new management team starts suing an old management team for mismanagement? Like, if they didn't like the situation, why did they take the job? On the other hand, maybe they think they can dig enough money out of previous managers via lawsuits to refloat the company. If this becomes a trend, CEOs beware. [So what if the Japanese are committing suicide, you may ask. So they're the world's second largest economy, and if things are so bad there that they're killing themselves, this could easily spark a world stock crash & depression. As US economic historian (a rare breed in the US) Charles Kindleberger says in his classic "Manias, Panics and Crashes" (as noted in David Warsh's "Economic Principals," 1993, 316), "The spark can be almost anything: a bankruptcy, a suicide, a flight, a refusal of credit, some change in views that causes a serious [player] to unload a big position; anything that 'snaps the confidence of the system, makes people think of the dangers of failure, and leads them to move from commodities, stocks, real estate, bills of exchange, promissory notes, foreign exchange - whatever it may be - back into cash'."] 9/21/2000 Japan: Banker commits suicide, AP via NYT, A8. ...the new president of Nippon Credit Bank, Tadayo Honma, 60...in an Osaka Hotel, the police said. Mr. Honma was appointed to revive the ailing bank on Sept. 1.... [Three weeks of trying to "revive" an ailing bank and he croaks himself? Definitely not a good sign.] ...in a deal to transfer it from the state to a consortium led by Softbank Corp. [We'd rather have a hard bank than a soft bank. Bad marketing name. The probably desired echo of software isn't close enough - no cigar.] The state [had taken] over the bank in 1998 after it collapsed because of bad loans. [Are they suggesting Honma may have borrowed some of these lethal loans?] 8/18/2000 Japan: Suicides rise, Agence France-Presse via NYT, A6. The number of suicides hit a record 33,048 in the year ending in March, with the nation's prolonged economic slump taking its toll, the police said. Health problems accounted for half of all suicide cases while economic hardship was blamed for another fifth, an 11.5% jump from the previous year's survey. [But how many of health's 50% were due to economic stress?] 92% of the economy-related suicides [so 92% of 1/5 = 18.4% of the total] involved men, as companies abandon their tradition of employment for life. [And why is this important? Because Japan is the 2nd-biggest economy on the planet at the dawn of the third millennium. And in the early 1980s while American CEOs were excitedly chattering about Theory Z and the Japanese miracle, Japan's tradition of employment for life, with all its overhead, was very much in place. What happened? Why did the economy that was the envy of the world, thanks to a wise American tutor, the statisitician W. Edwards Deming, and his "14 Points for Management" including #8 "Banish fear from the workplace" - why did that economy start mimicking the American economy in the late 1980s that wanted rather to mimick it? Why did that economy start mimicking particularly our stupid "rambo management" fad of downsizing, instead of us/US getting smart and mimicking their intelligent and successful tradition of employment for life? What got screwed up? [We all know the result. By the early 1990s the Japanese economy was in the toilet, because all the business advertising and government rhetoric in the world could not induce the now-insecure Japanese consumer to maintain his/her level of consumption. Japanese interest rates were lowered to virtual zero (from which they've just been raised to 0.25%) and that still couldn't stimulate the economy. Why? Because you can't forever spend money you don't have, and if you've been downsized, you don't have money - it's as simple as that. [What would have saved the day? At the risk of monotony, TIMESIZING, not downsizing, would have saved the day, because it would have shared the vanishing work as Japan's legendary efficiency and robotization progressed rapidly. What did Japan do instead? It began to have the longest workyear in the developed world and an estimated 10,000 cases of "karoshi" = death by overwork - per year. (And now the U.S. economy is following the same stupid path and has now surpassed Japan in number of working hours per year.) If you don't lower your workweek as your technology level rises, you marginalize your human workforce and make them so insecure that, paradoxically, they start competing themselves into longer and longer working hours. We say "paradoxically" because remember, this is during a period of an historically unprecedented amount of efficient work-saving technology. Human beings are working harder and harder as they get more and more work-saving technology. And we think market forces are going to automatically adjust the workweek downward to a level appropriate for the rising levels of technology??? Sorry, market forces have NEVER done that. It's always been a cultural call. [But isn't that socialist or communist - to limit the workweek? If it is, friends, then the God of Moses is a communist, because the Fourth Commandment which Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai limited the workweek - "...Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work, but the seventh is the sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it, thou shalt not do any work...." Exodus 20: 8-11. [But isn't it "luddite" = technology-resisting? How can it be "technology resisting" when the purpose of technology is to save work and we're making more of it, to keep ourselves spinning our wheels at a 1940 level of the workweek or longer? The purpose of technology is efficiency, and yet to maintain a rigid workweek for the last 60 years we have quietly contrived to frustrate that efficiency and invent extra work for every technological worksaving. What has our braindead cliche been - to justify this masochistic behavior? "Technology creates more jobs than it destroys." Think about that for just a moment. If technology really did that, it would essentially "create more work than it takes over" - and there would be a negative disincentive for introducing it, not a positive incentive. [We have been bashing ourselves with frightened overwork - to the point of neglecting our families - for the last 30 years, the period during which the average workweek really started to reverse its downward path. And we think we're an intelligent species? Ha! We should ALL be living in heaven today with all our miraculous technology, but for the simple failure to design a system that automatically lowers our workweek as technology disemploys more and more people, we are exploring deeper and deeper levels of Dante's Inferno. What a bunch of self-fragging morons!] 8/12/2000 Man who killed supervisor shoots himself, police say, by Elissa Gootman, NYT, A13. A Queens [NY] man who earlier this week shot and killed his supervisor in a state-owned nursing home shot himself yesterday morning.... The man, Steven Robinson, 40, was in stable condition at Jamaica Hospital in Queens, where he was in police custody. Mr. Robinson is facing second-degree murder charges in the killing of Elizabeth Parker, 58, at the State Veterans Home in St. Albans. The police had been searching for Mr. Robinson since Tuesday afternoon, when, they said, he shot Ms. Parker in her basement office. About 7:30 a.m. yesterday, Mr. Robinson called the police from a pay telephone in Queens. Still standing on the corner, he then shot himself in the head with a handgun, the police said.... [With all our work-saving technology, we should be making it a lot easier and less stressful to make a living - a lot better living for everyone. Timesizing is the intelligent way to do this.] 6/13/2000 [U.S.] Army calls for action as suicides increase, AP via NYT, A21. ..."We have a serious problem with suicides," Gen. Eric K. Shinseki wrote in a message published in the latest issue of Soldiers, an Army magazine. "We must take better care of our people." ...The Army says its suicide rate has risen for the past two years, to one of the highest levels since the 1970's. [It] last year had 65 confirmed suicides and 12 deaths suspected to be suicides, a rate of 15.5 suicides per 100,000 soldiers. That rate...is the highest among the services. Only twice before over the past two decades has the Army's rate been higher..\.. Official statistics do not indicate any general increase in suicides for the military.... The Marine Corps last year had a rate of 15 suicides per 100,000 service members, the Navy had 11 and the Air Force had 5.6. [The Japanese word for "suicide" is harekiri, or less accurately, harikari.] 4/29/2000 Economic casualties - Rising suicide rate tied to recession in Japan, by Sharon Moshavi, Bos Globe, C1. TOKYO - ...The suicide rate among older men in Japan has been steadily rising for the past 2 years, a trend many experts attribute to the country's stagnant economy and the changes in workplace structure, particularly the unprecedented layoffs that have destroyed Japan's culture of lifetime employment and the confidence of many Japanese in their future. According to data released this month, the number of people who took their own lives in 1999 is more than 35% higher than 2 years ago. Men in their 50s account for the highest rise, and most of those suicides are thought to be related to financial stress. The suicide rate in Japan stands at about 18 per 100,000 people vs. 12 per 100,000 in the United States. In recent years, a number of high profile Japanese executives and officials have committed suicide over financial difficulties and improprieties. In 1998, a director of Japan's central bank committed suicide after being linked to a corruption scandal. The same year, 3 owners of failing car-parts companies took their lives together in a hotel in a Tokyo suburb. All left notes saying poor company finances drove them to their deaths..\.. Yesterday, the pajama-clad 63-year-old vice president of Sogo Co. [Yasuharu Abe, VP of one of Japan's largest department stores] was found hanged...in a stairwell in his house [by his wife] in the early morning hours [on] a noose [fashioned] from dozens of neckties..\..fueling concerns about the country's suicide rate, which many here link to Japan's prolonged economic recession.... [Japan is an example of an socioeconomy that did well when it followed one American genius (W. Edwards Deming) who was sensitive to its just-out-of-the-womb-of-feudalism culture, and taught "Banish fear from the workplace" as one of his central management tenets. In those days (the 1980s) every American B-school was talking the talk of Japanese management techniques such as just-in-time, total quality, continuous improvement and...lifetime employment - while walking the walk of mass downsizings. In a bizarre twist of fate, the worse practice won, and instead of USA adopting lifetime employment, Japan adopted mass layoffs. Soon Japan's economy was in the trough, though the US economy was still delicately balanced on the highwire, propped up by bigness and the huge foreign investment in its bigness-fueled safe-haven role. [But humans are a social species and our current pose as rough tough competitors who don't need nobody and resent any infringement of our freedom as employers (though we haven't all gone back to fury against those outrageously oppressive government regulations vs. child labor and slavery - yet) will eventually be replaced by a smarter social integration than the much-corrupted "one person, one vote." The shift will be in the direction of "one person, one range of natural market-demanded employment," and though individual firing for cause will become much easier, mass layoffs will become illegal, in favor of company-wide workweek reductions. The advantage is obvious. The feedback will directly affect top executives, who are responsible, as well as ordinary employees, who are not. (This contrasts with our current slow-learning approach of making the innocent suffer while rewarding the guilty with golden parachutes.) An economy of such companies will easily outcompete much larger economies of our cruder type of company. The superiority of the new approach is already being demonstrated on the level of company-vs-company competition by just partially timesized companies like Nucor Steel, Lincoln Electric and VW, and even today, DaimlerChrysler (4/29/2000). [The transition will be along the lines of the 5 phases of the Timesizing.com program. How can we be so sure? Because our current "strategy" is just too stupid and wasteful. It may take a long time, especially in economies strongly wedded to the Dilbertoid "f*ck you" mgmt style of big dumb USA - mostly self-absorbed and English-speaking - but once it starts, it will "take" surprisingly quickly, because sooo many people will be sooo fed up - and bored with the legions of tired old externalized problems - and big government - that our current excuse for "corporate strategy" (downsizing) occasions - like poverty (= lost consumers), record homelessness, and world-record incarceration.] 2/08/2000 Americans are killing themselves much more than each other, World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, 6:40 pm EST. ...An American commits suicide every 17 minutes.... Suicides by Americans outnumber murders by 3 to 2.... Suicide in America has become a public health crisis.... [Don't worry, folks. All this will change as we issue the second and third volumes in our series, Millennium Orienteering Trilogy, of which the first volume is already out - Timesizing, Not Downsizing. Science so far has failed us by not showing us the big patterns. Over-specialized. "Can't see the woods for the trees." But those big patterns are there and we aim to articulate and celebrate 'em.] 12/12/99 Lasting trials for India's widows - Low status makes widows pariahs - Suicide marks lasting inequity within society, by Marion Lloyd, Boston Globe, A8. [Never mind the caste-based classism in India - what about the intense sexism? - probably rooted in lack of plentiful and varied birth control methods. Baby girls are frequently killed, and things are grim at the other end of life as well, according to this exposé -] In a case that has shocked many Indians, a 53-year-old widow flung herself last month onto her husband's funeral pyre, silently burning to death in front of a crowd of cheering villagers. The suicide was immediately described as a case of "sati" [uh, all our dictionaries have this as "suttee"], the ancient Hindu ritual by which a wife demonstrates ultimate loyalty to her spouse in a trial by fire. [That's no "trial" by fire, it's a certain slow and painful death.] It was the first such case since 1987, when the government passed a law updating a century-old British ban on the practice.... But the case has highlighted the plight of millions of Indian widows...who are cast out of their homes after their husbands die. They must [then] choose between begging or devoting themselves to the gods in one of a handful of so-called widows' villages. [Truly we are living not just in different geographic zones, but in completely different centuries and stages of human evolution.] The largest of these [villages] is Vrindavan, the legendary birthplace of the Hindu god Krishna and the headquarters of the...Hare Krishnas. Thousands of widows clad in white saris spend their days squatting on the temple floors and chanting "Hare Krishna" in exchange for handfuls of rice and lentils..\.. "It's not just the widows. It's...the position of women in India," said Kamala Ghosh, who runs a shelter for abandoned widows in Vrindavan...150 miles north of New Delhi.... Critics blame the government, which they say has done little to address the roots of the problem: the low status of women in Indian society and endemic poverty. [The grand old man of Boston University economics, the late lamented "Rosie" - Prof. Paul Rosenstein-Rodan, used to hold up India as the textbook case of dismal Malthusian economics - where population growth outruns food supply and economic growth - and the whole economy becomes impoverished and miserable. In the 1920s, India had a decent 5% economic growthrate, but the population growthrate was somewhat more than that (c. 9%?) and the result was that by the end of the decade, the country, which had started out fairly prosperously, became poverty-stricken and miserable.] ...A columnist, Mrinal Pande, wrote in the weekly Outlook news magazine, "[The widow who committed sati] died as she had long lived, without access to knowledge, basic information, basic medical amenities." Those disadvantages are magnified exponentially when a woman loses her husband. While widowers can remarry or rely on their children for support, widows from poor families are often thrown out of their homes by sons who do not want another mouth to feed.... Most widows...are either unaware they are legally entitled to their husbands' property or too powerless to demand those rights. "The law is there. But only the very rich or educated know how to make it work for them," said K.C. Gaur, a civil lawyer in Vrindavan.... Nor is remarriage an option for most widows, particularly those from rural areas. Indian culture discourages even those who are widowed in their teens from taking another husband.... Even those with happey memories of married life attribute their misfortune to fate - not societal exploitation in the guise of tradition. "All I can say is this is my luck," said Adhikar, [a] rice farmer's widow [who was done out of her husband's 10-acre farm by her son and daughter-in-law]. "This is the life the god wanted me to have." [Somebody on the radio today said something about not being able to do much for those who will put up with oppression. Maybe by speeding up progress in our own far-from-perfect society, we can embarrass India into doing more for widows...] ..\..Ghosh...has been pressuring the government to do more for widows, including ensuring payment of yearly pensions ranging from$35 to $100.... [It would be good to see this situation changed. After all, suppose those who believe in reincarnation are right, and we're destined to come back to this world. And suppose those who believe we switch genders each time are right. Then suppose there's a dice roll for which country. We could easily be back as a female baby somewhere in India....] 11/20/99 An executive's puzzling death leaves riddles at magazines, by Kuczynski and Barringer, NYT, B1. Kimberly Smith Jensen...in August...had been promoted to chief operating officer..\..of Mortimer B. Zuckerman's publishing empire...[to oversee] management at [three magazines, namely] Fast Company, The Atlantic Monthly and U.S. News & World Report..\.. And she was regarded as a trustworthy manager. \She\ had been with the company for 15 years \and her\ passion outside the office was rock and country music.... On Nov. 4, Mr. Zuckerman and his management asked Ms. Jensen...to explain what they said were missing funds under her authority.... On Nov. [7]...she drove..\..a singer-songwriter [she was managing] to the Providence airport [and afterward] drove into the city and attempted suicide by inhaling exhaust fumes from her car.... She was taken to a Rhode Island hospital. \On Nov. 13\ she was found...in a Comfort Inn in Ocean City, Md. [with] a plastic bag tied over her head.... The Ocean City police said her death was an apparent suicide..\.. William Whitworth, the former editor in chief of The Atlantic Monthly, said Ms. Jensen had thrived on work and was always extremely busy. "I got the impression that she had too much to do, but sought that," Mr. Whitworth said.... [Running away from feeling empty and meaningless?] [Why all these killings/suicides in a "booming" economy?] 8/31/99 Two "they-gotta-be-'who gives a damn'-suicidal" mass killers on the same page - 1. Gunman kills two at a store in California, AP via NYT, A16. GARDEN GROVE, Calif., Aug. 30 - A gunman who is still being sought, sprayed an auto-parts store with bullets today, killing two people and wounding four.... [And if they had cornered him, he would have shot himself. Next time.] 2. Trial opens for ex-nurse charged in Indiana killings, Bill Dedman [here's appropriately named reporter for this assignment!], NYT, A16. CHICAGO, Aug. 30 - When patients began to die in the intensive care unit of a small Indiana hospital, the nurses noticed that Lynn Majors was usually on duty. Today, Mr. Majors went on trial, charged in the deaths of seven elderly patients. The police suspect that he may have killed as many as 100 people.... [In one of these general labor gluts, we all start downvaluing ourselves. We're common and we're cheap. Human life becomes cheap. We squabble more and more viciously for fewer and fewer scraps. This guy probably thought he was helping humanity by getting rid of the old and useless. Hitler had the same idea. And if we don't start making plenty of work to go round by sharing it and subdividing it as the technological tidal waves take it over, one industry after another, we'll all be thinking like this.] 8/26/99 Two suicide stories on same page, four suicides mentioned - 1. Man kills wife, then himself, by Michael Cooper, NYT, A17. A Queens man killed his wife on Tuesday night as their children slept in the next room, called his mother to tell her, and drove to Flushing Meadow Park where he fatally shot himself, the police said.... The couple had been having marital problems and had recently tried to reconcile.... 2. Tourist jumps to his death, NYT, A17. A German tourist jumped [more than 100 feet] to his death from the roof of [the Resorts Atlantic City] parking garage in Atlantic City yesterday, bringing to three the number of people who have committed suicide in the last two weeks by leaping from a casino structure.... The reason...was not known..\.. On Monday night, a dealer at Caesar's Atlantic City jumped from the parking deck of the casino.... The dealer had recently been charged with violating a restraining order obtained by his wife..\.. On Aug. 12, a Florida man leaped from the roof of the Trump Plaza casino.... The Florida man had lost a substantial amount of money.... [How many of these are job-related?] 8/25/99 Suicides haunt subway driver - "Something's got to be done because it really shocks the hell out of you. It's that noise, or that sound. You know you've hit somebody. Anybody who's had one knows it." - Wayne Moore, by Jim Rankin, Toronto Star, B1. Wayne Moore knows the sound. It is a thump or a bang that the train does not make on its own. It means someone has jumped in front of his train. Again. "I think I'm up to 12 now," says Moore, who has been a subway operator and train guard for 15 of his 24 years with the Toronto Transit Commission [TTC]. Moore...married with three children, went on a three-week mental health leave following an incident on Aug. 4 - the day the third person of the year ended up under his train. That one was a suicide attempt. To the best of his knowledge, the man who leapt in front of the train as it pulled into Bathurst station (on the E-W line) survived. As a rule, the media, police and TTC do not publicize suicides for fear of copycat incidents. The events of Sunday night [8/22] have changed that. Jeyabalan Balasingam [sounds Indonesian], suffering from depression and paranoia, scooped his 3-year-old son in his arms and leapt in front of a subway at the Victoria Park station, opening public discussion. Moore says it is time politicians and the TTC take a hard look at physically preventing people from jumping in front of approaching trains. It takes its toll on everyone involved, particularly TTC employees, he said.... On April 29, a woman died instantly under Moore's Bloor-Danforth train after jumping off the platform at Runnymede station. The first death of the year for Moore came Feb. 3. For once, it was not a suicide, but it was no less disturbing. A man suffering a heart attack on the St. George station platform leaned forward into the path of the train. Moore was training a rookie driver on that run. Both of them went straight back to work. Possible solutions...gates or platform barriers [or simply] slowing down the trains as they enter the stations.... An inquest held last year into suicides off the Bloor Street Viaduct led to the decision to install safety netting. The budget for the project is set at C$3.3 million. Unlike the Viaduct, where 19 people leapt to their deaths last year, suicide attempts on the TTC subway system - about 24 each year - are spread out; there is no one station that is a hot spot. Another difference is that while almost all who jump from the Viaduct die, about half of those who jump in front of trains survive.
Whenever someone has jumped, a guard becomes much more than someone who opens and closes the subway doors. They turn off the third rail, empty the train, corral people on the platform and shoo the curious away from the scene. And then, quite often, they flick on their flashlight and locate the jumper.
"That's stressful. You don't know where you're going to see the body," says Moore. "We've had them under the train and bodies caught between the train and the platform. Usually these people live until you move the train and eventually, of course, they're dead." After the last suicide, Moore tried to go back after a couple of days, on light duty.... "But...I'd get someone standing on that yellow strip, and I'd wonder, 'Is that person going to jump in front of my train or not?'" he said....

For more details, see our laypersons' guide Timesizing, Not Downsizing, which is available online from *Amazon.com and at bookstores in Harvard and Porter Squares, Cambridge, Mass.

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