Saturday, July 03, 2004

The Tipping Point - You and I Make a Difference

I recently received an email from someone who found my blog while visiting another site Foolsblog. After exchanging several emails with my reader, I asked permission if I could place the original email concerning their discovery of my blog. The reader gave me permission as long as I kept their name anonymous, but I could supply their email address for authentication as necessary.

Now, the reason I am posting this email is not to give myself pats on the back. I wanted to share it and talk about how we, each in our own way, can have an impact on another person. Read this email and I will explain further:

Subject: I'm sitting here in shock...
Date: Thu, 01 Jul 2004 17:18:29 -0700

...After reading your "Busting Conspiracy Theories" entries. The work and time you put into that is incredible!

I've never written to anyone like this before but you moved me enough to do so.. so this is all your fault :)

I'll try to make this as short as possible.
I started doing what you are doing a few weeks back, on a much, much smaller scale. I got tired of the extreme views on both sides as none of it seemed based on truth. I even bought into some of it! *hangs head* I knew the truth was in the middle somewhere, I knew it was going to take some time and I set out to find it. In doing so I found much more than I bargained for and the time involved was shocking to me. Everywhere I turned was a repeat of what everyone else was saying with no supporting facts offered and the only resources offered were other articles that had been copied and pasted. It was like looking into a mirror that was looking into another mirror with no true image.

Since then I can't begin to describe how I feel about our main stream media, I turned to blogs instead. There I found people who were willing to do the work to find the truth above all else as well as people who are living it and reporting it as they see it.. and more importantly people who do the work, post their findings (without spin) and allow ME to think with my very own brain!

I've now started to pick apart everything that I thought I believed or disbelieved... I've changed my views tremendously about almost everything relating to politics and current events! I've become a fiend for facts and blogs.

Your work helped me change my view on the "Blood for Oil" cries. I had just started digging when I found your piece on it. I was actually buying into the idea that our men and women were dying for oil, that all the Iraqis hated us, that they were better off before America "took over". I kept thinking "Please God don't let this be true" ... Then... I found Iraqi bloggers, I found Military bloggers writing from Iraq and more! And now.. I've found you. You've provided me with facts, ones that I can see for myself and go research myself.... that's all I wanted. The truth. I don't care if it's left, right, heaven or hell... I just want the truth.

Thank you..
Thank you for being a part of my discoveries.
Thank you for the incredible amount of time and thought you put into your work.
We will never know the truth until we start searching for it ourselves.
Keep doing what you're doing, it is important.
(BTW I found you through a link at

With much respect,

I was pretty amazed when I received this email. Largely because the research I was doing and posting here was for my own benefit. I wanted to know, without review or interpretation from the media, what was the reality. After that, I thought that, at most, it might serve as debate points for those who were pro or anti-war. I've learned recently through by trips thru the blogosphere, that people are hungry for information, just like me. They are often in the middle of debates trying to "google" particular subjects or find back up material for their particular point of view, right in the middle of a chat session or comment board. I've actually enjoyed entering into these debates the last few weeks. It was very exhilarating and definitely sharpens the mind.

Tipping Points
When I received this email, it reminded me about a book I had read recently called The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. This book talks about the sociological, psychological, and physical "points" that cause a situation to "tip" one way or the other. It reviews the social atmosphere as well as the types of people that effect this change. It constantly refers to "good" and "bad" epidemics, how they get started, how they spread, etc.

I recommended this book to "whitedeers" and another recent acquaintance as a way to learn how we can make a difference.

Before you read this book, I will tell you that it is 294 pages and occasionally slips off into the intellectual desert (ie, dry). However, if you can get past those areas, the book points out several examples of how and who can foster changes, either in their immediate area or even world wide. One such example is the Crime Rate for the City of New York. The book talks about a program that can be loosely referred to as "The Broken Window Theory".

The Broken Window Theory

According to the data, crime in New York City was on an unprecedented rise from the 1970's through the 1980's. Do you remember Bernie Goetz the "subway vigilante"? Refresher for those who don't or are too young to recall: Dec 22, 1984, Goetz was on the subway in NY, NY when he was approached by 5 young black men. According to witnesses, the young men demanded that Goetz hand over his money. Goetz reached in his pocket, pulled out a chrome plated Smith & Wesson Snub Nose and preceded to shoot them. All of them. At the time, many hailed him as a hero. Crime was rampant in the city and the citizens acquitted Goetz on the basis of self defense.

In 1996, Goetz was sued in the Civil courts by one of his "victims". The "victim" won. Of course, there was the extenuating circumstances. Apparently, after shooting the unarmed men, one of them lay screaming in pain on the subway floor; Goetz approached him and was heard to say, "you seem fine, here's another one" and shot him one more time. The bullet lodged in his spine and he was paralyzed. In 1996, the good people of New York thought that was a little over the top and awarded the "victim" a monetary award.

Why did people's ideas change on the subject? Starting in 1990, crime had declined to such a degree, that people no longer recalled the "bad old days" when you took your life into your own hands when you rode the subway. How did this change? The book explores the different views of the subject. Malcolm Gladwell points out that sociologists believe it was the decrease in unemployment and poverty level that attributed to the decrease. While this is a good theory, it is not necessarily the thing that had direct impact on the problem. As he points out in the book, many areas had high unemployment and poverty levels, but it did not necessarily result in high crime areas. He links the change directly to a change in policy in the New York city government. This policy was based on the "broken window" theory.

The "broken window" theory works like this: you see a broken window you fix it. You see graffiti on the wall, you paint over it. You see trash on the street, you pick it up. If it gets broken or painted or trashed again, you go back and fix it again and again, however often it takes. Why? The theory states that crime will take root and grow in places where nobody is watching or nobody cares. Criminals feel comfortable operating "under the radar". When the windows are fixed, the graffiti is gone and the streets are clean, it looks like somebody is paying attention. Ergo, the criminals will want to go someplace else.

This is the policy that New York adopted. The city also spent more money on police and emergency services. Not just on quantity, but on quality of training and enforcement of the law. They spent more money on repairing infrastructure, garbage collection, general maintenance, etc.

In the 70's and 80's, the police were tasked with going after "big" crime. They often paid little attention to the petty criminals painting graffiti on walls and subway train cars, or jumping turnstiles or drinking beer on the sidewalks, etc. The theory there was to spend tax payers money "appropriately" on solving big crimes. In 1990, the orders changed. The police were to enforce every law, no matter how small or how "petty". In doing so, they were able to "harass" the criminals. Every time a police officer busted someone for jumping the turnstile, they were run through the NCIC for warrants, outstanding tickets, etc. This turned out to be a bonanza for the police as they were able to pick up many criminals without resorting to "door to door" searches. Further, it sent a signal to the criminals: we aren't putting up with you anymore. Stop, or you will go to jail.

The average NYPD precinct during the ten-year period studied could expect to suffer one less violent crime for approximately every 28 additional misdemeanor arrests made. Do Police Matter

Of course, many civil liberty groups called this "harassment" illegal and tried to get it stopped (imagine that), stating it impinged the citizens rights. It was thrown out over and over again. There was no "harassment" in enforcing the law. The laws were on the books and the police officers were simply enforcing them. Other folks thought that this was a waste of money that should be spent on "bigger" crimes. By 1996, these opponents had been shut down by the results: crime in New York city had declined to a point not seen since the 50's and 60's.

This is what is referred to as a "good" epidemic. Once it was started in one area and shown to have an impact, it spread to many areas (hence, neighborhood watches, etc), like an epidemic. Mr. Gladwell does not denigrate the contribution of better economics to the "good" epidemic, he simply points out that every change needs a direct catalyst, or point of impact, a tipping point, to get it rolling. The "broken window" theory was it.

You and I Make a Difference

You and I can make the same difference. With one action or word, we have the power to change, not only our own lives, but the lives of others. We can change our society, our culture, the world. The question remains: Do we have the gumption to commit ourselves to this change? This is the point of posting "whitedeers'" email. WE can make a difference. If there was nothing else or no one else that ever read this journal, I will have found my time spent on this project well worth it, for having given one person information that might change their life.

Another point, both "whitedeer" and another reader have posted links to my studies on the "Blood for Oil" issue on internet community boards. In this way, they have contributed to spreading a "good" epidemic or "the tipping point", where more people might be able to get information that is not readily available to them or is too time consuming to look up for themselves.

Make a Difference in Your Personal Life

I have used this in my personal and business life as well. Let me tell you a story. I have already referred to one of the facilities that I visit frequently in San Diego, California. This facility had many problems. One of which was the frequent "loss" of inventory and equipment. Every physical inventory we were taking huge write-offs. When I went to the warehouse area of this facility, I was appalled. Equipment and inventory was spread out without rhyme or reason. Laying around, not on shelves, parts that go with other equipment in one section of the warehouse while the actual equipment was someplace else. In short, it was a disaster.

I asked the facility and warehouse managers why this was allowed to occur. They pointed out things like employee turnover, rapid pace of business, etc as being the culprits. I looked squarely at them and said, "bullshit!". It was obvious to me that the employees didn't give a damn about the place (managers either) and thought, since no one paid attention or told them to be different, that it was "ok". I then explained to them the "broken window" theory. That their people would come to respect the warehouse area and, thus, control our inventory, if we demanded it of them. The first step was to clean it up. They were directed to have a plan for me within 2 weeks on how the warehouse would be cleaned and re-organized, who would participate and the date it would be done.

That was step number one. They drug their feet a little, but I kept applying the "broken window" theory to my relations with them. I called and emailed every few days to ask for an update; reminding them that it was important. Even while they continued to "hem and haw" about causing disruptions in the business and possibly pissing their staff off, I continued to insist that it was important. Finally, the day arrived when the warehouse was clean and the inventory organized. After praising them for their progress, I then demanded a schedule by which the warehouse would be regularly "cleaned" and a program by which they would enforce this with their staff. They were also to institute spot checks on paperwork, deliveries and equipment to insure everyone was following procedures.

This is three months later, I am telling you that the warehouse is almost unrecognizable compared to the beginning of the year. Inventory losses declined dramatically. The warehouse staff are happier than I have ever seen them and the delivery staff don't seem to be too "pissed" anymore.

Everytime I go to the facility now, I walk into the warehouse and speak to the staff. I tell them constantly that it looks good and I remind them constantly on the importance of keeping it clean and controlling our inventory.

This is how you apply the "broken window" theory to real life situations that you encounter.

Closing Thoughts, Things to Think About

I don't want to turn this section into a political statement, but I am forced to point out the relationship of this theory to the war in Iraq. First, let me explain that the former Police Commissioner for New York City, Bernard Kerik, is part of President Bush's "First Responders Team" in his Homeland Security council. He was not the creator of the "broken windows" theory (that was Police Commissioner William Bratton), but he certainly inherited it and was part of it's implementation. He did not influence the President's decision to go to war in Iraq, but he certainly bought into the plan and went over several times to give advice to the CPA on handling certain matters.

Think about "tipping points", "good epidemics" and "broken windows theory". The middle east serves as our "high crime" area. This is where most of the "terrorists" come from. The terrorists are able to plan and operate without impunity because there was no one that tried to stop them. There was no one that tried to "fix" the problem. The middle east has high poverty, low employment, little freedom and many "broken windows". A breeding ground, as it were, for the enemy.

I'm going to leave you with those thoughts. The next post will discuss the relationship of "broken window theory" or national security, economy, oil and the middle east.


Pat in NC said...

Thanks, this topic is very interesting and I look forward to your next post.

Robert said...

Hrm, was I that 'other reader'? Hehe.

I enjoyed your work immensely Kat. And now, whenever I get into an argument about 'Blood for Oil', I have the facts you arranged for me to use! It was extremely useful. Why hadn't anyone else done this before? People take certain things for granted, and that isn't how it should be. If people were asked how much oil we import from the middle east, I think most people would say around 80 percent, which is totally wrong.

The facts are a strong flashlight.

Kat said...


Glad you enjoyed the information provided. If only a few people are armed with the information and each convinces another to look at the information, the next thing you know, we have a "good" epidemic.

Kat said...

testing comments

Kat said...

Robert, you are definitely one of my "readers"! LOL

Yes..I've been wondering why somebody hasn't really done an all out investigation of the whole war and oil situation. You know, give the people the real background on who has what relations and why, but it means they might have to work at it.

We have to keep searching for the truth ourselves or we will be like the rest..led without knowing where we are going.

Tom said...


Great post on the "Broken Window" theory of how crime escallates. If I am not mistaken James Q Wilson was one of the primary authors of this theory. See his article in the Atlantic at

My recollection is that it was Rudolph Guliani who first put this into practice when he became mayor of NYC.

And, as you recount, it was very controversial, but in the end the new policing policy was proven sound. And of course the national press doesn't trumpet this type of success much. As a result one still often hears the refrain "why don't the police worry about more important things!"

Jersey Dan said...

Thanks for taking the time and for sharing the Warehouse story. It has aided me in moving my team in NJ from good to great. I shared your story with them and drove the message home, we all knew first hand the impact of the Broken Window Theory and the message sunk in with your example of practical application.
Thanks again.