Monthly Archives: March 2016

St. Patiens Speaking in Tongues

The story of second-century St. Patiens going to the city of Metz in northeast France and speaking in tongues.

St. Patiens of Metz is a mysterious figure in the annals of ecclesiastical biographies. His existence is sure, but the details are sketchy. We do know he died around 157 AD,1 and was the fourth bishop appointed to the city of Metz – a northeastern city in France that is a geographic intersection between many other European cultures and languages.

Where St. Patiens came from, it is not known. However, he was not originally from the Metz region, nor did he speak whatever language was spoken there. I hesitate to write that these people spoke French because the land of the Gauls (ancient France) did not have a unified language and some regions had no relationship to the French language at all. According to the Acta Sanctorum, the people of Metz spoke a barbaric language. The term barbaric is reserved for languages and peoples that are remote, isolated or hostile. French may have been included in the list of barbaric languages during this period, but this is not certain.

The following English translation is drawn from only one source, Acta Sanctorum . This book may be drawing from a fabricated myth relating to his name because of a fight between two religious orders. The religious orders, l’abbaye Saint-Clément and l’abbaye Saint-Arnould, had a strong competition between each other during the tenth and fourteenth centuries. L’abbaye Saint-Clément asserted their ministry was based on St. Clement of Metz, arguably the first-ever bishop of Metz.2 Later mythology had Clement of Metz as a “vanquisher of a local dragon.”3

The rival L’abbaye Saint-Arnoud countered with their version of St. Patiens. They argued that he was a follower of the Apostle John and met him on a trip to Asia minor.4 They may have also supplied the myth that he supernaturally spoke in tongues to support their claim as the more credible church order. However, it is hard to validate any of these claims or to understand the actual dating of Clement of Metz or Patiens. There are many contradictions. There simply isn’t enough information to build a proper framework.

His biography demonstrates how the Medieval Catholic writers of Acta Sanctorum understood the Christian rite of speaking of tongues. Acta Sanctorum is an encyclopedic text of Christian saints organized on their feast day. It was first begun in the early 1600s with additions and corrections being made until 1940. It is not an old document in the literary sense, but has value in reflecting the beliefs of tongues at the time.

The definition of speaking in tongues is clearly defined in their story of St. Patiens. They believed this operation was the spontaneous speaking in a foreign language unknown beforehand. This is abundantly clear with no concept of an alternative definition. Nor do the authors delve deeply into the mechanics behind this miracle.

Enclosed is an English translation. Late Medieval Latin is new to me and there are definite variations from Classical Latin. I was unprepared for these challenges before starting the Medieval translation series. It is a work in progress.

My rough English translation from the Latin source text


7. Blessed Patiens is therefore emboldened by such a great miracle and with the ancestral recollection. He took up the pastoral office, he asks for the blessing of this very gift named by the many and relics of the Saints and by the Book of the Gospel. He takes an unknown road with those through sea bays of Illyria and the Adriatic. He avoids the wide-ranging difficulty of the journey with Christ as the guide and finally ended-up in the territory of the Gauls. O Miracle! The language of the uncivilized peoples, which he previously did not understand, he understood, and responded, and as necessity required. This was the sign of the miraculous relating to the first ones established in the Church, that whom the Apostles anointed and appointed for the purpose of preaching to the nations. Immediately they openly received the knowledge of languages, even as the Acts of the Apostles describes of Cornelius. And so with this certain proof, the blessed St. Patiens arrived at the city of Metz, who the ecclesiastical order along with the people of faith rejoice about the arrival. And then is encouraged from this state which from the revelation previously had been celebrated is registered as the successor of St. Felix who was the third after the blessed Clement ruled the city.


The Latin from Acta Sanctorum

AASS: Jan. 8 Pg. 469-70 verses 7 – 85


7. Confortatur itaque tanto B. Patiens miraculo, et admonitione paterna. Pastorale suscepit officium, multisque Sanctorum pignoribus ac ipsius Evangelii codice donatus benedictionem petit, accipit : ignotum iter cum suis per Illyrici et Adriatici sinus maria arripit : tandemque Christo duce difficultatem itineris multimodam evadit, Gallorum fines intravit. Mirare ! Linguam Barbarorum, quam pridem ignorabat, intelligebat, et respondebat, necessariaque requirebat. Fuit hoc insigne miraculum in Ecclesia primitivorum, ut quos Apostoli chrismate præsignabant, vel ad prædicandum gentibus ordinabant, illico manifeste scientiam linguarum accipiebant, sicut de Cornelio Actus Apostolorum narrant. Itaque certo indicio B. Patiens Metim civitatem devenit : quo deveniente Ecclesiasticus ordo cum fideli populo lætatur,et tam ex habitu quam ex revelatione pridem celebrata, de successore S. Felecis, qui tertius post B. Clementem rexerat Urbem, certificatur, consolatur.


Why the Church is Declining Part II


Why is Evangelical Church attendance declining? One of the reasons is because the church cannot compete in the entertainment realm. It should not be completely abandoned, but never should be the sole catalyst for church life.

This is part of a series focusing on declining church audiences. The first one covered the fact that marketing and branding have been on an upswing in the church world while content has been sacrificed. See Why the Evangelical Church is Declining Part I for this.

John Lennon knew back in the 1960s what it was. At the height of Beatlemania he stated, “We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.”1 He later stated it was a fact that was taken wrong.

Lennon had the numbers to support his claim. And today it is even clearer. For every time two cents is used to promote Christian values, $10 is spent on an alternative message. Yes, the Beatles and the consumer driven attractions that it symbolizes are far greater monoliths than Jesus.

Financial figures back this up. Religious institution donations in the United States are annually around $115 billion and decreasing. This includes donations to churches, not para-church organizations like World Vision and the like, so if these are included it may be more. However, one must keep in mind that 80% of this $115 billion is likely used for infrastructure costs such as building maintenance, equipment, and salaries, the other 20% may be visibly used for marketing and entertainment purposes, which reduces the total to about $23 billion for propagation of the faith.

This amount designated for the church doesn’t even compete with the liquor revenue sold annually in the United States estimated around $211.6 billion.2 Nor does it compare to the United States film industry which had $564 billion dollars of revenue in 2014,3 or the conservatively estimated $400 billion amount that gambling and casinos raked in a one-year period in 2014.4 Gambling could be much more, even double by some estimates.5

So the church has $23 billion to market and instruct the general public about the Christian tenets while the various forms of the entertainment and beverage industry has over one-trillion in revenue to promote an alternate lifestyle. I am not even including the sales of illegal drugs, annual vacations, or sports markets in this total that the general public has vested interests in. If these totals were included, it would make the differential even higher.

Two cents is not going to beat $10 in the realm of influence. I am not going to argue that these two cents have been well used, it simply is not enough to gain any significant public traction and inject ideas or thoughts into the larger social conscience.

But this hasn’t stopped the church from using entertainment and media as a primary medium to engage greater society. Instead of focusing on the message, the medium has become the important part. In essence, many evangelical churches sensing the decline in membership and anticipating the needs of millennials, have switched the function of the church as a place of worship to that of a church theater.

Is this is what the Church is purposed to do? St. Paul exhorted others to adapt the Gospel to the social context.6 But how far do we take this?

If one makes a broad examin, there are some good Christian movies being produced. For example Courageous, which was developed by an associate pastor and he used actors largely recruited from his Church, Sherwood Baptist, on a tight $2 million budget. The gate receipts for this movie greatly exceeded the budget.

It comes across preachy but the story does work for a Christian audience, not so much for those who are not part of this movement. This may not be a bad thing, as this movie is a powerful didactic for instilling and reasserting core values of church life.

Heaven is for Real, which cost $12 million to make, had made into the public realm of discussion on heaven and God and has made a tidy profit. The movie beat out the $200 million blockbuster flop, Transcendence, starring Johnny Depp which tried, but failed to build a cohesive story on the intersection of God, authority, and technology.

The Veggie Tales movie, Jonah, cost $14 million to bring to theatres and led Big Idea Productions into bankruptcy. It did garner a 3 out of 5 rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

This movie, along with the whole Veggie Tale phenomenon has a combination of music, comedy, and storylines that always seemed to work well together. It is well received among a spectrum of viewers.

Mel Gibson’s $30 million dollar re-telling of the Crucifixion stirred controversy for his abstract, violent, gory, and over-simplistic approach. However, the cinematography, sound, clothing, and the speech in various languages really were top-notch. He did succeed in bringing viewers into evaluating the Christian message for their lives.

The DaVinci Code which explores religious themes, especially that of the possibility of Jesus being married to Mary Magdelene and begetting a line of children, brought the Christian faith into a critical review.

Although the theology is whacky, the author, Dan Brown, brought the discussion of history back into the forefront of modern society. It was somewhat of a revival of Greek and Latin literature studies. I am very thankful for this part of his story.

Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz is a refreshing change from shallow or predictable Christian movies.

He is one of the few who has intellectually engaged culture and Christianity into a complex and interesting narrative. A vlogger called Half-The-Mike did a short movie review on this movie and concluded, “I don’t think it is a Christian movie or a religious movie. Its kind of in between… I usually think of those movies as absolute crap and they usually are absolute crap. But I was pleasantly surprised by this movie.”7

The Chronicles of Narnia movies are very good but have not impacted or become viral because they are very predictable. Each film has cost between $155 to $225 million and collectively have exceeded over $1 billion dollars in revenue.

C.S. Lewis’ work has been around for fifty years and his stories are well-known. This removes the element of surprise that the movie should possess, and, therefore, audiences are more critical. The expectations are extremely high and almost impossible to meet.

The Left Behind series of movies, based on the books of the same name which have sold over 65 million copies and evoked Jerry Falwell to say the most impactful book in contemporary times outside the Bible,8 hasn’t helped to expand the Christian faith. It really hasn’t detracted either. The latest 2014 installment was rated a 2.1 out of 10 at the Rotten Tomatoes website9 describes the movie in this way:

Christian readers and audiences are the base here, but it’s hard to imagine that this incarnation of the story will persuade anyone else to find the Lord unless they’re sitting in the theater praying for the dialogue or special effects to improve. This is essentially an “Airport” movie with an Evangelical spin, but it lacks the self-awareness to turn such a wild concept into a guilty pleasure.10

In relation to the amount of movies being produced, distributed and watched, christian movies are a small drop in the bucket. It hardly dents into the myriad of genres available for the public to peruse.

Sometimes the use of media can create a negative reaction and hurt the Church brand more than help it. For example, Bible Man was a popular series produced from 1995 to 2011 about “an evangelical superhero who fights evil and quotes scripture.”11

Or the Kenneth Copeland based videos, SuperKid Academy:

This is a b-movie that is a simplistic narrative that the child actors enunciate favourite Christian phrases. It rivals Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

The following may be the most infamous of all. The music video Jesus is a friend of mine by Sonseed.

A YouTube commenter noted: “This song will make terrorists give up hostages...”

One must be reticent of making such a bold assertion. Corny videos may have been a sign of the 1980s music scene. Billy Joel’s For the Longest Time video similarly parallels Jesus is a friend of mine. Joel is singing about a girl, but no woman ever appears in the video. The age of the singers related to the content of the song, clothing, flashbacks and the dancing did not seem synchronized as a cohesive story at all. You be the judge. See the video below:

The use of the theater in church services, which are done on very tight budgets, usually falls into the category of being too preachy and predictable or simply assuaging its already established base. Success usually needs a significant cash infusion and, at least, six months to a year’s worth of full-time preparation by a large committed, creative, smart and salaried team. This type of product is out-of-reach by most churches. I have yet to see a church-based play explore the complex human condition with any meaningful feeling from a faith perspective.

Another problem is the legacy gift of the televangelists – its become a derogatory term throughout most households. If one self-identifies as a Christian in any discussion, this is one of the first topics to be brought up. The televangelist abuses have created real barriers to any discussion about matters of faith.

Last Week Tonight host, John Oliver, recognize most churches have a positive impact, but televangelists are a serious problem. His commentary, small portions laced with profanity, expresses the typical viewer mindset:

John Oliver demonstrates how the power of media can be very profitable, but if not managed properly, can be a real disaster. In the case of Christianity in North America, it is almost irreparable.

There is an alternative that works and it is found in the Catholic approach. Pope Francis and the present Catholic Church has instead asserted the Church as a “voice of the conscience of the West,”12 on ecological, social, ethical, and humanitarian issues and has not tried to compete as an alternative theater venue.

However, this would be difficult to duplicate. This Pope represents over 400 million adherents, whereas the large 1 billion plus Protestant umbrella group of Pentecostals, Charismatics, Third Wavers, Baptists and so on are fragmented. They do not speak with a unanimous voice nor have any central form of hierarchy. This deeply hurts their message. These groups convey an existential religious smorgasbord that people can pick and choose – a western capitalist form of commoditized religion, or as Reginald Bibby, the author of Fragmented Gods, puts it, a consumerized religion.13 This status takes away any moral authority in the public sphere and does not communicate with any unilateral support.

Secondly, the Pope is drawing ideas, thoughts and draws from a strong group of thinkers and strategists. The Pope himself is very intelligent about matters of the church and the modern psyche. Most Protestant-based pastors and leaders do not have the educational background or a professional team that has the ability to properly understand the historic faith and communicate it in modern terms.

The problems of the lack of unity and trained spiritual leaders leaves evangelicals with few options to communicate with the larger society. The church as a theater is the most natural fit in the present circumstance.

This will probably never succeed. First of all, the church isn’t designed to be a media megastar. It is intended to be an embassy for God’s coming kingdom. Making films or using multimedia may be a part of this role, but it cannot be the mission. The church does not have the resources to richly and professionally communicate via film to the public and make its message stand out. The church also has abandoned the richness of the message and shed part of its humanity to be an entertainment alternative. With the one exception of Sherwood Baptist Church, the success of Christian based films is produced by extremely talented third-party religious adherents who feel strongly motivated to present their message in film form. There are always the few exceptions and these must be encouraged. Donald Miller is one of the leading examples of this genre. It may be better for churches to skip their performances and pool their resources for talented people such as Mr. Miller to get their message out.

St. Matthew Speaking in Tongues

A Medieval account on the apostle Matthew speaking in tongues.

The following is a modified version of William Caxton’s 1483 English translation of the Latin work, Legendae Aurea, commonly known in English as the Golden Legend. A highly popular book during the Medieval era.

The text as it is found in the Golden Legend

Matthew appeared with two names: Matthew and Levy. Matthew is meant a hasty gift, or a giver of counsel, or Matthew is said of the Latin ‘magnus,’ and Greek ‘theos,’ that is God, as it were a great God. Or of the Latin ‘manus,’ that is a hand, and the Greek ‘theos,’ that is God, as it were the hand of God. He was a gift of hastiness by hasty conversion, a giver of counsel by wholesome preaching, great to God by perfection of life, and the hand of God by writing of the gospel of God. Levy is interpreted obtained, or applied, or added, or appointed. He was obtained and taken away from gathering of taxes, he was applied to the number of the apostles, he was added to the company of the evangelists, and appointed to the catalogue of martyrs.

Matthew the apostle preaching in a city that is called Nadaber in Ethiopia, found there two enchanters named Zaroes and Arphaxat, who enchanted the men by their art, so that they desired everything that should seem deprived in soundness of mind and use of limbs. Which were so elevated in pride that they were adored by men as if God himself. Then Matthew the apostle entered into that city and was lodged with the eunuch of Candace the queen, whom Philip baptized. Then he laid bare the illusions of the enchanters, that whatever they did to men for destruction, that Matthew turned into health. Then this eunuch demanded of S. Matthew how he spoke and understood so many languages. And then St. Matthew told him when the Holy Ghost descended He had given knowledge of all the languages. As to those who had wanted to build a tower up into heaven, because the confusion of languages, they ceased from building, rather the Apostles built a tower not of stones but of upright qualities through the knowledge of all the languages, by the which all that believe shall mount up into heaven.1

Here is the original Latin text.

As taken from Jacobi A. Voragine. Legendae Aurea: Vulgo Historia Lombardica Dicta. Dr. Th. Graesse ed. Lipsiae. 1850. Pg. 622ff.

Matthaeus binomius exstitit, scilicet Matthaeus et Levi. Matthaeus autem interpretatur donum festinationis vel donator consilii. Vel dicitur Matthaeus a magnus et theos, quod et Deus, quasi magnus Deo, vel a manus et theos, quasi manus Dei. Fuit enim donum festinationis per festinam conversionem, donator consilii per salubrem praedicationem, magnus Deo per vitae perfectionem, manus Dei per evangelii conscriptionem. Levi interpretatur assumtus vel applicatus sive additus aut appositus. Fuit enim assumtus ab exactione vectigalium, applicatus numero apostolorum, additus consortio evanglistarum et appositus catalogo martirum.

Matthaeus apostolus in Aethiopia praedicans in civitate, quae dicitur Nadaber, duos magos nomine Zaroen et Arphaxat reperit, [623] qui ita homines suis artibus dementabant, ut, quoscunque vellent, membrorum officio et sanitate privare viderentur. Qui in tantam superbiam eruperunt, ut se quasi Deos ab hominibus facerent adorari. Matthaeus autem apostolus praedictam civitatem ingressus et apud eunuchum Canadacis reginae, quem Philippus baptizaverat, hospitatus ita magorum praestigia detegebat, quod quidquid ipsi faciebant hominibus in perniciem, hoc ipse converteret in salutem. Eunocho autem sanctum Matthaeum interrogante, quomodo tot linguas loqueretur et intelligeret, exposuit ei Matthaeus, quod spiritu sancto descendente omnium linguarum scientiam reperisset, ut, sicut illi, qui per superbiam turrim usque in coelum aedificare volebant, prae confusione linguarum ab aedificatione cessaverunt, sic apostoli per omnium linguarum scientiam turrim non de lapidibus, sed de virtutibus construant, per quam omnes, qui crediderint, in coelum adscendant.

The above narrative describing Matthew speaking in tongues is a later addition to the tongues doctrine. The narrative is from the Legendae Aurea which can draw from some very old oral traditions, and others more recent to its time. Although this does not reflect the actual life of Matthew, it gives a valuable insight on how the late Medieval Church understood speaking in tongues. In this case, it was the supernatural ability to speak in foreign languages.

For more information on Medieval Catholic literature on speaking in tongues, see the following introductory article, Late Medieval Speaking in Tongues.

When the Database Becomes god

A look into the ethics and economics of databases and algorithms. How technology has outpaced the social conscience and society needs to catch-up.

Electronic databases are necessary, and there is no way that we can revert to the days of a pen and paper society, but do we trust databases too much?

Everybody uses a database every day. The question is really how much. The answer is many times more than you think. They control how our lives are structured.

  • Need to Google the closest restaurant in your area for lunch? You enter a query and Google recalls it from their database called BigTable. Google remembers your search by placing your activity in their database and uses this data for advertisers.

  • Went to the Doctor’s and the person pulled up your digital medical file? It is likely in one of the private medical programs using the inexpensive database program called MariaDB, or if they are linked with a Provincial program in Canada, it is likely through SAP, PeopleSoft, or Oracle.

  • You go to work and you key in your ID number or swipe with a card. This will funnel its way into a database program. Who pays you? Probably no one. It is automatically set-up in a database program. Supervisors and payroll officers just check to make sure all data was entered correctly.

  • You pay by debit at a grocery store? The transaction is saved in three or more databases. The first one is in the grocer’s bank database which links to you personal bank’s database and they make a handshake. Then the records are somewhat shared by the two, and the grocer also has its own personal database for sales, inventory, transactions, taxes, and more.

  • Went to Facebook to check your status? You are seeing the results built from Facebook’s proprietary TAO database. Why is it every time you click on Facebook there are advertisements that are tailored to your likings? That is because your viewing history has been saved to the database. Facebook has developed programming to target ads based on this data. This is their source for advertising revenue.

  • If you are sourcing or entering personal information in an iPhone or Android smartphone, then you are using a SQLite database.

  • Watching a movie posted on Netflix? Netflix has moved into a newer territory of database structures called NoSQL, where they use a database program called Cassandra. You may notice that whenever you browse Netflix, it remembers every movie you watched and what your preferences are. This is because your preferences are saved in their database.

  • Travelling to the United States from Canada? Your personal information is accessed from other Canadian security sources and pooled on file with the Canadian Border Services Agency (who probably use the SAP application for this but CBSA does not publicly comment about their database structure). The relevant data is automatically transferred to the US Department of Homeland Security’s Oracle database. 1 The CBSA also keeps a diary of your travel history. Canadian privacy laws require that any history older than 3.5 years must be destroyed. As to the information transferred to the U.S. database, it is not known if it is ever destroyed.

  • Need a loan? Organizations such as Equifax have harvested your information from the banking and credit sectors. Most financial institutions have agreed to share information with this organization for credit purposes. Equifax’s data is stored in an Oracle database2. Your bank or lending agency will likely check this source, and add an entry that you have applied before approving or rejecting any request.

We all take Database architecture for granted. If it wasn’t for Relational Databases or it’s evolving children, there would be no internet, no advanced computing, smartphones, or many other conveniences.

If a Government or institution had the power to bring together all this different data, it could build a complete portrait of almost every individual. This is theoretically already happening. The United States National Security Agency has a program that can theoretically do this called Prism.3 However, I am skeptical about the effectiveness because this would require massive daily manpower to filter through the results and assess any risks. It doesn’t seem feasible to track and monitor so many people.

There are many ways to view the collection of this data and its problems. This article intends to limit its scope to the morality and economics of databases.

Canadian and most Western societies view database information as morally neutral. However, this is not true. The collection of data has been a moral problem for thousands of years. For example, the 900 BC or so story of King David in the Bible who called for a tabulated count of every man available for the military. This was considered by God a serious national sin and led to a severe judgement.4 Military statistics along with statistics on almost anything are routine today and it would be hard to argue that any database or statistics are inherently evil. However, David’s judgement provides evidence that the creation of certain types of databases creates ethical problems. A contemporary example is a concern over presidential candidate Donald Trump allegedly endorsing a plan to register all American Muslims in a special database. Whether true or not, it demonstrates a tension that society has with the ethics of databases.

Databases are an expression of the human experience and are important. They naturally occur and have to exist for life to work properly. However, what happens if the database or algorithm becomes a god?

History shows us that this can happen. The Nazis, in collaboration with IBM, had a database infrastructure for the purpose of racial targeting. If they overtook a town or city, they would hire clerks to enter local citizen information. If a person or family was identified with Jewish blood, they were then considered non-human and were exterminated.5 The clerks who entered the data or the management, to my knowledge, have never been accused of abetting the holocaust but played an important part. They simply felt that they were entering data and that this was a neutral task. Nor did they have the power or the access with those who created the database to ask why, or who the data was for. They were simply to do the work, and not to question.

The database in the situation had the power to kill. This is an extreme example that rarely occurs but demonstrates there has to be checks and balances entrenched in our social psyche to ensure this never happens again.

Paul Sperry, author of the New York Times article, Obama collecting personal data for a secret race database claims that the U.S. Government is making a powerful new database that tracks ““inequalities” between minorities and whites.” It is intended to harvest information from credit cards, home loans, workplaces, neighbourhoods and tie it into a database that calculates the level of discrimination that exists. Those municipal governments that are identified “must find ways to close the gap or forfeit federal grant money and face possible lawsuits for housing discrimination.”

No one can disagree with the aims of the database or the attempt to correct a serious imbalance. However, the idea that technology, specifically an algorithm, can solve the problems of discrimination and hatred is a social engineering project that likely will fail. An algorithm or database cannot solve the problems of lack of respect or concern for others. If it could, these problems would have been erased eons ago.

Databases and algorithms are now central to trading in most stock-exchanges. Technology has introduced a new genre of trading called high frequency trading. These are algorithms created by physicists and mathematicians for trading companies accessing the electronic trade centres around the world. As Nick Baumann explains in Mother Earth, HFTs do not involve people just triggers in the stock market – usually small fractions of a cent and selling for a slightly larger sum. For example buying at $1.00 and selling at $1.0001. Thousands of transactions are done in milliseconds and this all quickly adds up. 6 The value of company stock is irrelevant. It is the variation that the algorithm is looking for. Baumann surmises:

As technology has ushered in a brave new world on Wall Street, the nation’s watchdogs remain behind the curve, unable to effectively monitor, much less regulate, today’s markets. As in 2008, when regulators only seemed to realize after the fact the threat posed by the toxic stew of securitization, the financial whiz kids are again one step—or leap—ahead. 7

Things have changed and the Government has caught up. Matthew Philips reported in Bloomberg Business how the HFT algorithm started to plunge. Too much competition, increased charges by the stock markets themselves for speedier access, Government intervention, along with a sudden shift in market realities caused this genre to substantially decrease. The Security Exchange Commission introduced a program called Midas to identify and correct the abuses happening in the almost unregulated wild west of HFT trading.8.

The HFT problem shows that the problem of databases and algorithms is that they cannot exist independently without some external source of auditing or validation.

The power of a database caused serious questions during 2015 Canadian elections. Colin Bennett described in his article featured on website on how the three main Canadian political parties have been tracking individual Canadians political preferences. He thinks this process treads an ethical minefield.

By the people working in and reporting on Canadian federal politics, these systems are now seen as indispensible tools for the modern “data-driven” campaign. And the parties will argue that these systems help them engage and mobilize their supporters, enhancing the democratic process.

… The electorate is then profiled and scored. For instance, we know that CIMS ranks voters on a scale of plus 15 (right) to minus 15 (left). These profiles are then used to allow the party to allocate its resources more efficiently for its canvassing and get-out-the-vote operations.

The systems will also have information on a voter’s preferred contact methods. If someone does not want to be contacted, it should be recorded in the party databases.

…What they don’t talk about is how far out of mainstream democratic practice these databases really are. In most other democracies, they would be illegal.

Bennett strongly reinforces this thought with:

You have no legal right to learn what information a party database has collected about you, to remove yourself from a party database, or to restrict the collection, use and disclosure of your personal information. And for the most part, parties have no legal obligations to keep that information secure.9

The demise of Target stores in Canada can be traced to its database system which happened to be SAP. SAP shouldn’t be blamed here. This same scenario could have played out in any other competitor. SAP is a world leader in enterprise software with approximately “300,000 customers in 190 countries.”10 Target experimented by using SAP for the rollout in Canada. It was to be the starting point for a universal migration to SAP within all its US portals. However, an underlying breakdown happened that Target did not anticipate. Jose Castaldo, wrote a detailed report on its brutal death by design in Canada Business:

It didn’t take long for Target to figure out the underlying cause of the breakdown: The data contained within the company’s supply chain software, which governs the movement of inventory, was riddled with flaws.11

In short, Target could not properly move merchandise into stores and lost buyer confidence by transportation, customs and packing problems, inconsistently stocking, not having stock, and improper product placement because the data-entry into the database was not properly done. Labour was also being diverted from sales to clerical entry and validation, and those that did the data entry were not qualified to do such. They made too many errors.

Databases are to reflect a set of realities. Sometimes real world realities are not the same as outcomes of the data. It depends on how the data is filtered. This was recently shown in the child care problems in Manitoba. The Province of Manitoba had a reputation of having the highest number of children under Provincial care among all the other Provinces in Canada. What did the Manitoba Government do? They changed the database semantics on who qualified for those statistics. The change disqualified a percentage from being counted and, therefore, reduced the amount needed to be stated from their database. Consequently, Manitoba no longer negatively stands out among its counterparts.12 The moral here is that databases can be manipulated to state realities that do not exist.

Another problem of database driven companies is accountability and flexibility. Employees or middle managers cannot question or recommend changes to the business model because it may require significant and costly changes to the database system and the corporate culture. Nor are supervisors or managers in the position to speak to the small group of stakeholders who have the power to approve the changes for software engineers to reinterpret and implement.

Most changes are rudimentary and small, but a few can come across that are clearly wrong. In these situations, the middle manager or supervisor must support and enforce the strictures upon employees. By refusing, they can lose out on promotions, get demoted, or even fired.

This can lead to an amoral workforce who do not care nor agree with the objectives of the company. Rather, they see their jobs as ones that are to fulfill the data entry and validating of the database and nothing more. Upper management sees employees not as people, but as figures that either continue to fulfill the database or detract from targets. Supervisors and managers themselves also are amoral. Their role is to enforce the rules not make them and use whatever means to get the workforce to comply.

Many firms have programmed their database programs to obscure questionable practices. Cellphone carriers are especially featured in this category. Today’s cellphones are nothing more than a wireless computer that transmits data for a short distance to a physical network. The data then is served through the network and connected to the appropriate end-point. Any service whether voice, text, message, chat, surfing etc., is pure data transmitted in the TCP/IP protocol. The TCP/IP protocol is absolutely no different from what is accomplished on a home computer – a device that freely connects with other devices throughout the world without any charge for each attempted connection. However, the cellphone companies have distinguished the TCP/IP protocol into different payment categories, phone, text, call display, downloads, usage, etc., by each attempted connection. This is all monitored and stored in a database. The customer then is charged for these different usages of TCP/IP. Why the distinction between TCP/IP on a home computer and a cellphone? There shouldn’t be. It is the same data being transmitted by a similar device. It is because consumers are historically accustomed to phones and internet being completely different entities. The reality is, there is no difference on the technical side. The two have merged and have been for years. There is no reason to continue charge a per connection fee or impose a long distance charge. These are legacy words of technologies and infrastructures that have long ceased.

Another problem of the current generation is that of mercy. Databases do not forgive. One inappropriate Facebook post could potentially cost you your job, future occupation, maybe a relationship, and worse yet, even if it is removed, the posting can perpetually linger somewhere else on the internet. Your error is permanently marked and may never be forgotten. It is hard to overcome.

What can Canadians do to ensure that databases do not play god? There has to be a counter database made by a third party or Government that monitors and applies ethical standards to any database that attempts to socially engineer, economically take advantage of a target group, or govern a workplace.