19.10.2018
Caro Ramsay
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We have woken up today with the tragic news of yet another student walking round a school with a gun, killing. This time it was in the Crimea and, at the time of writing this there are 17 dead and over 40 wounded. Valdislav Roslyakov then killed himself in the college library. His mother was a nurse at the local hospital, treating the victims of the shooting without knowing if it was her own son whose finger had been on the trigger. As is fairly typical, the perpetrator was said to be unsociable and spent much of his time putting depressing messages on social media. Anders Breivik It caught my eye as I was intending to blog about the TV drama I watched last night.  22nd July. It’s about the atrocities of Anders Behring Breivik in Norway. Firstly, the bomb attack on Parliament and then he, a far-right extremist, took guns and ammunition to an island, Utoya, where some teenagers were on a Workers' Youth League summer camp. Eight died in the explosion, sixty nine on the island. The total injured was over three hundred and twenty. He was sentenced to 21 years' preventive detention. It’s uneasy viewing, but very low key on the horror of the situation. The emotional hook was the boy who Breivik shot seven times but survived.  He’s on record as stating that Breivik looked at him, ready to shoot him again, then walked away. The boy believes his Aryan looks made his assailant think twice.  In the drama, we see his parents go through all the emotions. They find one son alive, the other is unaccounted for. Then they find him at the hospital, fighting for his life. What does come across is the dignity of the Norwegian people, ‘we shall not react down the barrel of a gun but by the due process of law.’ The drama was heavy on fact, light on horror. The events are allowed to unravel and tell their own story. I have also seen Elephant, the film based on the Columbine School massacre. It’s also hard watching, but the story is there.  Yet I suspect there would be outrage if something similar was made about Thomas Hamilton and the events at Dunblane Primary School. Is that a matter of emotional distance? I was doing an event last week and was asked if there was anything that I wouldn’t write about. The answer is I wouldn’t write about something that is recognisably true. I am uneasy about a dramatized version of real life events. Especially if there are no survivors. And I’ve read books (well half read them as I tend to fling them against the window) where the events are basically a real-life crime where real people died with the names changed and little more. Sometimes they are so close to a well-publicised case, I can tell how it ends. It ends exactly the same way the real life version ended. The last two books which have won the McIlvanney Scottish Crime book if the year are both based on ‘real ‘events.  One based on the Peter Manual killings, the other on the Bible John case. Both cases are recent enough to be in living memory of victim’s relatives.                                                                                                       Simon Toyne  Simon Toyne has a programme Written In Blood, were he walks a crime writer through the case that inspired the book. Sometimes the word ‘inspired’ is accurate. There is very little correlation between the real life crime and the fiction that comes out at the end of the process. In other cases, it is far too close, for me, to be comfortable and I can't help but sniff profiteering at somebody else’s misery.                                                                                                        Alex One book was Alex Marwood’s Wicked Girls, inspired by the case of James Bulger in 1993. This was the two year old boy that was led out a shopping mall by two older boys, along a towpath and eventually killed by them. For all kinds of reasons, it was a horrific and unforgettable crime. Thompson and Venables were only ten years old at the time of their crime.                                                                                      The film that shows the two year old being led away The boys were released, their sentences short (in English law ) due to their age. One is back in jail for possession of child porn,  the other lives under an assumed name.  They have been ‘outed’ by the press a few times, their locations made public, gag orders have been invoked by the courts, people have been prosecuted by citing their supposed whereabouts on social media (in an attempt to cause bodily harm to and the persecution of a totally innocent individual). Alex took that idea, turned the guilty party in to two girls. What would happen if they grew up to be respectable mums themselves. Time moves on, they have served their sentence, they have new identities in every sense. Then somebody finds out who they are. A lot of what ifs. The story is far removed from the real life case that inspired it. And I could see my own imagination taking that story as a baton, then running a fair way with it before committing a fictional spin off to paper. What would his mother feel like, picking up a paperback and reading something she recognised? I was once asked to read a book which was a fictionalised account of Britain’s most famous female child killer, Myra Hindley.  Hindley died in jail in 2002 without ever gaining her freedom. The book starts off with the premise that she gets out with a new identity. The story of her death was faked. The character in the book has the same name as the killer, it’s in the title. She has plastic surgery, a new face, a new body, and moves far up the social structure.                                                                                       Myra Hindley It was the kind of book that made me want to wash my hands after I had finished it. It doesn’t sensationalise what she did. Myra comes across as a rather pathetic, unremorseful character. The book is well written, and the story comes across as not a far fetched as it may sound.  But it would, in my opinion,  have been so much more acceptable if the main character had not been called Myra Hindley. Or if the title of the book had not used that name, or the name of the famous landscape they used as a disposal site. But then it was nominated for a few awards so what do I know. I’m interviewing two crime fiction writing journalists at Grantown’s wee crime writing festival. I think the blurred lines of fact into fiction might come up in conversation. Caro  19 10 2018
18.10.2018
Michael Sears (of Michael Stanley)
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Michael - Thursday This wasn’t meant to be a rant, but I did feel my blood pressure go up when I read the transcript of the president’s interview with Associated Press yesterday. Here’s the piece that upset me (among others, but this is the relevant one): "Scientists say this [climate change] is nearing a point where this can’t be reversed,” the AP reporters said to Trump. “No, no,” he replied. “Some say that, and some say differently. I mean, you have scientists on both sides of it. My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years. Dr. John Trump. And I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject, but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.” Okay, so let’s digest this. The president had an uncle who was a scientist. (He was an electrical engineer at MIT, but he died thirty years ago so it’s not too surprising that Trump didn’t discuss climate change with him.) He goes on to claim that he has “a natural instinct for science”. Well, the bad news is that science is not always intuitive. Sometimes it’s counterintuitive. It’s not something that works on the basis of who your relatives are. Certainly, you may have an aptitude for it, but it’s 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Come on. General relativity intuitive? Natural instinct for soft quantum hair around black holes? Of course, you could say that the president is talking about the more everyday stuff that’s actually important to us. Well, let’s go there. If you swing round a corner fast, you can feel the force pulling your car away from the centre of the bend, right? It’s like when you swing a weight around on a piece of string. It wants to fly away – a force is pulling it away from you, right? It even has a name. Centrifugal force. The only thing is, it doesn’t exist. There is no such force. Newton’s laws of motion explain what’s going on. Not intuitive, then. Not what one’s natural instinct would suggest. And climate change is the same sort of thing. “Natural instinct” might suggest that we are seeing a normal cycle as in the past. That’s Trump’s argument. Actually, that’s not at all what the evidence suggests – in fact, all the natural explanations fail to explain what’s going on. Here’s a really good link to see a graphical summary of that evidence by NASA people who actually put in the 90% of work instead of relying on the 10% of natural instinct.  And the mathematics is complicated and predicts chaotic behaviour. (I talked about that here.) It does not, for example, imply that we will experience stronger and stronger hurricanes. (Trump pointed out that a much stronger hurricane than e.g. Michael was recorded in the nineteenth century. True, but totally irrelevant.) It implies that we will have less predictable and more extreme weather. Anyone notice any of that recently? It seems that Trump’s natural instinct has led him to the wrong conclusion, as natural instinct so often does in science. El Yunque National Forest So much for the rant. I actually wanted to talk about an update on the windscreen phenomenon. I blogged about that before here. Briefly, it’s the observation that when you drive over some distance these days, you find less bugs squashed on the windscreen than you used to – the suggestion being that we are seeing a die off of insects. There are a variety of explanations for this “bug apocalypse” as someone called it. Among the most obvious are loss of habitat, insecticides, and pollutants. But a new study has trumped what’s been done in Europe, and it was reported in The Washington Post under the heading: ‘Hyperalarming’ study shows massive insect loss. The new study took place in a pristine rain forest in Puerto Rico – El Yunque. It’s been a protected area since the king of Spain claimed it as his private preserve in the nineteenth century. So it seems that loss of habitat isn’t an issue. At 28,000 acres, and situated on mountain slopes, the area is at least reasonably protected from chemical impact. Also, the use of insecticides in Puerto Rica has declined by 80% since 1969. The study by a team of biologists was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy. In the seventies, they recorded a detailed inventory of the populations of insects, birds and animals in the forest. They returned forty years later (but before last year’s hurricanes) and found an almost 50% decline in the insect populations. Everything was down – butterflies, bees, beetles, grasshoppers, spiders… Some were worse off than others – ground insects measured had decreased 60 fold in biomass. Ruddy quail dove There were corresponding declines in the numbers of insect predators – bird and animal – but it was variable. The population of the ruddy quail dove was the same as before. The colourful Puero Rican tody had declined by 90%. The former eats seeds and fruits, the latter eats insects. So what’s going on? Here are a few clues. The average temperature of the forest has increased by 4 degrees Fahrenheit over the forty years. Insects can’t regulate their body heat, and above a certain point they don’t reproduce. A recent paper in Science on the effects on insects of climate change predicted a decrease in tropical insect populations. An analytic technique applied by the authors of the study to six specific populations produced strong support for a correlation between temperature increase and population decrease in five of the six populations. Puero Rican tody And the rain forest itself? So far it looks pretty good. But most plants rely on insects for pollination. If the insects go, the whole system will inevitably collapse. May as well stop worrying about that illegal logging in South America.
At the cafe today someone was saying it's the hottest October in 75 years. It's almost 80 every afternoon...not complaining but the trees on the boulevards seem confused. Their leaves are crinkling brown and orange but some have green leaves on top. I felt like hopping off the bus and jumping in the fountain at Saint Sulpice. Instead I hung out with Penelope Fletcher who has opened her Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore (formerly in the Marais) bordering the Jardins du Luxembourg.  Here she is with Bruce, her pal and Canadian publisher who just came from the Frankfurt book Fair.   We all had lunch next door and who's sitting in the cafe but my fave French actress Sandrine Kimberlain ! I shamelessly asked for a photo and she graciously agreed! No shame is my motto! Back in the Red Wheelbarrow  Caroline, a documentary film maker joined us! Cara - Tuesday