Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Paris prison + Gare de l'Est Nazi style

Last week I posted about the old women's prison torn down in the 1930's. Here's breaking news about the last prison in Paris, La Santé. Update today from the Guardian: 
France is about to turn the page on a shameful chapter of its penal history by renovating its most notorious prison, La Santé.
La Santé, named after a neighbouring hospital in southern Paris, has held some of Frances's most famous prisoners in its colourful 147-year history. They have included poets Paul Verlaine and Guillaume Apollinaire, and the playwright Jean Genet, as well as Carlos the Jackal, war criminal Maurice Papon and the Algerian revolutionary leader who became independent Algeria's first president, Ahmed Ben Bella. Although the prison had a VIP wing, Ben Bella told an interviewer: "The French put me with the prisoners who were being guillotined. I could see the guillotine from my cell."
In 2000, the prison's chief medical officer was so shocked by the brutal conditions in the overcrowded jail that she published a diary about her seven-year experience that sparked a parliamentary inquiry.

"Three inmates fought with knives. I was standing in blood until about midnight. The next day, it starts all over again … multiple injuries. It's the humidity, the sun, the suffocating heat in the cells that makes them go crazy," Véronique Vasseur wrote in the diary. Her description of a jail infested by rats, cockroaches and lice was a vision of hell. Some prisoners in the cramped shared cells drank drain cleaner or rat poison to put an end to their misery and others suffered from skin rashes caused by the lack of hygiene with only two showers allowed each week, she said.
La Santé was built to hold 1,400 prisoners, but at the time of the exposé by Vasseur – who received death threats after publication – it was housing more than 2,300. Since that time the most insalubrious blocks have been closed, and on Sunday, the last 60 prisoners were moved out under reforms ordered by justice minister Christiane Taubira, who has ordered a four-year facelift.
When the prison reopens in 2019, it will contain 800 cells.

I'd meant to post about visiting under Gare de l'Est, the train station where many French soldiers, 'le poilu', left for the front in 1914.  This time to highlight what we saw in the bunkers circa the Second World War, the war the Great War was fought to prevent.  I'll let the photos do most of the talking.

an aerial view of the station and lines leading East
Below Gare de l'Est the hangout room for the train hobby club - all former and present SNCF who love trains big and small
Here's a set up and the club work on this all the time
Going deeper below the station
Ring the bell to enter the shelter/bunker

This is what it looks like on the platform and you can get out through the grill if needed. I used that in a book and was so thrilled to have this photo as proof.
Cara - Tuesday

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bullying in Religion’s name

Today I am very pleased to introduce you to the delightful Susan Froetschel, who will take MIE readers to a brand new location--Afghanistan.  I met Susan because we shared a panel together at Malice Domestic.  She is the author of five mystery books. Her Fear of Beauty – about a fictional Afghan village bullied by a band of extremists and the woman who resists – was a nominee for the 2014 Simon & Schuster Mary Higgins Clark Award, Mystery Writers of America. Her next book, Allure of Deceit, will be published by Seventh Street Books in February. Based in Michigan, she writes for YaleGlobal Online, based at Yale University’s MacMillan Center. A review in Calliope noted: “For readers numbed by a decade of news reports from war-torn Afghanistan, Froetschel provides a fascinating glimpse into life in a humble village… The magic of reading this book is that we become Sofi, and we leave better for the experience.”  Here is her take on a plight of women in a place that has been wartorn for decades.

In countries like Afghanistan or Nigeria, it takes only a few to terrorize entire communities with brutal attacks on schools, police, or courts. The victims, so often women or children, cannot follow the old advice to ignore bullies and walk away.   

Research on religious bullying tends to focus on varying beliefs among religions or sects. One definition describes religious bullying as “repeated acts of aggression in which the power of institutional religion is used to mock, humiliate, or threaten others who do not share the same religious beliefs or practices.”

Nations dominated by one religion are not immune from such bullying. Competition for power turns into a self-righteous effort to be “holier than the rest” and insistence that no alternative points of view exist. Adult bullies may take on the role of teacher, “disguising demeaning and cruel behavior as appropriate disciplinary responses,” suggests David R. Dupper in School Bullying: New Perspectives on a Growing Problem.

Women in Afghanistan must worry about the Taliban and other extremists having any role in government. “The Taliban has turned into Frankenstein’s monster; a few crumbs will not satiate it,” writes Kamila Hyat for the News International in Pakistan.  “Perhaps this is why those who are ‘pro-talks’ have not said what their formula for a compromise would be or how they plan to tame a monster which is growing stronger as we hum and haw over what to do with it.” She warns that communities that don’t speak out against bullying can expect to see their communities weakened.

Without zero tolerance, bullying spreads.    

In their quest for power, bullies target both the weak and successful. Bullying is repeated, intentional and can escalate, warns a National Centre Against Bullying in Australia brochure, printed in several languages. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry describes some warning signs: Bullies thrive on controlling others with physical or verbal responses. The bullies are insecure and often have a history of being bullied themselves. Many claim they are under attack even as they bully others, trying to achieve power.  

Unfortunately, experts such as those at BullyingStatistics.org admit that little can be done about adult bullies even in the West: The bullies “are not interested in working things out and they are not interested in compromise. Rather, adult bullies are more interested in power and domination. They want to feel as though they are important and preferred, and they accomplish this by bringing others down. There is very little you can do to change an adult bully, beyond working within the confines of laws…”

Rule of law is shaky in Afghanistan. About 80 percent of criminal and civil disputes in Afghanistan are resolved by small and informal community forums rather than official courts, the U.S. Institute of Peace has reported, and the track record of protecting the vulnerable can be hit or miss. In hostile communities, the vulnerable cannot count on enforcement or justice.

Research suggests that influencing the onlookers to speak up and resist may be more effective than containing the bullies. There is increasing agreement among researchers and policymakers that interventions against bullying should be targeted at the peer group level rather than at individual bullies and victims,” notes Christina Salmivalli for Education.com. The professor of psychology at the University of Turku, Finland, writes about children but the principles apply to the marginalized adults, often insecure, who also try to control through bullying. When onlookers don’t speak up, the bullies view that as acceptance of their behavior. “Converting their already existing attitudes into behaviour is a challenging task, but it might nevertheless be a more realistic goal,” Salmivalli explains.

Those who oppose the bullying culture must resist, finding supportive bystanders and speaking out together. Parents must raise their children to detest the swaggering tendencies, in others and themselves. Fortunately, members of the Taliban may number no more than 75,000, relatively few in a country of more than 30 million people. Many join the Taliban movement for economic rather than ideological reasons or are coerced.  

Unless communities identify the controlling behavior and resist it together, spreading courage and support, bullying can become entrenched among some adults. A recent Duke University linked bullying with risk of psychological disorders in adulthood. A 2006 Canadian study of adolescents suggests that identification of the bullies and awareness can ease the reinforcing dynamics.

Social media has taken a lead in identifying and labeling religious bullying for what it is – cruel power grabs. A swell of global support for any one community helps all under attack by bullies.     

Young women train as midwifes in Nigeria, with support from Great Britain

Students share books in Helmand.

Annamaria - Monday

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Talking Down

Zoë Sharp

I’ve always hated the phrase ‘the battle of the sexes’. Not quite one of my pet hates, but close to it. By some quirk of fate I grew up with a total lack of acceptance for the normal stereotypes. I don’t recall my parents ever telling me there were things I couldn’t do based solely on my gender rather than my aptitude. Besides, I never had much of an interest in the more girly dolls, preferring the family Meccano set in its lovely wooden box. If only I still had it now. <sigh>

This week has brought home the gender divide in a number of ways, however. Some good and some bad.

First off, I was the guest speaker at a local Rotary Club in York — there are three to choose from, and the York Vikings is a male-only preserve. I have to confess that I wasn’t aware of this until after I’d agreed to do my talk, and I don’t think it would have made any difference even if I had known. The very fact they had invited me to speak to them said more, to me, than being invited to join their number. And if one or two of them attempted to unsettle me with pre-dinner banter, I’ve spent too many years being heckled as a motoring photographer not to take that kind of thing in my stride. In the end they were a charming audience who laughed in all the right places and asked intelligent questions afterwards. What more could I ask?

Contrast this with my experiences looking to buy a new motorcycle. I thought I’d found the right machine at a main dealership, but when I went to collect my purchase — cadging a lift there on the back of my brother-in-law’s Kawasaki — the salesman insisted on including him in the discussion as if I might not understand the longer words if left to handle the paperwork on my own. As it was, I discovered that the price was 20% higher than I’d been promised, and they had made a serious ‘error’ when it came to the bike’s history. With much regret, I told them to forget it. The bike is already back advertised for sale and no doubt they will tell any new prospective purchasers this is because I was a time waster.

But just being back in that kind of world made me feel like an outsider again. It reminded me very strongly of how my main protagonist, Charlie Fox, would feel every day she turns up for work as a bodyguard, where people tend to look past your shoulder for the person they were expecting. And it also reminded me why I started writing about Charlie in the first place — in part to express the inequality of those stale attitudes. Getting back onto a bike will be very good for both of us, methinks.

At the same time, it’s a shame that I have to describe both Charlie and the main protag of THE BLOOD WHISPERER, Kelly Jacks, as ‘strong females’. If they were male, the ‘strong’ part would be pleonastic. Of course readers would expect them to be strong. And yet if I’m writing about a heroine rather than a hero I still have to make that point. To me they’re just interesting characters put into high-stress situations, which they cope with according to their skills and experiences. If that means they have a certain underlying strength then that’s because I don’t want to see them fold and fail, just as I have no desire to do so myself.

They say you should write what you know.

I do it all the time.

Meanwhile, these words from Felony & Mayhem Press and I thank them heartily for their recommendation.

And finally, this week's Word of the Week is amphibology meaning a sentence or phrase that is grammatically ambiguous, such as "I'm sorry it took me so long to answer the door. I was just playing Tomb Raider in my underpants." (One I heard recently  honest!)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Beauty of the Greek Sea.

I’m telling you right now you’re all just going to hate this post. I mean HATE it. 

It reflects my day today (Friday) when I should have been writing this post, but accepted a last minute invitation from a most gracious friend that I join her and seven other lovely ladies for a sail to the nearby virginal island of Rhenia, a swim, and lunch aboard her seventy-three foot, breathtaking yawl. 

Let’s weigh the decision: In one corner we have eight ladies and I aboard a 73 foot sailboat cruising the sapphire and emerald Aegean, and in the other me in my room facing a computer screen for eight hours all alone but for 73 cups of coffee.

Sorry folks.  To paraphrase the famous t-shirt, “Jeffrey went to nirvana and all I got were these lousy photos.”

Yep, but if it’s any consolation I think I may be sunburned.

By the way, I had another blog due to go up tomorrow (Saturday) on my publisher’s blogsite (Poisoned Pen Press), but I’d written it before abandoning my computer this morning. It’s all about a poem I’m reading at the Tinos International Literary Festival next week on the neighboring Cycladic island of Tinos.  So, if you want to see my words (and poem) they’re there.  But I’ll be here, staring at the photos.

Heading away from Mykonos

 Neighboring and passing ships

Yes, that's a helicopter at the stern.

Approaching Rhenia

Our swimming hole

Lunch time
Heading home
Bye-Bye Beauty

Jeff—Sunburned Saturday

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Million For A Morgue Update


So here’s a question. How much fun can you have at the opening of a morgue?
Quite a lot!

Sue and some fizzy pop

Val McD after some Fizzy pop

Many of you have been involved with, cajoled into, happily volunteered to help us raise funds for the  million for a morgue campaign.
                                                         The Killer Non Cook Off

 Some of you donated money, some donated recipes for the Killer Cook Book, some cooked those recipes (badly), some  wrestled border collies to the ground at Bloody Scotland, some dressed up in pink lycra and  some brave types drank a huge amount of vile cocktail all in the aid of the charity.
Indeed, I think my first blog for the murder is everywhere  blog site was about the MFAM campaign.  Now to get down to the bones of it. Or the heart of the matter
You will be thrilled to know that the morgue is now open, up and functioning.  You will already  know that  if you live in the UK as it was plastered over most of the  TV news yesterday. Val McDermid was being intellectual and doing the ‘pieces to camera’. Myself  and two others were  hiding behind a pillar, skulking round it as the camera panned round the morgue to keep out of sight in a very Scooby Doo type of way.
So the morgue is  now the McDermid morgue.
                                              I  was hoping for a special room for dissecting Stuart

                                                 The Fab book Stuart did for the campaign

                                                                 The man himself

So the dissection room is now the Stuart McBride dissection room.


Tank number three is  the Caro Ramsay tank! I have four permanent residents.
 For obvious reasons there are no photographs  of the morgue itself.

We had a tour of the mortuary, then we went into the tank area. The tanks are named after the crime writers that took part in the campaign except Lee Child – his tank is called ‘Jack Reacher’. He sits opposite Mark Billingham, and Kathy Reichs is the last one on the left as you walk down the central aisle.  

Each tank holds four cadavers.  And they can be retained for up to three years. The new facility can cope with twice the “bequeathal capability” so the  increased scope for training and research is obvious.
 When I trained I did a lot of dissection  of formalin cadavers and they retain neither colour or flexibility which was interesting but not realistic. It was not too bad for us as we do two further subjects called  surface anatomy and functional anatomy,  which placed our findings on dissection in a living, breathing, moving context. Makes sense as most of our patients start off that way.

The new ‘New Forensic Centre of Excellence’ uses the Thiel embalming method and is doing a lot of work in pushing the practical applications of this process. It is the first university in the UK to exclusively  use the process, the medical schools at  Leeds and Liverpool  are trying to develop some kind of Theil programme of their own. The process is most common in Germany with Lisbon  being one of the biggest outside Germany.

 I found it quite touching that most of the cadavers are aged 80- 85 People that have lived a long life  and wanted to help others once they had passed on. 

There are cadavers that they cannot take. Too large but that is rare as  people in that age range tend to be slim – a hard fact of our society, if you want to live a long life – keep your weight down! Disease process doesn’t really discount anybody (there is no Ebola in Dundee).
 The big bugbear for the morgue staff seems to be solicitors. The deceased has left firm and precise instructions  about how they wish their remains to be  donated. But if they pass away on a Friday…. And solicitor  is playing golf on the Monday and still going through paperwork on the Tuesday - the remains slowly slip from the usable timeline.
I found two of the practical applications really fascinating.
Ultrasound delivered to the liver by an extremely fine needle. But the liver moves slightly  with respiration. And the thin needle/ moving tissue  scenario can cause problems.  The Theils  method allows gentle inflation of the lung tissue to mimic respiration  and facilitate realistic training. Equally, ‘blood‘ flow can be replicated for surgeons to gain practical and realistic experience on stent implants – something you do not want to go wrong the minute you are discharged from hospital.
The staff had no funny stories at all about finding strange objects in bodies – it has never happened. No bits of surgical equipment, no surgeons wedding rings, no USB sticks. All those stories are apocryphal.

The morgue PR guy – you can guess how challenging that job can be  – told the story of the campaign right back to its origins. The ‘million for a morgue’  never expected to raise a million, they just went for the alliteration. And they have surpassed themselves in raising  over 75% of the money needed and  quiet smiles were exchanged over the over 25%  so I am no allowed to  comment!!! But watch this space.
He was thrilled at the response of people. They thought nobody would be interested in raising  money for such a cause, except maybe medical types - those that could see its practical application and worth. He suspected it might be too macabre for the  man in the street. It certainly does not have the appeal of labrador puppies  for Guide Dogs For The Blind.
But that was not so, time and time again he found folk backed the campaign to the hilt but not with their wallet, because they believed  it should be funded from central government. And that is not the way universities work nowadays.

But enough people, including many readers and contributors to this blog, put hand in pocket or pen to paper,  got out the phone  and voted, the pounds started to fly in. They never expected to actually raise a million, they never expected to achieve what they did.
It’s now 80% up and running!  

Maybe the CSI effect had something to do with the general  public’ awareness/ acceptance  of the benefits of mortuary activity to society  overall.  It’s not such an unknown quantity, even if it’s largely a fictional one in that context.
Maybe because they made it sexy.
Also it could be argued that the immediacy of conflict coverage in the media has drawn us in.  Ethnic cleansing is still going on,  the dead are still left unidentified and maybe we, as a society do empathize with that. We can all imagine losing a loved one and never knowing what happened to them. We can all identify with not having a place to rest them.
It’s a very personal thing. My friend will not sign a donor form in case they harvest him before he is dead ( he reads a lot of science fiction ) or bequest his mortal remains to medical science in case they turn him into a zombie (he goes to a lot of conventions with other single men with beards).       

Strange to say that the morgue opening was a life affirming experience.  


So congratulations to Sue and the team.
Now onto the next ten million,

Caro Ramsay GB  18 07 2014