Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Celebration Every Day

Zoë Sharp

If you’re involved at all in the writing world, you’ll be aware that November is NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. This is the time of year when writers of all kinds try to get 50,000 words of a novel completed in 30 days.

And no, sadly, I won’t be managing that aim this year, although there is still time for me to complete this month’s goal, which is to finish outlines for the next Charlie Fox novel plus a possible spin-off crime thriller. I’m well on the way with both.

But what does NaNoWriMo have to do with Peanut Butter, Manatees, Vegans, Native American Heritage, and Pomegranates?

The answer is that November is also officially the month to celebrate all these things. I had no idea.

Not only that, but 2017 is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, according to the United Nations. The resolution, passed in 2015, was described as “a unique opportunity to advance the contribution of the tourism sector to the three pillars of sustainability—economic, social and environmental.”

And November itself is positively bursting with celebration days. I’d no idea that November 1st was Authors’ Day, as well as Extra Mile Day, aiming to encourage people to go that little bit further towards helping others. Other celebrations on the first of the month included Go Cook For Your Pets Day and, perhaps in line with the start of NaNoWriMo, Stress Awareness Day.

November 2nd was Men Make Dinner Day. It was also Deviled Egg Day and the day to Use Less Stuff. Any connection between those, do you think?

November 3rd was the day for lovers of Sandwiches, Fountain Pens and Jellyfish. November 4th was Use Your Common Sense Day, and Numbat Day. No, I’d no idea what one of those was, either.

November 5th, as well as being Guy Fawkes’ or Gunpowder Day, was also the time to remember Orphans, Love Your Red Hair, and do nothing, as it was Zero Tasking Day. November 6th was the day for Saxophones and Nachos. Nov 7th was a time for eating Bittersweet Chocolate With Almonds (honestly, I’m not making this up), preferably whilst Hugging A Bear—probably not a real one.

November 8th was the day to remember X-Rays and also the day to Cook Something Bold and Pungent. Nov 9th was Chaos Never Dies Day. (Don’t ask me what that’s all about.) Nov 10th was the time to get excited about your Area Code and Sesame Street.

Nov 10th? Origami Day. 11th? The Day for the International Tongue Twister, the Fancy Rat And Mouse, and Pizza With The Works Except Anchovies. (Come on! Really?) Hope you all took part in World Kindness Day on Nov 13th? And that you venerated Spicy Guacamole and Pickle on Nov 14th, as well as the Operating Room Nurse.

Nov 15th was I Love To Write Day, but, just in case the muse wasn’t with you, it was also Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day. Nov 16th was Have A Party With Your Bear Day, as well as the time to celebrate Buttons, Tolerance, Beaujolais Nouveau, Fast Food and Social Enterprise.

Nov 17th was a time to Unfriend someone, to Take A Hike (or possibly a combination of the two), celebrate Prematurity, Petroleum, and bake your own Homemade Bread. Nov 18th is the day for the Occult and Mickey Mouse.

And today, November 19th? Well, let’s just say it with pictures, shall we? Best guesses, please!


No2 ... obviously



This week’s Word of the Week is dískoblundur, which is an Icelandic word which apparently means to take a nap before going out clubbing. Thanks to former Murder Is Everywhere blogmate, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, for that one.

Upcoming Event:

Thursday, November 23rd at 6:30pm, the Portsmouth Writers Hub presents ‘Femmes Fatales 2’ as part of DarkFest Portsmouth with Diana Bretherick talking to Alis Hawkins, Liz Mistry, and Zoë Sharp. Should be a ball!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Shakespeare to My Rescue


It’s midnight on Thursday, which means 24 hours until my Saturday blog goes live.  Only trouble is, I haven’t written it yet and tomorrow’s a 6AM wakeup call and departure for Charleston, South Carolina, followed by a 24/7 schedule, long in the planning by she-who-must-be-obeyed.

Yep, I blew it. I should have written my post by now, but this week too many things just got in the way…like hypnotic CNN v. FOX coverage of our nation spewing out plot lines for Dystopian Psychotic Romance Thrillers at a Lucy-in-the-candy-factory pace.

So, here I am, having never missed a blog post in seven years—yes, last week was my seventh anniversary among this magnificent crew—facing a decision:  To blog, or not to blog that is the question.

And as if the fates were watching, a thought crossed my mind…of a post I’d published five years ago—almost to the day.  I’d written it as a lark about a year before then, never thinking I’d “publish” it. 

It’s a parody of Hamlet’s self-questioning To be, or not to be soliloquy, and I thought it deserving of a second run—certainly under my current circumstances.  And, so, with that shoddy proffered excuse of an introduction, please come join along with the Bard's suffering hero as we struggle together amid my tortured parody.

Laurence Olivier and Friend

JEFFREY: To blog, or not to blog--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
In despair at most blogs’ outrageous fortune
Or to take pens against our shared troubles
And by exposing end them. To fly, to leap--
To soar—or do we creep away to end
The headache, and the thousand natural blocks
That publish is heir to. 'Tis a consternation
Devoutly to be wished on others.  Weep--
Perchance even scream: But at the very nub
Of a possible death to the dream of some
Is why we suffer at this mortal toil.
Let us pause. There's the respect
That is the balm to a long writing life.
For who would bear the ups and downs of time,
Th' reviewer's wrong and downright contumely,
The pangs of edited work, the pub delay,
The insolence of the press, and its spurns
Showing patient merit worthy of a saint,
When he or she might quiet exit take
To make a living?  Who would deadlines bear,
To grunt and sweat a solitary life,
But that the dread of giving no more breadth
To all those undiscovered thoughts that churn
Our traveling minds, and puzzle our will,
Would make us far more ill by half
Than denying readers what they know not of?
Dedication makes writers of us all,
And a simpler life of remuneration
Is sacrificed to one of words and thought.
Any enterprise giving pitch and moment
To our words, even if currently awry,
We can’t lose in the name of no action.  
So now fair Colleagues, bring on opinions
That our blog be long remembered.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Raining Cats And Dogs!

We had a few days in Toronto recovering from Bouchercon. 
Toronto is very proud of many things, including Yonge Street, Toronto (pronounced ‘Young’ and ‘Trono’  which was the longest street in the world for many years until 1999. It is  86km long. It was  formerly part of Highway 11 as well as being the main street in Toronto,  created  initially for for military purposes, it is very straight and true. 
In  some of its history, it has had suffered 'trouble with bears'. Unspecified....

So now onto wee bits of water, and some really big bits of water.

The rainbow over some very big and famous waterfalls.
2500 cubic metres of water every second.
 I think that is slightly less than the water that  was pouring through the leak we had in the ceiling of the practice earlier in the year.

On a bicycle built for two.
 that would be a tandem then.
Stronger together,
and that  is a name of the anti independence movement over here.

I was very sick with vertigo when I was up there, it was too far to go.  (See what  I did there).
Vertical travel  confuses the human ear, we are not built for it. And as I was last in the I was right at the doors. The glass doors.
But  I did like seeing the sharks on the roof of the aquarium from up there. 

Here is a Toronto ( pronounced Trono ) bus stop. Did  you spot the cat?

Berczy Park, Trono, has been renamed, informally- Barksy Park due to this lovely fountain. I want one in my garden.

The massive two tier structure boasts statues of twenty seven different dogs.

And one cat that sits on the rim of the lowest pond. The cat had to be included due to massive protests at the fountain being dog only. 

The cat on the roof of the bus stop was added  afterwards, just to even the score up a bit.

You  can see the cat sitting on the wall of the fountain here, minding his own business but thinking of causing trouble that the pugs will get the blame for.

Open for dogs to drink and swim from, its proven popular with the roughly 2,000 dogs that visit the park each day, but skateboarders have been banned after the Golden Retriever statue suffered a damaged paw before the grand opening.

There are 240 000 dogs in Trono, and many  of them are proper dogs ( ie a dog that  does not fit into a handbag).

A Bernese?

Slim Russian Terrier? Tall Airedale?

English bull terrier- at least  you always know where this one is. They are reputed to be the most stupid and obstinate of all dog breeds.  I wonder if they are actually in charge of the Brexit negotiations.   I wonder if they  could do better.

All dogs are focused on that  golden bone at he top of the fountain.

It's a lovely park, surrounded by traffic on all four sides.

A nearby statue.

The Trono flat iron which they  say  is older then the NY version but only by a  few years.

The next we were here. Looking at this.
And thinking about superman!

Caro Ramsay 

Thursday, November 16, 2017


Michael - Thursday

Last week I had the opportunity to appreciate not only a wonderful gala concert and most enjoyable dinner, but also briefly to visit a tradition of over 800 years. The St. Thomas Choir of Leipzig—or the Thomanerchor as they are named at home—are on a two week tour of the US, and last Saturday they appeared at Bethlehem in Pennsylvania for the said gala concert. I was able to go because of a kind invitation from my very good old friends, Nelson and Pat, who live in Bethlehem and have been generously hosting me for the last ten days.

Let me digress for a moment about Bethlehem. Bethlehem is a city of just 75,000 people, but it’s part of a group of other cities in the Lehigh Valley area totaling about ten times that. Much of the early immigration to the area came from Germany and some of that was of the Moravian faith. They brought a love of music and culture, and perhaps that helps to explain the surprising richness of classical music in the area.

Bethlehem boasts the oldest Bach Choir in the US, a musical gem celebrating its 120th anniversary this season. It has its own regular orchestra, but the choir itself consists of volunteers who are joined by soloists of the first rank. The Bach Choir is entirely supported by the music lovers of the area, and in addition to their own high-standard performances, occasionally it also arranges special performances by touring groups. The 2017 gala concert was such an occasion.

Church of St Thomas, Leipzig
Back to the Thomanerchor. Established in 1212, only fifty years after Leipzig itself, it’s one of the oldest continuing entities in Europe. 500 years in, Johann Sebastian Bach himself became the cantor (or choir master), a position he held for 27 years until his death in 1750. One of his sons—CPE Bach—was a member of the choir. JS Bach had a long association with St. Thomas, and, indeed, was buried there.

The modern choir consists of 106 boys between the ages of 9 and 18. Nowadays, although they specialize in music and the performing arts, they attend school with non-choir members. However, many of the traditions developed over the 800 years remain. They live, learn, and rehearse in the Alumnat and attend St. Thomas Secondary School just across the street. The school is connected with St. Thomas's Church, which is their main workplace. The Alumnat is divided into different dormitories where the senior boys take much of the responsibility for the younger ones, helping the small staff of permanent teachers. Each boy has a private area, but no TV or computers are allowed there. However, there are common and library areas which have internet facilities, books, and music. If it sounds a bit spartan, well, the choir was originally formed to provide religious choral music for the Augustinian monks in the monastery attached to the church. The city of Leipzig took it over after the Reformation. (That was a mere 500 years ago.)

JS Bach's statue outside the church
The 800 years have not been without their challenges. During the first few years, Martin Luther was very much in evidence, shaking up the church. In 1937, the choir was incorporated into the Hitler Youth. Faced with saving the institution, the cantor of the day decreed that henceforth the choir would only sing religious music—nothing secular that might open the door to involvement with the propaganda of the Third Reich—and he used their religious duties to try to delay as long as he could the boys’ military service.

2003 stamp celebrating the choir
These days the choir undertakes tours abroad, and about half the members and their current cantor, Gotthold Schwarz, participated in the program at Bethlehem. As for the concert itself, which included wonderful works by Bach and other Baroque composers, as well as Mendelsohn, to me it was sublime, unforgettable. But what do I know? The New York Times summed it up this way when writing about a Thomanerchor concert a few years ago: Surely this is what it must have been like to hear Bach lead the ensemble in one of his cantatas.”

Here is a link to a short video featuring the choir.

Pictures are from the Thomanerchor brochure and Wikipedia. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The violence of rulership

Leye - Every other Wednesday 

Photo by Danny Choo

There is a great evil I see in the world; people wanting to rule over other people.

Let us stop and think about this for a bit. Stop every other thought and think only of this one question: Why do people need to have rulers?

I have performed this thought experiment myself and I have come up with the usual excuses:
  1. Some people need direction
  2. Everyone cannot be the leader
  3. It is the natural order of things
  4. People need to be told what to do
  5. Some people are more experienced than others
  6. Some people are wiser than others
  7. Some people are stronger than others
  8. Some people are better than others
  9. People like to be led
  10. People want to be led
  11. People need to be led
At the centre of all these and a million similar explanations is the singular assumption that people are stupid. 
People are stupid and so have to be told what to do. People are stupid and cannot made the right decisions. People are stupid and unable to see the big picture. People are stupid and as such cannot adequately grasp the meaning of things. People are stupid. 

I think no.

I think people are people: equipped, capable, and intelligent. I think people become less intelligent in the presence of another person wielding the authority of rulership over them. 

This pervasive evil has made the workplace a violent environment. Mangers inflicting their help, their thoughts, their ideas, their will, their management, on their subordinates. Bosses bossing people around who in turn boss other people around till in the end, so mush bossing is going on and so little work actually gets done. I say get rid of all managers. 

I am not alone in this madness; experts of agile software development continuously call for the eradication of managers. People are best at managing themselves; managers lengthen the lines of communications at best, and destroy the people able and willing to do real work at worst. Management is simply a curse. So why do businesses still insist on hiring one person to think for, coordinate, direct, rebuke, reward and punish a team of fully functional other people?

I am always suspicious of people who wish to rule; of those who seek positions of power and influence over others. Why do people need to be led? People don't need to be led, people can get on well if they are just allowed to get on with it. This we have found in agile software delivery, especially in scrum teams (I won't bore you with this). Now, back to the evil of wanting to rule, to lead, or to manage: is it right for any person to have power over other people? You can have a natural duty of care, as in a parent caring for a child, but when it comes to the workplace, is it right, natural, or even beneficial to make some people the bosses of other people?

I propose no answers; I only ask questions. I only ask that we think about this one question: Why do people need rulers?

And if you feel like reading something totally unrelated, here is a story a wrote a while back titled Those who wish to rule.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Two years on in Paris

What we know. Two years after the terror attacks on Paris nightspots that left 130 people dead, seven people are in custody in France while key figures remain at large and may be dead.
Among the 10 jihadists who wreaked havoc on the French capital on November 13, 2015, the only survivor is Salah Abdeslam, who is refusing to talk to investigators.
 The probe into the Paris bloodbath, which was planned in Belgium, overlaps considerably with an investigation into attacks on the Brussels airport and metro four months later that claimed 32 lives.
 Abdeslam's capture in Belgium and transfer to France in April 2016 has not been the boon investigators had hoped for, since the 28-year-old petty criminal-turned-jihadist has refused to cooperate with the investigation.
 Against all expectations however, he has said he wants to appear at a trial in Brussels to face charges of attempted murder of police officers during his arrest in the Belgian capital, but there too he may refuse to answer questions.
 Most members of the jihadist cell responsible for both the Paris and the Brussels attacks have been killed or arrested. Requests have gone out across Europe as well as to Turkey and north Africa in an effort to piece together the network that enabled the conspirators to infiltrate the flow of migrants into Europe in the summer of 2015 and plan attacks ordered by the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
 What is known is that fifteen suspects have been charged or are being sought with arrest warrants.
 Six people besides Abdeslam are in custody in France including two men suspected of having been selected to take part in attacks: Adel Haddadi, an Algerian, and Muhammed Usman of Pakistan.
 The two men, who travelled from Syria along with two of the jihadists who attacked the national stadium on the outskirts of Paris, were arrested in Austria a month after the carnage.
 Three associates of Abdeslam accused of helping him flee to Belgium the day after the Paris attacks and a man accused of providing fake IDs to the jihadists are also being held in France.
 Five suspects are in custody in Belgium who are also wanted for trial in France. One of them, Mohamed Abrini, dubbed "the man in the hat" from CCTV video at the Brussels airport, was transferred briefly to France in January to be charged.

And Monday among the two year memorial services the aftermath is felt. Mayor Anne Hidalgo and President Macron attended a ceremony at the Bataclan
If the bloodbath sought to crush the city's much-envied lifestyle of pavement cafes it failed. Even as it mourned its dead, Paris defiantly resumed its traditional behaviour, recasting itself in its role as the City of Lights.
Tourist numbers this year have surged, testifying to the French capital's enduring allure. For the January-June period, hotels in the Paris region reported 16.4 million guests, the highest in a decade.
 But emotional scars remain, and even the physicality of the city has in some ways altered.
 "When I'm in the cinema, I tend not to linger just behind the entrance, and when I'm in the restaurant, I don't like to have my back to the window... I don't feel safe," said 39-year-old Aurore Humez, who admitted it was "horrible" to be so fearful.
 Parisians these days are used to the sight of security railings erected in front of concert halls and concrete bollards placed on pavements and outside schools to prevent ramming attacks by cars or trucks.

Armed soldiers, typically patrolling in groups of three, also now seem to be part of the city's landscape. France has mobillised 7,000 troops to strengthen security in a mission called Operation Sentinelle.

Police -- a major target for the string of smaller attacks that have occurred since November 2015 -- routinely don bulletproof vests while on patrol and tout a gun on their belt.

Workers, shoppers and tourists are expected to have their bags searched when they enter offices, department stores, the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral or other monuments and museums.
Cara - Tuesday

Monday, November 13, 2017

In the Aftermath of a Murder

Michael J. Cooper, in place of Annamaria on Monday

This past November 4th marked the 22nd anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, and a time to remember his unfinished quest for peace.  Rabin had spent his entire adult life in the service of Israel's security, but he came to believe that only peace between Israel and her neighbors would guarantee that security.  He died trying to make that vision a reality.
“I decided to kill him, to neutralize him politically,” calmly stated the Orthodox Jew who murdered Yitzhak Rabin, according to a recently released interview. When asked if he regretted killing the Prime Minister, he said, “Heaven forbid! I don't regret it.”

Rabin now occupies a grave in the national cemetery on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem next to his wife Leah. Surrounded by cedar and pine trees, their graves are marked by two curving, almost intertwining headstones – his black, hers white.

I had visited the cemetery in the late summer of 1966 soon after I arrived in Israel. It was new then. I remember the oppressive heat and light, the newly- planted trees offering little shade. At that time, about nine months before the 1967 War, Rabin was commander of the Israeli Army. Now he is buried there, where the air is cool, and the trees have grown tall.

Three years ago, I visited the gravesite the day after Vice President Joe Biden had come to pay his respects to the assassinated Prime Minister. Representing the Obama administration, Biden hoped to revive the moribund peace process – the process that Rabin championed. Accompanied by Rabin’s adult children, Yuval and Dalia, the vice president laid a wreath of red and white flowers on the grave. A banner on the wreath read, “The cause of peace for which you fought has become our own.”

When I sat the the gravesite the next day as the wind keened through the trees, I could almost hear the three gunshots that ended Rabin’s life. Looking at the headstones, I thought of the passage in the Babylonian Talmud; “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world.” I thought about the extent of that destruction and closed my eyes, feeling the weight of that loss – what might have been.

Since Trump became president last year, it has often seemed that the new administration rejects the cause of peace.  In response, some among the hawks in Israel depicted Trump’s victory as a “miracle” prompted by divine intervention.

There are, of course two ways of looking at Rabin's legacy, two sides to the story:
On one side there is an extremist Israel characterized by a combination of jingoistic nationalism and religious conservatism, by ethnocentrism and xenophobia, by intolerance of dissent and disrespect for basic democratic principles. Many in this camp in Israel are motivated by a messianic vision, which hinges on the establishment of a Greater Israel that is defined both by borders and by Jewish law. Many in this camp believed that Rabin betrayed the vision of the Greater Israel.  They celebrated his death.
On the other side, there are Israelis who supported Rabin's efforts, realizing that genuine security is best achieved through peace agreements, and that a peace agreement with the Palestinians is vital for Israel if it is to maintain its character as a democracy and a Jewish state. This Israel sanctifies life over land, puts peace and security before settlements, and yearns for Israel to be a respectable member of the family of nations.
The current status quo in the absence of peace comes at a terrible price, and the dead are filling up Mount Herzl cemetery as well as cemeteries in the Arab world.  The murder of Yitzhak Rabin is a murder that keeps on killing—killing Arabs and Jews, killing peace, killing hope, and with collateral hatred, killing innocent people around the world—from London to San Bernardino, from Bombay to New York.
Counter to that is Rabin’s vision of peace, which was shared by over 60% of both Israelis and Palestinians at the time.  On the night of November 4, 1995, as the peace process in the form of “Oslo II” was moving forward, there was a massive rally in support of peace in Tel Aviv, lighting up the night sky. Over 100,000 people gathered to cheer Rabin and other speakers. (And while 100,000 may seem modest by American standards, in Israel with a population of five and a half million people, an equivalent number with the US population would be a demonstration of 6 million!)

The rally concluded with Rabin and others on stage leading the crowd in singing Shir Shel Shalom – a song of peace. Afterwards, Rabin folded the paper with the song’s lyrics and placed it in the pocket of his suit jacket. Five minutes later, Rabin was dead, and the song sheet was retrieved blood-stained from his jacket.

The world stood at a crossroads that night, and it took a turn into darkness.   But there are still millions of people in Israel, Palestine and around the world who support the light of peace.
As Americans who collectively contribute to Israel's security and economy to the tune of $3.8 billion a year, (roughly $10 million a day) we deserve to have an opinion about which vision of Israel we prefer. We have the right and responsibility to express a preference, a choice. Rabin made his choice—peace—and he paid dearly for it. If we agree with that choice, we can honor his legacy by doing all we can to make Rabin's vision a reality.

PS: From Annamaria:
As this blog goes up, Michael is on his way on a medical mission to Palestine.  He told me that Rabin's murder was the reason he started writing in the mid-90s, to fulfill a need to convert the anger, sadness and despair of that moment into something else, something that might promote coexistence under cover of fiction.  You can learn about his splendid, “subversive” historical thrillers here: