Saturday, January 18, 2020

A Call to Action


photo by Giorgos Moutafis

Jeff--Saturday

A few weeks back I wrote a post announcing that my ninth Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novel, AN AEGEAN APRIL, was available for $0.99 through January 31st across every e-book platform. Just click on the link https://books2read.com/u/38E86w and find happiness.

That opportunity still exists, but this post in not about that. It’s about the refugee crisis on the Aegean Greek island of Lesvos at the heart of that book. Recent aggressive tactics by Turkey, the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iran, and endemic antipathy in Europe toward refugees, portend a deepening refugee crisis soon to explode on Europe’s doorstep. It’s one our reputedly civilized world tries its best to ignore, but it shall not go away.

One journalist who has not ignored it is Harriet Grant. Together with photographer Giorgos Moutafis, Ms. Grant presented a series of articles this week in The Guardian detailing the intensely personal side of this human tragedy.  Here’s her article titled, “Catastrophic conditions greet refugees arriving on Lesbos.”

Harriet Grant


It’s just getting light on the north coast of Lesbos and in an olive grove by the side of the road a group of refugees are breaking up branches and feeding a fire to keep the children warm. They are a small group, 25 people, all of them from Afghanistan. They climbed out of a boat on the shore at 1.30am and lit the fire while they called for help.

Jalila is 18 and has travelled to the Greek island alone from Afghanistan. “But these people in the boat are my new family” she says cheerily. She is in good spirits, though shivering uncontrollably.

She speaks good English and is helping to translate for the coastguard. “He is just 14, yes he is on his own. Do you know anybody here in Greece? Brother? Cousin? No, he knows nobody.”

While in the UK, politicians have been debating whether the right to family reunion for child refugees should be protected during Brexit negotiations, refugee agencies on the island are warning that the increase in arrivals is becoming “unmanageable” – and that the only solution is an urgent programme to relocate thousands of the most vulnerable migrants across Europe.

Taliban activity and intense fighting is helping drive a spike in arrivals. There were more newcomers in 2019 than in the previous two years together.

“I left home because in my province the Taliban are in total control,” Jalila says. “But when I got to Kabul I nearly died in several bombing attacks. But I am lucky,” she adds. “I have open-minded family … My father told me that Europe is a great place where women can be free. I can’t wait to begin educating myself here.”

Jalila and the others on her boat are a tiny part of a growing catastrophe here on Lesbos. Every day boats arrive, bringing more and more people, but with European borders shut there is no onward movement out of the dire conditions in the official camp, Moria. From 5,000 people living there last July, there are now 19,000 people, 40% of them under 12.

Moria Camp--photo by Giorgos Moutafis

Outside Moria, thousands are now living in the surrounding olive groves. It is a shanty town of tarpaulin, rivers of rubbish and desperate people.

Theodoros Alexellis, communications coordinator for the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, told the Guardian that the Greek authorities do not want to keep expanding the camp.

“Since 2016, people have not been able to move forward into Europe. In 2015 people stayed a few days, now they are staying for months and the number of arrivals is unmanageable. From the Greek perspective, the local people here do not want an expansion of this camp. They want to see an urgent commitment from other European countries to help.”

Here by the fire a toddler in a pink coat, her eyes half closed with exhaustion, is shivering while her father holds her soaking wet socks over the flames to dry.

Her mother, Saber, is eight months pregnant and in severe pain after the long journey, holding her back and stomach.

The family are from Kundus province, north Afghanistan, which for the past year has been the scene of intense fighting between the US and the Taliban.

“We just want to get to the camp so we can lie down and the children can get warm,” says Saber.

The next day, the families are in despair: there was no space for them in Moria and they had to sleep outside in the olive groves.

Jalila spent the night sleeping on a path. “The relief organisation gave me a coat because there are no tents.

“It’s okay,” she says, smiling. “I met a very kind lady who let me put my bag in her tent. At least it is safer here than on my journey in Turkey. But I hope someone will come to help me, it is so cold.”

Despite being in pain, heavily-pregnant Saber did not receive any medical attention. Her family of eight was given a plastic two-man tent. “I can’t get into it because of my bump and I am in so much pain,” she says.

Feruze also arrived last night and has no shelter. Two of her children are sick and there is no medical care until Monday, two days away. Sara, who is 18 months old, cut her foot on the journey and wails in pain as Feruze takes her shoe off to show the wound seeping yellow under a dirty bandage. Her brother, Ali, is three and leans groggily on his mother. His forehead is burning. She is carrying him on her back because he can’t walk.

They are sharing a small shack with another family who have taken pity on them. “But it is very cold, from 1am, it is so cold and the children are suffering, we have no blankets for them,” says Feruze.
It is not only Afghans who are arriving here straight from war. Nearby, a group of Syrians from Idlib have clustered their tents together.

Ali was an English teacher before his city came under bombardment. “Our town, Idlib is being destroyed. There are no homes, no farms, nothing is remaining. We come because even if we risk death on the way, there is no choice.”

He has been given a date to move with his family to the mainland and cannot wait to escape. “For Syrians, this is a hell. When it rains we fear for our children’s lives, that they will die of the rain, the cold, the wind.”

photo by Giorgos Moutafis


Marco Sandrone of Médicins Sans Frontières speaks to the Guardian at the field clinic the charity runs just outside the camp. “We are seeing around 100 children a day but we are forced to prioritise because we cannot see everyone. We are extremely worried about children suffering from chronic illnesses like epilepsy, asthma, diabetes.”

He says the huge numbers involved make a mockery of arguments in the UK and elsewhere in Europe over taking small numbers of children through family reunion and other schemes.

“While European countries discuss taking a few hundred minors from the camp of Moria we are trying to look after thousands. This cannot wait. Children have to be transferred from Moria to safe places today.” 

Yes, action must be taken NOW.

—Jeff

Jeff's 2020 Speaking Engagements and Signings (in formation):

Thursday, March 12-Sunday, March 15, 2020 
San Diego, CA
LEFT COAST CRIME—San Diego Marriott Mission Valley
Panels yet to be announced

Monday, March 16, 2020, 11AM-2PM
Saddlebrooke, Arizona 85739
FRIENDS OF SADDLEBROOKE LIBRARIES 
30th Anniversary Authors Luncheon
SaddleBrooke Clubhouse
40010 S. Ridgeview Blvd.
Author Speaking and Signing

Thursday, June 4--Sunday, June 7, 2020
BRISTOL, UK
CRIMEFEST—Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel

Panels yet to be announced 

Friday, January 17, 2020

A Day In The Life


The life of a writer can be a topsy turvey one. Slightly more turvey than topsy at times. Or even tipsy.

                   
                             making sense of publishing is as difficult
                                         as finding a sloth in a tree





My next PB is being published soon in a different size to the previous PB version of the same book. This is part of the publishing of my back list and most recent list - I think they are going to meet in the middle somewhere.


I was asked to check 6 queries the copy editor had. While checking those I found another 172 mistakes in the text. It was as if the PDF had carried the formatting from the wider paged book to the narrow page book, so I found music-ians and re-trials…. Direct speech on the same line as other direct speech which is a lot more confusing than might appear at first.

                    
                             This  looks like my worried face






 ‘Really?’ ‘Yes really,’ she said. ‘And that is so difficult to follow.’ ‘Yes I know,’ She dropped her sandwich on the dog’s head. ‘Woof.’


I had to look back at the previous paperback to find what it should read and then put it on a spreadsheet. And read the whole book to make sure that I had found them all.

                                  
                                         A wee hummer of a bird!




I got that back to them by Monday 9am.


That Monday night I was meeting the lovely Sophie. I am hiring her as my own PR person for the big year that will be 2020 or that was to be…) and she happened to be in Glasgow on Monday night, at a very posh hotel with things I couldn’t pronounce on the menu.  The waiter went to great lengths to explain to me that the butter was aged.
                                 
                                    looking for my career exactly where this dog is
                                              scratching his itch



Anyway as is usual with these things, there was a lot of texting as we had to wait until the big author had finished their signing.  That night the UK was being battered by a gale and all kinds of stormy weather. It was all a bit touch and go if we would be able to meet up at all. She’s lovely, her dad (the brother of a war hero who was played by James Mason in the film) had just died from a brain tumour days before Christmas, and she was getting herself back into work – and my God she works hard!



So at 4pm that afternoon, I was at work, having had very little sleep due to the formatting issue. Then the laptop binged and I got the dreaded email – my editor was leaving. Yes the one who has been championing me for the last couple of years with the new imprint, the one who is republishing the back list. The backlist I am employing the PR person for. My editor was going, leaving on Friday and not really being replaced… she’s going on to much higher things. Her last day will be the day this blog will be published.


So Monday 4pm, editor leaving, not bring replaced, being directed on to her boss who I suspect already has a full time job…and who is going to have another 12 or 24 authors dropped onto his plate.  
                           
                                          oh the windmills  of my mind !!






 So I went off to my smart dinner in a very big jacket and a rather heavy heart.


Sophie immediately picked up on the vibe ‘Yes, you are in great danger of falling through a hole! And I won’t let that happen!’  She’s quite scary. And she then went on to say that two other authors – very big names - are taking her on privately as their own publishing companies just will not commit a PR person to them. And after talking to her, I can see what a full time job it can be.

                            
                                            best cure for most confusions




She advised me to speak to my agent of course but Sophie was very reassuring. As long as the PR machine is running smoothly, you will be ok. (Bearing in mind that I am actually contracted with the other publisher, and that lovely editor is still there and not thinking about going anywhere I hope!) 

So next day I am planning my strategy while sitting on the dog to stop her barking at the high wind as Heid The Baw treated a patient in the other room.
                          

                                      with plenty of this....



Firstly, send some flowers to outgoing editor, as she has been great and hugely enjoyable to work with. I emailed my agent. No response. Until 4 pm. Of course, that was the day of the press release of the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival and as she’s on the board she was busy announcing that Ian Rankin was the new programming chair. She emailed me back. ‘Do you want me to do anything about that? No?  But never mind, here’s a new deal for, do say yes….’


Then she emailed me back about 5.40 with another deal so I made a fair bit of money while I was panicking.


That night I was going out to talk to the local rotary club. They had a bit of a mix up. They knew they had a speaker but they had no idea who the speaker was….'So who are you then?


So that was ok. I charmed them so much the guy who sat on my right with the big gold chain of office is going to come along to the writers’ group.


I now have an idea what is going on. But it’s Friday so I must be blogging.


Caro Ramsay  17/01/202





Inner Wheel Renfrew

Renfrew Golf Club

Thursday 13 February 2020



Granite Noir Crime Writing Festival

Aberdeen Central Library

Sunday 23 February 2020



Paisley Book Festival

Paisley Central Library

Monday 24 February 2020



Murder Will Out

Heffers Book Shop, Cambridge

Saturday 14 March 2020



Aye Write! Book Festival

Mitchell Library Glasgow

Sunday 22 March 2020



Carry on Sleuthing

Dick Institute, Kilmarnock

Thursday 21 May 2020



Crimefest Crime Fiction Convention

Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel, Bristol

Thursday 4 June 2020 /Sunday   7 June 2020



Bloody Scotland

Stirling

Friday    18 September 2020 /Sunday  20 September 2020



Tidelines Book Festival

Irvine

Friday    25 September 2020 / Sunday  27 September 2020



Bouchercon World Mystery Convention

Sacramento, California

Thursday  15 October 2020 / Sunday    18 October 2020



Wee Crime Festival

Grantown-on-Spey, Highlands Scotland

Friday     30 October 2020 / Sunday  1 November 2020

Thursday, January 16, 2020

ANOTHER YEAR OF THE WOMAN?

Kwei Quartey

There have been several "years of the woman," including 1984, 1992, 2012 and 2018. I believe 2020 will be my personal Year Of The Woman.

By the end of 2017, I had completed my fifth Darko Dawson novel, Death By His GraceIn it, Darko's new sidekick is a young female cop, Mabel Safo, who has been transferred to the Criminal Investigation Headquarters in Accra after she has been sexually assaulted by her commander. My original idea was to have Mabel continue with her own series while Darko was in the background or on a parallel track. However, in what would turn out to be a wise decision, my editor urged me to develop a new series separate from Darko. I don't believe it was by accident that I created a female detective. She had been developing in my subconscious, and although I didn't know it so early on, she was to be shaped by the events of 2017-2019.

Many important women's moments occurred in the period between 2017 and 2019. Time magazine's 2019 Person Of The Year is a diminutive but fierce Swedish teenage girl called Greta Thunberg. Beginning in August 2018, she made the world sit up and pay attention to climate change in a big way.

YEAR OF THE WOMAN: The steely-eyed gaze of Greta Thunberg (Shutterstock/Aaron-Schwartz)
The steely gaze of Greta Thunberg (Shutterstock/Aaron-Schwartz)


In politics, Spain’s new Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez  appointed a majority-female cabinet in June 2018. In that same year, more than 100 women were voted into office in the U.S. House of Representatives. New Orleans swore in LaToya Cantrell as the first female mayor in the city’s history.

In entertainment, Ava DuVernay, director of A Wrinkle in Time and a close collaborator with Oprah Winfrey, joined the “$100 million club” of directors with films surpassing $100 million in earnings, and Jennifer Lee, the Oscar-winning screenwriter and codirector of Frozen, is named chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Year of the woman: Ava Duvernay and Oprah Winfrey, two powerful women in entertainment (Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com)
Ava Duvernay and Oprah Winfrey, two powerful women in entertainment (Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock)


The Me Too Movement

Undoubtedly, this was the most powerful of women's moments. Me Too (or #MeToo) exploded onto the scene in 2017 when The New York Times (NYT) and The New Yorker first reported that dozens of women were accusing American film producer Harvey Weinstein, formerly of The Weinstein Company (TWC), of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse over a period of at least thirty years. In fact, credit for the name Me Too goes to Tarana Burke, a black female activist and advocate who created the term more than 10 years ago in 2006 to remind women, in particular those of color, that they were not alone in their experiences of sexual assault.

Year of the woman: Tarana Burke (lev radin / Shutterstock.com)
Tarana Burke (Lev Radin/Shutterstock)

On October 15, 2017, American actress Alyssa Milano, crediting Burke for the origins of Me Too, tweeted, “If all the women who have ever been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, then we give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

On January 1, 2018, as a crushing tsunami of sexual abuse allegations against Weinstein and many other powerful men broke the dam, Hollywood celebrities founded the Time's Up movement against sexual harassment and gender inequality in the workplace.

Later, in September 2018, during a particularly cringeworthy congressional hearing, an anguished Christine Blasey Ford testified to allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in high school.


FICTION IN THE ME TOO ERA

(A tidbit of interest: J.K. Rowling, has once again topped Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s highest-paid authors. Rowling, the fantasy author and well-known outspoken feminist, raked in $92 million in 2019, the magazine reports.)

Cultural shifts are reflected not only in real life--news, articles, and non-fiction books--but also in fiction. Three recent novels, Milkman, by Anna Burns; His Favorites, by Kate Walbert; and Those Who Knew, by Idra Novey, have Me Too episodes within their pages. No doubt, there are other books that tackle sexual assault and there will be more to come. Fiction in the right hands--from Morrison to Atwood--can awaken us to ideas, experiences, and truths about which we heretofore knew little or nothing.

Writers of fiction should be sensitive to cultural phenomena, which may play major or minor roles in their novels or contribute to the milieu of the work in subtle yet important ways. Me Too planted a seed of new awareness. As I wrote The Missing American, in which Ghanaian protagonist Emma Djan makes her debut appearance, that seed grew and began to flower. In an interview with Terry Gross, Meryl Streep observed how women have learned to look at the world through male eyes, but men have difficulty doing the same thing through female eyes. With Me Too, I found the impulse to learn to do that compelling. 

Things happen when the time arrives, when we are ready. Five years ago, the Emma Djan of 2020 could probably not have been created, but she's here now. I like Emma a lot. I find myself relaxed and soothed around her while in retrospect I realize I was tense and jumpy with Darko--perhaps the inherent male tendency to compete with another male--a remarkably prevalent characteristic across many animal species.

What will happen to Me Too in 2020? I believe the movement will progress and mature into something much more powerful than we have seen. From 2017 to 2019, the ground was being prepared for 2020, and Emma Djan arrives at the perfect time early in the year. It's no wonder that 2020 is my Year Of The Woman.

Kwei Quartey

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Gochujang revisited

Sujata's computer took ill in India last week! Can you imagine going on an extended fact-finding trip to the other side of the world only to lose one's computer? Fortunately, there are other ways of communicating, so Sujata asked me to repost one of her earlier blogs.

It was not that easy because I have liked so many of them. But, given that I enjoy food, particularly South-East Asian food - Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian - I decided to find a food-related blog. Lots of those to choose from. Eventually I decided on an Asian food blog, but not from the south east.

I hope by the time this goes up that Sujata's computer is out of intensive care and recovering well.

Here's the post originally published on 2/15/2017.

_______________________________________




I've had a little too much Thai, Indian and Vietnamese restaurant food lately. Even good food can become boring. Looking for another Asian taste, I decided to go after the obvious: Korean food.

Fortunately, there are a lot of Korean immigrants around Baltimor. I've dined at places ranging from multi-starred restaurants in the suburbs to the casual Korean take-out counter at R House, the great new food hall in Baltimore's Remington neighborhood. This has been a fun project.

I've noticed that in almost every dish, a special flavor tickled my tastebuds. That is the taste of gochujang.



BeBim at R House does fast casual Korean


I first tasted gochujang in the delicious marinated grilled meat dish called bulgogi. It gives the robust red color and flavor to Korean stew dishes known as jigae and is also stirred up and served as a condiment  

The elevator pitch for gochujang is "a cross between miso paste and Asian chili sauce." But this paste is not nosebud-clearing spiky-hot like Sriracha sauce, another favorite condiment of mine. Gochujang has a good, deep kind of hot and a complex, almost-meaty dimension foodies call  umami.



Watch a short video of how to make gorgeous gochujang at http://www.maangchi.com/recipe/gochujang



Gochujang ha become buzzy in the West for the last five years, although it dates back to at least the sixteenth century in Korea. Someone clever took the mellow Korean chili known as gochu, dried it, and crushed it. This was mixed with powdered rice, powdered fermented dried soybeans, sprouted barley and salt. Fresh gochujang paste is stored in a ceramic crock outdoors for six months before eating. The fermentation creates the healthy lactobacillus to support healthy digestion; and the chili element within the food inhibits spoilage. Chilies contain capsicum, which some say helps fight obesity.  In any case, gochujang has some other great nutrients: Vitamin B2, Vitamin C, protein and carotene. It tastes like heaven, but it isn’t junk food.

Korean purists still make gochujang by hand, just as people in Japan still make tofu and miso. Fortunately, there are a few potters interested in making the proper jars, which must be screened at the top to allow ventilation. It's almost like the composting I'm trying to do in an old trashcan in my yard. 

I wanted to get a gochujang fix the easy way. That meant shopping. I found many tubs of it on the shelf of the Asian supermarket a few miles from my house. After the gochujang tub opened, it needs to go into the refrigerator. I put it there while I pondered what to do next.




There were many choices. I can’t count the ways I’ve seen gochujang as an ingredient in non-Korean recipe, particularly as a drizzling sauce or mixed in with mayonnaise. One of the first things i did was make gochujang mayonnaise that was used for many purposes.

I also decided to put a spoonful of gochujang in the soy-stock mixture I use for vegetable stir-fry. A dish with Chinese origins was changed--and not for the worse!





While I was taking baby spoonfuls out of my pepper paste tub, the food people have crafted grand new recipes. 
British cooking author and TV host Nigella Lawson blended Italy and Korea in her original recipe for Korean Calimari and then she blended India and Korea in Korean Keema



Nigella's Korean Calimari




Turkey and gochujang are a popular combination. I like the ingredients in Blogger Lemon Lime Lisa’s gochujang turkey meatballs which would be a great party hors d'oeuvre.

Here’s a great slideshow roundup of gochujang-flavored dishes from  Bon Appetit   

Without realizing it, I used up my whole gochujang tub on silly little ideas. I wanted to do something big. One Saturday, I went shopping for a new container of gochujang and decided to lavish it on a small pork loin.

First, I browned the 3 lb hunk of pork in a little oil. Then I added in 1/3 cup gochujang paste,1/8 cup soy sauce, 1/8 cup of honey and ½ cup of chicken stock. I let the loin braise in the spicy potion for 8 hours, until cooked through and very soft. I took out the loin to rest and boiled down the remaining red-brown cooking liquid to make a velvety brown sauce. Okay, I apologize for the lack of photograph; when the pork was ready, I had no impulse control.

The pork loin was a bit too much for just my husband and me to eat. Still, it was excellent, from the first night, when it was presented like a roast with polenta on the side; to the next day’s lunch, when it went inside a tortilla wrap along with lettuce and radishes; to the grand finale two days later, soft tacos with fresh chopped vegetables.


By the end of my gochujang experiment, I wasn't bored. I was filled by another of capsicum's supposed benefits: euphoria.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker

During the strike, an almost empty Parisian cafe is lit and waiting for customers. 
Wait, you say the strikes are still going on in Paris? Yes, why yes they are. What started on December 5th broke a historic record last week. As my friend was getting her groceries a couple days ago she overheard two women at the check out counter discussing. They said it may continue until February 6th!

The transport strikes are around pension reform and quite complicated, but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the domino effect of other things that are affected, particularly in Paris. I mean the butcher (horse butcher).

Monsieur Leban, in his eighties and pictured in his apron, is one of the several remaining horse butchers in Paris. His customers, apart from locals, have dwindled. He's the butcher from whom my fictional detective, Aimée Leduc,  buys horse meat for her dog.
And the strike affects all the bakers in the boulangeries who rise early and get the  dough rising and ovens going.


The boulangeries are losing customers who struggle to get on the infrequent Metro or crowded busses and make it to to work. I've heard stories of people walking to work for an hour and a half, of bicycles and scooter clogging the streets and the pavement jammed.
And the candle makers are suffering.
The strikes are tough on business. Many small businesses with tradespeople and craftsmen and women like the candlemaker, have been forced to close.  On top of that, the continuing demonstrations by the gilet jaune protests every Saturday since October, have crippled commerce on streets where the protestors march. Many more cafes, bistros, restaurant fear having to close their doors.
It's the little person who suffers. Economically it's shutting doors and losing revenue in a domino affect.
C'est dommage.
Cara - Tuesday

Monday, January 13, 2020

Is the United States of America a Democracy

Annamaria on Monday




Is the USA a democracy?

That is the question.

The answer is - Well, sort of.





I will explain, but before I do, let me establish one salient fact: the American Revolution was the first, and in a sense the only armed-revolt to banish a monarchy or dictatorship and establish a viable, stable democratic government.  The French, the Russian, the Chinese, and the Cuban Revolutions - to name only the most famous - all devolved into bloodbaths and/or dictatorships. One document made the difference for America, the only one I hold sacred: The United States Constitution.

However, when it comes to democratic principles, the political geniuses that created that splendid document had to, right off the bat, make a compromise with straight up democracy.  They created the Electoral College.  Here's why:

The political entities they began with were the thirteen original colonies. The founding fathers knew, from European history, that many little countries crowed together on a continent could lead to endless conflict and out and out war.  To avoid that, they needed to create a strong union of states.  Problem was that the northern colonies were economically advanced and had many more citizens than the agrarian ones in the south.  If nation-wide popular voting decided who would be president, the north's favorite candidate would always win.  The citizenry had just shed their blood to get rid of dominance by a government that never considered their needs.  In fear of replacing old oppression with a new form, the southern states would never ratify a constitution that meant the north would always govern them.




The Electoral College gave the lower population states more of say in Presidential elections.  The Constitution was therefore adopted and led the way to an imperfect, but solid union that has lasted more than two centuries.  We may think it is obsolete now, but it served a critical purpose at the nation's birth.

Once the American democracy was up and running it rumbled and bumped along and pretty much worked until the mid 19th Century when the question of slavery once again pitted the north against the south.  War and dreadful recriminations ensued, and if you ask me the country is still trying to get over that.  But since the Union prevailed, we have been one country.

Recently, left against right, passionate desires to hold the line against progressive ideas, or to push the nation toward them faster than it wants to go has opened old and new wounds.  Unfortunately, in an effort to stem the tide of change and to maintain a strangle hold on power, the two big political parties (I have to say the Republicans much more than the Democrats) are manipulating the democratic process.  Here are some of their favorite ways.


Gerrymandering voting districts

If you know that people of a certain class, race, or religious affiliation will largely vote for your party or against it - and you control the state government - all you have to do it redraw the districts so that the majority in almost all of them will be your supporters.  With 21st Century megadata bases at their disposal, politicians have enough information to draw political districts that look like this:





Voter suppression 

On trumped up (pun intended) charges of voter fraud, some states are taking all sorts of nefarious steps to keep out voters whose votes they don't want to count.  The dominant party can then keep those pesky blacks, immigrants, inner-city liberals, and aged hippies off the voter records or away from the polls.




Making money the only thing that counts 

Given that, these days, elections seem to be won through television advertising (adverts-lying), a party can insure its power by pandering to very wealthy donors.  Viz - promising to make sure they will not have to pay taxes will go a long way in securing that their dollars will go to your party, rather than - say - paying teachers and firemen or paving roads and repairing bridges.





These tactics have skewed electoral results and polluted American democracy.  That's for sure.


BUT



You all know by now what an optimist I am.  All this tampering with the democratic process seems scary. But these are acts of desperation, by people who know that if they let democracy fairly decide, they will lose.  True.  But they can't keep this up forever, and time is on the side of free and fair elections.  

Being a progressive, I find hope in the young.  If only voters 18-29 were counted in 2016, Hillary Clinton would have won by a landslide.  By the 2024 presidential election, Georgia will no longer be a predominantly white state.  When it comes to political parties, North Carolina is already close to purple.  And so on.  And so forth.

The future cannot be stopped.  Time is on my side. 

Sunday, January 12, 2020

LOOK BACK AND WONDER—News Stories of 2019 (Part2)

Zoë Sharp

To kick off the new year, I wanted to finish my look back at the quirkier news items from the second half of 2019, as reported in The Guardian newspaper online.


July

The England team at the Women’s World Cup reach the semi-finals before going out to the USA, narrowly failing to become the first England team in a World Cup final since 1966. Snowball, the sulphur-crested cockatoo, not only dances but does his own choreography, too. As an incentive for good behaviour, prisoners are offered keys to their own cells. A message in a bottle dropped into the seas off the Australian coast in 1969, is finally discovered. A study reveals that chimps are more sociable after watching movies together. And Neuroscientists manage to decode brain speech signals into written text.

Snowball the dancing cockatoo. Pic: the Guardian
August

Having a healthy social life is shown to help ward off dementia in later life. Scientists produce ‘Atomik’ vodka from grain grown around Chernobyl. Two footbridges, cantilevered out from the cliffs with a 4cm gap in the middle, meet to connect Tintagel Castle with Merlin’s Cave in Cornwall. A cure for the previously deadly Ebola virus is tested successfully in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Growing up in areas with high air pollution is linked to mental health issues, a new study shows. Six portraits of the ‘Petworth beauties’ which had their lower legs removed in the 1820s when the owner of Petworth House, the third Earl of Egremont, required more room to hang other paintings, have been restored to full length by the National Trust.

The Tintagel footbridges. Pic: the Guardian
September

It is thought the Loch Ness Monster could be a giant eel, after researchers from Otago University find the water contains no dinosaur or monster DNA. Astronomers using NASA’s Kepler space telescope determine that there is water on planet K2-18b, in the constellation of Leo. The planet is twice the size of earth and orbits a cool red dwarf less than half the size of the sun, which warms the surface of the planet to approximately 10C (50F). The annual science prizes, the Ig Nobel, given to work that ‘first makes people laugh, then makes them think’, are awarded in a ceremony at Harvard University. A British researcher, part of an international team, wins one for discovering which parts of the body are most pleasurable to scratch. The ankles, apparently, closely followed by the back and then forearm. A Japanese Airline indicates seats with infants up to two years old for other passengers booking seats.

the Loch Ness Monster
Read the rest of this post over on ZoeSharp.com.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Alt(a/e)r






Jeff—Saturday

I’m almost back to normal. Well, normal for me. 

The last few weeks have been hectic, what with my impending (is that the right word for something good?) wedding, a tree falling directly above me as I napped by the windows, my almost seven-year-old granddaughter losing her two front teeth (cue the song), and my Texas granddaughter and grandson dazzling me with their thespian talents. 

Hmm, perhaps I should rethink that last paragraph. No, not because my grousing must come across as pitifully self-absorbed in comparison to the horrors so many of our Australian friends and colleagues are enduring—our thoughts and prayers are with you all—but because now I’m married.

And my wife—there, I said it—may not take kindly to my grouping our wedding week in the same sentence with references to a near-death experience, the loss of body parts, and make believe.



Nah, she understands my ways. I’m sure she won’t even take notice.

Then again, she is an artist, and who knows what sort of subtle revenge she might take on her darling husband should she object.  After all, wasn’t it Michelangelo who incorporated the faces of his enemies in the most unflattering of ways into his work? 
This Vatican official’s face made it unflatteringly into Michelangelo’s Last Judgment for calling the work “unfit for sacred walls.”

I can only imagine (with trepidation) the sort of masterpiece a Barbara taking umbrage might be driven to create and label her “Jeffrey.”


Oy.
"Jeffrey." Not!
So, on to more pleasant thoughts—not to be perceived as groveling, mind you.

In all honesty, I never thought getting married would change the way I felt.  After all, this is not exactly my first rodeo (I know, a highly questionable metaphor). Yet, over these past two weeks I’ve experienced a more measured calm and intensified sense of commitment to another soul than ever before in my life.  I most certainly held those feelings for Barbara before we wed, but it’s as if an existential spiritual presence has come aboard to captain the course of our life together.

Then again, it all might just be those traditional cultural norms of my family that I flouted for so much of my life finally getting their mitts on my subconscious. 

More likely it’s just the basic nature of Barbara in full flower. Whatever it is, I’m happy. Make that very happy.
Okay, enough of this saccharine romantic stuff. It’s time for me to get back to writing about murder and mayhem.  And for Barbara to get back to working on her “Jeffrey.” 

Perhaps now it’s safe to leave in that second paragraph.  We shall see….

"Wife's Revenge"--BCZ :) [Ed. Note: Sketched in 15 minutes]
—Jeff


Jeff's 2020 Speaking Engagements and Signings (in formation):

Thursday, March 12-Sunday, March 15, 2020 
San Diego, CA
LEFT COAST CRIME—San Diego Marriott Mission Valley
Panels yet to be announced

Monday, March 16, 2020, 11AM-2PM
Saddlebrooke, Arizona 85739
FRIENDS OF SADDLEBROOKE LIBRARIES 
30th Anniversary Authors Luncheon
SaddleBrooke Clubhouse
40010 S. Ridgeview Blvd.
Author Speaking and Signing

Thursday, June 4--Sunday, June 7, 2020
BRISTOL, UK
CRIMEFEST—Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel

Panels yet to be announced