On Being Who We Really Are

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Pictured in 2017 in Karpacz Poland

I hate sharing personal information. I feel deeply uncomfortable doing so. But it is important. So here goes. I happen to be a writer. This is not by choice. I tried everything not to be a writer. In my early youth I tried a career in religion, which gives one access to lots and lots of books, which is very cool. It also gives one a room of one’s own, also cool (ask Virginia Woolf), an  opportunity to meditate (which I like a lot), a very comfortable middle class existence (I’m from the middle classes), as well as a comprehensive training and educational background (I took full advantage of all available libraries). I was not good at attending college, but I did okay with exams. I was expected to be an academic. But I wanted to write, which is not the same thing. I found it difficult to fit into any one academic discipline. I would also like to lightly mention in passing that my brand of religiosity included my joining a monastery, running retreats and giving sermons and being generally incredibly busy with people, which was very difficult for me. I was an odd monk, I must confess. I didn’t like the costume (originally what is now a monks robe was originally the normal clothing of peasants – the hood being a sack for your stuff). I thought it rather elitist and divisive. Also on a general level both back then and now, one would never think it, but I wasn’t comfortable around people. I also found I could be too blunt for people. I offended folks by my excessive straightforwardness, which was taken the wrong way quite a lot. The other thing was I could not stop writing. Poems, articles, stories, essays – I couldn’t stop.  Then after a few years I stopped believing in God, which was a devastating and deeply depressing experience. Christianity, at a certain point made no sense. It had its origins in older religions, which in turn had its origins in older myths. It was all clearly made up. I found my true calling was to atheism and publishing poor quality youthful short stories and poems. I quit being a monk. I tried academia but disliked both it and academics. I married, and then, to support my new marriage, I tried being a respectable civil servant with a good job and a house and a pension and serious prospects in the field of computer programming. Though I had hardly seen a computer before becoming a civil servant, I found I had a talent for programming them. I loved taking them apart and reassembling them. I had fun with technology. I used trawl thru computer junk, build a PC, and give them as gifts to friends and people who needed them or didn’t have a personal computer of their own. I also took full advantage of the company library  and I learned a few programming languages and made a bit of money. The thing was I still longed to write. Actually at the time I was writing, particularly Sci-Fi, but it wasn’t enough. It was hunger inside me to do more and be more, and though I was naturally good with languages, though I could put ideas, even coded ideas, together easily and quickly, I simply could not take the soul crushing drudgery of working in a corporate setting. The dishonesty, the politics, the lack of challenge, and most of all having to deal with people on a day to day basis, which is by no means my strong suit, I began to drink heavily, and it was a miracle I wasn’t fired for being repeatedly drunk on the job. I remember coding multi-million pound systems while being drunk. I remember compiling reports for accountants, or even writing reports, again while being ‘compromised’, a euphemism one hears in US cop dramas for being under the influence. I was becoming addicted. I found a few brandies relaxed me sufficiently to focus on the task at hand without being unduly anxious while in the company of others, which I disliked. I was earing a lot of money, more than my boss at the time. A therapist I had at the time challenged me. She said if I continued drinking and coding, alcohol would destroy my mind. Those were her words. I realized my misery, my depression and hopelessness I was dulling with drink. I was also becoming very unhappy in my marriage. So I quit. I sold my house and made some money, bought another house, became a landlord, and, with no prospects I started writing novels. My wife at the time started publishing my own work and those of other writers. For the most part my books did modestly well. I had found who I was. I was a member of the tribe of writers. I think this is a crucial thing. Every person needs to find who they truly are, especially as an artist. And we are all artists, everyone. Its not a New Age  blanket terms like, for instance, us all being ‘beautiful and unique snowflakes’ or ‘find the genius inside you’. No. We are all creative beings, potentially. Again my trouble being around people reared its head. I was swamped with people. Readings, writings, publications, trips to other countries doing launches and so on, began to take their toll on me. My marriage began to really crater. My wife at the time had her own troubles, deep troubles, and I found no matter what I did I could neither help her or myself. I suffered a major depressive episode and after three years and several disastrous misdiagnoses and horrible medications on the part of therapists and psychologists, I left my wife. Then she took her life just under a year after I left. The horror. As I said in her obituary, this is the single greatest loss of talent and potential the Irish publishing scene has suffered in a generation. It came as a devastating shock to me and to those who loved her, a sorrow of immeasurable proportions. I did not understand her condition. In the aftermath it has been explained to me. Now I understand. I have moved on. But I have not forgotten. Now I continue to write, because I am a writer. This is my story. Tell someone yours today, or even write it down. I find it horribly difficult, but its liberating.

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Bo Peep and the literary butler

bo peepBo Peep in micromanagement mode

The hardest lesson I ever learned about being a writer was when I spent time on Bo Peeps farm. It was a long time ago (20 years at least) in another country (I’d rather not say), and most of the people involved are long dead now (so I’m given to believe). I arrived at the farm in a state of disarray, my life in considerable turmoil after my leaving the Church and religious life. I was very slightly known then as a writer, and, the owner of the farm, Ms Peep, who had several buildings available for rent, gave me somewhere to stay, with more than a gleam in her eye. She seemed excessively pleased on learning I wrote (not that I told her) and mentioned loudly she was planning a book on the subject of her historically significant home. I said I was a novice in the literary game. “A few poems, the odd story, nothing special,”  I said. But she suggested I stay and at least consider the possibility. I said nothing beyond offering her free lessons. Yet despite such enthusiasms, Ms Peep had had previous experiences of members of the artistic community staying on her lush pastures and domicile of extensive cultural and historical significance, however they didn’t always come up with the rent and left suddenly, so  I was questioned about my ability to pay. Offended, but suppressing my anger, I offered three months rent in advance. This was declined and I was shown to my place and introduced to the other members of the community, who disturbingly all had had difficult times in their lives and were down at the farm trying to get over troubled lives. But I was told the good news. I was apparently already writer in residence. Yes indeedy. And I thought- me – a writer in residence? I was a kid (no pun intended).shaun                           I’m the startled looking lost sheep (2nd from left)

“I hear you are writing a book about the place,” my fellow lost sheep bleated. My ego was tickled at the thought, or even the rumour I might be doing something as cool as penning a book. Me -a real writer? I might even make money. “Er, yes,” I said, while remembering some loose discussion initially about writing, but mainly assisting Bo Peep in her literary endeavors. I initially began making notes for the book, to the delight of my shepherd, and also began not only researches into the place, but began to get to know the people who lived there. And the more I got to know them the less I wanted to write about the place. “Everyone here has a story, you know,” Ms Peep piped up. No shit Sherlock, I thought. Do they really? “And they all come here for a reason. I watch over them, you know.” “What type of book do you want?” I asked. Our shepherd and glorious leader, put aside her shepherd’s crook for a moment and looked intently at me. Off in the distance one could see heavy dragon shaped clouds. As I looked up she spoke,. Bo Peep knew exactly what she wanted. “A light table top novel. Humorous. Good holiday reading.” Dear Lord, I thought. I was now a holiday novelist. I was rather more ambitious than that. Also, I was developing a problem with this. I mean, I thought of the people living around the Big House. I wondered if they would consent to being so trivialized, lives reduced to summer reading, their stories distorted into fiction. Was that fair? I wondered, no matter how much I employed the fashionable Kevlar of fiction to insulate myself from potential lawsuits, was it right to use these peoples personal stories, even if they were all to consent to it, as fodder for some type of lame upwardly mobile bourgeois tennis club boast over afternoon cocktails? (I was reading Karl Marx at the time, you have to forgive my naive revolutionary zeal)

'Forty beers please, oh, and if a woman called Beau Peep calls, tell her you never saw us.'
Forty beers please, oh, and if a woman called Beau Peep calls, tell her you never saw us.’

So I was a literary butler. I wrote on demand, And Ms. Peep though polite and superficially friendly, ruled her flock with a crook of iron. Well, maybe not iron, that’s heavy – something really rigid but light – you understand.  But then  I knew I might make some coin if I allowed myself to be pimped out like this. Bo Peep had influence. She had spent years climbing the society ladder, and already had close personal friends on all the top golf, tennis, and croquet clubs. I could be marginally less of a hopeless unknown. But then I said no to the whole project. I smoked some weed and grew a conscience, fool that I was all those years ago. I told Ms Peep that I couldn’t do it. And she was very angry indeed. She made life rather difficult for me among the very herd I was trying to protect (see fetching photo above.) Things got ugly. I was accused of not very nice things down on the farm. The other lost sheep seemed to draw away from me. They were disappointed their names were never going to be in print. Eventually the arguments, accusations of being rude, disrespectful and generally not being an obedient sheep and new member of the herd of lost sheep, became too much for this nervous woolly jumper. Even a sheep has a smidgin of dignity. I decided to go my own way, move out and find other pastures green. It was the best decision I made. Bo Peep went on minding sheep, and looking for other lost shepherdable sheep to mind – lost vulnerable ones needing pastures safe and fresh. I kept calm, started another book, and never looked back. A nasty experience.

Six Types Of Writers

6types of writersI came across this on the net a long time ago . There’s a full analysis of each of these six types of writers at http://alexeimaximrussell.blogspot.ca, and the Writer and Blogger Alexei Maxim Russel is the originator of the above meme. I really enjoyed this the first time I saw it. And I kept it and often found myself looking over it again and again. I thought it not inaccurate at all when it comes to a generalization (nothing more) of the various categories of scriveners one comes across in the world of writers. As with most of these categories they only work to an extent, but they might serve as a compass along the often uncertain routes of a writing life. If there is anything the meme teaches its this: don’t be bitter. Writing is incredibly difficult. Too many people think that a few years and a few novels a writer makes. Not at all. Don’t be fooled. Follow your own dreams. The one true measure of a successful writer is that s/he always remained true to their artistic vision, and the only way to do that is to love what you do. That, a solid dose of common sense and a willingness to stick to a book till its over and sell it, and one will be fine. Oh, and have fun. Its never boring.

The Queen And I

    The Queen (2006)

Directed by Stephen Frears. With Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Alex Jennings.

The notion of any kind of hereditary monarchy simply incomprehensible to me. It is a system of government so riven with problems as to be potentially catastrophic for a country. This is why the UK have reduced the monarchy to figurehead status. That being the case, the UK remains with a Queen, and Helen Mirren (who won an Oscar for her role in this movie) plays Elizabeth II just after the death of Diana Spenser in 1997, formerly Princess Diana. Diana Spenser is named by Blair as the peoples princess (Tony Blair is played by the creepily brilliant Michael Sheen who also should have gotten an Oscar for his role as the obsequious power hungry worshipful Machiavellian Tony Blair )


Blair, though ostensibly promising to modernise the UK, in many ways sees his path to power along the road of maintaining the status quo. Blair wants power and is intelligent enough and a gifted enough politician to be no socialist revolutionary anti monarchist. He is not long in office and Elizabeth II is wary of him. Diana is dead and she refuses to treat the death as a royal affair despite a very public outpouring of grief and the fact that Blair refers to her as the ‘people’s princess’ – a divisive term to say the least and something that causes a deep division in the Royal household. Elizabeth couldn’t compete with Diana in terms of popularity, or even her capacity to communicate with people. Diana was a girl chosen to be the wife of Charles, who was already deeply in love and in a long term passionate relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles. Not a recipe for a sound long term arrangement.

Diana Spenser 1961-1997
A portrait of the princess as a young girl

Diana surprised the royals. She was beautiful warm and charismatic and was unafraid to display her many flaws in public. Elizabeth was the polar opposite. She was precise and cerebral, cold and driven by duty. There was a sense that she loathed this person, this Diana, who had invaded their carefully controlled royal cosmos and refused to conform to its mores. In some ways the movie is more about the ghost of Diana Spenser and her effect of Elizabeth II than anything else.

Blair pressurizes the Queen to come down out of the hermetically sealed forty thousand acre estate in Balmoral in Scotland and meet the people in London. The sheer distance between the Royal Family and the lives of the ordinary people becomes apparent as the Queen reads the news day by day, watches the interviews Diana gave after her divorce, unprecedented interviews which broke the code of silence, and sees her own ratings plummet as the tabloids turn on her. She concedes to Blair’s entreaties and returns to Buckingham Palace and meets the people and looks and the swathes of flowers and expressions of regret and she is horrified. It is obvious that many hold her and the machinations of the Royal family household personally responsible for Diana’s death. Which is both interesting, tragic, and at the same time not unusual. A much loved public figure with royal connections dies in a Parisian tunnel with her boyfriend while being chased by rapacious paparazzi. The driver of the vehicle was drunk. Had he not been drunk the crash may not have happened. Anyway when a terrible unforeseen tragedy occurs, such as this one, there is an outpouring of grief and of anger and people look for someone to blame (something I can understand only too well from my own life experience). They blamed the Royal Family and particularly Elizabeth II.

We are tearful....
We are tearful….

The pain of this very public condemnation struck her to the core, but like all leaders and political figures, she summoned the resources necessary to survive, to maintain her distance and her dignity and to keep the Royal Family as a central facet of English life and culture at a time when a Labour Government was in power, a time when there was real talk of abolishing the Royal Family as a historical anachronism. Mirren shows the intelligence and the depth and the coldness of Elizabeth II. Michael Sheen shows Blair as the untrustworthy nasty piece of work he seems by all accounts to be.

All in all this is a great film, an ensemble performance about a truly surreal world, the world of the Royal Family and how deeply dysfunctional they are. I was glad I saw it. I switched on the TV and there it was. How Fortuitous.

Uneasyjet and the joys of Ryanair

OR

NOTES ON A TRULY GODAWFUL AIRLINE:

EASYJET

A cathedral to capitalism: Gatwick duty free at four in the morning. Waiting for our connecting flight.

You don’t need to be fascistic to control your passengers. In fact things get easier the more courteous you are.

Unfortunately I find myself ranting. It’s actually worse than ranting. My feelings of outrage cloud my mind. Giving a biased view of a bad experience of flying with an airline is like complaining about the Irish weather. It’s happens all the time. Worse, when you do complain about it, you are being a bore. ( i.e – Of course it rains! Its Ireland, you fool! It rains all the time!)

Here, where I write this, in Greece, it rarely rains. Moreover as you read this, be aware I am an unreliable witness who remembers the slim aggressively perky hostess as she patrolled through the aisles of passengers, and stopped and leaned over to my partner, and said:

“Can I see that you have buckled your seat belt? Please lift up your clothing? I need to see. Thank you so much.”

I looked up in shock. Did I just hear that? I thought I was dreaming. My partner turned to me and said:

“Why are they being so awful? What the fuck?”

I shrugged with exhaustion.

“You have to remember, Iz, she is just one of that ‘fantastic team’ we were introduced to two hours ago.”

I mean I might have misheard. My ears were paining me with cabin pressure of thirty thousand feet and I had toothache, along with a knot in my stomach that would not go away.

“They are just, just awful,” I said.

Then we chorused:

“Well we won’t be going with Easyjet again,” and smiled ruefully.

You see, we were both unwell, under slept, and one does say such things in such circumstances. And when you say it, it has that strength and feeling of finality. But then I also remember that American girl queuing for Ryanair flight to Gatwick, the one where the cabin crew and the airhostess laughed and smiled all the time to the passengers. She was queuing just ahead of me the day before. You see, there was a delay before boarding in Dublin airport, and people get bored and start to chat and talk about things. She was telling her parents how awful Easyjet were. “They were just so awful.” Easyjet, or whoever, just don’t care. Not a bit. After all, you are one of thousands who fly with them day after day. Secondly you have to ask yourself: Do I mean it? Well, yes, of course. The proviso is this: that if there is simply no other way to get to a destination, one has to choose the available mode of transportation, unfortunately.

I write this on a beautiful evening on the island of Zakinthos, one of the smaller islands off the Greek coast. Downstairs a radio is playing mournful Greek ballads. I and my partner are here for about two weeks to recharge our lives, soak in some sun, and feel better. Here, the economy is in terminal decline. Though this apartment is okay. We are surrounded by ruined buildings and unfinished structures. Most of the local businesses are closed. We find a restaurant and go there regularly. The local supermarket is so overpriced as to be extortionary. But as with Easyjet so it is with the shopping. We are both sick, exhausted, depressed, and have headaches. There is no other way to get shopping, unfortunately.

This is a beautiful place. The sea is awesome. The local wine is rich and fruity and cheap. You can live on olives, bread, wine, and cheese here (you have to – foods not too good). There are olive groves everywhere. And oranges. And lemon trees you can reach out and pick. Buildings and gates and trees flake away in the sun. Dogs bark incessantly. There are goats and chickens in the surrounding fields. There is a pregnant cat sleeping on the doorstep who purrs and whines for cuddles as she approaches delivery. People drive past in cars with no windows, cars so old as to be at the point of disintegration. And then there are the locals, who try and fail so obviously to be nice to tourists that they are so obviously conflicted about. They stand and watch you pass with a dispassionate reserve. We got off the misnamed Easyjet at about midday today, tired and emotional. We flew to Gatwick yesterday evening, took a taxi to a hotel and slept for an hour or two, to rise at three am and pay twenty euros to be ferried one and a half miles to Gatwick to queue to get on board. “Sorry about that, mate. It’s the rules you see.” And of course he wouldn’t take a credit or a debit card. I felt such hatred for being so obviously fleeced. We went on in through security and bag searches and queued to get on board. My turn came and the Easy Jet person with the tightly controlled pleasant modulation took my passport and boarding pass. Its four thirty in the morning. I am rarely if ever awake at this hour. Normally I sleep eight to ten hours a night.

“Ah Mr Ryan, I see your passport expires in September.”

My eyes widened in incredulity. What had that to do with anything? It’s the second of April and we are away for two weeks. My boarding pass is scanned. I walk on a bit. I wait for Iza.

“Madam, you have too many bags. You must pack all these bags into one.”

“What difference does that make? The weight is exactly the same,” Iza says.

I too have two bags. I have a shoulder bag and a wheeled bag. But I have been let through without comment.

“Madam, I must ask you to pack all your bags into one.”

“I don’t understand why.”

“Madam please pack your bags into one, or you will have to pay a fine.”

Iza’s boarding pass was taken from her. We were stuck there till we complied.

“This is crazy. It’s makes no sense.”

“Madam you will have to pay a fine.”

“Yes, you would love to charge me more, wouldn’t you?”

Just then someone walks past me, a passenger. The queue is moving again. He is stopped by the second Easy Jet person.

“Sir, sir!”

“Hm?” The man says sleepily.

“Your boarding pass. Let me see your boarding pass!”

Again the nasty imperious tone and the same frozen polite smile. Who are these people, I wonder? What dysfunctional fascist school of people management did they graduate from? What’s this obsession with the letter of all these rules and regulations? Its four forty five in the morning and they are treating us like unmanageable schoolchildren, making us pack our bags properly or we can’t get on the bus to go on our trip. Why are we acquiescing to this? Iza is the only one of us who stood up to this particular deeply stupid arbitrary rule. What’s wrong with me to put up with this? This is no way for any of the hundred and fifty plus passengers to start our holiday. And these two checkers are the gatekeepers to our weeks of holiday.

I squeeze my stuff into one bag. Two computers, six books, notebooks, bottles of ink, clothes, the whole job lot squashed into one small travel bag so heavy it felt like dark matter. Iza went back to get her boarding pass. Naturally she was made to wait. And wait. Eventually she just butted in and asked for it.

“Who is your partner?” Iza was asked after her boarding pass was returned.

“I am,” I said. The Easy jet person and I looked at each other. I took in everything. I didn’t want to miss a thing.

“Thank you for your co-operation,” Easy Jet Functionary said, not to me but to Iza. As if she had a choice! Its heading for five in the morning and this was the only way she was going to get on the plane.

“Do not re pack your bags into two bags after you leave here,” she was warned.

Suddenly there were other Easy Jet functionaries and airport assistants hovering. We were not compliant passengers. We were trouble, or some such other interpretation.

We walked onto the jet, discussing how awful that particular experience was. Rarely, we muse it’s the event itself, but more how one is treated.

On board Easy Jet functionaries are patrolling. Baggage is checked and rechecked and moved from one place to another. Passengers are smiled at and checked and rechecked and after a time we are all sitting. When we are seated the main Air Host speaks to the passengers after safety announcements and routine greetings. Apparently as I mentioned before, we had a ‘fantastic team’ looking after us.

“Ladies and gentlemen I wanted to once more take this opportunity to welcome you all on board this Easy Jet flight and to as you if there are any or many of you who are flying alone to Zakinthos this morning. We have a mother here up front who is not seated with her child and we cannot take off until this situation is rectified.” Easy Jet Main Host stares down the aisles of this Easy Jet Flight with a near apocalyptic seriousness. There is silence. The silence carries on. Then it clicks into my dim brain that seemingly it is now our fault we cannot take off. This is something the flight staff should easily resolve without big announcements. I look at Iza and roll my eyes in disbelief.

“Is there something I can do?” I ask, suddenly taking responsibility for this issue.

“No,” Iza said.

By then someone else had possibly volunteered. Why? Well, we were getting ready to taxi. At least we said to each other, it will all be over in a few hours. We tried to get some sleep. Thankfully it was.

I see there is a flight from Athens to Zakinthos. I am pretty sure Ryanair do a direct flight from Dublin to Athens. I will have to check that. It seems to be the only way to get here in future, and yes – we will be back.

Pretty Woman Three Miles from the Czech Border

2014-12-25 15.23.03

I am watching the movie Pretty Woman with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. Gere is so stereotypically leading man material. However his tendency not to look directly at his interlocutor, this shy downward glance followed by his knowing smile is a little irritatingly condescending. That being said, his acting skills and his commanding presence overcomes this. Here he is looking his usual dashing self in this  eighties film about a yuppie who is so focused on money and power that he hires a beautiful prostitute to be his companion for a difficult series of business negotiations simply because it looks so much better for him to have a date on his arm during the time he makes more millions. the bonus for this deal is here he with Robers’ character he has someone he can control like everything else, using money. Anyway the annoying thing is the entire movie is overdubbed in Polish, and my Polish is non existent. I promised myself I would learn the language, but circumstances and a little laziness on my part prevented me from doing my homework. I keep watching the movie. They don’t use multiple voices for the various characters in the film. Just the same slightly basso translator. But I can still make out bits of dialogue. This room is old and the television takes about ten minutes to warm up. You switch it on and the screen turns a fuzzy blue and yellow and then after a while you see bits of a picture and then eventually Julia and Richard appears in all their opulent Lear Jet Stretch Limo glory. I keep thinking about the name of the film. Pretty woman. The room I am in is wooden. They build houses, houses that last lifetimes upon lifetimes, out of the wood from around here. The forests surrounding are vast.  The room is warm and warmly coloured and varnished wood. The ceiling is wooden. There are two sets of windows as I am in a corner room, an inner and and outer, to keep the cold, the freezing cold, out. Its insulated here. its well below zero here. and I am in a t-shirt. I sometimes go hunting in the presses and the drawers in the room. This is because I am immensely nosy man. I find pictures of beautiful women, far prettier than the very attractive Roberts, who lived their entire lives without ever becoming iconic. One must embrace the absurdity of things, I suppose.

The thing is the camera loves Julia Roberts. Thats her gift. And the fact she is an excellent actor. She completely steals the entire movie, and I imagine that was unexpected on the part of the producers, despite the giveaway name of the film.

Christmas in Poland, especially here in the south of Poland is immensely quiet. The forests that go on for miles act as a huge sound barrier. Add to this the circling mountains, a slight blanket of icy snow and you get an impression of the kind of soft quiet I am talking about. The odd car passes, but the noisiest thing I saw earlier was a snow truck that rumbled past as I went out on a night walk. With its flashing yellow warning lights, its frontal yellow rubberized snow scoop and its tail spewing vast quantities of salt, it looked like a huge mutant grumbling bumble bee hovering over the mountain roads. I passed dogs either chained or in their little houses and see many signs inpolish that say “angry dog”. No wonder the dogs were angry, I think. Its five degrees below zero on Christmas night. One wouldn’t put a milk bottle out in this weather. I passed the Hermann Goering Hill in the nearby distance. There the legendary Nazi supposedly had a domain in South Poland during the Second World War. There are arc lights and lasers reflecting from the forests onto the sky. Surreal stuff. Like a landing signal for an alien craft. I feel my ears freeze a little and wonder if the hat I have on is warm enough. Its half ten at night. I walk back, afraid I might slip despite the ministrations of the bumble bee salt spreader.

Families gather on Christmas Eve and eat carp and herring dishes and pirogi and drink borscht and wine and beer and play games. I got a game of Monopoly as a Christmas gift. I looked skeptically at the game and somewhere remembered the game was originally designed as a moral tool to teach people the dangers of greed and the pointless accumulation of money. I don’t think that intention worked out so well – mainly because Monopoly is awesome. Also I should point out that till then I had never played Monopoly before. The problem with this game was it was in Polish and I was the banker. These two factors made for the perfect storm of hilarity where the rules of Monopoly were to say the least not strictly observed and there were many lengthy pauses where I was asked to read out certain phrases for my education and have them explained back to me in English, much to the mirth of everyone present at my appalling Polish pronunciations. I went to bed about two AM. What a great Christmas Day. I go from Karpach (where I write this) to Wroclaw in a few days. Then I fly back. I will  miss here when I go. oh heres a picture of the Polish monopoly set. (awesome, isn’t it?)

2014-12-26 11.40.03

Bad Blood

 

Being the strange case of the Shooting Incident of Michael Brown Jnr. (May 20, 1996 – August 9, 2014), by Officer Darren Dean Wilson (b. May 14, 1986),on Canfield Drive Ferguson Missouri, 12.02pm Aug. 9 2014.

Just before 12pm on the 9th of August, a security camera caught Michael Brown (6 feet 4 inches (193 cm)) stealing a box of cigarillos not far from Canfield Drive, Ferguson, Miss., and assaulting and intimidating a shop assistant. The police were called. At 12.01 Officer Wilson saw two males walking up the middle of Canfield Dr. and asked them to get off the middle of the road. These were Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson. Accounts differ as to what Brown said to Wilson. Suffice it to say that Wilson asked Brown to get off the road and Brown refused, citing that they were nearing their destination. Wilson drove on, then reversed right up to Brown and Johnson, realizing Brown matched the description of the Convenience store Cigarillo thief. There then followed a fight, with Wilson still in the car unable to exit it. So Wilson is fighting with Brown who is leaning into the car. Wilson (6 feet 4 inches (193 cm)) is being punched by Brown. Wilson is fighting back and Brown and Wilson are each struggling for Wilsons service weapon (a 40 Caliber Sig 229 [13 rounds, 12 in the magazine, 1 in the chamber]).

Sig Sauer P250 Compact 40 S&W with 13-Round Magazine

Wilson said he feared for his life at this point. Wilson pulls the trigger four times. Two shots go off. One misses. One bullet hits Brown in the arm. Brown and Johnson flee. Johnson hides behind a car. Wilson gives chase to Brown. Accounts differ as to what happens next.  Wilson calls to Brown to stop. Brown turns facing Wilson. Brown moves towards Wilson. Wilson calls to Brown to stop. Brown keeps moving towards Wilson. 10 Shots go off. 6 bullets hit Brown, who is unarmed. The final shot, which penetrated the middle of his skull, kills Michael Brown.

Exactly how far Wilson and Brown are from each other at this point is again open to interpretation. the overall distance travelled from Wilsons cruiser to  where Brown fell dead is 153 feet (45 Metres). Less than 90 seconds pass from the initial altercation to Michael Brown’s death.

Image from Dr. Michael M. Baden

 

The incident sparked enormous public outcry and a huge series of demonstrations, both peaceful and violent, and much public discussion about longstanding accusations about police racial profiling. Peaceful and violent riots ensued in the area. An FBI civil rights investigation is underway.

Witness testimony on any incident is subject to the Rashomon effect. The name, coming from the Akira Kurosawa movie Rashomon (1950), is about how a crime is described four different ways by four different witnesses. This is the notion that anyone witnessing any particular incident is subject to bias of one kind or another or an inability to properly see something for what it actually is. The following image is from PBS and asks a list of questions.

(If you have difficulty reading the list below, then right-click it and select ‘open in a new tab’)

Some witnesses say Wilson opened fire as Brown ran away, then shot at him after he turned. (This is unlikely as the shell casings were all found in or about 2963 Canfield Drive.) Some say Brown had his hands raised and the final shots were murder. Dorian Johnson, Browns friend, claims Brown shouted he didn’t have a weapon and for Wilson to stop shooting. A construction worker at a nearby apartment complex disputes the claim that Brown rushed Wilson, saying it wasn’t a ‘bull rush’. Cell phone video obtained by CNN depicts the same construction worker at exactly the time of the incident shouting that “He (Brown) has his fucking hands up!” Others dispute this.

A police officer can use lethal force subduing a subject in the USA under two circumstances (1) To protect their life or the life of another innocent party” — what departments call the “defence-of-life” standard. (2) To prevent a suspect from escaping, but only if the officer has probable cause to think the suspect’s committed a serious violent felony. (Framework USA Supreme Court decisions laws – 1980 — Tennessee vs. Garner / Graham v. Connor — set up a framework for use of deadly force by police)

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Wilson believed his life was in danger when Brown was punching him and twisting his gun from him. The notion that someone would reach into a police cruiser and start fighting with a policeman for his weapon is somewhat incredible, but possible. Nonetheless Wilson appeared to have suffered minor bruising on his face rather than the savage pummelling a series of blows from a 292 pound (132 kg) well nourished18 year old teenager in the prime of health would have given him. After Brown and Johnson fled, Wilsons life was no longer in danger. Wilson states he felt Brown was going to kill him during Wilsons 156 foot chase of Brown. He claims Brown went for his waistband with his injured right hand as if he were going to draw a gun on him. This is another odd aspect to the story. If Brown had a weapon, why didn’t he draw it after the shooting started right by Wilsons cruiser? If Brown had a gun and saw Wilson was going to use his, why didn’t he draw down on him? (okay not a fair question). Also, why didn’t Wilson give chase in his cruiser if he felt his life was in danger? Why didn’t he (Wilson) wait for backup if he felt his life was in danger?  Why didn’t he try to cut the two Teenagers off using his car in order to save time and increase his response time? When the shooting started, why didn’t he (Wilson) shoot Brown in the legs rather than the more lethal torso or final deadly head shot? Wilson was the trained professional. A few nonlethal legshots would have stopped even the bulk of a Michael Brown. The story doesn’t add up.

The most controversial aspect strangely enough isn’t the shooting but the subsequent Grand Jury which after many tense near announcements and agonized waiting on the part of the public and the Brown family, finally gave its announcement not indict Wilson. After so much testimony not to indict on any charge from second degree murder to the lesser charge of excessive use of force is very strange. it sparked further outcry and more public demonstrations. A Grand Jury  usually meets for about a day or so to decide whether or not the main suspect involved in the shooting (Officer Wilson in this case) has any case to answer. Usually police officers or specialists involved in the investigation are called as witnesses. The defendant usually is not asked to testify, and the prosecutor (Robert Mc Cullouch in this case) usually provides a range of charges that the grand jury needs to indict.

In this instance none of this happened. As the joke goes, a grand jury would indict a turkey for Christmas. This particular grand jury met for 25 days over three months.  Wilson testified for four hours, and over forty witnesses were called, and they bizarrely decided not to go to trial. Then the court documents were released by Mc Cullouch after the grand jury decided not to indict. Usually the evidence is kept secret for a possible trial. Mc Cullouch’s functional definition of a Grand Jury, being to determine probable cause to indict, seems contradict itself. It seems to have gone further than that and drifted into a trial itself.  The job of a Grand Jury is to enquire into the foundation a charge is made, not to analyse and look into a defendants exculpatory evidence. Finally (as far as memory serves) in the USA the last date figures are available for Grand Juries is 2010. In 2010 there were 16,000 Grand Juries. Of those only 11 decided not to indict the accused, which puts the Wilson Grand Jury into some kind of perspective.

Darren Wilson is resigning from the police force. It is unlikely he could continue to be a police officer in the area after the events of August 9th 2014. Ferguson Police Dept. will conduct an internal investigation to see if Wilson’s conduct was in line with policy, according to Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson.  Finally the National Bar Association is questioning how the Grand Jury, considering the evidence before them, could reach the conclusion that Darren Wilson should not be indicted and tried for the shooting death of Michael Brown.

Me too. From firearm charges to the use of excessive force to the degrees of manslaughter charges, there appears to be so many questions unanswered, so many reasons why this should have gone to trial. Whatever ones political leanings, the facts have a tendency to speak louder than ones emotional bias. That Officer Wilson is not at the very least given the opportunity to answer charges in a fair trial will lead to more bad blood and more racial tensions in this strange and tragic case, that is representative of an underlying problem of racial profiling in the USA. The Wilson-Brown case has all the appearance of a damage limitation exercise. I shudder to think what will happen if another youth is killed in a similar way.