Saturday, January 21, 2017

There's a New "Q" in New York Town


“So, what should I write about this week,” he said.

“The subway,” came bouncing back from his muse.  “The new Q-line.”

For what seems a decade we’ve been skirting around the massive construction project at the bottom of our Upper Eastside street that had necessitated leveling a couple of classic shops on East 72nd Street, and destroyed the business of several others.

The plywood barriers, construction trailers, five lanes narrowed to two, cranes, hardhat worksite dictates, and posted public relations assurances that the new Second Avenue subway would open on time had become part of the background to the neighborhood.

Then suddenly, on January 1, it opened!  Just as promised and (allegedly) within budget.  The streets were quiet, clean, and uncluttered again, while through an elegant, unobtrusive entrance streams of folks went in and out at all times of the day.

Until then, they’d had to march four blocks south and two west to catch the Lexington Avenue 6 train, a notoriously mobbed line running up and down the east side of Manhattan.

Now they had an alternative, one connecting the eastside with the west, as the first phase of construction promised to bring the same sort of relief to other neighborhoods.

On Wednesday night I had my first chance to use the Q. In two stops, and fifteen minutes door-to-door, we arrived at Carnegie Hall.  Thursday night we had Knicks basketball tickets and made it to Madison Square Garden in four stops and less than twenty minutes.  If we’d wanted to get off in the theater district, it would have been but three stops.

New York lost to Washington.

Bottom line: bye-bye taxis and Uber, and hello MTA.  Whoever came up with this new line deserves extraordinary credit for expanding and enhancing mass transit use.

But wait, there’s more. Descent into the bowels of Manhattan at my stop involves a six-story escalator ride down to the platform below. It’s a surreal experience, offering an elevator for the vertigo inclined.

It's a long way down...and if you want to ride, click on the film clip below

But what will blow your mind is the artwork adorning the new station walls (at 63rd, 72nd, 86th, and 96th Streets). It’s a museum worthy experience.  Here’s what the MTA has to say about its artwork.
Commissioned by MTA Arts & Design, the Second Avenue Subway’s Phase 1 artworks together comprise the largest permanent art installation in New York history. These art installations represent the vibrance and cultural diversity of New York—a city continually on the move.
Jean Shin – 63rd Street: Elevated, 2017, Laminated glass, glass mosaic, and ceramic tile
Jean Shin’s installation, Elevated uses archival photographs of the 2nd and 3rd Avenue Elevated train to create compositions in ceramic tile, glass mosaic, and laminated glass. The imagery is manipulated and re-configured and each station level provides a unique focus, palette and material. At the 3rd Avenue escalator, the view is filled with ceramic tile depicting construction beams and the cranes that dismantled the El in the 1940s. At the 3rd Avenue mezzanine, a mosaic reveals the sky where the train had previously been present, and features images of people from the era in this neighborhood transformation. The platform level features semitransparent and reflective materials showing vintage scenes of the neighborhood, while enabling contemporary viewers to see themselves in the cityscape of the past.

Vik Muniz – 72nd Street: Perfect Strangers, 2017, Glass mosaic and laminated glass
Perfect Strangers by Vik Muniz features more than three-dozen characters created in mosaic and installed throughout the mezzanine and entrance areas, populating the station with colorful images of all types of New Yorkers. The main station entrance features a laminated glass canopy at street level depicting a flock of birds, bringing art and nature to the busy location. Within the expanse of the mezzanine concourse, the life size figures provide bursts of color and visual interest and an opportunity for new discovery with every trip through the station.

Chuck Close – 86th Street: Subway Portraits, 2017, Glass and ceramic mosaic, ceramic tile
Chuck Close in Subway Portraits has created twelve large-scale works that are based on the artist’s painstakingly detailed photo-based portrait paintings and prints. His various painting techniques have been interpreted in ten works as mosaic, and in two as ceramic tile. The artworks measure close to nine feet high and are placed on the walls at the station entrances and the mezzanine concourse. The people portrayed are cultural figures that have frequently been his subjects, including Philip Glass, Zhang Huan, Kara Walker, Alex Katz, Cecily Brown, Cindy Sherman, and Lou Reed, as well as two distinct self-portraits.

Sarah Sze – 96th Street: Blueprint for a Landscape, 2017, Porcelain tile
Blueprint for a Landscape by Sarah Sze profoundly impacts the look of the station as her imagery is applied directly to nearly 4300 unique porcelain wall tiles, spanning approximately 14,000 square feet. The designs feature familiar objects – sheets of paper, scaffolding, birds, trees, and foliage – caught up in a whirlwind velocity that picks up speed and intensity as the composition unfolds throughout the station with references to energy fields and wind patterns. Each entrance features a different shade of blue and a blueprint-style vector line design, a visual theme that is integrated with the architecture.

I guess the bottom line to all this is simply that, despite everything we sense as wrong with our government, there are some things it gets right.  The Second Avenue Q line is surely that. Bravo New York City.

And thank you, BZ, for the suggested topic.


Friday, January 20, 2017

So how is your attention span ?

Is technology making us stupid? Well more stupid? Not a day goes past without reading something that says Google is making us daft and the amount of social networking that goes on means that we have forgotten how to talk to friends.  We would rather chat to somebody invisible on the other side of the world that we don’t know rather than nip round for a coffee. Go into any restaurant and watch couples out for  a meal together, not speaking just scrolling through their phones as if there might be something more interesting going on there.
I grew up in a house without a phone.  How on earth did we survive?  I can count on the fingers of one hand the times we really needed a phone- a quick sprint to old Mrs Jefferies and run the gauntlet of her vicious budgie Polly- or Dad was sent out on his bike to the nearest phone box.
People were better organised in those days, you kept to a timetable in your life.  Gran always expected us to appear at her door at two o’clock on a Sunday and we went swimming on a Monday night. Mum worked late on a Thursday and  that was the night we got our weekly bar of chocolate ( Fry’s chocolate cream).  Nowadays people phone each other from inside Walmart/Asda and say ‘I’m at the fish I, meet you at the bananas in five minutes.’  Don’t get me started with people who walk around Walmart/Asda in their pyjamas.


Don’t get me started ( or started again as I’ve not stopped yet) on folk who walk dogs … well the dogs run around and the owner stands in the path on their phone, talking crap….  
This condition, the angst of what technology might be  doing to us could be referred to as ‘neuro anxiety’. Folk like me struggle with new gadgets and like to take solace in the argument that it’s not good for us.  However, in 370 BC Plato used the same argument saying that the concept of the written word was dangerous because people would stop using their memories.

So let’s look at a few examples.
Goldfish are now thought to possess a rather impressive nine second attention span but before we feel smug about that, the incessant bombardment of information and the need for instant answers has seriously impacted our ability to focus.  We now have an attention span less than a goldfish.And that’s official.
                                                  He may be as bright as his shiny scales.

Eight seconds.

And getting shorter.  Microsoft proved that in a 2015 study using electro encephalograms.  I can understand how they manage that experiment on their Canadian human subjects but  how do they manage that on goldfish? I was  then wondering if a Canadian on a mobile phone or a goldfish has a better chance of following the plot of Midsummer Murders.  
                                           In last week's episode, the victim was killed by cricket balls
                                           being fired from a bowling machine. The best use of a cricket
                                           ball I have ever seen.

In the US, the centre of disease prevention has shown that the percentage of children with ADHD has more than doubled since 1990.  I suppose a rubber stamp on the report card might be in order. ‘They are easily distracted, must pay more attention.’  I got that a lot at school, I didn’t have SDHD just some boring teachers….so the smart money might be on the fact that technology might be responsible for this.
It’s also possible that gaming activates the nucleus accumbens in the brain, the pleasure producing dopamine centre.  Men are now dying after excessive bouts of gaming.  They don’t eat, they don’t sleep  they just game away and die of dehydration.  Their brains on post mortem show similar signs to any other addiction.
The key word in the above paragraph is ‘men.’   Couldn’t find any reference anywhere to female fatality while gaming.  So these men who game for days on end, have they ever met or had any physical contact with a lady person? Any person? Even a Canadian with a short attention span? 

More interestingly German neuro scientist Manfred Sptizer has pointed out that with numbers and facts and map routes only a touch away, the human race is heading for ‘digital dementia’.  There is a lack of true interaction with the subject concerned and that affects the memory.  I recall Hugh Laurie saying that  while filming House, he was a medical expert on something for 30 minutes,  then he couldn’t remember a thing once the director had called ‘cut’. I do wonder about people attending concerts and filming it on their phone (and indeed watching the filming) instead of watching what they are filming  - the show.  And that is a different interactive experience.  However, on the positive side, it can be  relaxing and comforting to know that all that other stuff, all that mundane detritus of life that nobody can be bothered remembering,  is safely stored away in a  digital recording, ready to ping when it needs to be brought to your attention. 
                                                   Aha! Who do we have here??
Facebook however, while I am sure it does work for some people, has a lot of negatives attached.  One case study shows that Facebooking between mother and daughter produces the stress hormone cortisol whereas face to face reaction between the two produce the feel good hormone oxytocin. And for mankind there has always been a reaction for a child to turn its head towards a returning parent.  That is now starting to change with children fixed on their phone or their tablet instead of looking up when somebody enters the living room. ( good for a plot if you think about it to a deadly, Hammer horror type of conclusion).  That fascination with tablets etc,  and the rise of Facebook could be leading to the human race losing their ability to face read signals, those little nuances of stress and anxiety, secondary information on how the news you are giving is being perceived and the early signal that  it might be better to change tack or rephrase before someone bursts into tears or you get a slap in the kisser.

More interesting to us is maybe, is  the Norwegian experiment which proved something I guess all authors know – that reading off a screen is a very different experience to reading off paper.  The brain interprets the information differently.  Reading a good old fashioned novel, the reader absorbs it and sees the word on the page as somebody would looking at an old fashioned map.  The shaping of the word and the lettering is important and it feeds to a very deep understanding of the text being displayed.  The brain takes time to soak it all up, and retain it. How often has an editor said ‘that paragraph is too dense and too bulky’, ‘the dialogue is too sparse.’ Not only is it not reading right, it doesn’t look right.  People who read digitally skim read, their eyes tend to hunt for key words and can very often miss the deeper, more subtle meaning of what the writer is trying to convey.
  So in case this blog is too subtle because you are reading it on screen, I will summarise.

Men who spend all their money and time gaming are less intelligent than goldfish. This also applies to Canadians. ( Just to be clear, I mean that rule also applies to Canadians not that Canadians are less intelligent than goldfish!!)
 Women who need a feel-good hormone should stay away from their laptop, eat chocolate and roll up on the settee with a furry dog and a good book (not on Kindle).  That should provide all the endorphins needed.  If you want to add a wee bit of adrenaline into the mix – read a crime novel.

Here's one being published in February....

Caro Ramsay  20 th Jan 2017

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Bridge Books

Michael - Thursday

We have a new feature on Murder is Everywhere starting today. Every Thursday we will update you on any interesting developments about our writing and books, and let you know about upcoming events. We'd like to tell you how we're doing, and let you know where and when you can meet us. But if you're not interested, just skip the section at the end of the post!

This is 85 Commissioner Street in downtown Johannesburg. Not the sort of location or the sort of building in which you you'd expect to find one of the most innovative independent bookstores in Johannesburg. Downtown Johannesburg has gone through the usual cycle of large city centers - commercial hub, movement out to the suburbs, empty run-down buildings and the homeless people, and then regenerating. In its heyday, this was the monolithic headquarters of Barclays Bank.

Now add Griffin Shea who loves books and everything to do with them. He's even sold them on the street in Johannesburg! In fact, he makes the point that lots of people sell books on the street corners. The paper book market is far from dead downtown.

Motivated by some idea of selling his own novels, he put together a plan to have a literary space in that Art Deco building and pulled it off. What used to be the banking hall is now an area where traders can sell their wares, and there's a cafe too. Griffin helps them get around their difficulties of not having the sort of credentials that will satisfy book suppliers. Hence the motto: 'Jozi's streetwise bookstore.'

Cafe with Bridge Books above
Griffin's own brainchild - Bridge Bookstore - occupies the mezzanine level. He has an eclectic collection of mainly South African books - ranging from modern fiction to classics - but also carries overseas titles. And if the new books are too expensive for you, there's a second hand section as well. Or pop downstairs and see what the street traders are offering!

Most people would probably be satisfied with getting the bookstore up and running and selling books. But Griffin had bigger plans. The venue hosts workshops, launches, readings, and even a one day Bridge Book Festival. I went to last year's event, met some great authors and chatted in the bar afterwards - yes, they have that too. There are balconies and side rooms everywhere and no problem with arranging events in interesting spaces. It's a magnet for aspiring authors, as well as successful ones who feel at home. And it's impossible not to feel at home when you're surrounded by books and people who love them.

Griffin browsing

Here's hoping Bridge Books will go from strength to strength, and be a model for other developments in the new Johannesburg.

The Nelson Mandela bridge spanning the railway.


Murder Is Everywhere
Author Recognitions and Events


Won the 2016 Prix Marianne for the Lagos Lady, the French translation of Easy Motion Tourist:

Easy Motion Tourist / Lagos Lady, was number 2 on Le Monde's list of best thrillers of 2016:

Easy Motion Tourist featured in the Guardian's Best Recent Crime Novel Review Roundup:

Upcoming Event:

March 7 to 16: South African Word Festival, Stellenbosch.


Strange Gods: Paperback, Felony and Mayhem, Feb 2016
Idol of Mombasa: Paperback, Felony and Mayhem, Oct 2016
Sunshine Noir: Editor, White Sun Press, Oct 2016


Murder in Saint Germain, Aimée Leduc’s next investigation, comes out June 6, 2017.
Just signed the contract for the next two Aimée Leduc investigations in Paris with Soho Press.

Upcoming Event:

Thursday, January 26, 2017 @ 7 PM
Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Readers Salon 
(with Jeff Siger and Lisa Alber)
Berkeley, CA


2016 Barry Award Finalist for Best Novel.

Upcoming Events:

Thursday, January 26, 2017 @ 7 PM
Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Readers Salon 
(with Cara Black and Lisa Alber)
Berkeley, CA

Saturday, January 28, 2017 @ 4 PM
Corte Madera, CA

Tuesday, January 31, 2017 @ 7 PM
Pasadena, CA

Thursday, February 2, 2017 @ 7:30 PM
Orange, CA

Friday, February 3, 2017 @ 7:30 PM
San Diego, CA


Sunshine Noir: Editor, White Sun Press, Oct 2016

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Nonviolence is Everywhere

Sujata Massey

Last weekend I stood with forty women and a few good men in a training maneuver called a "Hassle Line." We'd just enough time to share our names before we began playing our roles. My partner in the opposing line, a social work student named Faye, played a Donald Trump supporter. I  was an activist the Women’s March on Washington, just trying to get along the Mall, with Faye harassing me.

We The People poster by Shepard Fairey

 We were practicing how to defuse confrontation, because it's likely that some of the estimated 100,000 peaceful demonstrators will be heckled by sideliners or people wishing to cause destruction.

Faye and I tried to mix it up, but the fact was, we were too polite by nature. Although one of the best comebacks to hurled abuse proved to be: "Hi. And how are you today?"

With so many passionate conversations going across the Hassle Line, our Peacekeeper Training made quite a racket. That much much noise was unusual for our location, the Stony Run Friends Meeting House in North Baltimore. Members of the Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, worship in silence. I'm a longtime member of Stony Run, which grew out of Baltimore’s original Friends Meeting established in 1785.

Gary Gillespie, our training leader, was introducing us to Strategic Nonviolent Conflict, which is different than nonviolence, which has a reputation for passivity. SNC is a philosophy that regards nonviolence as a strategy because its thought to be more likely to work than violence could.

Gary is  Quaker member of Homewood Friends Meeting who serves as the executive director of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council, a group of Baltimore Christian organizations working for social, economic and environmental justice. He’s been protesting since the Viet Nam war and has a very calm approach. He reminded us that when engaging in activism, it's important to still have fun with each other. 

By then, we had started to smile. The group that came had a wide variety of backgrounds, but it seemed to me that we were all concerned about the future of the environment and people in our country. Many women said the Jan 21 March would be the start of more political activity.

I signed up for the Women’s March because I want to make a public statement about my commitment to fighting for human rights. I didn't think the march could do more than grab headlines for a day. But at the Peacekeeper Training, I began thinking our March has longer legs.

A regular Friday vigil held outside Homewood Friends Meeting in Baltimore 

Chenoweth graph showing efficacy of nonviolent community action

Erika Chenoweth, a Denver University professor of international studies, entered her field skeptical that nonviolent movements could succeed against big guns. When she collected data on hundreds of uprisings from 1900 through the present, she was stunned to see that that nonviolent protests and diversionary civil disobedience succeeded twice as often as violent uprisings. Nonviolent civil disobedience often includes women and children and thus was more representative of the whole society and was accepted by more people. Her research proved the tipping point for success in a people-led movement involves just 3.5% active involvement. In the U.S., that translates to 11 million people.

At the training, we watched Erika's Ted X Talk in which she spoke about the value of large demonstrations. Apparently, large events provide an entry point for risk-averse people to become engaged in a movement. People naturally feel safer in numbers. When many citizens are drawn to a march, it almost guarantees key players will join the movement: educators, security forces, civilian bureaucrats, and the business elites. And as far as the other side goes, the officers serving in a bad government regime all have family members. Some of these may become protestors—and that makes the ruling party less likely to shoot.

A couple of the best-known recent successes in nonviolent protest are the Filipinos who deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and the Serbians who ended the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. And not every nonviolent protest succeeds. Consider the Tianneman Square massacre in China, and the current bloodshed in Syria. However, Erika Chenoweth thinks the Syrian opposition movement didn’t have enough time to plan their campaign; it didn't turn into Strategic Nonviolent Conflict.

Shepard Fairey's prints to commemorate the 2017 Inaugural

At the Women's March, I'm sure there will wonderful signs and  political protest posters, including the beautiful ones above by Shepard Fairey. You may recognize his style because he drew the iconic Barack Obama poster. Shepard Fairey and his fellow artists Jessica Sabogai and Ernesta Yerena have raised over a million dollars on their Kickstarter campaign for a public art project called We The People. They will disrupt the inauguration with a flood of art. I don't know how it's all going to come down, but I'm looking forward to finding out.