Review of Val McDermid’s “Forensics: The anatomy of crime”

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Val McDermid, apparently an author of some standing as a writer of untrue crime novels, has written a true crime walkthrough of forensics topics interweaving real-life cases and comments. The fine selection of topics has no overall progressive narrative to such an extend that most of the chapters may have been permuted without loss of coherency. If there is a base for the book it is a fascination and awe for modern forensics. She is a good writer. Perhaps her crime novels has trained her in writing clear prose. She delves not into academic technicalities that could perhaps have been interesting.

She has based her book on other books as well as a good number of interviews with a broad range of forensics experts. A few of these comes from the University of Dundee: Forensics chemist Niamh Nic Daéid and forensics antropologist Sue Black.

I find McDermid view of the fallibility of forensics balanced drawing forth cases where presumed experts lack self-critique. Bernard Spilsbury and a U.S. ballistic expert Thomas Quirk are critized. For Roy Meadow, McDermid presents aspects of the tragic Sally Clark case that I do not recall having read before: The appeal was not prompted by Meadow’s evidence but by Pathologist Alan Williams that had failed to disclose blood test results. I do sometimes find popular science writing lack an appropriate level of critique to the material. McDermid is one of the better writers, but I do find one case where she oversteps the confidence we should have in science. Here is what she writes on page 164: “We already know, for instance about the existence of a ‘warrior gene’ – present mainly in men – which is linked with violent and impulsive behaviour under stress”. When I read “We know” I get mad, and when I read ‘warrior gene’ I get extra mad. Behavioral genetics is a mess full of red herrings. Recent meta-analysis of the warrior gene polymorphism MAOA-uVNTR and antisocial behavior (“Candidate Genes for Aggression and Antisocial Behavior: A Meta-analysis of Association Studies of the 5HTTLPR and MAOA-uVNTR“) reaches a 95% confidence interval on 0.98-1.32, while, interesting a very low p-value (0.00000137). The strangeness of difference between confidence interval and p-value is discussed in the paper and presently walks over my head. What seems reasonable certain is the loads of between-study heterogeneity. Any talk of warrior gene needs to acknowledge the uncertainty.

There are certainly more elements to forensics than McDermid presents. A Danish newspaper has recently run a story about cell phone tower records used in courtroom cases. A person carrying a powered cell phone reveals his/her location, – but only with a certain exactness. Cell phones may not necessarily select the nearest cell tower. From my own experience I know that my cell phone can select cell towers in other countries from where I am located, e.g., my cell phone in Nordsjælland in Denmark can easily select a cell tower in Sweden 15 to 20 kilometers or more away and my cell phone in Romania switched to a Ukrainian cell tower perhaps 20 kilometers or more away. U.S state Oregon has seen the case of Lisa Marie Roberts that on her bad lawyer’s advice pleaded guilty in 2004 because of critical important cell tower evidence. In 2013 she was freed.

I was struck by one of the stories presented that originates from the book of criminal lawyer Alex McBride. A surveillance camera records a case of apparently straightforward violence, but McBride is able to get his client off by threatening to use another part of the camera recording showing a policeman mishandling a person in a case of wrongful arrest. The prosecution dropped the charge for the original case. It does not seem fair to the victim of the original crime that the criminal can go free just because another crime is committed. To me it looks like a kind of corruption and extortion.

(Review also available on LibraryThing)


Edinburgh Fringe 2014

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The Edinburgh Festival amalgates multiple sort-of independent festivals during August month. The original festival is the Edinburgh Festival. And then the Fringe Festival is the fringe event of that festival. A book festival is stoved away in the middle of Edinburgh. And the 152nd International Photographic Exhibition appears in Great King Street. The official book for the Fringe is over 400 pages long.

Going in the dense area of Edinburgh you will invariably get fliers for all sorts of performances: Shakespeare was there at venue 54 but didn’t see him; Crtl-Alt-Sketch was rescheduled to 8:30 PM and contained catty porn; Kurakuraw is the first and best known Taiwan contemporary indigenous dance theatre – and “deeply touching” according to the Scotsman; while Feng Dance Theatre’s Kid Box  is a “fantastic realm of language visual arts drama, installations, singing and dancing” and James Loverige is simply just “funny because it’s true”. Other acts are “impressive and hilarious”, “deliciously farcical” or contain “wonderful, terrific, life-affirming stuff.” The New Celts are also there with The Magic Egg and Lace Up in 36. There is also the show that “transcends the stage”. These were some of the fliers I was handed.

Here are the acts I ran into in 2014:

Made in ILVA – The Contemporary Hermit in the Summerhall venue was a one-man theatre performance from an Italian theatre company called Instabili Vaganti. Indeed he worked for it in this piece that primarily stood out with the physical performance, supported by the monologue in English. The single man used his body in repetitive machine-like movements in a spare scenography. As he was coming to the end his shirt was dripping wet and when he threw it on the floor a “smash” sounded through the room. A promotional video does not quite give justification for the performance.

James III: We didn’t manage to buy tickets to James III playing at the non-fringe part of the festival. But standing at the ticket office we must have looked sufficiently confused and innocent to get handed over two tickets by a couple for free! Thanks, very much” From a Danish point of view this particular piece was of interest as Sofie Gråbøl had a part in the play as the queen. With her monologue in the final scene she provided the theatrical highpoint of the show. Whereas Fringe shows typical last an hour, this non-Fringe piece lasted several hours with a break in the middle. Good but not dangerous.

Shazia Mirza provides deadpan humor based on her British-Pakistani background. We got £10 seats for the show, Bulletproof, playing in The Assembly Rooms in the late afternoon at 17:15. The joke I remember from the show was a remark to the Guardian-like audience. She is apparently on again for the 2015 edition of the Fringe trying out new material.

We lost a show because we did not manage to get there in time. Parking in Edinburgh during festival time is not an easy task.

Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall had a show called Success Arms at Underbelly Cowgate that I did not see. But I did see a free afternoon show Alasdair Lists Everything, a whimsical minimalistic endless monologue of pure words. For a whole hour! Interestingly, he manages to associate quite freely, an amazing capability. See an examples here: “Crafting a really nice pancake”, “Coffee table smell”, …

The Warriors: A Love Story was traditional modern dance with multimedia, with a theme around the bombing of Dresden.

Looking for Paul – Wunderbaum provided one-of-a-kind show: Labeled as “performance art, multimedia” it started out with Inez van Dam, apparently a young respectable Rotterdam bookshop owner and not quite comfortable on the stage. She complained about a sculpture put outside her window, the Buttplug Gnome of Paul McCarthy. This part of the show appeared like some kind of slide show, public hearing, theatrical documentary, mockumentary or explanation of the making of a documentary where the actors join in as characters in a theatre company. Wanting to confront Mr McCarthy – or at least they tell us so – they go to Los Angeles taking Inez along, but then the preparation for the play or a play apparently goes wrong. The rest is transgressive theatre – inspired by the perpetrator McCarthy. A playful narrative, to such an extent that I am still not sure about Inez van Dam and what is fiction and fact and what is satire and not. Well done, Holland!

We managed to find some good late night standup in a cellar in Queen Street I believe. One gay did gay humor and one women did jokes about her washing machine. Good ol’ fashion standup.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, somewhat away from center, featured a disappointing exhibition of some forgettable sort.

For a good intro to Edinburgh Fringe from a comedian as a Danish reader you can try Sofie Hagen’s Mærkelige ting: Om at være på Edinburgh Festival. She is doing a show called Bubblewrap in 2015.

Beyoncé on YouTube

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YouTube surely contains a lot of quirky homemade videos, but also highly stylish professionally produced video. Harlem Shake, Star Wars Kid and Numa Numa are examples of the former while most Beyoncé videos are examples of the latter.

New Beyoncé choreograph video lends the aesthetic of the homemade video (or lack of). Interesting mix.

Finns attack Earth in April

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Finns attack Earth in April.

It happens with a €7.5 million budget black-humored scifi movie, Iron Sky, staring Nazis and Sarah Palin and possible Dr. Strangelove set together by Finnish Timo Vuorensola also behind collaborative film-making site Wreckamovie.

According to The Independent 1 million of the budget came from Internet donations.

Although the movie has some known faces, Udo Kier and Bond villain Götz Otto, most seem little known, Stephanie Paul playing a main character not even yet on Wikipedia.

The strangely haunting Under The Iron Sky by “Adamantium Studios Feat. Kaiti Kink” is also worth mentioning. The people behind the song are apparently Tapani Siirtola with Joonas Naskali. Note, on the starwreck forum the director asks about whether they should use the song in the movie.

It is interesting to see the well-hyped partly collaborative approach. Whether the movie is actually good and reaches its high expectation is another story. But collaborative film-making from the Finns is worth following.

Here is the haunting Under The Iron Sky:

Northamerican premiere: Clown – The Movie

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As I have previously noted Danish comedy Clown – The Movie had its Northamerican premiere the 22nd July 2011 in Montreal at the Fantasia Film Festival. I was somewhat doubtful that that kind of humor would be appropriate in Northamerica, – a humor Simon Howell calls “Scandinavian style”. There has now been a couple of reviews which all are generally positive.

Robert Koehler of Variety writes “Creator and co-stars Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam deliver a top-flight adaptation of a TV comedy in nutty, ribald ‘Clown the Movie,'” and furthermore “Though the sequences predictably lead to further trouble, especially for Frank, their details nevertheless surprise, while each setpiece tops the previous one for sheer outrageousness.”

Jay Seaver writes at eFilmCritic that “[t]he film saves some of its best material for the end, which certainly sends the audience out of the theater laughing just as hard as they had been throughout the rest of the movie. ‘Klovn’ is rude and tasteless, but done by people who know how to make that sort of material work, starting from an amusing place and getting funnier as it goes along.” He gives five star there. The review is also partly available on his blog where he gives 3.75 out of four stars.

In what I believe is some press material from the film festival the Montreal Mirror wrote prior to the premiere: “Probably the (intentionally) funniest film you’ll see at the fest this year.”

Based on the review-screener on a laptop Nathan Ripley writes “Clown elicits laughs that go beyond mere schadenfreude–-that’s pleasure taken purely at the expense of another’s pain, while I’m talking about the full-on ecstasy of taking on and living the humiliations of our fellow almost-broken men, and then shedding that pain as soon as the credits roll.”

Simon Howell’s review in Sound on Sight notes a conservatism: “For all the gag-reflex humor, though, there’s an underlying conservatism to Klovn that again recalls Apatow: despite Frank and Casper’s horrible acts, you never get the sense they’re bound for anything but redemption, and indeed the three-act structure feels all too carefully delineated.” but also praise the film with “Until then, though, Klovn remains amusing enough to please most fans of gleefully impolite humor.”

French language Métro Montreal-edition tells us “Et le film danois Clown a parfaitement rempli son mandat de faire rire…à gorge déployée”, states that “son passage au grand écran est une vraie réussite” and furthermore “Mélangeant le rire bien gras et un humour très irrévérencieux, ce “canoe trip” sur fond d’éducation sexuelle renferme de nombreux moments hilarants. La chimie et complicité entre les deux vedettes est très contagieuse.” Reviewer Pascal Grenier gives four out of five stars. Oui.

T’Cha Dunlevy summarizes for The Gazette “Warning: not for the easily offended. Sex, drugs and nudity are all in the mix. But so is utter hilarity”.

I had to look up “irreverent”, “ribald”, “debauched” and “bro” in the dictionary to fully understand the reviews. :-)

(Conflict of interest: I received a free ticket to the movie.)

Lone "The Adjectived" Aburas, The Second

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I suppose that highest aspiration of an author is to get a phone call early one morning from an English speaking person with a heavy Swedish accent. The second highest may be to become an adjective such as “Shakespearian”. Now young suburbian observer Lone Aburas (her last letter is not indicating genitive) has managed to become an adjective just after her second novel. Congratulation!

The novel is called Den svære toer, – The difficult second, i.e. second book.

Collective novel with modern social realism detailing depressing everyday life of suburbians. Not a winner? Well, the book is loaded with sufficient Danish humor and irony that we well manage. One blogger writes he has a difficulty in seeing the humor in the novel. Sorry for him. Lone Aburas clearly states that she uses irony and the use of meta-commentary was humorous. Even the title was humorous: “[…] I think it was funny […] it is mostly an ironic title […]”. The ironic meta-commentary in the beginning and the end has the clearest scoops in this direction. The end sets up tasks for the reader. The reader may, e.g., “analyze the begining of the novel” and find examples of were the author breaks the rules that she sets up. This is meant ironically, so the reader should not necessarily do that. However, the reader may already have analyzed the beginning while reading it and found out that it was ironic (the beginning). As the rules set up were meant ironic, it means that these rules were not really set up and we expect the rules to be broken, meaning that the meta-rule is that the rules are to be broken. (The obvious next step for me here would be to come up with some meta-humoristic irony in a comment to the meta-humoristic irony of Aburas. I will not do that though)

Humor with irony sits centrally in Danish popular art: Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, double entendre Barbie Girl of Aqua, humorous text of long-time popular Danish music group Shubidua (selling more records than the population of Denmark). Most best selling Danish film in Denmark in the last 40 years are comedies: Olsen Gang, Den eneste ene, Italiensk for begyndere and Klovn – the movie. Even Albert Speer-lover Lars Trier most popular work in Denmark is humorous.

But apart from the irony what does the novel wants? Not clear. Lone Aburas leaves her poor characters to their own destiny with divorce and a dog training course. In the Danish hit comedy Italian for beginning we also follow Copenhagen suburbians through a course. But this course in the Italian language ends successfully with a romantic trip to Italy while Lone Aburas dog training course ends with course participants being cheated for the course fee paid up front. Not nice.

On the negative side I also find that the novel lacks an index. The punctuation I find ok though.

Advices for Lone Aburas for her third novel? Well, more structure I would say. And action! Most modern literature involves one or possible a connected series of murders, – a case to solve. A revised second edition could, e.g., consider changing the police stop on page 126 with a dramatic car hunt. Also the car crash on page 134 could be described in detail. Another issue is what she herself acknowledge on page 137 with the words: “Actually I do not like to describe two humans having sex” which is a problem as she further writes “[…] you are not a real writer if you are not capable of writing about erotics”. She needs to work on that bit. Include murder and sex. Possible also international crime and the revolution in Egypt.

Eurovision 2011 prediction

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For last year’s Eurovision song contest I predicted that Lena Meyer-Landrut would win, – and indeed she did. For this year I am not so sure.

I jumped in on the second semifinal of the Eurovision 2011 song contest with Austria and was not impressed. Neither did The Netherlands make an impression. Belgian acapella dont win. Slovakian twins did not quite hit the tone and Ukranian sand painting (sic!) was interesting, but the song not. Moldova was an interesting unusuality – but not particularly good. Pop-nation Sweden energetic electropopish Eric Saade had an alright song – bu his stage-singing sounded out-of-breath. Cypres started out folkish, turning a rockish, but … Bulgaria could have benefitted from Avril Lavigne on the mic. Macedonia was not good. The most amazing with that act was the large screen on the stage background put up by the German hosts. Male-turned-female Israeli former Eurovision winner Dana International reaches not his/her heights with her former effective powerpop winner. Slovenia was not Anastacia. Nice dress though. Romania had a promising verse and an ok chorus, a classic Eurovision shuffle, but probably not a winner, – best so far. Favorited Estonia presented an interesting act. Live singing could have been better. Nice orchestration in the verse. “I love Belarus” was a run-of-the-mill. Latvia brought an electric guitar and sang ok. For Danish “New Tomorrow” an ok, but as with other acts the stage singing was not precise enough, – the front spends his time running around on the stage instead of concentrating of the singing. And singback is silly when the musicians pretend to play on their instruments. Ireland’s Lipstick is the winner this semifinal. Good simplistic song. Yeah. However, the YouTube videos I could find had a muddy sound. During the reprise I heard Bosnia and Herzegovina and that was not a winner.

I didn’t hear the first semifinal, but I heard Norway had great hopes for Haba Haba – not I. It was too conventional. Then better is Haba Haba Sut Sut :-)

I could put my money on classic tenor French Amaury Vassili’s Sognu. He is sufficiently different to stand out. Remembering that that differentness has previously gotten Norway and Finland to win with folk and hard rock. Part of the piece is unfortunately running to popish.

Like last year Google has a forecast and puts Unser Star F??r D??sseldorf Lena again ahead together with Irish Jedward’s Lipstick. While Lena’s Taken by a stranger is an interesting production with non-Eurovisionistic sound the chorus doesn’t really fly high enough. It has gained quite a number of YouTube views. On the other hand one should think that the intimacy of the song disappears on the big live stage. The live performance in connection with the local German Eurovision contest show a bit of this problem.

Danish TV station DR manages a website with voting and find Sweden ahead with 20% of the votes, followed by 12% scoring Irland. Great Britain to me anonymous boy band gets 11% of the votes, Finland 7% and Bosnien-Herzegovina 5%. France gets only 4%. Also Lena gets only 4%. Sweden is way down in Google’s list and the topping on DR must be due to Danes voting for their geographic neighbor, though in terms of YouTube views Sweden has a high number, – indeed surpasses Lena. Finland’s sympathetic song is probably not strong enough to reach the top.

Bookmakers put France on odds 2.5, Irland on 6 and Lena on 22. What a discrepancy between this odds and Google’s predictions. At odds 22 Lena seems really a bargain. Azerbaijan holds the third best odds and 5 on Google.

Concluding: The prediction of Danish online voting, Google, and the bookmakers are not aligned. The most strange aspect is Google’s and bookmaker’s different opinion on Lena. Yet more confused you can get if you start comparing YouTube views. So who should we put most weight on? Initially I thought the French tenor would carry it home easily not quite having heard all songs, but now I am leaning towards the Irish madness. Ireland would also be the choice if we simply aggregate the three independent predictions: Consensus inference is good.

It is two Danes, Lars Halvor Jensen og Martin Michael Larsson, that are behind the Irish bubblegum dance. Last year a Danish composer also won by supplying Lena with the Satellite song.