This week I’ve heard a lot about the power of positivity and remain unconvinced that it offers any solutions. It might make people feel good temporarily, but it doesn’t solve any problems. It is not a message embraced by politicians, quite the opposite. They avoided the difficult vote on same sex marriage by delegating to a postal referendum. Then they continue with negative campaigning. Advertising for the Queensland election has focused on the failures, perceived or real, of the other parties. There has been nothing to promote policies or a stance on key issues. Hardly likely to inspire voters, especially for a state government.
In other countries a low turnout would be expected. Compulsory voting means that millions will vote with no interest, and no clue. Many don’t know who their MP is. To make matters worse they must now rate every candidate, as Australia refuses to embrace the meaning of democracy and give victory to the person with the most votes. Chances are that the average voter will know nothing about any of the candidates, other than the name of the party they represent.
There is one very easy way to express their dissatisfaction with the parties, the mediocre candidates, the stupid rules, and the terrible campaign. Just tick one box. Then the vote will not count. If 80% did that it could bring the system down. That’s a positive outcome.
Patricia Cornwell was not the first person to accuse Walter Sickert of being Jack the Ripper. In his tale of a royal conspiracy derived from Sickert’s alleged illegitimate son, Stephen Knight suggested that the artist was the third man in a carriage of killers. In 1988 Jean Overton-Fuller speculated Sickert’s guilt, based on a tale her mother was told by the artist Florence Pash who knew Sickert and, supposedly, the elusive Mary Jane Kane who became the Ripper’s most famous victim.
All three accusations flounder under a lack of reliable evidence, revealing how the writing of non-fiction has deteriorated, and become more personal, in the last forty years. Knight told a story, and stayed in the background. Despite the absurdity of his claims you want to believe him, and many did in 1976. Overton-Fuller talks about herself only where she feels it is relevant to her narrative. Her research is good, her theory entirely speculative. Cornwell writes about her search for Jack the Ripper. She makes the best case, but it is very much her case and the least readable of the three.
So we have a work of fiction disguised as fact, research based on a supposition, and a novelist attempting non-fiction. They tell us very little of merit about Walter Sickert, nothing about Jack the Ripper, and everything about changes in the way that history is written.
My next short story will appear in Trump Utopia or Dystopia, a new anthology from Dark Helix Press, available electronically in December and in print in January. The premise for authors was simple. Speculative fiction about Donald J. Trump, showing the world created by his policies. In the week that Trump authorised the final release of documents relating to the assassination of President Kennedy, I started speculating on how a world created by Kennedy’s policies might look.
Several writers have created alternative histories in which Kennedy survived. If asked to do the same I would imagine a world where:
1. The USSR is the only superpower.
2. America has a free healthcare system.
3. Palestine has no international recognition.
4. The public have no access to government documents.
5. Martin Luther King became President in 1980.
We can all imagine how things would be different, if events in our own lives had occurred earlier, later or never. We can also speculate on how things might be better and, perhaps, find ways to make that speculation a reality.
This week it was reported that at least ten UK councils are giving homeless people one-way train tickets to another town where they become another council’s responsibility. This is further proof of the failings of the welfare state. While £3.5 billion is lost to fraud and error and legitimate claimants openly boost about buying ponies, the most vulnerable people are being expelled not helped.
Between April and July councils classified 14,400 households as being statutory homeless. This does not include those deemed not eligible for assistance. Charities believe that the number of people sleeping on the streets is far higher. As the population of the United Kingdom increases less money is being spent on building houses. There are many reasons for this, but also plenty of empty houses, rooms and sites that could be better utilised. Successive governments have set targets for house building and missed them all.
The current government, through one of its many expensive quangos, has allocated £550 million over three years and promised to implement the Homeless Reduction Act which requires councils to provide early support to people at risk of being homeless. A quicker way to help the homeless would be to spend the money on building houses.
This week Syria’s unlikely World Cup dream ended in Sydney. They finished sixth in the Asian qualifiers, which produced four finalists and one play off contender from 46 teams. South America also has four finalists and one team in the play-offs, from ten teams. Disproportionate representation in the finals from South America and Europe (13 qualifiers, from 52 teams) is attributed to historical success but the argument is increasingly untenable given that representation from the other continents has always been minimal.
Is there a solution, other than the planned increase to 48 finalists still weighted in favour of Europe and South America? Yes. It’s called global qualifying. FIFA has 210 members. Divide them into 30 groups of 6 teams, based in regions. They play each other home and away with the top two going through. That gives 60 teams in the second round, divided into 15 groups of 4. Each group should be split evenly between the continents. They then play each other home and away, with the top two joining the holders, who have lost their automatic place in recent years, and the host in the finals.
Every nation would be guaranteed ten competitive games against their neighbours, followed by a second round with proportional representation from each continent. It might still produce an uneven balance in favour of Europe or South America but at least every country would have an equal opportunity to progress.
This week I started rereading Melvyn Fairclough’s The Ripper and the Royals, as part of ongoing research into the identity of Jack the Ripper’s final victim. It takes me back to a time when conspiracy theories were popular and non-fiction books were distinguished from novels. Fairclough has since disowned the theory that a group of aristocrats, led by Winston Churchill’s father, committed the Ripper murders as part of a masonic plot. It is fiction disguised as fact and that has become the norm.
The boundaries between fiction and non-fiction are clear. One tells new stories and one tells real stories. Fiction can be based on fact, as many successful novels and movies demonstrate. The process does not work in reverse. Non-fiction writers have an obligation to the truth. Indeed, the objective of good research is to ascertain what really happened. This means beginning with an open mind, not a preconceived idea. Many modern Jack the Ripper books, such as They all Love Jack, the Real Mary Kelly and Portrait of a Killer tell us more about the author’s obsession than they do about the topic.
When I first read The Ripper and The Royals, I was almost convinced. Others were. An ongoing poll on the Jack the Ripper casebook website lists the royal conspiracy as the 4th most popular suspect, with 4380 votes. The book is out of print so may not mislead any more but others that revive the conspiracy theory are still selling and guiding readers further away from the truth.
Scotland has begun another review of its unique “Not Proven” verdict. This has the same legal meaning as “Not Guilty” but perceptions differ. Some believe that “Not Guilty” demonstrates innocence but it is only a presumption of innocence not a definite conclusion. The jury does not assess innocence. They are charged with deciding whether the prosecution have proved beyond reasonable doubt that the person is guilty.
“Not Proven” was the verdict applied by historian Philip Sugden to Seweryn Klosowski alias George Chapman in respect of the Jack the Ripper murders. It is a verdict that should also apply to nearly all of the other 333 Ripper suspects. The case against them might appear weak or non-existent but it cannot be entirely dismissed unless it was physically impossible for them to have committed the crimes. This only applies to those with independently confirmed alibis. The rest is speculation.
In 1903 when Chapman was convicted of murdering Maud Marsh most prosecutions relied on speculation and inference. Today improved forensic evidence often helps establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt. There is no reliable method for confirming innocence and perhaps “Not Proven” is the correct default judgment in cases where the jury finds that the evidence is insufficient.