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Everything we know so far about the San Bernardino school shooting


NewsHubA decade on from the BBC’s landmark series Planet Earth, a ground breaking new sequel has arrived – Planet Earth II – promising to match the qualities that entered its predecessor into the pantheon of television: stunning imagery, crafted storytelling and fresh perspective, all in equal measure.
The natural world’s resident expert David Attenborough has, so far, guided the audience through a triptych of nature. Three episodes in, the show has reached its midpoint with no frontier off-limits; islands, mountain peaks and jungles have been explored, offering moments of stillness and bouts of rage through scenes of courtship, confrontation and controversy. At the halfway mark, what have we learned?
We live in an age where social media creates a collective viewing experience for audiences, allowing them to share their reactions and emotions to television’s most dramatic moments in realtime. Planet Earth II’s first three episodes make it clear that Attenborough and his producers have upped the ante to reflect this.
Take Episode One. We are flown to Fernandina, a remote, volcanically active island sitting within the Galapagos archipelago of the Pacific. Home to the marine iguana, a peculiar sea-going reptile which “can dive to 30 metres and hold its breath for half an hour”, viewers are presented with an insider’s view of what appears to be a relatively quiet, idyllic island life for the iguanas.
Moments later, however, we learn that the iguana hatchlings emerging from eggs buried under the sand are vulnerable and under threat in the immediate moments of their lives. Racer snakes lie in wait for the younglings to surface, and what follows is footage with all the hallmarks of a multi-million dollar Hollywood thriller. A life and death chase sequence, a musical score that could easily find itself at home on a Christopher Nolan film, a satisfying ending.
In Episode Two, Nubian ibexes – desert goats adapted to traverse the razor thin cliff edges of mountains in the Arabian Peninsula – find themselves on the precipice of defeat when red foxes appear to hunt them. Using their “soft cloven hooves” to navigate the mountain face and dispersal tactics to confound the foxes, the ibexes give viewers a glimpse at a day-to-day game of survival, a snapshot of an experience that at once seems otherworldly yet familiar enough for viewers to awe and empathise. The outpour of emotion on social media to these scenes is a testament to the producers’ awareness of what audiences inhabiting digital spaces will most appreciate.
The series has not been without controversy. Early on in Episode Two, we are shown breathtaking scenes of a golden eagle soaring above the Alps. Known to be able to dive up to 200mph, viewers were treated with a dizzying look at the eagle’s perspective while flying and diving, its journey ending when it is seen to feast on a dead fox upon landing. It has been a standout moment from the series’ first half, and judging by the reactions online, it has been one that demonstrates the growth of the series from 2006.
However, following a footnote in the diary of that episode explaining that a paraglider was used to recreate and simulate the view of the eagle, along with a post-episode note about the employment of a trained and tamed eagle named Slovak , claims of fakery have been made. These accusations echo the outrage over newborn polar bear footage – filmed in an animal park rather than the wild – in Attenborough’s 2011 series, Frozen Planet.
But to say that this ruins the show is a claim that would rob documentary filmmakers of the artistry of their craft. In order to capture the most illuminating of moments, particularly in nature documentaries, a range of techniques must be employed. Timelapses in Episode Three speed up the opening of flowers, and slow motion allows the capture of the most intricate details of animal gait and motion. Golden eagles fly above the Alps, and a view of flying above the Alps is what we were given. These are merely tools of a filmmaker effectively used to provide an experience, to capture the imagination of its audience, not to stain the authenticity of the documentary.
These snapshots of life on islands and mountains have also received criticism due to the loose ties between clips, a lack of a clear narrative arc within each episode, and “fake” sound effects. But it can be argued that this works in favour of the series, for what it perhaps lacks in a linear narrative, it certainly makes up for in terms of mood and tone. The sound effects work to add to this mood.
Aided by advancements in cinematography, the lush, ultra high-definition images of side-stepping lemurs in Madagascar to the warring Komodo dragons of Indonesia turn each episode into a stunning, highly-curated profile of islands, jungles, mountains – almost akin to the enhanced authenticity of a heavily invested-in Instagram account. The behind-the-scenes “diary” clips ending each episode, then, are more like Snapchat moments, providing raw, unfiltered, intimate looks at the making of Planet Earth II.
Attenborough’s work is an international treasure, and the latest series does nothing but add to the grandeur and spectacle that he has captured from a career deep in the field. As creatures of capturing our lives in a chaotic manner, then enhancing and curating them on social media, audiences should cut him some slack.
For those millions of Americans who believe the best way to make a fine day even finer is to go out and kill something, what better preparation than a visit to the store named Cabela’s? There are eighty-odd of these monster emporiums dotted around the United States, all peddling in enormous volume the necessaries for hunting and fishing and what we are led to think is the manly outdoor life.
Each is designed as a tourist destination – a Disneyland of death, a place of spectacle for the kiddies, or pleasing shock and awe for those with money and a lust for blood. At each store, an immense fibreglass Matterhorn dominates the sales floor, Styrofoam snow at the summit and lush plastic savannahs at the base, with stuffed elks and bison and pronghorn antelopes placed at the relative altitudes where they would have lived and been shot by skilled hunters. Behind the immense glass walls of the ­Cabela’s aquariums swim fish from sharks to salmon to sticklebacks, all waiting for the Cabela’s hook and the Cabela’s fly and the life-ending thud of a Cabela’s killing club.
Yet these are as nothing compared to the gun department at a Cabela’s and to the teak-and-leather-armchair comfort of the stores’ gun libraries. Here, you may purchase sufficient firepower to bring down a large stag or moose or grizzly bear, or else to wipe out a village, or a school, or the audience at a cinema, or the congregation in a church. A quick swipe of a credit card; then a swift pull of the trigger: everything in the gun world is so dismayingly quick.
The only snag is the pesky little matter of regulation. Recently I was at the Cabela’s in Rapid City, South Dakota, and felt suitably in awe of the rack upon rack of high-powered, action-man automatic rifles standing erect behind the counters. Eager young sales clerks swarmed towards me, toothsome smiles at the ready.
Experimentally, I asked: “How much for that one?” I pointed at a black Bushmaster AR-15, .223 calibre, the gun that was deployed to such murderous disadvantage in San Bernardino in December last year. The nice young man looked at the label: $700 and change with tax, he said. “Just what do I need to buy one?” I asked. “Credit card and driver’s licence – and about 15 minutes of your time while we run a quick check.”
He took my Amex card and smiled. A clerk took down the rifle. The first man took my licence, still smiling. Then he turned it over. His smile vanished.
“Goddam it!” he cried. “Massachusetts!” Now he was sore, irritated at losing the sale. “No way you’ll get approval with that. It’ll take at least two weeks, if at all. Darn. I thought you were from here.” His friend, cussedly putting the Bushmaster back on to its rack, spat out the word once again: “Massachusetts. Guess you must be some kind of communist?”
This year, and up to the day I am writing this, in mid-November, 12,871 men, women and children have died in the United States from gunshot wounds. Another 30,000 have been injured. Helping to create this battlescape of carnage was a handful of the 300 million guns – from tiny, single-shot Derringers to huge automatic weapons – that are privately owned, or bought legally from retailers such as Cabela’s, or else acquired illicitly in the shadowy undermarkets, and which help make America, this otherwise generous, good-hearted, ­forward-thinking, energetic, entrepreneurial, positive-minded and much-envied nation, the undisputed gun and gun-death headquarters of the world.
Gary Younge’s eloquently terrible book of reportage Another Day in the Death of America , by turns measured and wise and coldly furious, tells the stories of ten youngsters who died at the muzzle end of guns in America over the course of one randomly chosen day three years ago, Saturday 23 November 2013. The youngest victim was nine years old, the oldest 19. All were boys.

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