Be Nice

Be Nice

As someone who views organised religion as an operating system, I found the book by John Niven, ‘The Second Coming’, an absolute hoot. The intro says it all.

God takes a look at the Earth around the time of the Renaissance and everything looks pretty good – so he takes a holiday. In Heaven-time this is just a week’s fishing trip, but on Earth several hundred years go by. When God returns, he finds all hell has broken loose: world wars, holocausts, famine, capitalism and ‘fucking Christians everywhere’. There’s only one thing for it. They’re sending the kid back.‘ …

… as a struggling musician…

The God Niven creates is laid back and despises what’s being said and done in his name. Let me put it this way, Niven’s language is somewhat ‘ripe’ to put it mildly; his view of intolerant religious fundamentalism, mainly in Christianity, is excoriating; and as for the ten commandments, there should have been only one – Be Nice. Erm, that’s it. Be Nice.

Not only is the book very funny it also challenges those who use hate to promote their views. Worth reading, but only if you’re not precious about your religion.

So, why am I mentioning this in what is currently a confused and, in some cases, frightened world? Well, put simply, there are a great number of people who are doing just that – they’re living the Be Nice commandment.

For example, a friend of mine whom I’ve mentioned before lives her faith-based beliefs daily. Her sense of responsibility to her family and community means that she is currently unable to attend her church or the local homeless kitchen initiative for which she volunteers.

Another, a fellow writer, lives in London with her self-employed husband and family. She also lives her faith-based beliefs daily and gives time to her mosque to help her community. She has to balance practical issues, e.g. finance, and keeping those she loves safe and close.

Both of these incredibly caring, strong women, of different faiths, live the Be Nice commandment daily. You’ll have your own examples.

Obviously there are those who will try to weaponise this situation to suit their own ends. The current incumbent of the White House calling Covid-19 the ‘Chinese’ virus and declining to take responsibility for the handling of this emergency is but one example. There are others.

In this hyper-chaotic world, the ‘law of unintended consequences’ applies. This means that we have no idea where we will be when the initial challenges created by Covid-19 begin to be addressed. Will we have learned? Will we apply what has been learned? We can only wait and see.

We will get through this, of that I have no doubt. However, as I wrote previously, it’s how this particular challenge is dealt with that will define us.

So – Be Nice.

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’

 

Let’s have some balance here

Let’s have some balance here

Well, what a world we’re living in, eh?  In the UK, until the general election on 12 December 2019 where 43% of the vote resulted in an 80 seat majority for the winning party, everything prior to that was about Brexit.

Here we are now, coming up four months into this Government’s ‘rule’ and Brexit is hardly mentioned.  It will be again believe me, but just not for the moment.

We have had floods, front page for a while and now hardly remembered, and now Corona virus, aka COVID-19.

The media are going wild, seemingly enjoying the tensions they are raising by their coverage of this virus.  ‘Death Ship’ was one of the ‘best’ I read recently.  It was about an elderly passenger with previous medical issues who had left a cruise ship some weeks before, and had died due to COVID-19.  Death Ship? Really?

You can almost imagine the morning meeting in some of these so-called responsible rags with the Editor saying, ‘Okay, folks, as we all know, readership has been dropping for some time now and marketing has told me that we can increase sales by mentioning Corona virus on the front page and the following seven.  What’s that, Boris?  Corona beer?  No you idiot, Corona virus, y’know, that thing that’s killing millions of people.’

Except that it’s not, killing millions of people that is.  A quick look at the research, (and not just one source), confirms this.  In comparison to SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), COVID-19 is likely more highly transmissible but not as deadly.

SARS had a Case Fatality Rate, CFR, of 9.6%; MERS a CFR of 34.4%.  Since the end of December 2019 and as of 9 March 2020, there have been 109,695 cases of COVID-19 reported including 3,811 deaths.

In the majority of the research reports, the CFR for COVID-19 is 2.3% with older age and acute respiratory distress syndrome correlated with mortality.

Yes, it’s horrible, and yes, disruptive, and yes, causing financial and social mayhem.  But it’s not helped by the lack of balance I’m seeing in many news providers or those low-lifes who exist in the foetid swamps of Facebook and Twitter.  There are also some who think it’s part of a plot by, (just put your own prejudice here – religion, race, sexual orientation, skin colour, oh, the list can go on, and on, and on…)  The current incumbent in the White House comes to mind with some of his recent rants.

So, let’s have some balance here.  COVID-19 will pass.  Some outcomes of this virus will be very, very unpleasant.  However, the world will move on.  The decency and caring that is the usual approach to challenges faced by the people I have in my life, and mirrored in countless others, will remain.  They’re balanced, they’re caring, and they’re very human.  We will all move on.

To repeat, let’s have some balance here.  Shit happens, okay?  It’s how this particular challenge is dealt with that will define us.

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’

 

This far and no further

This far and no further

I’m beginning the third volume of the Kold Kronicles trilogy.  As you do when writing fantasy, you think about battles, war-fighting, using viruses as an economic as well as physical weapon, y’know, the kind of thing that writing fantasy allows you to do because it’ll never happen.  The characters who are on the good side need to be brave since they could end up losing their life or badly damaged, physically as well as mentally.  It started me thinking about what’s meant by bravery and the form it might take in this day and age.  

There are many types of bravery, on the field of battle, or those private, dark night of the soul moments.  It might be an individual standing up to power or a member of a group going against the majority view.  

I have become aware that many brave acts tend to be driven by personal values.  The individual feels they will be a lesser person if they do not act.  The outcome of such bravery is that, invariably, they are mocked, pilloried and bullied in such a way as to try to intimidate them and others.  

As for bullying, here’s a definition I can work with: 

‘Persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating,  malicious or insulting behaviour, abuse of power or unfair penal sanctions, which makes the recipient feel upset, threatened, humiliated or vulnerable, which undermines their self-confidence and which may cause them to suffer stress.’

Anyone in the White House come to mind?  

Bullies need to be confronted, and hard.  If you don’t, they feel empowered to double down and become even more of a threat to others, their behaviour even more egregious.  Perhaps Captain Jean-Luc Picard in ‘Star Trek:  First Contact’ had it right when he said of fighting the Borg:  

‘We’ve made too many compromises already.  Too many retreats.  They invade our space, and we fall back.  They assimilate entire worlds, and we fall back.  Not again.  The line must be drawn here!  This far and no further.’  

So, to The Squad;  Mitt Romney;  Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch;  Lieutenant Colonel Alexander S Vindman;  the impeachment prosecution team who resigned in disgust at Attorney General Barr’s behaviour;  the former Conservatives who stood up to the UK’s current Prime Minister and his homunculus of an adviser;  to you and so many others, confront, hold fast, counter attack.  

This far and no further.  

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’

 

Know thy power and use it

Know thy power and use it

Interesting thing, power.  

Many moons ago I analysed, changed if necessary, a number of organisations, teams and individuals.   What I found really interesting was that the teams and organisations that were the most effective were invariably lead by those who didn’t want the role, the power.  Think about that for a moment, the leaders didn’t want the role but, as one person put it to me, ‘I had to step up or else we’d have gone down the tubes.  People would have lost their jobs, and I just couldn’t allow that to happen.  It wasn’t right, so I took the job.’  

Obviously I’m drawing a parallel between the current Prime Minister of the UK and his even more dysfunctional equivalent in the White House.  Even as a child, Johnson talked about wanting to be ‘King of the World.’  Both Johnson and Trump lied, coarsened debate, created hatred and division, obfuscated, bloviated and blustered their way to their current role.  Both put into power by out of date and undemocratic processes.  In the case of Johnson, voted into the role of the Conservative leader by 0.09% of the population, aka, the Conservative and Unionist Party membership.  Then, with 43% of the popular vote, his party achieved 53% of the seats with an 80 seat majority.  In the US, due to the Electoral College, the winner of the popular vote by over three million votes lost to the person who currently sits behind the Resolute desk.  Democracy, donchajustlurvit?  

Then let’s add that it took on average 38,264 votes to elect a Tory MP and 50,835 per Labour MP.  It’s even worse for the smaller political parties.  That First Past The Post is past its sell by date is confirmed yet again.  As is the Electoral College in the US.  However, interested parties, and all are complicit in both the UK and US, seem unable or unwilling to move away from a process that is patently undemocratic.  Democracy, donchajustlurvit?  

As for democracy, to those who complain about there being too many elections, people died to provide you with the right to vote;  to those who decided not to vote, you have abrogated the right to complain about what is happening;  to those who did vote and want to do something about confronting what has happened, then plan.  Yes, of course there will be frustration, anger, some will be in despair.  Well, enough now.  Breath deep, smile and remember that this too shall soon pass.  And plan.  

To use a quote I read in a recent Big Issue, ‘when evil people plot, good people plan.’  We have seen the plotting, the iron control of the message from both Johnson and Trump.  Their respective parties now mirror their own dysfunctional and dystopian attitudes – for the moment.  However, with good people planning…  

So, as the late Louisiana congresswoman Lindy Boggs said to Nancy Pelosi, current Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, ‘Darlin’, know thy power and use it.’  

To the good people who are sick and tired of the nastiness and toxic nature of instant media, politics and social discourse, know thy power and use it.  That will help to make 2020 a better world than we’ve experienced in 2019.  

Start planning.  

Now. 

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’

‘Do you like my nipple hat?’

‘Do you like my nipple hat?’

Being a writer is helped by reading what others have written.  Not always, ‘writing’, mind you, but from various other interests one might have.  In my case, music and photography.  The heading comes from an article in the photography magazine, Amateur Photographer,  entitled ‘How a national cancer campaign was created with an old camera and no photography experience’.  

Lorraine Milligan’s dad gave her his old Nikon D40 for her birthday along with its kit lens and a 70-300mm zoom.  She has an eye for composition which is why she is an incredibly successful professional hair and make-up artist in the music, fashion, film and TV worlds.  As a former dancer, she was, as she said, aware of posture and body positioning.  

Her world changed on 12 November 2018 when her partner, Richard, was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.  It had spread to his lymph nodes, lungs and liver.  

He was just 40 years of age.  

It was whilst she and Richard were waiting in the chemotherapy ward that Lorraine caught the eye of a woman sitting opposite, Amanda, wearing a pink woolly hat with a nipple on the top.  

We smiled, and she said, “Do you like my nipple hat?” She didn’t have any hair, but she looked fabulous in her hat.  Lorraine wanted to know if she had one in blue for Richard.  They started to chat and Amanda asked Lorraine what she did.  On being told, she said straight away,  I’d love you to take some pictures of me for my personal journal, scars and all.’  

After the initial shoot with Amanda, an epiphany as Lorraine calls it, a conversation took place.  A campaign was born.  

Other women who had breast cancer, (what Lorraine calls her ‘breast friends’), were approached, the campaign was explained and over four shoots the powerful images you can see in ‘Bluegetitoo were created.  There’s also a film,   As the article says, ‘It’ll be the most powerful four minutes and nine seconds that you will have spent in a long time.  Like the author, I also found that I had some grit in my eyes, hence the tears…

Just one person.  A world changing experience.  A fightback.  A group of strong women who don’t give up.  And a man with a cancer that men need to be made aware of before it’s too late.  It is a thing and men get it too. Share the links.  It could save a life.  

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’

It’s good to read…

It’s good to read…

So interesting, so interesting.  If you’re a writer, one of the pieces of advice that seems to be given by experienced writers is that you need to read.  Read everything that interests you.  Read material that may not appear to be relevant to your own writing.  Just read, it’s never wasted.  

I agree with that.  

Currently  I’m reading a book called ‘Shredded:  Inside RBS, The Bank That Broke Britain.’  It’s a fairly hefty tome but what comes through is how one individual, enabled by those whose focus was only on profit to the detriment, eventually, of customers, can take down a company and all but melt down the UK’s financial system.  

George Mathewson was the CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland, RBS, from 1992 to 2000 and is credited with turning around the bank and making it a major financial player. He became chairman in May 2001 following the retirement of George Younger.   Mathewson was also responsible for hiring Fred Goodwin, a micro-manager and control freak.  Goodwin, also known as ‘Fred the Shred’, hence the title of the book, comes over as a thin skinned and vindictive individual who made short shrift of those who questioned him.  He was rude and he was a bully.  His senior management morning meetings or ‘morning beatings’ as they were known were dreaded.  He would pick on one individual and then berate that morning’s ‘victim’.  There was also a culture of fear throughout the organisation made worse by what was known as the ‘rank and yank’ reward system the bank introduced.  The ‘Vitality Curve’ to give it its proper name, was pioneered by Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric.  It was a brutal and counter productive system that ranked people as an A (20%), B (70%), or C (10%).  Look it up, not pleasant.  

Mathewson must also take responsibility as must the Board of Directors who appear to have known about Goodwin’s bullying and did nothing.  No, let’s not call it bullying, let’s call it what it really was, psychopathic behaviour.  Everything was fine as long as profits were made.  

Goodwin’s behaviour reminded me of some senior management I met when I used to analyse and evaluate organisations in a previous life.    It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect.  In short, it’s where people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is.  

Goodwin was / is an obviously bright man, but something must have been missing in his ‘make-up’ that caused him to be such a hated individual and yet ignore it.   Maybe he had people around him who wouldn’t tell him the truth, they knew that if they did, they would lose their job.  The result is that, in the short term, you can appear to be a trail blazer.  In the long term you end up overrating your ability since no-one will tell you differently.  The consequence is that you lead your company into a situation where it will fail spectacularly.  

Or a country.  

Finally, a quote from last week which made me smile:  I earned my spurs on the battlefield; Donald Trump earned his spurs from the doctor.’   (Former General and Defense Secretary James Mattis.)

Ba-boom!  

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’

There is no such thing as ‘Just a cat.’

There is no such thing as ‘Just a cat.’

That’s a quote from Robert Heinlein.  Here’s another, ’Never try to out stubborn a cat.’  That was from his book ‘Time enough for love.’  Interesting book that, with its views of living almost for ever and other somewhat challenging ideas for that time as well as ours.  So it goes… (You need to know about the Tralfamadorians to understand that last bit – plus, it’s me being a bit of a smart arse.)  

Anyway, to continue, I’ve read many of his books and feel they are unique, a bit disquieting in some cases, but always original, I like original.  He also wrote:  

‘Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms…but a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness.  Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters.  A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than a riot.’  

This symptom is especially serious in that an individual displaying it never thinks of it as a sign of ill health but as proof of his / her strength…’  Robert A. Heinlein ‘Friday’  

Written in 1982, a wee while ago methinks, eh?  

Let’s bring it up to date a tad.  Regarding sick cultures and a dying culture.  A loss of politeness, of gentle manners…  Bad manners, lack of consideration for others in minor matters…  Anyone, any leader of a country (plural) come to mind?  I thought so.  Me too.  

Currently we have the 45th incumbent in the White House facing impeachment.  In the UK we have the 77th Prime Minister of the UK voted in by 92,153 members of his party, no-one else, just his party.  The latter isn’t doing so well is he?  He’s losing vote after vote and has been unanimously excoriated by all eleven judges of the highest court in the land regarding his proroguing of Parliament.  No matter what, he continues to go his own way, ignoring the normal standards of political discourse.  With both of these ‘leaders’ it’s about them, and only about them.  Their language inflames rather than leads.  

Bad manners, loss of politeness.  

The misuse of words such as surrender, or enemy rather than opponent.   

As I wrote in a blog in January 2018, ‘Interesting word, enemy.  Having been in the military, the word invariably means someone we have to dehumanise since we may have to kill them.  Those who disagree with me are not my enemy, they are my opponent, a different thing entirely.  I don’t want to kill my opponents.  I don’t want to disrespect my opponents.  Unfortunately, we are now in a world where balance is no longer respected, vituperation rules and reasoned debate mocked.’  

No longer are we polite when we disagree.  We see people trying to draw blood, literally, when they confront each other – on the street, on instant media, the press, television.  Egged on by their fury, anger, hatred, misunderstanding, and by a media that uses them as the product, (remember, if it’s free then you are the product.)  

Unless we regain that politeness, civility, call it what you will, then one day perhaps there’ll be blood drawn for real on a massive scale.  Led by those who have never seen the horror that is violence.  Led by those who will make sure that they and theirs will never pay the price for causing that violence.  

Finally, can we please stop comparing Trump with Hitler.  It’s wrong to do so.  So very wrong.    

Hitler fought for his country.  

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’

Let’s give it up for the strong women in this world

Let’s give it up for the strong women in this world

I was going to make this blog about what Eisenhower called the ‘military-industrial complex’ and the control / damage it has done to the body politic.  

‘In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.’

He said this on leaving office in January 1961.  Still resonates today doesn’t it?  

However I received some news from the wife of a long time friend of mine that he had to go into hospital to ‘have some shit scooped out of his head.’  (She’s a nurse so she’s allowed.)  The operation was a success and the love of her life came home within 48 hours.  Within minutes of arriving home, his head, out of which he’d had ‘some shit scooped’, was under the bonnet of their daughter’s car aiming to change the thermostat.  ‘Dumb shit’ was one comment from the love of his life, (she’s a nurse so she’s allowed), before she marched him back inside.  A woman with attitude.  A strong woman.  

Then there’s another woman whom I admire.  A ‘softer’ version of the one above but equally strong in her beliefs.  This is a woman who went on a one day course to learn about what’s involved in feeding homeless people so that she could become active in a local initiative; spending time in contributing to the social cohesion of the area in which she lives; making many lives that bit better.  A deeply caring woman.  A strong woman.  

Then there’s the woman with whom I live.  The love of my life.  The one who was strong enough to make me realise there was a better me; who contributed to the development of others in her professional life; and who now contributes to the enjoyment of others via her art.  An articulate, wickedly funny woman.  A strong woman.  

Then there are the strong women who stand up to those in power whom they feel are usurping the democracy that elected them to office.  These are the four Congress women, also known as The Squad, who are facing up to the bullying of what I now call the Teflon Don.  They’re not blinking.  Strong women all.  

None of the women I have mentioned and admire blink.  They stand up for what they believe in.  We are blessed by having such women in our lives, and life.  

So, let me repeat, let’s give it up for the strong women in this world.  We are better people because of them.  Our world(s) are better because of them. 

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’ 

 

Just one person – how music can be an ‘instrument that heals’.

Just one person – how music can be an ‘instrument that heals’.

Short one this.  

I came across this via ‘Acoustic Guitar’, a magazine to which I subscribe.  In it was a letter describing the work of Duncan Africa Guitars.  Interesting story the genesis of which began in 1983 when a then 13 year old Canadian called Jay Duncan watched television about the millions dying through famine in Ethiopia.  This is the famine which generated the creation of the 1985 Live Aid Concert.  The images from that time remained with him but it wasn’t until 2005 that Jay, now a well known luthier, was able to do something about it.  Africa, and the images, had stayed with him.  He’d spent some time selling seven of his guitars to fund his first trip and, working with the Elders of Mpigi village in Uganda, recruited a number of young people to train as luthiers.  As he says himself, it took time, sometimes it worked well and at other times it didn’t.  Students learn about marketing, management, communication and finance which enables them to move on if they wish to other roles.  The profit made from the sale of the guitars is theirs.  

Perfect.  

Wonderful what just one person can do for good, isn’t it?  

The DuncanAfrica Society’s web site is here:  https://duncanafrica.com  and their guitars sound pretty fabulous.  

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’