Prescience

Prescience

As a writer of fantasy, I consider prescience an interesting word – ‘the fact of knowing something in advance; foreknowledge.’  I’ve met people who are prescient.  I’ve read prescient articles on what the future may hold which has come to pass.

One of the most prescient I’ve watched recently is on Youtube: shorturl.at/jHLM1  All of it is well worth watching, especially about 15 minutes in for roughly seven minutes or so.

It’s the 125th Stanford Commencement address to the graduating class on 12 June, 2016 by Ken Burn, the documentary film maker.  This was around the time when the current tenant in the White House was about to become the Republican nominee.  By the way, Burn doesn’t mention the individual’s name once.  After talking about the role of government and those who aspire to office, he says:

… asking this man to assume the highest office in the land would be like asking a newly minted car driver to fly a 747.

With his knowledge of history, Burn has seen this type of figure arise many times and in many places throughout history. He warned that the reality TV star presents:

… an incipient proto-fascism, a nativist anti-immigrant Know Nothingism, a disrespect for the judiciary, the prospect of women losing authority over their own bodies, African-Americans again asked to go to the back of the line, voter suppression gleefully promoted, jingoistic sabre-rattling, a total lack of historical awareness, a political paranoia that, predictably, points fingers, always making the other wrong.  These are all virulent strains that have at times infected us in the past.  But they now loom in front of us again – all happening at once.  We know from our history books that these are the diseases of ancient and now fallen empires.  The sense of commonwealth, of shared sacrifice, of trust, so much a part of American life, is eroding fast, spurred along and amplified by an amoral Internet that permits a lie to circle the globe three times before the truth can get started.

Ken Burn warned the students what was going to happen, many applauded.  Others sat there glum of face, some glowering, disbelieving.  I wonder how they feel now? How do you feel now?

Interesting word, prescience, isn’t it?

Especially when it becomes a reality. 

No one left behind

J J Mitchell

A riot is the language of the unheard

A riot is the language of the unheard

There’s a saying, (it’s also a curse), ‘May you live in interesting times’.  Hmm, well, we’re certainly experiencing that at the moment aren’t we?  So much going on, so much frustration with the status quo; so much frustration with inequality of opportunity be it health, education, whatever.  People feel the system is unfair and their concerns ignored, in sum, they are the unheard. 

According to the Pew Research Centre, the income inequality gap in the US has never been wider – the bottom 50% of Americans have just 1% of the nation’s wealth, the top 10% has 70%. 

None of this is new, however, it’s just that it has recently become more obvious.  But there again, you knew that didn’t you? 

In 1967, Martin Luther King, MLK, gave a speech at Stanford, entitled, ‘The Other America’.  You can read it here: https://bit.ly/38q0d8F  (The page also provides a link to YouTube.)  Keep in mind this was in 1967, over half a century ago. Think about that for a moment, over half a century ago…  

Like all great speeches, it is still powerful; it still resonates;  it still applies.  It’s a long speech but worth the time.  MLK ranges far and wide, talking about lack of opportunity in America, especially if your skin is black.  It is the speech in which he says, ‘A riot is the language of the unheard.’ 

In the same speech, MLK also said, ‘Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.’  Yep, that works for me as well.  Remember, half a century ago… 

In the US we have the current resident of the WH pouring petrol on an already volatile situation.  No leadership or listening to the unheard there, or in Brazil, or Hungary or Poland.  In Russia, Putin is now in power until 2036 after a somewhat, to put it mildly, questionable referendum.  In Hong Kong, China has imposed a ‘security’ lockdown on political disagreement breaking the treaty it had with the UK in the process. 

All of the above have one thing in common, the creation of the unheard.  All are creating groups who may feel they need to go ‘underground’ to survive.  All are storing up a pressure that will, one day, make itself heard again.  It will appear to have come out of nowhere, but it will happen.  They will be heard. 

Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another fifty years, eh?

J J Mitchell
No one left behind

A sea of humanity with just one message

A sea of humanity with just one message

Interesting times, interesting times.

Some time ago a guy called Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote about what he called black swan events.  Putting it into my own language, it’s about an event that appears to come out of nowhere and bites you on the arse.  Okay, okay, he didn’t put it quite like that, he was far more elegant, but you get the picture.  Post event, those impacted by the black swan rationalise why it was bound to happen and invariably say  ‘we should have seen that coming.’  Black swans invariably lead to tipping points when things take a completely different direction to what existed before.

I’ve used the ‘black swan’ term myself in the past when working with those involved in an offshore incident. In the main, folk sensed something wasn’t quite right but due to operational imperatives, lack of time or resources didn’t do anything about it and carried on.  Then the black swan swooped down and landed, (apparently out of nowhere), and all hell was let loose – and their arse was bitten.  A tipping point was created.

Here are some figures for you: in the UK young black men are nine times more likely to be jailed than young white men;  three times more likely to be tasered;  six to nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by police.  Oh, and whilst black people account for just three percent of the UK population, they make up 12% of the prison population. 

In the US, African Americans have it even worse, the most recent killing being a case in point – George Floyd, killed on 25 May by Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin.  That the current occupant of the White House has added fuel to the fire is no surprise.  This is the man described by former Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow on BBC Any Questions recently, as ‘The most rancid, racist and repellant occupant of the White House in my lifetime.’  Couldn’t have put it better myself.

As for police killing black men in the US. Just put that into a web search, the numbers may not surprise you.

Now, Floyd’s killing by Chauvin was videoed. It went viral. The oxygen thief in the WH must have thought it would soon blow over.  Many others in his circle would have felt the same.  And this is where the black swan element comes in – it didn’t blow over.  The black swan landed.  A tipping point.  In landing, the black swan uncorked a rage, a fury that was intense in its feeling of justice denied. 

I’m reminded of a quote from former slave Frederik Douglass, (1817 – 1895): ‘Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organised conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass’ published in 1845 is well worth reading.  It still resonates as do many of his quotes. Look up, ‘What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?’  The rest of the quote is searing, to put it mildly. And justified. And relevant – to those disenfranchised by society due to the colour of their skin; their belief system; sexual orientation; race; poverty; education, and so on and so on…

This particular black swan has been circling for decades.  There have been times when it appears to have landed due to the killing of a black man by the police, but it merely continued to circle.  So when Officer Chauvin killed George Floyd, perhaps those who are equally rancid, racist and repellant thought nothing would come of it.  How wrong they were.  It landed.  One can only hope that a tipping point has been created that will unleash the change that is so necessary.

The heading of this blog says it all, there is a sea of humanity with just one message – enough now, enough now. For those who believe this will blow over, I will merely quote a verse of Maya Angelou’s ’Still I rise’.

You may shoot me with your words,


You may cut me with your eyes,


You may kill me with your hatefulness,


But still, like air,

I’ll rise.’

J J Mitchell
No one left behind

Interesting thing aggression…

Interesting thing aggression…

Interesting thing aggression.  In fiction, the hero, invariably a male, takes out the ‘bad guys’, five or six at a time in about five minutes or less.  That his cardio vascular fitness lasts that long is always a wonder to me.  Try swinging a broad sword for longer than three minutes in a simulated battle and you’ll see what I mean. Knackered.  Take on five people at a time rather than running away and, unless it’s a film, they’ll attack you all at once and you’ll go down.  Then the kicking begins.

During Boudica’s war against the Romans, like a number of British tribes, the Iceni had small, two man chariots comprising the driver and a warrior.  Pre-dating cavalry, the chariots would race up to the enemy and javelins, along with other pointy things, would be thrown.  The aim was to break the ranks and create mayhem and confusion.  They would wheel around and drive away, or, the warrior might jump down and engage in violence and general unpleasantness.  This might last about three minutes or so, maybe slightly longer, and then the driver would race back.  The warrior would leap on board and away they would go.  This would allow the warrior time to recover because doing violence at that level is knackering.  Then they’d go back and do the same thing again.  Alternatively, if the driver saw his warrior in trouble he would come back earlier.  It was all about controlled aggression.

More recently, some of the people I know who have been trained in controlled aggression, prefer to fight from a distance, using long barrelled weapons and so on.  Oh, and in greater numbers than the enemy.  ‘It’s safer, and means we can run away if it turns naughty,’ was one comment.  They knew about controlled aggression and used it effectively.  They are also some of the most peace loving people I know.  They know the cost of violence.

I also find it interesting that the most aggressive people tend to be those who hide behind the anonymity of Facebook or Twitter.  So very brave, so very aggressive.  However, they’re bullies, and like most bullies, if one was able to confront them in person, their anonymity lost, they would deflate.

Then there are the political bullies.  They are the ones who confuse aggression with being assertive, with being leaders.  They use their position to bully those who have the temerity to question them.  I don’t need to say who they are, you’ll have your own ideas.

The problem with aggression is that in our current situation regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, the virus doesn’t give a hoot, (polite version).  It has no ego to be intimidated, it has one simple aim – infection with the bonus of killing people if it can.

Controlled aggression requires never giving the virus the chance to spread; to bring people along with you; to make sure that those who break the rules are brought to justice and made to pay for their selfish transgressions.  New Zealand is a great example of controlled aggression.  From the off, they went in hard.

The problem is that the bloviate leadership we are seeing currently, populists all, can only peddle aggression.  Uncontrolled and bullying aggression.  And that’s why they’ll fail. 

But at what cost?  That’s what we should be asking ourselves.  How many have died unnecessarily?  Let us not confuse aggression with leadership.  Let us not confuse aggression with effectiveness.  Let us simply make those using aggression accountable for the damage they have done and will continue to do until they are replaced.

Interesting thing aggression, it can end up killing you.  But never them… 

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’