‘You came into their temple,’ he said. ‘And shat on their altar.’

‘You came into their temple,’ he said. ‘And shat on their altar.’

As all my readers will know, (okay, both of you) 😊  I left Twitter and Facebook some time ago.  I’d grown tired of their lies, amoral behaviour and the damage they have done to our world, our heritage, our common humanity.  Both monetise information they are given for nothing by those who use their publications, (remember, they’re not platforms), and allow people who don’t have the courage to say things to your face to spew out their vitriol.  Without penalty.  

(Oh, by the way, can we stop using the term ‘social media’.  Social media seems so much more legitimate don’t you think?  Let’s call them what they really are,  instant media’.)

One of instant media’s most informed critics is Carole Cadwalladr.  In her article she writes about her TED talk and ‘how I took on the tech titans in their lair.’  Excellent article, well written and researched.  As it says at the top of the article, ‘For more than a year, the Observer writer has been probing a darkness at the heart of Silicon Valley.  And, oh, what a dark heart it has.  

(A summary on YouTube of what she said can be seen here:  ‘Your technology is a crime scene’)

This particularly resonated, ‘I did tell them that they had facilitated multiple crimes in the EU referendum. That as things stood, I didn’t think it was possible to have free and fair elections ever again. That liberal democracy was broken. And they had broke it.  They were called to account for the first time in their lives in the Temple of TED.  As one attendee put it, ‘you came into their temple and shat on their altar.’  Quite so. 

Cadwalladr also named the people enabling this vitriol.  She named them, these Gods of Silicon Valley:  Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Jack Dorsey.  Look ‘em up.  They and their instant media organisations remain what they really are – amoral and irresponsible.  All were offered the right of reply – none took it up.  One can only wonder why…  

If you want to read more about her work and the likes of Facebook and Twitter, have a look at her report on Cambridge Analytica.  Sublime.

Cadwalladr also spoke about Parliament’s comments on Facebook during an LBC interview.  Again, insightful.  Talking of Government, Parliament is discussing sanctions against these publishers as is the EU.  

Pushback is also coming from directions you wouldn’t necessarily expect.  In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, one of the co-founders of Facebook, Chris Hughes, argues that Facebook should be broken up.  It is a ‘monopoly without oversight.’   Mark Zuckerberg cannot fix Facebook, but our government can…’ 

(Btw, Zuckerberg owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.  Think about it, all that power in the hands of one individual.  Without responsibility.  Hmmm.)  

That pushback is happening is not before time.  That instant media is now a danger to our democracy is becoming manifest.  That something needs to be done is clear.  That we need to treat these publishers like every other publisher, i.e. make them responsible for the content posted, is beyond doubt.  

If you think I’m being melodramatic about the dangers of instant media, read The dangers of digital politics.’  ’Twitter usage is positively correlated to narcissism and Machiavelliansim.  This is not where the commons should live. 

‘This is not where the commons should live.’  What a lovely phrase, I couldn’t have put it better myself.  The commons in which we live should reflect our social values, our common humanity, not the ‘world’ these ‘Gods of Silicon Valley’ have created – all in the name of making profit.  No matter what the cost to the rest of us.  

No matter what the cost.  To the rest of us…  

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’ 

The power of words

The power of words

This is a blog about the power of words.  

The reason?  The loss of someone close to one of our dearest friends.  It was with humour and incredible bravery that he stuck two fingers up at Death as it approached.  He just didn’t blink.  He used words to make people laugh, he used words to let folk know that they should celebrate who he was with him.  Pity and sadness were not allowed, especially the former.  The latter could, and would, come later as it has now.   

As Love Of My Life, LOML, and I discussed this delightful and loved human being it brought to mind the poem that was spoken at the funerals of LOML’s father and mother.  

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep 

I am not there. I do not sleep. 

I am a thousand winds that blow. 

I am the diamond glints on snow. 

I am the sunlight on ripened grain. 

I am the gentle autumn rain. 

When you awaken in the morning’s hush 

I am the swift uplifting rush 

Of quiet birds in circled flight. 

I am the soft stars that shine at night. 

Do not stand at my grave and cry; 

I am not there. I did not die. 

Mary Elizabeth Frye

An example of how beautiful words can be.  How moving.  How inspiring.  

A quick search on Wikipedia provides some background.  Mary Elizabeth Fry was an American born in November, 1905 and died September, 2004.  The genesis of the poem, written in 1934, was inspired by the story of a young Jewish girl, Margaret Schwarzkopf, who had stayed with the Frye household.  She was unable to visit her dying mother in Germany due to anti-Semitic unrest.  

Anti-semitic unrest.  A horrible phrase, created by an obscene philosophy that pilloried a discrete religious / racial group and, in the end, exterminated in excess of six million of them.  

An example of how words can stir up hate.  

An example of how words can result in the death of millions.  

You will have your own examples of these promoters of hate and populist manipulation.  They tweet, they (mis-)use Facebook, (that dreadful, irresponsible publisher with no moral compass at all), they lie in the press and on television.  Without any sense of guilt or responsibility.  

And yet, and yet, we know that words can inspire and bring people together.  So, let’s use words that counter the hate and vilification espoused by others;  let’s use words that create laughter;  let’s use words that move us to a higher level of our humanity.  

Just like the man I have written about at the beginning of this blog.  

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’ 

Isn’t nuance an interesting word?

Isn’t nuance an interesting word?

The dictionary definition is:  characterised by subtle shades of meaning or expression.  

Using a thesaurus, one comes up with :  fine distinction, subtle, shade, shading, gradation, variation, modulation, degree; subtlety, nicety, refinement, overtone. 

Okay, that works for me.  As an inkster who writes fantasy, I need to use language that, while still making a point, has shades to it so that it becomes believable.  To go extreme will merely turn the reader off and make the writer appear ridiculous.  

That’s what I was going to blog about.  

Then the attack in Christchurch, New Zealand happened.  

At the time of writing, fifty are known to have been murdered.  An almost equal number are in hospital, many of whom are suffering life changing injuries.  Let’s not mention those who love them and are equally traumatised.  Let’s not mention that this happened whilst the murdered and wounded were at prayer in their mosque.  Let’s not mention the hate speech that Twitter and Facebook enable.  Let’s not mention the legitimacy felt by members of the extreme right to feel it is ‘righteous’ to kill others due to the language of hate and division espoused by the populist leaders of this world whom they follow.  Let’s not mention the current occupant in the White House;  Steve Bannon;  Viktor Orbán in Hungary; Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil;  Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, (‘the only extremism that deserves attention is Islamic’).  Let’s not mention that, eh?  

Well, dear reader, fuck that.  (Yes, I am angry.)  Let us mention it.  

Let us mention that their utterances have made opponents into enemies, (you kill your enemies).  Let us mention that their utterances have delegitimised civilised debate and called it weakness.  Let us mention that their ill-defined populist utterances have stoked fear where there should be trust.  

These ‘leaders’, (I use the term so very, very loosely), must be held to account.  There must be no nuance in placing the responsibility at their feet, their mouths and their sorry excuse for a brain.  

No nuance here.  They are responsible.  Hold them and those of their ilk responsible for creating the environment where this can happen.  Let us watch them try to scramble away from having any responsibility for what has been done in their name, their beliefs, their utterances.  (It’s already happening.)  

Finally, I’ll end with mention of an article by Frans de Waal, a Dutch primatologist and ethnologist.  In other words, he studies animal behaviour and is pretty good at it.  Makes for interesting reading.  

In his article, ‘What animals can teach us about politics’, (herehe wrote about the link between our biology and culture, ‘no humans ever existed without biology, nor any without culture.’  

He also made numerous points about leadership, bullying and using fear as a coercive leadership tool.  Leaders that use the latter tend to reign for short periods of time.  Those using more enabling approaches tend to last longer.  It is within us all to wish for peace, to be able to get on with our lives without causing harm to others.  However, when people feel disenfranchised, powerless, they tend to respond to those who promise to deal with the society that caused that disengagement.  

Civilisation is not some outside force: it is us.  Social life is very much part of our primate background, as are cooperation, bonding and empathy. This is because group living is our main survival strategy.  

Primates are made to be social, made to care about one another and made to get along, and the same applies to us. Civilisation does all sorts of great things for us, but does so by co-opting natural abilities. It works with what we have to offer, including an age-old capacity for peaceful coexistence.

Peaceful coexistence.  Lovely phrase that.   

Couldn’t be clearer.  No nuance there.  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

Groan joke alert

Groan joke alert

Just finished re-editing The Kold Kronicles Book 1: Discovery.  It’s interesting to go back over what was written three years ago after you’ve completed your second book.  You tend to notice differences in style in the first compared to the second.  For example, I’m a tad descriptive with the gore in the first but, having in the interim read the Icelandic Sagas and  other similar Sagas, have changed slightly to replicate their style, e.g.  ‘he was stabbed and he died’, in the second.  

Made me think, language, descriptive language, how it changes over time, its uses and how it can make people smile, laugh, thoughtful or angry.   

For example, I really enjoy telling what I call ‘groan’ jokes. Here’s one,  ’What do you call a man who lives under leaves?’  Answer:  ‘Russell.’  I know, I know, dreadful.  I used that in the first book as a code.  It also made me smile.  

I have others, so be warned.  Here’s another, (you were warned).  ‘The past and the present walked into a bar.  It was tense.’  That might appeal to the writers amongst you.  

Now that, hopefully, may make some folk smile, or at least groan.  What I’m trying to say here is that words help us communicate.  Communicate bad jokes to make us groan;  Communicate our hopes;  Communicate our concerns.  

Yet many in positions of authority use words to build walls; to tear down community;  to undermine our common humanity.  All of it to satisfy their own ego or political / economic aims.  In sum, they lie to create a world that is only in their interest.  

They can be stopped.  First, treat those online publishers, Twitter and Facebook, (they’re not platforms as they would have you believe), as the mechanisms for telling lies that they are.  Let us talk face to face, share our hopes and fears and see the common understanding that binds us in our humanity.  Let us mock these individuals for their cant and hypocrisy to undermine their ego since, invariably, it is a very fragile thing.   

Some may argue this to be naive, fine, let them, their loss, their cynicism, their limitation.  

Finally, let’s threaten them with bad jokes.  ‘I used to be a freelance journalist but I wasn’t very good at it.  Lance is still in prison.’  (You might have to think about that a bit.)

I’ll be re-editing ‘The Kold Kronicles Book 2: Defiance’ next.  I haven’t any jokes in that you’ll be pleased to hear.  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

It is this, this humanity that makes me retain hope.

It is this, this humanity that makes me retain hope.

Last week, the love of my life, LOML, and I were watching a television programme about the Lockerbie disaster.  Thirty years ago, on 21 December, 1998, Pan Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky killing 270 people, (243 passengers, 16 crew, 11 on the ground.)  As was said in the programme, it was the largest number of people killed in a terrorist incident ever experienced by the UK.  

Now, this blog is not about who did this or who did that, (there’s still debate as to who was responsible), no, this is about the people of Lockerbie and what they did.  How they opened their doors and hearts to those affected by this dreadful incident.  

The programme had softly spoken people talking about what had happened, what they had seen.  All said in an understated way that made what they were saying even more powerful.  No emotion apart from some once or twice having to stop talking as grief washed over them yet again.  You could sense their anguish and regret.  

The people of Lockerbie went further.  Once there was no further need for the clothing found scattered around the countryside to be retained for forensic purposes, everything was washed, ironed, packaged, and sent to those still grieving relatives.  It was all about respect and compassion.  

It is this, this humanity that makes me retain hope.  

Then there were the people who queued for hours to donate blood after the attack on the Twin Towers, September 11, 2001.  Their wish to show they cared, were involved.  

It is this, this humanity that makes me retain hope.  

The reaction of people after the two bomb attacks in London.  How people risked their own lives to save others.

It is this, this humanity that makes me retain hope.  

The response of those in London in 2017 doing their best to save lives, even if it meant risk to themselves, when a van deliberately drove onto the pavement, killing and maiming people.

It is this, this humanity that makes me retain hope.  

There are so many other examples since that dreadful event on 21 December, 1998.  Where people have given their own lives to save others.  Where people have done so without thought of their own survival.  Many have died unsung.  Unknown.  

It is their humanity, and those of us who care, that makes me retain hope in these troubling times.  

We must never, never, ever, allow those who wish to capitalise on our differences, (race, gender, belief systems, colour, whatever), for their own purposes to succeed.  We must needs see through the lies and fabrications used on those two irresponsible, immoral and shameless publishers, Twitter and Facebook, for what they are.  A mechanism for control.  A mechanism for creation of hate and discord.  We must needs see through all of this misdirection to the humanity that connects us all.  

Once we have done that, then my belief in the humanity of those around us will no longer just be a hope, it will be a reality.  

Continuing to show, to share, our common humanity is my (retained) hope for 2019 for you and yours.  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

Mixed feelings

Mixed feelings

I started writing this on 11 November, the day the Armistice was signed which brought the end to the First World War.  After millions of human beings, note the term, human beings, were killed, maimed, disfigured and mentally scarred.  For what?  A home fit for heroes?  Most went back to the same poverty they’d left when they’d joined up to protect their country from the enemies they’d been told they had.  

However, this isn’t about politics, this is about mixed feelings felt by the individual.  

The mixed feelings people have when they remember those who have died in war.  The First World War, the Second World War, Vietnam, Iraq, Israel, Egypt, Yemen, the list could go on.  And on.  And on.  The mixed feelings people have when they think about why people went to war and died.  The relief that people feel when they heard the loved one had died quickly.  The regret.  The anger at the waste.  The loss of someone you loved, knew, cared about.  All of that.  The relief when that person comes back apparently unharmed.  It needs to be remembered that the wounds might be hidden, sometimes for years.  We call it PTSD…

Then you have people having mixed feelings at a personal level.  When their Mum dies, or their Dad dies.  Or a friend you cared about lost a battle against an unwelcome ‘guest’ – liver cancer <here>  (Semper Fidelis, Bill.)  I find it with everyone I know, the mixed feelings they have when someone they love, or have known for what might be decades, is dying or suffering a lingering illness.  They love, care, respect them to the extent that they don’t want them to suffer.  They love, care, respect them to the extent that they want them to stay.  To remain and make them laugh.  To allow them to care.  To remain and continue to make them whole.  To complete, maintain the balance of their world.  

Then the person dies.  

It leaves those left behind feeling guilty that they wanted them to go and go quickly, with no pain, because although the body was there, the soul, the essence as it were, is no longer present.  And that’s where the mixed feelings come in.  Relief that the suffering is over;  anger at the person dying before you were ready to let them go;  guilt at wanting them to go because them staying was causing them physical and mental pain.  

Mixed feelings, eh?  Such a pain.  Such a load of confusion.  Such a maelstrom of emotions.  Good.  Bad.  Never indifferent.  

So very human.  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

Train journeys can be so useful

Train journeys can be so useful

Sitting on the train as it left Edinburgh Waverley en route to London to celebrate the birthday of the Love Of My Life, LOML.  We had planned to visit a number of places, The Cabinet War Rooms, museums, have great meals, y’know, the kind of thing you do when in a city.  

The ride is smooth, it’s fast and you can stare at the countryside, thinking about how beautiful it is as it glides past, take photographs of each station that you stop at as you travel on your way.  It also allows you to mull over things, personal, whatever, just where your mind takes you.  

Looking out, you see people going about their business.  Cars travelling down a motorway.  Where could they be going?  What’s their story?  Let’s make up a story…  Time drifts by.  Thinking.  

A thread develops.  Thinking about the Cabinet War Rooms, the war, the reasons for the war.  The number of people who were killed, wounded, wounded psychologically.  The heroes and heroines on all sides.  Thinking about my next book, current title, ‘Kold Kronicles 3:  Deliverance.’  What can I use as a driver?  Well, there has to be conflict of some kind.  The cause?  How about religion?  People have written about religion and wars.  

I admit that history is full of wars of religion; but on this point we must be very careful; it is not the multiplicity of religions that produced these wars, but the spirit of intolerance animating the religion that believed itself to be dominant.

(Letter 83) Persian Letters, (Montesquieu)  

So, use intolerance as the basis for the conflict rather than religion, but what kind of intolerance?  Perhaps race?  There again, what head of state would use race to push his own toxic agenda?  I need to keep in mind that even though I’m writing fiction, it has to have some semblance of reality underpinning it.  So that might have to be worked on a bit but the world I’m creating is  now becoming toxic.  Great!  

Okay, let’s just stay with hate and intolerance.  Why do people cling to  hate so vehemently.  

‘I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.’  (James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time.)  

Okay, that might be worth keeping in mind.  Let’s develop it further.  I need to work around that a bit.  

So what I need is a faction that feels / is fed hate, wants a war and will use whatever they can to make an external enemy that is easy to identify.  Okay, what do I mean by faction?  Well this one works:  

‘a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community’.  (The Federalist Papers, James Madison)

adverse to the rights of other citizens…  Works for me.  

Right, now that’s sorted, what is the delivery system?  I know, let’s weaponise the internet.  That’ll work, after all it’s being used as a weapon already.  Not fantasy then…  

I now have my structure for the third Kold Kronicles.  It’ll be about bad guys who comprise a faction that use hate and intolerance against those whom they consider different;  utilising a weaponised internet;  led by a bigot who appears to want a war.  

What to call them?  How about, ‘the Myrmidon.’  (A follower or subordinate of a powerful person, typically one who is unscrupulous or carries out orders unquestioningly.)  Hitler had quite a few of them, as did / do other autocrats. 

Yes, the bad guy’s followers shall be called the Myrmidon.  

How’s that for fiction, eh?  Donchajustloveit?  

Train journeys can be so useful.  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

I’m merely writing fantasy…

I’m merely writing fantasy…

I’m coming to the end of my second book, ‘Kold Kronicles Book Two:  Defiance’ and am in the middle of writing a big battle scene.  As always you need to balance being descriptive with not glorifying violence.  Can be a difficult balance as I know from my own experience and reading comments of other authors.  However, I need to remember, I’m merely writing fantasy…  

The other thing about coming to the end of something that, in this case, has taken almost two years to write is that you begin to feel a sense of loss.  Y’know, guilt, sadness, but most of all, what the hell am I going to write about in the next book?  That’ll be ‘Kold Kronicles Book Three:  Deliverance’ then.  

As you would imagine, research is important in any writer’s work.  For Book 2 I looked at the impact of a laser guided bomb exploading near a human body.  So, what effect would that have?  Answer – it ain’t nice.  What would be the result of gene splicing a Brazilian Banana Spider with a Camel Spider, aka Wind Scorpion?  Answer – somewhat frightening.  How dangerous would a group of gene spliced super beings be, i.e. the Schlachten, as a war-fighting unit?  Answer – you don’t wanna know.  Seriously, you don’t.  They even frighten me.  However, I’m merely writing fantasy…

Let’s then consider the world your characters inhabit.  You can look at the works of various political writers from throughout history for help in devising what you might create, (remember, I’m merely writing fantasy.)  I’ve found Montesquieu’s philosophy that ‘government should be set up so that no man need be afraid of another’ quite interesting.  Look him up, quite a guy.  Obviously good points as well as some that are questionable, but he was a writer of his time, 1689 – 1755.  Context again.  He talks about the distribution of power.  About not linking the three elements of judicial, legislative and executive power because if you do:  There would be an end of everything, were the same man or the same body, whether of the nobles or of the people, to exercise those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and of trying the causes of individuals. (‘Montesquieu:  The Spirit of the Laws, Book XI Chapter 6)

He also defined three types of  government:  republican, monarchical, and despotic. In the first the people is possessed of the supreme power; in a monarchy a single person governs by fixed and established laws; in a despotic government a single person directs everything by his own will and caprice.

So, I’m thinking this could be the basic scenario for the next book.  The Connectome, (the über bad, rich group mentioned in Book 2), are after a world which will bend to their will and allow them to accrue even more wealth.  To succeed requires a puppet head of state.  They make use of what I laughingly call ‘social media’, (I’ve written about that misnomer here); ‘dark money’ and a browbeaten, morally corrupt, bicameral system;  add blackmail and violence and the result is the placement of a head of state who has, by using all of the above, been able to conjoin all three elements of the society concerned into one person’s hand – his.  

This, as Montesquieu wrote:  … would be an end of everything…  Since you’d have a despotic government, where ‘a single person directs everything by his own will and caprice.  Yep, that’s worth thinking about as a framework since, as I’ve already mentioned, I’m merely writing fantasy.  

Let me build on that a tad further.  In the next book I’m considering a scenario where a key character is someone whose business background and personal appetites make him puppet to an enemy power; who uses ‘social media’ to direct foreign and domestic policy utilising dog whistle politics; who alienates foreign countries who have been allies for decades;  responds to opponents with vitriol and spleen;  and who, finally, is unaware of those manipulating his strings.  He thinks he is successful because he knows his base believe he can do no wrong – no matter what he does; whilst others cannot believe that their country is sleepwalking into tyranny.  That is until my ‘good guys’ take him on. 

Hmmm, could work.  Needs some character development and fleshing out a bit though.  

Obviously, this scenario can never happen since I’m merely writing fantasy.   

Phew!  What a relief, eh?

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

And she had such nice shoes too…

And she had such nice shoes too…

So there we were, the love of my life, LOML, in this city of life, laughter and mellowness.  Amsterdam – it was a birthday theng.  My birthday.  The weather was hot and sunny, people wandering around, taking photographs, smiling.  A beautiful and historic city.  Suddenly the sky darkened and it looked as though it was going to rain.  When Amsterdam does rain, it does rain!  Seriously, it rains.  Bouncy type of rain.  You know, the kind where the raindrop hits the ground and it bounces up, in this case about six to nine inches.  As I said, bouncy rain.  

Rather than be soaked, LOML and I decided to go to the same place we’d visited the day before for something light to eat and something to drink.  We sat outside under the awning and watched the show as the heavens opened and the rain did its dance and bounced around on the cobbles.  Fascinating.  People running for cover, others laughing and letting the rain bounce off their upturned face and outspread arms.  Joy.  

At a table near us, a very elegant man and woman.  Him, stylish, quiet, observing the impromptu show in front of us.  Her, hair drawn back, elegant with bright intelligent eyes.  However, it was her shoes that caught my eye.  Glittery, obviously expensive, resembling sports shoes, but sports shoes that you rarely see.  She saw me looking and smiled.  

‘Madame, I was just admiring your shoes…’  I said.

‘Thank you, they’re,’ and she mentioned a luxury brand.  ‘You are here on holiday?’ she asked.

‘I am, it’s my birthday.’  

‘And where are you from?’  

‘Edinburgh, and you?’

‘Washington.’

‘Ah.’  Silence, erm, reigned.  

‘We have lived there for some time having had to leave Iran.’  

‘Ah.’

‘We have loved it there.  The generosity of the people, their welcome, but now…’  She tailed off.

‘Ah.’  (I know, I know, I can be quite articulate sometimes.)

‘He is changing the country, that man.  We have seen this before, creating fear, enemies where previously there were none.’  

‘He is,’ LOML and I said together.    

We were all quiet for a while.  Thinking, pondering.  She sighed, finished her light meal and tonic water and they left nodding their farewells.  

Both were obviously sad.  Sad for a world that was changing in a way that they thought was not for the better.  So was I.  And she had such nice shoes too…  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’