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’ 

Let’s give it up for chaos!!!

Let’s give it up for chaos!!!

Let’s admit it, we are living in ‘interesting’ times, aka chaos. 

We have just had 45 come over to the UK for a state visit hosted by the Windsors and the outgoing Prime Minister, (she left the role of Leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party on Friday, 7 June the day after D-Day – somewhat poetic);  we have the Brexit party winning seats for the European Parliament, (that’s going to be interesting especially as the EU follows up on its investigations into that organisation’s finances); and we have a known liar and hypocrite as, potentially, the next leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party and thus Prime Minister.  This man, aka ’let’s put the £350 million a week that we pay into the EU,’ (we never did), ‘back into the NHS.’  (He won’t).  Like the leader of the Brexit Party, this ignorant buffoon continues to lie and obfuscate.  So, chaos then.  

Then let’s add 45’s comment about the NHS being ‘on the table’ for any deal that we try to make with the US.  Commercial healthcare has worked out well in America hasn’t it?  Interestingly, having been informed about the stupidity of this observation, 45 rowed back.  Of course we believe him when he says, (tweets) ‘big Trade Deal is possible once U.K. gets rid of the shackles.  Already starting to talk!’  To repeat, of course we believe him.  When has he ever told a fib?  Okay, okay, apart from the 10,000 plus that the Washington Post identified in the first two years of this ‘Presidency’.  

By the way, here’s a quick side-bar regarding trade deals with the US.  Food hygiene.  Chlorinated chicken anyone? A few facts for those who may not yet know:  12 hours maximum transportation time for live birds in the UK.  In the US – 28 hours;  Food poisoning – 1.5% chance in the UK.  In the US – 11.4%.   That’s why the American food industry washes the chicken carcass in chlorine dioxide.  Ho hum.  I won’t mention GM crops – banned in the UK, allowed in the US.  

Of course, the UK will be able to negotiate from a position of strength, won’t it?  Especially so due to our ‘special relationship’ (coined, by the way, by Winston Churchill in 1946.)  We shall ignore the fact that Barack Obama considered Germany to be his ‘closest international partner’;  Suez? Ahem.  Er, Lyndon Johnson trying to involve the UK in the Vietnam War;  the US invasion of Grenada;  Reagan’s pressure on Thatcher not to react to Argentina’s invasion of the Falkland Islands.  Definitely, a ‘special relationship.’    

Think of it, 45 and Johnson…  

So, to repeat, chaos then.  

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’ 

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’ 

Power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot, Facebook and Twitter…

Power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot, Facebook and Twitter…

Social media, eh?  An oxymoron if ever there was one.  Social:  from Old French, or from Latin, ‘socialis’ allied; from ‘socius’ friend.  Media, ‘the main means of mass communication…’   Well, they got one right.  With the current state of things, the hatred both have helped create, perhaps they should be renamed.  How about, Trolls-r-us?  

Troll:  1. To fish for by trolling.  2 a: to antagonise (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content.  3 b: to act as a troll. (Merriam-Webster.com, 2017)

Seems apposite.

Both, Twitter more than Facebook, enable anonymity that many hide behind.  These, ‘the anonymous’, are able to rage against an individual, a race, a religion, sexual orientation, or whatever their hot button is, without any penalty.  Anonymity allows them to threaten others with being attacked, raped, killed, have acid thrown in their face.  Without penalty.  Let me repeat that, without penalty.  Free-speech anyone?    

To avoid criticism, both organisations define themselves as platforms rather than publishers because, well, publishers have a responsibility for what is written on their pages / sites.  Not Facebook, or Twitter, though, no, no, no.  ‘We’re a platform so don’t have the responsibility for what people write.’ Well, dear reader, that’s bollocks.  

Both enable people to demean the language of debate and social intercourse; both allow many to conflate disagreement with being an enemy, not an opponent, (I’ve already written about this);  both allow people to rage and say the most outrageous things, most of it without proof, and have their cant believed by those whose views replicate their own.  Then let’s add that both can be used to target specific groups with disinformation.  All this without responsibility.  Thank you, Twitter.  Thank you, Facebook.  Thank you, Cambridge Analytica.  

Both epitomise the modern day ‘prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages, power without responsibility.’  And we allow these two publishers to get away with it.  And we allow these two publishers to make money from what we view and from the dysfunction they have helped create.  The word obscene comes to mind.  As does immoral.  As does unforgivable.   As does harlot.  And it impacts all, and I mean all, areas of our world.  Even sport.  

Rita Panahi, an Australian journalist and social commentator, in an article in the Herald Sun, February 7, 2013, headed ’Soccer trolls abuse proves how right I was’.  

Online anonymity gives users a power without responsibility. They tweet what they would never dare say to your face and in forums inhabited by like-minded, asinine souls they egg each other on. The lack of accountability results in misogyny, racial abuse, threats of violence and insane rants posted without fear of repercussions.’ 

This is about football for God’s sake!  She continues:

The philosopher Plato argued that without accountability for our actions, we would all behave unjustly. One wonders what he would make of a modern world in which the internet affords users almost complete anonymity.’

Yep, that about nails it.  Definitely power without responsibility.  

So, it’s up to us to decide whether we wish to continue contributing to the coffers of these two organisations.  These two powerful, irresponsible, publishers.  Your choice… 

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

In a world of chaos, ‘normal’ won’t fix it

In a world of chaos, ‘normal’ won’t fix it

As an inkster who writes about things various and whose book uses fantasy as a vehicle to sometimes show what’s happening in the world today, I continue to be fascinated by what’s occurring in the world of politics, both here in the UK and Europe but also, obviously, in the United States. Many moons ago, I was heavily involved in organisational change.  This included supporting those impacted by the changes that were being initiated.  Some welcomed change, others had genuine concerns, whilst a small number were hostile to the extent of being deliberately obstructive.  The reason for this was they felt that change impacted their ‘version’ of reality, values, self esteem, authority, and so on. 

Change invariably involves chaos, especially at the beginning of any change programme, hence my interest in chaos theory.  Do a quick search on the web and you’ll come across a number of definitions. 

For example:  The main idea of chaos theory is that a minor difference at the start of a process can make a major change in it as time progresses.’

Here’s another: Chaos theory is a mathematical theory that can be used to explain complex systems such as weather, astronomy, politics, and economics. Although many complex systems appear to behave in a random manner, chaos theory shows that, in reality, there is an underlying order that is difficult to see.’

‘Politics and economics…’  Hmmm.  This appeals. 

Read more

‘Enough now, enough now.’

‘Enough now, enough now.’

Social media, eh?  The main platforms, as everyone well knows, are Facebook and Twitter.  Both have their benefits but increasingly, they have been having, and have been creating, problems.  Problems social, problems financial, problems of integrity, problems of transparency.  In sum, problems.  Big bastards as well.    

Let’s start with Twitter.  During the 2016 election, a number of female political candidates were threatened with rape, murder, being slashed, you name it, they were threatened with it.  Troll farms set up false accounts that created even more mayhem.  One only has to add that obscene waste of oxygen currently in the White House, and the anger and chaos he loves to create into the mix to see that the initial idea of Twitter to create open communications has become dysfunctional.  Read more