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 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’

On War? Reset

On War?  Reset

Interesting thing, war.  Many things written in the past by students of war still resonate.  For example, Carl von Clausewitz, 1780 – 1831.  He wrote ‘On War’ (‘Vom Kriege’).  A couple of useful quotes, ‘Many intelligence reports in war are contradictory; even more are false, and most are uncertain… In short, most intelligence is false.

Fair enough. Doesn’t mean that you don’t take it into account, it means that you treat it with caution.  Like all intelligence.  You also don’t want to try and pressure those providing it to say what you want it to say. That’s called lying.  Remember the Weapons of Mass Destruction, WMD, that existed in Iraq?  That was based on politically driven ‘edited’ intelligence and we all know how that turned out.

Here’s another, ‘Politics is the womb in which war develops.’  Appropriate for the time and I would argue, still relevant.  Politics back then were, in many cases, driven by personal aggrandisement, arrogance, aggression, and a sense of entitlement.  Okay, yes you’re right, it’s also relevant today.  You’ll have your own ideas as to whom this applies. 

Some politicians see value in war.  Seriously, they do.  A war can be used to bring a population together in a ‘righteous war’ when you’re slumping in the polls or there’s civil unrest caused by your policies.  Initially, the country is united as the (non-fighting) politicians send men and women away to fight.  Then come the casualties.  The broken.  The coffins.  The push-back.  This because the plan is going pear shaped.  Why? Well, let’s go back in history to a student of Clausewitz, Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, Chief of Staff of the Prussian Army before World War One.  He wrote, ‘No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength.’  Commonly summarised as, ‘No plan survives contact with the enemy.’  Yep.

Why am I writing about this?  Why do I feel it relevant?  Well, put quite simply, we have a world that is stuttering.  Health, trade, international relationships, finance, national security, in fact, the ‘whole jing-bang’ as folk from the North East of Scotland might say.  It’s stuttering; people and communities are uncertain;  misinformed and malicious information is being spread;  people are losing their jobs and are fearful of the future.  It’s stuttering.  It’s concerning.

When one adds those using Covid-19 to increase their political authority, that concern increases. Think Hungary, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, China, Philippines, and, oh, yes, North America. There are many that might come to mind, some more overt than others.

However, weaponising Covid-19 for political ends is a dangerous strategy, really dangerous.  This virus is an enemy that has no ego, no plan, it exists just to infect.  That’s it.  Weaponise Covid-19 and your planning won’t last beyond first contact with the enemy, be it the virus, or the country you have suddenly decided is the cause of your country’s financial and social tensions and have attacked either militarily or economically.

The investment of billions in arms over the decades also needs to be reset.  War has moved on, it’s more asymmetric although killing a fellow human being has become even more industrialised and effective.  What value an aircraft carrier, or a multi-billion dollar jet when your enemy won’t come at you head on?  What value highly trained men and women when they succumb to a virus?  Weapons don’t and cannot fight pandemics.  Definitely a reset.

‘Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.’  (General Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953)

He knew about war.

So, back to where I started. On War? Reset. 

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’

 

Reset

Reset

Well, here we are, so many weeks into a lockdown due to Covid-19. We’re reliant on NHS workers, all of them. The cleaners, the admin staff and those tending the sick. We’re also reliant on the folk who work in supermarkets, delivery drivers, the council employees who mend the roads, collect the waste from our homes, the unsung heroes, all of them doing a job that if they stopped, well, it wouldn’t be pleasant would it?

So, let’s reset what we say and think about what’s been considered ‘normal’ for the last twenty years or so. Let’s think again. Key word that – think. As is reset…

Let’s reset some of the bovine comments we’ve heard in the past about ‘people coming over here, taking our jobs.’ ‘Taking our jobs?’ Really?

Do those making these comments mean the people ‘taking our jobs’ who are working in the NHS? So far the death toll of NHS workers is in excess of 60. Looking at their names and backgrounds, it’s clear a significant number didn’t originate in the UK. Coming over here, ‘taking our jobs’ and then letting themselves die trying to save their patients. So inconsiderate.

Let’s also ignore the 60,000+ non-UK born NHS personnel who come from within the EU and elsewhere. You know, that organisation that’s full of heroes, yes that one. The workers who would have had to leave the UK soon had Covid-19 not happened.

Reset? Definitely.

Let’s reset society’s attitude towards what is known as the ‘unskilled’. Y’know, those ‘unskilled’, traditionally poorly paid and generally ignored people who work in the care sector. The ‘unskilled’ staff of one care home who have moved into camper vans so they can continue to look after their charges. Volunteering to do this although it means they will not see their families for weeks, if not months.

Reset? Yep.

What else do we need to reset.  There’s so much…

Our attitude to work – reset. 

Travel – reset.

Communication of all kinds – reset.

Politics – reset.

You’ll have your own – reset.

We must keep in mind that to reset we need to analyse and review. This will take time and must not be rushed. However, returning to what existed before, returning to what was once considered ‘normal’ is not, and should not, be acceptable. It was this version of ‘normal’ that caused the problem in the first place.

Reset? Hell, yes. End of. 

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’

 

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’