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’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad manners, loss of politeness.  

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

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

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

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

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

Hitler fought for his country.  

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’ 

 

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’ 

‘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’