Of Black Swan events and Revolution

Of Black Swan events and Revolution

Part of my previous life involved working with offshore drilling crews and training them in leadership and communication.  I found this group of people to be some of the most interesting and delightful I’ve ever met. If they didn’t like what you said you’d be left in no doubt as to their response.  I liked that.  I also met some whom I describe as muppets.  They were the ones you wouldn’t trust with a rowing boat on the Serpentine let alone a sixth generation rig working deep-water on a highly deviated well.  They tended to be known about and people worked around their incompetence, minimising their influence in ways that was sometimes subtle and, at other times, well, not.  

One of the concepts to which I introduced them was what I called a Black Swan event.  Developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, it’s a metaphor for something that appears to have come out of nowhere and then, as my former colleagues would say, ‘bites you in the ass.’  I prefer the British term, arse.  Anyway, same thing, same effect, same pain.  It was only when you looked back could you see that ‘it was obvious, really.’  You then have it rationalised by hind-sight.  Anything recently come to mind?

Let me ask you a few questions.  What do you think happens when people feel ignored?  What do you think happens when people feel disenfranchised?  What do you think happens when people see an elite continuing in its own way with no penalty for their previous misbehaviours?  (Bankers come to mind here as well as others responsible for the 2008 financial crash.)  What do you think happens when the party meant to be representing the ‘common man and woman’ is now just a big money-raising machine beholden to those whose money they’re asking for?  (Wall Street and Corporations come to mind.)  What do you think happens when someone offers a way out of this vicious circle, no matter that he’s a millionaire himself and known to be a liar?  I could go on but you get the picture.  The answer is simple – Revolution.  

In the UK we had the revolution of Brexit.  In the US the revolution was the election of Trump.  Currently there’s a sense of triumphalism in both camps.  There’s also the triumphalism of the Far Right in Europe, their expectations are quite high as I write.  Don’t count on it though.  It may now be the time of such beliefs but as the Persian Sufi poets would say, ‘this too shall soon pass.

The same with revolutions.  There’s something that I feel such people should remember, revolutions have a habit of devouring their own children.  History is replete with examples.  In the end, one ends up with more of the same and the saying, ‘Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss’ comes to mind.  When this happens, and it will, the reaction will be anger.

The outcome then won’t be a Black Swan, it’ll be something completely unexpected.

That’s when life has the potential to become a tad dangerous. 

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

Pondering our destiny…

Pondering our destiny…

It’s a quiet day here in Edinburgh, blue sky with some beautiful cirrus meandering its way across the sky presaging a change in the weather in the next twenty four hours.  A bit cooler too.  Seems as though winter is starting to wake up and beckon the next stage of the year as our planet continues its journey around our sun, (one of many, remember, well, billions actually.)

So why the heading for this post? Simple really, it all started with a picture of the earth taken from the moon – yes, that famous one (Earthrise,  photographed by William Anders during the 1968 Apollo 8 mission.)  I was also reminded of our mortality by the news that a very good friend of mine is battling a life-threatening illness.  A decent, caring human being who makes a difference to all those who know him. He’s a former US Marine and brings that ‘can do’ attitude towards fighting this ‘irritation’ as he calls it. He’s blessed with support around him. He has friends who care deeply about him and a family that is as ‘awkward’ as he is regarding any form of illness.  He also has a dreadful sense of humour, (I’m smiling as I write that part.)  His sense of the ridiculous lightens some of those dark moments he has sometimes he tells me.

It’s only when you see pictures like the earth from the moon, (how small we are);  hear of close friends fighting an insidious ‘irritation’, (brings home your own mortality), that one can gain a kind of perspective.  You then think about some of those whose egos and monomania drive them to seek positions of power, be it economic or political.  The blowhards; the liars; the dysfunctional on so many levels; people in positions of authority and power, (not always the same thing), and you think, ‘Why are  you behaving like this?’  ‘Why are you promoting hate in the way that you are?’  ‘Why are you denying our common humanity?’  It’s done for power?  Really?  To repeat myself, really?

In centuries to come people looking back at these dysfunctional individuals might ponder  ‘What on earth were people thinking then?  Why did they fall into the trap of believing all the hate and vitriol that these people spewed into the body politic?’  

There again, if we don’t take control of our own destiny and see such people for who they are, then the next picture of the earth from the moon might well show a wasteland.  

 

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

There are times when a picture does say it all…

There are times when a picture does say it all…

Y’know, as a writer I look around me at the worlds of business, politics and finance and think, ‘I couldn’t make this up.’  

This was reinforced for me when the love of my life and I were at the Edinburgh Book Festival recently and saw James Oswald and Gunnar Staalesen.  These are two authors who seriously know their stuff.  Not only are they incredibly successful, (multiple books published, films, TV, and in one case, a statue in the town in which the main character lives), but they are also delightful, funny and insightful human beings.  In sum, and to put it mildly, they do good stuff.  Obviously I am not envious, (he lied.)  

Anyway, to continue, one thing that particularly struck me was the answer to the question of where did they get their ideas from.  The reply was that it was less of a problem of not knowing what to write, but more what not to write about. 

‘There’s so much around you, all you have to do is look.’  

I understand and agree with this wholeheartedly.  

The reason for this train of thought is a recent picture I came across.  It’s by Norman Rockwell and called ‘The Golden Rule’.  The picture appeared on the cover of the The Saturday Evening Post, 1 April, 1961, and can be seen, along with the article, here:  http://bit.ly/18KaXyg 

I think that what attracted me to the picture is its simple belief, powerfully depicted, in our common humanity. The common humanity he identifies so well remains, although you’d maybe think otherwise if you were fed only on a diet of Fox News, an oxymoron if ever I saw one, or believe the ranting of the blowhards within the political and financial elites.  I look around and see how so many with a vested interest in the status quo try to prevent change. I see hatred being stirred up for political reasons, setting our humanity against each other for the benefit of those creating this dissonance, this wasteful emotion.  I see many decent people being exhorted, goaded, to turn against each other.  They do this not realising the ‘nudge’ they’re being given by the media, the moguls that control it, and the vested interests that support and thus gain by it.  It takes a simple picture, printed over 55 years ago to remind us that our humanity is a constant.  

We forget that at our peril. 

Have a look at the picture, it really does say it all…  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

On the ‘glory’ of War

On the ‘glory’ of War

A short post this.

Today is the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. There are so many more qualified, more knowledgeable writers on this subject than me so I’ll keep it short.  This isn’t going to be a rant about the evils of war, or what those who subscribe to the term, ‘the glory of war’, it’s about remembering those who perished and those who were damaged (physically, mentally).

In their thousands.

On all sides…

And those who ‘survived’.

In their thousands.

On all sides…

The Battle of the Somme was the beginning of the world seeing war on an industrial scale. Killing on an industrial scale. Horrific wounds on an industrial scale. Those who ‘survived’ wore the scars for the rest of their lives.  Some literally.  Some figuratively.  They, along with the dead on all sides, must never be forgotten.  Their heroism must never be forgotten. The horror of war must never be forgotten.

And it should never be repeated…  

Yes, defend ourselves.  Yes, protect our own. But don’t make it appear to be ‘la gloire’.  It isn’t. It’s dirty. It’s frightening.  It’s messy, both politically and physically. Ultimately, it rarely changes things for long. The peace of 1918 and the spirit for revenge, (in many ways understandable), helped create the political environment for the next World War. 

So, to those who talk about ‘taking on the…’ (put your own favourite term here), remember there is a cost. It’s not only financial, it’s not only physical, it’s not only psychological. War is much more than that.

Most of all, remember the cost invariably lasts for decades. 

Peace out.

JJ Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

Not all heroes are human – some are rats…

Not all heroes are human – some are rats…

In my last post I wrote, ‘Let’s give it up for the person in the street.’  We are that person.  We can also be heroes, and many of us are.  Since then, I’ve come to look at the heroes that are all around us.  Just so’s you know, not all heroes are human.

Some of them are rats.  

Hero Rats.  

There’s a Belgian Non Government Organisation, NGO, called APOPO that deploys African giant pouched rats to detect landmines and tuberculosis using the incredible sense of smell these animals have.  The rats are trained and then sent out to Tanzania, Cambodia, Mozambique, Angola, to wherever they’re needed.  

The rats aren’t the only heroes.  

So are the people with whom they work, their ‘handlers’.  

So are the people that train the rats to do this so very worthwhile work.  

So are the people who support this initiative – again, people like you and me.  The people in the street.  

Let us ignore those who rant; who splutter their hatred and bile to gain power or influence.  Let us ignore them and see them for what they are since they are not heroes.  And never will be.  They are the ones who make sure that any sacrifice asked for does not impact them or theirs.  I sometimes wonder if they have any humanity at all.  They are not heroes.  

So again, let’s give it up for the people in the street, for that is us.  Let’s also give it up for those who aren’t even aware that we consider them heroes and just carry on doing their job.  I’m talking, of course, about humans and animals here – obviously.  

JJ Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

Letting go of the tiger’s tail…

Letting go of the tiger’s tail…

My last blog was about how easy it is to create hate.  I still feel the same.  In fact, looking at the media in the intervening period we are now seeing a ratcheting up of emotions in the political arena.  In the US there have been fist fights, fortunately nothing more than that at the moment, (one can only hope this remains the case), but the anger and hatred between people is being increased. Being played upon.  Being used.  In sum, the body politic is becoming venomous.  Unhealthily so. 

Then let’s add the media to the mix. When one has a media that cites ‘in the public interest’ and lambasts those who cannot protect themselves, (the poor and the powerless), and then hides the misdeeds of those with power;  when one has a media that relies on advertising revenue to make money for the oligarchs that own them;  when one has an elite and a political process that only allow those with money, (or the ability to obtain it with promises of future benefit), to aim for power, then you have a powder keg in the making.  And it’s becoming dangerously hot.  

As an observer of human behaviour I have noted this simmering resentment for the last eight years or so.  It became a tad more obvious when the fiscal meltdown occurred in 2008.  It was exacerbated further when those whose greed and irresponsible behaviour caused the crash were able to escape any penalty.  Interestingly, now I’m hearing that we might be on the verge of another fiscal earthquake.  And those who initiated this before?  Well, they’re the ones who remain in power, have retained their uber rich benefits, and the media machine continues to pump out, ‘in the public interest’.  Really?  What interest do / should we have in the ‘meedja’ wannabes whose outrageous behaviour makes them click-bait.  Ah, the marketing arm that’s involved in maximising revenue.  

So, the reason for this blog.  Currently we have a world where those trying to escape being killed are vilified; those whose race, creed or colour differ from the blowhards spouting their hatred are termed an ‘enemy’ and, slowly but surely, one can see that the tiger is beginning to stride towards the centre of our world. 

Finally, when these blowhards achieve power, what are they going to do then?  Will they change their tone?  Will they be able to? Or will they see the tiger padding towards them? 

JJ Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

Varben – an introduction

Varben – an introduction

For those who have not yet read ‘The Kold Kronicles, Book 1: Discovery’, Varben are the life-partnered morphing soul weapon that Sylvern and Shadow use when in combat.

The Varben came about as I began to write some of the fighting scenes. There was a need for a weapon that was somehow different.  They are the Sylvern after all. 

I did some research on pre-modern combat weapons and, as usual, Wikipedia came to my aid. A quick search will provide you with a whole range of weapon types that can be considered when writing one-on-one combat. As I mentioned in a previous post, I find Japanese culture fascinating. Therefore, Alegria’s preference for Zastra morphing into a katana was a given.

As a matter of interest, Nux and his Varben, Yasuo, prefer a two-handed long sword with a large pommel, whilst Bracken and her Varben, Beth, prefer the Roman gladius. In Bracken’s case, it’s a weight thing. And an efficient way of killing thing. And it’s a pointy thing too…

As to how this partnership is created, well, Sylvern meld with Varben at The Choosing Place during their training to become Kombat Troopers. There again, sometimes they don’t. If this doesn’t happen, then that’s it. They are unable to continue their training as a potential Kombat Trooper. Varben cannot be directed as to with whom they will meld, they just know it. As do the Sylvern. The relationship between Sylvern and Varben is totally transparent with no hiding who you are.  Acceptance of all the strengths and challenges in each other’s character is a given. Each will die to protect the other. That is another given. 

In Alegria’s case, she melded with Zastra, (a Sanskrit word – look it up). Both mask their love by teasing the other. Honours tend to be even on that score. 

Then there’s Nux and Yasuo. She is gentle and wise and the relationship they have is less challenging. There again, with Nux not really being the Sylvern who many think he is, they have had the time to develop their relationship.  

Varben are a delight to write about and I feel they add some ‘colour’ to the world of The Korum.

JJ Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

The Kold Kronicles – weaponry

The Kold Kronicles – weaponry

Readers of The Kold Kronicles, Book 1: Discovery, will have noted that Sylvern and Shadow tend to prefer bladed weapons when they fight.  Varben can morph into projectile weapons of any kind as well as the variety of bladed weapons preferred by many of the main characters.  It’s also obvious that I have a fair amount of time for the katana. I have an interest in all things Japanese and this sword is not only deadly, but it has a beauty that is difficult to define.  How can something so deadly look so exquisite?  The classic fusion of art, design, functionality – and death.  

There are also a variety of Roman weapons, for example, Bracken’s gladius. A weapon designed to do but one thing, kill.  As to the choice of the weapon for the characters, each ‘suited’ what I thought the character, and their Varben, would prefer.  It’s what they ‘told’ me they would choose and who am I to argue with a battle-hardened Sylvern and their Varben?  

I’ll be writing about the Varben and their genesis next week.  They’re interesting characters to put together. I’m smiling as I write this as I have Alegria’s Varben, Zastra, in mind.  Superficially cynical but very proud of his Sylvern although he hides this well.  His delight is when he reels Alegria in.  

JJ Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

The Kold Kronicles – its genesis

The Kold Kronicles – its genesis

It’s interesting reading why some authors write what they do or even why they feel the need to write.  Some have something to say; others want to make a difference; and quite a few mention that the book demanded to be written.  Invariably, it’s a mix.  

I have to admit that the main reason for writing The Kold Kronicles was that Alegria, the main character, demanded to be ‘heard’.  As the book evolved, other characters, Nux, Bracken and so on, also began to develop a strong voice demanding that I also write about them.  So I did.  

My second reason for writing The Kold Kronicles is that I had something to say.  I wanted to take away the ‘glamour’ that can sometimes be associated with violence.  You’ll have seen the kind of thing I’m talking about. The main character, male or female, takes on seven or eight armed killers and within forty seconds has despatched all of them.  Usually quite graphically.  The sound of broken bones is heard and much gore is seen. The victor looks at all the vanquished bodies, usually corpses, shrugs and makes a pun / joke and walks out, unharmed, unbruised, and breathing quite normally.  There’s no smell of bodily fluids or matter, no screaming of the wounded, no bruised knuckles on the victor, nothing.  It’s clinical, it’s video gaming.  What I find disturbing is that many who see this kind of ‘entertainment’, (and I have no issues with it, it’s just not my preferred choice,) confuse it with the reality of fighting.  They think that if they become involved in something similar they’ll be able to do the same.  Unfortunately, reality kicks in, sometimes literally, and they end up in pain, in hospital and, sometimes, in prison.  

The Kold Kronicles can be quite violent and I have deliberately made it so.  I have also made clear the cost of any combat in which our protagonists are involved.  It’s the reason why the Sylvern have Healers and Talkers available immediately a War Band returns from any operation where combat is experienced.  

To repeat, any form of violence, be it verbal or physical, has a cost on all involved.  We only have to look at the recent events in Paris to see this is so.  Survivors will need time to recover not only physically, but also emotionally and mentally.  Those close to them require, and deserve, the same level of support and understanding.  

So, I wrote The Kold Kronicles because the characters ‘shouted’ at me to write about them.  It’s an adventure story, it’s about love, there’s meant to be some humour and it’s also a tad violent.  However, we forget the implications of violence at our peril.  That’s also what I wanted to write about.  Both were the genesis of The Kold Kronicles.  

JJ Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’