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’

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’ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

Mixed feelings

Mixed feelings

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

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

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

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

Then the person dies.  

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

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

So very human.  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

Train journeys can be so useful

Train journeys can be so useful

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

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

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

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

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

(Letter 83) Persian Letters, (Montesquieu)  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How’s that for fiction, eh?  Donchajustloveit?  

Train journeys can be so useful.  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

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’ 

‘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

Turbulent times all round…

Turbulent times all round…

Well, I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise. Confusion and mendacity continue on both sides of the pond. In the case of the current President of the United States, he’s doubling-down via his early morning tweets. Over here in the UK, we continue to experience the confusion caused by the Brexit vote. The lie regarding the £350 million a week that would be added to the National Health Service should we vote to leave the European Union is now history. Those who promoted this calumny, this lie, attempt to ignore it and, to be honest, they’re being allowed to by the media that gave them resonance in the first place.  

Then add to the mix the undemocratic voting systems that enabled this chaos – First Past The Post, FPTP, in the UK and in the US, the Electoral College. The result is that in the former you have a Government with a majority in Parliament voted into power by a minority of the population, thus not fully representative. In the latter, the outcome is a President who lost the popular vote by almost three million votes and yet still became President, thus, again, not fully representative. Think about that, both systems created for historical reasons that no longer apply, and yet are still extant. That we need to change this is beyond doubt. That the vested interests do not want to is also beyond doubt. The result of this continuation of an undemocratic process?  Well, turbulence for sure.  And definitely anger.

In spite of the increasing questioning of the mental state of the current POTUS, aka 45, he still retains large pockets of support in the US. The same for Brexit in the UK, in spite of economic, social and cultural concerns becoming more clear.  Retained support in both cases, I would imagine, in no small part due to the privately owned media that has a vested interest in ensuring the millionaire owners and their coterie of sycophants remain in power and retain their wealth.  (Anyone have a story about a banker being made legally and financially responsible for the 2008 meltdown and being put in prison? Or a media organisation CEO charged with promoting hatred? No?  I didn’t think so.)  

With all this happening I feel we are coming to a tipping point. I have written before about what happens when people continue to feel ignored, mocked, taken for granted and so on – revolution of one kind or another. That I have trust in my fellow human beings makes me believe that things will improve – eventually.  

However, between now and then, it’s turbulent times all round…

J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’