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’ 

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’ 

I’m merely writing fantasy…

I’m merely writing fantasy…

I’m coming to the end of my second book, ‘Kold Kronicles Book Two:  Defiance’ and am in the middle of writing a big battle scene.  As always you need to balance being descriptive with not glorifying violence.  Can be a difficult balance as I know from my own experience and reading comments of other authors.  However, I need to remember, I’m merely writing fantasy…  

The other thing about coming to the end of something that, in this case, has taken almost two years to write is that you begin to feel a sense of loss.  Y’know, guilt, sadness, but most of all, what the hell am I going to write about in the next book?  That’ll be ‘Kold Kronicles Book Three:  Deliverance’ then.  

As you would imagine, research is important in any writer’s work.  For Book 2 I looked at the impact of a laser guided bomb exploading near a human body.  So, what effect would that have?  Answer – it ain’t nice.  What would be the result of gene splicing a Brazilian Banana Spider with a Camel Spider, aka Wind Scorpion?  Answer – somewhat frightening.  How dangerous would a group of gene spliced super beings be, i.e. the Schlachten, as a war-fighting unit?  Answer – you don’t wanna know.  Seriously, you don’t.  They even frighten me.  However, I’m merely writing fantasy…

Let’s then consider the world your characters inhabit.  You can look at the works of various political writers from throughout history for help in devising what you might create, (remember, I’m merely writing fantasy.)  I’ve found Montesquieu’s philosophy that ‘government should be set up so that no man need be afraid of another’ quite interesting.  Look him up, quite a guy.  Obviously good points as well as some that are questionable, but he was a writer of his time, 1689 – 1755.  Context again.  He talks about the distribution of power.  About not linking the three elements of judicial, legislative and executive power because if you do:  There would be an end of everything, were the same man or the same body, whether of the nobles or of the people, to exercise those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and of trying the causes of individuals. (‘Montesquieu:  The Spirit of the Laws, Book XI Chapter 6)

He also defined three types of  government:  republican, monarchical, and despotic. In the first the people is possessed of the supreme power; in a monarchy a single person governs by fixed and established laws; in a despotic government a single person directs everything by his own will and caprice.

So, I’m thinking this could be the basic scenario for the next book.  The Connectome, (the über bad, rich group mentioned in Book 2), are after a world which will bend to their will and allow them to accrue even more wealth.  To succeed requires a puppet head of state.  They make use of what I laughingly call ‘social media’, (I’ve written about that misnomer here); ‘dark money’ and a browbeaten, morally corrupt, bicameral system;  add blackmail and violence and the result is the placement of a head of state who has, by using all of the above, been able to conjoin all three elements of the society concerned into one person’s hand – his.  

This, as Montesquieu wrote:  … would be an end of everything…  Since you’d have a despotic government, where ‘a single person directs everything by his own will and caprice.  Yep, that’s worth thinking about as a framework since, as I’ve already mentioned, I’m merely writing fantasy.  

Let me build on that a tad further.  In the next book I’m considering a scenario where a key character is someone whose business background and personal appetites make him puppet to an enemy power; who uses ‘social media’ to direct foreign and domestic policy utilising dog whistle politics; who alienates foreign countries who have been allies for decades;  responds to opponents with vitriol and spleen;  and who, finally, is unaware of those manipulating his strings.  He thinks he is successful because he knows his base believe he can do no wrong – no matter what he does; whilst others cannot believe that their country is sleepwalking into tyranny.  That is until my ‘good guys’ take him on. 

Hmmm, could work.  Needs some character development and fleshing out a bit though.  

Obviously, this scenario can never happen since I’m merely writing fantasy.   

Phew!  What a relief, eh?

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

‘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

The generosity of the writing fraternity…

The generosity of the writing fraternity…

We’re living in confused times, that’s for sure, and the world is still uncertain as to where we will all be a year from now.  If at all.  Enough has been written about POTUS 45 and his behaviour so I won’t waste my time, or yours, by commenting further since I’ve done enough of that in some previous blogs.  No, what I want to talk about is the power of words and how just one can create different opportunities.  

For example, I’ve just created a group of ‘bad guys’ called the Connektome.  They’ve been developed not only to create a little more tension in Kold Kronicles 2: Defiance, but also to prepare the story arc for Book 3 of the Kold Kronicles trilogy.   It’s based on the word, connectome which I heard when watching a tv programme recently  about psychology and behaviours.  For those of you of an academic / medical frame of mind, connectome is defined in Wikipedia as follows: 

…a comprehensive map of neural connections in the brain, and may be thought of as its ‘wiring diagram’. More broadly, a connectome would include the mapping of all neural connections within an organism’s nervous system.’

In the book, the Connektome are a group of very, and I mean very, rich and well-connected people who can influence the way the world thinks and behaves.  Their current agenda is to put an easily manipulated individual in the White House.  (Isn’t fantasy great?  You can imagine anything.)  Isn’t it also interesting that one simple word can mean so much and potentially have an impact on a story arc? 

The power of words also made me think of how words can be put together to create an emotional response.  A good example of this is the work of the poet, Lexi Lefevre  whom I follow on Twitter.  I delight in her work and the word imagery she creates.  She’s a proud Canadian with an ability to write in raw, emotional terms. Here’s just one example:

Crystalline waves

set off

each

beat.

Tick,

tick,

tick.

My heart

is a

metronome,

keeping up

with the

rhythm of

going

home.

She writes many more, all equally sublime.  Definitely worth following.

There are others I follow but all of them have one thing in common, they are generous in their sharing of the words / worlds they create.  The writing fraternity tends to be generous that way, the good ones anyway.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the rest of world was equally generous?  

J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

Hold on to your humanity, it may be a rough ride…

Hold on to your humanity, it may be a rough ride…

Most writers write because ‘they have to.’  The ‘they have to’ comes from, as in my case, a character yelling at me that I had to tell her story; create a different world that will entertain and, by reflecting issues that exist in our own world, also make people think. Entertaining the reader and making them think, in my view the ideal mix when writing.  Of course we would like to make money from what we do, it’s a form of affirmation that we are good at what we do and that people like what we’ve written.  I’m no different. However, and this is the big thing, most writers write because ‘they have to.’  

For fantasy writers like me, the source for much of the material I use comes from what I see around me. However, if you did write about some of it people would think it too unreal, even in a fantasy world.  So, let me paint a scenario for you.  A sexual braggart, bully and congenital liar wins an election; people are angry and vote to leave an economic union that has benefitted them for decades; those who caused the financial crash in 2008 have yet to be penalised for their criminality;  overt bigotry related to sexual orientation, race, creed… You get the picture, and it’s not a pretty one.

Then, let’s add that some of the world’s most famous people have died in 2016 – you’ll have your own memories here.  So have some less famous but incredibly influential individuals.  For example, look in Wikipedia for Donald Ainslie Henderson.  You’ll see that he died on 19 August 2016 aged 87.  You haven’t heard of him?  Well, he was the director of a ten year international effort between 1967 and 1977 that eradicated smallpox throughout the world and launched international childhood vaccination programmes.  Some man.  Some legacy, eh?

And what do we have for 2017?  Well, let’s hope it’s not the same shite that we’ve had in 2016. 

But I won’t hold my breath. 

I’ll write again in 2017 but until then, hold on to your humanity and decency.  It’s all that we’ll have against some of the forces that are currently riding high in this world of ours.  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

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…’