Of ‘some spoiled, bored god’

Of ‘some spoiled, bored god’

As my millions of readers will be aware, okay, all three of you, I am not only interested in writing adventure fantasy with a strong realistic political element but also playing the guitar.

One of my favourite artists, and I use the word properly here, is a man called Jon Gomm. To see the sublime skill of this man have a look here, ‘Passionflower’. Placed on YouTube in September 2011, it has over 17.5 million views as at October 2020. I go back to it every so often just to listen to the music, the words and I continue marvel at the man’s passion, artistry and skill.

So why am I mentioning Jon Gomm? Well, as at 15 October, 2020, he has a new album out, ‘The Faintest Idea’, one of the tracks is called ‘Dream Factories’. The quote below resonated on a number of levels which, once you’ve read it, you’ll understand.

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About Dream Factories: Gigs are my safe place. To be in a room with someone giving their most direct expression of their secret selves. Sharing that with an audience in blissful, reverent communion, whether of peace or chaos. It’s sacred.

Pop Idol. The X Factor. [Your Country]’s Got Talent. The Voice. I hate them. They take my place of safety and love and reduce it to a place of fear and judgement. They take a kid who loves to sing. Tell them – You’ve got 60 seconds to make your dreams come true. Fail and it’s back to irrelevance. So they sing, eyes wide with terror and hope. And a celebrity hands down their judgement, like some spoiled, bored god.

It’s the perfect example of how everything is commodified: Not just music, but us and our lives, our dreams – it’s all taken, remade and sold back to us. Whether or not you enjoy this pop song, appreciate the fact that nobody told you to.

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Now, let us just define a couple of words.

Commodify (in British English), to treat something inappropriately as if it can be acquired or marketed like other commodities.

Democracy is a system of government in which people choose their rulers by voting for them in elections.

Let’s consider what is happening to democracy, to our politics. Let’s consider the commodification of politics, the lies, the showmanship of these spoiled, bored gods, masquerading as strong leaders. Instant media, (lower your heads in shame, Twitter and Facebook,) are undermining democracy by commodifying it. They are enabling populists to create ‘a place of fear and judgement’. In fact, a world of fear and judgement.

Democracy should not be treated in this way. Our hopes and dreams should not be treated in this way. One day, people will realise they have been lied to, commodified. Once this happens reconstruction of democracy needs to take place, repaired, made relevant. No matter the cost, repaired and made relevant it must be. First on the list is a proper voting system.

Not First Past The Post as we have in the UK, (December 2019 Election: 43.6% of the vote – 80 seat majority.)

Not the Electoral College as they have in the US. (Three million more votes won by the ‘loser’ in 2016 than the ‘winner’ of the Electoral College.)

Making democracy real means making everyone’s vote real. That these systems need a reboot is without doubt if democracy is to mean anything. It cannot and must not be commodified. Ever.

No one left behind ‘ 

J J Mitchell.

Macavity, the mystery cat

Macavity, the mystery cat

A short post this.

One of the first pieces of advice that I took to heart when I began writing fantasy was to read. Read different genres. Read and, well, just read everything that caught your fancy. Great advice.

Well, I’ve been writing fantasy for a few years now. Using the Kold Kronicles to comment on the world of politics, elites, their financial and ethical shenanigans and so on. Recently I came across Macavity, the mystery cat. Made me smile and think of the world today.

It’s a great poem and worth reading. It chimes because it can be read to children – I can imagine them enthralled if you read it the right way, i.e. full of drama, shifty eyes and long pauses, you get the picture.

For the adults in the room, you can draw your own parallels with our world today. The first four lines of the last verse may particularly resonate: 

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
At whatever time the deed took place—MACAVITY WASN’T THERE !

Remind you of anyone? Or two?

‘ No one left behind’

J J Mitchell

Prescience

Prescience

As a writer of fantasy, I consider prescience an interesting word – ‘the fact of knowing something in advance; foreknowledge.’  I’ve met people who are prescient.  I’ve read prescient articles on what the future may hold which has come to pass.

One of the most prescient I’ve watched recently is on Youtube: shorturl.at/jHLM1  All of it is well worth watching, especially about 15 minutes in for roughly seven minutes or so.

It’s the 125th Stanford Commencement address to the graduating class on 12 June, 2016 by Ken Burn, the documentary film maker.  This was around the time when the current tenant in the White House was about to become the Republican nominee.  By the way, Burn doesn’t mention the individual’s name once.  After talking about the role of government and those who aspire to office, he says:

… asking this man to assume the highest office in the land would be like asking a newly minted car driver to fly a 747.

With his knowledge of history, Burn has seen this type of figure arise many times and in many places throughout history. He warned that the reality TV star presents:

… an incipient proto-fascism, a nativist anti-immigrant Know Nothingism, a disrespect for the judiciary, the prospect of women losing authority over their own bodies, African-Americans again asked to go to the back of the line, voter suppression gleefully promoted, jingoistic sabre-rattling, a total lack of historical awareness, a political paranoia that, predictably, points fingers, always making the other wrong.  These are all virulent strains that have at times infected us in the past.  But they now loom in front of us again – all happening at once.  We know from our history books that these are the diseases of ancient and now fallen empires.  The sense of commonwealth, of shared sacrifice, of trust, so much a part of American life, is eroding fast, spurred along and amplified by an amoral Internet that permits a lie to circle the globe three times before the truth can get started.

Ken Burn warned the students what was going to happen, many applauded.  Others sat there glum of face, some glowering, disbelieving.  I wonder how they feel now? How do you feel now?

Interesting word, prescience, isn’t it?

Especially when it becomes a reality. 

No one left behind

J J Mitchell

A riot is the language of the unheard

A riot is the language of the unheard

There’s a saying, (it’s also a curse), ‘May you live in interesting times’.  Hmm, well, we’re certainly experiencing that at the moment aren’t we?  So much going on, so much frustration with the status quo; so much frustration with inequality of opportunity be it health, education, whatever.  People feel the system is unfair and their concerns ignored, in sum, they are the unheard. 

According to the Pew Research Centre, the income inequality gap in the US has never been wider – the bottom 50% of Americans have just 1% of the nation’s wealth, the top 10% has 70%. 

None of this is new, however, it’s just that it has recently become more obvious.  But there again, you knew that didn’t you? 

In 1967, Martin Luther King, MLK, gave a speech at Stanford, entitled, ‘The Other America’.  You can read it here: https://bit.ly/38q0d8F  (The page also provides a link to YouTube.)  Keep in mind this was in 1967, over half a century ago. Think about that for a moment, over half a century ago…  

Like all great speeches, it is still powerful; it still resonates;  it still applies.  It’s a long speech but worth the time.  MLK ranges far and wide, talking about lack of opportunity in America, especially if your skin is black.  It is the speech in which he says, ‘A riot is the language of the unheard.’ 

In the same speech, MLK also said, ‘Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.’  Yep, that works for me as well.  Remember, half a century ago… 

In the US we have the current resident of the WH pouring petrol on an already volatile situation.  No leadership or listening to the unheard there, or in Brazil, or Hungary or Poland.  In Russia, Putin is now in power until 2036 after a somewhat, to put it mildly, questionable referendum.  In Hong Kong, China has imposed a ‘security’ lockdown on political disagreement breaking the treaty it had with the UK in the process. 

All of the above have one thing in common, the creation of the unheard.  All are creating groups who may feel they need to go ‘underground’ to survive.  All are storing up a pressure that will, one day, make itself heard again.  It will appear to have come out of nowhere, but it will happen.  They will be heard. 

Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another fifty years, eh?

J J Mitchell
No one left behind

A sea of humanity with just one message

A sea of humanity with just one message

Interesting times, interesting times.

Some time ago a guy called Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote about what he called black swan events.  Putting it into my own language, it’s about an event that appears to come out of nowhere and bites you on the arse.  Okay, okay, he didn’t put it quite like that, he was far more elegant, but you get the picture.  Post event, those impacted by the black swan rationalise why it was bound to happen and invariably say  ‘we should have seen that coming.’  Black swans invariably lead to tipping points when things take a completely different direction to what existed before.

I’ve used the ‘black swan’ term myself in the past when working with those involved in an offshore incident. In the main, folk sensed something wasn’t quite right but due to operational imperatives, lack of time or resources didn’t do anything about it and carried on.  Then the black swan swooped down and landed, (apparently out of nowhere), and all hell was let loose – and their arse was bitten.  A tipping point was created.

Here are some figures for you: in the UK young black men are nine times more likely to be jailed than young white men;  three times more likely to be tasered;  six to nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by police.  Oh, and whilst black people account for just three percent of the UK population, they make up 12% of the prison population. 

In the US, African Americans have it even worse, the most recent killing being a case in point – George Floyd, killed on 25 May by Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin.  That the current occupant of the White House has added fuel to the fire is no surprise.  This is the man described by former Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow on BBC Any Questions recently, as ‘The most rancid, racist and repellant occupant of the White House in my lifetime.’  Couldn’t have put it better myself.

As for police killing black men in the US. Just put that into a web search, the numbers may not surprise you.

Now, Floyd’s killing by Chauvin was videoed. It went viral. The oxygen thief in the WH must have thought it would soon blow over.  Many others in his circle would have felt the same.  And this is where the black swan element comes in – it didn’t blow over.  The black swan landed.  A tipping point.  In landing, the black swan uncorked a rage, a fury that was intense in its feeling of justice denied. 

I’m reminded of a quote from former slave Frederik Douglass, (1817 – 1895): ‘Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organised conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass’ published in 1845 is well worth reading.  It still resonates as do many of his quotes. Look up, ‘What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?’  The rest of the quote is searing, to put it mildly. And justified. And relevant – to those disenfranchised by society due to the colour of their skin; their belief system; sexual orientation; race; poverty; education, and so on and so on…

This particular black swan has been circling for decades.  There have been times when it appears to have landed due to the killing of a black man by the police, but it merely continued to circle.  So when Officer Chauvin killed George Floyd, perhaps those who are equally rancid, racist and repellant thought nothing would come of it.  How wrong they were.  It landed.  One can only hope that a tipping point has been created that will unleash the change that is so necessary.

The heading of this blog says it all, there is a sea of humanity with just one message – enough now, enough now. For those who believe this will blow over, I will merely quote a verse of Maya Angelou’s ’Still I rise’.

You may shoot me with your words,


You may cut me with your eyes,


You may kill me with your hatefulness,


But still, like air,

I’ll rise.’

J J Mitchell
No one left behind

Interesting thing aggression…

Interesting thing aggression…

Interesting thing aggression.  In fiction, the hero, invariably a male, takes out the ‘bad guys’, five or six at a time in about five minutes or less.  That his cardio vascular fitness lasts that long is always a wonder to me.  Try swinging a broad sword for longer than three minutes in a simulated battle and you’ll see what I mean. Knackered.  Take on five people at a time rather than running away and, unless it’s a film, they’ll attack you all at once and you’ll go down.  Then the kicking begins.

During Boudica’s war against the Romans, like a number of British tribes, the Iceni had small, two man chariots comprising the driver and a warrior.  Pre-dating cavalry, the chariots would race up to the enemy and javelins, along with other pointy things, would be thrown.  The aim was to break the ranks and create mayhem and confusion.  They would wheel around and drive away, or, the warrior might jump down and engage in violence and general unpleasantness.  This might last about three minutes or so, maybe slightly longer, and then the driver would race back.  The warrior would leap on board and away they would go.  This would allow the warrior time to recover because doing violence at that level is knackering.  Then they’d go back and do the same thing again.  Alternatively, if the driver saw his warrior in trouble he would come back earlier.  It was all about controlled aggression.

More recently, some of the people I know who have been trained in controlled aggression, prefer to fight from a distance, using long barrelled weapons and so on.  Oh, and in greater numbers than the enemy.  ‘It’s safer, and means we can run away if it turns naughty,’ was one comment.  They knew about controlled aggression and used it effectively.  They are also some of the most peace loving people I know.  They know the cost of violence.

I also find it interesting that the most aggressive people tend to be those who hide behind the anonymity of Facebook or Twitter.  So very brave, so very aggressive.  However, they’re bullies, and like most bullies, if one was able to confront them in person, their anonymity lost, they would deflate.

Then there are the political bullies.  They are the ones who confuse aggression with being assertive, with being leaders.  They use their position to bully those who have the temerity to question them.  I don’t need to say who they are, you’ll have your own ideas.

The problem with aggression is that in our current situation regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, the virus doesn’t give a hoot, (polite version).  It has no ego to be intimidated, it has one simple aim – infection with the bonus of killing people if it can.

Controlled aggression requires never giving the virus the chance to spread; to bring people along with you; to make sure that those who break the rules are brought to justice and made to pay for their selfish transgressions.  New Zealand is a great example of controlled aggression.  From the off, they went in hard.

The problem is that the bloviate leadership we are seeing currently, populists all, can only peddle aggression.  Uncontrolled and bullying aggression.  And that’s why they’ll fail. 

But at what cost?  That’s what we should be asking ourselves.  How many have died unnecessarily?  Let us not confuse aggression with leadership.  Let us not confuse aggression with effectiveness.  Let us simply make those using aggression accountable for the damage they have done and will continue to do until they are replaced.

Interesting thing aggression, it can end up killing you.  But never them… 

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’

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’

It’s good to read…

It’s good to read…

So interesting, so interesting.  If you’re a writer, one of the pieces of advice that seems to be given by experienced writers is that you need to read.  Read everything that interests you.  Read material that may not appear to be relevant to your own writing.  Just read, it’s never wasted.  

I agree with that.  

Currently  I’m reading a book called ‘Shredded:  Inside RBS, The Bank That Broke Britain.’  It’s a fairly hefty tome but what comes through is how one individual, enabled by those whose focus was only on profit to the detriment, eventually, of customers, can take down a company and all but melt down the UK’s financial system.  

George Mathewson was the CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland, RBS, from 1992 to 2000 and is credited with turning around the bank and making it a major financial player. He became chairman in May 2001 following the retirement of George Younger.   Mathewson was also responsible for hiring Fred Goodwin, a micro-manager and control freak.  Goodwin, also known as ‘Fred the Shred’, hence the title of the book, comes over as a thin skinned and vindictive individual who made short shrift of those who questioned him.  He was rude and he was a bully.  His senior management morning meetings or ‘morning beatings’ as they were known were dreaded.  He would pick on one individual and then berate that morning’s ‘victim’.  There was also a culture of fear throughout the organisation made worse by what was known as the ‘rank and yank’ reward system the bank introduced.  The ‘Vitality Curve’ to give it its proper name, was pioneered by Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric.  It was a brutal and counter productive system that ranked people as an A (20%), B (70%), or C (10%).  Look it up, not pleasant.  

Mathewson must also take responsibility as must the Board of Directors who appear to have known about Goodwin’s bullying and did nothing.  No, let’s not call it bullying, let’s call it what it really was, psychopathic behaviour.  Everything was fine as long as profits were made.  

Goodwin’s behaviour reminded me of some senior management I met when I used to analyse and evaluate organisations in a previous life.    It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect.  In short, it’s where people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is.  

Goodwin was / is an obviously bright man, but something must have been missing in his ‘make-up’ that caused him to be such a hated individual and yet ignore it.   Maybe he had people around him who wouldn’t tell him the truth, they knew that if they did, they would lose their job.  The result is that, in the short term, you can appear to be a trail blazer.  In the long term you end up overrating your ability since no-one will tell you differently.  The consequence is that you lead your company into a situation where it will fail spectacularly.  

Or a country.  

Finally, a quote from last week which made me smile:  I earned my spurs on the battlefield; Donald Trump earned his spurs from the doctor.’   (Former General and Defense Secretary James Mattis.)

Ba-boom!  

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’