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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad manners, loss of politeness.  

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

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

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

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

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

Hitler fought for his country.  

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’

Let’s give it up for 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’ 

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’ 

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’ 

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’ 

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…’