For your tomorrow…

For your tomorrow…

The British Fourteenth Army played a significant part in defeating Japan, and on Saturday, 15 August 2020, the world commemorated the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, aka, Victory over Japan day when on that date Imperial Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers. The surrender was formally signed on 2 September, 1945.

Commanded by Lieutenant-General Slim, the British Fourteenth Army were a mixed bunch comprising British and Indian Army as well as West and East African troops in addition to Karen hill tribes. It was also known as ‘The Forgotten Army’, due to the world’s focus on the European as well as the Pacific theatres of war rather than the Burma Campaign.

A particularly vicious battle was that at Kohima, the capital of Nagaland in northeast India. This raged from 5 April to 22 June, 1944. Fighting was savage with no quarter given or taken, many times hand-to-hand. The weather and the land, especially during the monsoon, were unforgiving.

Did I say they were a mixed bunch? Y’know, white skinned, dark skinned…

Fighting alongside each other.

For each other.

The monument to the dead of Kohima is simple, ‘When you go home, tell them of us and say: ‘For your tomorrow, we gave our today.’

No matter the odds, they never gave up. 

We can learn from that.

No one left behind

J J Mitchell

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

Reset

Reset

Well, here we are, so many weeks into a lockdown due to Covid-19. We’re reliant on NHS workers, all of them. The cleaners, the admin staff and those tending the sick. We’re also reliant on the folk who work in supermarkets, delivery drivers, the council employees who mend the roads, collect the waste from our homes, the unsung heroes, all of them doing a job that if they stopped, well, it wouldn’t be pleasant would it?

So, let’s reset what we say and think about what’s been considered ‘normal’ for the last twenty years or so. Let’s think again. Key word that – think. As is reset…

Let’s reset some of the bovine comments we’ve heard in the past about ‘people coming over here, taking our jobs.’ ‘Taking our jobs?’ Really?

Do those making these comments mean the people ‘taking our jobs’ who are working in the NHS? So far the death toll of NHS workers is in excess of 60. Looking at their names and backgrounds, it’s clear a significant number didn’t originate in the UK. Coming over here, ‘taking our jobs’ and then letting themselves die trying to save their patients. So inconsiderate.

Let’s also ignore the 60,000+ non-UK born NHS personnel who come from within the EU and elsewhere. You know, that organisation that’s full of heroes, yes that one. The workers who would have had to leave the UK soon had Covid-19 not happened.

Reset? Definitely.

Let’s reset society’s attitude towards what is known as the ‘unskilled’. Y’know, those ‘unskilled’, traditionally poorly paid and generally ignored people who work in the care sector. The ‘unskilled’ staff of one care home who have moved into camper vans so they can continue to look after their charges. Volunteering to do this although it means they will not see their families for weeks, if not months.

Reset? Yep.

What else do we need to reset.  There’s so much…

Our attitude to work – reset. 

Travel – reset.

Communication of all kinds – reset.

Politics – reset.

You’ll have your own – reset.

We must keep in mind that to reset we need to analyse and review. This will take time and must not be rushed. However, returning to what existed before, returning to what was once considered ‘normal’ is not, and should not, be acceptable. It was this version of ‘normal’ that caused the problem in the first place.

Reset? Hell, yes. End of. 

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’

 

Be Nice

Be Nice

As someone who views organised religion as an operating system, I found the book by John Niven, ‘The Second Coming’, an absolute hoot. The intro says it all.

God takes a look at the Earth around the time of the Renaissance and everything looks pretty good – so he takes a holiday. In Heaven-time this is just a week’s fishing trip, but on Earth several hundred years go by. When God returns, he finds all hell has broken loose: world wars, holocausts, famine, capitalism and ‘fucking Christians everywhere’. There’s only one thing for it. They’re sending the kid back.‘ …

… as a struggling musician…

The God Niven creates is laid back and despises what’s being said and done in his name. Let me put it this way, Niven’s language is somewhat ‘ripe’ to put it mildly; his view of intolerant religious fundamentalism, mainly in Christianity, is excoriating; and as for the ten commandments, there should have been only one – Be Nice. Erm, that’s it. Be Nice.

Not only is the book very funny it also challenges those who use hate to promote their views. Worth reading, but only if you’re not precious about your religion.

So, why am I mentioning this in what is currently a confused and, in some cases, frightened world? Well, put simply, there are a great number of people who are doing just that – they’re living the Be Nice commandment.

For example, a friend of mine whom I’ve mentioned before lives her faith-based beliefs daily. Her sense of responsibility to her family and community means that she is currently unable to attend her church or the local homeless kitchen initiative for which she volunteers.

Another, a fellow writer, lives in London with her self-employed husband and family. She also lives her faith-based beliefs daily and gives time to her mosque to help her community. She has to balance practical issues, e.g. finance, and keeping those she loves safe and close.

Both of these incredibly caring, strong women, of different faiths, live the Be Nice commandment daily. You’ll have your own examples.

Obviously there are those who will try to weaponise this situation to suit their own ends. The current incumbent of the White House calling Covid-19 the ‘Chinese’ virus and declining to take responsibility for the handling of this emergency is but one example. There are others.

In this hyper-chaotic world, the ‘law of unintended consequences’ applies. This means that we have no idea where we will be when the initial challenges created by Covid-19 begin to be addressed. Will we have learned? Will we apply what has been learned? We can only wait and see.

We will get through this, of that I have no doubt. However, as I wrote previously, it’s how this particular challenge is dealt with that will define us.

So – Be Nice.

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’

‘Do you like my nipple hat?’

‘Do you like my nipple hat?’

Being a writer is helped by reading what others have written.  Not always, ‘writing’, mind you, but from various other interests one might have.  In my case, music and photography.  The heading comes from an article in the photography magazine, Amateur Photographer,  entitled ‘How a national cancer campaign was created with an old camera and no photography experience’.  

Lorraine Milligan’s dad gave her his old Nikon D40 for her birthday along with its kit lens and a 70-300mm zoom.  She has an eye for composition which is why she is an incredibly successful professional hair and make-up artist in the music, fashion, film and TV worlds.  As a former dancer, she was, as she said, aware of posture and body positioning.  

Her world changed on 12 November 2018 when her partner, Richard, was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.  It had spread to his lymph nodes, lungs and liver.  

He was just 40 years of age.  

It was whilst she and Richard were waiting in the chemotherapy ward that Lorraine caught the eye of a woman sitting opposite, Amanda, wearing a pink woolly hat with a nipple on the top.  

We smiled, and she said, “Do you like my nipple hat?” She didn’t have any hair, but she looked fabulous in her hat.  Lorraine wanted to know if she had one in blue for Richard.  They started to chat and Amanda asked Lorraine what she did.  On being told, she said straight away,  I’d love you to take some pictures of me for my personal journal, scars and all.’  

After the initial shoot with Amanda, an epiphany as Lorraine calls it, a conversation took place.  A campaign was born.  

Other women who had breast cancer, (what Lorraine calls her ‘breast friends’), were approached, the campaign was explained and over four shoots the powerful images you can see in ‘Bluegetitoo were created.  There’s also a film,   As the article says, ‘It’ll be the most powerful four minutes and nine seconds that you will have spent in a long time.  Like the author, I also found that I had some grit in my eyes, hence the tears…

Just one person.  A world changing experience.  A fightback.  A group of strong women who don’t give up.  And a man with a cancer that men need to be made aware of before it’s too late.  It is a thing and men get it too. Share the links.  It could save a life.  

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’

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’