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

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’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad manners, loss of politeness.  

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

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

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

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

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

Hitler fought for his country.  

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’

The power of words

The power of words

This is a blog about the power of words.  

The reason?  The loss of someone close to one of our dearest friends.  It was with humour and incredible bravery that he stuck two fingers up at Death as it approached.  He just didn’t blink.  He used words to make people laugh, he used words to let folk know that they should celebrate who he was with him.  Pity and sadness were not allowed, especially the former.  The latter could, and would, come later as it has now.   

As Love Of My Life, LOML, and I discussed this delightful and loved human being it brought to mind the poem that was spoken at the funerals of LOML’s father and mother.  

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep 

I am not there. I do not sleep. 

I am a thousand winds that blow. 

I am the diamond glints on snow. 

I am the sunlight on ripened grain. 

I am the gentle autumn rain. 

When you awaken in the morning’s hush 

I am the swift uplifting rush 

Of quiet birds in circled flight. 

I am the soft stars that shine at night. 

Do not stand at my grave and cry; 

I am not there. I did not die. 

Mary Elizabeth Frye

An example of how beautiful words can be.  How moving.  How inspiring.  

A quick search on Wikipedia provides some background.  Mary Elizabeth Fry was an American born in November, 1905 and died September, 2004.  The genesis of the poem, written in 1934, was inspired by the story of a young Jewish girl, Margaret Schwarzkopf, who had stayed with the Frye household.  She was unable to visit her dying mother in Germany due to anti-Semitic unrest.  

Anti-semitic unrest.  A horrible phrase, created by an obscene philosophy that pilloried a discrete religious / racial group and, in the end, exterminated in excess of six million of them.  

An example of how words can stir up hate.  

An example of how words can result in the death of millions.  

You will have your own examples of these promoters of hate and populist manipulation.  They tweet, they (mis-)use Facebook, (that dreadful, irresponsible publisher with no moral compass at all), they lie in the press and on television.  Without any sense of guilt or responsibility.  

And yet, and yet, we know that words can inspire and bring people together.  So, let’s use words that counter the hate and vilification espoused by others;  let’s use words that create laughter;  let’s use words that move us to a higher level of our humanity.  

Just like the man I have written about at the beginning of this blog.  

J J Mitchell

‘No one left behind’ 

Isn’t nuance an interesting word?

Isn’t nuance an interesting word?

The dictionary definition is:  characterised by subtle shades of meaning or expression.  

Using a thesaurus, one comes up with :  fine distinction, subtle, shade, shading, gradation, variation, modulation, degree; subtlety, nicety, refinement, overtone. 

Okay, that works for me.  As an inkster who writes fantasy, I need to use language that, while still making a point, has shades to it so that it becomes believable.  To go extreme will merely turn the reader off and make the writer appear ridiculous.  

That’s what I was going to blog about.  

Then the attack in Christchurch, New Zealand happened.  

At the time of writing, fifty are known to have been murdered.  An almost equal number are in hospital, many of whom are suffering life changing injuries.  Let’s not mention those who love them and are equally traumatised.  Let’s not mention that this happened whilst the murdered and wounded were at prayer in their mosque.  Let’s not mention the hate speech that Twitter and Facebook enable.  Let’s not mention the legitimacy felt by members of the extreme right to feel it is ‘righteous’ to kill others due to the language of hate and division espoused by the populist leaders of this world whom they follow.  Let’s not mention the current occupant in the White House;  Steve Bannon;  Viktor Orbán in Hungary; Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil;  Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, (‘the only extremism that deserves attention is Islamic’).  Let’s not mention that, eh?  

Well, dear reader, fuck that.  (Yes, I am angry.)  Let us mention it.  

Let us mention that their utterances have made opponents into enemies, (you kill your enemies).  Let us mention that their utterances have delegitimised civilised debate and called it weakness.  Let us mention that their ill-defined populist utterances have stoked fear where there should be trust.  

These ‘leaders’, (I use the term so very, very loosely), must be held to account.  There must be no nuance in placing the responsibility at their feet, their mouths and their sorry excuse for a brain.  

No nuance here.  They are responsible.  Hold them and those of their ilk responsible for creating the environment where this can happen.  Let us watch them try to scramble away from having any responsibility for what has been done in their name, their beliefs, their utterances.  (It’s already happening.)  

Finally, I’ll end with mention of an article by Frans de Waal, a Dutch primatologist and ethnologist.  In other words, he studies animal behaviour and is pretty good at it.  Makes for interesting reading.  

In his article, ‘What animals can teach us about politics’, (herehe wrote about the link between our biology and culture, ‘no humans ever existed without biology, nor any without culture.’  

He also made numerous points about leadership, bullying and using fear as a coercive leadership tool.  Leaders that use the latter tend to reign for short periods of time.  Those using more enabling approaches tend to last longer.  It is within us all to wish for peace, to be able to get on with our lives without causing harm to others.  However, when people feel disenfranchised, powerless, they tend to respond to those who promise to deal with the society that caused that disengagement.  

Civilisation is not some outside force: it is us.  Social life is very much part of our primate background, as are cooperation, bonding and empathy. This is because group living is our main survival strategy.  

Primates are made to be social, made to care about one another and made to get along, and the same applies to us. Civilisation does all sorts of great things for us, but does so by co-opting natural abilities. It works with what we have to offer, including an age-old capacity for peaceful coexistence.

Peaceful coexistence.  Lovely phrase that.   

Couldn’t be clearer.  No nuance there.  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’