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What's new

Nonviolence News February 2017

Children and Conflict poster series

Editorials: Northern Ireland political swamp, Holding the nerve

Eco-Awareness with Larry Speight: Through the prism of narratives

Readings in Nonviolence: Refugee stories by Máiréad Collins

Billy King: Rites Again

 

 

 

Billy King

Issue 113: October 2003

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News.]

Special feature:
Mars - the best interview bar none

We can’t say it’s all that often we bring you a world exclusive, but in this case it’s not only a world exclusive but another world exclusive. Many of you will have seen Mars in the night sky recently, the nearest to Earth for tens of thousands of years. Well, our reporter Venus Canelleto took advantage of his being in the neighbourhood, so to speak, and managed to get an interview with the intrepid Mars. How has Mars changed with the years, or has he? AN OUT OF THE WORLD EXCLUSIVE

Venus – Firstly, Mr Mars, sir, it is difficult to know what to call you, you’ve used hundreds of aliases and been called many things over the years. What should I call you, and what’s your real name?

Mars – Good heavens, woman, do you think I’d reveal my real name to a mere earthling? Truth is, I’ve had so many names and identities I’m a bit mixed up myself over what my name is. ‘Mars’ will do to be getting on with, it’s the name I’m best known by.

Venus – So what do you make of your reputation as being the hard man of war?

Mars – Well, to be honest it’s a bit difficult to live down. Give a god, or should that be a dog, a bad name and all that…… A lot of it is just rubbish the Greeks and Romans cooked up. Terrible people the Greeks and Romans for doing that kind of thing, in that regard they’re pretty much like the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Aztecs, Mongols, Chinese, Turks, Venetians, Spanish, British, French, US Americans, and even the Irish, not to leave them out of it seeing how it is you work for an Irish publication, in fact pretty much everyone comes up with ridiculous stories. They come up with a load of old rubbish that no sane person would believe but they repeat it, and repeat it, and it becomes the established fact of their time. Unfortunately it is the Greek and Roman ‘facts’ about me which are best known, even though I had different names in the two places – Mars for Romans, Ares or Aries for the Greeks.

Venus – Why ‘unfortunately’?

Mars – Well, some other people at least had some positive attributes that they gave me, but for them, no, not a chance, I became god of war and that was that. Though to be fair to them it was the Babylonians who had earlier given me the ‘god of war’ label, Nergal they called me. In Hindu thought I was Kartikeya, and, to the ancient Egyptians I was Horus, and I even gave my name to Cairo – from “Al Qahira”, an ancient Arabic name for myself. Overall I tended to get a pretty bad press.

The Greeks always thought of me as god of war. The Romans began by thinking of me as an earth-god, god of fertility – that’s a good one to impress people with - agriculture and so on, which was fair enough, I didn’t mind that. But that developed into a god of death, which was a bit of a bummer, you know, being asked at a party ‘what do you do’, well frankly, saying “I’m god of death’ tended to kill conversation pretty instantly. And then the Romans took it further to being the god of war and battle. I think it all came about because of my colour, I tend to be a bit red, and people associated that with blood – really, it’s rude to make too much of people’s physical characteristics. I’m quite sick of that, makes me see red too.

Venus – But you did get into some scrapes and battles, didn’t you?

Mars – Yes, but I was pretty young and naïve at the time. And I hadn’t been through therapy at that stage – I was still mad with my parents, Zeus and Hera, for hating me. They always put me down, never loved me. How could I turn out normal with the upbringing I had? No wonder I was the kind of person I was, your typical ‘rush in, don’t think’ young man wanting to wallop anyone and anything that got in my way. It didn’t matter what side I was on when I was fighting, sometimes I’d change sides just like that; my former comrades would be a bit startled to see me fighting against them and all they could do would be shout out something like “Ur an us!”. I was totally mad, out of it, people used to say I was on my own planet, or call me a ‘Martian’ – I was really insulted that ‘Martian’ was used as a term of abuse. It was only much later that I tried to get violence and mayhem and that out of my system.

Venus - And did you succeed in getting it out of your (solar) system?

Mars – Well, not completely, I’m still prone to the odd fit of rage but I’m continuing to work on it. Anger management and alternatives to violence programmes help but I have to be on my guard. I’m much more pacific now. I try to channel my rage into positive things. I can still get a bit saturnine at times, by Jupiter. But other aspects of my life have changed too, for example my politics has also changed over the years, I don’t support plutocracy any more.

Venus – So how did you react to fame?

Mars – Pretty typically I think. Initially I couldn’t get enough of it, I loved stardom so to speak. All those people talking about me, looking at me, well, to be honest, the more they talked about me the more I wanted them to talk about me. Which made me do even wilder things. But after a little while, after a few millennia, you get a bit fed up with it all, people inviting me somewhere because they wanted to see a good fight, that kind of thing. For many people fame is mercurial but for me it’s permanent. Then after all that I went through a reclusive phase, I didn’t want to see anybody. I suppose now I’m learning to take the rough with the smooth; I value my privacy but I know that people are still interested in me, and there’s nothing I can do about that.

Venus – And your relations with women?

Mars – Well, Aphrodite was my favourite, we really went well together, we were fantastic together in fact, to have been an item with the goddess of love is really something, isn’t it. We even had children. But it’s difficult to maintain a relationship when you get as angry as I used to do. In my Roman existence I had a thing with Rhea Sylvia; Romulus and Remus were the result of that love affair and it made me a superstar in the Roman firmament – because R & R, as I called them, founded Rome, Romans used to call themselves ‘sons of Mars’, so I was pretty much top of the Roman godhead pops, I was ‘father’ to the Roman people.

But the world has changed a fair bit, and now my violent reputation tends to put women off. Most women run a mile from me, or if not then a kilometre. That’s difficult. I’m not macho any more, at least I try not to be, and I’ve been reading about androgyny, that’s an interesting concept if interpreted as bringing together the best of maleness and femaleness.

Venus - Just one small detail, what’s your favourite confectionery?

Mars – Oh please! Do you think I’m going to knock or endorse some product just because someone has misappropriated my name? No way! Right through the aeons people have tried to use my name for their own purposes, the game still goes on. Even your month of March is named after me, though I don’t mind that so much , it’s not selling or promoting anything.

Venus – How would you see yourself now?

Mars – On a journey. I don’t think I’ll ever arrive. But some people never give me credit for having changed, they still think of me as that old Mars, god of war, looking forward to getting his hands bloody and slaughtering everything in sight. I’m really sick of that image and reputation. Other people just accuse me of going round in circles. It isn’t as if any of this was recent, it’s all a long, long time ago. Anything you could do to help clear my name would be great.

Venus - And so how would you like to be thought of today?

Mars – As someone who has matured. Yes, I made mistakes, but I started out with no advantages despite my powers and I have paid for my mistakes. Depending on your definition, I’m not old, not even middle aged, I’ve got plenty of time left to do things in future.

Venus - What of your future?

Mars – Well, I’d like to go back to where I began. Agriculture. ‘Earth’ in the sense of soil and getting your hands dirty. Growing things, literally and metaphorically, that’s what I’m into now. There was more life of my planet in times beyond yore, not life like on earth, but much more than the very barren position now. So I would be concerned a bit for the future of Earth as well. I’m into green energy too, for heating and cooking I use a solar system. But if total desertification and destruction of the atmosphere could happen to the planet named after me, well, it could happen to Earth too. But there is time and hope, not a lot of time before you earthlings get it completely messed up, and some countries can’t see in front of their noses, that George Bush guy and the USA oil lobby really makes my blood boil. I can feel myself getting angry again.

Venus– Well, don’t do that, not right now anyhow.

Mars - I’m also very much into music these days and I’d like to spend more time on that, it helps with the old nerves as well. I love playing all sorts of music, I play 23 instruments personally but I also listen to and play recorded music, in fact I do a bit of amateur DJ-ing . I just play whatever comes to mind, even if it’s inappropriate for the time or mood, so some people accuse me of playing an “in Neptune” at times.

Venus - Before we finish, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Mars – Some people still look to the young me as a model. All those people into arms and armies, they like to think of me and what I seemed to represent. Well, I can tell you I was going nowhere when I was into violence, a one way street to loneliness, pain and misery. I know – I’ve been there, been miserable myself and also caused endless pain and suffering. It wasn’t worth it, I achieved nothing. Now, I do feel I have the chance to achieve something – that makes me feel good about myself, positive, that’s a real change and something I really treasure. I’ve had so much shit to put up with over the years, really I have.

Venus – Well, thank you very much for taking time out of your hectic schedule and fast social orbit to talk to ‘Nonviolent News’. I wish you all the best in your journeying, you’re quite a voyager, you’ve come a long way both literally and metaphorically.

Mars – Thank you, it has been a pleasure talking to you. I have to try to set the record straight. By the way, would you like to see me tonight? I’ve certainly taken a shine to you, it would be heavenly to get together – you know the sky’s the limit for me.

All right, after that exclusive interview with Mars, back to normal. Billy here himself with a few more thoughts before you cook the dinner/books/your goose or fall asleep/down the stairs/into the autumn.

Rape and Pilger

D’ye see John Pilger’s programme ‘Breaking the silence’ on UTV/British ITV on 22nd September? It looked at the aftermath of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and what had changed or not changed, also contrasting US and UK statements with reality.

Afghanistan is a total mess. The government’s writ only runs in Kabul and it has no reconstruction budget worth talking about. The warlords control most of the country and fear and rape are used regularly. A destitute woman went to the USA embassy pleading for help because her husband and children had been wiped out by a US bomb (she had documentation); she was called a beggar and turned away.

In Iraq the contrast was more about what was promised and what is current reality. It showed Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell at separate times in 2001 saying Saddam Hussein was no threat, he couldn’t get weapons because of embargoes. A US Department of Defense (sick) spokesperson either didn’t know his facts or was lying through his teeth; initially saying the US didn’t kill civilians, he challenged Pilger’s figure of up to 10,000 civilians killed in the Iraq war, and also denied that the US had sold ingredients for weapons of mass destruction to Iraq (which Pilger proved with an extract from the Congressional record). After a while the spokeperson’s military minder stepped in and halted the interview – which is something you might have expected in Soviet Russia or Stalinist era China. Another US Administration spokesman was interviewed, and while the camera was still rolling at the end of the interview, accused Pilger of being a (British) Labour supporter (hey, wasn’t T. Blair, leader of said party, G Bush’s only ally in the war?) or a ‘communist’. What a pathetic attempt to slur incisive questioning.

What I did find alarming, that it should even be asked (in the sense that it needed to be asked) was the question of whether the USA was in a pre-fascist phase. For a minute I wondered had I heard right. But no, it was the real ‘f’ word (the other is so common these days as to be unremarkable). With the xenophobia and rightist extremism existing in the USA today it might seem a good question but personally I would feel it is a bit sloppy use of the term ‘fascism’ which deserves to be kept for dictatorial regimes. But that doesn’t mean that ‘democratic’ regimes (and the Bush presidency is not even actually democratic if you remember what happened at the last US presidential election) cannot act in a brutal, selfish, hateful, spiteful, self-centred and neo-imperialist way. The USA has exercised all kinds of extremism at different times – not just the Vietnam War which killed millions in SE Asia, not just the McCarthy era in the 1950s, not just the period around the end of the First World War when anti-communism first took a radical right turn, not just US imperialism in the Philippines and elsewhere around the turn of the Twentieth century, not just the ‘manifest destiny’ of the mid-nineteenth century which promulgated the USA’s ‘right’ to dominate the Americas, not just the internal imperialism of native born whites and settlers who pushed the native peoples of North America close to extinction. No, US ‘democracy’ has had plenty of extremism without becoming ‘fascist’ or even ‘pre-fascist’. But isn’t it fascinating that a serious British-produced programme should ask that question. And indicative of what a deep hole the USA is in today.

Blowing in the wind

Our web meister informs us that if you do a search with Google putting in ‘innate’, guess what site comes head of the list, why ‘INNATE’, your favourite (and only!) Irish Network for Nonviolent Action Training and Education. Meanwhile page downloads on the INNATE website now average over 3,000 a month – admittedly many of those are people who stumble there inadvertently, such as the person I referred to before in this Colm who wanted to learn ‘to spake sexy Spanish on line’, and they presumably don’t get beyond the home page. But good to see that in September, someone who input ‘the complete consensus’ as their search downloaded 19 pages, and someone who tried ‘nonviolence quiz’ and came to the site downloaded 48 pages! Glad to be of service.

Unfortunately there were others who would have found the INNATE website unfulfilling. Those who were looking for “an post cork sorting office phone number”, “voice trainers in co wicklow”, “2003 email address of jim in london”, or “minibus driving lessons in co. limerick” (we get about you know) would not have got what they wanted. Nor indeed would the person, of the male gender one would presume, who put in “irish sexy ass girls”, though at least you might be able to guess what he was looking for. But what would you make of the people who inputted “the reason the queen is disloyal to the king” or “partition piano nothing compares to you”? Answers on a post card please (or an e-mail if you like).

Meanwhile the British Library have requested permission to archive the INNATE website as part of their attempt to preserve some of what’s on the net – it can be an ethereal and very time limited media. Blowing our own trumpet would be a bit overdoing it, I think, but just maybe we could blow our own tin whistle for a little while. Fancy a tune? But there’s still lots more we want to get on the website….and the lack of time is the main obstacle [so offers of help always welcome – Ed].
Spies, lies and mud pies

Very interesting. Arms producer BAE Systems (then called British Aerospace), paid exorbitant amounts to have the British campaigning group Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) spied on by at least half a dozen agents in the 1990s – which emergent fact mystified CAAT as they were and are, as they claim, always pretty open. This was when CAAT was actively opposing the sale of BAE’s Hawk jets to Indonesia, that bastion of human wrongs.

But nobody should be surprised. Some of you may remember the McLibel trial in London where McDonalds took a (from their point of view, it proved) foolhardy and long-running libel action against two London Greenpeace activists (not to be confused with Greenpeace International) [tho’ you’re doing a good job of confusing us – Ed]. In this it transpired [or do you mean conspired? – Ed] that in some small group meetings the infiltrators could be in a majority!!!! So spying by multinational and large scale enterprises up to no good is not unexpected. And so far as the ‘official’ state spying agencies In Northern Ireland are concerned, I would hate to think what they did not spy on….

What is also very interesting is the extent to which special branch and the like have spied on peaceniks in the Republic, a ‘neutral’ state One instance. 1981 and the flowering of the then new wave of anti-nuclear movement in Europe. Irish CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) was closely monitored by the special branch of the Garda Siochana. I know cos I wuz there. At 11.30 p.m., the then pub closing time, our lift was passing the GPO in central Dublin on the way home to the north side when, as fast as you could say “it’s a hold up”, one squad car pulled in front, another behind, as if we were dangerous and violent criminals who would take off at 90 miles per hour down O’Connell Street if given the chance. Maybe the police had been watching too many detective movies. Then we were questioned. We were returning from a ‘Dawn’ magazine (in some ways a precursor of INNATE) fundraiser in Rathmines What had happened was the driver, who actually made his living as a taxi driver though this was ‘in his own time’, had been at a CND demo earlier in the day, in the afternoon the only possible explanation is the special branch followed him to Rathmines and the Dawn fundraiser, and stayed there watching the car all night until melodramatically swooping in O’Connell Street at the busiest time of the night, when the pubs were closing and people were running for the last bus. What a total waste of police resources. And what a criminal indictment of a state which purported to be ‘neutral’.

Natural cycles

‘A crank is a small object that causes revolutions’ may be a political slogan or pun, but it brings to mind the world of sigh cling. It’s good to see that the numbers of commuting cyclists in Belfast has been increasing (the bike shop owner agreed with my assessment) – some mornings ago at 9.15 a.m. I saw almost 15 cyclists within the space of under one kilometre, admittedly between a busy road in south Belfast, a bike lane I travel on for a couple of hundred metres, and a park. Cycling in Belfast, as in many other places in Ireland, has been a lonely experience so it’s good to see it on the up. Cycling in Dublin, on the other hand, is a totally different (though not safer) experience – upwards of thirty years ago, if I remember correctly, a US woman setting up a free magazine for Dublin called it ‘Pushbike’ because of the connotations Dublin had for her of cycling, and that was before the number of people cycling in Dublin increased again.

Personally I believe the revolution will only come riding on a pushbike (when it’s not dancing that is). There are so many reasons. Our Headitor is also a velocipede user; he tells me some time ago he had a letter in a religious magazine in reply to a piece about a US seminar on ‘What car Jesus would drive?’ (!); his letter stated it would be a bike because he’d like to keep in shape, he could stop and talk to people as he travelled, and he wouldn’t be contributing to the destruction of Creation. He ended the letter with the injunction to ‘Put more phew in the pew!’. Unfortunately on a global level it is the car which is still cruising ahead. But like the hare and the tortoise I believe a second cycling revolution is coming. So put your best foot forward on that pedal.

Which reminds me of an appalling English language pun with a hint of French thrown in - I haven’t told it for a while so here goes. A snail went into an upmarket car showroom to look at the latest expensive cars. The snail was keen on one particular – and very expensive model. He asked whether they had the ‘S’ model in that brand and make of car. No, the salesperson told the snail, the ‘S’ model would be an extra £30,000 and they didn’t feel the extras it gave were worth it. The snail insisted – the ‘S’ model or nothing. The salesperson wasn’t reluctant given it would mean more commission, so told the snail that it could certainly be ordered. The snail promptly ordered the car. Six weeks later the car was delivered to the showroom and the snail came to pick it up. The same salesperson who sold them the car asked why they had insisted on the ‘S’ model when it was so much more expensive. “Because”, said the snail, “when people see me going by I want them to say, ‘Look at that ‘S’ car go!’”

Which reminds me finally of another, sort of cycling, joke. There was the black tarmac, the red tarmac (for buses), and the green tarmac (for bikes). The black tarmac and the red tarmac met in the pub, and the black tarmac forced the red tarmac to buy them a drink; the black tarmac was known to be a bit of a hard character so the red tarmac immediately agreed to do the buying. In came the green tarmac who came over to the black tarmac and said – ‘Get me a drink!’. The black tarmac jumped up immediately, rather frightened, and ran over to get the drink. Later the red tarmac had the chance to ask the black tarmac why they were so frightened of the green tarmac – “Because they’re a cycle path” came the reply.

Keeping up appearances

Readers of this Colm will know inherently the importance of keeping up appearances. Nothing can be more important. And it is certainly not all about material possessions; once you have your fancy house with all mod cons and big driveway, a state of the art expensive car, the latest palm top to go with a new PC, your massive TV with all the latest audio, video and surround sound, and the trendiest mobile phone, well, what else is important? So keeping up appearances is more than just material, indeed it can be a spiritual quality. In my very first Cyber Colm (NN 83) I gave a short guide to ‘How to be Greatly Humble’. The Dalai Lama had just been to my locality so I advised that a) you tell people that you’ve been invited to a private reception to meet him (or whatever Great Spiritual Leader happens to be in town), but b) sadly, you say, you already have a commitment to do something else with group ‘X’ and you couldn’t possible let them down. That way people know you’re in with the Great and Good but too Humble to break an existing commitment.

Anyway, I got to thinking of the importance of language and how you say what you’ve been doing. So here is a handy Cut Out And Keep Guide [mind the glass on your monitor – Ed]. The first part of the equation is what the actual situation is; the second is what you say you’re doing. Here goes. [Looks suspiciously like another of your Liszts – Ed]

* Going to the library to look up something/anything = Doing research.
* Reading a book = Doing intensive research.
* Surfing the web = Doing some high tech research.
* Going on holiday to XXXXX = Going on a private visit to XXXXX.
* Writing up your diary/notes of the day = Preparing notes for your autobiography (or, if you want to be really brazen, ‘Preparing some notes to help your biographer’).
* Reading the gossip and cartoons in your favourite paper / Slumping in front of the TV – Catching up on world events.
* Being seen by someone you know when buying a very downmarket magazine/paper = Explaining how important it is to keep in touch with what the person in the street reads.
* Going to the latest blockbuster movie = Keeping in touch with popular culture.
* Going for a pint with friends/colleagues = Networking.
* Going for six pints with friends/colleagues = Serious networking.
* Having a bit of a cold = Having a serious strain of influenza which even puzzles your doctor.
* Doing a reasonable day’s work at X = Burning yourself out in the service of X, and do they appreciate it, no.
* Jotting down the shopping list = Doing some creative writing.
* Nipping out to the shops for a pint of milk = Indulging in some advanced retail therapy.
* Apologising for being late at a meeting because you simply left too late or for leaving early because you’re tired = ‘Apologising’ for having a more pressing engagement you had/have to attend to.
* Being made redundant = Retiring early because there are some important projects you need to devote yourself to.

Get the idea? The possibilities are endless. You need never look back. [No, because people will think you’re a complete pain in the arse, and that’s not even speaking personally – Ed] [Dear, dear, such language – Billy] [Dear, dear, no need to call me ‘dear’ - Ed] [Would you rather I called you ‘cheap’? – Billy] [Let’s terminate this conversation – Ed].

Well, that’s it for another month as we head towards Hallowe’en and real winter. I hope your fireside is warm, your harvest is all gathered, (both of these literally as well as metaphorically), the roof is sound and there’s food in the cupboard [sounds like a disaster warning – Ed] [it’s southern horticulturalists who talk about dis aster – Billy]. Or maybe I should bid you farewell by saying ‘Buy for now’,

Billy.

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News.]

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

Copyright INNATE 2014