Hello there, summer is a-comin' in and
in my agenda I'm just getting around to spring. Anyway, hello
again, and welcome to the Billy King Show where I hope we
have something for everyone today... Meanwhile if you were
around Belfast recently you might have seen posters for an
Easter-time wrestling match - which they thoughtfully labelled
'The Good Friday Disagreement'! It's good to see a bit of
wit even if the 'sport' concerned is not known for its wisdom.
Before I move on, though, it has come to my
attention that readers may not know the significance of the
title of my Colm, "Billy King: Rites Again". Well,
the rites of life interest me, but it's also a double pun
- 'rides' and '(w)rites' again, partly as I previously wrote
in Dawn magazine years ago. My column in Dawn was somewhat
shorter but the hage of the hinternet has given me a freer
rein (reign? You don't know when to stop and you do adopt
some imperial attitudes - Ed).
A crisp, sharp bouquet
What a sophisticated age we live in. And of course such sophistication
brings opportunities for entrepreneurs, like myself. To make
a few quid/Euro/yen/bucks or whatever. But all in the service
of providing the punter [Shouldn't that be Euro-er now? -
Ed], I mean customer, with what they want. In today's more
opulent era, food and drink provide one great opportunity,
in particular the desire of the consumer to be well appraised
of what they are consuming, and to be one up on the Jones
or Murphys when it comes to entertaining and wanting the best
of food and wine. So I am designing an evening course which
I am sure will take off and earn me lots of new, crisp notes
to take to the bank. The course will of course begin with
an evening tasting and overview of the course, letting participants
socialise, settle in, and feel at home with the product (swallowing
or spitting can be dealt with that first evening, during the
tasting). Further evenings would deal with such subjects as
the estates and raw material, particular estates to look out
for - the great, good and not so good houses, the production
process, packaging and storage (humidity and light levels,
upright or on its side etc), maturation and storage times,
consuming by itself or with food, how to develop the nose
and appreciation of the subtle flavours, the language and
terminology in use, and, if those attending so desire (and
pay), a visitation to some of the great estates. So you think
I'm talking about a course on wine, the fruit of the vine?
Not at all. I am of course talking about the common or garden
potato crisp, or chips to those speaking US American English.
With names like 'Sweet Thai Chilli' or 'Crème Fraîche,
Red Onion and Cheese Flavour Traditional Pan Fried Crisps'
available, maybe we really will soon be getting the Crisp
Master and kind of course I have just outlined. In an era
of increasingly sophisticated attempts on our gullibility,
and production diversification, manufacturers try to appeal
to every jaded western palate. Oh, if you do want to set up
a highly professional course on crisp appreciation, you know
where to find me, please have crisp cheque book ready. I can
have that course up and running in a shake of monosodium glutamate
or whatever artificial flavours crisp manufacturers use these
Kevin Myers is the Irish Times columnist who most supports
'the military' (Irish, British, US, anyone seen to be on his
side). His right-wing rants on various topics are well known
and much commented on. Not for the first time he has chosen
to speak on Irish peace and justice organisation Afri ('Action
from Ireland' is the origin of the name), the occasion this
time being their new pamphlet (see NN 118) on the militarisation
of Irish society (by the way, as expressed in his article
he thinks it would be a good thing, e.g. he would like military
research in universities). Here's the start of his piece,
from Friday 9th April;
"'Afri' is one of those ghastly little
relics from a time when everyone believed in peace man, and
lurv, and equality and justice, and was opposed to war, and
hunger, and other things which damaged flowers and children
and other living creatures. It was always enough to bring
a Technicolour yawn of diced carrots and half-digested peas
to the lips of most right-thinking people. That it is still
around says something for the boundless appetite for brainless
sanctimony in this country."
Later he states: "Afri - which 'campaigns
for peace and human rights', according to a report in this
newspaper, as if this marked it out from other organisations,
which of course campaign for war and oppression...."
He goes on to defend NATO. He ends as follows:
"But have all those people who think
we should be an island read Genesis, especially the bit about
Cain? Mankind is a violent species, and he who doesn't defend
his borders and his beliefs will sooner or later find the
borders crossed by armoured columns, and his political systems
forcibly exchanged for someone else's. This is a sad fact
of life as old as the bow, and as true as the arrow. Only
in Ireland is it possible to declare otherwise, with a straight
ace and a bleeding, sanctimonious heart."
Let's take some of the facts and terms first.
His use of the name Afri in inverted commas is revealing;
this technique is usually used when people are questioning
whether an organisation has the right to exist, or seek to
cast aspersions (I bet he doesn't say 'AIB' Bank or the 'ESB').
His initial insults are grotesque and objectionable but Afri
only began in 1975, presumably after his supposed era of lurv.
Of course it is possible for an organisation to major in promoting
'peace and human rights'; just as there are people such as
arms companies who 'like' wars (they boosts sales and profits)
and countries (e.g. USA, UK on Iraq) who go to war for the
flimsiest of excuses. The term 'right-thinking' is usually
used by those on the political right to castigate anyone else,
implying that only their own views are valid. His use of Genesis
from the Hebrew bible is interesting; it is notable he doesn't
refer to the teachings of some of the Jewish prophets or to
Jesus from the Christian New Testament. Jesus, by the way,
did not come out in support of NATO, in actuality or by implication,
but did say something about how "happy are the peacemakers".
Of course humankind has violence in it. But
it also has nonviolence. Why else do soldiers have to be indoctrinated
and trained not just into the methodology of killing but trained
(psychologically) in order to be able to kill? Nonviolent
civilian defence for Ireland makes plenty of sense (the editor
wrote a pamphlet for 'Dawn' magazine on just this topic many
moons ago). And the idea that Ireland and Afri are any different
to people in other countries in opposing militarisation is
rubbish; e.g. why did 'Switzerland without an army' get a
reasonable response in national referendums on abolishing
the army there? Even in the USA, the cockpit of western militarisation,
the forces of peace are working, locally and nationally, with
a different and more humane agenda. You only have to open
the World Peace Directory in Housmans Peace Diary to see that
Afri does not stand alone. It stands in a proud tradition
of people who value humanity and see a different way of struggling
for justice and peace on local and global levels.
The job of a columnist is to be informative,
analytical and entertaining at the same time; to probe deeply
[more likely to fry deeply just like your piece on potato
crisps above, eh? - Ed] with greater freedom of expression
than in news reports. Expressing a view is of course necessary
in a way which is not explicit in news reporting (though almost
always implicit even in news reports - in the phraseology
used, the importance given to the story, etc). So Kevin Myers
is quite entitled to his views and expressing them though
whether the Irish Times is doing us all a service in publishing
them is another matter of debate. So how should we judge columnists?
The answer I believe is not just in meeting my job description
above (informing, analysing, entertaining) but also in deciding
what cause their comments serve politically. In the case of
Kevin Myers' comments above it is arms traders, right wing
ideologues of various kinds, those who support the military,
NATO and so on, and those who promote Ireland becoming an
uncritical part of the EU and NATO elites. He certainly does
not serve justice or peace.
And if truth is partly in the eye of the beholder,
there is still the matter of 'facts'. His 'facts' at the start
of his piece, in setting up a false 'aunt sally' to knock
down, are simply wrong. When did he think 'everyone' was for
'lurv' and peace? The sixties? Oh yes, that was when the USA
was involved in fighting the Vietnam War, the Cold War was
still at its height, dictators ruled the roost in most of
Latin America, and the Troubles in the North were just starting
- how much peace could we survive? Creating a myth of someone's
beliefs, even by association, to knock down and destroy their
arguments is a petty and mischievous method which is unworthy
of a columnist of any kind and certainly of someone in Kevin
Myers' position in a so-called 'paper of record'.
Afri deserves to be judged on their track record.
And for me that is an excellent one in asking the difficult
questions about what kind of country do we want to be - one
that benefits from oppression and repression (e.g. the arms
trade) or one that stands for justice. I know what country
I would like to see.
A waste of time I have expounded before how
Ireland was very lucky not to end up with nuclear power and
its associated problems (no thanks to founding leader of the
Progressive Democrats, Dessie O'Malley, then of Fianna Fail,
who was a vehement pro-nuclear exponent - see The Nuclear
Syndrome pamphlet by Simon Dalby on the INNATE website). Of
course there are vital and urgent energy issues around the
globe but on the evidence I believe strongly that renewables
can meet most energy needs - wind, wave, solar, biomass etc
if there is the political will and therefore the resources.
It is, after all, the survival of the planet as we know it
that we are talking about, at least the ecosystem as we know
it. And on that the verdict at the moment has to be, too little,
But whether we like it or not there is a lot
of nuclear waste about. Our neighbouring island has or will
soon have 500,000 tonnes of high level nuclear waste which
it has no home for currently but will be dangerous for the
next 250,000 years. 250,000 years! If humanity lasts that
long how many generations is that? On 25 years to a generation,
it is 10,000 generations! How can we leave 10,000 generations
cursing our few generations and the primitive, polluting technology
which left such a disastrous legacy for future generations
to deal with and continually clear up?
Anyway, a report in the British Guardian newspaper
(14/4/04) outlined some options being examined by British
government advisors (hold on to your hat or your knickers
as you read); disposal in space (to the sun or into deep space),
subduction zones (place on tectonic plates to be sucked into
the Earth's white hot mantle); ice sheets (various options
concerning the Antartic); at sea (in concrete, as previously
used by UK - what happens when concrete degrades?); sub-seabed;
direct injection (into deep underground geological reservoirs);
above ground storage; underground storage; underground disposal
(e.g. in our old friend concrete again); partitioning or transmutation
(building a new generation of nuclear plants to burn and recondition
wastes to make them less dangerous); dilute and disperse (e.g.
into the sea as used originally at Windscale/Salladefiled).
The economic and other costs of all of these are massive,
some literally out of this world. The dangers of most are
staggering, if not for us then for future generations somewhere
along the next 10,000 generations.
The moral of the story has to be, as with ordinary
common or garden waste (get that compost bin going if you
don't have one), don't produce anything that can't be recycled
or reused. It's as simple as that. Of course there is a cost
in changing to a 'zero waste' society but the cost of anything
else is far greater. But we haven't grasped that yet. "We
don't know what we've got 'til it's gone, You say paradise
and put up a parking lot' (Joni Mitchell).
GM (Generally Myopic)
The debate on genetically modified/GM crops trundles on. But
if, as quoted in the last issue about Papa Doc Paisley, 'by
their fruits shall ye know them' what is a-happenin' down
on the GM farm? Well, it's not particularly good news for
the GM lobby. A report indicated in January that the planting
of genetically modified maize, cotton and soya in the USA
over the last eight years has significantly increased the
amount of herbicides and pesticides used (though the results
were varied, this is the general conclusion; an initial decrease
in herbicide and insecticide rates for the first few years
then showed usage escalating). And to think one of the selling
points of GM was that the use of chemicals would decrease,
so much for that myth.
Then in April a report on Argentina showed that
researchers have found the seven-year use of GM soya is causing
a crisis in the environment, damaging soil bacteria (the soil
becoming inert) and allowing herbicide-resistant weeds to
grow out of control. Soya, grown as a cattle feed, is the
cash crop for more than half Argentina's arable land and researchers
fear possible economic disaster. It is reported farmers are
using twice as much herbicides as with conventional crops.
'Rogue' self-sown soya is creating problems growing where
it is not wanted. And there is the problem of the growth of
weeds with resistance to Monsanto's herbicide (though there
is not yet evidence of a new generation of 'superweeds').
All pretty worrying.
In recent decades we have come to treasure our
poor old (extremely old) and much put-upon ecosystem. It is
at our peril that we upset balances which risk spilling us
over to even greater difficulties than those which we don't
or can't cope with now. Global warming is the greatest of
these. But the threat of GM, being something that affects
the balance of plant and insect life, is a risk which we should
not be taking. Feeding the poor and starving of the world
is possible; it 'just' requires political will and resources
to bring about just and equitable systems, not GM crops. You
say paradise and you put up a paradise for fools.
The more things change...
the more they're differently the same
It is always interesting to monitor political 'feedback' to
local areas when it comes towards election time (local and
European elections take place in the Republic in June, as
well as a referendum on depriving those born in Ireland of
automatic citizenship rights). Take Sinn Féin in Dublin.
A local 'Community Voice' newsletter in north Dublin gives
6 reasons to vote Sinn Féin and, yes, the North is
not one of these six reasons. To be fair it does feature on
the second page of the 4-page newssheet under "All Ireland
Agenda" and one piece of advice I would partly support;
"By planning for Irish unity and by demonstrating that
unification can lead to a better society for all the people
of the island, nationalists will go far towards persuading
many unionists that they can have a secure future in a new,
united Ireland." I do believe that over the years most
nationalists in the Republic failed to 'live unification now'
by trying to purposely create a state which would welcome
all. Articles 2 and 3 were kept as trading points and the
implementation of the human rights agenda entailed by the
Good Friday Agreement was very slow. The perspective given
by Sinn Féin above should be adopted as a matter of
course and not become another tool to force unionists into
something they don't want ("you've no excuse").
But let's leave that aside and consider what
other earth-shattering news was in the Sinn Féin newssheet.
Right beside news on their All Ireland Agenda was a short
piece entitled "Looking after Our Lady"; "After
requests from numerous locals Cllr Nicky Kehoe asked the city
manager to have the statue of the Virgin Mary at Faussagh
painted. 'This statue means a lot to both myself and many
other local people and I am calling for it to be maintained
on a regular basis.' said Cllr. Kehoe". Isn't politics
a funny business. Maybe the statue does need painted and deserve
to be done at the public expense. But is this not playing
the Catholic card to encourage people to vote Sinn Féin
at the same time as saying the Republic should be 'Engaging
with unionism about the nature and form a new united Ireland
will take'? If it is justified on 'respect for all beliefs'
then we look forward to some interesting requests for maintenance
of Protestant symbols and memorials...
But, more widely, given the paucity of political
courage and progressive policies around in the Republic, it's
not surprising Sinn Féin are doing better in the opinion
polls. Apart from the Green Party, which doesn't seem to have
been able to leap out of the (not self-imposed) electoral
green ghetto they are seen to inhabit, and some individuals
in the Labour Party, there's no one to shake the right wing
conservative ethos pervading politics. The Republic has by
far the lowest percentage per capita expenditure on social
and health matters in the pre-May EU - and then people wonder
why services are crap! The Republic spending on social protection
(healthcare, housing, benefits for the disabled, elderly,
families and children) at 14.1% of GDP is 13.2% below the
EU average!!! And Sweden spends 32.3% at the top of the league.
These figures are quoted by CORI from the EU Commission.
That's me for now. Don't forget that I don't
say 'cast not a clout until May be out' but that you shouldn't
be casting clouts at all. Anyway, until the next time, I remain
your disobedient non-servant,
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).