Plain sailing for
He got on the 'chicken bus' in the highlands of Guatemala
and began to sell his wares. He wasn't an evangelical evangelist
or one of the waves of purveyors of varied refreshments who
would sweep through the bus from back to front at stops. He
was, to begin with, differently dressed, by western standards
kind of retro chic, smartly turned out in denim with shoulder
length hair tied back. As I do not speak much more than the
cupla focail of Spanish, it was hard to get the full meaning
of what he was talking about but it was clear that he was
recommending his product as a cure all - good for the skin,
good if you had drunk too much coca cola or eaten too much
chilli and had an upset stomach, presumably good for everything
in sight. When he finished his spiel or spake, like other
salemen there, he handed out his product to anyone who was
interested in looking at it closer up, taking packets from
a neat little leather case he carried which would not have
been out of place in Italy.
Maybe about 8 or 10 people on the bus bought
the product at 20 quetzals (this would exchange for UK£1.30
or around €2, but the equivalent western European purchasing
power would make it nearer £5, €8 or more). He
left the bus. And when the bus broke down we saw him counting
his takings with a distributor by the wayside, waiting on
another bus to take him back and sell some more.
What had he sold? Packs of perhaps twenty
or thirty tablets of pure fenugreek. Now I don't know the
medicinal properties of fenugreek, used in cookery, but I
do know that the amount of product in each tablet was probably
only a couple of grams. For their 20 quetzals, customers had
probably purchased something like 50 or 60 grams of fenugreek.
At a market they presumably could have purchased twenty times
or more that weight in fenugreek for the same price. For poor
people, 20 quetzals was actually an appreciable price.
The salesman was a professional. Not everyone
bought his product but he spoke convincingly and his manner
and dress were different, but not outrageously so. He was
selling a cheap everyday product packaged into small quantities
in a way that people paid considerably over the odds, and
seemed happy to do so. It was not an outrageous product, it
was actually a common spice, but he spiced up the image of
it so much that people paid a high price. While fenugreek
in capsule form is much easier to take than loose, presumably
wrapping the same amount, or more, in a small piece of bread
or tortilla washed down with water would be an easy enough
way to get it into your stomach.
This all got me thinking of how things
in general are sold, what is sold, and also how we sell even
a political message. While I am certainly adverse to selling
anything at a high price, or deceptively, I think often the
peace, nonviolence, or other political message is not very
well communicated. Sometimes we are effectively talking to
ourselves more than to our target audience (I see this at
demos all the time). This guy knew his stuff and knew his
audience. He wasn't preaching to the converted, he was converting
a number of those he preached. Effective communication? We
have a lot to learn.
Mary Harney, Celtic
Tigress, pounces to kill for her country
The April issue of FEASTA e-mail newssheet carried an interesting,
nay, amazing exchange from the Dáil between Tánaiste
Mary Harney and Green TD John Gormley. Verily, Ireland is
the Celtic tigress that eats her young (cf J'aime Joys, 'Ireland
is the sow that eats her farrow'). I am tempted to ask how
ignorant can you get, but unfortunately the philosophy of
economic growth as panacea has not been burst as a bubble
yet. But it will. And by the looks of it when it is already
too late to turn back the tides of climate change and rising
sea levels. How sad that an intelligent person like Mary Harney
should be so naïve, but then the Progressive Democrats
would sell their grannies, no, I exaggerate, just their grannies'
houses and the roofs above their grannies' heads if they got
the chance, all in the name of economic progress. The exchange
is worth quoting at length.
John Gormley: The legislation does not
address the root causes of our health crisis. Like conventional
medicine, it deals with the symptoms of the problem. We may
be - I say "may be" because this is disputed - living
longer, but we are becoming sicker. As pointed out in the
latest Feasta review entitled Growth: The Celtic Cancer, which
I advocate as recommended reading for the Tánaiste.
Ms Harney: It is a joke.
Mr. Gormley: It is not a joke.
Ms Harney: It recommends poverty is good for one's health.
Mr. Gormley: It is an excellent document.
Ms Harney: I read a bit of it.
Mr. Gormley: That is good because I will remind the Tánaiste
about a few key statistics in it.
Ms Harney: It proposes we go into recession because that would
be good for our health, namely, if we were unemployed and
Mr. Gormley: The review is not joke because it is founded
on the fact that...
Ms Harney: The review is mad.
Mr. Gormley: It is not mad.
Ms Harney: It is crazy stuff.
Mr. Gormley: It is an excellent piece of work. I commend the
authors of it, in particular my Green Party colleague, Dr.
Liz Cullen, for her fascinating and insightful contribution.
What it states is the key to solving the problems we are currently
experiencing in our health service. I am glad the Tánaiste
has at least dipped into it.
Ms Harney: I was so amazed by what I heard about it that I
had to read it to see if it could possibly be true.
Mr. Gormley: It is all true.
Ms Harney: It states that economic success is bad for our
Mr. Gormley: The Tánaiste wants to believe what the
Taoiseach calls the right wing economists who write for The
Economist who would have us believe that we are living in
some sort of nirvana in that they claim we have the best quality
of life in the world. That is bunkum. This publication puts
paid to that myth.
Ms Harney: It suggests a recession would be good for our health.
Mr. Gormley: We do not have the best quality of life in the
world. A question I have put over and over again to the Minister's
predecessors, and which I will put to her, is the role played
by stress in causing illness. We have to examine stress levels...
Ms Harney: The Deputy is causing me stress.
Mr. Gormley: I will try not to.
Ms Harney: He should think about my health.
Mr. Gormley: I might be bad for the Tánaiste's health
if I do, but I will try not to cause her so much stress.
I will give a few statistics. A survey of 1,000 people carried
out in 2001 on behalf of the Mental Health Association of
Ireland found that 73% reported finding life more stressful
than five years previously, 19% of the respondents said they
were smoking more and 17% said they were drinking more in
order to cope with stress. The national health and lifestyle
survey of 6,539 people in 1999 to ascertain what people believe
would best improve their health found that the majority reported
that less stress would improve their health regardless of
their age, sex and social background. A follow-up report in
2001 also reported that stress was the most common answer
from males and females in reply to that question. These are
In an on-line survey in 2001 a sample of
2,000 students were asked if they thought that the level of
stress experienced by the general Irish population had increased,
in response to which more than two thirds said that it had
increased a great deal, 30% said it had increased a little
and only 3% said it had not increased at all. All the indications
show that stress is increasing.
One of the surveys I find fascinating was one on depressive
disorders. In 2003, research involving a representative sample
of 12,702 women in four European countries found that women
in Dublin were more susceptible to depressive disorders than
in similar cities in other countries. It was found that one
in three suffered from depression. One of the authors, Professor
Patricia Casey, commented that this study was conducted at
a time of economic boom when one would expect depressive disorders
They have not reduced. This is this problem. The Tánaiste
created the Celtic tiger, so she claims. She has created this
mess, this level of illness and now she claims she will fix
it, but I do not believe she will.
The work in question, FEASTA Review No.
2, Growth: The Celtic Cancer (published November 2004, ISBN
1843510626 is available at €15/UK£9.95 direct from
FEASTA - post free but please specify 'Mary Harney Special
Offer'! FEASTA is at 10A Lower Camden Street, Dublin 2. Phone:
+353 (0)1 405 3615. It is also available online at the FEASTA
website. You can receive FEASTA's e-mail Bulletin by ordering
it through their website at http://www.feasta.org
Travelling hopefully, travel broadening the mind (or the arse,
depending on your version), travelling light, travelling on
holiday, travelling for work.....travel is very much part
of what we are today (and that is not even including ordinary,
everyday commuting). Ever since the coming of the railroads
from the 1840s or so, our countries and the world have been
getting smaller. And since the advent of cheap air travel,
particularly over the last twenty or thirty years, travel
has been becoming commoner, and more frequent. Indeed it is
not uncommon for well to do middle class families or adults
to take two or even three holidays a year as well as a number
of mini-breaks, most of which entail travel by air. And as
an island, people on the island of Ireland have to take to
a boat or plane to get very far.
But one source of terminal boredom has
been the ongoing debate over Dublin Airport's second terminal;
where should it be, who should build it (private/public) and
to what specifications. And the likes of Michael O'Leary of
Rian-Air has been getting his vested interest stuck in. And
we hear about which minister in the government backs what.
Do you know what I'm going to tell you about where Dublin
Airport's second terminal should be? Nowhere. Because the
Irish government, in common with the rest of the so-called
civilised world (= carbon burning) should be seeking to restrict
air travel. I know I sound like a killjoy but there is no
way about it. Air travel is a major component of global warming
and becoming more major by the day (I read that, on current
projections, 75% of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK will
be from airplanes by 2050). And up there in the higher atmosphere,
pollutants are much slower to degrade. We cannot afford to
go on churning out airplane pollution like we've been doing;
new planes coming on stream may be cleaner, but only relatively,
and with increasing numbers travelling more frequently the
overall level of pollution is going to grow and grow. Bye
bye Bangladesh, bye bye Florida, sorry the sea levels rose
so much, we didn't know.....but no, you can't come and stay
in our countries or areas...
Firstly, we do need aviation fuel to be
taxed. And if fuels were taxed according to the amount of
pollution they cause then aviation fuel would become pretty
expensive. Other restrictions may need to be made - a quota
system of some kind perhaps per head of population, perhaps
taking into account geographical factors (e.g. islands and
It will be more difficult to travel but
not impossible. You've heard of slow food, well, why not slow
travel. But people who can currently afford it will not be
able to go so far so often. That weekend in Prague may be
a week instead - a day or two to get there to begin with.
So people will demand better facilities nearer home.
Our world has still got its head in the
sand. Unfortunately, as it does so, the tide is coming in
faster and higher than before. Hopefully we won't drown before
we get our head back up again but at the moment it's stuck
down so far it's going to be touch and go. I hope it's not
The film Downfall (Der Untergang) is a very powerful exploration
of one of the iconographic times in the twentieth century
- the fall of Berlin and the suicide of Adolf Hitler in his
bunker. Oliver Hirschbiegel has made a film which treats its
subject not just with warts and all but also beauty spots,
and thus more true to life and less like a cartoon of black
and white. The Adolf Hitler portrayed in the film (played
brilliantly by Bruno Ganz) was possible of kindness and consideration
to those he felt close to while at the same time having no
concern for the fate of the German people - the German people
had failed in the task he had set for them, of becoming a
master race and rulers of the universe, and therefore deserved
to perish along with him. At the end, he alternated between
knowing what was coming and fantasy and delusions about German
army successes. There was cowardice, courage, fanaticism,
betrayal, self-deception and often humanity among those portrayed,
the betrayal including the poisoning of the young Goebbels
children by their mother (shown in a shockingly matter of
fact way in the film) who later unflinchingly faced a bullet
from her husband before he immediately shot himself.
Based on books on life in the bunker and
the last days of the Third Reich (its 'thousand years' reduced
to a mere twelve), it is shown through the eyes of Traudl
Junge (she died just a few year ago, played in the film by
Alexandra Maria Lara), a young personal secretary to Hitler.
The most telling moment for me comes in the last words of
the film when, as an old woman, Traudl Junge herself reflects
on her young self and the fact that she did not know about
the genocide of Jews and other atrocities which were carried
out; she had eventually realised that "it was possible
to find out". It is still possible to 'find out' what
is going on today, but do we want to? Circumstances have changed,
human nature has not, and genocide was being practised in
Europe (yes, Europe, where circumstances have moved beyond
the mass slaughter of the early and middle twentieth century)
only a decade ago at Srebrenica, not even thinking of events
further afield. In a recent issue (NN 126) I expounded how
the problem is not that we are so different to the Germans
of the Nazi era but so much the same; our circumstances may
be different, but we respond in similar ways.
In an era when Europe is becoming a fortress,
and wars will be fought on other people's territories, mainly
at other people's expense, do we really want to run the risk,
the expense, the effort, of 'finding out' what is happening?
Iraq may have the trappings of democracy but at what cost
to the people of Iraq and the world? And do we care enough
about where our raw materials come from and how they are obtained?
Or, indeed, how much our oil habit is drowning parts of the
world? Someday our children or children's children may ask
us questions we have grave difficulty in answering. These
may not be of the magnitude of the questions asked of Nazis,
but they will be questions we will find distinctly uncomfortable.
Putting your best
I have been known to go hill and mountain walking from time
to time, here, there, and occasionally further away. The grass
is always greener on the other side of the mountain, I can
attest, even when you get over to the other side. I'm not
quite sure what it is about the human condition that likes
looking down on places from afar and a height, a different
perspective, I suppose it's a mixture of natural beauty, the
juxtaposition of land, sky and perhaps sea or lake, the feeling
of being a part and apart at the same time, it's a whole mixture
of feelings and emotions. Different seasons of the year give
different pleasures and thrills, whether it's the summer sunshine
(or in Ireland more likely the sun shining through rain clouds!)
or even going through snow in winter. - surviving incessant
rain is not particularly thrilling though maybe arriving home
is! I do like to take a map and compass if going off a well-trodden
and easily recognisable route - unfortunately a few people
die most years on Ireland's hills and mountains, including
some people from outside the island who don't realise how
treacherous such places can be, even with Ireland's low level
mountains (1,000 metres tops) given our weather which can
reduce visibility to zero from normal in a minute, and give
you hypothermia in peak summer. Another pleasure is of course
the physical exercise which is good for the body and usually
But what if your sole or your heel or your
toes hurt because you've a new or uncomfortable pair of trainers
or boots and they're rubbing like hell? Maybe they are just
new, or not right for your feet, maybe you forgot your extra
thick socks. Maybe it's an extra long hike putting a lot of
pressure on a part of your foot. Well, the secrets of the
universe are in simple things, and maybe I should have known
about this since I was knee high to a hilly grasshopper, but
I recently discovered, courtesy of a hike guide, there is
a cheap, effective method of preventing blisters when you
start to feel the danger signals (a 'hot spot' of a threatened
blister). Forget your expensive second skin plasters from
the chemist. Go for duct tape. Yes, that fibre reinforced
strong tape, usually silver grey but coming in a variety of
colours. Slap that neatly and flatly (not Michael) on the
danger zone and it acts like a second skin to ward off the
blistering blisters. It's good, easily available and cheap.
It comes in a variety of makes (one of which is confusingly,
deliberately, called 'Duck'). Now you're no excuse not to
go for that long walk or hike.... I've also seen the same
product recommended for curing verrucas (wearing it on the
affected area over a period). Nonviolent News Useful Tip No
423....Coming soon, Tip # 424 - A Hundred Uses for Tofu Containers.
Well, there we
go, that's it for this month including salesmanpersonship
through to protecting your feet via a stressed out Tánaiste
(let's be charitable to her regarding the above, if she wasn't
stressed out herself or on the gargle you'd think she was
just plain ignorant), all human life is here in this Colm.
It's May and summer is coming in, the evenings are lengthening,
or should I say the evenings are exactly the same length but
they're brighter these days. So the perennial weeds are coming
up in the garden, and the exams in the schools and colleges.
Oh what a joy! Until I see you again in June, yours, Billy.
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).