Ich bin ein banalmeister
Oh Lordi, Lordi, what a month it has bin in the popular culture
stakes with a death metal monster band winning Eurovision.
Schlock horror. I certainly don’t go for all those allegations
of Satanism, underneath the masks Lordi are just ordinary
guys and if anything their winning reflects more the victory
of the particular over the bland. Ireland may not have been
top of the Europops recently but has won this banalfest more
times than anyone else, seven, whether that is anything to
be proud of is another matter. But can you say you remember
any of Ireland’s songs which, to be honest, or even
if you were dishonest, are more all kinds of nothing than
all kinds of everything, and your reaction is more likely
to be wondering what’s (the point of) another year,
in Euromusictrash land. OK, on this island some people who
weren’t born at the time may even know about Ireland’s
first winner, Dana (Dana was a mythical goddess of the right
wing), but after that, let alone the songs, can you name the
winners, and who was that Johnny Grogan guy anyway?
If I was to make a criticism of the winning
band and song it wouldn’t be regarding ‘satanism’
but more in the acceptance of violence which it indicates
in popular culture, a theme which I keep returning to because
it is at the root, or growing from the root, of one of our
biggest cultural problems and issues in the world today. Violence
as a method of problem ‘solving’ is deeply rooted
in our cultures and psyches and until that is dealt with –
including by reducing and eliminating violence as entertainment
which drip feeds this root – we won’t be there.
Oh, and if I was to choose a Finnish band to
shake up Eurovision I would have gone for folk rock group
Värttinä rather than Lordi. [So, showing off the
little you know about the Finnish music scene then, Billy?
– Ed] [Well, why not, though at least I know when to
start and when to Finnish, unlike some people – Billy].
I thought I might be permitted a bit of navel gazing again
[yet again? – Ed], seeing as I’ve been here for
well over 5 years now (starting with NN 84). And I have also
done some naval gazing in my time (when NATO warships came
to visit – just thought of the slogan – “Those
who worship warships shall weep what they sow”). I have
already addressed some of the issues of being a columnist
[fifth columnist? – Ed] in relation to Kevin Myers,
right wing columnist who recently defected from the ‘Tirish
Himes’ to the ‘Irish Indopendulent’ (see
my Colm in NN 119). And thereby hangs one problem. After you’ve
been around the block a few times, it is difficult to be original
– note how I keep referring to previous scribblings!
[I suppose it’s better than repeating the same gibberish
again – Ed].
When you’ve already visited your preferences
and prejudices [now you’re talking – Ed] on you,
the reader, for some time, where do you go? Now obviously
some concerns rear their beautiful or ugly head regularly
– which is natural enough, the world hasn’t changed
too much apart from global warming (another of my themes)
[and you haven’t changed at all! – Ed] [Is this
my column or your column? – Billy]. But trying not to
be repetitious is difficult difficult. If dealing with the
same subject as before I try to come at it from a different
angle or with different information. All my back Colms are
sitting there on the internet so it should be easy for anyone
to look up one of those ‘NN’ references which
I sprinkle about.
New things do happen but inspiration can be
hard to find at times. Sometimes I just know when a thought
comes into my head that it’s worth a piece. Sometimes
the subject is staring me in the face with a caption or headline.
When I began this column in 2001 I wondered whether I’d
have things to say. And I had no shortage. Which fits a previous
theme of mine also, that everyone has artistic skills, so
everyone has writing or story-telling skills – it’s
just a matter of realising how and where, and getting into
it. It might be telling stories to children, it might be sharing
family history, stories from the past, writing of a million
different forms and configurations, including e-mail and personal
web sites, or just gossiping with friends. Some people say
“I can never remember jokes” but that is not the
important point. Tommy Sands has a lovely story (on his album
“Down by Bendy’s Lane – Irish songs and
stories for children”) about ‘The boy with no
story’; to have no story is to be a non-person, and
we all need to have a story to tell. And after the story in
Tommy Sands’ story, the boy certainly had a story to
tell – but I won’t tell you his story here!
If anyone else fancies doing some of this type
of column [or different – Ed] in ‘Nonviolent News’
you’re very welcome to try [treat this offer seriously
– then we could give Billy the boot – Ed] [Anything
Billy can, you can do better? – Billy]. In the meantime
I’ll just keep on writing. If you do find me repetitious,
do let me know because then it’s probably time to head
for the hills. And you do know there are golden stories in
them there hills.
No haw haw with the law for Brian
It is always difficult to be objective about neighbours. Mediators
know that some of the worst disputes are between neighbours
– what might seem a little issue becomes continually
magnified by being struck in the face with it day in and day
out until at least one party can bear it no longer, and something
snaps. And when your country has been colonised by your neighbours
in the past then it is even more difficult to be objective.
So it is with Irish views of life in Britain. Most of us may
have got over the worst grudges from history but it is still
difficult to judge these neighbours impartially, despite the
mass circulation of British media in Ireland. And in Northern
Ireland both ‘sides’ can still have their views
highly coloured by green or orange spectacles.
Of course the British have lots of myths, not
least about their ‘mother of parliaments’ and
democratic system as if it was the only one in the world that
worked. Britain’s commitment to civil liberties has
taken bashings during both the conflict in Northern Ireland
and since 9/11 and 7/7 (bombings in the USA and Britain).
The British electoral system for parliament is one of the
most distorted in the world regarding the relationship between
votes and results, so that isn’t exactly very democratic.
But love or hate the British government (and
it is a right-wing government masquerading as a social democratic/labour
government) [says he objectively – Ed] [I certainly
think so – Billy] you sometimes have to admire British
people. Take Brian Haw. For five years he has sat close to
the Westminster parliament protesting about the UK’s
engagement in war. T Blair and company got so miffed (it must
be partly that ‘neighbour’ thing mentioned above)
that they had recourse to the law specifically to get rid
of him - the ‘Serious Organised Crime and Police Act’
banned unauthorised demos within a distance of parliament
only to discover that it was judged not to pertain retrospectively,
to demonstrations that were already taking place. So Brain
Haw’s demo, placards and so on, lived for another day.
But the British government, determined to get
their man, and being particularly petty about it, won an appeal
to the House or Lords, where they won. As a result, police
swooped on Brian Haw and most of his artefacts were removed.
On the one hand you have an imperious British government unable
to countenance a permanent public demo on its doorstep, and
continually being embarrassed over its disastrous decisions
on Iraq. On the other you have someone who has, come rain,
hail and shine, continued a vigil for peace. One side represents
the worst of imperiousness and intolerance. The other represents
a voice for justice, peace and humanity, another example of
a British tradition of doggedly holding on to a principle.
Brian Haw hasn’t given up yet. Unfortunately the British
government shows no sign of giving up its pretence that engagement
in Iraq was for the best.
[Further information in Peace News for June
and Non-Violent Resistance Network newssheet for May.]
The massive juggernaut was hurtling through the small streets
far too fast to be safe. It was gathering speed all the time
and becoming more difficult to control, in fact about to get
totally out of control. But bystanders were unconcerned, well,
they did discuss the price of fuel and the inappropriateness
of such large vehicles going so fast in a small area, but
they took no action to try to wake the driver who was just
at the point of dozing off. Nor did they either try to get
out of the way or help others, far more at risk, to get out
of the way. The avoidable was about to become inevitable.
A massive crash was in store.
This little parable is about global warming.
We all know the juggernaut is getting out of control. We all
know a massive effort is required to slow down the juggernaut
and regain control of the climate or at least alleviate the
worst effects. But what do we and the governments do? Feck
all, if you’ll excuse my Hiberno-English. Oh yes, I
know about this wee initiative here or that wee initiative
there. But basically there is a failure to do the utmost that
we can, and we will be harshly judged by future generations
and by the displaced, ecological refugee poor (the rich will
look after themselves). We will have fiddled while Rome burnt
up at 45 degrees. We will have doused the flames with petrol.
In reality we will have done jugger all.
Rags to richesse
Fintan O’Toole, currently undertaking an assignment
to report from the Middle Country (China) for the Itish Rimes,
wrote a fascinating analysis of Irish ‘riches’
in that paper of 2nd May (2006), questioning the illusion
that we are, in either public or private spheres, ‘rich’.
He listed all the things the Republic doesn’t have in
the public sphere and stated that people think these aren’t
important because ‘we are rich’. He then dissected
the latter notion; if Ireland was a state of the USA it’d
be 35th richest, and Irish households spend about €13,700
on average whereas US or Swiss households spend about €20,800.
He goes on that “The reason for this disparity is obvious,
or would be if we could see through the hype: we work longer
hours for less money than most of our counterparts in the
developed world and our cost of living is higher.”
Continuing, he compared (unfavourably) Irish
wages for various professional jobs in Ireland and other European
countries, and in Ireland people work 48 hours a week on average
compared to 40 in Germany, Holland and Spain. Dublin is, meanwhile,
the 13th most expensive city in the world, jointly with New
York. He puts the ‘wealth’ delusion down partly
to where we’ve been and other factors, mainly “a
very clever taxation con job. Low taxes produce net take-home
wages that are indeed higher than the EU average. We pay this
back in very high indirect taxes and in stealth taxes and
we get a very poor return in terms of basic public services.”
He concludes that the illusion works because the money rests
for a short while in our bank balances before going out again.
One factor which he referred to but didn’t
develop in this is house prices. Obviously those who own house(s)
are on the pig’s back as opposed to in the muc. But
what strikes me here is that if housing costs were included
in the consumer price index – which they are not –
then Irish inflation would be seen to have gone through the
roof [very funny metaphor – but will everyone get the
multilingual pun about ‘muc’, the Irish for ‘pig?
- Ed]. Housing costs are an essential part of living, and
Ireland has a very high owner-occupancy rate and low social
housing provision, so by and large people don’t have
too much choice. Well, the choice they may be forced to make
if working in Dublin these days is to commute from a distance
– adding to time poverty, problems for family life,
and so on.
And what use is ‘wealth’ if it all
goes out again, as O’Toole states. There is a difference
today in that people have higher disposable incomes but then
there is also a much higher number of women working –
and if both members of a couple are working they may have
to pay the highest child care costs in Europe. A foreign holiday
is now the norm – good for people and bad for the environment
though flying – and that is certainly one difference.
A massive increase in alcohol consumption and alcohol abuse
is another factor but it cannot be said that this is healthy,
or wise, whatever about wealthy.
In short, the whole system is even more of a
mess than O’Toole indicated in his relatively short
article. Private opulence – for some - and public squalor,
it’s the same old story. Politicians are scared of being
seen to be for ‘higher taxes’ but there is no
alternative to achieve better services, and a brave party
who addresses the issue sensibly and sensitively could reap
benefits. The actual room for efficiency savings is very limited;
in the UK, introducing market forces and public private ‘partnership’
programmes has raised costs and introduced greater inefficiencies.
Ireland may no longer be the sow that eats her farrow but
perhaps she is still the old sow that kicks her farrow in
- - - - - - -
So that’s it for now, maybe the weather will warm up
again sometime soon [are you unable to write a column without
discussing the weather? – Ed] [Just trying to be culturally
sensitive! – Billy]. And if it does then I hope you’re
able to get out and enjoy it, in a sensible way of course
either covered with light clothes or sun cream. You wouldn’t
want to have to make a journey to visit that skin specialist,
Dermot O’Logy now, would you?
Take care, and see you , 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).