Well hello there, long time no see, as the defrocked bishop said to an old friend he hadn’t seen for some time [you’ve used that one before at least a couple of times – Ed] [And you have probably said that to me a couple of times before too – Billy]. At the end of June I was commenting on how different it felt with good weather. Well, I shouldn’t have bothered to point out the difference because July and August lived up to the experience of the last several years – wet, with no settled good weather and high pressure to block the rain coming off the Atlantic. Global warming’s effect? ‘Normal Irish weather? Who knows, who can tell? But it certainly does look like a pattern. Then back to school and the sun started shining again for a wee while…..
Stall one again
I’m not sure whether Sylvester Stallone is a caricature of a caricature, or a good example of life imitating what is not art. About his new ‘film’ (‘The Expendables’, or is that a comment about his films?) which seems to be about on par with the First World War in terms of the number of deaths, he had this to say; “The one thing in my films….I only kill people that need to be killed….the ones that deserve it get it and they get it good and the ones that go after women really get, you know what I mean? Really get it.” (Guardian 10/8/10). I’m not sure whether he is trying to be iconic, or ironic, probably not, that would be too much to expect. Not so much Sly as plain stupid. He also said that “Men are just naturally competitive and they want to keep upping the ante” (relating to the levels and extent of violence in the film).
I don’t believe men are naturally competitive or violent, even if it is possible to argue they may have a greater natural tendency towards violence than women; of course men are shaped by societal norms but they are also who they decide to be, consciously or unconsciously, and if they choose to follow and extend cultural norms of violence that is a disaster for them and those around them. And cultures are what the people living in them choose, directly or indirectly. If you choose to be a purveyor and promoter of violent male fantasies, well, that’s your call but it’s an objectionable, pornographic and sick use of whatever talents someone has been given. Sic.
Maybe there is a sensitive and pro-feminist soul somewhere inside Sylvester Stallone, hiding deep inside his psyche. If there was or is, now would be a good time to ‘come out’ as a new and different kind of man and reject the violent and hideously one-sided and objectionable films he makes. But that would be to reject a lifetime’s promotion of violence. And maybe he is so macho in film and purportedly in real life because he is really, really afraid of his gentle and nurturing side? There has to be some explanation for Sylvester Stallone and I’m searching hard for an answer.
The Paisley pattern
I tend to read books long after they are fashionable (if they ever were) and perhaps even longer after they were published. This summer my reading included Dennis Cooke’s accomplished and well organised biography of Ian Paisley, published in 1996, two years before even the GFA (Good Friday Agreement). As a Christian minister who reflects on Paisley’s beliefs and use of his beliefs, it is a wonderful analysis of a complex but – for the vast majority of his career – I would say an incredibly destructive man. One of the fascinating quotes in the book is from Maurice Hayes who said “I have often thought there are about six Ian Paisleys. Two of them are very nice people, two quite awful, and the other two could go either way.”
Ian Paisley was born in April 1926 which makes him currently 84 years old. His adult life could be said to begin what we would now consider early, sixteen, but was very normal then; this was when he spent a year in an evangelical training college in Wales. He was already a powerful preacher, and ecclesiologically, a separatist (as in ‘Come ye out from among them’). Denis Cooke dates his chapter on Paisley’s political involvement from 1946 but he was certainly well struck in to politics by 1956. His ‘conversion’ to powersharing and cooperation came in the period 2003-2007 – coinciding with when the DUP became top dog in unionism, replacing the Ulster Unionist Party; this top-of-the-pole and top-of-the-poll political status would seem to have been an essential part of his ability to move to cooperation (this is my analysis – it is long after the writing of Dennis Cooke’s book). Depending on your way of thinking he thus had fifty or sixty years of, effectively, preaching political non-cooperation and, I would say, hatred, bigotry and often downright lies (yes, lies, see my previous musings on this topic).
One of the most interesting aspects of Dennis Cooke’s book is his analysis of Paisley in relation to the Protestant reformers that he so often called upon or, indirectly or directly, compared himself with. As Cooke points out, the Protestant reformers regarded the Catholic Church as a Christian church in need of reform, and they were willing to dialogue with that church about the relevant issues. Paisley, however, condemned the Catholic Church as unchristian and refused to dialogue with it. In fact Paisley and the Free Presbyterian Church would never readily recognise other Protestant churches as fully Christian. So Ian Paisley, who projected himself as upholding the tradition of the Protestant reformers, was doing no such thing. He was ploughing a lonely, separatist furrow which was at odds with those whose shoes he claimed to stand in.
While unionism stresses, as it is entitled to do, its links to Britain, it is interesting the way that for unionists the ‘democratic unit’ is not the UK but Northern Ireland. Interesting, and it is also a contradiction. But it enabled Ian Paisley to say that British prime minister, Harold Wilson, “should keep his nose out of Northern Ireland” (1970). Prime minister of the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’? Well……
It is a good question as to whether Paisley had as his long haul aim to outdo the Ulster Unionists in the polls. Dennis Cooke had no doubts. At the time of this book coming out (1996), however, it looked like Paisley’s best election results were behind him and that party support was sliding. As we know, come the start of the twenty-first century, Paisley’s DUP came into the ascendancy and this was indubitably and incredibly one of the factors which led to Paisley becoming a figure in cooperative rather than combative politics in Northern Ireland.
It is amazing what becoming top dog can do (obviously there may have been other factors including Paisley’s then illness and realisation of mortality, etc). But the unfortunate question is, at what price? That price was division, hatred, violence or increased violence, sectarianism and death. If you read this book you cannot but believe that Paisley stoked the flames, indeed was instrumental in lighting the flames, of the Troubles, and kept fanning them until near the bitter end. His conversion to cooperation is very welcome but the sorry and lasting question remaining is how easily is a lifetime’s work of division overcome?
Meanderings in the summer included wandering through Wales, from north to south and back again, and very pleasant it was too - though I could say I have never been up a mountain before like Snowdon with a steady stream of climbers and where you didn’t have to get your feet dirty because they have laid stone steps and gravel, though pieces of rough and awkward rock remain. One stop we made in Wales was to see the Centre for Alternative Technology near Machynlleth. You can visit its website at www.cat.org.uk The exhibitions and the gadgets are fine; I could not say I learnt a lot of useful information going around, perhaps because I was already familiar with most of the topics covered, though a visit to the Centre does begin in quite a thrilling way with a rock-face lift which is water powered. For me one of the most impressive things was the extent to which it is now involved in teaching and research, and even more so the contrast of this green oasis with a photo of the site in 1973 when the Centre began; a slate quarry of rock, with the odd spindly tree, has become, less than thirty years later, a hive of greenery – in all senses – fecundity and industry, in the best sense. Seeing that contrast was worth the modest admission charge alone. Oh, one other thing I did pick up though I don’t have a greenhouse; the suggestion of storing bulk water in your greenhouse to help even out temperature fluctuations seemed like a wonderful low-tech piece of information.
Good piece in the Guardian on 17/8/10 by Aditya Chakrabortty on philanthropy. He quoted a Charities Aid Foundation report in Britain in 2002 whose survey showed the bottom (income) 10% of the population there give 3% of their income to charity while the richest 20% only give 0.7%. He quoted another survey which showed that US Americans and Japanese are initially shocked by losses of life in disasters of one kind or another, but quickly become numb as the numbers killed grew; in Indonesia and India, however, people responded more to bigger death counts (presumably because they are more used to natural disasters). The general message was not to rely on the rich to bale a country out when the recession-based cuts bite.
I have nothing against philanthropy and in fact everything for it; I have survived at times through funding from philanthropic organisations, and also worked in a small way in funding groups. Philanthropy will always be with us insofar as the state will never be able to cater for all needs and those who have money will, in some cases, wish to fund useful work. Some philanthropists, such as Chuck Feeney (Atlantic Philanthropies), are serious about this task; most others probably just wish to chuck a few pounds, Euros or dollars at a problem and hope for good publicity. And we are probably all philanthropists to some degree; that subscription or donation to a political, environmental, human rights or other organisation is it working on a very basic, small scale. But I think it’s true Ireland doesn’t have a great tradition of philanthropy – something which Philanthropy Ireland would like to change (see http://philanthropy.ie ), despite the fact it is probably the worst time, economically, to persuade people to be philanthropic.
More generally I suppose what I wonder about is how people have managed to amass such large fortunes to begin with, and why the money was not taxed by the state who could then have funded the work that needed done. If you have relatively low tax states then people will amass fortunes and the state will not have the means to deal with half the issues it should. A few of the rich may decide to give some of their money away while others will salt it away for the rainy day that will never come. Personally I feel it would be more efficient if the state had a bigger tax take to fund what needs funding. But that sounds suspiciously like some kind of socialism and we definitely couldn’t have that, now could we? Socialism is so out of fashion. Maybe I’m a philosocialist though, not to mention also a philosandwich maker and a philopastry lover.
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Well, folks, how was the summer for you? Too short by far, I’m sure. If you get a bit of holidays, and relax a bit from the normal routines as well, then you don’t have much time to get a tenth of the things done that you’d promised yourself would be achieved over the summer. That is always how it is for me, and probably the same for you. Anyway, I hope you’re able to pace yourself for the autumn schedules. Good luck with it all, and until we meet again next month, I remain your disobedient non-servant, Billy.
[* ‘Weakly’ Thoughts might be more appropriate – Ed] [Talk about old and weak jokes! That beats them all – 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).