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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Issue 119: May 2004

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News.]

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 days.

Afri-ghtful comment
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, too late.

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,


[Return to related issues 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).

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