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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Issue 137: March2006

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News]

A peaceful bargain
I’m a divil for the oul bargain as other members of my household will testify. Four litres of top quality ice cream for 50 pence in North Street Mini Market in Belfast? That’s me buying it (the shop specialises in ‘at’ and ‘beyond’ sell by goods but not all are). Actually, I bought it more for the plastic container – just right for storing 1½ kg flour bags, so maybe I could say I got the ice cream ‘free’. Then another time (I had to get the ice cream home before it trickled all over the place) I saw Appletree Press’s (sis it ss’s or ss’? – Ed) little “The Book of Peace – A Treasury of Thoughts on Peace” in Bargain Books for £1 consisting of both little book and CD. The CD was “Peace on Earth”’, - “A Feast of Christmas Music” by St George’s Choir, Belfast, and the Palestrina Choir, Dublin; I’ll wait until next Christmas for that, a little disappointed that it was Christmas music and not a more general selection given the time of year, but at a little book and CD for £1, I was not feeling too disgruntled, and it should be good quality Christian music next Christmas.

What would be in the book? Sometimes thoughts on peace are too syrupy for words. Specialist ‘little book’ publishers Appletree Press have, however, come up with a reasonable selection of quotes that are good, bad and indifferent but the illustrations I found a bit more bland. It’s an international selection with no quotes from or regarding Ireland (or indeed much on specific locations). Here’s a few quotes anyway. It starts with the Age of Aquarius (from the musical Hair, 1967) “When the Moon is in the seventh house / And Jupiter aligns with Mars / Then peace will guide the planets / And love will steer the stars”. Well, I thought that was a load of crap when it was played on the radio all the time in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies and its crappiness has certainly not diminished with the years since, in fact on any indication of total crappiness it has to be the pits. In astrological circles, the ‘Age of Aquarius’ may not be for six centuries yet, but ‘the dawning of the Age of Aquarius’ is usually thought of as the late 1960s onwards; so would that be the time of the Vietnam War then? Putting flowers in your hair and talking about peace did not make the late ‘sixties any more peaceful, though the radicalism of some movements at the time did give some hope for change. Meanwhile Anatol Rapoport, ‘systems theory’ developer and explorer of conflict and cooperation, has “Peace – an idea whose time has come” – well, yes, indeed, but that by itself is perhaps so vague as to be pretty meaningless without a bit of context.

Franklin D Roosevelt contributes a quote from 1945 about the cultivation of human relationships being necessary if civilisation is to survive. Charles Dickens says “What is peace? Is it war? No. is it strife? No. It is lovely, and gentle, and beautiful; and pleasant and serene and joyful.” Me? I’d add a bit of ‘dynamic’ and ‘exciting’ to that because it sounds a bit boring really; it might engender the response “Peace? No, thanks, too boring, I prefer the excitement of violence and war.” Thomas Merton, however, is on the ball in saying that “If this task of building a peaceful world is the most important of our time, it is also the most difficult. It will, in fact, require far more discipline, more sacrifice, more planning, more thought, more co-operation and more heroism than war ever demanded.” That’s telling us what is really involved. And John Milton wrote that “Peace hath her victories / No less renowned than War” – I would argue, in my book, ‘more’ rather than ‘no less’.

Pablo Neruda says “Poetry is an act of peace” and I wouldn’t argue with that. Croesus (who was around before trousers and the pressing of trousers) contributes “Peace is better than war, because in peace sons bury their fathers, while in war, fathers bury their sons.” After the advent of modern warfare with its escalation in civilian deaths compared to days of yore, you could say that today, in war, whoever is left around alive buries everyone else – men, women, children. Rousseau gets a taste of happiness thinking of a peaceful society, and Macchiavelli advises that people like tranquillity and therefore peaceful princes. But I’m not sure I go that much for Benjamin Franklin’s “There never was a good war, or a bad peace”, and that’s sometimes quoted on demos; again, I don’t know the context in which he said it but, without many qualifications, it could seem that this particular quote is advocating passivism, i.e. doing nothing against injustice and repression. The Beatles advised “Give Peace a Chance” – Beatles era boppers Bush and Blair can’t have been listening hard enough, or else they misheard it as “Give War a Chance” - the more that comes out about the origins of the Iraq war, the more it looks like this latter was their secret mantra(p).

The Caledonian leader Calgacus is quoted by Tacitus (in at least a tacit understanding) as saying “They make a wasteland and call it peace” in a pre-battle speech, talking about first century Roman imperialism. Sounds still pretty relevant to me, two millennia later, though not about the Romans today (they have long since stopped their Roman about). I’ll finish this wee selection of quotes from the book with one from Gandhi: “The religion of non-violence is not meant mainly for the rishis [Hindu sages who heard the hymns of the Vedas] and saints. Non-violence is the law of our species, as violence is the law of the brute.” The first sentence of that is something I’m always saying; I’m glad Mohandas Gandhi agreed with me! I don’t think I would express the second sentence in the same way, however, I would be more inclined to say that “violence is the law of those who either feel they have no choice or choose its negative effects.”

Anyway, I think I got a bargain in that wee book, a bargain nearly on a par with that four litres of ice cream….


Geography is such a wide ranging topic these days, isn’t it. But I wanted to talk about one discipline within or allied to it – cartography. Now some people may allege that I am so ignorant on this whole area that I would put the cartographer before the horse, and I would have to agree with them. I did however write about ‘Gee-ography’ before, in my column in ‘Dawn’ magazine a long long [long? – Ed] time ago, when, inter alia, I reproduced a map from ‘Paris-Match’ showing the distribution of Muslims in Europe. Except that they forgot to draw in Ireland – the island was entirely absent! After Britain, moving westward – nothing except the Atlantic. They probably wouldn’t make the same mistake today in that Ireland is somewhat less “l’île derrière l’île” looking at it from France and the mainland of Europe.

Anyway, I am revisiting gee-ography here because I stumbled across my own ignorance when web surfing for a small scale representation of the globe. The site I hit on, ( now owned by the New York Times) gives a run down on the controversies about projecting our roundish globe onto a two-dimensional sheet of paper.

The Peters projection map burst on the world in the ‘seventies as a more correct way to show the globe in 2D than Mercator, which totally distorts the size of countries and continents in favour of ‘the north’. We have a Peters projection map on our kitchen wall, all the better to track family, friends, relatives and the international news of the day as we sit at our dinner. But the site says that neither Peters nor Mercator are favoured by cartographers today, and quotes Arthur Robinson as saying the Peters projection is “somewhat reminiscent of wet, ragged long winter underwear hung out to dry on the arctic Circle” – and if you compare the Peters projection with one or two other modern maps you can see what he is saying.

But there is something even more interesting. The ‘Peters projection’ these days may be called the ‘Gall-Peters projection’ because Arno Peters wasn’t the first to come up with it; as far back as 1855 an English cleric named James Gall published the same projection in the ‘Scottish Geographical Magazine’. Peters claimed he had never come across the Gall projection prior to alunching his version [‘alunching’? – Ed] [Yes, it’s a launch with a lunch – Billy]. The site says the Mercator projection was never intended as a wall map – that may be but those of a certain age will certainly remember nothing but Mercator maps in classrooms where I think more than the odd one lingers still. There may be lots more issues involved in this whole controversy but on the issue of plagiarism, either Peters reinvented a geographic/cartographic wheel [one wheel on his cartography – Ed] or he had some Gall, take your pick.

Nu-clear perceptions
Nuclear power is trying to make a comeback. After years in the doldrums (an appropriate metaphor when talking about power sources) it is projecting itself as a ‘clean’ power source compared to fossil fuels. It is also clear that one Anthony Blair is backing the nuclear horse strongly (another appropriate metaphor if talking about horsepower) [it looks like he’s good at backing the wrong horse – Ed] and that Britain will be gearing up more nuclear power plants.

On the INNATE site (under ‘Pamphlets’) you can find some of Simon Dalby’s account of how the Irish anti-nuclear movement succeed in the ‘seventies in avoiding the nuclear plague in Ireland. And pretty successful it was because still in the year 2006 you have Dermot Ahern, the Minister for Foreign Affairs from Fianna Fail, the same party that tried to impose nuke power in the ‘seventies, opposing any nuclear developments in Britain and particularly the possibility of a nuclear plant in the North (which he said would damage Anglo-Irish relations). After all, Sellafield was the Windscale that was so appallingly bad at safety that they had to rename it (like the activists’ sign said; “Sellafield. Twinned with Chernobyl”], and that didn’t do anything for safety and discharges either. And a nuclear power plant in the North? Just the thing for a way out republican or loyalist group to practice on….

So what’s the score these days? As usual on such a topic, the ‘New Internationalist’ (‘the people, the ideas, the action in the fight for global justice’, ) comes up trumps - the issue of September 2005 was on “Nuclear’s second wind”. Some of the facts are disturbing and frightening: “It is estimated that global exploitable reserves of uranium will likely be depleted within 30 – 40 years. If all the world’s existing fossil fuel based power stations were replaced by nuclear, there would only be enough for 3 – 4 years.” And nuclear is meant to be a ‘long term’ solution! How crazy is it that ‘green’ is not the first choice? Of course there are problems with getting the ‘green saving’ needed but why in Ireland, the UK and the rich world in general is there not a twenty-year programme to a) insulate all houses to the fullest economical capacity b) invest massively in wind, wave, solar and biomass sources of fuel for power, and biofuels for transport, and c) cut down drastically on air transport which is much worse because the pollution degrades much more slowly high in the atmosphere?

And what about ‘cleanliness’? Let’s go back to the ‘New Internationalist’: “A complete lifecycle analysis of the nuclear process-chain (mining, transport, operation, storage and decommissioning) reveals that the average nuclear reactor produces 20 – 40% of the C02 of a typical gas fired power plant. Powerful greenhouse gases such as HFC and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) are also produced in unknown quantities.” Of course Britain hasn’t yet decided how to ‘dispose’ of its existing nuclear waste – and, no, rusting barrels of nuclear waste dumped at sea was not a good idea (‘dispose’ of is in inverted commas because it remains a liability for tens of thousands of years). The news that the potential bill (to the British government) of cleaning up British energy’s nuclear liabilities has increased by £1 billion to over £5 billion is tucked away on the financial pages of even a paper like the ‘Guardian’ (25th February 2006) – just wait as it increases further. There are many other issues, including the risk of attacks on nuclear plants and the link with nuclear weapons. Who would bother to attack a windmill? You’d need to be Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

Talk about fiddling while Rome (the world) burns (a metaphor incorrect in its supposed origins concerning Nero – now better known as a programme for burning CDs). The EU spends 61% of its energy R&D budget on nuclear despite the fact that it only contributes 13% of its energy supply. A lesson too late for the learning, made of uranium, made of uranium. Wake up, governments! Being in the pocket of the nuclear industry and high-tech solutions is like sticking your head in the beach at Sellafield. Maybe we should press for wave power machinery at Sellafield – after all the ESB/Electricity Supply Board more recently put windmills at Carnsore, Co Wexford, the supposed site for the Republic’s nuclear plant planned in the 1970s.

The wrong end of the stack
The headitor was talking there recently about participation in demos at the time of the lead up to the 2003 Iraq war. For a big demo he had got dressed up as an undertaker with a top hat, black clothes, the slogan on the front “More wars please”, and on the back “Bash and Bluir, Undertakers”. Anyway, he was subsequently giving personal advice to Her Britannic Majesty when she was on a visit to Belfast to “Tell Tony no war”, on a placard, and there met a policeman who recognised him from the big demo: “You’ve changed your tune, then”, the policeman said, without a hint of any irony. He really thought the previous demand had been a genuine request for “More wars please”! I think Norn Iron needs some more political satire so people get used to it……

- Well, that’s it for another month, spring hasn’t sprung yet but it’s on its way soon, I managed to get a bit of clearing up done in the garden so it looks a bit better, but Parent Nature, once the warmer weather comes, will grow its own weeds regardless. And if the Gulf Stream ‘dries up’ then almost nothing will be grown except under glass, well, we can’t say we weren’t warned. Anyway, enjoy the daffodils while ye may, Billy.

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).

Copyright INNATE 2021