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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Issue 140: June 2006

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News]

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].

Navel gazing
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 Haw
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.]

Jugger nought
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 the teeth.

- - - - - - -
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.

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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