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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Issue 154: November 2007

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News]

419 again
I have a hate-love relationship  (certainly a fair degree of annoyance) with spam e-mail that comes in.  Most is trash that is a pain in the neck to wade through and get rid of, even with anti-spam systems in place (and we need to check carefully because INNATE does get genuine enquiries about nonviolence and related matters from around the world - throwing babies out with bathwater is not a great idea). But I can’t help being intrigued by some of the ‘419’ mail that comes in (so named after that section of the Nigerian criminal code which makes it illegal there) – you know the ones looking for an ‘honest and trustworthy person’ (‘you’) for what, if it were true and not a scam to get your bank details to drain your account, would clearly be a dishonest and duplicitous scheme to defraud various people and countries, circumvent currency controls etc.  There is a basic standard form to these letters though sometimes the variations are intriguing.

One that came in during the last month stood out.  It purported to be from Charen Taylor “the daughter of former Liberian President [Charles McArthur Ghankay Taylor – Billy] who was recently sentenced to life imprisonment by the United Nations Security Council [sic] because of: 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”  It went on that all his property and belongings had been confiscated but she needed help to transfer the equivalent of $4.5 million which had been lodged by her father in a bank account in her name in the Cote d’Ivoire.  “I need a companies account to submit to the bank to transfer the money as if the money belong to the company.”   “I am willing to give you 20% of the total money”, the letter ends.

So – if you are willing to assist the daughter of a war criminal and embezzler to illegally transfer money which rightly belongs to the people of Liberia then perhaps you really do deserve to have your bank account drained of every last cent (or whatever currency it is in).  But the scammer clearly believes that some people will be taken in by the ‘honesty’ with which the project is set out – not a very nice reflection on human nature. Greed is a powerful force but I wonder how many people would respond ‘yes’ to such an atrocious project if they really did believe it was genuine.

Getting the Wind up on a grand Scale
This heading is taken from the old ‘Dawn’ magazine many moons ago [if it was you responsible then, your standard of puns is as bad then as it is now – Ed]. Windscale/Sellafield is one of those topics which I find myself returning to, again and again, unfortunately. In this case it was publicity last month that radioactive emissions in the Windscale fire of 1957 were worse than previously thought, and a programme on BBC2 television (“Windscale: Britain’s Biggest Nuclear Disaster”, 8/10/07) which examined the conception, building and operation of the plant up to the time of the 1957 fire.

Programmes which re-evaluate one version of truth can still, do still, have a political agenda of their own.  At the time the scapegoats had been the workers and management who dealt with the fire.  Without going into the technicalities (which the programme dealt with well), those operating the plant had no safety procedures to follow in the event of a fire.  They were, as one worker of the time commented, dealing with a new situation for humankind.  Trial and error came into play.  Having the fans on to cool the fire merely spread it catastrophically.  Using water to douse the fire did not work either.  When they tried shutting off the air to the reactor, that worked. Meltdown was avoided but a massive amount of radioactivity was released.  Cue theories about cancers, in particular in relation to Ireland the Dundalk area where a radioactive flume may have touched the Irish coast although the weather at the time favoured Ireland by taking it away and the evidence seems to indicate we were spared that time.

The portrayal in this documentary was of the plucky managers and workers developing Windscale against nearly impossible targets set by politicians, and the same plucky British managers and workers dealing with a catastrophic situation as best they could and then being blamed for the whole fiasco. The film portrayed the political imperative (from the government, of Churchill and Macmillan) to get plutonium for an atomic bomb, and then plutonium and tritium for a, more powerful, H-Bomb (hydrogen bomb). Windscale was pushed to its limits – and in the case of the 1957 fire beyond its limits – to provide what the political masters wanted. So it was, in effect, the political masters who were to blame.  Windscale’s neighbour, Calder Hall, ‘the world’s first civil nuclear power station’, was actually designed to produce plutonium for the British Bomb and while there was the public face of electricity production (in the era of the ‘too cheap to monitor’ myth) this was the real purpose behind it.  While the workers were tackling a fire ‘in the dark’ at Windscale, it is true that if they had turned off the air to the reactor first when they realised there was a fire the incident might have been relatively minor; also, a particular procedure they had followed earlier (heating the reactor to get rid of stored energy) – previously used successfully a number of times – in this case exacerbated the situation.

The perils and myths of nuclear power are many. The chief one is that, today, it is a way forward to provide energy for humankind when in reality it is a dangerous blind alley. Apart from risks in operation and storage of waste for aeons, the fact is that if all the world’s power was generated by nuclear energy there would only be enough suitable grade uranium to last for three years.  Three years!  The supply of uranium is thus much, much shorter than even oil (and the construction and operation of nuclear power plants still utilises very significant amounts of fossil fuels).

But I’ll tell what the above programme made me think about; countries trying to get nuclear power (and query – weapons?) today; countries like Iran and North Korea.  Obviously I’m not keen on any more countries getting nuclear power but you can understand why when the ‘nuclear club’ (those already with nuclear power and/or weapons) seek to stop them; “We have it, that’s OK, but you can’t have it.”  Unfortunately then genie is out of the bottle and the only way to put it back in is to have unilateral nuclear disarmament followed, eventually, by a transfer to clean energy sources.

In post-Second World War Britain, the country was desperate to still be considered a big boy, up with the superpowers. The BBC programme on Windscale showed the political pressure to keep up with the Joneses (USA) and still be considered a big player.  This was what drove the race to develop atomic and H-bombs.  Britain was in reality a fading superpower, at the point of relinquishing its empire, desperate for status.  Trident and Trident replacement today are still echoes of this; an appalling waste of money on a violent status symbol which will do nothing for the people of Britain or the world and soak up money which could be used for, literally, a million and one positive purposes. Another recent programme on the Beeb (“No plan, no peace”, presented by John Ware) was about the planning or more accurately lack of planning which the USA and UK engaged in regarding Iraq post-Saddam Hussein; once more Britain was trying to play with the big boys (again the USA) but it did not speak out when it could beforehand about the needs of a fractured country once a thirty-year dictator was overthrown. Cue chaos, death and destruction on a criminal scale.

Just as Britain in the ‘fifties was struggling to make its mark in the world through nuclear power and weapons, so Iran and North Korea have sought advantage and prestige in recent times.  Plus ça change.

On the street
Got to the session at Forthspring in Belfast on nonviolence in mid-October (see NN 153). Some people from the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence in Providence, Rhode Island were there, having been running a training the week before. Their specialism is using street workers with people and communities in tackling gang and local violence and, if it happens, trying to avoid retaliation and escalation. As their website states, their mission “is to teach by word and example the principles and practices of nonviolence, and to foster a community that addresses potentially violent situations with nonviolent solutions.”  You can read more at and if you were looking for somewhere to pick up these skills then this Institute is a good place to start.

However there was one particularly scary part to the session. Some of the Institute workers had gone walkabout locally and their assessment was that there is the makings in Belfast of the gang violence that exists in the States.  Among others they met a twelve year old girl who was literally staggering under the weight of the alcohol (beer) she was carrying and a young boy, knee high to a bollard (my expression) whose language was out and out foul in what he said to them.  Their assessment is that there is the makings of violent gang warfare some years down the line. Ireland today already has a high number of drug gang related deaths, mainly in Dublin, but the prospect of Belfast returning to a different high level of violence following the Troubles ‘does not bear thinking about’ – so it needs thinking about a lot because these are experienced people whose reading of the situation  they were visiting is probably very accurate.

Loving our own place
Global warming means various things. If the ‘cake’ of wealth that is shared out between people is going to have to stop getting bigger, and even get smaller, it means it is going to have to be more fairly shared out. People who might be prepared to hold off on industrial action or other forms of protest while ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’, are certainly not going to do the same while the tide is going out. And jobs will have to become more meaningful or working conditions and hours improve. The rich are going to have to lose some of their advantage so that society is more equal, particularly in good oul unequal Ireland (in this we are certainly closer to Boston than Berlin).

But there is another part of global warming. We will simply have to travel less, and, when we do travel, go for longer periods rather than frequent mini-breaks and the like.  There is no alternative at this stage to existing airplane fuel, which, burnt high in the atmosphere, has a much greater global warming effect anyway because it is slower to degrade than at sea level. Airplane flights will become more expensive and be rationed by that means, or other (‘other’ would be fairer). Airports will contract rather than the very, very stupid extensions which are currently planned and being undertaken. Travel by car needs to be reined in and while public transport should grow it cannot grow indefinitely; growing biofuels on a world scale is, as we have become aware, a possible recipe for further landscape degradation and for food price hikes that the poorest cannot afford, and therefore a ‘recipe for starvation’.

And all of this goes on to have another implication. We will have to learn to love our own place. I know this is hard for some Irish people to do, as in much the same way we found it difficult to understand why anybody from anywhere else (Eastern Europe, Baltic countries and elsewhere) might want to come here. But they do, admittedly for the money rather than the scenery or the craic, but, who knows, quite a number may stay.

And what does ‘loving our own place’ mean? A variety of things. Part of it is getting to know every bit of our locality, the unexplored hills a few miles away, the coast or lakes within easy reach, the urban and townscape features of our own locality and neighbouring towns and cities.  Unfortunately Ireland cannot guarantee weather for ‘beach holidays’ – if you strike lucky you strike lucky or else you need to be able to respond at short notice to a spell of good summer weather. So activity holidays need to become the norm; walking, cycling, water sports in a wet suit (not on anything powered like a jet ski…..). Other occupations that could come into their own include bird and nature watching, art of a million kinds,  other cultural pursuits, reading, gastronomy (the gastronomy economy including cookery), the gentle art of whiling away time in company in a pub or café (we’re already quite accomplished in this direction). Or go fly your kite (literally or metaphorically). There are a million hobbies and pursuits out there.

All right, so we are not going to be going to Tallinn for the weekend (that’s Tallinn you) but it can still be a memorable weekend right here. Our ancestors, just a generation or two ago, thought nothing of cycling from Dublin into the Wicklow hills for the day (puff, pant, at least it was easier on the way home). That is the kind of model we should be thinking about. Maybe some of us might miss that break abroad but it is a matter of making an enjoyable virtue of a necessity, and once we get into the right way of thinking then the little, and local, pleasures will please us just as much. We can be Tallinn people about our visit there some other day.

- - - - - - -

That’s me until the December issue, I won’t even mention the word most usually identified with December – I always look for a postponement of it but no one ever listens.  It’s creeping up again, be warned,  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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