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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 198: April 2012

[Back to the related issue of Nonviolence News]

Hello, and welcome to my Colm again –

Spring (an early summer?) has been here and I hope fine weather continues though a taste of winter has returned most recently. However I will let you know that by the Billy King method of temperature measurement it has been probably the mildest winter (in terms of least dips to sub-zero temperatures) in thirty years. What is my scientific method? We have two outside taps which, rather stupidly in terms of protection from the frost, come out of the ground outside rather than through the wall of the house – this means the pipes are exposed to the elements. Now I have the pipes double lagged with insulation but I also insulate around the taps in very cold weather, basically if it’s going to be below -3° Centigrade I ensure they are covered (I keep an eye on the forecast in risky weather). But I usually put this off until I need to do it. This winter there was only one night where the frost was likely to be that hard, and I just wrapped them up temporarily and took it off shortly afterwards. I haven’t needed to insulate the taps since. Highly scientific I know, but there you are, the first time in thirty years that I haven’t ended up with them properly insulated. Despite two winters with extremely cold periods (by Irish standards) in 2009-10 and 2010-11, it is getting milder.

Innovation in coping with climate change
I am interested in Bangladesh for a variety of reasons though I have never travelled there. The very first public demonstration I organised was for Bangladeshi independence – so you might work out how ancient I am from that, though I hasten to add I was young at the time. [You may be an old fogey but then you were a young fogey – Ed.] I have been aware for some time of Bangladeshi work to adapt to the reality of climate change and rising sea levels in a country which is one of the most vulnerable of all (and already has 160 million people with a population density almost three times that of the Netherlands). The April 2012 issue of New Internationalist looks at how Bangladesh is facing up to climate change and its makes a fascinating picture.

The really scary news is that with 10% of Bangladesh hardly one metre above sea level, two thirds is below five metres in height. And sea levels are rising 3mm on average but up to 7.8 mm a year on Bangladesh’s coastline. One million hectares of a total of 2.8 million hectares of cultivatable land has already been contaminated by salt. That gives little if any room to manoeuvre. A poor and already densely populated country cannot afford to lose land.

But Bangladeshis are working hard to try to overcome these obstacles through research into growing plants in salty conditions, through back-breaking hard work such as literally raising land by adding silt from rivers or putting buildings on plinths to withstand floods, and even floating schools. But there are millions and millions of people literally living on the edge. Bangladesh has only received $18 million in climate adaptation grants. The New Internationalist concludes that Bangladesh is bursting with expertise and ideas but the parts have not all been fitted together. The Bangladeshi people are working with the odds stacked up very high against them.

Oh, and who is responsible for the plight of the Bangladeshis in all this? Oh, yes, it’s us, the rich west with our carbon habit. Their carbon footprint? A tiny, by proportion, 0.3 tonnes per person. The title of the feature in the New Internationalist on Bangladesh might at first seem dramatic – “Adapt or die” – but it is actually a statement of fact regarding communities and people in the area.

Royal flush
At a time when schoolmates in my politics A Level class [and that must have been a long, long, long time ago – Ed] [Dinosaurs ruled the earth – Billy] were writing essays praising the constitutional monarchy which exists in the UK, just like the line the textbooks took, I was arguing against monarchy and for republicanism in my essay on the topic. This was ‘somewhere in Norn Iron’. Now obviously the ‘r’ word had and has certain connotations in the North but the point I was arguing was mainly about the system of government. I haven’t substantially changed my tune in the period since then.

Why? Well, while the British monarchy may be generally a cohesive element in society in the UK this is not universally true and certainly not in Northern Ireland. But insofar as it is a cohesive element it is so for a hereditary, classist, ‘tug your forelock’, trust the system to deliver (it will deliver rubbish), kind of way. In one way it is an anodyne pinnacle of the government system. In another it symbolises all that is wrong with the divisive and class structure of society while packaged in fancy glitter and a sense of noblesse oblige.

Don’t get me wrong. Queen Elizabeth is obviously hard working and dedicated and less likely to put a foot (or toe or other body parts) wrong than her husband, Prince Philip, or other members of the family such as Prince Andrew, some of whom are clearly exceedingly right wing. The Queen has had the skill to relate, usually superficially, to a wide range of people in what they may experience as a meaningful way while presumably at times being bored out of her mind. She is also better at hiding her own politics than some members of her family, and may be a perfectly admirable woman, who is still going at an advanced age. But this is not the point.

The monarchy is not just the pinnacle of the state system but also the military system – just look at their ridiculous military uniforms when they don them with all the positions they hold and medals. Allegiance to the monarch is considered important when it is, in terms of straight political power, almost powerless. The power rests in the symbol, pulling allegiance to aspects of the state – its military escapades, its right wing policies, its currently increasing divisiveness under a radical right wing government composed mainly of millionaires – which deserve castigation, not subservience.

The honours system (OBEs, MBEs and all that) is another meretricious aspect of the system. While on occasions honouring community and voluntary activists and the like, the greater practice is to honour people who have served the system, and nothing but the system, to the best of their ability. Do most of these time servers deserve an award for doing their job, good, bad or indifferent as that job might be? I don’t think so. And awards named after the ‘British Empire’ whose vicious policies and divide and rule workings still have effects in destabilising societies around the world today? What imperialist or neo-imperialist nonsense.

So, you might have a slight inkling by this stage that I won’t personally be celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s 60th anniversary on the throne of England. Now obviously there are many people who do identify with the monarchy and its trappings (or entrapments!) in Northern Ireland – and elsewhere in Ireland and around the world - but as an institution it is very divisive here and I would consider the more it stays out of Norn Iron, the better. With a hereditary system then who will succeed the Queen is determined by birth rather than ability. The people have no choice as to who will sit at the top of the pile. And the class system will, its adherents hope, continue to have a symbol which will pull people together in subservience when what is really needed is the transfer of power from those who have the wealth and money to control others, if we want an inclusive and peaceful society. No surrender? No sir, end her! By which I mean, ‘up the republics’.

Monopoly money
OK, I’m sure someone has already done this analogy to death, but I haven’t seen it so here goes. In an electronic era, board games aren’t used as much as they may have been heretofore – but some young people do still use their favourite board games on social occasions. However I wonder has Monopoly gone totally out of fashion in Ireland since the property boom collapse and the fall and burial of the Celtic Tiger? Would you dare to play Monopoly, a property development game, when it is the developers what has Ireland in the state of chassis it’s in? Would you get run out of town and hauled before a tribunal for playing Monopoly?

So what are the comparisons between Monopoly and the property boom? Both were about using funny money. Both were about acquisitiveness, greed, and the control of property. Building hotels was the ultimate goal in both. In Monopoly and in life getting people to pay through the nose was the aim of the game. You were more likely to end up in jail, however, playing Monopoly than engaging in shady or illegal practices in property development in real life. While bankrupting your opponents was the goal in Monopoly, it was not necessarily so in real life where cosy cartels of developers pushed property prices up beyond any reasonable limits – to twice or even three times current values (even more in the case of some top end houses). I have a 1930s Monopoly set based on Dublin streets and Merrion Square and Shrewsbury Road were at the top in value, as I remember, and Crumlin at the bottom – in the modern era the commuter belt for Dublin stretches to Drogheda and Navan.

However the Monopoly analogy is inadequate to cover what actually happened. You might not get the money to develop the sites you own in Monopoly but you did not leave ghost estates and buildings around the place as happened in reality. It is not the aim of Monopoly to break the bank. It is not the aim of Monopoly to virtually bankrupt the government. Monopoly does not have either the aim or result of getting the government to take on all your debts. Monopoly has no remit about impoverishing the citizens, cutting services and introducing new taxes to pay for developers’ debts. Monopoly does not have a Big Brother looking in to ensure European banks are paid for their pound of flesh, sorry, debts accrued by reckless developers. Monopoly does not have players looking at decades of austerity and graft to clear other people’s greed. Monopoly is a game and players finish and go to bed. Real life property development in Ireland has left a trail of tears and misery, a real nightmare whether citizens go to bed or not.

What a pity that Irish property developers were playing high stakes in real life and not in a board game like Monopoly. Whether you consider the concept behind Monopoly dodgy or not, Monopoly is a positive moral beacon compared to what happened in the Irish property market in real life. I wonder will anyone else in real life land on the square marked ‘Go to jail’? I won’t hold my breath.

- - - - -

Well, I wish you well for the month ahead and by the time we meet next, May Day will have come and gone, though ‘mayday’ looks like it will be around for many of our political, ecological and economic systems for many moons to come. Take care of yourself and some others in the mean time, and it looks like it is a very mean, not to say miserly, time - 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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