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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 216: February 2014

[Return to related issue on Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

Adolf Awards 2014
Laideez and gintlemin, we proudly present our very own Adolf Awards for Conspicuous Disservice to Peace, Human Rights and the Environment. As you may be able to work out for yourself, they are indeed named after that twentieth century figure best known for having that nomenclature.

The Adolf Awards have been going now for several decades, having been first awarded in the era of ‘Dawn’ magazine (1974-85). Many illustrious scions of politics and society, at home and around the world, have been awarded our least prestigious prizes, some a number of times over. All have deserved the lack of acclaim they have been given. Our prestigious panel of ex-perts have been pouring over (they like a drink) the nominations for months now in a bid to hone the awards down to manageable proportions. After all, we don’t want our awards going to just anybody (but we are happy they go to an unjust anybody).

So, without more ado about nothing, it gives us great pride, and not a little schadenfreude (if we knew what that meant and could pronounce it), to present our awards for this year. So, with a blow on the drums and a belt on the trumpet, we present, the winners (or are they all losers, we’re not sure) who are, as we speak, making their way up the blood-soaked, crimson red carpet –

The Run(a)way Award for Peace Demotion – The Irish state for imprisoning Margaretta D’Arcy for walking on a runway at Shannon Warport, oops, we mean Airport.

Gasbag Oily Character Award – David Cameron for his espousal of fracking England, and attempt to bribe councils there with fracking money to get the process accepted.

The Back the Wrong Horse Again Award for Political Inanity – ‘The West’ for backing the opposition in Syria. Assad and his regime are quite clearly murdering tyrants but whether some of the opposition are any better is a moot point. And encouraging military action against the regime has made a terrible situation absolutely appalling with Assad’s regime killing detainees en masse and wiping out whole rebel areas.

The Over the Top Award for Backing World War 1 a Century Later: David Götterdämmerung, sorry, Cameron. Sure it was a great time and Britain’s imperialism had nothing whatsoever to do with the war developing. Have you got that clear?

The Open Government Award (that is, everything that happens on earth should be open to government agencies while not telling anyone what they were up to): To the NSA in the USA and GCHQ in Britain who spied on enemies, allies, friends, charities, you and me alike.

Political Policing Award: For the policing of the G8 events in Northern Ireland in June, possibly the most overpoliced events in Irish history.

Practise What You Preach Award: Barack Obama for telling young people in Norn Iron in June that “Peace is indeed harder than war” (he should know as he seems to go for the easy option). He continued to drone on.

Global War-ming (Contribution To) Award: The industrialised West as greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere hit levels not known for 800,000 years.

Not Knowing Which Way the Wind Blows Award: Climate change deniers as Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines at up to 315 km/hour – the strongest wind recorded hitting land.

Libertarian Equality Fraternity (For Us Only) Award: The 1% (the richest 1%) who own 46% of the wealth of the earth (Oxfam figures) and the governments and world bodies which permit such an obscenity. South Africa, for example, is now more unequal than under apartheid and “In the UK inequality is rapidly returning to levels not seen since the time of Charles Dickens”. “The $240 billion net income in 2012 of the richest 100 billionaires would be enough to make extreme poverty history four times over.” The richest 85 people own as much as the poorest half of the world.

Promotion of Democracy Award: Jointly awarded to the Egyptian military and the West who, unlike a pigeon, wouldn’t know a coup if one bumped into them.

Stalinist Oppressive Government Award: To Kim Jong-un and the North Korean regime for continuing the gulag tradition into the 21st century (that shows the power of concentration – camp – for you) and using ridiculous allegations for bumping off a ‘trusted’ family member and advisor.

Macho Man of the Year: Vladimir Putin just can’t stop posing topless as he pursues bottomlessly nationalistic policies.

Sweetness and Light Award for Political Memories: Ian and Eileen Paisley for their interview with Eamon Mallie – see how these Christians love (to tear apart) one another.

Political Amnesia Award: Gerry Adams, for continuing to forget what he did in the war. The How Long Is A Piece of String Award: String, what string? It has all been cut so there’s none left. To the coalition in Dublin, Fine Gael and Labour, for cutting the string of services for people in need to the bone, at the behest of the rich and powerful.

Fashion of the Moment Award: Tony Abbott, Australian PM, for opposing same-sex marriage and describing it as “the fashion of the moment”.

The False Link Award for EU Balderdash: Peter Sutherland, who alleged that Euroscepticism and anti-immigrant nationalism were interlinking trends, and attacked Irish neutrality. And we thought we were opposing the emergence of a new world power and a probably dangerous new ideology. - - - - -

The Adolf Awards having been distributed, I will now get one with my Colm –

Paisley shawl
Didya see the Eamon Mallie interview with the now very elderly and frail Ian Paisley on BBC Norn Iron in mid-January, the last major interview he is likely to be giving (shown in two parts). It was fascinating. Paisley is like a player who switched sides in extra/injury time, who switched sides to the team that should win because they deserved to, but played hard for almost all of his life for the other team who wanted to play dirty and get the man and not the ball. This made for some problems giving his ‘after match’ interview.

Continuing the sporting metaphors (if boxing is a sport), Mallie didn’t pull any punches and Paisley was reduced at times to responses such as “I said what I said”. Having now said he was opposed to any discrimination, he had no explanation, and indeed how could he, as to why he opposed civil rights changes in the ‘sixties beyond that everyone was in cahoots with the devil, sorry, republicanism and in league with Ulster’s enemies who would bring about a united Ireland.

He also dealt with the ‘hate the sin but love the sinner’ issue but his violent and hateful language in most of his days indicates that, if that was his aim, he missed it by a mile. How could he stand over a statement like “The Provisional IRA is the military wing of the Roman Catholic Church” when the Catholic Church continually condemned violence and was seen by military republicans as a major obstacle to their power in Catholic communities in the North? And he also continually professed purity while working closely with those who had more than a passing acquaintance on the loyalist side with the gun and the bomb (apart altogether from his own gun certificate waving and paramilitary parading). His assertion that the Monaghan and Dublin bombings of 1974 were caused by the approach of the Irish government to the North has also, rightly, provoked reaction, when the way it was expressed might indicate that it was bound to happen or the Irish government was to blame.

Paisley and the DUP played a very clever game following the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Opposing that agreement, they were extremely pragmatic, playing ‘in’ and ‘out’ at the same time, and picking up support from the Ulster Unionists on the disenchantment among many Protestants at changes in the RUC, release of prisoners, and the dilatory approach of the IRA to disarming (which was due largely to factors within the IRA and Sinn Féin). As the DUP gained support, and became the majority party, they were prepared to work the system they had previously condemned. That was certainly pragmatic and not a little power-hungry. Paisley justified it in the programme by the fact that the IRA had decommissioned and Sinn Féin had supported the police but this approach has no explanation for why he opposed any change, any time, for virtually all his adult life.

Ian Paisley changed sides in injury time. If anyone wants to know what he was still saying early in the 21st century, before he changed sides, I can point you to the analysis I gave of a sermon he preached in 2002. See He was still spouting sheer and unadulterated bigotry well into the 21st century.

You can’t help feeling a bit sad and sorry for Ian and Eileen Paisley. They devoted their working lives to church and party, indeed there would have been no church or party without the Big Man. But by the time he became First Minister, age and infirmity (he was 81) and the ambition of other senior party members played against him. Meanwhile some in the church could not tolerate his change of face and forced him out of his leadership role. Ungrateful wretches. To lose one position in an organisation you created is unfortunate, to lose two before you were saying your time is up must be hard. Though who else apart from Robert Mugabe would expect to be still a political leader at 82 beats me.

Of course we should be grateful for small mercies, that he saw the light (even if that also served self interest). But no one did more to promote division in Northern Ireland, no one did more to incite resistance to change. If in his earlier life he had been somewhere like he is now, politically, perhaps he could have led for positive change while still standing for the best of Protestant and unionist values (and I won’t unpack that phrase here because it might take some time in its complexity). The history of the Troubles or the period from 1969 might have been somewhat different and less brutal. Wishful thinking.

Sigh, cling!
Oh, the ‘cling’ is a bicycle bell (punning onomatopoeia rules!). I once got warned by a police sergeant, in Norn Iron, for not having a bell on my bike, and an unsafe child seat (which I didn’t use any more, my children having got too big). I do now sport a bell on my commuting bicycle as an old-fashioned way of indicating my presence to pedestrians who might stray into my path, though I could not rely on its effectiveness given modern traffic noise. I do however use my voice as well, and using the bell when you may need to brake hard can be problematic as you might need three hands. Pedestrians who stray into my path I try to be gentle with, practising precautionary cycling (making allowances for pedestrians who may change course suddenly without looking or just not see me); any bad language is reserved (it usually just flows out on the spur of the moment, no preparation needed) for motorists who cut me up - despite their trying hard, only the very occasional one succeeds in knocking me over. Sometimes I am reduced to ironic ‘good’ language.

Anyway, I didn’t start this to tell you about my sigh, cling, but about a book I was given for Christmas, “Cycling in Victorian Ireland” by Brian Griffin (Nonsuch, 2006). You might think that this would be, to coin a phrase, pedestrian but I found it an exciting read. The technological and social change which the advent of cycling brought from the later stages of the nineteenth century was remarkable, and the sense of excitement which comes through is palpable. We are so used to seeing bicycles, and despite children’s excitement at a new bike for Christmas, the first time seeing a bicycle, probably an ‘Ordinary’ or penny-farthing passing through a town or village, was an extraordinary event with a crowd following and even running after the cyclist, keeping up as long as they could.

In the early days of cycling you needed to be reasonably well off (those ‘Ordinaries’ were not cheap), and/or foolhardy. Getting up on a penny-farthing was a feat in itself, and putting one of those feet wrong and you were in trouble. Going down a steep hill was an achievement, and you didn’t want to hit a stone at the bottom, going over the front and knocking yourself unconscious (like one young man referred to). The introduction of the modern ‘safety’ bicycle, and then the pneumatic tyre, brought the possibility of cycling as a mass phenomenon. Robert Boyd Dunlop, in Belfast, may not have invented the pneumatic tyre but he popularised it, and I have told you before about what he ‘invented’ at the same time. Answer: the puncture.

There are a huge number of fascinating facts for anyone with an interest in cycling, culture or technical innovation. The first, though short-lived, women’s cycle club in Ireland or Britain (the two then obviously being part of the UK of B&I) was in Nenagh, Co Tipperary. Up Tipp! But don’t tip up your penny-farthing. A sizeable chapter covers women’s cycling and the change it signified for women in terms of freedom of movement. The book notes the formation of two cycling clubs in Birr, Co Offaly in 1888 – the ‘Parsonstown Cycling Club’ catering for Unionists and Protestants, and the ‘Birr Cycling Club’ catering for Catholics and Nationalists (‘Parsonstown’ was the plantation name for Birr). Enniscorthy and Wexford, however, were successful in forming united cycling clubs where previously there had been a similar division.

I could quote a hundred stories or examples from the book but the moral of the story is – never think of the bicycle as Ordinary but rather an extra-Ordinary machine which altered life, for the better a century and a bit ago, and which is the transport solution for local (and sometimes longer distance) travel today and in the future. Both pollution free, relatively speaking, and health giving through exercise, it is the perfect transport mode. The wheel has turned. The era of the bicycle is here again. So, on yer bike.

Losing the bottle
We have lost the bottle entirely, or is it the battle. And along with it, an instant connection to my childhood. I believe the last doorstep delivery of milk bottles in Ireland has ceased with the cessation of their production by Farmview Dairy in Belfast. At a time when ‘proper’ recycling (= reuse for the same purpose) should be increasing exponentially we see the demand for milk in bottles having dropped and the diary stopping them, for economic reasons. Instead we get plastic cartons which presumably use more energy and oil in production, and are more work for us - milk bottles you just rinsed and put out the door, cartons you rinse, leave to drain, half crush, and then put them in the recycling bin. The price of regress.

I have written before that I do not believe there should be such a thing as a non-returnable glass bottle or container. You should buy them full, return them empty, and get enough credit to make it worthwhile. Some countries do it. One trip glass containers seem a waste, particularly when as recycled it’s only to go into roads and the like. This might also benefit cyclists (lack of punctures) and children at risk from broken glass. So all bottles and glass containers should have a ‘deposit’ or return value.

The Republic lost milk bottles a long time ago. In fact a few years ago one wag in the Irish Times, when there had been talk about the difficulty of opening cartons, spoke about a design for a milk container, cylindrical, made of glass, with an easy open top; they said that “I call my design a ‘milk bottle’.” There may be up-market ‘single estate’ milk available in bottles today but mass delivery of milk in bottles has gone the way of the dodo.

Oh, the connection with my childhood I have lost; I still had the family, galvanised, milk bottle container, a handle and space for eight bottles, what you would expect to see in a photo or picture of a 1950s milkman. It sat on our doorstep. And each time I put out the milk bottles and put them in the container, there was a distinctive ‘clink’, a sound which brought me right back to being a little boy when I did the same task at home. The sound is indelibly embedded in my brain but I don’t expect to hear it again in real life.

D’Arcy and Shannon
Frail, ill, 79 years of age, Margaretta D’Arcy is an example to us all. Amazingly, her involvement in peace activities stretches back to the Committee of 100 in England in the early 1960s, an anti-nuclear direct action campaign. Refusing to be bound over not to enter non-public parts of Shannon Airport following a protest about US military use of Shannon, she was put inside for her three month sentence.

At school I read or ‘did’ “Sergeant Musgrave’s Dance” (look it up) by John Arden, Margaretta’s husband, who died in 2012. It is partly about violence being used to protest about violence, and its futility. In this case about Shannon the Irish state is using a form of violence (imprisonment) to punish someone who sought to nonviolently protest about its (the state’s) acquiescence in violence through allowing the use of Shannon Airport for the US military to ship soldiers and supplies for its wars. You could hardly make it up.

The use of Shannon Airport by the US military is a major blot on Ireland’s conscience. Margaretta D’Arcy, Shannonwatch and others are trying to draw attention to that blot. The state, it is well documented, had an out but refused to take it, in getting rid of the US military. If we are talking about real crime, the real crime is that of the government (both this Fine Gael-Labour coalition and previous Fianna Fáil led governments) in facilitating the USA in its war crimes. Hang your head in shame. Meanwhile someone like Margaretta D’Arcy, and others who have been involved in protesting for peace and against war involvement at Shannon, can hold their heads high. Irish neutrality, my erse. It may still be a popular concept with the public but the government sells its soul to the richest bidder, currently the world’s only superpower, because it is too craven to do otherwise.

Pete Seeger
The death very recently of Pete Seeger removes from the scene, at 94, of one of the finest, if not the finest, singer-songwriter for peace in the English language in the twentieth century. His life you can look up online but I thought, as a tribute, I’d write about just a few of his songs, ones I have on a double CD from Appleseed Recordings of his songs sung by a variety of artists, himself included.

Now a good number of ‘his’ songs were not entirely his, others added content (e.g. to “Where have all the flowers gone”, the title of the double album I have) or were his adaptations of traditional songs – but that also took skill in recognising possibilities, adapting and popularising them. But even when dealing with the damnable and the drastic he still generally managed to give things a touch of optimism. The first song on the album is the version of “Where have all the flowers gone” by Tommy Sands, Dolores Keane and Vedran Smailovic. Beautiful.

I have written before (in more detail) about the remarkable and beautiful prose-song ‘My name is Lisa Kalvelage’ which tells the story of a war resister in the USA. She was ‘taking responsibility’ to oppose US warmongering in Vietnam in 1965, having been taught to ‘take responsibility’ by the US as a German following the Second World War when, seeking permission to emigrate to the US as a GI bride, she was refused because she had not ‘taken responsibility’ for the Hitler/Nazi era. You can hear it at sung by Ani Difranco.

“We shall overcome” of course became an anthem of the US civil rights movement, and then the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. I had forgotten, until reading a thread online about Pete Seeger that his song “My rainbow race” was used in Norway at the time of the trial of Anders Breivik following the killing of 69 people on the island of Utoya in 2011; it was a way of affirming life and diversity and opposing death and his racist fantasies.

My pick here of the most beautiful rendering on this double album is Holly Near’s singing ‘Quite early morning’ and I’ll quote a few lines from that to end with, and before that “Oh sacred world”, as an epitaph for Pete Seeger himself. There are of course lots more songs I could quote from and his work will continue to live and be loved for some generations.

[Oh sacred world]
Oh sacred world, now wounded,
We pledge to make you free
Of hate, of war, of selfish cruelty.
And here, in our small corner
We plant a tiny seed
It will grow in beauty
To shame the face of greed

[Quite early morning]
Some say that humankind won't long endure
But what makes them oh so sure?
I know that you who hear my singing
Could make those freedom bells go on ringing......

So though it's darkest before the dawn
These thoughts keep us moving on
Through all this world of joy and sorrow
We still can have singing tomorrows....


Well, that’s it for now, Christmas already seems a distant memory but spring is still some distance away, and last year March was still very much winter. Oh well, by the end of January you can see the days getting longer (well, you could if it wasn’t so grey) and that is always pleasant, a harbinger of long summer days (of incessant rain, oh well). But the first of the crocuses are out in Belfast - and the far north of Ireland is on average two degrees cooler than the far south. Once more our schizostylis has survived in flower from the late autumn to greet the first of the spring flowers. See you again soon, 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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