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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 242; September 2016

[Returned to related issued on Nonviolence News]

Well, it's not my favourite time of year, the return to autumn schedules – autumn weather I quite like. Summer (and/or summer holidays) have three stages: 1) Fantastic – I've all the time in the world to relax and do what I want to do as well. 2) Oops, time is passing by, there's still time to enjoy things but I've done nothing much of what I wanted to do. 3) It's over, it was good while it lasted, I did get 8.5% done of the things I wanted to achieve which leaves 91.5% to be carried over to the busy autumn period....

Anyway, there ain't nothing you can do about oul tempus fugit and spending time worrying about how you have spent your time isn't very productive either. I do hope you had a good summer, and that you are not hollering about holliers. I also hope you achieved more than 8.5% of what you wanted to get done.

A lesson too late for the learning?
I haven't commented before on remarks made back at the end of May by Patrick Johnston, a vice-chancellor in that august [This is September! - Ed] institution, Queen's University Belfast. He said in an interview that "....society doesn't need a 21-year-old that's a sixth century historian. It needs a 21-year-old who really understands how to analyse things, understands the tenets of leadership and contributing to society, who is a thinker and someone who has the potential to help society drive forward. I don't talk about producing graduates, I talk about producing citizens that have the potential for leadership in society."

Well, that created a bit of a storm, obviously in history circles but more widely at his swift dismissal of humanities in general and history in particular. As many historians pointed out, becoming a historian is (or should be) a rigorous training in how to 'analyse things', and understanding leadership and society, so there is a gross contradiction in his statement above. Any period of history has lessons for today and people were people then as well. Johnston subsequently issued an apology and expressed the value he placed on history. However to utter those words in a society like Norn Iron which is bedevilled by partial understandings of history, and the use of history to further political ends rather than building understanding and commonality, beggars belief.
A few graduating students took direct action by refusing to shake the vice-chancellor's hand or else gave him a leaflet about saving university schools. Not all he said was nonsense. He did pinpoint the fact a third of students leave Norn Iron at 18, a proportion which is far too many and most don't come back to live in the North, a real brain drain.

His comment is symptomatic of the utilitarian approach to education which is a feature of neo-liberal (conservative) thinking, that what matters is the economy and producing economically 'productive' adults, and although he mentions 'leadership' only so many can be 'leaders' in the conventionally understood sense of a conventionally managed society. He is partially right insofar as no society can afford to ignore the economic underpinning of society, and especially in the case of a relatively economically unproductive economy like Northern Ireland. But society is so much more than simple economic activity, and even within the economic sphere there is the question of what economic activity is facilitated (is it useful and sustainable or useless and wasteful?). The interchange between the 'productive' and the 'non-productive' parts of society is also ignored. Humanity cannot live by economics alone. It is certainly a sad state of affairs when someone at the top of an academic institution can even think such thinks let alone express them in a public interview.

'America is great'
In response to Donald Trump's posturing and promise to 'Make America great again', President Obama declared at the Democratic convention in July that "America is already great", by which term ('America') of course he was, rather imperially as is the US and European custom, referring to the US of A and not the two continents of North and South America. So what does 'great' imply? 'Powerful'? Yes, the USA is the strongest military power, a real military superpower, but does that make it 'great'? Great at what? Imposing its will?

Sorry, you'll have to do better than this kind of 'great'. Any old empire can proclaim itself 'great'. How about 'just', 'peaceful', 'respecter of human rights', 'equal', 'racially integrated'? Now those would be something. And none of them apply in any great measure to the USA, or perhaps you could say none of them apply at all. If they did then you could really say the USA is 'great'. Sadly, I certainly can't go along with that one. Greatly unequal, greatly unjust, greatly militarist, greatly greedy, not very different to a lot of Western (or indeed other) societies then, although the US of A tends to do things in its own belligerent and often insensitive way, this being a feature of being a, or the, largest military power. And that's nothing to write home about in any positive way. You could barrack Obama about that one.

A few references you may want to look up; 1) A piece on the big Dublin demo of 15th February 2003 against the Iraq war appeared in July in following the Chilcot report in Britain and 2) A piece on the prospects for an EU army following Brexit 3) A refugee crisis? Yes, the six wealthiest countries in the world (which account for over 56% of global GDP) accommodate just 9% of the world's refugees Regarding this last statistic on refugees there is probably only one response – the mean gets.

You are as you feel
A bit of the old genetricks, sorry genetics, over the summer is a report analysing the genetic make up of people in Norn Iron, England, Scotland and Wales see e.g. As we gather twice as many ancestors for each generation we go back, it's not surprising that we should be a quite a mixture, with us having 1024 ancestors when we go back ten generations (though we may not have that many separate ancestors as with that many generations, and further back, the same people may appear multiple times).

And while it found almost 50% of genetic makeup in Norn Iron was 'Irish', well 48.49% on the sample they had, the 'Irish' proportion was 31.99% in Wales, 43.84% in Scotland (don't forget that Dalriada was culturally Irish), and 20% in England. What exactly those proportions mean was not explained, what genetic markers turned up to give those percentages.

This kind of thing is fascinating but it doesn't deal with current cultural and political identities. You could be genetically 99% 'British' but identify as Irish. Or indeed you could be 99% Irish and identify as 'British'. You could be 99% one or the other, or Klingon, and identify as something else entirely. We all come from somewhere else originally anyway – otherwise we wouldn't be 'here' – and people, as in individuals, are entitled to classify themselves as they wish, which may be outside of the conventional designations of nationalisms and cultural norms.

Sell a field
Windscale, so bad they named it Sellafield. I return to my occasional forays into talking about how Sellafield (in Cumbria, England) continually arises from the ashes of nuclear power to again prove how dangerous it is in the contemporary era. The latest is summarised on the BBC website: "The BBC Panorama investigation, prompted by a whistleblower, found parts of Sellafield regularly have too few staff to operate safely and that radioactive materials have been stored in degrading plastic bottles. Sellafield reprocesses and stores nearly all of the UK's nuclear waste." It also stated that it has "crumbling infrastructure" and "is riddled with potentially lethal safety flaws."

So no wonder people in Ireland, just across the sea, are concerned to say the least. Margaret Ritchie, SDLP MP for South Down called for the "acceleration of the nuclear decommissioning process and the establishment of a secure, long-term containment strategy" for the Sellafield waste. She continued "It has always been needlessly reckless to place a nuclear waste processing site on a geological fault line, and the indiscriminate discharge of radioactive material into the waters of the Irish Sea has damaged delicate marine ecosystems." The programme in BBC's Panorama slot was entitled Sellafield's Nuclear Safety Failings and shown on 5th September 2016. You can find plenty more about Sellafield's failings over the years by a simple word search. Let's just hope Sellafield doesn't make any more major headlines because if it does then we may be in deep, deep trouble.

- - - - -

Well, that's me for now as autumn rolls in and autumn/winter activities gear up. On with that particular show..... – 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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