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Billy King

Number 248: April 2017

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

Definitions, No 167: Decadency

  1. Thinking in decades. Assuming all trends fit neatly into decades, either between years ending in '0' and the next one (e.g. 1960 – 1970, though strictly speaking if this is inclusive it is actually 11 years) or other periods of ten (or eleven) years (e.g. 1998 – 2008).
  2. (Ireland) Assuming that the 'Decade of Commemorations' (Centenaries of the period 1912-1922) would be disastrous when they have been a mixture of some gentle questioning and some pro-military and pro-establishment propaganda.

Why do people hate America?
As readers of this column may know by now, I tend to read books years after they were issued and trended, if they were popular at all. And so it is with a book which came out originally before the 2003 Iraq War, examining the issue of why people hate the (United States of) America; "Why do people hate America?" by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies (first published 2002).

The first reason – or maybe symbol - for me, not explored in the book, is in the title. There may not be an exact equivalent elsewhere in terms of inappropriate labelling, but referring to the USA as 'America' is itself acceptance of an imperialist dominance by the world's greatest or only military super/hyper-power which is also a cultural and economic superpower. There are two continents named 'America' – North and South – collectively 'the Americas'. There is a substantial country to the north of the USA named Canada. Mexico is still 'North' America geographically, to me anyhow. Then there is Central America. And South or 'Latin' America. The USA is a populous country but there are more people living in the rest of 'the Americas' than in the USA. To call the USA 'America' is obviously common practice, and people will know what you mean, but it is fatuously inaccurate, and falls into at least a cultural imperialist mode or acceptance of that. Call it the 'US', call it the 'USA', call the country by its full name, use the term 'North America' if you mean that geographical area collectively, but using 'America' for the USA is a no no.

There is a lot more to 'go on' 15 years after this book was produced, post-Afghanistan, post-Iraq, post-Ukraine, and in the era of the destruction of Syria and of drone warfare undertaken where the USA sees fit. If the USA is more laughed at, in the era of Trump, it is still with tragic unease at what might come next. I think all great powers have a total mismatch between how they perceive themselves and how they are seen by others; "A poll of world 'opinion leaders' in politics, media, business, culture and government, commissioned by the Paris-based International Herald Tribune, revealed that a majority of non-US respondents – 58% - felt that Washington's policies were a 'major cause' in fuelling resentment and anger against the United States. In contrast, only 18% of US respondents blamed their government's policies. Moreover, 90% of Americans listed their country's power and wealth as the chief reason why they are disliked, while the non-Americans overwhelmingly thought that the US bears responsibility for the gap between the world's rich and poor." (pages 9 – 10).

A point which the book makes, and is essential, is that the USA is not monolithic. But it does often seem that way. And the conservative and vested interests which dominate the media mean that we do not get a very good picture of alternative movements in the States, and unless you are involved in the peace movement internationally you might not know that there has been a vibrant and active peace movement opposing the USA's military escapades and foreign policies – they, and other social and political movements, are all but invisible in mainstream media.

The book looks at a wide variety of aspects of the topic including economic and cultural domination as well as military (on the latter it lists a century of US military interventions at home and abroad, something which a word search online should easily throw up). The USA sees itself as the world's policeman; most of the rest of the world tends to see it as the world's bully boy, although some 'friends' welcome its muscle power. A key point in the general myopia, however, is that while "the rest of the world is suffocating under the weight of American cultural products, Americans are totally insulated from non-American cultures." There is mention of the brilliant term, "Coca-colonisation" which might be taken not just to apply to Coca Cola but to a much wider swathe of US cultural and economic hegemony.

It also deals with using human rights as a tool when it suits (page 202) though the same could certainly be said of 'democracy', or indeed 'women's rights'. 'Democracy' has been used as a concept to support intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, but mainly in pursuit of US interests, and clearly was not a major aim. Thus the USA has, and has had, no qualms whatsoever about propping up dictatorial or authoritarian regimes which are anything but democratic. Apoplexy has come at Russian intervention in the last US presidential election, rightly so, but the US has regularly tied to intervene in elections elsewhere. And at one stage most of Latin America had dictatorial regimes whose establishment the USA had a hand in. It is a while ago now but I once heard a Central American activist speak about how he was conscientised towards democracy by US anti-Nazi propaganda of the Second World War – and of how this helped lead him to activism opposing US suppression of democracy in his country....

The USA's economic hegemony is threatened by the rise of China as well as by internal forces, and external ones (e.g. should the might dollar cease to be the world's preferred currency, the US has a major problem). All empires and superpowers pass their sell by date – though as the case of the UK illustrates it takes some of them decades or centuries to realise that. The USA as a superpower is certainly not done yet with great risks ahead. If only the majority of people – or even a substantial minority - in the USA could see the country as others see it then change might come but attitudes and approaches are so entrenched that this seems almost inconceivable.

While there is life there is hope. Without necessarily extolling someone like Bernie Sanders something like his challenge for the presidency last year did at least represent another USA, which is there but unable to come to the fore. But if we go on past form then unfortunately things will not end too well for anyone.

British government out to get women
The category of people who have suffered most from austerity cuts in the UK has been women, that is quite well established, well, unless you consider poor people in general as a category who can also be considered to have suffered most from austerity. But a new low is about to be hit, see here. The British government is to introduce a 'two child rule' for receipt of tax credits, applying to children born from April 2017. In future, to receive tax credits for a third child a woman has to prove that they conceived their third child through rape.

This is wrong in so many different ways, and the Women's Aid NI statement above goes into detail. Do you declare your child to be a 'rape child' – with a myriad of possible consequences, particularly in a small society like Northern Ireland – or do you let the child and family suffer in greater poverty? What an unfair choice. And what a pack of uncaring gets who could even think of offering that as a choice as opposed to supporting fully those who need financial support. It sounds like something from the 1920s, at latest, and possibly from some feudal or authoritarian society somewhere. Oh, sorry, I forgot, feudalism is making a comeback.... China has had a 'one child' policy, Britain is getting a 'two child' policy for people getting any benefits even if they are low paid workers.

A life on, and over, the line
Some people risk significantly for peace. MJ Sharp, a US activist, worked for the United Nations and was investigating human rights abuses in the Central Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the time of his kidnapping, with five others, in mid-March, and was subsequently killed. He had previous involvement with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT ) among others. But he was only one person who died. A CPT statement said "We grieve, too, for those who lay in the mass graves MJ and his colleagues were going to document. May none of them be forgotten as we recommit ourselves to the task of building partnerships to transform the violence and oppression we face."

A poem which was written by long-time CPTer Tim Nafziger about MJ Sharp touched me and I reproduce it here. I think it is a brilliant eulogy and representation of just one human being. See also this

Lima Bean Eulogy by Tim Nafziger about MJ Sharp
We planted lima beans the morning after
villagers found MJ's body.
The rotund little green dumplings
nestling to the damp earth
He nestled in a shallow grave with Zaida and Betu
along the road from from Bukonde to Tshimbulu in Kasai.
In a few weeks those dumplings will bust up, burst out
and wind their way above our highest hedges.
So this is what it feels like when a friend
(smiling smart blackjack shark, wisecracking lark, goofball genius, fingernail biting adventurer, rainbow vacuum salesman, globe-trotting strategist, adorable hunk, creative critical mind, mass grave documenter, consummate UN professional, Johnny Walker philosopher, lock picking ninja, Mennonite golden boy, rebel leader networker (at church), slightly bespectacled gadget nerd (according to the New York Times if you trust them), loyal comrade, Hot Doug's line-waiter, burnt out social justice warrior, charismatic conversationalist, noble old soul, pugnacious puppy trainer, binge watching Netflix enthusiast, reconciliator, frequent flier, subversive prankster punk, bright brave peace worker, canny researcher, francophone fish, dummie teller, smooth talking soccer jock, sarcastic lover, humble impresario, fast talking militia deserter recruiter, board game geek, persistent investigator, fiercely independent expert, earnest-really-doing-that-swords-to-plowshares-thing-we-all-talk-about-doing-in-a-way-that-makes-us-feel-a-little-awkward-but-we'd-never-admit-it type, tuxedoed porsche driver, cherry eating long-distance trekker, bantering buddy, authoritarian undermining report writer, box free thinker, charming diplomat, cool calm calculated political operator, lovable troublemaker and texas hold-em chip supplier)
becomes a seed.

Nature's greening effect
You can't argue with nature. Well, you certainly can but it tends to get its own back, and unfortunately global warming is one 'argument' which humanity can only lose. But a little example comes to mind; our neighbours' garden. With a small garden mainly shaded from the sun behind Castlwellan Gold leylandii (which are however kept quite trim), not a lot of light gets at where there is meant to be a lawn. But the grass would not grow well there with the lack of light, and moss kept trying to make a takeover.

After some time trying to address the problem, our friendly neighbour decided to take more drastic action – go for artificial grass. I'm not sure whether it is nylon or what that artificial 'turf' is made of but it got laid and looked neat and, well, grasslike. That was a few years ago and maybe it was kept looking pristine by cleaning and poisoning or other attention. Or maybe it has taken a few years for dirt to built up around the artificial grass. Anyway, our neighbour is away, the place rented out, so the garden is not being cared for to the same extent. The point of the story, however, is that the moss has been making a takeover bid on the space of the artificial grass; the moss is a much lighter and more vibrant green colour and is rapidly colonising the 6 x 3 m space of the 'grass' so that by the end of this year I expect it to be almost all covered in moss.

The moss has played a waiting game and is winning again. You can try to knock nature but nature nurtures its own.

- - - - -
Well, isn't it great to see spring well sprung, summer time here and the hope all that brings....except in politics of course. Sin a bhfuil, 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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