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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 257: March 2018

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Death of Gene Sharp
Gene Sharp died on 28th January (2018), aged 90, in his native USA. A very important figure in relation to nonviolence, he was an academic concerned with the issues, even if one most concerned with the practical matters of nonviolent political struggle, more than an activist coming from a morally based nonviolent viewpoint. He did however have that, latter, background; he had been a CO, imprisoned for refusing to be drafted for the Korean War, and had been secretary to AJ Muste.

His approach sometimes caused disagreement with nonviolent activists but his work, including on Gandhi but especially his “The Politics of Nonviolent Action” (and other work deriving from this), was of great importance. Although well known in some circles, he came to international prominence late in life, when some of this work became associated with the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ (‘so-called’ since many of those participating were not Arabs) beginning 2010-11.

Gene Sharp’s typology of 198 varieties of nonviolent action, in “The Politics of Nonviolent Acton”, forms the starting point of the workshop on the INNATE website at http://www.innatenonviolence.orgl which explores the use of nonviolent tactics in relation to us and our campaigns. What can we use, how can we use it?

I only met Gene Sharp once, at an international conference organised by the WRI/War Resisters’ International where the first morning I was wandering around, saying hello to people, that kind of thing. “Hello”, and I said my name to a slightly chubby middle aged guy in a thick, Aran-type jumper, and back came the response “Hello, I’m Gene Sharp”. He was a keynote speaker at the event, on social defence, in Bradford. He deserves to be remembered and his work will continue to contribute to explorations of nonviolence for a very considerable time to come. I will certainly remember him with fondness and gratitude for what he contributed. An authorised biography is due for publication soon.

See also which has various contributions, and another obit by George Lakey on the same site.

From the culinary and gardening correspondent
Before the recent Arctic chill and snow it was great to see things starting to show their faces and colour; things are not quite so happy looking now at zero degrees if not completely covered in snow. It’s not likely to be as bad as 1937 though when March was completely frozen. [You remember it well then? – Ed] [Eh, not quite, it’s because I know the daffodils were only in full bloom in mid to late April that year I discovered March that year was frozen solid – Billy] [What a fount of useless information! – Ed] [Sure where would you be without me! – Billy] Of course there are the pretty spring flowers and bulbs showing their brilliant colour, or white in the case of snowdrops, but I also wonder as perennials such as chives or the red-veined sorrel I sowed last year started to grow again. We have a couple of varieties of chives, one very early, as well as Welsh onions (like scallions except you only take the green part and leave the bulb to sprout more).

Talking of sorrel, I gave up growing lettuce a couple of years ago and grow leaves as in rocket, land cress (a close relation to water cress) and sorrel; the red-veined sorrel makes an attractive addition to any salad and the taste is refreshing too. Late sown rocket and land cress (sown August) provide me with occasional salad ingredients throughout the winter. Reasons for giving up growing lettuce? a) Slugs making a home inside the lettuce (despite lots of jam jars with beer to trap them), and b) Even with care I tended to end up with either a glut or none at all. Recently it looks like I am growing jam jars (a jarring sight?) as the spring clean up has included putting all those jars in the one place. However when the weather gets warmer many will be sunk in the ground with leftover-beer-and-a-bit-of-wine to get some of the slugs and snails as they emerge.

Mind you, talking about perennials, dealing with the likes of scutch (couch) grass is also a perennial problem for me with perennials as you have to take care not to damage the plants that you do want, either circumventing or more likely lifting and carefully relaying them once the invasive roots of the grass have been removed – well, most of them, some living on to struggle against me another day.

Our garden is bigger than the norm for suburbia, the main part at the back being a bit over 20 x 10 metres, and being an organic gardener has challenges as well as pleasures. However interacting with nature in the form of gardening has a very positive side, not least in eating some of our own produce. And being a safe feeding ground for birds, although there are neighbouring cats, is a visual delight; this year there seem to be a number of beautiful finches have joined our throng of other birds who swoop down, eat seeds and, hopefully, insects or slugs, and depart. We have also had a resident frog for some years which helps the slug control.

It is refreshing, even amazing, to see a growth in vegan foods in my local supermarket (not one traditionally renowned for culinary innovation) - it has had tofu for some time and even has vegan cheese now. I am still a lactovegetarian though I try to get the bulk of protein from purely vegetable sources. Although I have to get it from a specialist wholefood store, one cheesy vegan flavour I do use is Engevita, made in Estonia, which is dried flakes of inactive yeast (it can be used dry or it will dissolve), I think of it as umami. This is great for adding a rich flavour; I would use it for something like a vegan mushroom sauce (fried mushrooms in a non-dairy white sauce) or simply for putting on the dhal (after dishing out) which is part of our ‘Friday special’, a stir fry with dhal and noodles.

Speaking of stir fries, you don’t need exotic ingredients. I would use mainly seasonal veg with one or two additions to deepen the taste or brighten the colour, the latter usually being half a red or yellow sweet pepper, though diced carrot is colourful too. There would however be ginger, chilli and garlic as flavourings and occasionally I would add olives or sun-dried tomatoes, chopped up, in addition to the main veg ingredients which for the bulk could include chopped carrot, parsnip, leeks, onion and cauliflower.

My previous effort at ‘cooking the books’, “Vegetarian and Vegan Cuisine”, is online on the INNATE website at if you are looking for culinary delights....and you trust me to provide them.

You are only as good as...
...your next move/deal/meal/steal, in other words, you can’t rest on your laurels or past achievements because if you do you are snookered, particularly in the fast moving world of today. I was reminded of this in a Christmas letter from someone in Norn Iron who identifies strongly as British.

Anyway, the missive I received had a quote from a short printed piece about a British person in South America being admired by someone there because they were British – the Latin American person quoted said ‘The British Isles’ was a small place which “once controlled more than half the world”, had its language (English) spoken and taught ‘everywhere’ etc etc, on went the praise, and ended with “The label Made in Britain guaranteed quality and an Englishman’s word is his bond”.... The British hearer of this praise walked tall.

It strikes me that this praise encapsulates the problem Britain is in today (and obviously this has major repercussions for Ireland) although I should say that admiration is certainly not universal. Yes, Britain was a great world power though the negative side of colonialism tends to be downplayed in Britain today. Yes, English is the nearest the world has to a lingua franca but a) today this is as much due to the USA as Britain, and b) there are places where it is not well known and its position may change. Yes, many people admire things about Britain, including its role in assisting the liberation of western Europe from Nazi control in the Second World War, but are mystified by the direction Britain is going in today.

There are many good points about the deficiencies of the EU, including its neoliberalism and developing militarism – points which are regularly made in this publication. But to depart from such a body for conservative nationalist reasons, as Britain is doing, has been on the basis of looking back to this ‘glorious’ past, which was not so glorious really for many people – both outside and inside the UK. The world is different. Britain is different. And the deal Britain is going to get, either from the EU or in potential trade deals with ‘the rest of the world’, is going to be very poor compared to what it had in the EU.

If you are only as good as your next deal (speaking of which, Donald Trump has been showing himself a pretty pathetic wheeler-dealer most of the time, so much for ‘The Art of the Deal’, he doesn’t have a great deal to be proud of) it’s not looking great for our neighbours. Even if they did, via a decision taken at whatever level, ditch Brexit or a hard Brexit, they will be left looking rather foolish, and worse off economically, whatever happens. I am starting to feel empathetic. Whether any different regime to the current one, e.g. a Corbyn government, will manage to take Brexit in a different and more progressive direction remains to be seen.

Writing words
Well, it is difficult to write without words, even symbols or hieroglyphs are crypto-words. It is amazing what we quickly take for granted. Writing the piece above I got to think about how I write today and how I used to write until the 1980s when I was given an Amstrad word processor by a benefactor (Thanks M!). I did use a portable typewriter. For an article I would get my ideas together, and any references, and then type up a draft. This would then be read and reread, and I would write in corrections and amendments, and often amendments to amendments. I would then type up a ‘good’ copy which would be the final version.

Unless a piece was very short, or especially important, it was simply too much work to do any more than two drafts – typing out a whole article several times is not much fun. And it required some juggling to ensure that the second typed draft encompassed everything I wanted, all those little notes I had made, and, if it didn’t, well, if it wasn’t essential it might just have been left as it was.

I contrast this with what I am doing now. I write something. I can amend, delete, substitute, rearrange at will. I can look over the piece as many times as I like – and I often do like. I can quote from something online without retyping, though it may require careful formatting. I can go with the flow knowing that it can be substantially changed without too much effort. I can write more, and faster. [We can’t shut you up – Ed]

This ease of production, and other technological advances, have assisted the abundance of words (and images) which confront us today. Obviously with the internet it can be easier to find things but other things can be hidden in plain sight. If the difficulty in the past was often the paucity of information, today it can be its overabundance.

Whether I am any better a writer today than then, well, I don’t honestly know, I leave that to anyone who knew my writing then, and knows it now, to judge. But there are contrasting pressures. On the one hand the instantaneousness of the likes of Twitter leads to reflections being shared which are from the heart (or perhaps the feet, or even The Hair) while technology, including word checks, has certainly removed any reasonable excuse for a more measured piece being unpolished, even if the pressures have mounted [Billy - Will you get that piece to me NOW - Ed].

What concerns us most..... not necessarily logical. The big issues for any society may be a rational response to reality or they may not. It may be based on irrational fear, or a fear blown out of all proportion – usually to the advantage of the powerful. Look at the case of the USA and the pathological fear, as presented by POTUS D Trump, of military Islamic terrorism. Since 9/11, which was a terrible tragedy, the ten year averages for deaths by various means are as follows (deaths of US citizens caused by); Islamic (military) jihadist immigrants* 2; far-right terrorists 5; all Islamic jihadist terrorists (including US citizens) 9; armed toddlers 21; lightning 31; lawnmowers 69; being hit by a bus 264; falling out of bed 737; being shot by another American 11,737. *I have added “(military)” before “jihadist” in this item because there is an understanding within Islam of jihad being spiritual rather than military struggle, see e.g.

I am not actually certain of the origin of the table which I quote above because it was sent to me as an e-mail attachment but the original was annotated with sources and looks accurate enough. However, considering this table, in the absence of gun control in the USA, and with another terrible school shooting just a day before I write this, I would advise President Trump to expel all ‘Americans’ from the USA immediately to make the country safer. That should do the trick. This proposal is at least as viable as arming all teachers. Though just maybe Trump is moving to supporting some limited, but increased, gun control. Oh, and definitely ban all lawnmowers which are well known to be in league with Islamic jihadist militant terrorist militant jihadist terrorists - they don’t let the grass grow beneath their feet, and they won’t even grass up their comrades. And you do know what they say about daisycutters.

- - - -
Well, that’s me for another month, stay warm in the current cold, and I’ll C U 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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