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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 273: October 2019

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Here we are again, welcome to the Billy King Show for winter creeps in or blows in the back door...

Vice verse

I am looking forward to the World Beyond War conference in Limerick on 5th and 6th October – should be good, and it is great that a US-international organisation like this chose to hold such an event there to show up Irish complicity with US war efforts which takes place at Shannon Warport.

Speaking of which, one of the missives emanating from David Swanson about the conference had the following piece of verse, indeeding a Limerick for a Limerick conference, and I can’t resist such a fine example of the art of poetry:

“Green Ireland has a peaceful blue sky.
Shannon Airport’s full of war planes; Here’s why.
When Emperor Trump
Tells Ireland to Jump
Ireland bows down and asks him “How high?” “

Cack-handed compliments
A ‘back-handed compliment’ is a ‘compliment’ which is really an insult. I would however use the phrase ‘cack-handed compliment’ for an attempted insult which really reflects badly on the speaker. The dictionary defines ‘cack-handed’ as being awkward or clumsy and in linking it with being one letter away from “back-handed compliment” I would extend that to being something that shows a negative side of the speaker.

There were two examples which I will use from the oeuvre of someone usually known as ‘Boris Johnston’. One was when he called Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons at Notminster “a big girl’s blouse”, and the second where he had said in writing that David Cameron was a ‘girly swot’, the latter for extending the sitting hours of parliament (this dates back a few years but his description only came to light recently).

Both of these phrases made Johnston seem he was back in an all-boys school, aged about 12 [You mean he isn’t? – Ed]. Both were undoubtedly sexist, and the first one also sexual. But if you actually analyse them, what do they mean? Where do they come from? Both certainly seem to come from an era and mindset which regards the female gender as inherently inferior, and weak. The idea that the female gender is ‘weak’ is incredibly passé; women are better at resisting disease, better at bearing pain, better at sharing problems and networking with friends, and tend to live longer than men. Oh, you mean they can’t lift something as heavy? So what?

And as for Johnston trying to use the term ‘swot’ for someone else, when he is notoriously ill-prepared (a k a ‘lazy’) on detail is rich (and he is that) and almost succeeds in making David Cameron look good, and that would be the first in a long time.

The origin of ‘cack’, meaning excrement, dung or shit, does not necessarily indicate it is considered a particularly ‘rude’ word, one dictionary definition indicates it is ‘mild’. It comes, perhaps, from Latin but in Ireland it may or can also come from the Irish. King James II, after he turned tail and fled as the Battle of the Boyne was going badly, became known as “Séamus a’ Caca” – this description can work even better translated into English as it may alliterate! Not, hopefully, to be confused with “cáca” (cake) in Irish, what a difference a fada makes.

On cack-handed compliments closer to home, I have shared before the etymology of the Northern exceedingly derogatory Protestant term for Catholics, ‘taigs’ or ‘teagues’. It comes from a personal name, Tadhg, just as in Britain in the mid-20th century Irish people tended to be called ‘Paddy’ or ‘paddies’ because Patrick or Paddy was a common Irish given name. But the meaning of ‘Tadhg’ is ‘Poet’ so you have the amazing spectacle of one lot of people (well, only a small number of people these days, I hope) who try to insult other people by calling them a ‘poet’ – “You Poet you!” Totally bizarre.

Unfortunately you can still see graffiti in places in the North, presumably from juvenile hands, with the acronym ‘KAT’ and its Catholic corollary ‘KAH’; ‘Kill All Taigs’ and ‘Kill All Huns’ (the Catholic insulting term for ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Protestants). The North has come a certain distance forward but they are not talking about a chocolate bar made by Nestlé but offensive terms which are wanting ‘the other side’ wiped out.

The cost of the North doesn’t go west
As discussion about a united Ireland continues, at least on some people’s lips if not in other parts of their body politic, we need detailed information and analysis. The more info people have about all aspects of the situation the better. It is therefore good to get the score on Norn Iron’s fiscal deficit (which is met by the block grant from the UK government) – i.e. the difference between the total taxes raised in Norn Iron and the amount spent by the state. Not for the first time I refer you to Peter Donaghy, ‘Salmon of Data’, on the Slugger O’Toole site.

“Northern Ireland’s fiscal deficit is shrinking, but not in a sustainable way” is the headline. “The deficit peaked in 2010 at £12.7bn, and over the course of this decade has fallen around 25% in real terms to £9.5bn”. There was a collapse in tax revenues with the slump which started 2007/8. And “Over the course of the 2010s, the fall in the deficit has been driven by real terms spending decreases and not increased taxation revenues, which have been broadly flat” – which is not great news for those north of the border.

He mentions how Norn Iron’s tertiary education rate compares unfavourably with different regions in the Republic and is amongst the lowest in the UK. He then concludes – and I would agree strongly – “Northern Ireland needs substantial investment in its education system in order to grow incomes to the level where it could be economically self-sustaining. Instead, there have been significant real-terms cuts in education, which may have brought about a gradual decrease in the deficit, but not in a sustainable way.” I consider his comments on education true and extremely important, no matter what aegis Northern Ireland exists under.

Hoping to bark up the right tree
A family tree that is. As part of trying to sort out ‘stuff’, and a lifetime’s accumulation of same, I have been doing a bit of work not exactly on the family tree as much as digging around it (and the roots are quite thick and spread), in fact so I can get rid of some of that ‘stuff’.

On a wider note it is interesting that in the debate on whether our human characteristics are in the genes (nature) or in the jeans (nurture), the genes seem to have been making a bit of a comeback bid. This has not been in a simplistic sense however, just as there is no gay gene, i.e. one gene that makes someone gay or heterosexual (or other orientation) but possibly a complex interaction within our whole being, so the effects of our nature is not necessarily simple.

Anyway, geneaology might sometimes be thought of as an activity for a) people with nothing better to do and b) people who want to dig up some famous or infamous ancestor whose glory or notoriety they can bask in. Well, who wouldn’t like b)? Though as for a) my involvement in this is time limited and enough time has already gone on it – those of you who have even ‘done’ any of digging up your ancestors, metaphorically I hope, will know it is exceedingly time consuming.

It is also important to take the rough with the smooth, and be able to learn from the past. So what if most of your family were exceedingly ‘normal’ – what do you think made them tick? And it can be few families around who do not have someone who stood out from the herd or had an interesting history.

Anyway, I hadn’t thought of ‘radical genealogy’ (and I might have thought of it as a bit of an oxymoron) until serendipitously someone got in touch about her project on radical roots genealogy which seeks to use genealogical research as a tool for social change. It looks at a variety of issues which may be reflected in a family tree such as slavery (it is a USA project), the position of women, immigration, war and armed conflict, spiritual traditions, class, land, social activism, community identity and empowerment, as well as ‘finding role models among our ancestors’. The woman behind the site, Dorie Wilsnack, is involved with the War Resisters’ International among other things and is likely to be known to some reading this very Colm.

It feels like a very interesting approach that could be used in a variety of settings. Some of those that spring to mind include, what was life like for the women who were your ancestors? What class or classes were your antecedents and how did they survive to put food on the table? Did they enthusiastically endorse and support whatever war or wars were going on at the time? Or were they more reluctant supporters or even in opposition, hidden or not, to war? Are there relations we can use as role models for how we want to live – and if not can we still learn positive things from negative examples?

On a related topic, a very fascinating and useful group work exercise for starting off and ‘getting to know you’ is to have people share on their name, surname and/or given names (why they have such a name, where the names come from, how they think about their names etc) . This isn’t a speedy exercise – you need to give everyone at least a couple of minutes - so it is for early on in a longer workshop perhaps. You can learn a lot about people from their name(s) and how they perceive their nomenclature. In the Norn Iron context it is also likely to immediately put a focus on issues of planter and Gael though this need not, and should not, be simplistic and divisive. And it means that everyone in a group should remember everyone else’s name.

One thing I have learnt in my family researches is that one of my relations in the late 19th century complained that the language of other relations in my home town was ‘coarse and shocking’. This was the 1880s. What I say about that is I’m damned if I know what this ‘coarse and shocking’ language would have constituted at the time...


That’s me for now, and as my salutation this time I will use Dave Allen’s farewell, “May your God go with you”, though for atheists, agnostics, and others who prefer it, perhaps “May the universe be with you”; anyway, consider yourself salutated - 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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