Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –
Hello again, as always summer doesn’t be long in going in, and as often happens in our neck of the woods the best (driest) weather is early on, in our case May to part of June. Although my school days are but a distant memory I hate to see the sight of school uniforms again at the end of August as the new school term starts. This isn’t because of hateful memories of school but because it broadcasts that autumn schedules are due to start, and all that busyness which has been held at least partly at bay during the summer. Time rolls inexorably on. So also on with the show.
We are all prepared to drop everything should circumstances demand. It could be a crisis concerning a friend or loved one, it could be something important we have proposed to do but forgotten about until the last moment, in work it could be an urgent request from your boss to attend to something. Of course some people are more flexible than others and happy to drop everything in circumstances where others might say “Sorry, I’m not free, I have to……” Recently I was happy to drop everything to have a medical procedure I needed and was waiting for.
But as part of having that medical procedure I am not meant to bend down to the ground to pick up things for a period of time. That has been when I realise I drop everything regularly; a piece of paper or magazine, a pencil or biro, a piece of fruit or vegetable waste, a box of tissues that is sitting on the window sill, one or more of the runner beans I have been picking, some cutlery, a battery (or indeed, as happened to me recently, a battery of batteries which are for recycling). Normally if we drop something we probably don’t even notice because a swift reach and the item concerned is back where it should be.
But thankfully there is a tool which might be called a picker upper, a handled stick with a clasp at the end to grab things from the ground, similar to what street cleaners might use to pick up a single piece of rubbish. It can be quite versatile and make the difference between leaving the relevant object on the ground or, unwisely, defying medical advice to bend down and pick it up. When I currently drop something then I usually drop everything else to get my picker upper and bring the required object back into hand’s reach. Satisfaction. But I never would have believed so many things in the course of a day can end up on the ground. Even the picker upper itself.
I am always amazed when people look up to the US of A as a country, eulogising that whole entity, though of course it has many great and innovative people. Ireland has deep connections forged through centuries of emigration there including Presbyterian founding fathers of the US state (there were mothers too but they don’t usually get a look in with the narrative) and later Great Famine-era mass migration. But is being the most powerful country economically and militarily something to be proud of? I don’t think so, particularly when you consider the reality for many of its citizens and the political, racial and economic divisions that exist – and what US military intervention has meant for the people of the world. US democracy, such as it is, is also on a knife edge these days.
The no questions asked handing of Shannon Airport to the US military is symptomatic of the sleeveen (slíbhín) approach by the Irish government and elite to the USA, acting in a shoneen (seoinín) type way. It was as if the US can do no wrong.
This is where some research by Brown University in the USA is relevant. “The wars the United States waged and fueled in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan following September 11, 2001 caused at least 4.5 million deaths, according to a report by Brown University. Nearly a million of the people who lost their lives died in fighting, whereas some 3.6 to 3.7 million were indirect deaths, due to health and economic problems caused by the wars, such as diseases, malnutrition, and destruction of infrastructure. These were the conclusions of a study conducted by the Cost of Wars project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs………..In a separate study in 2021, Brown University’s Cost of Wars project found that the United States’ post-9/11 wars displaced at least 38 million people – more than any conflict since 1900, excluding World War II. This 2021 report noted that “38 million is a very conservative estimate. The total displaced by the U.S. post-9/11 wars could be closer to 49–60 million, which would rival World War II displacement”. See https://www.informationclearinghouse.info/57769.htm and https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/papers/2023/IndirectDeaths
4.5 million is only half a million less than the population of the Republic; all wiped out because of US military action. 4.5 million individuals, each with a name, identity, and hopes for a future, cruelly dashed. And the USA is the country that many people look up to and the Irish government facilitates its military! There is something wrong with people’s thinking, perceptions and analysis in this case. Look at the facts, folks.
Vulture funds, that unpleasant phenomenon of late capitalism, give vultures a bad name. Vulture funds serve little or no useful purpose, their aim being to turn a quick profit by selling off what they can from some enterprise, and usually giving nothing in return. The Cambridge Dictionary online gives two examples: firstly, they may take control of a failing company but “are looking for quick exits after short-term gains”, or secondly they buy a poor country’s debt and then take legal action to get the country to pay it, “threatening the economies of some of the world’s poorest countries.” Vultures however, the creatures that is, provide an important niche or role in the ecological cycle.
A piece in The Economist of 26th August detailed the decline in vulture numbers in India, and the dire effect on humanity there, an illustration of our interdependence. As the article (“Carrion Call”) states, “Vultures act as nature’s sanitation service”. From the 1990s, a drug used by farmers for cattle caused kidney failure and death in vultures. Rats and feral dogs picked up the pieces, so to speak, but carried diseases and are less efficient at cleaning up and pathogens in rotting remains got into water supplies. One estimate puts additional human deaths in India at 100,000 a year in the period 2000-2005 due the decline of vulture numbers.
Vultures are obviously not top of the list in anthropomorphic, cuddly terms. But human intervention in using a drug for certain animals, cattle, has had a dire effect on another animal or bird, the vulture, and this in turn has had serious effects for humans. The complexity of our interdependence is messed about with at our peril. We are not very good at learning the lessons and looking out for dangers.
A decline from 27% to 3%
Ireland is in a slightly peculiar position in relation to colonialism, being both colonised and, through some people’s participation in the expansion and running of the British Empire (including a number of my ancestors), at least a partial coloniser or co-coloniser. Though I would say, given the Irish government’s approach to US military use of Shannon airport, and desire to be part of the Big Boys (sic) in NATO, if not HATO itself, you wouldn’t always know we have been a colonised country. Of course the legacy of colonialism in the main division in Northern Ireland is also very much alive.
In Britain and elsewhere there are many people who seek to whitewash empire, portraying the British Empire, for example, as more of a British Umpire (a disinterested participant out for the good of all and arbitrating between conflicting parties) than a collection of lands subjected by military force against people’s will and held by forceful occupation. Railways are often portrayed as one benefit of colonialism but railways were introduced for the benefit of the colonisers, not the colonised, and were part of being able to control the land concerned and reap the economic benefits of ripping off the goods of the country concerned.
I sometimes quote from the New Internationalist and its unparalleled coverage of world affairs. One statistic in issue 545 for September-October 2023 stood out for me. India’s share of the global economy was 27% before being colonised by Britain; when it got its independence (shambolically and lethally organised, or disorganised, I might add) its share was 3%. To me that says it all; one of the richest countries became one of the poorest. Colonialism was systematised, daylight robbery. The result was development for the coloniser and a process of underdevelopment for the colonised. I suggest you quote that sadistic any time someone suggests or even hints that colonialism wasn’t so bad after all…… You could also study the pauperisation of Ireland over the centuries.
Another statistic which shows just how shameful colonisation was is included beside the above; in Kenya on independence (1963) there were 35 schools for 5.5 million young people. This was early on in the so-called swinging ‘sixties in Britain and meanwhile in a British colony there was the equivalent of one school for each cohort of 157,000 young people……..
There you go, or maybe there I go. The days are drawing in and autumn is upon us, the autumn equinox awaits us this month, happy autumn to you, Billy.