Billy King shares his monthly thoughts
Hello, and I hope you have been enjoying the recent sunshine, that can certainly boost our spirits as well as our vitamin D.
Gardening and the art of compromise
A recent editorial in this e-steamed [e-streamed? – Ed] publication was on The Art and Skill of Compromise. But I like to take a broader interpretation of things than expressed there, and a more ‘catholic’, i.e. universal interpretation [Lateran thinking??? – Ed]. So I wanted to look at gardening and the art of compromise.
You know the expression or aphorism ‘The best is the enemy of the good’. I take this to imply that if you get obsessed with perfection and achieving perfection you can fall by the wayside trying to achieve the unachievable – aside from everything else you ignore in life to get to that perfection, you actually become rather more imperfect. Like any aphorism you can of course have exceptions or the reverse being true in certain circumstances.
I recognise gardening is not a hobby that many enjoy, but I have stressed before that if you have space for a couple of window boxes or tubs then you can still do wonders and develop your green – and black – fingers. But particularly at this time of year in gardening you have to understand, or quickly learn, the art of compromise in relation to Uninvited Plants, i.e. weeds. Getting obsessive about removing weeds is pointless, you have to live with them, manage them, e.g. remove annual weeds or their seed heads before they do seed, and do the minimum with any perennial weeds to keep them advancing to take control. And betimes you may even get welcome uninvited guests.
Learning to work with nature and the cycle of different plants, desired (flowers, vegetables) and undesired (weeds) is an important part of it. If you have the space or the inclination you can of course go wild and rewild a patch, allowing nettles to serve butterflies, or dandelions to provide early nectar for insects (though you need to be very tolerant to allow dandelions to grow anywhere as they have perfected the art of aerial spreading). In our small patch of grass, calling it a ‘lawn’ would be an overstatement, I tolerate grass, clover and daisies but dig out creeping buttercups and dandelions because they can take over, but everyone can find their own tolerance level.
Gardening is a compromise, finding what you can do in the time you have to do it and not expecting perfect results. I think I have already written on Gardening and Mindfulness since I find picking soft fruit can be an exercise in mindfulness and entering a different state of mind – taking time to enjoy it as a process and not rushing it. [What’s next? ‘Gardening and the art of car maintenance’? – Ed] [Don’t tempt me – Billy]
The right to peaceful arrest
It is hard to know where to place our nearest neighbours, on another western European island, these days in terms of their politics. While it does look like the Tories will be replaced by a New New Labour government in the not too distant future (the Tories could struggle on to January 2025 unless the prime minister decides the omens are as good as it gets and they call an earlier election -Turkeys bringing Christmas forward).
But the current lot are a pretty right wing bunch. Its not that we don’t have our right wingers in both jurisdictions on this island (and I am not talking rugby or football here) but the manifestations of right wingedness in Britain are quite singular, and Labour seems to have lost any radicalism it had. The coronation of King Charles in May showed that protesters had the right of peaceful arrest (forget the right to peaceful protest) – and the police had been handed new powers immediately before the Corona-tion. And the government desire to despatch asylum seekers, entitled to protection in international law, to Rwanda is beyond both the realms of reason and any sense of human rights. The ‘spy cops’ revelations have shown actions by the state which one might have expected of the Stasi in communist East Germany.
Low tolerance has been shown for dissent from the ‘official’ Western line on fighting Russia in Ukraine including threats against a very well known London venue who cancelled a booked event [It is however to be noted that this isn’t too different to Ireland where a similar happening has taken place in Galway in regard to the defence of Irish neutrality, see News section in this issue – Ed].
Human rights in Britain are now openly discussed with reference to Hungary. There are of course proud and ancient traditions of dissent, work for human and economic rights, and peace in Britain, sometimes breaking through to the mainstream, but the going is currently tough. And it was both anachronistic and ironic to see people from the unionist tradition at a gathering in Londonderry (the name they would sometimes use, not always) celebrating the coronation of King Charles by singing ‘Rule Britannia’ when it is often Britannia who waives the rules and certainly does not rule the waves any more. Interestingly, a Belfast Telegraph poll showed just 42% of people in Norn Iron support the monarchy, the rest being opposed to it or indifferent.
Schadenfreude (A1 for AI)
I must say I felt a bit of the above when the ‘paper of record’ the Irish Times got caught in an AI generated text scam https://www.irishtimes.com/ireland/2023/05/14/a-message-from-the-editor/ – unfortunately they removed the original article which I had read at the time it was published so I can’t give you a link to it (the public service might have been to leave it up with clear information about its origin). Purporting to be from a Latin American woman living in Ireland, it more or less accused Irish women who use fake tan of being racist, in trying to project themselves as something they were not. It included a ‘photo’ of the purported author.
What did I make of the article and issue raised at the time (before it was revealed as a scam)? Well, one to ponder, not excessively, but an issue that might emerge more and as a white man I was aware it could be more of an issue for others. I did think the picture of ‘the author’ looked slightly strange but I couldn’t put a finger on it.
It was a hoax. Despite interaction with the Irish Times mentioned in the link above, there was no such woman and most of the text was AI generated – though apparently the issue has arisen elsewhere in Irish media.
The most important point is that if experienced journalists can be fooled by AI text and ‘photo’ (well, the text was tweaked by human hands a bit) then any of us can. Once bitten, twice shy, but there will likely be lots more people taken in by such scams in future. The biggest danger of course is where it is used for nefarious and possibly racist ends. You can’t believe things you read/hear/see anyway; now perhaps you have to await corroboration (a facility particularly available in the foothills of the Blue Stacks in Donegal where the Corabber river runs for about 8 kms down towards Lough Eske, the “Corabber 8’. That title, ‘Corabber 8’, is fictitious or just invented by me but the actual distance the river travels is something like that).
Though it is undoubtedly a serious issue I did think they could also have seen a slightly humorous side to it – that a mere student (supposedly) had got one over on them. They could have started off “We were done” before going on to look at the serious side of it. Oh well, I thought it had a lighter side to it along with the dark.
Oh, and a long long long [so long – Ed] time ago New Internationalist magazine produced an image juxtaposing commercial products from the two ends of the skin colour spectrum; a skin lightening product (which are usually quite dangerous) for people with black or brown skin to become ‘whiter’ (pinker?) and skin tanning lotion for those with white skin wanting to look more ‘glamorous’. Obviously there are all sorts of issues involved here including racism, the desire to look well or prosperous, and so on. But I think I prefer us all to keep our natural skin colour even if for most Irish people that is a lighter shade of pale.
Growth and sloth
Speaking of the Irish Times, I usually read David McWilliams’ Colm in the Saturday edition. He is the guy/economist who predicted a Hard Landing would come at the end of the Celtic Tiger and Birdie Aheron, then Taoiseach, told him what he should do in colourful and very violent language. Of course, as has been well noted, McWilliams was right and it was Aheron who was away with the birds, and he, like Icarus, contributed significantly to a Hard Landing.
However none of us are right on everything [Speak for yourself…… – Ed] and McWilliams seems to be unfortunately wedded to a very outdated concept of growth. Take his Colm of 13th May 2023 where he talks about what use will be made of the vast sums currently generated from multinationals in the Free Expensive State. He is quite right that the money, not a ‘windfall’ as he points out because it is not a one off, should not simply be salted away (the word ‘salary’ derives from being paid in salt). He proposes that it should be used “to create a start-up fund for young people rather than a pension fund for old people” and that this would then generate more growth and wealth.
While there is nothing wrong with this idea in principle, and using some money for this might even be A Good Idea, he misses points in relation to growth. We cannot – as we currently do – keep using more resources than the earth can sustain, and in Ireland ‘we’ (in general, obviously not everyone) have a rather unfair share. Of course there is poverty and obviously we want successful Irish businesses – but what kind, using what resources? And what about the redistribution of wealth which is a essential part of going green?
But the transfer to green energy and less energy use in total seems most important. Surely most of the money should be invested in much faster transition to being a green society – now that would really be an investment in the future bringing not only benefits for Ireland but for the world, including lower financial costs for families and society in the future.
War heroes and zeros
While there are ‘rules’ or laws of war, the fact is that in the heat of battle but also in the cold, calculating quiet in war outside of that, all sides will commit atrocities – that could be stated to be a ‘rule’ of war. Of course some countries and armies may be much more disciplined in regard to respecting the ‘rules’ – and some will pay deliberately no attention whatsoever or be so lax as amount to the same thing. It is in the nature of war that these ‘rules’ will sometimes take a back seat to cruelty, revenge, machismo, power and so on. You can of course say the individual soldier is to blame but I think far greater blame lies with those who sent ‘him’ (in 99.something% of cases it is a ‘him’) and who failed to control what happened.
These thoughts were occasioned by the case involving an Australian ‘war hero’ who was accused by newspapers of perpetuating atrocities in Afghanistan and, very unwisely for him, took a libel action, bringing the whole story to much wider attention. It is the old ‘Oscar Wilde’ failing. See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-65717684 After a very lengthy case the court decided that the former soldier did murder unarmed civilians, as alleged by the newspapers concerned, and the complainant lost his defamation case and resultantly faces crippling legal bills.
This reminded me of a passage in a book by Diana Francis that “Maybe one of the reasons we do not radically review the realities of war is that those realities are unbearable to contemplate and almost impossible to imagine.” (in “Rethinking War and Peace”, Pluto Press, 2004, page 46).
And it is amazing how people get off the hook. Mass killer Henry Kissinger reached the age of 100 recently and the only references to his mass murder and culpability in coups and repression in a lengthy four page interview article in the Economist (Econo-missed/mist?) of 20th May 2023 was when it lightly referenced that “Mr Kissinger is reviled by many as a warmonger for his part in the Vietnam war, but he considers the avoidance of conflict between great powers as the focus of his life’s work.” Ah, so that’s why he secretly bombed the hell (sic) out of Cambodia, killing hundreds of thousands of people and leading to the nihilist brutality of Pol Pot, and why he was involved in overthrowing the democratically elected leader of Chile, Salvador Allende, to be replaced by cruel dictator Augusto Pinochet. For another take on Kissinger, look to Mother Jones magazine (named of course after remarkable Cork woman and USA labour activist Mary Harris/Jones) https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2023/05/henry-kissinger-at-100-still-a-war-criminal/
Maybe that is a bit sombre a note to end on. How about I mention the Longest Day, summer solstice, happens this month and then its is downhill to winter? [You are a joy – Ed] Anyway, summer is here so get out your swimming gear/raincoat/midge cream/sun lotion/Orange sash*/passport because of sashes* (*all denominations catered for in Norn Iron). See you in July, aye, Billy.