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Billy King

Number 174: November 2009  

[Go back to the related issue of Nonviolence News]

Billy King give us his monthly thoughts –

Welcome once again, friends, if I may call you that [Sheer hyperbole, unless of course it is only your friend or friends who could be bothered to read this – Ed]. I realised the other day I’ve now been writing this Colm for nine years, having begun at the Editor’s request this time in 2000 [boy oh boy did I regret making that b….. quest – Ed] [girl oh girl, what’s a nice boy like me doing in a place like this? – Billy] In some ways writing gets easier with practice but in one way it becomes more difficult – because over that time I’ve dealt with many of my favourite hobbyhorses and I don’t want to repeat myself [too often? It doesn’t seem to have stopped you doing so – Ed]

Meanwhile a friend was telling me about the language or dialect of Norn, which previously existed in the Shetland islands and Scotland, and wondered (humorously) if it might be related to Norn Iron. Well, as they say, strike while the Norn Irony is hot. A neighbour from the north of England, now dead, who came to Belfast in the 1950s to get married, went out to a comedy at the Group Theatre (now no more – previously in the Ulster Hall) shortly after she arrived. Asked by her husband at the interval whether she was enjoying the show, she said she would be – if she could understand a word of what they were saying…..

The not so mighty dollar

There are periodic articles on the decline and fall of the dollar, and a likely shift from petro-dollars, but this was rather more specific, giving countries involved and target dates. It was Robert Fisk writing in the London ‘Independent’ of 6th October 2009. According to Fisk a number of countries (various Arab countries along with China, Russia, Japan and Brazil) are getting together to use a basket of other currencies to pay for or receive for oil, rather than the $ which has been the most widely accepted currency and ‘oil standard’ which oil has been priced in since the Second World War. The target date is 2018. Gold may play an interim role in the shift which could help to explain the increase in that particular commodity.

This spells trouble ahead for the USA because, without everyone around the world holding big bucks the US currency would be in big difficulties, and the shake up for the US economy – already in no great shakes – will be massive. This is aside, of course, from all the structural and social issues in the USA which require massive investment. As we have spoken about before, the US empire is tottering. There will be probably be no great sudden decline and fall but decline certainly. One reason against a sudden demise is all the $‘s which China holds – China wouldn’t want these to become worthless but its longer term interests are taking it away from the dollar fold.

All empires come to an end; that is a lesson of history. The USA has been a twentieth and twenty-first century empire though the roots life further back in internal, North American, colonialism. This has not necessarily been by direct control and more usually by engineering coups d’états (Latin America), financial muscle, and military presence and threat. All empires have their limitations and weak points. We look forward to the relative demise of the USA’s military empire. What will be fascinating to see, and perhaps painful to watch, will be the extent to which the EU tries to become a military empire itself in the twenty-first century; the signs are not looking too good and the Lisbon treaty is another kilometrestone in that direction.

Schools for scandal

The debates about schooling are different in the Republic (where cuts in general, including special education, and cuts to Protestant schools, are a couple of the main issues) and Northern Ireland, which is still thrashing around in a post-11+ mudbath with a fair degree of chaos regarding selection, and both are different to Britain. But in Britain there has been a bit of a debate about the role and function of private schools. Andrew Grant, chair of a private schools’ network, came to their defence (Guardian 6th October 2009) and was quoted as saying “Without them, Britain would not have enough officers to lead its army…” There! I couldn’t have made a better case myself for the abolition of private schools.

Britain has liked to talk about indoctrination in certain countries. But this is a country which runs military cadet forces in many top schools (including ones in Norn Iron) to feed straight into the army’s officer class. Oh no, that’s not indoctrination, it’s simply patriotism….. even if it were, it would still be the last refuge of a scoundrel (a saying which actually had a different and more specific meaning to British politics in Samuel Johnson’s original quote).

Quakering, in their boots

The Quakers, while engendering respect among many quarters of society, are considered a slightly strange lot by many people for a number of reasons – their silent worship, their peace testimony etc – and it is the peace testimony which brings INNATE into so close contact with members of, to give them their proper title, the Religious Society of Friends (they share their initials of RSF with Republican Sinn Féin).

One of the big positives, compared to most religious groupings, is the concept of individuals sharing a ‘concern’. If I was a Quaker (I’m not but I had a great-great-great-grandmother who was one) [great-great-great goodness! – Ed] and have a ‘concern’ about an issue then I can take it to the Meeting, and thereby lies the possibility of collective action. Most Christian groups and churches have church or parish councils and so on but they would not usually have the same equivalent of bringing a concern directly to the members – and most such councils just deal with church business. With the emphasis on the ability of the individual to share their concern, and space allowed within the structure, Quakers can respond in a meaningful way more easily than many.

But there is also a ‘can do’ approach among many Quakers which is also part of it. Now every religion and religious grouping has its plus and minus points, I’m not trying to eulogise them, but it’s by way of introducing my comments on the new book on the Quakers and responses to the Troubles in the North – ‘Coming from the Silence’ by Ann Le Mare and Felicity McCartney which has the subtitle “Quaker Peacebuilding Initiatives in Northern Ireland 1969-2007” [see NN 173]. In fact in the very title is another contrast with much of organised religion, where silence, except ‘on retreat’ for some, would be considered an anomaly and a threat. For Quakers it is a core part of what they are, in their worship.

The other point about the Quakers is that they are a small group. They might have been less small if they hadn’t driven out, in previous centuries, people who did not conform very strictly to Quaker beliefs, including those who ‘married out’. See an article in the May-June 2009 edition of the Irish Quaker Journal ‘Friendly Word’ by Christopher Moriarty for information; disownment and resignations (in cases to forestall the former) were common from the 17th century through to the mid-19th century. Today they may be considered a by-word for tolerance but not then.

The book is an impressive 220 pages detailing the work of various projects associated with Friends in the North. Cue the old joke about the member of a Jewish congregation in the States who wasn’t sure if the rabbi knew that some other members of his flock also attended a local Quaker meeting. Feeling that he should know, but having some trepidation in case the rabbi would feel this was denying their faith, he made an appointment with the rabbi to tell him about it. When told, a broad smile came over the rabbi’s face and he said “Ah yes, some of my best Jews are Friends!”. I think that joke came via Richard Deats.

But back to the book again. If any one of the projects detailed had been started by Quakers you could say they made a contribution towards dealing with the troubles associated with the Troubles. But when you consider their small numbers, and the even smaller numbers involved in starting these projects, it is certainly remarkable. There are a number of major projects detailed in the book; Ulster Quaker Service, the Centre for Neighbourhood Development (not a Quaker project as such but intimately connected), Quaker House Belfast, and the Quaker Peace Education Project. The book considers (in chapters which top and tail ones on the major projects) other, smaller projects, and Quaker input to other organisations, as well as how the work was or is connected to Quaker beliefs, the motivation which drove people to do what they did, and also their approach to social and community development. It is suitably analytical and often self-critical.

Quakers are the main ‘peace church’ presence in Ireland, depending also on whether you consider Franciscans as part of the ‘peace church’. There are always more things that could have been done, or things that could have been done differently – the book details developing responses within projects as they were tweaked and rejigged to strengthen the work and its impact (a good point about the book). But Quakers can certainly hold their heads up regarding their involvement in dealing with the Thirty Years War in Northern Ireland. A quick round of applause then, please, but as it’s for the Quakers maybe it should be the sound of one hand clapping….

Daring to be sharing

We’re going to have to get a lot better at sharing, in this case I am thinking of those yokes on four wheels with an infernal combustion engine, yes, horseless carriages. Hopefully as time goes by, public transport will get better so that less of us need a car, or need a car less often (so we could be part of a shared car scheme rather than own one), as well, of course, as teleconferencing and so on. I was just thinking of this recently when attending an event forty miles away in the country where arrival by public transport would be very difficult. I did get a name of someone else I could travel with from the organisers but it was slightly awkward and there was no protocol for it.

I would suggest that any event, particularly ones not easily accessed by public transport, should automatically ask people when booking if they are travelling by car and assume people so doing will be willing to give people lifts unless they ‘tick a box’ (literally or metaphorically – i.e. they have to opt out) that they are unable to do so, because they are travelling via Manchuria, or whatever. Those enquiring for lifts would then be given some contacts to sort out details themselves. Of course passengers can contribute or pay fuel costs.

But for local events, say ones up to 10 kms/6 miles away, then able bodied people should be expected to travel by bike or public transport. In cities this will entail very little time differential and in some cases, e.g. rush hour, may even be faster. A new golden age of the bicycle is arriving; embrace it with both wheels. But serious provision for cyclists is still in its infancy, and there is a certain amount of tokenism, and some appalling design for cycle routes (which can peter out just nowhere on a footpath, or go past a dangerously obscuring bus shelter which is just waiting for cycle-cycle or cycle-pedestrian accidents to happen).

Anti-social and obscene

Some people seem to avoid learning anything from the experiences of life. Take the developers behind the megabucks gambling and entertainment development, the ‘Tipperary venue’ at Two-Mile-Borris in Co Tipperary (near Thurles) whose details were announced recently. The main developer is Richard Quirke, and we hear there are other ‘big’ backers for this casino, racecourse, and concert venue. Richard Quirke, a k a ‘Dr Quirkey’ of Dublin amusement arcades, seems determined not just to make money from poorer people with gambling addictions, but also from middling and rich people with gambling addictions (one of the obscene proposals for the venue is a helipad – in this era of global warming helicopter flights which are not for humanitarian purposes should be banned forthwith). Included would be a replica of the White House, the seat of the commander-in-chief of the war capital of the world, admittedly because of the connection with the original design by local man James Hoban.

Certainly a €480 million development like this would bring construction jobs during development, and many other jobs subsequently, but in the current era it is like fiddling while Rome burns (which Nero never did but the phrase lives on) or should I say, fiddling while the world burns. You’d think the Cultic Tiger was still alive and devouring all in its path. We do not need a mega-development like this and we certainly do not need a casino (there is no licence or planning permission yet though land has been bought). It is in stark contrast to another development in Co Tipperary, at Cloughjordan, where people have been developing a sustainable eco-village, see http://www.thevillage.ie If developers were putting their money into more developments like this one in Cloughjordan, and encouraging others to do so through information and using their supposed business acumen for sustainable and smaller scale human-needs focussed developments, we could say ‘well done’. But if the ‘Tipperary Venue’ is the best they can do then such over-developers would be better taxed out of existence.

- - - -

Well, that’s another month gone by since I probably said that’s another month gone by, the world has continued to turn, the people of the Republic voted some kind of ‘yes’ to the Lisbon Treaty, Mr Burlesque-only in Italy continued to infuriate all manner of people and particularly women, Barack O’Bama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – more in expectation of what he might achieve than what he has, violence continued in Sudan, and green people have been getting geared up (on their bicycles) for Copenhagen. As the old evangelical slogan has it (it’s on the front wall of Ian Paisley’s Martyrs’ Memorial Free Presbyterian Church), “Time is short”. Indeeding it is if we don’t want to bequeath a hellhole of a planet to the coming generations. See you next issue, 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).

Copyright INNATE 2017