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Putting their foot in it
As the foot and mouth crisis deepens, politicians are guilty of the spread of contagious irrationality
Eamonn McCann, 29 Mar 2001
What ever happened to animal rights? It seems like only a couple of years ago that you couldn't hit a cow a skelp on the bum with a stick without your house being put under siege within hours by hordes of angry humans carrying placards comparing you to Dr. Mengele. Now Joe Walsh and Brid Rogers can cackle contentedly to themselves as they decree the pitiless slaughter of endless flocks of innocent sheep and there isn't a bleat of protest to be heard in the land.
Sensitive readers will no doubt recall that across in England in recent memory police were deployed around the clock in desperate efforts to keep the ports open as thousands of demonstrators, many of them respectable middle class folk who hitherto wouldn't have been seen dead at a demo, threw themselves beneath the wheels of articulated trucks, so determined were they to save the lives of sad-eyed calves en route to the dinner plates of carnivore continentals.
Today as I write, the armed forces of Her Majesty the Queen are on red alert to move in and wipe cattle out from large swathes of the verdant countryside without regard to the age, sex, capacity for pain or aesthetic appeal of the animals in question. Nothing like it will have been seen since the US cavalry exterminated the buffalo from the great plains to make way for iron horses and agribusiness.
To date, there hasn't been a single public protest that I'm aware of.
This is stark evidence of how far
and how quickly deadly hysteria can spread.
That wholly ridiculous figure Tony Blair is on television as I write explaining that it's OK for British citizens to venture into parts of the countryside unaffected by foot and mouth, but that it would be sheer irresponsibility and will be forbidden for any townie to set foot, or mouth for that matter, inside any of the stricken zones. He doesn't have a word to say about the commercial-break promotion of dirt-cheap package holidays to Greece.
Greece is a stricken zone. Foot and mouth disease is endemic in Greece. Has been, I'm told, since Socrates was strolling around the Acropolis with his entourage of comely youths. Hundreds of thousands of cultural tourists and refugees from out-of-fashion Ibiza continue to descend on Greece to tramp all over its highlands, islands and historical sites, stopping to have themselves pictured cuddling the picturesque mountain goats with their little tell-tale cloven hooves, then to come home and wipe their feet on the grass.
I haven't heard Joe Walsh or Brid Rogers issue guidelines or institute safety procedures to deal with the obvious, imminent risk of contamination.
And indeed why should they, when there has been no confirmed or convincing case of foot and mouth disease being transferred from one animal to another animal by a human being. Not one. Not anywhere. Not ever.
The spread of this contagious irrationality has been deliberately facilitated by politicians concerned about how they look to a bewildered electorate and by huge businesses out to
maintain wholesale subsidies and
The only reason foot and mouth disease has a potential to "ruin agriculture" is that rules and regulations have been put in place to make it ruinous. You know it doesn't make sense.
It's enough to make you go veggie, although I have to confess I did find those little calves with their trusting eyes lovable, albeit that I loved them most with a white wine sauce and mushrooms.
I find it interesting that when Jim Sheridan needed a location for shooting his Bloody Sunday movie which could pass for the Bogside in 1972, he choose Ballymun. There's no cityscape in Derry as bleak as that nowadays, largely because people here decided they just wouldn't stand for it any more.
And some say that it was partly as a result of Bloody Sunday that Northern Nationalists definitively withdrew their consent from the Northern State and determined on rule from Dublin…
Sheridan's is one of two Bloody Sunday feature-films currently in production. The other, written by the great Jimmy McGovern, is shooting some scenes in Derry before transferring to a housing estate in Manchester. I have no reason to believe that Sheridan and McGovern won't make a brace of brilliantly relevant documents. But it's an odd experience all the same, covering the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday while imaginative reconstructions of the same events proceed, involving some who were present on the day itself, and many who are active now on issues arising from the Tribunal.
A number of newspapers have taken to illustrating news coverage of the Tribunal with pictures of the movie-makers' re-enactments.
One day last week, I stopped on my way to the hearing at Derry Guildhall and watched for a few moments as extras surged forward hurling stones at a barricade in William St., then the retaliation from the British Army with water cannon and CS, and then the crowd fleeing as the soldiers burst through and surged into the Bogside. I marvelled at the striving for authenticity.
Five minutes later in the Guildhall chamber, I was listening to lawyers questioning a witness about the precise sequence in which these exact events had unfolded 29 years ago.
Naturally I suppose, there is intense rivalry between the makers of the two films. We have had two re-stagings of the Bloody Sunday march. During the first, a local documentary maker, recording the scene, was mistaken for a representative of the second production out to steal a few shots of their competitor's march. A squad of stewards in white armbands was dispatched to tell her to leave. Which she did.
But of course, the stewards weren't stewards at all. They were actors, playing the part of stewards. Except that in this instance they acted as actual stewards.
Where did factual reality end in that, and where did movie-making invention begin?
Some of the buildings around William Street had been dressed up to look like they did back in 1972. And for an interior shot, one publican was asked to change his decor. It's one of those pubs refurbished over the past decade to resemble an old Irish hostelry, with a motif featuring boxes of Rinso, packets of Craven A, Lipton's Tea and Cherry Blossom boot polish. The thing is, it was explained to the publican, "They wouldn't have had stuff as old as that back in 1972".
And maybe they wouldn't. But then, who ever knows what time it is in the Twilight Zone.
You'll be like the thief between two Jesuses, one wit remarked when the speakers' line-up for the Good Friday march against Raytheon was decided. There's a Columban Father, a Protestant Minister, and me.
Raytheon is the US arms manufacturer which has recently set up shop in Derry, attracted by generous grants and, as John Hume has explained, "the fact that we now have peace".
The good news for supporters of Raytheon is that about half the cluster bombs dropped on Iraq last month hit their targets.(Of course, that means that about half of them missed and exploded harmlessly in the desert or blew passing shepherds to bits. But only a begrudger would choose to look at it like that.)
Praising the effectiveness of the new weapon, Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, director of operations for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon press conference: "We think we've accomplished what we were looking for".
This new model, the Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW, pronounced jay-sow), is manufactured by Raytheon, and now seems certain to be adopted as standard equipment by US military services. According to the Washington Post, the JSOW "has quickly become a top weapon of choice for Navy and Marine Corps airplanes".
Twenty eight JSOWs were fired by Navy aircraft. Each of the 1,000 pound, 14-foot-long weapons carried 145 small anti-armour and anti-personnel incendiary bombs. Primed to explode about 400 feet before impact, these will have scattered over an area of approximately 100 feet by 200 feet. That is to say, the JSOW rains bombs down on an area the size of a football field, six falling in every 1,000 square feet.
Three days after the success of the JSOW came more good news for Raytheon, and Derry if you believe, as the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Unionists do, that what's good for the company is good for the city. Raytheon announced on February 19th that it had been awarded a $89million contract to supply 1007 latest-model Stinger Block 1 missiles "for foreign military sales to Italy, Greece and the United Kingdom".
The new model features "software modifications to insure high probability of kill".
The torrent of good news for Derry continued with an announcement that Raytheon has won $64.2million contract to supply Paveway II Laser-Guided Bomb (LGB) kits to the US Navy.
Fired from fighter and bomber aircraft, the kit consists of an onboard guidance system which detects and illuminates a target with an external laser source. Constantly correcting the trajectory, the system delivers a warhead of up to 2,000 pounds to explode upon impact. Total destruction of the target and of any human beings in the vicinity is more or less guaranteed.
Total destruction, eh? Impressive or what? And we have the unanimous word of the Humeites, the Adamsites and the Trimbleists that Derry would never have benefited from this bonanza were it not for the Peace Process in which these parties have played such a constructive role.