Belfast Telegraph

How old rifle proves the best arms are those you can put round someone

By Nuala McKeever

Archaeologists in Nevada have found a 132-year-old Winchester rifle propped up against a tree in the desert. They reckon it was left there over a century ago by a cowboy and probably not noticed for years because the stock had weathered so much it blended with the tree trunk.

I wonder what happened to the cowboy?

Did he prop it there one day to relieve himself against the trunk and then, distracted by a bird or his horse or the saliva-inducing anticipation of a delicious plate of beans and bacon, walk away, saddle up and move on without it?

Did he, someway down the trail, suddenly reach for it and discover he was gunless? (The modern equivalent being finding yourself out and about without your mobile phone). Oh my, what a shock! A man without a gun in that place, how on earth would he be able to let people know the sort of man he was, without his weapon? (The modern equivalent - being without Facebook and Twitter. For some people).

And the gun. A weapon of mass destruction (well, if it was used a lot, or during a Mass) left to dry out and crack under the blistering sun, for over a hundred years.

All that vitality, all that flesh and blood life, all that story - gone.

Who knows now and who cares? Who gets upset now about the things that cowboy did way back when? A century of dust has blown over his story. His life, so important to him and to the people who loved him and to those who despised or feared him, has disappeared into thin air. And that's how it would have stayed. But ...

There's often a but. In this case it's a butt. The butt of that antique rifle has trained our sights on that day in the long forgotten past when it was left behind. The find is a portal into another time and place. The clothes, the food, the houses, the language, the life-expectancy and the scientific knowledge were all different from now. But the hopes and dreams and fears and failures would be completely recognisable to us today. Externals change, but the song remains the same.

Since that rifle was propped against that tree, human beings have achieved some of the most mind-blowing breakthroughs imaginable. The pioneering spirit has taken us to space, to the Poles, to the top of the world, to the atom, to the microbe and to mass communication on a global scale.

What that single cowboy could only dream of, we have made reality. Our credits, if they were listed, would fill rooms of tomes, so great is our collective brilliance.

And not a single one of those awe-inspiring, frontier-pushing firsts was brought about with a gun.

The gun - most deadly symbol of our failure to develop our hearts in line with our brains. We have the capacity to reach the stars but reaching out to the person whose opinion is different from ours, is beyond us. We can fly to the other side of the world but walking across the street to speak to someone whose skin colour or religious belief or sexual orientation or socio-economic bracket is different from ours, is a huge challenge. We can finance the arms industry to ensure war-mongering on an apocalyptic scale, but lifting our arms to embrace our fellow human beings is unimaginable.

The Wild West has been tamed. The real frontier for us is in those things beating in our chests right now. And the only arms they'll be won with, are open ones.

Chuck some cash my way please!

The man from that tongue-twisting outfit, Atlantic Philanthropies, has given our MLAs a late Christmas present.

Chuck Feeney, the US billionaire has donated £600,000 to help our public reps learn how to do their jobs better. The money will fund "events aimed at making our politicians more effective".

How could the DUP or Sinn Fein be any more effective than they are already? Given that their aim seems to be to keep the sectarian pot boiling away, I'd say they've been remarkably effective so far. But if Chuck's in the mood, he can chuck some dosh my way any day.

Money talks when it comes to Saudis

Seventeen people killed in Paris and the Saudi Arabian government flies there to attend a rally in support of free speech.

Raif Badawi, a blogger, in Saudi Arabia advocates free speech and their government sentences him to one thousand lashes and 10 years in prison. Response from the British government? Eh, a verbal denouncement of the flogging but no actual action taken. Too late to stop the extremists at Charlie Hebdo, but a chance to stop the same intolerance in Saudi and they do nothing! While the oil-rich Saudis pay the piper, the West dances to their abhorrent tune. Je suis disgusted.

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