Category: politics


IF I DIE IN A COMBAT ZONE by Tim O’Brien (First published 1973)

Nowadays, few are prepared to defend America’s invasion of Vietnam in the 1960s but, at the time, anyone who opposed the draft were seen at best as naive beatniks, at worst as traitors.

In times of conflict, propaganda machines of the state and media go into overdrive. Dissenting voices are ridiculed or silenced. Lip service is paid to alternative perspectives but killing continues to be routinely sanctioned in the bogus name of patriotism and justice.

Tim O’Brien’s first book was written, or begun, while serving in the combat zone of Vietnam then completed at graduate school when the war was over. The short sentences and plain language are reminiscent of Hemingway but this is no celebration of machismo.

On the contrary, O’Brien’s first instinct was to escape to Canada or Sweden. He ended up signing up; not because he believed in the cause but out of “a fear of society’s censure…..fear of weakness, afraid that to avoid war is to avoid manhood”. Continue reading

Today the cities were full of people marching to demand action to prevent global warming. A good thing of course. It prompted TV news stations to dust off their stock footage of ‘natural’ disasters and smog-filled cities.

As individuals we can save water, ride bikes and use energy-saving lightbulbs but even if everyone diligently did all these things the problem would not go away.

Animal agriculture is the number one cause of climate change, a fact that governments and businesses have kept quiet for obvious reasons. To make matters worse, Al Gore, Greenpeace, Naomi Klein and other campaigners have also all but ignored this issue. Continue reading

parisIn the wake of the horrific acts of terrorism in Paris, the hierarchy of Bologna University today instructed teachers to devote at least an hour’s time in the classroom to discuss the implications of and possible responses to this violence. The thinking behind this is well-intentioned but the practicalities are more than a little problematic.

Of course, in the long-term, we need to do more than change our profile picture on Facebook and light candles for the victims.

But what exactly are the parameters to such proposed discussions? What should be the responses to hate speak (e.g. All Muslims are scum) or apocalyptic solutions (e.g. Nuke Syria).

Such extreme reactions are understandable but should not be endorsed or legitimized.  The role of informed, calm-headed facilitator in any such debate is therefore crucial, but who moderates the moderators?

Teachers may be trained to impart facts about their specialist subjects but this does not automatically mean they have pearls of wisdom to offer to students on such political hot potatoes.

They may be older but this not necessarily make them wiser.

Talking is better than rushing to revenge but when wounds are still raw initiating an open-ended discussion could open up a can of worms that is hard to seal.

MERCURY REV live at The Bronson Club, Ravenna, Italy 14th November 2015

mercury revWhen the music’s over, life loses meaning.

In the immediate aftermath of the bloodshed in Paris, it was a relief that Mercury Rev decided to go ahead with this show in Ravenna, their only date in Italy.

“The music doesn’t stop. Maybe it’s the only thing we have now” says Jonathan Donahue at the beginning of a luminous concert which briefly makes the horrific events at Le Batacian seem like a fleeting nightmare.

It is a timely reminder that music has the power to excite, inspire and unite. When the news is dominated by death it gives us strength and hope. Continue reading

SUBURRA directed by Stefano Solima (Italy, 2015)
suburra

If, this year, you had been inclined to follow the age-old advice to do in Rome as the Romans do you might have attended a Mafia funeral, joined those protesting against travel disruption or become embroiled in one of the numerous corruption scandals.

2015 has been a veritable ‘annus horribilis’ for the Eternal City.

In this context, the movie Suburra looks less like a work of fiction and more like an depressingly realistic depiction of current events.

The title takes us back to ancient times, referring to the notorious red-light district of the city. The 21st century equivalent is an equally squalid world where prostitution, institutionalised crime, violence and general levels debauchery are routine. Continue reading

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