When the US government was fighting the Great Depression in the 1930s, tree-planting was used as a tool to create work and fight soil erosion on the Great Plains. The “Shelterbelt Program”, as it was called, took trees from many parts of the world — including a hardy species from Asia, called the tamarisk or […]
Taking an accordion down to the farm and mixing its output with the sound of agricultural machines might strike many people as a bit far-reaching, but it’s the kind of thing Kimmo Pohjonen relishes. His “Earth Machine Music” project is a series of live events featuring farms, farmers, balers, tractors, accordion and related noises. For some Finns, the earth moves when he plays.Tweet
Given South Africa’s resources, the late Nelson Mandela had the power to become an even greater tyrant than Robert Mugabe. Instead, Mandela decided to become a secular saint. We can only hope that all leaders would act as he did. In 1962, Nelson Mandela was transferred from Pretoria to the prison on Robben Island, remaining there for the next 18 years. This snippet is from his Long Walk To Freedom:
“June and July were the bleakest months on Robben Island. Winter was in the air, and the rains were just beginning. It never seemed to go above forty degrees Fahrenheit. Even in the sun, I shivered in my light khaki shirt. It was then that I first understood the cliché of feeling the cold in one’s bones. At noon we would break for lunch. That first week all we were given was soup, which stank horribly. In the afternoon, we were permitted to exercise for half an hour under strict supervision. We walked briskly around the courtyard in single file.
Robben Island had changed since I had been there for a fortnight’s stay in 1962. In 1962, there were few prisoners; the place seemed more like an experiment than a full-fledged prison. Two years later, Robben Island was without question the harshest, most iron-fisted outpost in the South African penal system. It was a hardship station not only for the prisoners but for the prison staff. Gone were the Coloured warders who had supplied cigarettes and sympathy. The warders were white and overwhelmingly Afrikaans-speaking, and they demanded a master-servant relationship. They ordered us to call them ‘baas,’ which we refused. The racial divide on Robben Island was absolute: there were no black warders, and no white prisoners.
From the first day, I had protested about being forced to wear short trousers. I demanded to see the head of the prison and made a list of complaints. The warders ignored my protests, but by the end of the second week, I found a pair of old khaki trousers unceremoniously dumped on the floor of my cell. No pin-striped three-piece suit has ever pleased me as much. But before putting them on I checked to see if my comrades had been issued trousers as well.
They had not, and I told the warder to take them back. I insisted that all African prisoners must have long trousers. The warder grumbled, ‘Mandela, you say you want long pants and then you don’t want them when we give them to you.’ The warder balked at touching trousers worn by a black man, and finally the commanding officer himself came to my cell to pick them up. ‘Very well, Mandela,’ he said, ‘you are going to have the same clothing as everyone else.’ I replied that if he was willing to give me long trousers, why couldn’t everyone else have them? He did not have an answer.”
According to the 2011 census of Ireland, the population of County Tipperary was 158,754. That of Tipperary Town was put at 4,415. Both numbers are useful as it is not clear which “Tipp” entity The Tipperary Star is referring to in its recent headline.
Situation clarified: “There are twelve women working as prostitutes in County Tipperary at the present time, The Tipperary Star can reveal,” the paper reported on 19 November. Councillor Billy Clancy pointed to the example of Germany, where he claimed “that 1 million per day are availing of” legalised prostitution. “They are even opening a mega brothel at the moment and I just feel that if we introduce legislation to ban prostitution people will just go to where sex is available to satisfy their desires,” he added.
The Tipperary Star, by the way, is owned by Johnston Press, a British newspaper conglomerate, and has a declining weekly circulation, now below 7,000 copies, down from 9,000 in 2008. Given the “sex sells” theory of newspapering, The Tipperary Star knows which buttons to press when it comes to doing the business.Tweet
“The Corruption Perceptions Index 2013 serves as a reminder that the abuse of power, secret dealings and bribery continue to ravage societies around the world,” so says Transparency International in its latest report. Ireland finds itself in 21st position on the list, behind Uruguay but ahead of the Bahamas, but how accurately this reflects the situation in Uruguay or the Bahamas is difficult to judge as the difference between perceived corruption and actual sleaze is hard to define. The humiliation of those who suffer at the hands of dishonest bureaucrats cannot be rendered statistically; the loss of faith in governance is impossible to quantify.
In the case of Ireland, the latest blow to the credibility of its institutions came with recent revelations that charities in receipt of €1.5 billion in state funding were awarding their executives huge extra payments on top of their generous salaries. That those who make a living pleading for money to help the poor and the sick would turn out to be among the most avaricious and cosseted of fat cats is repulsive, but it neither surprises nor shocks. Much more shocking, however, are the findings of the Smithwick Tribunal, which were published yesterday. The tribunal found that Irish police leaked information to the IRA that led to two of Northern Ireland’s most senior police officers being murdered.
The tribunal was established in 2005 and spent six years examining intelligence and witness statements from police, undercover agents, IRA members and politicians during 133 days of public hearings. Three former members of An Garda Síochána, Ireland’s “guardians of the peace” — Owen Corrigan, Leo Colton and Finbarr Hickey — were granted legal representation at the tribunal but all forcefully denied allegations of collusion in the murders. The costs of the Smithwick Tribunal have been estimated at €15 million, with some €6 million going on general legal fees. But despite all the evidence and all the money, it was still unable to name those who enabled the killings. That’s shocking, but it’s not surprising.Tweet
Argentina is a remarkable country. It’s rightly famed for its football, tango, populism, asado, wine, landscapes and polo players, but when it comes to the really heavy lifting that marks a civil society, Argentina has been found wanting. It tried barbaric military rule in the 1970s and its weakness for kleptocracy seems to be incurable. All these factors, and more, have to be taken into account when attempting to understand how Jorge Mario Bergoglio views the world. And his views on the world are important because the 76-year-old Jesuit, who was born in Buenos Aires, is now the leader of the world’s largest Christian church and some 1.2 billion people pay close attention to what he says.
What Pope Francis thinks and says was revealed last week when the Vatican released a 224-page document, titled Evangelii Gaudium, which has been described as his vision statement of the kind of community he wants Catholicism to be. He demands an end to business-as-usual and dreams of “a missionary impulse” that can be channelled “for the evangelization of today’s world”, but he balances this radicalism by ruling out the ordination of women to the priesthood, and he stresses that the church’s position on unborn life “cannot be expected to change” because it is “closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right.”
For a change, however, his thoughts on gender or abortion did not capture the headlines. What made the news was the section of the apostolic exhortation in which he condemned what he calls a “crude and naïve trust” in the free market, saying that left to its own devices the market fosters a “throw-away culture” in which some categories of people are seen as disposable. Furthermore, he rejects what he describes as an “invisible and almost virtual” economic “tyranny.”
Really? And what about the tyranny and horror in places such as North Korea, Cuba, Russia and Venezuela — countries where the free market does not rule? Feudalism and Communism have been swept into the dustbin of history and the last man standing is an economic system in which the private possession of the means of production, driven by the profit motive, responds to the needs of the marketplace by balancing supply, demand and price. The well-governed state takes its share through taxation and what it gets from rich Peter it gives to poor Paul. In between, it enacts a never-ending stream of laws to regulate everything from working hours, minimum wages and corporate responsibility.
In poorly-governed, corrupt countries like Argentina, the system does not work very well and maybe it’s his experience of such market mismanagement that has influenced the economics of Pope Francis. His views would have been perfectly accurate 150 years ago, when Dickens was describing the excesses of capitalism, but today’s reality is rather different. Just because Lionel Messi earns €16 million a year, while nurses struggle to survive, does not mean that we should abandon the greatest engine of economic growth in the history of the world. Yes, it needs to be fine-tuned constantly and repairs are sometimes necessary, but when Socrates was asked what he thought of his nagging wife, Xanthippe, he replied, “Compared to whom?”Tweet
The Gladwellian tipping point for the US magazine industry arrived in 2010, when Newsweek was sold for $1. A doomed merger with The Daily Beast followed, and then came the finale last year when Newsweek ceased print publication. More grim news arrived last month when the publisher of Forbes magazine hired Deutsche Bank AG to examine a sale. “While the company prospered during the dot-com boom, the subsequent bust in 2000 and migration of advertising from print to online sites slammed its finances,” reported Bloomberg.
And now New York magazine is following suit. Starting in March, it will abandon its weekly publication schedule and appear 26 times a year instead. Why? Because print advertising revenue is sinking like a stone. “So far this year, the magazine is down 9.2 percent in ad pages compared with the same period last year, which was miserable as well,” writes David Carr in today’s New York Times. And this is happening at a time when its digital revenues have been growing at 15 percent year-over-year. Indeed, in 2014, its digital ad take will outdo print ad revenues.
Carr says that by going bi-monthly as a print magazine, New York will save some $3.5 million, which will then be invested on the digital side and 15 people will be hired to strengthen online content and sales. As regards the non-digital side of things, the publishers hope it will become “a more visual, more deliberative version of the print magazine will make it more hospitable to luxury and fashion.” In other words, a Stateside clone of Intelligent Life.
It may be possible for New York, Forbes and other magazines to reinvent themselves in this time of publishing tumult, but it would be unwise to bet on their success. Their lingering, notes David Carr, grimly, “underscores the dreary economics of print and its diminishing role in a future that’s already here.” That future has a name. And it’s called Buzzfeed.Tweet
No on can say for certain when the observance of Advent was first introduced into the Church, but the number of Sundays for the season was set at four 1,000 years ago by Pope Gregory VII. Some 500 years later, the English poet Robert Herrick celebrated the culmination of the events that will be marked […]
Emily Staveley-Taylor, Jessica Staveley-Taylor and Camilla Staveley-Taylor from Hertfordshire are The Staves. Music journalist, James Christopher Monger, wrote: “clear, confident, and classy, the Staves know that their ability to harmonize (or just sing in perfect, familial unison) is their calling card.” Their debut album, Dead & Born & Grown, was released in November last year, and from it here’s the perfectly seasonal Winter Trees. “And I lost myself on that November night / White winter trees / Covered in snow.”Tweet
The numbers coming out of Syria are numbing. The latest UN report warns of “a generation of damaged children” because more than half of the 2.2 million Syrian war refugees are, in fact, children. Up to 300,000 Syrian children living in Lebanon and Jordan could be without schooling by the end of this year, and the suffering of Syrian refugee children in Turkey is appalling. “Under rain and without shoes, Syrian refugee kids fight for lives in Istanbul” reports Today’s Zaman. Snippet:
“The biggest ethnic group among those who leave for Turkey are Sunni Arabs, who cannot speak Turkish to find a job.On Tuesday, heavy rain hit Istanbul, making it impossible for Syrian refugees to remain in parks. In Istanbul’s Şirinevler neighborhood, for instance, an IHA correspondent photographed several Syrian children, some of whom even lacked shoes and were living under a small tent made of plastic bags.”
As we prepare to celebrate the onset of Advent on Sunday, our thoughts should turn to these most vulnerable victims of the Syrian conflict. Those doing incredible work for Syria’s war refugees include The International Rescue Committee, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, The International Medical Corps and The International Orthodox Christian Charities. They deserve our support at the time of year when thoughts are meant to turn to “Peace on the earth, good will to men.”Tweet
Much to the chagrin of the traitor Snowden and the tyrant Putin, another Thanksgiving has come around and, despite their worst efforts, the United States persists. And it will, to the despair of those who have made a trade out of wishing for its decline and fall. Typical of this lot is Al Jazeera America, which shed crocodile tears recently with “The consequences of US decline.” The fons et origo of this recurrent irrationality is, of course, the Guardian, and it piled in earlier in the year with “Decline and fall: how American society unravelled.” To understand what’s behind this wishful thinking, it’s worth rereading an essay that Hannah Arendt wrote in 1954 for Commentary Magazine.
“Europe and America: Dream and Nightmare” was originally part of a series of talks at Princeton University on the Transatlantic relationship. Arendt asked: “What image does Europe have of America?” She answered that the image is based on two myths. Firstly, America is less the New World than the personification of the Old World, the place where European dreams of equality and liberty are realized; secondly, America is the land of plenty. It is this second myth that powers the anti-Americanism of European liberals, even as it inspires the poor.
“As a result,” of this myth, Arendt writes, “sympathy for America today can be found, generally speaking, among those people whom Europeans call ‘reactionary,’ whereas an anti-American posture is one of the best ways to prove oneself a liberal.” And so it is 58 years after Hannah Arendt’s “Europe and America: Dream and Nightmare” was published. Except that there’s a new myth doing the rounds: American decline. For all engaged in peddling declinism, Josef Joffe has some sobering news. The publisher-editor of the German weekly, Die Zeit, exposes The Canard of Decline in the November/December issue of The American Interest.
The source of modern declinism, says Joffe, can be found in “the serial massacre that was World War I,” the horrific slaughter that revealed “the evil face of technology triumphant.” The same laboratories that produced the blessings of pharmacology invented poison gas. The scientists who created good also enabled evil. The result was an anti-scientific theory about the “death of progress” took hold in Europe. America, however, the epitome of progress, is the embodiment of the rebuke to that theory. Josef Joffe writes:
“Technology and plenty, the critics of the Enlightenment argued, would not liberate the common man, but enslave him in the prison of ‘false consciousness’ built by the ruling elites. The new despair of the former torchbearers of progress may well be the reason that declinism flourishes on both Left and Right. This new ideological kinship alone does not by itself explain any of the five waves of American declinism, but it has certainly broadened its appeal over time.”
Decline, writes Joffe, ‘is as American as apple pie.” But for the day that’s in it, we’ll have a slice of pecan pie and wish all our American readers a happy Thanksgiving.Tweet