Book Review: The Milkman

Book Review: The Milkman

Milkman by Anna Burns, may be set in 1970s Belfast, against the backdrop of the troubles, but it is not a historical novel. The city is never named, much like the novel’s characters. They are referred to with titles such as ‘middle sister’ and ‘maybe boyfriend’. The book views the conflict that engulfed Belfast at the time from the eyes of an eighteen year old girl with no interest in the Troubles. She hides from the world around her by burying her head in 19th century novels as she walked because she ‘did not like the 20th century’. This act of eccentricity marks her as ‘beyond the pale’ and therefore her activities are seen as suspicious by many in her community. When a paramilitary known as ‘the milkman’ becomes possessive and begins to stalk her, it is automatically assumed by many in the community that they are having an affair.  This leads to her place in society falling even further, as the effects of the milkman’s actions cause a strain on her mental health and relationships. 

The violence of the troubles is never explicitly shown in Milkman. However, the oppression of ordinary people by paramilitary and State forces through tribalism and the patriarchal nature of warfare is very much evident.  Every character has to be careful not to be seen with the wrong type of newspaper, buying the wrong type of butter or drinking the wrong type of tea. This feeling of constant surveillance feels far more sinister than a graphic description of torture or murder.

Millkman is definitely not a fun beach read.  Anna Burns has a very specific and unique writing style which can make it quite hard to follow at times. However that does not take from the fact this is truly a phenomenal and original piece of work.

Photo: Milkman Book cover, published by Faber and Faber

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Review: Madonna’s God Control video

Review: Madonna’s God Control video

With a thought-provoking and graphic video for her new song God Control, pop star Madonna set herself on a mission to raise awareness about gun control, but found criticism on the way.

The video, directed by Jonas Åkerlund, is over ten minutes long and follows a writer, Madame X (aka Madonna), writing a story about a mass shooting in a nightclub. 

Its most powerful element is its juxtaposition of sounds. Before Madonna’s song kicks in, the video fluctuates between the clicks of a typewriter, the faint thudding of a nightclub, eerie anticipatory silences and loud, startling gunshots.  At first it reminded me of a subpar version of Alan Clarke’s Elephant, another film about the mindless violence of shooting people: both shock their audience with the simple sounds of murder.

At the end of the video, the viewer is told to “wake up”, and the words “Gun Control Now” appear in white and red across the screen. This seems a little patronising, particularly as a large number of Americans are greatly active in the battle against the gun problem in the States. 

And, indeed, the video has also been criticised by those who believe that Madonna has been taking advantage of what has been a very real situation to many (particularly those at Pulse nightclub in 2016) in order to gain views. Her response is predictable: she wants to make America a safer place for everyone, and is using her influence as a celebrity in order to do so.

It’s true that the video toes the line between tasteful protest and narcissism. Over the course of the ten minutes, the camera flicks back again and again to Madonna sitting at a typewriter, writing the words that many have been uttering for years, as though she is the first to ever have thought of them. Her dancing scenes in the nightclub where the shooting takes place seems particularly distasteful.

The idea that people will take more action if they see Madonna being shot in a nightclub in a fictional music video than their response to the frequent and non-fictional mass murders of children in the States makes us see the title in a potentially ironic light – God, here, seems to be how Madonna perceives herself. Does it take the imagined death of a pop star instead of the real death of children for people to take action against guns?

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Women’s World Cup: A Game of Two Halves

Women’s World Cup: A Game of Two Halves

The popularity of this summer’s Women’s World Cup was unprecedented…

Record numbers of viewers tuned in to watch the matches. England’s semi-final match against the United States (US), with nearly 12 million views, was the most watched English TV programme of the year. Ditto France’s quarter-final match against the US.  

US viewership of the final in which its team defeated the Netherlands 2-0 was 22% higher than the 2018 men’s final. Remarkably, 88% of Dutch TV viewers also watched the match. Overall, FIFA estimates that this year’s World Cup has attracted one billion viewers for the first time in history. 

Despite Ireland’s team failing to qualify, Irish viewers also tuned-in in their droves, with a peak audience of 315,000 watching England’s dramatic defeat on RTE (surprise, surprise). The fact that Michele O’Neill was assistant referee during the final (becoming the first ever Irish woman to referee a World Cup soccer match) also helped to pique interest levels. 

There are several reasons for the dramatic take-off in viewership for this year’s World Cup. 

For one thing, the skill levels in the women’s game are increasing year on year. In soccer, skill is most accurately measured by the number of passes in a game, rather than by the number of goals. For instance, a typical English Premier League game contains more than 900 passes but this falls to about 650 passes for games in the fourth division. The average number of passes in this year’s World Cup is up 10% on 2015 levels, with latest figures from Opta showing the average game had 825 passes – and that data does not even factor in the knock-out games! The prize money on offer also doubled to 30 million dollars, compared with the 2015 prize pot. The fact that most countries broadcast the World Cup on free-to-air channels like RTE also helped to win more viewers.

Another key reason for the growth in women’s football is the transformative power of new, multi-million sponsorship deals. Some sponsors like Visa are now spending equally on promoting the women’s World Cup as on the men’s. UEFA’s recent unbundling of the rights to the women’s competitions in Europe also encouraged many female-focused brands like Avon to get involved. 

However, issues remain. The annual global wage for a female professional footballer is around 7000 dollars. In England, which has one of the wealthier competitions, a female footballer barely takes home one-hundredth of what a Premier League male footballer makes. These financial issues lead many female footballers to consider throwing in their proverbial boots. 

The US women’s team marked International Women’s Day 2019 by filing a class-action suit against their employer, the United States Soccer Federation, alleging that differences in pay and employment conditions between the women’s and men’s teams violate the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act because the women’s team is getting paid less despite engaging in “substantially equal work”

The US team also called out the FIFA scheduling of the World Cup final as “disrespectful” to the women’s game due to the decision to schedule the Copa America final and the Gold Cup final on the same day.

Closer to home, the FAI has attracted criticism for its perceived failure to truly progress the women’s game. Colin Bell, the former manager of the Irish women’s team, recently stepped down due to his frustration with how women’s football is being handled in this country. In Ireland, aside from the Senior Cup final, there is little to no coverage of domestic women’s football in the media or on television and the women’s game is definitely not getting the attention, nor the financial support, it needs and deserves. 

Don’t be a Fairweather Fan. Let’s show that our support for women’s football is not a passing fad! Now that the furor of the World Cup has passed, why not find out more about the Irish women’s national team and consider going to see them playing in person?

Photo courtesy of US Soccer WNT via Twitter

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Addiction in Ireland

Addiction in Ireland

In my hometown of Roscrea recently a man emerged from the grounds of the imposing town castle clutching a joint. After a couple of pulls he sidled up to me and said “Want a toke cuz?”. 

He looked the picture of ill health. Raggedy unwashed clothes and bony narrow face beneath greasy unkempt hair. My only concern was my own personal safety. This man was clearly a drug addict. I resented his encroachment into my personal space. I lamented the fact that he was comfortable enough to roll and light up in the middle of the day as the half-deserted town went about its daily business. 

Across the road the once famous Pathe Hotel remained closed while every second shopfront sported To Let or For Sale signs. The town has been decimated by urbanisation and globalisation and has been ranked high on the deprivation index.

In 2014, Roscrea made national headlines. A spate of drug related suicides and anti-social behaviour plagued the town while austerity saw the police station effectively closed. The locals had enough.700 of them held public meetings and raised their concern at the breakdown of decency and morality in their town.

Drug use and addiction are inextricably linked with youth unemployment and lack of opportunity. In the years since the economic crash the country appears to mirror Roscrea’s experience of socio-economic disadvantage and rising drug abuse.

Between 2004 and 2016 there have been 8207 drug related deaths recorded in Ireland. That’s an average of 683 per year or almost two a day. These figures include the full spectrum of substance abuse from alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, prescription drugs and heroin.

Research into the psychology of addiction proposes strong evidence that drug addiction risk is exacerbated by a confluence of genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors. Individuals with poor inhibitory control are more vulnerable. Inhibition of negative thoughts, actions and behaviours are essential to living a decent life. Self-control is a skill that can be developed in children and young adults however many drug addicts turn to drugs due to early traumatic experiences and lack of economic opportunity, Repeated use of addictive substances disrupts the brains optimal functioning by dulling and weakening the brains executive functioning in the prefrontal cortex. This is the organ of civilisation, the area of the brain that allows us to control, direct and supervise our goal directed behaviour. Bypassing these mechanisms drug addicts behaviour is governed by increased arousal and disruption of the limbic system which is the centre of the brain responsible for reward and motivation to pursue rewards. The limbic system is disrupted by stimulant ingestion leading to automaticised addictive behaviours where the victim can feel helplessly enslaved to his or her need for drug ingestion.

To put it simply the need outweighs the rational self- control elements of the brain. Control systems become highly compromised leading to drug addicts living their lives moment to moment in a constant state of self-destructive nihilism.

Have you ever found yourself reaching for a bar of chocolate, buying a bottle of wine or dialling a fast food restaurant despite being conscious of not wanting to do so yet feeling like you deserve a reward? Multiply that feeling by a hundred and maybe you are close to what it feels like to be ensconced in the belly of the beast and full-blown drug addiction.

Just as it is simplistic and ignorant to tell a person with depression to “snap out of it” it is equally foolish to sternly advise a drug addict to “just give it up”.

Addicts are often helpless amid their maladaptive and self-destructive behavioural patterns which are often exacerbated by society’s disgust and disdain for their predicament. In Ireland the ‘junkie’ is demonised, hated and feared; he (for it is often a he) is considered a threat to personal and public safety and must be treated with contempt.

Plenty of evidence exists in the literature to support links with adverse early child and adolescent experiences, mental health difficulties and the descent into hard drug use. A strong argument can be put forward therefore for the case of diminished responsibility which then leads us to the need for more compassionate and holistic approaches to drug addiction which can mitigate the personal and public safety concerns overall.

Aodhan O Riordan of the Labour Party, the Minister for Drugs in 2015, proposed the idea of injection centres that have been used to great success in Portugal, Holland and Germany. He was quoted at the time in media outlets as saying that Ireland needs to undergo a “cultural shift” in our attitudes to drug addiction. O Riordan advocated a shift from criminalisation to harm reduction. Instead of locking up drug addicts the state should adopt a hands-on compassionate approach which will in turn alleviate the anti-social problems associated with indiscriminate drug use. Safe spaces where users can even bring their own heroin into fully serviced legal injection centres offered a novel and effective approach to our drugs problem, he suggested.

O Riordan subsequently lost his Dail seat, an electoral failure that may be in part explained by his stance as well as the Labour Party’s overall meltdown that year. The current Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne, has supported O Riordan’s policy proposals. In 2017 she indicated that legislation to decriminalize heroin, cocaine and cannabis for personal use could be in place by 2019. The legislation for injection centres has been passed yet a pilot programme for the first injection centre was held up by Dublin City Council citing planning permission issues following representations by concerned community and business groups who clearly do not want to see such injection centres in their locality.

Activation of the legislation and a roll out of nationwide injection centres remains in limbo amidst cries of Nimbyism.All available evidence supports the move towards injection centres. It seems however that most Irish people support a health-based approach to drug addiction… if those centres are not on their own doorstep.

In the classic HBO television series, The Wire, an inner-city Baltimore police chief effectively decriminalises drug use by moving drug abuse to specific derelict areas of the city under the passive supervision of police officers. The result is a decrease in drug related crimes and associated anti-social problems freeing up police officers to focus on traditional police work. The War on Drugs has failed utterly because it is in effect a War on the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalised and the oppressed and only by recognising the issue as a public health problem and not a criminal problem can the effects of drug addiction be tackled. The show’s fictional narrative-written and produced a former police officer and journalist- appears to be mirrored in real life cases. Portugal for example had an estimated 100,000 people addicted to hard drugs in 1999 with high numbers of deaths and overdoses related to addiction. A decade on the number of addicts had been halved while the number of drug overdoses had dropped to double figures after the country’s government opted to embrace the harm reduction approach and decriminalise personal drug use.

In Ireland, 72% of drug possession cases (12,201 arrests) were for personal drug use. There are approximately almost 19,000 opiate users in our country while people seeking help for cocaine use has increased by 32 per cent between 2016 and 2017 with 1500 cases recorded.

The shift from criminalisation to de-stigmatisation appears to be in effect amongst policy makers and the Irish public however progress moves at a snail’s pace. The issue is sensitive politically as O Riordan might attest. In our current binary, discordant and moronic political and ideological climate the wait for a full roll out of harm reduction policy and injection centres seems unlikely to come to fruition anytime soon especially with a general election looming as TD’s frantically attempt to shore up their base.

Fine Gael’s self-crafted PR image as the party of law and order is hardly commensurate with a truly modern mature and intelligent nationwide implantation of harm reduction drug policy. It is likely however that following the general election a stronger impetus for activation of holistic drug treatment will occur leading to reduced public safety concerns and a political success story.

The issue requires long term vision and implantation which is not conducive to the atmosphere of competition during the canvassing period.

Photo courtesy of Josh Calabrese via Unsplash

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For Earth’s Sake: our environmental crisis interpreted by young artists

For Earth’s Sake: our environmental crisis interpreted by young artists

Do you, like I, find the constant influx of news on our environmental crisis hard-hitting? The exhibition For Earth’s Sake by youth activist group Young Friends of the Earth (YFOE) is an opportunity to see the crisis from new, unique perspectives. It runs at In-spire Galerie in Dublin until Tuesday 16th of July.  I attended the opening last week and gathered some insights from some of the artists involved.

Thomas Morelli has always been interested in art. As he explained, the Teletubbies were his first muse. Speaking about his watercolour, Adult volcano, he said: “ the fundamental role of capitalism in causing the climate crisis left me very depressed for a while. Adult volcano communicates my idea that most of us must work far more hours than we are designed to. This plight we face, by living under capitalism, leaves no room for our creative instinct to develop.”Morelli went on to explain that children are open, curious and far more in touch with their creativity. “This part of ourselves that is us at our best is knocked out of us by adulthood,” he added.

Thomas intends to continue making art to get people around him thinking about his ideas and to talk about the climate crisis – which he does well with his other work on display here, Paint planets. 

“Nowadays, Nature is made, not grown,” explains Martina Dubicka, another young artist on display at the exhibition. “So much of the nature around us is artificial, calculated and planned.” Her work, Glass Natura is a digital video projection, made up of two pieces she combined. Martina explains that this piece was a way for her to communicate her thoughts on how we are making the natural world almost unnatural. “Nature is no longer growing of its own accord, frequently. Such as flowers which have been subject to some sort of human manipulation instead.”

Martina has always been interested in the natural world and visual art. But it was when she joined YFOE that she became an environmental activist. This was also when she realised that she needed to incorporate her environmental activism into her artwork.

For Earth’s Sake, is an opportunity to inspire yourself and engage with the visual conversation on the climate crisis. It is the first ever art exhibition organized by Young Friends of the Earth, and will run in In-spire Galerie until July 16th.

Find out more about the exhibition: https://www.youngfoe.ie/what-we-do/art-exhibition.html

Browse more articles below, or sign up to our newsletter to get news straight into your inbox.

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The Minister of Housing is pressing for new planning rules. If these rules were to be implemented, it would be even more complicated for citizens or NGOs to bring a case to Court against poor planning decisions.

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Professor Mary McAleese did not shy away from either Brexit or Church-State relations as the designated speaker of the 2019 Edmund Burke Lecture at Trinity College Dublin, earlier this month. Editor Olivia covers for STAND News.

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Last month, the Good Summit Ireland, hosted in Trinity College, aimed to create “a space for dialogue that motivates those who feel disengaged and disenchanted with how the world works, offering a platform for solidarity, with new ideas and empowerment.” Editor Rose attended a talk on the topic of diversity in the workplace and reports for STAND News.

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German Circus introduces holographic animals into their show

German Circus introduces holographic animals into their show

The way we experience circuses may have just changed forever. A German circus has become the first in the world to introduce holograms of wild animals, in an attempt to create a cruelty-free show.

After several European countries banned the use of wild animals in circus shows, ‘Circus Roncalli’ got innovatively ahead of the times by replacing their animals with realistic 3D holograms. With the new show including a goldfish, a group of horses running around the ring and an elephant standing on its front two feet, spectators are bound to be watching in awe as these animals come to life.

Reportedly, founder of Circus Roncalli Bernhard Paul spent over $500,000 to create and produce the holographic show which has been seen by more than 600,000 people in the past year.

Realistic holograms appear right in front of the audiences eyes with the use of 11 projectors that shine onto a flat surface that goes around the outside of the centre ring. The projections have a 360-degree visibility, so spectators can see the show from all angles.

Founded in 1976, Circus Roncalli have used animals during their shows since they were established. They stopped using wild animals in their shows in the 1990’s and have since been trying to phase out the use of more ‘domesticated’ animals.

“We have decided against the animals for the benefit of the animals,” said media director of the Circus Roncalli Markus Strobl to Rheinische Post, “the focus of the Circus Roncalli is anyway on poetic and acrobatic numbers.”

In April 2017, they announced that from 2018 onwards they would no longer be using any animals, including domesticated, in their circus.This was largely due to decreasing ticket sales and the rise in people fighting against animal cruelty in circus.

By using holograms, the circus hopes that it will bring back an audience as they can enjoy the show without the guilt or concerns about the animals being used in the show.

 

 

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Image courtesy of Circus Roncalli via Facebook.