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Our Halloween Turnip 2020

Turns out the story of Halloween is somewhat like the story of the grey squirrel. Brought to the UK and Ireland from the US in Victorian times as living-ornaments for the wealthy, the adaptable and competitive grey squirrel has thrived contributing to the decline of the indigenous red squirrel. If you asked a child in Ireland to draw a squirrel more than likely, they would pen a grey rather than a red squirrel. Conversely, Halloween, now considered the most quintessential of so-called US consumption holidays, was a late import to the US from Ireland. …


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“MERS Coronavirus Particle” by NIAID is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In these challenging times, the University is looking to develop new courses. I suggest we offer a course in “Twitterdemiology”. The degree takes typically 2–3 months to complete, involves sharing, preferably uninformed, opinions on Twitter about the spread of diseases, preferably late at night and slightly drunk. A bonus is you never have to wear a mask during class. Involves some study in terms of looking at the occasional graph on a few websites and making a hasty conclusion. The degree is wholly part-time. …


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“Statue of Cecil John Rhodes at UCT” in Cape Town by barbourians is licensed with CC BY 2.0. The statue was removed in April 2015.

Recently I saw a piece quoting the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, Louise Richardson, saying removing from Oriel College the statue of Cecil John Rhodes, the colonial administrator and financier, risks hiding history. The UK Prime Minister has also expressed the view, in a series of Tweets noting, particularly in relation to the statue of Winston Churchill, that “statues teach us about our past, with all its faults”. Am I the only one who thinks this is nonsense?

Statues are not about history or pedagogy but commemoration. Should we commemorate people like Cecil John Rhodes today?

If the Vice-Chancellor is so concerned about history you can take down the statue and leave a large plinth explaining Rhodes brutal history and Oxford’s relationship with colonialism. Or better still teach history in one of the esteemed colleges, or make a podcast, a movie or build a website, or even consult a book. I don’t learn history from statues. …


South Africa has a new leader; the current negotiators in the North feel like a spent force

“South Africa flag” by S Martin is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

In a strange way the South Africa and Northern Ireland peace processes have always been linked. In the 1990s both were heralded as examples of how deep divisions could be overcome, and co-operation fostered between former enemies. Other connections were more direct, such as the former ANC lead negotiator and now new South African president Cyril Ramaphosa’s role in the decommissioning processes as an inspector on behalf of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.

Two decades later, however, both peace processes have lost their shine. …


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As part of his recent state visit to the UK, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia made a stopover in Belfast. The visit, which was planned for several months, took on a new significance given the October “No” vote in a referendum to endorse the peace agreement between the Colombian government and Farc.

President Santos has routinely noted that Northern Ireland is a “reminder of what is possible” and various delegations of politicians, civil society, academia and business from Northern Ireland have interacted with the peace process in Colombia over the years. It is clear from the visit that President Santos is seeking an international mandate to continue to garner support for a perhaps revised agreement, as well as to get more funds from the UK government to support aspects of the peace process. Northern Ireland offers the president an opportunity to show that peace and compromise can work in terms of political co-operation even if aspects of the peace process remain unfinished. …


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Watching Felix Baumgartner free-fall from space and break the sound barrier was extraordinary. As he climbed out of his little balloon with the curve of the earth below him, I was in awe of both what he had decided to do and the sheer beauty of the earth below.

But what I found equally remarkable was his attitude. Despite the seeming madness of his space dive, he says he is not an adrenaline junkie — rather, he says, he is a ‘risk manager’. He also seemed acutely aware of his family throughout the feat, saying he was worried about dying in front of his loved ones. If you google ‘Fearless Felix’ you will find many references to his family — they are obviously important to him. …


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“Social Media Keyboard” by Shahid Abdullah is marked with CC0 1.0

I am somewhat addicted to Twitter, and marginally hooked on Facebook. I find them useful in following multiple news sources, building a work profile and staying in contact with friends across the globe. That said, I think (and this is what all addicts say, apparently) I can control my habit. I definitely prefer human company to my computer and feel that social media should enhance life, not subsume it.

That said, there is an addictive element to social media (or, perhaps, to my personality). Being constantly in touch with people and getting blow-by-blow accounts of events can be compelling.

Researchers at Harvard, according to Helpguide.org, have found some evidence that the act of disclosing information about oneself is connected to the same regions of the brain that are linked to reward. This could be one reason why some people can be compelled to post and share information on social media. …


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“[ M ] Brett Murray — The Spear (2011) — detail” by Cea is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I was 17 when I personally first encountered censorship. I produced a school play in the late 1980s which reached the finals of a play festival in Johannesburg.

Unbeknown to me, the play I selected, Egoli, by Matsemela Manaka, was banned. The play focused on the hardships under apartheid of two mineworkers, played by black friends at my integrated school. At the time, I was politically naïve. To me, the play simply represented suffering and was an interesting story.

After we had reached the final, which meant the play would be shown to a large audience, I was informed we could not perform it, as it was banned. Our English teacher was then hauled before a censor board. We miraculously received permission to put the play on one more time only. We performed the play and came second. …


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“iPhone 4” by Witer is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

There is a story about Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, and it goes something likes this: When the first prototype of the iPod was produced, it was shown to Jobs by one of his engineers. The initial reaction from Jobs was to ask why it was so big. The engineer protested, saying that, for its size, it was incredible and it could hold a 1000 songs.

At this point, Jobs took the iPod, or so the story goes, walked over to a fish tank in his office and dropped the iPod into it. He then pointed to the bubbles that came out of the submerged device, noting that they were proof that there was still space inside and the iPod could be made smaller. …


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Gautrain (Image by Nithin bolar k / CC BY-SA)

South Africa has many things to be proud of, including a peaceful political transition, many famous scientists and musicians, breathtaking natural wonders and, most recently, the hosting of the 2010 World Cup.

However, if you speak to many South Africans, at least those living in and around Johannesburg, it seems that the Gautrain surpasses all these monumental achievements.

The 80 km mass transit railway system that can quickly ferry passengers between the airport and Sandton City, and soon a range of other destinations, seems to be loved as much as biltong and Castle Lager.

The Gautrain must be the only train in the world that has a Facebook page with some 10 000 people “liking it” and a Twitter page with some 7 000 followers. The Heathrow Express going between Heathrow Airport and London, which has carried over 60- million people since its launch in June 1998, does not even have a Facebook page. …

About

Brandon Hamber

Professor of Peace at Ulster University in Northern Ireland. Medium is my popular writing space. Academic publications at brandonhamber.com

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