The digital mess we’re in

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Political Turbulence: How Social Media Shape Collective Action, by Helen Margetts, Peter John, Scott Hale and Taha Yasseri. Princeton University Press. 304pp. £19.95.

Whenever asked to comment on contemporary events, it’s usually historians, rather than social scientists, who tend to suffer from what one might call an epistemological twitch: they strive to demonstrate that what is happening now has already – mutatis mutandis and with all the specificities of the epoch – happened before. A good part of their intellectual prowess is devoted to uncover this sometimes uncomfortable truth, so effectively camouflaged under the patina of the ‘new’. This has a collateral effect: the 
underlying, unobserved assumption that – whatever the phenomenon being analysed – its deceitful novelty is bound to beach like an agonising whale onto the ever-suspect, ideological shores of ‘it’s always been like this’, or, ‘it happened before’.
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Hope on one side, fear on the other

A disciple of Eric Hobsbawm, Donald Sassoon is Emeritus Professor of Comparative European History at Queen Mary College, University of London. He is the author of a series of texts on Italian communism, European socialism and is presently working on a magnum opus on the parable of global capitalism. An expert on modern Italy, he has been curating the Genoa historiographical festival La storia in piazza since 2007, and his books are translated in many languages. Looking at the crucial United Kingdom referendum, he harbours no doubts: The impending danger of self-exclusion of Britain from the E.U. seems to oscillate between farcical and tragic, but it could have real repercussions of unforeseen gravity.

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Stop the clocks

 

Tempo scaduto. È il momento di votare senza voltarsi. Di chiudersi nel silenzio della cabina e confrontare i propri demoni elettorali in una manciata di secondi. Di pensare un’ultima volta se davvero si vuole dire addio per sempre alle vacanze a basso costo in Spagna in cambio di qualche negozio di alimentari polacco in meno.

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Against austeritarianism

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Bri­tish stu­dents have descen­ded again on the streets to claim the right to study, under assault as never before from the Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment. The pro­test, orga­ni­zed ini­tially by mem­bers of the Natio­nal Cam­paign Against Fees and Cuts, even­tually won the bac­king of many other stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions in the wake of dra­co­nian cuts and unsu­stai­na­ble increa­ses in tui­tion fees dic­ta­ted by the Tories’ auste­rity agenda.

The rest on the newly-launched, impossibly glamorous global edition of Il manifesto

Completely relevant anniversaries – Pier Paolo Pasolini

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Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose notoriously controversial death happened 40 years ago to the day, was the last truly great Italian intellectual of the XX century: greater than Calvino – who was maybe better than him as a novelist, but was not a poet, an essayist and most of all a film maker as PPP – and Leonardo Sciascia, whose musings on mafia-permeated Sicily were, despite their courage, more parochial.

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Completely irrelevant anniversaries – Bohemian Rhapsody

Our popular culture is full of irrelevant anniversaries. Like that of Bohemian Rhapsody, for a start: one of the most overblown, pretentious, cheesy and nonsensical singles in the whole of popular music.

Its only merit? To encompass everything that is wrong about Seventies’ rock.

Its worst guilt? To have inspired one of the most overblown, pretentious, cheesy and nonsensical contemporary “rock” bands: Muse.

Fat Cuts

UnknownWe have recently learned that the multimillionaire Andrew Lloyd Webber, the lifelong Peer who has graced our ears and eyes with countless schmaltzy musicals (wretched genre, if you ask me), has dutifully rushed back in business class from New York just in time to vote for George Osborne’s repellent tax credit cuts.

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What an upper class hero!

I herewith launch a petition on Change.org to have his worldwide hit, Cats, rechristened “Fat Cats.”