LA STAMPA
La Stampa ("The Press") is a top Italian daily founded in 1867 under the name Gazzetta Piemontese. Based in Turin, La Stampa is owned by the Fiat Group and distributed in many other European countries.
What Måneskin's Runaway Success Says About Retrograde Politics In Italy
Society
Maria Corbi

What Måneskin's Runaway Success Says About Retrograde Politics In Italy

Since winning this year's Eurovision contest, Italy's rock band Måneskin has been taking its message of breaking down stereotypes around the world, while its native country's politicians are stuck in last century's prejudices.

-Essay-

ROME"We're out of our minds, but different from them..." Måneskin, the Italian band that won this year's Eurovision contest, sang those lyrics recently in New York in front of a delirious audience. Few in the American crowd can imagine how significant those words are in Italy right now that the Senate has rejected the Zan bill, which would have instituted new measures to fight homophobia.

Perhaps Italy's politicians should go for a stroll below that stage, be among those young people, in the real world where rights — and the freedom to be as one is, and not as one should be — are recognized. It's not even an issue for them. It's just part of life.

Sterile and stale discussions about gender wander like ghosts around the corridors of political power in Rome. They should instead belong to a chapter of a history book, turned into a distant memory.

Maneskin won the Eurovision song contest in May 2021

Imago/ZUMA

Damiano's message

How great it is to see Damiano singing with a collar that says "sex" and a thong with the Rolling Stones' tongue on it worn over his pants. How sad it is to see Simone Pillon, a senator with the far-right League party and one of the staunchest voices against LGBTQI+ rights, congratulating another senator, Gaetano Quagliarello: "You've given us a dream."

What's for sure is that Pillon and his gang took the dream away from the invisible, from the discriminated, from the targets of hateful behavior who hoped to be protected by a nation's law and its politics.

Fluidity is simply a non-issue among the young.

From the Bowery Ballroom in New York, Måneskin showed the world how much distance there is between reality and politics. So much positive energy in their songs, in their colorful clothes, in their freedom from stereotypes, classifications, cages. So much negative energy among those who continue to play with words and minimize a huge problem. Italy ranks low in Europe when it comes to LGBTQI+ rights and very high for the number of victims of transphobia: 36 killings from 2008 to 2016, considering only the cases reported by newspapers.

Gender and fluidity are simply a non-issue among the younger generations. It would be enough for the politicians to check out a Måneskin concert on YouTube to understand what kind of world they live in. Maybe it would be enough for them to talk to their own children to get a sense of what's happening — to understand, for example, why so many young people don't vote anymore.

To understand that the Måneskin's refrain — "we're out of our minds, but different from them" — reflects all their failure.

A photomontage of a bust of Greek philosopher Epicurus with a COVID-19 facemask
Coronavirus
Mario Baudino

A Dose Of Epicurus: Ancient Philosopher Cures Italy's COVID Souls

In Italy, Epicurus's "Letter on Happiness" is being sold at pharmacies to help people face down the stress and anxiety of COVID times.

TURIN — Go into an Italian pharmacy and you might just see ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus being hawked as a cure to the mental health toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course, his "Letter on Happiness" does not replace the vaccine — the only lasting solution! — but even after your second dose, the words of Epicurus can still help with the lingering trauma of the global pandemic. For yes, there are afflictions that medicine cannot solve — the seemingly invisible maladies of the mind and soul, for example.

The idea started with a pharmacist from Viareggio in northern Italy: He placed an edition of the famous "Letter on Happiness" on his counter, at the modest price of one euro; and for the entire summer it sold like hot cakes, so much so that the enterprising pharmacist has announced he's ordering a second shipping.

The wisdom of serenity

In fact, millions of copies of The "Letter on Happiness" have been sold and it even ended up at the top of the paperback bestseller list. It's only a few pages long, but the words are simple, reasonable, a veritable treasure trove of wisdom — even if the author has long been misunderstood, often reduced to the rank of libertine.

But Epicurus is not an unrestrained libertine, as in the famous invective of Shakespeare's comedy "Falstaff," where the jealous Mr. Ford denounces Sir John, his presumed rival, as "damned Epicurean!" alluding to his sexual lust (but mainly, it seems, for rhyming needs).

In truth, Epicurus is the philosopher who teaches us serenity. Or, as Ilaria Gaspari wrote in her book Lessons of Happiness: "I understand that being a good Epicurean doesn't mean being dissolute or monkish in the severity toward myself, but letting myself live with subtle fatalism, without falling prey to anxiety."

A photograph of an old book open on a table

Not out of place next to pills?

Armando Arauz

The mortality of life

In the "Letter on Happiness" Epicurus makes many interesting points, for example about superstition and gods: "Someone who rejects the popular religion is not irreligious, but someone who attributes the judgments of people to divinity is."

He also had advice for grappling with death that rings especially true during a time of mass mourning: "Then, get used to thinking that death means nothing to us, since enjoyment and suffering are both feelings, and death is nothing but the absence of feelings. The exact consciousness that death means nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, without the deception of infinite time that is induced by the desire for immortality." Because death, in fact, "does not exist for us. When we live, death is not there, and when death is there we are not there. Death is nothing for either the living or the dead. Because for the living it is not there, while the dead are no more."

It's an ancient teaching, repeated countless times and difficult to absorb; but who ever said that wisdom was a simple and easy matter? In pharmacies, next to pills of all kinds, it doesn't feel completely out of place — and maybe it really does have its own effect — placebo though it may be.

Epicurus' success in these COVID times proves that philosophy is anything but useless. And the dosage is obvious: Take it in the evening, maybe even more than once, possibly after being vaccinated.

photo of a woman with a covid mask on her forehead clapping at an anti-vaccination protest in Ankara, Turkey
WORLDCRUNCH
Carl Karlsson and Clémence Guimier

How Far The No-Vaxxers Will Go To Dodge Vaccine Mandates

Countries are rolling out increasingly aggressive campaigns in an international effort to vaccinate the world out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two weeks ago, Italy became the first European country to make COVID-19 health passes mandatory for all workers, while others, including the U.S, France and Hungary, have mandated vaccination for federal workers or healthcare staff. Meanwhile, rules and laws are multiplying that require full vaccination to travel or enter movie theaters, restaurants and other indoor activities .

But with the increased pressure comes increased resistance: From anti-vaxxer dating to fake vaccine passports, skeptics are finding new — and sometimes creative — ways to dodge mandates and organize against their governments. Here's how people around the world are getting around vaccination rules:

Diversion and delay

In Italy, where the government recently approved a new measure to make digital vaccine certificates compulsory for all employees, strategies to circumvent the signing of a consent form are multiplying. According to Italian daily La Stampa, skeptics are bringing lawyers to vaccination appointments, demanding the doctor to sign off on guarantees that the vaccine is safe, or demanding that the meeting be videotaped.

Meanwhile, others are claiming to be allergic to vaccines, undergoing immunosuppressive therapies or suggesting they've had previous vaccine reactions like anaphylactic shock. Many are also using delay tactics: calling in sick for vaccination meetings, not responding to appointment requests or claiming to not have received notification.

The mandatory requirement stipulates that any worker failing to present their health vaccine certificate will be suspended without pay for up to five days but will not be fired. The move came shortly after the country reported more than 4.6 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 130,000 deaths in mid-September.

Protesters for and against COVID-19 mandatory vaccines in Canada— Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto/ZUMA Press

Faux vaccine passports

A recent study by Check Point Research shows that fake COVID-19 vaccination certificates as well as test results of 29 different countries are being sold on Telegram. In India, the largest market for the popular messaging app, a fake vaccination certificate sells for $75, with prices having dropped by half since March 2021, India Times reports.

According to the study, counterfeit certificates were at the beginning of the year mainly advertised on the dark web but have since shifted to social media with its much broader consumer base. Since March, Check Point Research has spotted over 5,000 Telegram groups selling fake documents.

In the US too, customs agents in Memphis have seized multiple shipments of low-quality counterfeit vaccination cards sent from Shenzhen, China, to Tennessee. At first glance, the cards looked authentic, but a closer look revealed typos and incorrect translations from Spanish. While Memphis isn't the only place these counterfeits have been intercepted, officers in the city have seized more than 100 similar shipments this year, totaling more than 3,000 fake vaccination cards.

In France, some anti-vaxxers having a change of heart are finding themselves in a pickle. Having bribed health officials an average of $290 to receive a fake certificate, getting an actual jab is impossible as the fake passport is already on file in the person's real name, Liberation reports. As such, the only way to immunity is to confess the crime and risk up to three years behind bars.

Social media warfare in Asia

In Indonesia, one of the first countries to instate a blanket mandate for vaccination, anti-vaxxers are taking to social media to undermine government authority. According to Nikkei Asia, Indonesian authorities have removed 2,000 vaccine-related hoaxes from social media platforms. For example, a TV report with manipulated captions had a scientist saying "our people will be killed by Chinese vaccines" and that jabs "make the virus more savage" — receiving 182,000 shares before Facebook took it down.

In Japan, where a July government report found that only 45% of people in their 20s and 30s were favorable to vaccines, social media has also been riddled with misleading social media posts. Since the beginning of the 2021, 110,000 Twitter posts that were retweeted at least once suggested that getting vaccinated leads to infertility.

Some are claiming to be allergic to vaccines to avoid the jab — Photo: Maxppp via ZUMA Press

Religious exemption

Following U.S. President Joe Biden's sweeping new vaccine mandates covering more than 100 million Americans, Religious objections are becoming a widely used loophole against the COVID-19 shot.

Roughly 2,600 employees at the Los Angeles Police Department have already claimed religious objections to the department's COVID-19 vaccination requirement, while in Washington state, some 3,800 workers have requested religious exemptions to the mandate that workers be fully vaccinated by October 18 or lose their job.

The right to religious exemption is landing many employers in a legal gray area. As workers don't have to be part of an organized religion mandate to be considered a valid candidate, employers are rather forced to make individual assessments of the level of religious sincerity.

Of course, faith-based clashes with authorities mandating vaccination isn't a province of the U.S. alone. In Greece, a major source of opposition to vaccination are influential clerics and the power they wield from the pulpit. While the church leadership officially supports vaccination, several influential archbishops and clerics have repeatedly told their flocks not to get vaccinated, while some refuse to let people into church if they are wearing a mask or have had the jab. Last week, Greek daily Alfa Vita reported on a particularly outspoken priest calling the vaccine "the joy of Lucifer."

Unvaccinated dating 

As restrictions for travel, social life and work become increasingly stringent for the unvaccinated, some are trying to create a parallel culture with safe spaces for those who refuse the jab. Mainly proliferating on social media, people around the world are organizing dating and house shares for fellow skeptics. The messaging app Telegram has become a go-to place for anti-vaxxing activists, with the platform working as a cross-pollination vehicle for anti-vaxx, COVID denialism and broader conspiracy theories.

But there are also attempts at creating more particular spaces for anti-vaxx socializing. The dating-and-community app for unvaccinated people, Unjected, was launched in May before being removed by Apple last month in a move the app's owner labeled as censorship. In an attempt to get Unjected back on the App Store, the owner posted on its now-deleted Instagram account that certain features had been removed, including social feed and a blood bank for the unvaccinated.

Pope Francis, Don't Call Me A Murderer: My Abortion Was My Right
Society
FLAVIA AMABILE

Pope Francis, Don't Call Me A Murderer

Alice, 28 years old, from Genoa, terminated her pregnancy one year ago. "It is neither a transgression nor disgrace, I only exercised my right to do so."

GENOA — Alice Merlo terminated her pregnancy with a pill on September 21, 2020. Last week, returning from a four-day visit to Hungary and Slovakia, Pope Francis condemned women who, like Merlo, choose to end their pregnancies. And yet, Italy's 194 law that authorized the right to abortion in 1978, despite myriad shortcomings, is fundamentally working.

The number of abortions in Italy has been declining for years. This is confirmed by the latest data from the annual report of the Ministry of Health : last year, there were 67,638 abortions, a 7.6% drop that continues a downward trend since 1983. The conscientious objection to abortion applied among gynecologists opposed to the practice is also decreasing, from 68.4% in 2019 to 67% in last year.

Women no longer die from illegal abortions, and yet the Catholic world won't forgive them. The Pope defined pregnancy interruptions as a "homicide." He repeated that "whoever gets an abortion commits a murder, to say it clearly" and that you can see in "any embryology book for Medicine students" that at "the third week after conception, all the organs are already there, even the DNA" and that it is therefore a human life! And this human life must be respected." Francis concluded with a question: "Is it right to kill a human life to solve a problem?"

This was a true attack. Not new but particularly brutal. Alice Merlo refuses to accept the condamnation. "After exactly one year, I don't see myself at all as a murderer. I have not committed a homicide. Getting an abortion is neither a transgression nor a disgrace. I only exercised my right, and rights should not require paying some kind of 'pain fine.'"

Speaking about abortion without shame or anonymity

Merlo is 28 years old, lives in Genoa, works in the communication field and is one of the few women who has accepted to talk about her termination of pregnancy without hiding behind anonymity. On the contrary, she decided to show her face right after the intervention with a Facebook post, and then became a testimonial for a campaign organized by the Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics in favor of pharmacological abortion.

Not only has she decided to talk about her decision, but to do so without having to pay what she calls a "pain fine" to society.

I knew one second after discovering I was pregnant that I didn't want to carry this pregnancy to term.

"It wasn't hard for me to decide, "she says. "I knew one second after discovering I was pregnant that I didn't want to carry this pregnancy to term. I was lucky to avoid facing the world of the conscientious objection to abortion, the gynecologist who followed me medically me was not an objector so she accompanied me in the treatment of Ru486, here in Genoa."

A poster in Milan against the RU486 abortion pill

A billboard against the Ru 486 pill in Milan, Italy, 2020. — Photo: Alberico Massimo/Abaca/ZUMA

Last word goes to who has to carry pregnancy forward

Merlo says she suffered no physical or psychological malady — and that this reality is not accepted by society. "When we talk about abortion we say that there is the 194 law, but that it's always a tragedy, a pain, a scar. Instead it is not always like that, and we shouldn't impose a sense of guilt in the people who do talk about it. There are different ways of telling stories."

When people ask why she didn't carry through with her pregnancy, Merlo responds simply: "I didn't feel like it, it wasn't the right time and I didn't want this embryo to become a baby boy or girl. I did it during the seventh week and I never felt guilt or tormented myself. I made my own choice."

She never told the man with whom she had sex. "We didn't have a stable relationship," she explains. "There was no need to burden him with my choice. In any case, even in a stable relationship the last word goes to who has to carry the pregnancy forward."

Despite her determination, and the availability of the gynecologist, abortion is still presented as an obstacle course, semi-clandestine and guilt-ridden, Merlo says. "You can only go in the morning and without having booked a specific appointment. You are treated like a person performing an act they should be ashamed; of and no medical authority indicates where the abortions are performed. There is a climate of omertà and shadows." And yet the law is simply being respected.

Bravo Italy For World’s Strictest Vaccine Mandate - But Where’s Mario?
Coronavirus
Massimo Giannini*

Bravo Italy For World’s Strictest Vaccine Mandate - But Where’s Mario?

Italy's new "Super Green Pass" is great, but where's "Super Mario"? Such a sweeping measure, which requires workers to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, risks encroaching on the fundamental right to work. It's necessary right now, but also needs Prime Minister Mario Draghi to explain why.

-OpEd-

ROME — There is not a single good reason to criticize Italy's new "Super Green Pass", the new decree announced on Thursday that will mandate more than 20 million of the country's workers to prove they've tested negative to COVID-19 or that they've been vaccinated to work, beginning Oct 15.

It is the right thing to do in a country locked in a decisive, long and painful fight against the pandemic. Some 10 million Italians still haven't been immunized and the pace of the vaccine rollout has declined significantly in September, with the number of shots administered daily dropping from 142,000 to about 70,000.

We have written it many times and repeat it now: Against the backdrop of possible new restrictions in the winter, the mandatory "green pass" is no "health dictatorship," but a way to keep the economy open and strike a fair balance between the freedom of a few and everyone's right to health. Extending it to employees and self-employed people is not discrimination. It is protection and prevention.

There are times in the life of a nation when taking the ultimate responsibility is called for.

But precisely because of the significance of this measure, Prime Minister Mario Draghi's silence on it was striking. He should have personally explained this decree to Italians. Instead, the news was announced by government cabinet ministers in a press conference. Draghi's absence was likely a way to underline that all the four political parties underpinning his government, including Matteo Salvini's far-right Lega Party, agreed on the measure.

But surely this is not enough. There are times in the life of a nation when taking the ultimate responsibility is called for, and this is one of those. We stand again at a crucial stage of Italy's fight against the virus, and the "Super Green Pass" calls into question our most precious asset beyond life: work, with its rights and duties. With an entire community of skeptics needing to be convinced and engaged, a prime minister worthy of that title must put not only his signature on it — but also his face.

*Giannini is La Stampa's editor-in-chief

Spiderman To Jewish Stars: Global Vaccine Protests Get Ugly
Society
Rozena Crossman

Spiderman To Jewish Stars: Global Vaccine Protests Get Ugly

More protests are bound to spread after President Biden announced that vaccinations will become mandatory for millions of U.S. workers in certain categories of employment, including those who work for the federal government and large corporations.

Vaccines used to be a quiet thing: someone getting a flu shot or UNICEF shipping off jabs to children in a faraway country. No longer. COVID-19 has put vaccinations at the center of both global health policy and national partisan politics — and plenty of noise has ensued.

After some initial demonstrations earlier this year critical of slow vaccination rollouts, protests are now firmly focused on local and national policies that require vaccines, including obligatory jabs for medical workers and the so-called "green pass" vaccine-required access to certain locations and activities. No doubt more protests are bound to spread in the United States after last week's announcement by U.S. President Joe Biden that vaccinations will become mandatory for millions of workers in certain categories of employment, including those who work for the federal government and large corporations.

Still, the protests have been nearly as global as the pandemic itself. Throughout much of the summer, France has had a weekly rendezvous on Saturday to protest against vaccine requirements. In Berlin, thousands took to the streets last month chanting, "Hands off our children!" In New York City, a smattering of nurses, doctors and other medical professionals protested compulsory vaccination, chanting "I am not a lab rat!"

Here are some of the typical and atypical ways the anti-required-vax protesters are being seen and heard:

CANADA: Upside down flags + stars of David + hazmat suits

World Wide Walkout Protest, Sept 1, 2021 — Photo: GoToVan

Canada has witnessed steady, and often offbeat or controversial, forms of protest against the vaccine requirements in provinces and cities for those who want to enter restaurants, theaters and workout classes. On Sept.1 a large crowd in the northwest city of Vancouver expressed their displeasure with vaccine requirements by marching on City Hall carrying their nation flag upside down, which according to the Canadian government, is a "signal of distress in instances of extreme danger to life," the Vancouver Sun reports.

Meanwhile in Montreal, protesters compared governmental health rules to the Holocaust by wearing yellow Jewish Star of David patches; while in Toronto, Fairwiew Mall regulars would have spotted protesters in hazmat suits and white masks entering the premises. They carried a loudspeaker that blurted out a deep voice uttering eerie slogans: "Questioning masks is murder," "Big business is essential," and "Everyone loves pharmaceutical companies."

FRANCE: ‘Spiderman" scales office tower

Alain Robert and others climbers scaling up a tower in Paris — Photo: Midi Libre

As much of France was returning to work after summer vacation, one of the nation's tallest office skyscrapers was the sight of an unexpected protest against the country's stringent vaccine requirements. Alain Robert, dubbed the "French Spiderman" for his free solo climbing of urban landmarks, led the way up the 187-meter (614 foot) headquarters of energy giant TotalEnergies to protest the health passports currently required to enter bars and restaurants. "It's an attack on fundamental liberties," said the 60-year-old, who was subsequently arrested for endangering the lives of others.

ITALY: Anti-vaxxers arrested

Police car in Rome — Photo: Wikimedia Commons

"If they find out what I have at home, they'll arrest me for terrorism," an Italian man named Stefano boasted on Telegram, the encrypted instant messaging platform. He was one of about 200 Italian anti-vaxxers preparing for a violent demonstration in Rome, where they were talking about using Molotov cocktails against TV trucks and attacking parliament with a drone.

Police not only found what Stefano packed at home — a katana sword, several pepper sprays and a nightstick among other things — but also what the others allegedly hoarded: brass knuckles, guns, as well as smaller weapons, such as razor blades to be hidden between fingers. ("They're not visible, but cut throats open," a Telegram user said.)

Alas, Stefano was right: he and seven other anti-vaxxers were arrested on Sept. 9, La Stampa reported.

POLAND: Anti-vax terrorism attack at vaccine point

Photo: notesfrompoland.com

An Aug. 2 arson attack on a COVID vaccine point in the Polish city of Zamość, which follows other acts of aggression by opponents of vaccination in Poland, has been condemned by the health minister, Adam Niedzielski, as an "act of terror." During the night, both a mobile vaccination point in the central square of Zamość, a city of 65,000 in southeast Poland, as well as the local headquarters of the health authorities, which are responsible for enforcing coronavirus restrictions, were set alight.

Marek Nowak, a sociologist at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, told Gazeta Wyborcza that the pandemic has "intensified the formation of radical movements" and led "anti-vaccination movements to use terror to convince others to share their views."

U.S.: Pro-Trump group piggybacks COVID protests

Proud Boys confrontation — Photo: Flickr

A growing number of mask and vaccine mandates in some U.S. states are being met with protests, which have occasionally turned violent. This is in part due to the reappearance of some far-right groups behind the Capitol Hill insurrection in January like the Proud Boys gang, who after lying low for a few months have begun attending rallies, according to USA Today.

Some of the starkest scenes were observed in Los Angeles in August: Proud Boys members and other agitators attacked counter-protesters and journalists, sending a veteran reporter to the hospital. But some non gang-affiliated civilians are also responsible for the violence: in northern California, a parent fuming after seeing his daughter come out of school with a mask barged into the building and assaulted a teacher.

NEW ZEALAND: Down Under, one is the loneliest number

Plenty of sheep show up in New Zealand

Photo: Pixabay

Other nations have seen anti-vaccine protesters gather by the thousands, and the police in Auckland, New Zealand were ready when posts on social media alerted them about a potential gathering. They successfully managed to engage in talks with the protesters and shut down the demonstration — or, rather, the protester, as only one person showed up.

Aging Influencers, Chinese Grandmas Are Social Media Hit
Society
Carlo Pizzati

Aging Influencers, Chinese Grandmas Are Social Media Hit

Old age is trending in China for reasons of culture, technology and demographics.

BEIJING — Imagine a 70-year-old Chinese version of Chiara Ferragni. Now multiply these "senior" Asian influencers by a dozen and you will have a snapshot of the new phenomenon that has hit social media in China. The aging divas are the stars of the feed dedicated to "Fashion Grandmothers" on the Chinese social network Douyin, the national version of TikTok.

They call themselves "fashion_grannies' or "Glamma Beijing," playing on the Chinese pronunciation of the English words grandma and glamor. And they are quite something to see, wrapped up in traditional damask cheongsam, buttoned all the way up their neck or hopping in casual clothes of the latest fashion brands.

Grey is the new blond, a wise man once said, and old age is turning into a modern trend, with Chinese characteristics.

What do glamor grandmothers do? Just like elderly Barbies, they are dressed, stylized and dolled up by squads of young designers, aestheticians and makeup artists before walking the catwalk in slow-motion videos, with sudden speed-ups to further show off the charisma of these trendy grandmas.

"When I was young, I never wore makeup," says Sang Xiuzhan, a 75-year-old who's lived for 50 years in Beijing. "My dream as a girl was to work in show business, but I had to become an engineer in the 1960s. We had to contribute to economic growth, not spending any time on the superfluous. Any work related to the arts was discouraged."

In her account, filled with Marxist social theory, Sang evokes a world in which life had to be sacrificed to the Five-Year Plan of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo far more than it is today. It was a time when the frills and trappings of fashion were a blasphemy from capitalism's industrial complex.

But now retired, Sang has found an outlet for her artistic tendencies as a fashion grandma, contributing in attracting three million followers on social media. "At first we bet on young influencers," says He Daling, Ceo of Wuxianda and founder of Fashion Grandmas. "Then we saw that seniors were bringing more traffic in a market full of opportunities for ad revenue and off-line events like reality shows."

There is no doubt that the market of old people is growing. In China, men retire at age 60, and by 2025, according to Civil Affairs Minister Li Jiheng, that will reach 300 million retirees, up from 254 million who are already the world's largest elderly block. And they're a gold mine, because between 2015 and 2019, the consumer market for retirees grew 15% a year to $637 billion.

Retirees become content.

This reality is full of surprises that paint the picture of a strange return to the past, made possible precisely thanks to the latest technology. "These videos of seniors disrupt stereotypes of old age. Retirees used to be seen as passive, unsophisticated and coarse," says Xiao Lijuan, the 32-year-old CEO of Letuizu, a digital platform that turned five grandfathers and five grandmothers into lifestyle icons on the Tencent channel and gained three million followers. "Now these opinionated senior citizens are demonstrating the possibility that people over 60 can be beautiful and graceful people, albeit in a different way than young people."

The message aimed at seniors seems to appeal even more to young people. True, thanks to an increase in China's over-50 internet users from 9.2% in 2015 to 22.8% today, they are targeting an audience of near-peers to sell them products for the "silver age," such as apps for ballroom dancing, jazz, folk and even hip hop. It's also true that the volume of products targeted to seniors increased 78% from 2017 to 2019, and brands doubled. But seniors are tighter with their spending, and products for them are less expensive than those for younger people. In addition, seniors are less responsive to the promotional message in comparison to young people. Retirees, in fact, are considered "immature e-commerce consumers," according to research by JD.com.


A couple celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary at a retirement center in China — Photo: SIPA Asia/ZUMA

The truth is that most of the followers of fashion grandmothers are young. For example, there is a Douyin channel with more than two million followers whose main character is a 67-year-old grandmother. According to the channel's owner, Zhao Haiguo, 84% of the followers are women between the ages of 25 and 40. "It's crazy to see them looking so beautiful at that age. Beauty is something that always exists in women," comments Lin Suying, 25, one of the Fashion Grannies followers. "I'm completely entranced by how beautiful older women can be."

Retirees thus become content. Indeed, it is the perception of Shangri-la, of happy aging, that becomes a catch-all among the youth, who remain the marketing's favorite target. In the end, it is understood that these images of silver models, performing their well-choreographed ballets, smiling bewitchingly, winking, sympathetically sexy, serve as an exorcism against the fear of death and the consumption of old age. And it appeals to young people, more than to the elderly themselves, who know full well that, behind the artificial veneer of glamour, there subsists the stark reality of the difficulties of the body wearing out.

"I'm getting older and I have dentures," confesses former engineer Sang. "So sometimes I eat my words a little bit, and a lot of the fashion grandmothers' events require speaking skills... and that depresses me a little bit."

Through social media, there is a reprogramming of the meaning of aging between old and young people.

The idea of pitching old age as content on social media isn't limited to surface images, however. Take Jiang Minci, who at 90 has become an influencer with mostly millennial fans. With the help of her nephew, she filmed the story of her life in episodes, amassing 300,000 followers in three months. With tripods and smartphones in her living room, she tells how she escaped an arranged marriage and became a railway engineer at the dawn of the new China, inspiring and motivating young people who are 70 years younger than her.

On one hand, there is an attempt to transform the meaning of the word "old," not because of a spontaneous act from a venerable generation, but thanks to the commercial spirit of 20-something up-and-comers with their social media production teams. On the other hand is a healing of older people's dangerous social exclusion that is a significant cause of depression and decay for Western retirees, treated with doses of psychotropic drugs.

Through social media, there is a reprogramming of the meaning of aging between old and young. The relationship of transmission of values of strength and self-fulfillment typical of the traditional context of the Chinese family and so dear to President Xi Jinping is being rearranged. The newfound elegance of fashion grandmothers on social media becomes a new way to strengthen the ancestral dialogue between young and old, to the benefit of both.

Record Drought & Heartbreak: Italy's Farmers Reap The Damages Of Climate Change
Green Or Gone
Niccolò Zancan

Record Drought & Heartbreak: Italy's Farmers Reap The Damages Of Climate Change

CERVERE — It hasn't rained in two months. The corn has not grown. Six out of ten hectares of this plain field are completely parched. "It's late now," says Giovanni Bedino, running his dark fingers through the dry leaves of the corn. The farmer, now 59, has been working the land since he was 15.

"Since the day my father passed away, I have done nothing else," he says. "I love this job, but a year like this takes away your love and leaves you sad. The corn died, it was born small and it remained small, stuck, without water and not even a bit of humidity. We couldn't water the fields and nothing came down from the sky. I remember, the summer of 2003 was a very difficult one — but it wasn't even close to this year. I have never seen such a drought."

The Italian northwest is as arid as it gets. The earth is cracking, the crops and the animals suffer. In the middle of the Gesso stream, in the Piedmont region, a woman is bathing with her daughter. "It's fiercely hot," she says. The women and men who have tried, in vain, "to look after the water" also suffer. So says Giovanni Bedino: "We take care of it. We take care of water because we know how precious it is. We take shifts to water the plants. We try not to waste a single drop."

But Bedino says this irrigation canal should have a flow rate between 70 and 90 centimeters in August; yesterday it was 10, today 9. He says, "The water is running out. There isn't enough for everyone."

This is the summer in which the news about climate change matches with reality on the ground.

The flow figures of the local waterways are chilling. Varaita Torrent: -56%. Stura di Demonte: -45%. The Tanaro River, measured at the Farigliano station: -34%. The country has been ravaged by fires and storms, like Greece, Turkey and much of southern Europe. Italy has recorded 1,200 "extreme" meteorological events — a 56% increase from last year. Wildfires ravaged the southern regions of Sardinia, Calabria and Sicily. The town of Floridia, in Sicily, is thought to have recorded the hottest temperature ever recorded in Europe: 48.8 °C. Meanwhile, heavy rainfall devastated other parts of the country. Coldiretti, Italy's largest agricultural association, has just summed up the bill for this Italian summer: The damages to agriculture, it says, amount to €1 billion. Wheat yields have fallen 10%; cherries 30%, nectarines 40%. Tomato and corn crops have also suffered heavy losses.

Like much of Italy, Piedmont is going through the most difficult summer for its agriculture. In Val Maira, at 1,900 meters above sea level at the foot of the Alps, the meadows have turned a dry yellow. The pastures are scorched and the herdsmen are coming down from the mountains earlier than usual because there is no more food for their flocks. The same has happened to the other neighboring valleys.

This is the summer in which the news about climate change matches with reality on the ground. In northern Italy, the area that's bearing the brunt of the crisis is Cuneo province, near the French border.

Livio Quaranta, the president of the consortium that manages water in 108 municipalities, says the situation is very worrying indeed.

"Here's what we see: There are now no permanent snowfields on this entire stretch of the Alps," says Quaranta. "The snow cover has changed: It doesn't remain on the ground for long — it just washes away, because of higher average temperatures."

Quaranta says the weather has depleted the region's water reserves: "There is no water reserve in winter and no rain in summer ... perhaps the odd localized hail storm, then weeks of nothing. It affects agriculture and tourism."

Local authorities prohibited wasting water, which Quaranta says is "necessary." In an attempt to spare every drop and try to save the corn and the last plums, pears and apples, 10 municipalities in the area have temporarily banned filling private swimming pools, washing cars and using drinking water for gardens.

Dry stream in northern Italy — Photo: Informazione Libera Facebook page

Elisabetta Cagliero and her husband run a sports center nearby, where one of the main attractions is rafting. Normally, they put eight people onboard the rafts — now it's five at most: The river level is so low, they've had to reduce the weight.

"Apart from a drizzle in early August, it's been dry," says Cagliero. "The meadows are yellow, it breaks my heart to see them like that. When the reservoirs in the area are emptied to serve the local power plant, the river becomes even smaller and the rafts come back completely muddy."

The sliding irrigation system is not enough, and neither is the shifts system: There simply is no water.

One of the first to sound the alarm, back when the situation was not yet so serious, was Giorgio Bergesio, president of a local irrigation board.

"Climate change is affecting our agriculture dramatically," he says. "We need planning policies to build reservoirs, the only way we have to save water. If this continues, within five years we will be hit by a drought that will make it impossible to produce many crops."

Roberto Moncalvo of Coldiretti, the agriculture association, says it's been a particularly complicated year and they continue to receive worrying reports from farmers.

"The corn and fruit were ripening just now, so there will be heavy losses," he says. "All of this is evidence of climate change taking place: very heavy rainfall, but for a very short time, followed by long periods of drought. We need safe and sustainable reservoirs, new energy policies. We must now think about the changes necessary to safeguard our agriculture of the future."

What is happening in Piedmont has played out in other Italian regions in the last few years. Just three years ago, the northeastern region of Veneto went through a similar crisis. No one knows who will be next. These are peaks and falls of the same movement, pieces of the same story.

"How can we take better care of the water?" asks farmer Giovanni Bedino. Around him, in the area between Cervere and Cherasco, the earth is parched. The sliding irrigation system is not enough, and neither is the shifts system: There simply is no water. "One solution would be to store it in the winter and use it in the summer," he says, looking at his plants. " This corn should be green and lush, and instead it's dying."

Getting a coffee in Rome
LA STAMPA
Mattia Feltri

Coming Back Around, One Year Later: What COVID Took Away

ROME — The 70-something barista who served me an iced tea last July was proud of his historic cafe next to one of the city's best-known theaters. It was soon after the end of Italy's first lockdown, and the theater was still closed due to the pandemic. At the end of our short conversation, the aging barman bid me farewell with a shout of: "Long live freedom."

It's almost exactly a year later, as I return, and the weather is hot again. I order an iced tea, and take off my mask to drink it. The lady at the counter asks me if I'm vaccinated, if I'm going to the theater; she says that unfortunately, she's been too busy to see the show. She got the first dose of the vaccine and is looking forward to the second, and also to the third and fourth and fifth if they are needed. My guess, from her manner and appearance, is that she's the barista's wife.

That was when my grandson was born.

Something keeps me from asking about her husband. She talks and says she had an "irrelevant" bout of COVID, half a day of fever and after ten days she tested negative. It was last November, she adds. That was when my grandson was born, she adds. She also recalls that they closed the cafe down so fast they accidentally left the coffee machine on.

Last November, she adds one last time, was when my husband died — in the span of two weeks: he was hospitalized even as he was overjoyed with the news that he'd become a grandfather; he was sure he could make it. Then after they put a CPAP helmet on him, I didn't talk to him again, that was the last time I ever saw him. I don't even know if he got to see our grandson's picture on a phone.

I tell her that the last time I was there, he had told me: long live freedom. She cries, I say I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. She wipes her eyes, picks up my empty glass and says: but like him, how many like him? The nightly news give us the numbers. All of them like him.

Members of Italy's far-right gathered in 2019 in Predappio, Mussolini's birthplace
LA STAMPA
Mattia Feltri

Italy And Fascism, A Lingering Question Of National Character

Giorgia Meloni, rising star of Italy’s far-right, was a member of neofascist organizations in her youth. She insists that she's changed her way, and that fascism is not an Italian peculiarity. Not all agree.

-Essay-

ROME — A couple of weeks ago, under our apartment window, my kids and I heard a neatly lined-up demonstration passing by, chanting a single uninterrupted chorus: "Where are the anti-fascists?" It wasn't a huge crowd, and maybe that's why my kids heard the slogan differently: "Where are the other fascists?"

I recalled this after reading a letter in the Corriere della Sera daily penned by Giorgia Meloni, rising star of Italy's far-right. Her party, Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy), has recently shot up in opinion polls, on the verge of becoming Italy's most popular party. Meloni, now 44, was a member of neofascist organizations in her youth, and uses the letter to insist that fascism is not an Italian peculiarity.

Mussolini once acknowledged that fascism had not been his invention.

If the founder of modern fascism, a certain Benito Mussolini, could read that line, Meloni would get a good talking to. But then again, even Mussolini (never known for his modesty) once acknowledged that fascism had not been his invention — he had extracted it from the unconscious of Italians.

Supporters of the Leader of the Lega Matteo Salvini hold up a sign in solidarity — Photo: LaPresse/ZUMA

Writer and critic Ennio Flaino once wrote that fascism is bossy, rhetorical, xenophobic; it loathes culture, despises freedom and justice, despises the weak, serves the strong, and is always ready to indicate in others the causes of its helplessness. As the years go by, rather than fading, the standard portrait of the fascist seems to become more vivid. And that of the Italian fascist too, which Flaiano argued is part of the national character.

After all, Meloni is a fascist just like most of the rest of us are. But as she becomes more and more convincing to Italians, Meloni has the additional problem of having to tend to the few people who also claim out loud to be fascists — like those parading under my window — and who make up her hardcore supporters, around 20%, according to recent polls. And so, maybe my kids heard right — and I was wrong. They were out looking for the other fascists after all.

Youth attempt to enter Spanish territory through the North African enclave of Ceuta  May 21
LA STAMPA
Dacia Maraini

Looking Europe's Migrant Crisis In The Eye

As tempting as it may be to just turn away, we lose a piece of our humanity every time we do.

-Essay-

Looking at these photographs means becoming witnesses. The eye sees, preserves and remembers. The eye feeds on presence, and presence is history. These photographs tell us that we are all witnesses and our conscience is implicated; it cannot call itself unaware of events.

But what to do? How to go from testimony to participation? Strange that, with all the tools technology makes available to us, we feel more helpless than ever.

A child is saved by a generous man. We feel an instinct of compassion and gratitude. But who is that child and who is that man? Can knowing this help us understand more? Maybe, yes. The images make their way into our heads and raise many questions: Who, how, when, why?

There is little doubt that the movement of peoples is a constant reality that will not cease after another emergency. We also know that it will be used by politicians to gain power. But what can we do?

Our gaze moves our compassion for those naked bodies, slapped by the water, for those poor feet that don't know comfortable and protective shoes, for those surprised faces that ask for asylum.

"Let them in!" cry those who think, like Saint Martin, that we should cut the cloak we wear in half and share it with those who feel cold. But if migrants become many, if they are thousands of thousands, how can such an intake be managed?

I have only two eyes to look, and a stomach that tightens.

Some argue that we need these people in our ranks as laborers, to swell the workforce. But I find this a cynical argument. With their arms, human beings also carry a faith, a culture, habits that die hard. Are we able to integrate thousands of refugees? Unhappy people cannot be welcomed in order to turn them into cheap workers.

What then? I have no answers, only questions. I have only two eyes to look — and a stomach that tightens — at the sight of so much despair, poverty, pain.

Compassion is certainly not enough. We need to think rationally and understand what we can do not to abuse these unarmed people fleeing hunger and fear.

Does remembering that we, Italians, were once a people of emigrants help us to organize ourselves without losing humanity? Someone speaks of a nemesis: We have plundered territories rich in raw materials for centuries, without leaving behind us roads, houses, schools and an example of good governance.

I got distracted and spoke as if these migrants had landed on our shores. But it doesn't make much difference — today they are in Spain, tomorrow they will be on the Sicilian islands.

I don't know if pity is good for anything. Yet I think that pity, together with reason, can help raise awareness and create a desire to act. And acting means building alliances to face together, without injustice and without wars, the inevitable displacement of peoples.

Belarus' President Lukashenko meets with parliamentarians in Minsk, May 2021
Belarus
*Anna Zafesova

Lukashenko To Putin: A New Cold War, Or Something Worse?

Western media like to run headlines warning of a “new Cold War” every time a new conflict or act of repression occurs in post-Soviet authoritarian, But Belarus’ brazen intercepting of a Ryanair jet is something that never would have happened on either sid

-Analysis-

Is history repeating itself, only this time as a farce?


The problem is, the forced diversion of a European plane ordered by Belarus strongman Aleksandr Lukashenko — of a European company, with European passengers on board of a flight circulating within Europe — is an episode that wouldn't have even dared happen in the Cold War.


There were rules back then, worked out with difficulty by both sides in the attempt to prevent the worst from happening. There was no trust, but there were talks, with precise protocols and a thousand difficulties: Between the Kremlin and the White House, the famous "red telephone" would be used only as the last resort to stop a nuclear war, just like the one narrowly averted with the Cuban Missile Crisis.


Pieces were moved on the chessboard, and the Iron Curtain also served as a line dividing mutual safe zones: a tacit agreement prohibiting enemies from crossing over the Wall, and an escaped — or more likely, expelled — dissident could feel safe in the West.


After Belarusian opposition journalist Roman Protasevich was kidnapped, alongside an entire Ryanair plane, the world instead is facing a dictator who doesn't play by any rules.

Putin and Lukashenko at a Russian Cathedral, 2005 —Photo: President of the Russian Federation website

Lukashenko is looking to clash, not communicate; and yesterday's expulsion of the Latvian ambassador was only the latest proof of that. The 66-year-old who since 1994 has been the only ruler of post-Soviet Belarus is behaving as if treaties, conventions, courts and international responsibilities didn't exist, sending a fighter jet armed with missiles to intercept a civilian airplane, force it to land and kidnapping a young journalist who now risks the death penalty.

Lukashenko is looking to clash, not communicate


The dialogue between the Soviet Union and the West during the Cold War followed a kind of code of hostility, based on the rational assumption that even enemies can try to build a system to co-exist. The problem is that Lukashenko thinks only about his regime in personal terms. He is not the son of a system or attached to an ideology that would make him feel part of a mission bigger than himself.


The Soviet Union possessed a well-structured political system and a protocol for succession. Lukashenko — a veritable populist, who came to power 20 years before the term entered common use in the region — doesn't have an ideological dictatorship, because he has no ideology. Like other examples of such neo-autocratic rulers, including Vladimir Putin, or even Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Belarus leader is the inventor of a personality-driven regime of corruption and unlimited power that will die with him.


Each day he survives is an achievement for Lukashenko, independent from the price that is paid around him. But an even greater danger of this one-man farce is the question of what happens after he is gone.

*Zafesova is a native of Russia and former Moscow correspondent for La Stampa