November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe
Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden (Netherlands)

For us Christians, thanksgiving is an everyday event that begins with a state of mind, an attitude. That’s also why the American Thanksgiving Day is not a church holiday. It’s actually a national holiday, even though the idea of giving thanks to God is a very Christian one. In a speech delivered in London at the annual banquet of the American Society on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26, 1903, a prominent U.S. politician, William Jennings Bryan, stated that “On Thanksgiving Day we acknowledge our dependence.”

In other words, to the extent that it is right and good that Americans celebrate their Independence Day as the time when they gained release from tyranny, Thanksgiving Day is precisely the time when they recognize that all of the bounty they have is not merely, and perhaps not so much, the result of their own efforts and dedication, but also a gift to them from their Creator. That’s also the reason why this is one my favorite holidays, even though I’m not an American citizen—but definitely an American by philosophy!

Here are a couple excerpts from the above mentioned speech. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, Americans and non-Americans, men and women of goodwill!

On the Fourth of July the eagle seems a little larger than it does on any other day, and its scream may grate more harshly on the foreign ear than it does at any other time. But on this day we cultivate reverence and express our appreciation of those blessings that have come to our country without the thought or aid of Americans. We have reason to look with some degree of pride upon the achievement of the United States; we contemplate the present with satisfaction, and look to the future with hope; and yet on this occasion we may well remember that we are but building upon the foundations that have been laid for us. We did not create the fertile soil that is the basis of our agricultural greatness; the streams that drain and feed our valleys were not channeled by human hands. We did not fashion the climate that gives us the white cotton belt of the south, the yellow wheat belt of the north, and the central corn belt that joins the two and overlaps them both. We do not gather up the moisture and fix the date of the early and later rains; we did not hide away in the mountains the gold and the silver; we did not store in the earth the deposits of copper and of zinc; we did not create the measures of coal and the beds of iron. All these natural resources, which we have but commenced to develop, are the gift of Him before whom we bow in gratitude tonight.
[…]
We sometimes feel that we have a sort of proprietary interest in the principles of government set forth in the Declaration of Independence. That is a document which we have given to the world, and yet the principles set forth therein were not invented by an American. Thomas Jefferson expressed them in felicitous language and put them into permanent form, but the principles had been known before. The doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with inalienable rights, that governments were instituted amongst men to secure these rights, and that they derived their just power from the consent of the governed—this doctrine which stands four square with all the world was not conceived in the United States, it did not spring from the American mind—ay, it did not come so much from any mind as it was an emanation from the heart, and it had been in the hearts of men for ages. Before Columbus turned the prow of his ship toward the west on that eventful voyage, before the Barons wrested Magna Charta from King John—yes, before the Roman legions landed on the shores of this island—ay, before Homer sang—that sentiment had nestled in the heart of man, and nerved him to resist the oppressor. That sentiment was not even of human origin. Our own great Lincoln declared that it was God Himself who implanted in every human heart the love of liberty.

November 21, 2017

Dante and Beatrice

Henry Holiday (1839 - 1927), "Dante and Beatrice"
Walker Art Gallery - Liverpool, UK

As some of you readers know, Beatrice was the love of Dante’s life: she was a real person and the Poet decided to use her as an important character in his masterpiece, the Divine Comedy. The tradition that identifies Bice di Folco Portinari—the daughter of a banker and wife of Simone dei Bardi—as the Beatrice loved by Dante is now widely, though not unanimously, accepted by scholars.

Beatrice, whom Dante first saw and fell in love with when he was nine years old and a few months older then her, probably never had any idea of the depth of the Poet’s passion for her. For the next nine years after he first met her, Dante remained absolutely besotted with Beatrice. “From that time forward love fully ruled my soul,” as he later wrote in his Vita Nuova. But he loved her only from a distance and it was only when he was 18 that the young angelic creature spoke to Dante to greet him—a very rare event, indeed, in a time when women weren’t in the habit of taking any kind of initiative with men!—as they passed each other in the street. This is how Dante himself describes the meeting in the Vita Nuova:

When so many days had passed that exactly nine years were completed since the appearance of this most gracious being […], it happened, on the last of these days, that this marvellous lady appeared to me, dressed in the whitest of white, between two gracious ladies who were of greater age: and passing through a street she turned her eyes to the place where I stood greatly fearful, and, with her ineffable courtesy […] she greeted me so virtuously, so much so that I saw then to the very end of grace. The hour at which her so sweet greeting welcomed me was exactly the ninth of that day, and because it was the first time that her words deigned to come to my ears, I found such sweetness that I left the crowd as if intoxicated, and I returned to the solitude of my own room, and fell to thinking of this most gracious one.

Dante is led by Beatrice to contemplate the fixed stars
 Libreria Marciana, Venice.
14th Century Venetian School. Illumination
 Photo Credit: Erich Lessing
Of course Dante’s love for Beatrice is not a secular love, at least no more than that which is described in the Canticle of Canticles—with all due distinctions—or in the songs of twelfth- and thirteenth-century troubadours and minnesingers. By the way, judging from the literature of that period, that was a time when love was at the core of everything: besides the songs of troubadours and minnesingers, and the emergence of the “romance” among court poets, monastic theologians engaged in an intense and extensive dialogue on Solomon’s Song that gave birth to an outpouring of sermons and commentaries on the same topic. Love was being celebrated as central to human experience, extolling its joys and honoring its pains, plumbing the depths of its anguish and measuring the heights of its delight. The trajectory of this cultural zeitgeist—which had its apogee with Dante’s Divine Comedy—passed through a group of 13th–14th-century Italian poets, mostly Florentines and including Guido Guinizelli, Guido Cavalcanti and Dante himself, who wrote in what the “Sommo Poeta” called the “dolce stil nuovo” (“sweet new style”). They fused troubadour and minnesinger elements (Dante’s worldly view of Beatrice as an idealized-yet-approachable being, for one thing, is drawn from love à la Provençale), but their treatment of love was their own. To them , love purifies the heart as with fire. Love reflects the divine and leads the spirit back to the supreme source of Love itself. Hence the love of Dante for Beatrice transcends the physical: he wishes to contemplate and to worship in Beatrice a revelation of the divine—not for nothing she is usually taken to be an allegory of divine grace. It is a love of the heart and the intellect, the manifestation of a sacred or divine love in the mortal world, even though, at the same time, the lady is not an ethereal, unreachable entity of epic overtones, but a woman-in-town, someone who is both admirable and visible. It follows the description of love by St. Thomas Aquinas called “amor amicitiae” (love of friendship), based on spirituality and mysticism, which is the exact opposite of “amor concupiscentiae” (love of concupiscence), based on physical or sexual lust. In other words, Dante’s love for Beatrice was never of an adulterous nature nor was it of the unrequited kind that causes mere yearning for a relationship. Definitely a strange type of love, one that you don’t see much of in the real world of today!

As a result of this, in the Comedy Beatrice is an image of absolute perfection and functions as an intermediary in Dante’s ascent to God. Beatrice was also the main inspiration of the above mentioned Vita Nuova, which contains the widely-celebrated sonetto “Tanto gentile.” Here is an English translation of the sonnet and the words with which Dante himself introduces his poem.

This most gracious lady of whom I have spoken in the preceding poems came into such widespread favor that, when she walked down the street, people ran to see her. This made me wonderfully happy. And when she passed by someone, such modesty filled his heart that he did not dare to raise his eyes or to return her greeting (many people, who have experienced this, could testify to it if anyone should not believe me).

Crowned and clothed with humility, she would go her way, taking no glory from what she heard and saw. Many would say after she had passed: “This is no woman, this is one of the most beautiful angels of Heaven.” And others would say: “She is a miracle! Blessed be the Lord who can work so wondrously.”
Let me say that she showed such decorum and was possessed of such charming qualities that those who looked at her experienced a pure and sweet delight, such that they were unable to describe it; and there was no one who could look at her without immediately sighing.

These and still more marvelous things were the result of her powers. Thinking about this, and wishing to take up again the theme of her praise, I decided to write something which would describe her magnificent and beneficent efficacy, so that not only those who could see her with their own eyes, but others, as well, might know of her whatever can be said in words. And so I wrote this sonnet which begins: Such sweet decorum.

Such sweet decorum and such gentle grace
attend my lady’s greeting to mankind
that lips can only tremble into silence,
and eyes dare not attempt to gaze at her.
Untouched by all the praise along her way,
she moves in goodness, clothed in humbleness,
and seems a creature come from Heaven to earth,
a miracle manifest in reality.
Miraculously gracious to behold,
her sweetness, through the eyes reaches the heart
(who has not felt this cannot understand),
and from her lips there seems to move a spirit
tender, so deeply loving that it glides
into the souls of men and whispers: ‘Sigh!’

To conclude, with specific reference to Dante’s epic poem, I want to warn against focusing too one-sidedly on the love for Beatrice, in fact there are many other love stories in The Divine Comedy. There are loves gone wrong—but somehow awesome at the same time—such as the love between Paolo and Francesca (Inferno, Canto V), Ulysses’s love of knowledge (Ibidem, Canto XXVI), Ugolino’s love for his children (Ibidem, Canto XXXIII), and Farinata’s love for Florence (Ibidem, Canto X). And there are loves without fault, such as the one between Dante and Virgil, that is the relationship of a mentor and a protégé. As perhaps no earlier writer, Dante celebrates such a relationship by calling Virgil not only master, guide, and teacher, but also “dearest father,” and by comparing his concern for him to that of a mother for her child. Or the love of St. Bernard of Clairvaux for the Virgin Mary—hence one of the most beautiful prayers ever written (Paradiso, Canto XXXIII). Not to mention the “love that moves the sun and the other stars” (Ibidem) That’s what is meant when we say that The Divine Comedy is a love story.

In the old video below you can hear Giorgio Albertazzi—one of the most important actors of the Italian theater—reciting “Tanto gentile.”



November 17, 2017

On Losing Patience


Sometimes you are tempted to lose patience with someone and to not waste words on people who—according to you, in a given situation and at a particular time—deserve your silence. Well, that’s exactly when you’d better remember that everyone has a story, everyone has gone through something that has changed them, and often not for the better. That’s when you show who you really are and what life has taught you so far. Qui si parrà la tua nobilitate (“Here thy nobility shall be manifest!” Dante’s Inferno, Canto 2).

November 12, 2017

The Boy from Gluck Street


A song I’ve loved since I was a young boy, “Il ragazzo della via Gluck” (“The Boy from Gluck Street”) is not just a song, it’s a piece of pop music and cultural history. It was originally written and recorded by Italian pop music legend Adriano Celentano in 1966—the lyrics are by Luciano Beretta and Miki Del Prete—and soon became a world hit, translated and recorded in 18 languages by numerous artists, including American pop singer Verdelle Smith (“Tar and Cement”), French singer and songwriter Françoise Hardy (“La maison où j’ai grandi”) and Swedish singer Anna-Lena Löfgren (“Lyckliga gatan”), who also covered a German version of the song (“Immer am Sontag”).

Adriano Celentano’s vocation as a counter artist was evident since the very beginning of his artistic career. Italy’s best-loved singer and songwriter, and one of the greatest selling non-English language recording artists of all time, he characteristically performs his songs with a Brechtian detachment to the text and is the creator of a broken, syncopated language that he alternates with a crooner style. His whole career, not only as a singer & songwriter but also as an actor, director, producer, as well as a host of TV programs, bears witness to his intellectual integrity and his deep commitment to promoting values and principles such as fairness, friendship, kindness, and love for one another. All this, however, without indulging in sentimentalism or presenting a Manichean worldview, but always with strength and simplicity—and with a grain of folly: who could ever forget his legendary television monologues with his “lunatic” and Buster Keatonesque ecstatic pauses?

Prominent film directors such as Ermanno Olmi, Federico Fellini—who asked him to play himself in La dolce vita—and Pier Paolo Pasolini were fascinated by his free-thinking attitude and independent spirit, and saw in him a poetic and at the same time a down-to-earth representative of traditional values and aspirations in the face of a tumultuous period of huge social and economic change. Needless to say, as a result of the rapid modernization and industrialization of the country, a huge urban sprawl—which dramatically changed the face of Italy’s cities and towns—took place in the 1950s and the 1960s. Definitely against the tide and somewhat prophetically at the time, Adriano spoke out against the “cement tsunami” and the consequent loss of identity and traditional ways of life. The autobiographical “Il ragazzo della via Gluck” became his manifesto against “unsustainable development.”



The following is a literal translation from the original, which is quite different from the above mentioned “Tar and Cement” (by American songwriters Lee Pockriss and Paul Vance):

The Boy from Gluck Street


This is the story of one of us,
who was also born by chance in Gluck Street,
in a house outside the city,
quiet people, who worked.
Where there was grass there is now
a city, and that house
amid the green now,
where may it be?

This kid from Gluck Street,
enjoyed playing with me,
but one day he said,
“I’m going to the city,”
and he said while weeping,
I asked him, “Friend,
aren’t you glad?
You’re finally going to live in the city.
There you will find
the things that you didn’t have here,
you can wash at home without going
down in the yard! ”
“My dear friend,” he said,
“I was born here,
and in this street
now I’m leaving my heart.
But how can’t you understand,
it’s lucky for you who remain
barefoot to play in the fields,
while there downtown
I’ll breathe concrete.

But there will come a day
when I’ll come back
here and I will hear the friendly train
whistling like this – ua-ua ”
The years go by, but eight are long
But that kid has come a long way
But doesn’t forget his first home
Now with the money he can buy it
He comes back and doesn’t find
the friends he had
Only houses upon houses,
tar and concrete.
Where there was grass
there is now a city
And that house amid
the green now
where may it be?
I don’t know, I don’t know, why
they go on building houses
And don’t let the grass, don’t let the grass,
And don’t
let the grass, don’t let the grass,
And no, if we go on like this
I wonder how we will do,
who knows, who knows how we
will do.


All in all, besides being (by far) my favorite Italian singer, I’ve always had the utmost respect for Adriano Celentano as a person, and I’m pleased to pay tribute to him with this post. To conclude, this, in my opinion, is his core message in a nutshell, in his own words (and in his typically imaginative style):

What we are losing is the utopian dimension of life. Sometimes I say things that seem impossible to achieve, and yet there are many things that seemed impossible at one time but they are very real today. My concern is that if we lose our belief in utopia the world will get worse and worse. Today we live longer than in the past, the quality of life has improved, we have medicine that saves lives, but still the world is headed for disaster, because we have abandoned our past to climb higher and higher. But if you climb a very tall ladder and then cannot climb down again, you cannot save beautiful things. The lack of Beauty is a problem. The key to the future is Beauty. There are not only skyscrapers, we are a part of nature. There are helicopters, but there are no meadows. [Rockpolitik, (in Italian, translation mine) edited by M. Ciotta, Bompiani, 2006]

As is more than evident from the above quoted passage, Celentano’s “utopianism” is one of its own kind, and his utopia is a back-to-the-future one rather than a traditional one. After all, unlike most of his fellow Italian artists, he has never been sympathetic to leftists, nor has he never hidden his deep Christian faith and beliefs. In other words, he is a true contrarian—and I thank him for that!

November 10, 2017

As Late As Possible

There are works going on a few dozen meters away from where I live. Looks like they are in the home stretch. Today I found out—thanks to the newly-added sign on the front door—that the old pizzeria will be replaced by a funeral home. It will be a memento mori to remind the passers-by the inevitable fate of us all. And that there is a time for everything. After the feast comes the reckoning—as late as possible, ça va sans dire!

October 24, 2017

Fake News: An Emblematic Case


Ok, fake news is nothing new, we all know that. But we also know that today the amount of misinformation that is spread on the web is staggering. Bogus stories can reach more people more quickly via social networks and websites than what good old-fashioned viral emails could accomplish in years past. The hot topics for such misinformation, especially in the U.S., are politics, government policies, religion and various scams and hoaxes.
That’s why “fact-check” websites such as Snopes.com, FactCheck.org, Hoax-Slayer.com, etc., have taken up the task of spreading awareness against rumors by presenting evidence and hard facts. In other words, they monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. As in the case of FactCheck.org, for instance, their goal is —in their own words—to be “a nonpartisan, nonprofit consumer advocate for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics” by applying the best practices of both journalism and scholarship and thus increasing public knowledge and understanding. Arguably this does not apply in the same degree to all of them, but that's roughly how they like to present themselves to the public.

With that being said as an introduction, let me relate a personal experience which is both significant and emblematic. A few days ago, last Friday to be precise, YourNewsWire—a news website I didn’t know existed until then—published an article asserting that Sebastian Kurz, the newly-elected Austrian Chancellor, has informed George Soros, the speculator turned philanthropist, that his Open Society Foundation has 28 days to cease and desist operations in Austria or face legal action for “attempting to undermine the democracy of the nation.” According to the above mentioned source, 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s youngest ever leader, has told colleagues that action must be taken immediately, after news broke that George Soros has donated $18 billion of his $24 billion dollar fortune to his Open Society Foundation.

Needless to say, this is the kind of news I like to read & share! That’s why, at first, I couldn’t hold back my virtual tears of joy and appreciation… but after a few moments I took back control of my emotions. “Ok, let’s check it out and get some more information first,” I said to myself. In fact, rule number one is: ensure that the story is written by a source that you trust, with a reputation for accuracy, and if the story comes from an unfamiliar organization, then check their “About” section to learn more. That’s exactly what I wanted to do, but couldn’t, in fact there’s no “About” section on the site. But I didn’t give up. As a second step I searched the Web in multiple languages, far and wide, high and low—the golden rule being that if no other news source is reporting the same story, it may indicate that the story is false, while if the story is reported by multiple sources you trust, it’s more likely to be true—but didn’t find a thing. Nothing, except a couple of other websites, both of them quoting YourNewsWire as their only source. Which is very strange in the face of an objectively relevant event, without ifs and buts—of course, provided that it really happened.. But in return I found a website called Media Matters for America claiming that “Fake news purveyor YourNewsWire is pushing a false narrative on its site and affiliated Facebook-verified page asserting that Sebastian Kurz has banned George Soros’s foundations from Austria..” As a consequence, I searched the Web in order to find more info about whether YourNewsWire is a fake news website or not. The result of the investigation was that it is highly probable that things are the way Media Matters says they are.

At the same time, I learned that, according to Breitbart News Network, Media Matters for America is… a George Soros-funded progressive activist organization! Now, what are we to make of that? What are we to think? Well, I personally think that the news about Sebastian Kurz’s decision regarding George Soros’ Open Society Foundation is most likely fake, and this not only and not so much because of what YourNewsWire is, or seems to be, but rather because of the lack of objective evidence and/or of other sources attesting to the facts asserted in the story. In other words, because the whole thing is self-referential. Paradoxically, even if the story were proved true, YourNewsWire’s reputation would continue to remain very low.


PS Fake News: What's the best way to deal with it? Here are a number of suggestions for further reading:
  1. How to Spot Fake News
  2. 10 Ways to Spot a Fake News Story
  3. What is fake news? How to spot it and what you can do to stop it
  4. 'Fake news': What's the best way to tame the beast?



UPDATE, October 27, 2017: Did Austria's Sebastian Kurz ban George Soros' organization? That's fake news

...The fake story goes on to quote Kurz describing Soros as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming his blood funnel into anything that smells like money" — language identical to a 2010 Rolling Stone piece about Goldman Sachs by Matt Taibbi.
Besides Soros’ massive donation and Kurz’s young leader status (he’s 31), this story is complete bogus.
Open Society Foundations, an organization with efforts in different countries all over the world, has no offices in Austria — and therefore nothing to "cease and desist."
We couldn’t find any record of Kurz describing Soros in that light or commenting on OSF.



UPDATE, November 3, 2017: I just came across yet another fake news by YourNewsWire. This time they reported that Hollywood icon Morgan Freeman stated that the best way to restore public faith in government institutions is to “send Hillary to prison“ and that unless the former First Lady’s crimes are seen to be punished, “everyday Americans will forever know, deep down, that there is one law for those with money and power, and another for the rest of us.” And this is what Snopes.com has to say about the article:

This is not a genuine quote from Morgan Freeman; YourNewsWire.com is a particularly vicious fake news blog that has a long history of publishing corrosive misinformation. The site claims that the actor made this comment while promoting his new documentary series “The Story of Us” during an event in New York, but, naturally, provided no video from the event containing Morgan’s alleged remarks, as none exists.
Furthermore, the “Story of Us” premiere was held on 28 September 2017, more than a month before Your News Wire published this article. It is possible that Freeman held additional promotional events (although it would be odd for the press tour to continue long after the premiere), but we could not find any news articles regarding a promotional event in New York for the series near this article’s publication date.
It is also unlikely that Freeman would ever suggest the idea that President Donald Trump should imprison Hillary Clinton. The actor openly supported of the Democratic candidate and even narrated several political ads for Clinton.



UPDATE, November 9, 2017: I just became aware of a May 16, 2016 tweet from Glenn Beck’s Twitter account in which he made reference to a position statement by the American College of Pediatricians on so-called gender identity disorder, or gender dysphoria (see also the talk show host’s website). The statement—which is still on the organization’s website—is prefaced with the following: “The American College of Pediatricians urges educators and legislators to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex. Facts—not ideology—determine reality.” Addressing parents giving children dangerous puberty blockers to impersonate the opposite sex, the statement explains that this practice requires cross-sex hormones into late adolescence, which are associated with health risks like high blood pressure, blood clots, strokes and cancer. In addition, the American College of Pediatricians makes it clear that “as many as 98% of gender confused boys and 88% of gender confused girls eventually accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty.” But what is perhaps the most striking part of the statement is that it claims that “conditioning children into believing a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse.”

That being said, and given the authenticity of the document itself, what is wrong with Glenn Beck’s tweet? What does that have to do with the subject at hand? He reported a true story! Well, let’s say that what we have here is something quite different—but not entirely unrelated—from what we mean when we use the expression “fake news.” What we are dealing with in this case is basically a misunderstanding due to and/or leading to misinformation or disinformation. In fact, as Snopes.com pointed out, “Beck’s tweet led many viewers to believe that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) had taken that stance on childhood gender dysphoria, but the tweet linked to an article containing quotes from the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) not the AAP.” In reality, the American College of Pediatricians and the American Academy of Pediatrics are vastly different entities: the former is a very small group—with an estimated membership of between 60 and 200 pediatricians—formed relatively recently in response to political disagreements over same-sex parenting, while about 64,000 such physicians are aligned with the AAP.

Now, to bring all this to a conclusion, once again I’m forced to acknowledge that the way I would like things to be is not the way things actually are. The truth is more important than what we want to believe.


-----------------


September 6, 2017

The Sun Sinks


Not for long will you thirst yet,
Burn heart!
Promise in the air,
From unfamiliar mouths it blows on me,
—The  great coolness comes…
My sun stood hot over me at noon:
My greetings for coming,
You sudden winds,
You cool spirits of the afternoon!
The air moves in a strange and pure way.
Does not the night, with a wry
Seducer’s glance,
Watch me from the corner of her eye?...
Stay strong, my stout heart!
Ask not: why?
Day of my life!
The sun is sinking.
The smooth flood already
Is gilded.
Warm breathes the rock:
Did happiness take its noonday sleep
On it at noon?
In green lights
The brown abyss’s play still evokes happiness.
Day of my life!
The eve is looming!
Your eye already glows
Half-broken,
The teardrops
of our dew already surge,
Your love’s purple
already runs quietly over white seas,
Your last lingering bliss…
Cheerfulness golden, come!
You, death’s
Most secret, sweetest anticipatory delight!
—Did I run down my path too swiftly?
Only now, when my foot has become weary,
Your glance overtakes me,
your happiness overtakes me.
All around are only wave and play.
Whatever was heavy
Sank into blue oblivion,—
Now my boat lies idle.
Storm and voyage—how it has forgotten that!
Wish and hope drowned,
Smooth lie soul and sea.
Seventh loneliness!   
Never did I feel
Sweet certainty nearer to me,
Never warmer the sun’s look.
—Does not the ice of my peak still glow?
A light silver, a fish,
My skiff now swims out…


Although I strongly believe that Nietzsche’s works are a must read for anyone who wants to understand the world we live in and why it is the way it is, I’ve never been a huge fan of him. Yes, he was deeply inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of my greatest intellectual heroes, and held in very high esteem the writings of Montaigne, yet another of my most favorite thinkers/writers ever. But as far as I can tell, he lacked what, in my view, made both Montaigne and Emerson what they were, are and will be, that is, respectively, the thoughtful, elegant levity and the “Americanness.” Yet, reading Nietzsche’s writing has been one of the most intense and challenging intellectual experiences I’ve ever gone through. Roughly speaking, I enjoyed the books, although sometimes (if not often) disagreeing with the author’s views, but didn’t love the author himself. Quite the opposite of what happened to me when I first read Montaigne’s Essays —some of them, the less “exciting” ones, so to speak—or some of Emerson’s less brilliant lectures and addresses. After all you can admire someone without loving him/her, but the opposite is pretty unlikely if not impossible: how can you love someone who doesn’t dazzle you in some way? To love is also to be positively marveled and surprised about what the other person does/writes or says, even if it is only now and again..

Perhaps, what I like least about him—apart from his well-known moral nihilism and his many other intellectual excesses—is his contiguity with the so-called Decadent Movement, which first flourished in France in the late 19th century and then spread throughout Europe and to the United States. Light-years away from my views on literature and art. A great example of Nietzsche’s “decadent” sensitivity is the above beautiful and touching poem. By the way, “Die Sonne sinkt” (The Sun Sinks), is proof—in case it was ever needed—that you don’t have to agree with a certain Weltanschauung to thoroughly enjoy one of its most powerful poetic expressions. Analogously, but in a different context, disapproving someone’s behavior should never prevent us from treating them with the utmost respect, if not love as in the case of Dante, when he tells us about Paolo and Francesca’s tragic love story with deeply moving and amazing verses (Inferno, Canto V), or when he describes Farinata degli Uberti as rising out of his burning tomb “from the waist up” and seeming to “have great contempt for Hell” (Inferno, Canto X). This posture suggests that spiritually, he towers above all of Hell and creates an image of infinite strength and grandeur. The just punishment of sins doesn’t include the denial of compassion and of the humanity of sinners—or at least of some of them—in all its aspects and contradictions.

Paolo and Francesca da Rimini by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
(1862; Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford)


This poem from the Dithyrambs of Dionysus (Dionysos-Dithyramben), a collection of nine poems written in the fall of 1888 by the German philosopher under the nom de plume of Dionysos, reflects very much the views of Nietzsche on life, death and everything in between, including the ultimate meaning of happiness. Whether or not one disagrees with him there’s no doubt that the poem is proof that he was a true philosopher in the Ciceronian sense of the term, because it was the great Roman orator who once said that to study philosophy is nothing but to prepare oneself to die (Tusculanae Disputationes). “The reason of which—as Montaigne put it commenting on Cicero’s statement—is, because study and contemplation do in some sort withdraw from us our soul, and employ it separately from the body, which is a kind of apprenticeship and a resemblance of death; or, else, because all the wisdom and reasoning in the world do in the end conclude in this point, to teach us not to fear to die. And to say the truth, either our reason mocks us, or it ought to have no other aim but our contentment only, nor to endeavor anything but, in sum, to make us live well, and, as the Holy Scripture says, at our ease. All the opinions of the world agree in this, that pleasure is our end, though we make use of divers means to attain it: they would, otherwise, be rejected at the first motion; for who would give ear to him that should propose affliction and misery for his end?” (Essays, Book I, chapter XIX)



  1. Friedrich Nietzsche, "Die Sonne sinkt", aus den Dionysos-Dithyramben (original German text)
  2. Ditirambi di Dioniso (Italian version)
  3. The above quoted text is from  Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same, by Karl Löwith. University of California Press, 1997.

August 1, 2017

Trump in the Woody Allen Era


“I think it’s pretty hard to argue that somebody who almost three-quarters of the country thinks is unqualified to be president and has a negative opinion about is tapping into the zeitgeist of the country or is speaking for a broad base of the country. But we’ll find out,” Obama said in a late June 2016 interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep. Well, we found out a few months later, on Tuesday, November 8, 2016.. After clinching the GOP nomination with his unorthodox presidential campaign, Donald Trump won over the hearts and minds of the American people and conquered the presidency.

Obama’s comments came in response to a question about a statement he had made during his 2008 campaign. Previous presidents, such as John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, he said, “changed the trajectory of America,” and that’s exactly what he himself wanted to do. Trump, on the contrary, according to the former president, wasn't on pace to change the trajectory of America. Well, fortunately for the Country and unfortunately for the prophet, what we are witnessing nowadays is exactly the opposite.

How and why things went the way they did and continue to go the way they do? How could The Donald achieve such a spectacular success? Paradoxically, and paraphrasing what Peggy Noonan wrote in her column in the Wall Street Journal some days ago, by ignoring traditional norms and forms of American masculinity. But let’s follow her reasoning for a moment:

The president’s primary problem as a leader is not that he is impetuous, brash or naive. It’s not that he is inexperienced, crude, an outsider. It is that he is weak and sniveling. It is that he undermines himself almost daily by ignoring traditional norms and forms of American masculinity.

He’s not strong and self-controlled, not cool and tough, not low-key and determined; he’s whiny, weepy and self-pitying. He throws himself, sobbing, on the body politic. He’s a drama queen. It was once said, sarcastically, of George H.W. Bush that he reminded everyone of her first husband. Trump must remind people of their first wife. Actually his wife, Melania, is tougher than he is with her stoicism and grace, her self-discipline and desire to show the world respect by presenting herself with dignity.
[…]
His public brutalizing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn’t strong, cool and deadly; it’s limp, lame and blubbery. “Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes,” he tweeted this week. Talk about projection.

He told the Journal’s Michael C. Bender he is disappointed in Mr. Sessions and doesn’t feel any particular loyalty toward him. “He was a senator, he looks at 40,000 people and he probably says, ‘What do I have to lose?’ And he endorsed me. So it’s not like a great loyal thing about the endorsement.” Actually, Mr. Sessions supported him early and put his personal credibility on the line. In Politico, John J. Pitney Jr. of Claremont McKenna College writes: “Loyalty is about strength. It is about sticking with a person, a cause, an idea or a country even when it is costly, difficult or unpopular.” A strong man does that. A weak one would unleash his resentments and derive sadistic pleasure from their unleashing.

The way American men used to like seeing themselves, the template they most admired, was the strong silent type celebrated in classic mid-20th century films—Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Henry Fonda. In time the style shifted, and we wound up with the nervous and chattery. More than a decade ago the producer and writer David Chase had his Tony Soprano mourn the disappearance of the old style: “What they didn’t know is once they got Gary Cooper in touch with his feelings they wouldn’t be able to shut him up!” The new style was more like that of Woody Allen. His characters couldn’t stop talking about their emotions, their resentments and needs. They were self-justifying as they acted out their cowardice and anger.

But he was a comic. It was funny. He wasn’t putting it out as a new template for maleness. Donald Trump now is like an unfunny Woody Allen.

Well, perhaps (or without perhaps) that’s a bit too harsh and one-sided, but Peggy Noonan was substantially right when she spoke about “the shifting of style” from “the strong silent type” to the “nervous and chattery” one, perfectly impersonated by Woody Allen. Actually, Americans have gone through a monumental shift of style in the last decades, something that has perhaps never happened before: these days the way they like seeing themselves, the template they most admire, as Peggy Noonan put it, is not the one celebrated in classic mid-20th century films anymore. This is the Woody Allen era. Today it’s no longer about Gary Cooper and John Wayne, nor is it even about Ronald Reagan.

Let’s be honest, Ronald Reagan couldn’t get elected today, don’t you think, Mrs. Peggy Noonan? On the contrary, only Donald Trump could be able to defeat Hillary Clinton. Trump won because he was the best choice, and this for the simple reason that he—unlike any other Republican or even Democratic candidate, including Bernie Sanders—tapped into the zeitgeist of the country. This means, among other things, that what Peggy Noonan considers ”weakness”—lack of self-control, Trump’s not being “low-key and determined” as well as his being “whiny, weepy and self-pitying,” etc.—is exactly what makes him the best choice in this very time and place in terms of communication style and ways of behaving. But, more importantly, this also means that his political views and policies—or Trump’s right-wing populism, as his detractors put it—are on the same wavelength as the majority of the American people.

That’s also why, paradoxically, we old-fashioned men who grew up with John Wayne’s movies and the idea that men were supposed to keep their emotions in check and not make a big deal out of everything…, we Conservatives of today and, at the same time, nostalgic of the Reagan era and of a past that can never return, should be happy about Trump’s alleged weakness and flaws. They are at very core of his (and our) success.

July 17, 2017

Trump in Warsaw

Warsaw, Krasiński Square, July 6, 2017

“This is the speech Mr. Trump should have given to introduce himself to the world at his Inauguration.” That’s how the Wall Street Journal put it the day after the President of the United States gave his “Remarks to the People of Poland,” as the White House described the speech itself. In truth, the remarks were directed at the people of the world, and offered for the first time, six months into Donald Trump’s first term of office, the core of what could become a governing philosophy, that is, in the WSJ’s own words, “a determined and affirmative defense of the Western tradition” and a far better form of nationalism than that of the inauguration address, a nationalism rooted in values and beliefs such as the rule of law, freedom of expression, religious faith and freedom from oppressive government.

Here are some key-passages from the speech:

Americans, Poles, and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty. We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are. (Applause.) If left unchecked, these forces will undermine our courage, sap our spirit, and weaken our will to defend ourselves and our societies.

But just as our adversaries and enemies of the past learned here in Poland, we know that these forces, too, are doomed to fail if we want them to fail. And we do, indeed, want them to fail. (Applause.) They are doomed not only because our alliance is strong, our countries are resilient, and our power is unmatched. Through all of that, you have to say everything is true. Our adversaries, however, are doomed because we will never forget who we are. And if we don’t forget who are, we just can't be beaten. Americans will never forget. The nations of Europe will never forget. We are the fastest and the greatest community. There is nothing like our community of nations. The world has never known anything like our community of nations.

We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers.

We reward brilliance. We strive for excellence, and cherish inspiring works of art that honor God. We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression. (Applause.)

We empower women as pillars of our society and of our success. We put faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, at the center of our lives. And we debate everything. We challenge everything. We seek to know everything so that we can better know ourselves. (Applause.)

And above all, we value the dignity of every human life, protect the rights of every person, and share the hope of every soul to live in freedom. That is who we are. Those are the priceless ties that bind us together as nations, as allies, and as a civilization.

What we have, what we inherited from our -- and you know this better than anybody, and you see it today with this incredible group of people -- what we've inherited from our ancestors has never existed to this extent before. And if we fail to preserve it, it will never, ever exist again. So we cannot fail.

This great community of nations has something else in common: In every one of them, it is the people, not the powerful, who have always formed the foundation of freedom and the cornerstone of our defense. The people have been that foundation here in Poland -- as they were right here in Warsaw -- and they were the foundation from the very, very beginning in America.

Our citizens did not win freedom together, did not survive horrors together, did not face down evil together, only to lose our freedom to a lack of pride and confidence in our values. We did not and we will not. We will never back down. (Applause.)

Maybe the WSJ is right, maybe not. In fact, one could argue that the two forms of nationalism—that of the inauguration speech and that of the “Remarks to the People of Poland”—are somehow two faces of the same coin, but this would lead us too far from the main object of this note.. What is certain, however, is that the speech is one that won’t be easily forgotten, nor should it. And this for a number of reasons, among which is the fact that, unlike at least two of his predecessors in the presidency—Barack Obama and George W. Bush—Donald Trump refused to sell the Americans and their Western allies the false ideology according to which all peoples have the same desires, all cultures are equal, and all faiths teach the same things.

This universalism, which conveys the myth of the portability of America’s political and economic principles, is at the heart of the biggest mistakes in U.S. foreign politics in the Middle East, and one reason why so many Western policy makers and opinion leaders fell head over heels for the Arab Spring. They saw the explosion as basically the result of a political crisis and as provoked by a thirst for political freedom, but the deepest roots of the “revolution” were most likely socioeconomic—let’s not forget that for several decades, the Arab world has had the lowest rates of economic growth of all regions of Asia and Africa and the highest rates of unemployment in the world. And they are not issues that can be settled with a new constitution or a mere change of president. They can only be settled through a radical cultural change, involving social, political, and economic structures. Something premature, to say the least. That’s why things went wrong. Take Egypt for instance: the protest movement was initiated by opposition groups, part of which were very radical, but the lead was soon taken by traditional political forces such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists.

Unlike George W. Bush and his neocon advisers, and in opposition to Barack Obama’s idealistic rhetoric about foreign politics, Donald Trump argued that what we call Western values, far from being universal, are a centuries-long and uneven process of acculturation and education. “In this context,” as David French puts it in National Review, “Judeo-Christian ideas have a specific value. The family as a core building block of the culture has a specific value. Constitutional governance has a specific value. They are not necessarily interchangeable with Islam, with alternative family arrangements, or with statism. Thus, a call to protect faith, family, and limited government is a call to protect the culture that has birthed freedom at home and abroad.”

The Warsaw speech also finds President Trump on the trail of Joseph Ratzinger and the lecture “On Europe’s Crisis of Culture” the then-Cardinal gave in the convent of Saint Scholastica in Subiaco, Italy, on April 1, 2005, the day before Pope John Paul II died. It was a very strong warning against “the cynicism of a secularized culture that denies its own foundations.”

By the way, one might ask why the West has turned on itself and seems to be refusing to take even the most rudimentary steps to protect itself against its sworn enemies. Of course there are lots of reasons, not just one: cultural Marxism, ennui, loss of faith in organized religion, the transformation of government schools into babysitting services for subsections of the populace with severe cultural learning disabilities, the marginalization of the very notion of excellence, the mutation of the Left into a suicide cult that wants to take the rest of us with it. This kind of illness being thus indicated, the antidote is also easy to prescribe: the antidote to this, as argued in a July 15, 2016 article by Michael Walsh—the author of The Devil’s Pleasure Palace—is a return to our cultural roots,

including the pre-Christian principles of Aristotle (passed down via St. Thomas Aquinas, among others) and the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Those roots are neither race- nor faith-specific and in fact the genius of Western civilization is that its principles—not “conservative” principles but civilizational principles—have proven so successful that they resulted in the United States of America, the very embodiment of those ideas.
Which is, of course, why Islam and its ally of convenience, the Left, hate America so. We and our cultural heritage are the refutation of every satanic principle they hold so vengefully dear.
Western civilization has defended us for centuries. Isn’t it about time we defended it?

That’s exactly what President Trump did with his Warsaw speech.

Of course, Never-Trumpers, Trump-sceptics across Europe, and the Left in general didn’t like a speech in which the words “civilization” and “West” are each repeated 10 times. Sarah Wildman at Vox compared this battle cry—“for family, for freedom, for country, and for God”—to an “alt-right manifesto.” David Smith, Washington correspondent for The Guardian, wrote that the Warsaw speech “will be remembered not for a quotable zinger but for muddled thinking and dark nativism.”

On the other side of the fence, Victor Davis Hanson at National Review praises the speech as an implicit corrective to Barack Obama’s Cairo speech, that is as the antithesis to the fallacious, appeasing lecture Obama preached to the Egyptians on June 4, 2009. Whereas Obama had blamed the West for many of Islam’s dilemmas, he writes, Trump praised the singular history and culture of the West. Whereas Obama listed supposed cultural achievements of Islam, Trump rattled off examples of Western exceptionalism, its culture, values, achievements.. A great article indeed. In Warsaw Trump warned the West that it’s because of our prosperity, technological advancement, and cultural superiority that we are in great peril, amid failed enemies who hate those who are more successful.

In sum, Trump’s anti-Cairo message is that only a disciplined, strong West — confident in its past and sure of its present success — will deter enemies, appeal to neutrals, and keep friends. Trump should not have had a need to deliver such a self-evident but now rare message. That he alone had the courage to state the obvious — and was criticized for doing so — reminds us that the corrective to our Western malady is seen as the problem, not the cure.

But the most moving passages of the address are those which explicitly recall one of the greatest speeches given in Poland in the modern era: it was delivered in Victory Square in the Old City of Warsaw on June 2, 1979 by John Paul II, the Polish pope.

Warsaw,  Victory Square, June 2, 1979 

Europe was still divided between the politically free democracies of Western Europe and the communist bloc. John Paul celebrated Mass. Halfway through, as Peggy Noonan tells the story in her latest column in the Wall Street Journal, the crowd began to chant: “We want God! We want God!” Then the pope asked the crowd: What was the greatest work of God? Man. Who redeemed man? Christ. Therefore, he declared, “Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude. . . The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man.” The chant turned to thunder: “We want God!” It was the beginning of the end for the communist order in Poland.

And when the day came on June 2nd, 1979, and one million Poles gathered around Victory Square for their very first mass with their Polish Pope, that day, every communist in Warsaw must have known that their oppressive system would soon come crashing down. (Applause.) They must have known it at the exact moment during Pope John Paul II’s sermon when a million Polish men, women, and children suddenly raised their voices in a single prayer. A million Polish people did not ask for wealth. They did not ask for privilege. Instead, one million Poles sang three simple words: “We Want God.” (Applause.)
In those words, the Polish people recalled the promise of a better future. They found new courage to face down their oppressors, and they found the words to declare that Poland would be Poland once again.
As I stand here today before this incredible crowd, this faithful nation, we can still hear those voices that echo through history. Their message is as true today as ever. The people of Poland, the people of America, and the people of Europe still cry out “We want God.” (Applause.)
Together, with Pope John Paul II, the Poles reasserted their identity as a nation devoted to God. And with that powerful declaration of who you are, you came to understand what to do and how to live. You stood in solidarity against oppression, against a lawless secret police, against a cruel and wicked system that impoverished your cities and your souls. And you won. Poland prevailed. Poland will always prevail. (Applause.)

What a great premise for an even greater conclusion:

We have to remember that our defense is not just a commitment of money, it is a commitment of will. Because as the Polish experience reminds us, the defense of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail and be successful and get what you have to have. The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it? (Applause.)
[…]
Our own fight for the West does not begin on the battlefield -- it begins with our minds, our wills, and our souls. Today, the ties that unite our civilization are no less vital, and demand no less defense, than that bare shred of land on which the hope of Poland once totally rested. Our freedom, our civilization, and our survival depend on these bonds of history, culture, and memory.
And today as ever, Poland is in our heart, and its people are in that fight. (Applause.) Just as Poland could not be broken, I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph.

A great speech. The gauntlet has been taken up.




P.S. An interesting little fact (or coincidence). From BreitbartNews.com:

President Donald Trump’s first photo-call in Poland after his arrival in Air Force One was with President Andrzej Duda and saw him sat beside an oil painting of a prominent figure in Polish history and folklore — the 17th-century king who kicked Islam out of Central Europe and is remembered as “the Hammer of the Turks”.
Warsaw’s Royal Palace, where the meeting took place — lavishly reconstructed after it was dynamited by Nazi German troops during the Second World War — benefits from a surfeit of grand rooms and hundreds of works of art.
From oils of kings and statesmen by artists such as Rembrandt to impressive murals and sculpture, the Polish authorities had a great deal of choice for where to host the symbolic first meeting of President Trump’s first European visit.
It may be seen as a remarkable coincidence, therefore, that of all the rooms and of all the paintings, they chose to sit President Trump besides a portrait of one of Poland’s best-known warrior kings. King Jan (John) III Sobieski is today remembered and celebrated in Poland, and elsewhere in Central Europe, for his pivotal role at the Battle of Vienna in September 1683.  [By Oliver JJ Lane, July 6, 2017]


A Portrait of King Jan Sobieski III hangs over President Trump’s right shoulder / AP IMAGE

July 13, 2017

Along the River Sile

I must confess that I didn't know about this before… I've just come across a very beautiful video about Treviso—the town where I live—and its river Sile (among the longest resurgence rivers in Europe). Subtitled in English and narrated by Red Canzian, a popular Italian musician in a band named The Pooh, the video is titled “Sile, oasi d’acque e di sapori” (Sile, oasis of waters and tastes). Hope you'll enjoy it!






PS: Check out some of the following links to learn more about the river Sile:

  1. Park of the River Sile
  2. Treviso–Mestre. From the River Sile to the Lagoon
  3. Along the River Sile in Treviso
  4. Ancient trades on the banks of the Sile
  5. Along the Sile River by Bike

June 3, 2017

Are We All Jay Gatsby?




Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.


~ Francis Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.




Francis Scott Fitzgerald
I’ve always loved the ending lines of The Great Gatsby, not just the last sentence, which is the one that is quoted the most, but, say, the last four paragraphs, which I tend to regard as, essentially, more of a poem than a piece of prose—while the ending line is, even on a formal level, very close to poetry, due to both a wave-like alliteration with the letter b, as we read the monosyllabic words “beat,” “boats,” “borne,” and “back,” and to being written almost in iambics (as we well know, iambic is a meter, often used in Shakespeare’s writing, that alternates stressed and unstressed syllables to create a da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM pattern).

But apart from the lyricism of these lines, I must confess that the more I get older, the more I understand how much truth there is in them. To a certain extent, they connect Gatsby to all of us. After all, by ending the way it does, the novel makes Gatsby explicitly represent all humans, “boats against the current” whose fate is already sealed since the very beginning of the story: being “borne back ceaselessly into the past,” or alternatively being frustrated in our dreams to restore a past that cannot return. One way or another, we are all losers. You can’t escape it. That’s also why Gatsby, Myrtle, and George Wilson die, and why no one come to Gatsby’s funeral. It all feels kind of empty and pointless, especially after all the effort that Gatsby put into trying to recreate his and Daisy’s love … Well, that empty feeling is basically the whole point.

At the same time we must remember that this is one side of the coin. The other side is that while all human beings appear to be condemned to an inevitable defeat, there’s a chance that our defeat might be only apparent. Take the most inevitable of defeats, the one against time. Whoever you are and whatever you do, you are subject to the inexorable law of time, and yet, in a way, time is not, by necessity, the last word, in just the way in which, for us Christians, death is not a disaster, but a new beginning—Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). In other words, death is not the last word for those who are believers in the resurrected Christ.

General Douglas MacArthur
As for time, if our body can’t help submitting to the laws of nature, the same cannot be said for our soul. Whether you want it to or not, the body gets old—sure, we may be able to slow down the process, but it cannot be reversed. On the contrary, the spirit may continue to be young, because, well, “youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.” Or at least that’s the way Samuel Ullman put the whole thing in his poem “Youth.” But I couldn’t figure out a more eloquent and effective way of putting it, and general Douglas MacArthur—who hung a framed copy of a version of the poem on the wall of his office in Tokyo, when he became Supreme Allied Commander in Japan—probably couldn’t either.

“Youth,” the poet continues, “means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of 60 more than a boy of 20. Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals.” Yes, courage, adventure, ideals—isn’t that what being young at heart and in spirit is all about? The rest of the poem is a glorious crescendo of joy and confidence..

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spring back to dust.

Whether 60 or 16, there is in every human being's heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing childlike appetite of what's next and the joy of the game of living. In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station: so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the Infinite, so long are you young.

When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at 20, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at 80.

Samuel Ullman
What a great, simple lesson for all of us! Here, among these lines, is where F. Scott Fitzgerald’s melancholic and pessimistic view of life is bound to founder and, even more so, is proved to be wrong. And mind you, without calling into question metaphysical and/or religious beliefs, which are personal and subjective. If the inexorable law of time can be eluded, then there is still hope, nothing essential is lost. Or, to put it very simply, as Billy Graham says, “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.” It’s up to you to live life to the fullest, to follow your dreams and make the world a better place for you and everyone.

May 21, 2017

Hypocrisy

I was chatting with a friend of mine the other day about the topicality of Dante’s Divine Comedy. What we both agreed upon was that the first of the three canticles of the poem, Inferno, is by far the most topical one. Nowhere else is there a more perfect description of human nature, its weakness, passions, miseries and sordidnesses. And nowhere else is there a deeper sense of justice in the face of sin and evil. We also agreed that the most topic among all the sins mentioned in the Comedy is hypocrisy.

Detail of miniature of Dante and Virgil encountering three couples of hypocrites, clad in gilt hoods, while on the ground are stretched Caiaphas and Annas, in illustration of Canto XXIII. (Tuscany, Siena?), 1444-c. 1450
London, British Library, Yates Thompson, 36 fol-42b Hypocrites



And now, down there, we found a painted people,
slow-motioned: step by step, they walked their round
in tears, and seeming wasted by fatigue.

All were wearing cloaks with hoods pulled low
covering the eyes (the style was much the same
as those the Benedictine wear at Cluny),

dazzling, gilded cloaks outside, but inside
they were lined with lead, so heavy that the capes
King Frederick used, compared to these, were straw.

O cloak of everlasting weariness!
We turned again, as usual, to the left
and moved with them, those souls lost in their mourning;

but with their weight tired-out race of shades
paced on so slowly that we found ourselves in
new company with every step we took;


(Inferno, Canto XXIII)




In fact, if we look at today’s world—particularly in the fields of politics, media, religion, and academia—you can’t help seeing that we’re surrounded by hypocrites—for the record, the word hypocrisy comes from the Greek ὑυπόκρισις (hypokrisis), which means “jealous,” “play-acting,” “acting out,” “coward” or “dissembling.”

We live in a “do as I say, not as I do” culture that is slowly breeding an entirely new generation of Pharisees, blinder than those who killed Jesus, where double-standards ARE the standard and double thinking is routine. What applies to Obama, Clinton, Podesta, etc. doesn’t apply to Trump and his men (and women), and vice versa. The same exact behavior is bad when someone you don’t agree with does it, but great when someone you do agree with does. We preach dialogue but practice monologue. We preach brotherhood but practice Cainhood. Our eleventh silent commandment is, “Preach sugar and honey, practice venom and vinegar.” This whole thing would be a farce if it were not a tragedy—not a small one, but a major tragedy in the rapidly darkening fortunes of the Western world.

Back to the main story, as everybody knows, in Dante’s Inferno there is a level for each sin committed, i.e. different circles, with the depth of the circle (and placement within that circle) symbolic of the amount of punishment to be inflicted. As the eighth of nine circles, Malebolge is one of the worst places in hell to be—and the only circle that has a proper name. Malebolge means evil ditches, or evil bolgias, and this Circle is dedicated to the sins of fraud, and each ditch is for a specific kind of fraud.

Dante and his guide, Virgil, make their way into Malebolge by riding on the back of the monster Geryon, the personification of fraud, who possesses the face of an honest man “good of cheer,” but the tail of a scorpion. In Bolgia Six lie the hypocrites. They are forced to wear heavy lead robes as they walk around the circumference of their circle. The robes are bright and golden on the outside, and resemble a monk’s cowl similar to the elegant ones worn by the Benedictine monks at Cluny, but are lined with heavy lead, symbolically representing hypocrisy. Just as Jesus compares hypocritical scribes and Pharisees to tombs that appear clean and beautiful on the outside while containing bones of the dead (Matthew 23:27).

By the way, who knows whether Dante knew that the specific weight of gold is much higher than that of lead? ;-) Be it as it may, I wish poetry could cure our moral diseases! The Divine Comedy would be our salvation! And instead we cannot but recall Eliot’s famous response when I.A. Richards took up Matthew Arnold’s cry, “it may be poetry will save us”: “it is like saying that wall-paper will save us when the walls have crumbled.” (T. S. Eliot, “Literature, Science, and Dogma,” Dial, 82, 1927: 243)

Interesting stuff, isn’t it? Maybe next time we’ll talk about the ninth circle: Betrayers...


Historiated initial ‘N’(el) of Dante and Virgil in a dark wood, with four half-length figures representing Justice, Power, Peace, and Temperance, with the arms of Alfonso V below, at the beginning of the Divina Comedia, Italy (Tuscany, Siena?), 1444-c. 1450, Yates Thompson MS 36, f. 1r