October 2, 2008

Bye bye to Venetian pigeons

“Accept that some days you’re the pigeon, and some days you’re the statue,” someone once said. But Venetians don’t seem to fully appreciate the humor in the quote. In fact they are likely to have made a strategic decision to go beyond the alternation pigeon-statue … by getting rid of the pigeons—whose highly acidic droppings, as everybody knows, damage brickwork and marble—on behalf of centuries-old statues and buildings.

In practice feed vendors who sold grain to tourists wanting to feed the birds have been banned, and other moves to shoo the birds away have been taken by the city council, in the face of protests from animal rights groups. As a result, the pigeon population of St Mark's Square has been reduced from an estimated high of 20,000 to barely a thousand. Read here (and here) to learn more.

P.S. From an anonymous source, close to the city council, I have learned that from now on the official pigeon-related quote the lagoon city will adopt could be the following, by George Bernard Shaw,

Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton and The Bible; and don’t sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.

The Palin factor strikes again

“Forget Joe Biden,” wrote Ruth Marcus in yesterday’s Washington Post, “I’d like to see John McCain debate Sarah Palin.” What makes Marcus amazed about Palin is her attitude towards education and books. “The way that I have understood the world is through education, through books, through mediums that have provided me a lot of perspective on the world,” said once the GOP vice president candidate in an interview with Katie Couric. A completely different attitude, according to Marcus, than that of John McCain—she doesn’t like his insistence that he is a man of experience who has been “involved in virtually every major national security challenge we’ve faced in the last 20-some years,” unlike his book-learned and whippersnapper rival Barack Obama.

If this is so, however, I mean, if Sarah Palin has such a high regard for education and books, I don’t understand why intellectuals and academics so often show their bias and a certain distrustfulness towards Republican vice presidential candidate. Ok, they may want to be non-bipartisan, they have the right to be non-neutral in the presidential race, but they could be more decent and less black and white …

The following story, related by Norm, is in my view somehow paradigmatic :

An adjunct professor at Metro State College in Denver set his students the task of doing a piece of work critical of Sarah Palin. He asked them 'to write an essay to contradict what he called the "fairy tale image of Palin" presented at the Republican National Convention.' A student complained and this has led to an investigation by the college.

Of course, I cannot but agree with Norm’s comment:

In itself, there's nothing wrong with the assignment. Asking students to undertake such a critical exercise about any politician might just be a way of testing their linguistic and analytical powers. It all depends on what other assignments they are given. That is, are they asked to do this sort of thing about other politicians as well? Was it conceived as a critical exercise only, or as a way of promoting the teacher's own political preferences? That the assignment was later revised to allow students to write on any of the candidates suggests that he and/or the college didn't feel that all was well as things stood.