January 31, 2009

Palladio's life and legacy

Speaking about Antonio Canova at the beginning of this month, I wrote that it was not just because he was born in a small village located a few miles from the North-Eastern Italian town where I live, but rather because Canova is the greatest Italian sculptor of the modern times that I felt the need to write that post. Well, I suppose I’m bound to repeat myself on this occasion. Yet, this time the subject is not a sculptor but rather an architect, Andrea Palladio, who was born in Padua—about 30 miles south-west from my hometown—and spent his life creating villas, churches and palaces in Vicenza, Venice and the surrounding Veneto, my home region—but, once again, it is not because of that … that I’m writing this post, but rather because Palladio is the most significant figure in the history of Western architecture!

And five centuries after his birth he not only remains—thanks to his exceptional buildings, which somehow encapsulate the legacy of Italian Renaissance architectural practice—Europe’s greatest architect, he also deeply influenced the theory and understanding of architecture through his celebrated treatise I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura, published in Venice in 1570.

Hence the title of a major new exhibition which will be held at the Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD, from January 31 to April 13, 2009: “Andrea Palladio: His Life and Legacy.” It is the first exhibition devoted to Andrea Palladio to be held in London for over 30 years. The show has travelled from Vicenza—where it drew over 100,000 visitors—to mark the 500th anniversary of Palladio’s birth and will move to Washington until Fall 2009. See here and here for further details. Here is the official webpage of the exhibition. And if you are in London, don’t miss it, otherwise you'll have to wait some thirty years before you’ll be given another opportunity to forget gray London, financial worries and winter melancholies ...

January 30, 2009

Venetian miracles

Venice has a reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in Italy. And as far as I know it’s a well earned reputation. That’s why, had I not read it with my own eyes, I might not have believed it: a new “restaurant for pilgrims” in Venice, which means cheap, quality lunches—three-course lunches for a tidy 13 euros ($17)—to visitors to St Mark’s Basilica! The La Basilica restaurant is run by a local catering company on behalf of the St Mark’s Procurators, a non-profit outfit that manages the wonderful Byzantine cathedral. See here for further details.

January 28, 2009

In sympathy with society?

A man must be in sympathy with society about him, or else, not wish to be in sympathy with it. If neither of these two, he must be wretched.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson [from his journals, March-April 1848], in EMERSON IN HIS JOURNALS, selected and edited by Joel Porte, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Massachsetts) - London (England), 1982.

I have been posting for months now thoughts by Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his Journals, and will probably continue to do so, because it’s my firm conviction that “The Sage of Concord” has still much to teach us all. A few days ago, thanks to Tom, I discovered that someone is being doing something similar with Emerson’s fellow Transcendentalist (and best friend): The Blog of Henry David Thoreau. If you take the time to check it out I’m sure you’ll enjoy the visit.

January 27, 2009

Long life to the terrorist!

In the 1970s, during the anni di piombo (“years of lead”), Cesare Battisti was a member of the so-called Armed Proletarians for Communism (PAC), a terrorist group which was much like the Red Brigades, though smaller and less known. Arrested by Italian police, he escaped from prison in 1981, while awaiting trial on four charges of murder allegedly committed in the late 1970s, when he was still a member of the above mentioned armed group. Eventually he was convicted in absentia and sentenced to life.

In the meantime Battisti, after flying to Latin America, where he lived in the 1980s. There he started writing crime novels and became a cult figure among intellectuals and the left-wing opposition in Paris, where he had taken refuge in 1990 and where a court had refused an extradition request from Italy, arguing that Battisti’s trial would be based on testimony from informers. This was a consequence of the “new deal” started by French socialist president François Mitterand, who in 1985 granted an amnesty to far-left terrorists from Italy who renounced their past and promised to keep out of domestic politics. But in 2004 Chirac’s Government abandoned Mitterrand’s policy, and another court approved the extradition of Battisti, who in turn disappeared and eventually fled to Brazil, where three year later, in March 2007, he was arrested.

And here is where the last chapter of this story begins: on January 13 Brazilian Justice Minister Tarso Genro decided to grant asylum to Cesare Battisti, on the grounds that he risked “political persecution” were he to be extradited to Italy. Tarso Genro explained that his decision was based on a 1951 Brazilian statute and a subsequent 1997 law defining the guidelines for granting asylum that included ”the real threat of persecution due to race...or political opinion,” Ansa reports. As it was not enough, last Friday the president of Brazil, Inacio Lula da Silva, sent a letter to his Italian colleague Giorgio Napolitano in response to his letter in which the Italian president expressed his “astonishment and regret” about Tarso Genro’s decision. Lula basically maintained that the Brazilian government can take its own decisions to grant political asylum or not to whomever it wants. At last, Brazil’s top prosecutor, Antonio Fernando Souza, asked the Supreme Court on Monday to end extradition proceedings against Battisti. As a result, today Italy has recalled its ambassador to Brazil for consultations.

Here is an interesting comment by the Economist:

Brazil’s reasons for protecting Mr Battisti are unconvincing. The justice minister, Tarso Genro, referred to his country’s tradition of harbouring political exiles, ranging from Alfredo Stroessner, a particularly nasty ex-dictator (of Paraguay), to Olivério Medina, an ex-guerrilla (in Colombia). Now that democracy is the norm in the Americas, that tradition is anachronistic. Mr Genro also seems to think that Mr Battisti was convicted of political crimes, rather than plain murder.

Two sentiments underlie Mr Genro’s reticence. One is Brazil’s reluctance to examine its own past. Whenever the question of an inquiry into the military government of 1964-85 arises, it is quickly squashed (unlike similar demands in Argentina or Chile). The second sentiment, that of solidarity, is to be found among some members of Lula’s party who were far-left militants in the 1970s. In Italy, which lost a former prime minister to the Red Brigades and had a government adviser murdered as recently as 2002 by its imitators, attitudes are much less indulgent.

It’s also worthy to note that once again a “progressive” and “enlightened” Western government has decided to go to Battisti’s rescue. Perhaps in Brazil and other left-oriented countries you must be a former terrorist, preferably a convicted murderer, to have granted what is denied to almost anyone else: a hearty welcome by the highest authorities, loyal and supportive friends (in the government), and a safe place to live in.

Beckham and Capello: a matter of Destiny?

Will David Beckham make the move from Los Angeles to Milan? The turning point of the whole story might have come in Bologna on Sunday, writes the Los Angeles Times, when the LA Galaxy star and former captain of England’s national team—due to return to Major League Soccer on March 9—made his third consecutive start and scored his first goal for the seven-time European champion AC Milan.

“He knows our desire, if he goes it will be a disappointment because of the contribution he is giving in terms of quality and balance,” said Monday coach Carlo Ancelotti, speaking on Italian radio.

It’s also worthy to note that with England’s manager Fabio Capello set to announce his squad for a friendly against Spain on February 11, David Beckham’s excellent performance for Milan could not have come at a better time. Not by chance Capello is expected to fly in for the match on Wednesday in Milan in order to observe Beckham playing for the Rossoneri.

As a moderate soccer fan, I wouldn’t overrate the importance of the whole matter, nonetheless I can’t help noting this singular irony of fate: one of the best soccer player and one the most brilliant coaches ever, the former English, the latter Italian, one has “bewitched” the most successful soccer team in Italy, the other has “conquered” England. And their paths cross in Milan … Do you believe in Destiny (I mean in “crossed destinies”)?

I am bound to say that I would like David Beckham to stay beyond his loan ending in March. Well, you know, I have been a supporter of Inter Milan FC—AC Milan’s city rival—since the times I was old enough to remember, but I can’t stand both its radical-chic president Massimo Moratti and its vain coach Jose Mourinho. So sorry ...

January 26, 2009

If Europe is no longer Europe

In a famous essay published March 13, 2003 in the Wall Street Journal, The Rage, the Pride and the Doubt, Oriana Fallaci maintained a “scandalous” thesis:

Europe is no longer Europe. It is a province of Islam, as Spain and Portugal were at the time of the Moors. It hosts almost 16 million Muslim immigrants and teems with mullahs, imams, mosques, burqas, chadors. It lodges thousands of Islamic terrorists whom governments don’t know how to identify and control. People are afraid, and in waving the flag of pacifism [...] they feel protected.

Although she was talking about the war in Iraq, her words fit almost exactly what is going on in these very days in two European countries, the Netherlands and United Kingdom.

Last Wednesday a Dutch court ordered the criminal prosecution of Geert Wilders, a Dutch MP and leader of the Freedom Party (PVV), for his “anti-Islamic hate speech,” that is for his statements against Islamofascism, considered “insulting” by the Court itself. So, as my friends of www.actforamerica.org put it, the message is clear: it’s okay for a radical Muslim to call for your death, but don’t you dare criticize the Muslim for doing so.

Expectedly, “the Jordanian group ‘The Messenger of God Unites Us’ greeted the news with much happiness,” Klein Verzet (a Dutch blog in English) reports. And as it was not enough the State of Jordan

has issued a request for Wilders' extradition to stand trial in Jordan for blasphemy of Islam, a crime for which Shari'a law declares the penalty to be death. The Dutch parliament has taken the extradition request very seriously, and has shut out Wilders from all multi-lateral negotiations. As a precaution, Wilders no longer travels abroad unless he can obtain a diplomatic letter from the destination state promising he won't be extradited. For years now, Wilders has lived under looming death threats complemented by the threat that any day, Interpol might issue a warrant for his arrest at Jordan's behest.
What a difference a few years make. When we started this blog, the Dutch had a reputation comparable to the Danes. But now it seems that the Netherlands has joined the madness of the UK, France, Sweden and Norway, in their mad dash to destroy the spirit of the native people, for diversity's sake.

Well, actually, in the meantime two Dutchmen, Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, were being murdered for their outspoken opposition to Islamization in the Netherlands.

Let’s now talk about what is going on in the UK. Last Friday the Evening Standard reported that

Douglas Murray, a self-confessed “neo conservative”, was due to chair “Islam or Liberalism: Which is the Way Forward?” at the university tonight — 24 hours after the end of a week-long sit in at LSE in protest at Israel's attacks on Gaza.
The commentator and author, who is the director of conservative think-tank the Centre for Social Cohesion, said: “This is back to the bad old days of the LSE — where the most violent get to dictate people's education. It is worse than censorship — it's intimidation.” The debate, which is set to go ahead, is between Dr Alan Sked, a senior lecturer in international history at the university, and Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, a Muslim writer and lecturer.
The LSE asked Mr Murray not to attend in the interest of public safety as his presence could provoke further unrest. A spokesman added: “He has spoken at LSE in the past and will be welcome to do so again in the future.”

By the way, as a British journalist noted (Phyllis Chesler reports), the London School of Economics had no such fears when known “members of Al-Mujaharoun, a pro-terror Islamist organisation,” spoke there. “The presence of the group was announced in advance, but that was OK with the School. Presumably that was because it was also OK with the Islamic campus ideologues in front of whom it cowers.”

And here is what Melanie Phillips and Oliver Kamm have to say :

MP :

Another victory for the forces of darkness, thanks to the pusillanimity of the LSE which, finding itself on the battlefield of the war to defend civilisation, has run up the white flag.

OK :

The LSE's conduct is cowardly and unconscionable. A university is a place for the untrammelled discussion of ideas. The LSE has curtailed the ability of one invited guest to contribute to a discussion - as chairman of a debate and not even as a speaker - because of a presumed threat of violence arising from the offence he might thereby cause. I've seen the LSE's internal correspondence on this. It refers to complaints made about Douglas's views on Islam. It seems that Douglas has been disinvited because of the effect on the sensibilities of students - or on "campus relations", as one particularly arch piece of misdirection has it - at a time of Middle East conflict.
It is the LSE's responsibility - stemming from its function as an institute of learning - to rescind its decision, allow the event to take place as planned, and to send down any student who tries by violence or threat to prevent a guest from speaking.

Perhaps Oliver is wasting his breath with his call for the LSE to think again, and Melanie is right: they raised the white flag on the crumbling building.

January 23, 2009

Is Obama a neoconservative?

“With Barack Obama about to become president, is there any chance neoconservatives will finally return to the roost?” Gabriel Schoenfeld asked in the Wall Street Journal. If only a month ago the question would have seemed preposterous, now, according to Schoenfeld, it shouldn’t any more. And there are solid arguments for that. Obama’s insistence on the theme of “personal responsibility,” for instance, which is one purchase point for the original neocons, when they were still Democrats, back in the 70s. And what about his belief in the need for supporting and encouraging fathers’ active participation in parenting?

It was, after all, alarm about the disintegration of black families in the 1960s that helped propel rightward the liberal pillar -- and neoconservative founding father -- Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Four decades later the same problem afflicts the urban underclass. Mr. Obama's photogenic First Family serves as a more potent counter to the allure -- such as it is -- of the ghetto lifestyle than any policy initiative ever cooked up in a neoconservative think tank.
But the incoming president -- himself the son of a single mother -- not only walks the walk, he talks the talk. During the campaign he boldly told an African-American audience that "We need fathers to realize that responsibility doesn't just end at conception. . . . What makes you a man is not the ability to have a child. Any fool can have a child. . . . It's the courage to raise a child that makes you a father."

Furthermore, Obama’s foreign policy echoed many longstanding concerns of the neocons :

Even on foreign policy, Mr. Obama has an opportunity to build a coalition with hawks. Ironically, the surge in Iraq -- which Mr. Obama irresponsibly opposed -- may allow for a safe American withdrawal on something approximating the timetable he has called for. His emphasis on winning in Afghanistan and cleaning out the al Qaeda redoubt in Pakistan is common sense. His pledge not to permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons differs not a whit from President Bush's policy.
And with regard to the Gaza conflict, it is also welcome to recall that, touring the embattled Israeli town of Sderot during the campaign, Mr. Obama stated -- in words that neoconservatives are now quoting aloud -- that "if missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that."

Would Obama really do much that was different from the Bush administration? Ron Radosh asks in his blog. He reports that a left-leaning journalist, TNR’s John B. Judis called Obama’s Inaugural Address “a disappointing hodge-podge,” “too abstract” and neither “original nor compelling.” He didn’t like the call to get rid of “worn-out dogmas,” fearing, as Radosh puts it, that Obama was just not talking about those of the right.

Judis was also disturbed when Obama said that “Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.” Judis writes: “This strikes me as either boilerplate or an exaggeration of the danger posed by al Qaeda. It is reminiscent of George W. Bush and his catch-all war on terror. Obama and the country clearly face grave problems overseas; but they can’t be reduced to a ‘far-reaching network.’” Really?? And reminiscent of Bush? This, as we know, is about the nastiest smear a liberal could make against Obama.

When all this is said—and much more might be said on the subject—how can we help asking ourselves whether Obama is “a liberal mugged by reality?”

A morning with Cyrano

I went to the theater this morning with a bunch of my 16/17 year old students to watch the famous play by Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, in French, its original language. It was well performed by a French professional theater company, and most students seemed to have enjoyed the experience. As for myself, my school French turned out to be very poor, but I had no problem with the below quoted and sublime passage ...

Un baiser, mais à tout prendre, qu’est-ce ?
Un serment fait d’un peu plus près, une promesse
plus précise, un aveu qui veut se confirmer,
un point rose qu’on met sur l’i du verbe aimer;
c’est un secret qui prend la bouche pour oreille,
un instant d’infini qui fait un bruit d’abeille,
une communion ayant un goût de fleur,
une façon d’un peu se respirer le coeur,
et d’un peu se goûter, au bord des lèvres, l’âme !

A kiss, when all is said,—what is it?
An oath that's ratified,—a sealed promise,
A heart’s avowal claiming confirmation,—
A rose-dot on the ‘I’ of ‘adoration,’—
A secret that to mouth, not ear, is whispered,—
Brush of a bee’s wing, that makes time eternal,—
Communion perfumed like the spring’s wild flowers,—
The heart’s relieving in the heart’s outbreathing,
When to the lips the soul’s flood rises, brimming!

Act III, Scene ix

January 22, 2009

Airline passengers: In whose hands?

The crash of US Airways 1549 into the Hudson River in New York City has inspired a former professional military pilot an interesting post. Airline passengers normally don’t spend much time thinking about who are sitting in the front two seats of the airplane, but they should ...

January 21, 2009

Liberal or Conservative?

My favorite passage of President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address is this:

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less.
It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.
Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

Is that a liberal or conservative point of view? Let me not answer this question, neither did I want to ask you for an answer: whatever I or you might say in response would be both right and wrong, in my opinion. Perhaps the reason why I like that passage is just because of the impossibility of giving a uniquely satisfying answer to that question.

January 20, 2009

Fiat-Chrysler alliance

Chrysler’s troubles worsened last fall when the meltdown on Wall Street hit. So most analysts said the US automaker had little hope of surviving as a standalone company, and Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) said the company needs to “merge or go away.” Italy’s Fiat, in turn, has its own troubles, but it is still true that it is at the moment the stronger of the two and a recognized world leader in the area of innovative and environmentally friendly products, thanks to its chief, Sergio Marchionne, who has pulled the company back from the brink collapse since taking over in 2004. So, in an attempt to revive two of the world’s storied auto makers, Fiat and Chrysler decided to lend a hand to one another. And the Americans will soon be reaping the benefits and the healthy rewards of driving small vehicles, while the Italians will experience the excitement of driving large, gas-guzzling cars … Well, actually, not exactly I’m afraid. See here and here for details.

If Obama lives up to the dreams

“There is an entire generation that will grow up taking for granted that the highest office in the land is filled by an African American,” Barack Obama told the Washington Post last week. “I mean,” he added, “that’s a radical thing. It changes how black children look at themselves. It also changes how white children look at black children. And I wouldn’t underestimate the force of that.”

“Neither would I,” writes Jonah Golberg in today’s Los Angeles Times. Nor would I, if I may say so myself. In his column Golberg explains “what Obama brings to conservatives,” and argues conservatives out of trying “to belittle the importance of this milestone,” because “this is simply a wonderful—and wonderfully American—story,” and “any political movement that is joyless about what this represents risks succumbing to bitter political crankery.”

And this is how he concludes his remarks:

If Obama lives up to the dreams of his biggest supporters in writing a new, post-racial chapter for America, he will have at once done more for America than any Democratic president in generations. But he also will have cut the knot holding much of the left together. As an American and as a conservative, I certainly hope that’s the case. He’s already made a good start of it just by getting elected.

A thorough reading of Goldberg’s piece is highly recommended. (Thanks: Sandra K. S.)

January 19, 2009

'I love President George W Bush'

Terrorists are “very brilliant and educated,” the Dalai Lama said yesterday delivering the Madhavrao Scindia Memorial Lecture in New Delhi, “but a strong ill feeling is bred in them. Their minds are closed.” That’s why, he added, “it is difficult to deal with terrorism through non-violence.” 

Those words, uttered in a moment of the highest international tension because of the events in Gaza, may sound very meaningful to them who have ears to hear.

On the same occasion, the Dalai Lama had also kind words for the outgoing President of the U.S., George W Bush: “I love President George W Bush,” he said leaving the audience stunned and recalling how he and the US President instantly struck a chord in their first meeting. “I told him ‘I love you but some of your policies I oppose’,” he added.

What shall I say? I wonder if the Tibetan spiritual leader could have ever spoken more highly of one of the most hated world leaders in history. My answer is, “probably not.” And I think I know why, as well as President-elect Barack Obama, who said last Friday on CNN that George W. Bush is a good guy. “If you look at my statements throughout the campaign, I always thought he was a good guy, I mean, I think personally he is a good man who loves his family and loves his country. And I think he made the best decisions that he could at times under some very difficult circumstances.”

Well, if these are the premises, I think history will be fair to George W. Bush.

January 18, 2009

Hamas infiltration into UK state agencies?

This comes from Britain, but it could just as easily have come from almost anywhere else in Western Europe or North America, and it is a shocking news: Treasury official Azad Ali, president of the UK Civil Service Islamic Society, complained in his blog about the British government’s response to “the Zionist terrorist State of Israel,” and said there was “much truth” in an interview with an Islamic extremist who said it is his religious obligation to kill British and American soldiers in Iraq.

Furthermore, despite the fact that until a few days ago he was regarded as a moderate Muslim who could help tackle Islamic fanaticism in Britain, he attacked moderate British Muslims as “self-serving vultures, feeding on the dead flesh of the Palestinians.”

As it was not enough, as a former chairman of the Muslim Safety Forum and the current head of its counter-terrorism work-team, he works with the Home Office, senior police officers and the Security Services—of course his aim is to combat extremism ...

This, according to Atma Singh (Ken Livingstone’s former adviser and Mayor of London contender 2012), who first acquainted me with this stuff via email, highlights “what I revealed about Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood infiltration into UK state agencies and specifically in the Mayor’s Office under Ken Livingstone,” as well as “true nature of such Islamism turning into an advocacy force for terrorism.”

Meanwhile Azad Ali was suspended from his senior government job, and Tory MP Patrick Mercer, an adviser to Security Minister Lord West, questioned how this man could continue as a civil servant. But two British blogs don't agree with Mercer (nor with Azad Ali):

Harry's Place ...

Don’t get me wrong. Azad Ali’s politics are disgusting.
However, he has made absolutely no secret of them, at any point. Quite the opposite. The Islamist groups with which he has been involved proudly proclaim their support for jihad, in pursuit of the creation of a nightmarish theocratic state.
Nevertheless, despite his politics he has become the civil service’s “go to” Muslim representative of choice. I would like to believe that Gus O’Donnell was shocked - shocked! - to find that the man with whom he and his civil service and the police force have been turning for strategic advice on “Muslim policy” is a vicious extremist. If nobody in the civil service and the police force realised what this man’s politics were, then they must have been blind and utter fools.
I believe that the opposite is true. I think that Azad Ali was engaged with, precisely because of the nature of his affiliations, and his connections with organisations like the East London Mosque, which is a base for Jamaat-e-Islami. Now that his activities have been exposed in the Mail on Sunday, they have cut him loose.

And pickled politics ...

Azad Ali certainly holds some unattractive political views.
Azad Ali didn’t start writing Islamist material on his blog on Satuday December 27, the day Israel launched its air attacks on Gaza. What we should be asking is how Azad Ali managed to be selected as the Islamist of choice for so many government departments for this long.

How to save a friend from metal rock

What would you answer if someone—an Indian friend, for instance—asked you for a sort of introduction to Western music? And how would you act if you were willing to save him from metal rock? Well, you might want to explain to him that one of the characteristics of Western music is polyphony, and that this whole thing, of combining different melodies together, began in the Middle Ages, possibly by chance, and progressed in the subsequent centuries. Then you might want to tell him that Western music can also be monodic, the opposite of polyphonic … Or you might want to take a look at this post “before” giving a definitive answer. The latter is the option I would recommend ... ;-)

Thank you

Yesterday the winners and the final ranking of the finalists of the 2008 Weblog Awards were announced by the organizers. Wind Rose Hotel didn’t win in its category, but I’d like to thank each and every one of you, anyway, my dear and loyal readers, for taking the time to vote for me. I really appreciated your support and, in many cases, your personal encouragement.

However, believe me when I say that having been a finalist was great reward in itself. During the days of voting this blog had thousands of new visitors from all over the word, dozens of new links pointing to it, and as many new subscribers to its feed. In other words, I am very happy to have participated in such an important competition and I like to thank the organizers who made all this possible. It was a great experience!

January 17, 2009

Anno Zero: niente martiri, prego ...

L'ottimo Luca Ricolfi ha scritto su La Stampa di oggi che è “sbalordito” per quanto ha visto e ascoltato ieri sera ad Anno Zero. L’articolo merita di esser letto e meditato, e personalmente vorrei aggiungere che sono grato a Ricolfi per averlo scritto e per aver interpretato perfettamente lo sdegno del sottoscritto e di innumerevoli altri telespettatori.

Sbalordito per la partigianeria della trasmissione, accuratamente costruita per vedere le buone ragioni dei palestinesi e ignorare quelle degli israeliani. Sbalordito per il pochissimo spazio concesso al ragionamento e l’enorme spazio lasciato alle viscere. Sbalordito per la strumentalizzazione del genuino e umanissimo dolore di due ragazze, una palestinese e una israeliana, cinicamente buttate nell’arena come fanno gli organizzatori di combattimenti fra galli. Sbalordito per l’incapacità di Santoro di ascoltare una critica (a mio parere giustissima, ma comunque cortese e civile) all’impostazione della sua trasmissione. Sbalordito per la violenza con cui il conduttore, abusando del suo potere, ha più volte coperto la voce di chi esprimeva, o meglio tentava di esprimere, opinioni non conformi (Lucia Annunziata, prima; Tobia Zevi verso la fine della trasmissione). Sbalordito per le parole sprezzanti con cui Santoro ha risposto alle argomentazioni di Lucia Annunziata, accusata di ripetere «le solite scemenze» su Annozero, e addirittura di voler acquisire meriti presso qualche potente (presso chi? che cos’è questo modo obliquo di alludere?).

Che altro dire? Bah, niente, niente di niente, nel merito, è perfetto così. Ora mi auguro soltanto una cosa: che Berlusconi e gli altri della maggioranza non trasformino un’altra volta l’ignobile personaggio in un martire. Lo lascino stare, semplicemente. La sua punizione è esistere, la nostra soddisfazione ignorarlo. Che importa se il conto lo paga il cittadino contribuente? Con tutti gli sprechi di questo Paese, non meno scandalosi, non meno vergognosi, questo non ci farà andare in rovina (non più degli altri, cioè). Consideriamo la questione-Santoro alla stregua di uno dei tanti Enti Inutili, che sono lì da 50 anni e tutti lo sanno, e noi continuiamo a pagare, pagare ... Qualsiasi cosa, ma niente martiri: gliela darebbero vinta un’altra volta, e questo proprio non possiamo permettercelo.

January 16, 2009

Why should Hamas want a truce?

A few hours ago exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal told Arab leaders, in an emergency summit on Gaza, in Doha, Qatar, that his group would not accept Israeli conditions for a truce. It’s bad news, but there is nothing surprising about that. What could be slightly surprising, instead, is that Khaled Meshaal also accused Israel of waging war against all Palestinians, including women and children. Why surprising? Simply because the accusation can backfire on Hamas, if only for the fact that a specular purpose can be traced back to Hamas charter itself:

Hamas has been looking forward to implement Allah’s promise whatever time it might take. The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: “The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!”

As it was not enough, this document includes reference to the notorious anti-Semitic forgery 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' that is to say the myth of a Jewish plan to dominate the world (via Norm):

Today it is Palestine and tomorrow it may be another country or other countries. For Zionist scheming has no end, and after Palestine they will covet expansion from the Nile to the Euphrates. Only when they have completed digesting the area on which they will have laid their hand, they will look forward to more expansion, etc. Their scheme has been laid out in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and their present [conduct] is the best proof of what is said there.

And that’s how the whole matter is summarized by Hamas charter:

Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors.

So why on earth should they want a truce “before” they wipe out their hateful enemies from the face of the earth? And, what is more, why should they want to stop the suffering of so many people in Gaza when their sacrifice is being used to disseminate hate propaganda against Israel?

Galileo, 400 years later

2009 is the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s first observations at the telescope, and will be celebrated all over the world as the International Year of Astronomy (IYA). The two-day official launch of IYA are taking place in Paris (January 15-16), but Tuscany will play a very special role in the yearlong initiative, as the birthplace and home of the great physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who is considered the father of modern observational astronomy, or simply the father of modern science.

In fact, as part of the celebrations, a new museum will be opened in Tuscany, where guided observations of the night sky and three exhibitions, part of 12-million-euro “Galileo Package,” will be also held. But the biggest show of the year will be a multimedia event at Florence’s Palazzo Strozzi, starting from March, entitled “Galileo: Images of the Universe from Antiquity to the Telescope.”

It’s curious that even Pope Benedict gives the impression of being well prepared for this appointment. “The great Galileo said that God wrote the book of nature—he said in his homily for the feast of the Epiphany—in the form of the language of mathematics. He was convinced that God has given us two books: the book of Sacred Scripture and the book of nature. And the language of nature – this was his conviction – is mathematics, so it is a language of God, a language of the Creator.”

Well, the days of the controversy between the Catholic Church and the Tuscan astronomer about heliocentrism are long over. Who does not remember when, back in 1992, Pope John Paul II expressed “regret” for how the Galileo affair was handled at the time, and officially conceded that the Earth was not stationary? But it is also worth recalling that all traces of official opposition to heliocentrism by the Church disappeared in 1835 when these works were finally dropped from the “Index of prohibited books.”

Yet, in a speech delivered at the Sapienza University of Rome on February 15, 1990, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger quoted a statement by the famous philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend: “The Church at the time of Galileo kept much more closely to reason than did Galileo himself, and she took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s teaching too. Her verdict against Galileo was rational and just and the revision of this verdict can be justified only on the grounds of what is politically opportune.”

Once again, the truth seem to lie in the middle, despite all extremist philosophical and cultural views, as even secularist and atheist Beltolt Brecht guessed in his famous play Life of Galileo. That’s why it is to be hoped that celebrations won’t be transformed into the umpteenth occasion for a confrontation between secularists and their religious counterparts.

January 14, 2009

It's time to see the Eternal City

The Eternal City, the largest archaeological site in the world, is unsurpassed in it’s architectural splendor. Take this mini Grand Tour on Cnn.com/Travel (source: Oxford Archaeological Guides: Rome, Oxford University Press, 1988), and you will enjoy the stunning view of the Roman Forum: the temple of Antonius and Faustina, the Temple of Vesta, in which a sacred flame was tended by the Vestal Virgins, the handmaidens of the hearth goddess of the Roman state, and that of Romulus, Pons Fabritius—that is the oldest working bridge on the Tiber, built in Julius Caesar’s time—and the Pantheon, originally built as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome, and rebuilt circa 126 AD during Hadrian’s reign, and more recent architectural masterpieces.

Otherwise, if you are a history and architecture lover, but are more techno-oriented at the same time, you can enjoy Rome as it looked in 320 AD and fly down to see famous buildings and monuments in 3D. Just download Google Earth at http://earth.google.com/, then select the “Ancient Rome 3D” layer under “Gallery.” Some of the buildings even have interiors. Read this November 12, 2008 New York Times article to learn more, or watch the video below.

January 12, 2009

Bush's farewell interview

It was aired yesterday on Fox News Sunday, and it was what we might call a “farewell interview” (here is the transcript) with the outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush, perhaps something like a moral testament. “We’ve got to be compassionate conservatives,” he said using the same phrase he used during his 2000 campaign.

It’s very important for our party not to narrow its focus, not to become so inward-looking that we drive people away from a philosophy that is compassionate and decent, […]. We should be open-minded about different people’s opinions.
We shouldn't have litmus tests as to whether or not you can be a Republican. And we should be open-minded about big issues like immigration reform, because if we're viewed as anti-somebody — in other words, if the party is viewed as anti-immigrant — then another fellow may say, well, if they're against the immigrant, they may be against me. We've got to be a party for a better future, and for hope.

“We’ve got to be open-minded, compassionate conservatives,” that’s what some of the Bush administration’s efforts, such as expanding the federal government’s role in education through the No Child Left Behind Act and proposing an easier path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, were all about. But that’s also what have come under fire right from some of Bush’s fellow Republicans, though evidently of different school of thought.

Was that internal confrontation only a prelude to the “final battle” which could be fought in the months and years ahead within the GOP?

Who is to blame for Gaza?

“Israel hasn’t killed a single civilian in the Gaza Strip. Over a hundred civilians have died, and Israeli bombs or shells may have ended their lives. But Israel didn't kill them.
Hamas did.”

This is a must read, in my view: Ralph Peters, a retired U.S. Army officer and the author of Looking For Trouble, in the New York Post: (thanks: Sandra)

There is no moral equivalence between Hamas terrorists and Israeli soldiers. There is no gray area. There is no point in negotiations.

Hamas is a Jew-killing machine. It exists to destroy Israel. What is there to negotiate?

When Hamas can't kill Jews, it's perfectly willing to drive Palestinian civilians into the line of fire - old men, women and children. Hamas herds the innocent into "shelters," then draws Israeli fire on them. And the headline-greedy media cheer them on.

Hamas isn't fighting for political goals. "Brokered agreements" are purely means to an end. And the envisioned end is the complete destruction of Israel in the name of a terrorist god. Safe in hidden bunkers or in Damascus, the Hamas leadership is willing to watch an unlimited number of civilians and even street-level terrorists die.


All Israel can do is to fight for time and buy intervals of relative calm with the blood of its sons and daughters. By demanding premature cease-fires and insisting that we can find a diplomatic solution, we strengthen monsters and undercut our defenders.

And don't believe the propaganda about this conflict rallying Gaza's Palestinians behind Hamas. That's more little-brown-brother condescension, assuming all Arabs are so stupid they don't know who started this and who's dragging it out at their expense.

Gaza's people may not care much for Israelis, but they rue the day they cast their votes for Hamas. Hamas is killing them.

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January 11, 2009

How Leftists turned out to be humans

At last they got it right, and the old motto “better late than never” definitely applies here: Left and honesty, in Italy, are not synonymous, not anymore. So spoke the Economist, despite its distrustfulness, if not its ill-concealed hostility, towards Silvio Berlusconi and the ruling center-right coalition, and despite what Walter Veltroni, leader of Italy’s main opposition Democratic Party, recently asserted about his own party (“a party of good people”).

Italy’s center-left, writes the Economist, may be “a bit dull and worthy, and somewhat tarnished by the communist past of many of its leaders (including Mr Veltroni),” but “it has always seemed fundamentally honest.” Yet …

in little more than a month, that benign view has been swept away in a slew of prosecutors’ warrants and summonses. On January 5th the centre-left mayor of Naples, Rosa Russo Iervolino, unveiled a new and reshuffled city administration. There were six new faces in her 16-strong team. Four of their predecessors had been arrested on suspicion of taking part in what prosecutors claim was a plan for the “systematic looting” of public funds. A fifth had committed suicide after he too came under investigation for corruption and other alleged offences.

The scandal in Naples, which revolves around a €400m ($545m) public-services contract, is the most substantial but by no means the only one to have assailed the opposition. Since the end of November, centre-left politicians have been put under suspicion, or even arrest, in seven other cities and regions.

So, yet another myth—and that of the honesty of the left was a very though and persistent one—has been swept into the trash can. Not that, of course, such scandals are in my opinion a good thing in themselves, nor do I rejoice because my political opponents are in a very bad fix. Rather I rejoice because, if political myths can be understood as “narratives through which we orient ourselves, and act and feel about our political world,” as political philosophy scholar Chiara Bottici puts it, they—or at least a certain kind of them—often are nothing more than “comedy of misunderstandings.” That is to say that they are more or less useless, if not pernicious, and that we can do well without them.

But that of the honesty of the left wasn’t the only myth to collapse, there was also that of the honesty of Italy of Principles, the party led by Antonio Di Pietro, a former prosecutor who leapt to national prominence in the days of Mani pulite (“clean hands”), the nationwide Italian judicial investigation into political corruption held in the 1990s, which led to the demise of the so-called First Republic, resulting in the disappearance of many parties. In fact, Mr Di Pietro too has now had his wings clipped:

His son, Cristiano, a provincial lawmaker, quit the party after he was caught up in the Naples sleaze inquiry. Transcripts were leaked of telephone conversations in which he seemed to be asking for jobs and advancement for his friends.

Who would ever have predicted that? Very few, actually. I mean, very few would have thought that things came before the courts—not just that the left might be involved in bribery or other official corruption, and believe me, there is a difference …—, given that both the left and Di Pietro’s party had always been in very good terms with the judges. But things have changed in the last couple of years, and some taboos seem to have fallen away in certain public realms, especially in the judicial one. That’s also why what looks like bad news could actually turn out to be a very exciting time, even though not for the left itself, nor for Di Pietro. Yeah, now everybody knows—even the Economist (better late than never!)—that they are humans, too, after all.

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January 9, 2009

Sarah Palin's interview

I must confess that I still cannot make out how it could have happened that, during the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, so many intellectuals, academics and mainstream media so often showed their bias and a certain distrustfulness towards Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Ok, I thought at the time, 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 …

“If she were Obama’s Veep, would she have been savaged?” asks today Melissa Clouthier in her awesome blog—by the way, she is one of ten finalists for the Best Individual Blogger in the 2008 Weblog Awards, and also my favourite one in that category. Well, my answer is, I don’t think so. Not at all.

That is also why the video below is, in my humblest opinion, very, very interesting. It offers excerpts from Sarah Palin’s interview with filmmaker John Ziegler, for his forthcoming documentary “Media Malpractice,” in which the Alaska Governor, for the first time at length, takes on the media coverage of her and the 2008 campaign. It’s a rather shocking record of a media assassination—of Sarah Palin, her character and family—which remains “one of the greatest public injustices of our time,” as Ziegler puts it on his website.

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January 7, 2009

Islamizing Europe

Let’s update my previous post by linking to the Times and the Daily Mail, which reported about what happened last Saturday in Milan and Bologna, as well as about the Vatican’s reactions.

In particular we learn that the Vatican yesterday expressed its “unease” at the hundreds of Muslims who gathered in prayer outside the the Duomo in Milan and the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna, with thousands of prostrate Muslims facing Mecca. In an interview with the Vatican’s official newspaper Osservatore Romano, Cardinal RenatoMartino, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said: “For me the sight of people at prayer does not trouble me, it is good that people pray. But what really troubled me and left me uneasy was the fact that Israeli flags were burnt and there were slogans, all manifestations of hate and which followed a prayer session.” “What matters is the spirit in which one prays—and prayer excludes hate,” he added.

Monsignor Luigi Manganini, archpriest of Milan cathedral, said in turn he could imagine the Islamic reaction if Christians prayed en masse outside a mosque (well, er, actually I think there are very few people who would have difficulty in imaging what would have happened …).

We also learn that the rally in Milan was led by the city’s Muslim Imam Abu Imad, who, as MP Maurizio Gasparri noted, has been convicted in Italy of terrorism related offences, and that, according to the Imam, the demonstration had ended up on the cathedral square “by chance” at the hour of prayer, “and so we prayed, there was no provocation or insult intended,” he said. Fantastic.

Yet, Gasparri thinks that “when 10,000 Muslims arrive in front of Milan Cathedral, led by an Imam who has convictions for terrorism then public order needs to be looked at,” and that “it is evident that this was intended as a threat and the decision to pray and hold the rally in front of the Cathedral is very significant.”

Who do you agree with? Abu Imad or Gasparri?

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January 6, 2009

'They want to Islamize Europe'

Last Saturday thousands of people marched in cities across Europe to demand a halt to Israeli bombing in the Gaza Strip. In Paris, for instance, more than 20,000 demonstrators, many wearing Palestinian keffiyeh headscarves, marched through the city center chanting slogans such as “Israel murderer!” Expectedly, groups of protesters clashed with police, some cars were set alight and some others overturned by demonstrators, etc.

They seemed quite routine events, but they weren’t, at least not all of them, not what happened in Milan and in Bologna, Italy. In Milan the protesters, mostly young Arabs and Muslim families, had gathered in Porta Venezia, obviously waving banners and flags, and chanting slogans such as “Bush, Barak, assassins.” Normal. Ah, I forgot, they obviously set fire to some Israeli flags. Perfect. So what? What’s new? Well, the demonstration came to an interesting end when the protesters reached Piazza Duomo, in downtown Milan, and held a collective prayer session right in front of the cathedral. Even the parvis was occupied, so that the cathedral turned out to be closed.

What happened in Milan was very similar to what happened in Bologna at the same time: thousands of Muslims gathered right in front the Basilica di San Petronio, Bologna’s great cathedral, to hold an analogue collective prayer session.

Are the two events connected? What’s their real meaning? When asked in an interview with Il Resto del Carlino newspaper about the meaning of the event, Assistant bishop of Bologna monsignor Ernesto Vecchi, said:

This was a signal to ponder upon. This is not simply a prayer, this is a challenge more to our democratic and cultural system than to the basilica. […] From what happened in Bologna, but also in other cities, we received confirmation that here is a project piloted from the outside. What is it all about? What is it aimed at? They want to Islamize Europe.

This recalls a Friday Sermon by Hamas MP and cleric Yunis Al-Astal, which aired on Al-Aqsa TV on April 11, 2008. A clip is available to paid subscribers of MEMRI’s Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (via Paolo Guzzanti). Here are some excerpts from the address:

Allah has chosen you for Himself and for His religion, so that you will serve as the engine pulling this nation to the phase of succession, security, and consolidation of power, and even to conquests thorough da'wa and military conquests of the capitals of the entire world. Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was, as was prophesized by our Prophet Muhammad. Today, Rome is the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital, which has declared its hostility to Islam, and has planted the brothers of apes and pigs in Palestine in order to prevent the reawakening of Islam – this capital of theirs will be an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread through Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas, and even Eastern Europe.
I believe that our children or our grandchildren will inherit our Jihad and our sacrifices, and Allah willing, the commanders of the conquest will come from among them. Today, we instill these good tidings in their souls, and by means of the mosques and the Koran books, and the history of our Prophets, his companions, and the great leaders, we prepare them for the mission of saving humanity from the hellfire on the brink of which they stand.

All the pieces of the puzzle seem to fit together. Don’t they?

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January 5, 2009

Best European Blog

The 2008 Weblog Awards

I got the news a couple of days ago that my blog had been named as one of ten finalists for the Best European Blog (Non UK) category in the 2008 Weblog Awards.

This was totally unexpected but highly welcomed! In fact, the Weblog Awards are the world’s largest blog competition, with over 500,000 votes cast in the 2007 edition for finalists in 45 categories, and in the past I have perused them over the years to discover some great blogs to add to my blog reader. So I am both stunned and honored to be considered worthy of inclusion in the list of finalists for the Best European Blog.

There is a small window of opportunity for readers to vote for their favorite nominees (January 5th through the 12th). I have added a direct-link badge in the right sidebar to make it easier for you to vote.

Voting rules:

  1. You may vote once every 24 hours in each poll.
  2. After voting in an individual poll you will be locked out from voting again in that poll (on the computer you voted from) for 24 hours.
  3. Each poll has its own separate 24 hour lockout control. Voting in, for example, Best European Blog will not lock you out of voting in other categories.

Needless to say, I would be very grateful and honored if you would consider voting for me ...

January 4, 2009

Moral clarity in Gaza

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer in yesterday’s Washington Post:

Some geopolitical conflicts are morally complicated. The Israel-Gaza war is not. It possesses a moral clarity not only rare but excruciating.

Israel is so scrupulous about civilian life that, risking the element of surprise, it contacts enemy non combatants in advance to warn them of approaching danger. Hamas, which started this conflict with unrelenting rocket and mortar attacks on unarmed Israelis -- 6,464 launched from Gaza in the past three years -- deliberately places its weapons in and near the homes of its own people.

This has two purposes. First, counting on the moral scrupulousness of Israel, Hamas figures civilian proximity might help protect at least part of its arsenal. Second, knowing that Israelis have new precision weapons that may allow them to attack nonetheless, Hamas hopes that inevitable collateral damage -- or, if it is really fortunate, an errant Israeli bomb -- will kill large numbers of its own people for which, of course, the world will blame Israel. [...]

The full article is worth reading from beginning to end.

January 3, 2009

Mysterious Italy!

It’s a commonplace that Italy is a beautiful but strange, unmanageable, unreliable country, and that it was just its own oddness that recently led—after a spectacular post-war growth record—to a gradual impoverishment.Italy and its economy are like the Titanic hitting the iceberg,” said once Gianni De Michelis, deputy prime minister in 1988 and 1989. An he was right, at least in part.

That is also why the kind of news we are getting these days on the economic front have the power to overtake us, I mean news such as this. So we learn that the GDP (gross domestic product) per average Briton, which was $45,970 in 2007, is expected to slump to just $35,243 this year, “lower than even Italy”—as the Telegraph puts it—on $37,866 the fifth-placed economy. And Britain falls into sixth place for the first time since 1996. Ok, this is because of the plunging value of the sterling, but

[e]ven stripping out effects of the currency, all economists predict that Britain will be hit hard this year, with forecasting house IHS Global Insight predicting the economy would shrink by an alarming 2.7 per cent, causing the country to suffer from the deepest recession since the Second World War.

Who would have ever predicted this? Certainly not the British newspapers (er, no, actually …) neither the Italian ones, to speak frankly, nor the Italian bloggers. Mysterious Italy!

P.S. I would like to say “we Italians got it right this time,” but the truth is that, this time, the Brits got it wrong. So sorry my British friends …

January 2, 2009

Canova and Neoclassicism

A. Canova, Love and Psiche, Louvre, Paris
It is not just because Antonio Canova was born in a small village located a few miles from the North-Eastern Italian town where I live that I feel the need to write this post, but rather because he is the greatest Italian sculptor of modern times, the artist who in 1802, by special request of Napoleon I, went to Paris and modeled a colossal figure of the emperor, which on the fall of the emperor himself was presented by Louis XVIII to the British government, which in turn gave it to the Duke of Wellington—sic transit gloria mundi … but Canova’s time of glory was destined to last far longer than that of Napoleon! In 1818 he was also commissioned to make a heroic statue of George Washington for the State House, Raleigh, N.C., while his “Bust of Napoleon” is in the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, and other masterpieces are in the Vatican and in the Louvre Museum.

Ok, I don’t want to indulge in unnecessary vaunting (and parochialism), nor do I want to beat about the bush … the reason of this post is an upcoming exhibition in the North-Central Italian city of Forlì, starting from January 25 through June 21. The exhibit will be focused on the ties between Antonio Canova and international neoclassical art. Don’t miss it, if you can help it. Read here to understand why.

January 1, 2009

Time to pay the bills

“Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy,” once said Margaret Thatcher. Maybe that’s what the difference between Europe and America is all about. But what the “American Philosophy”—or better still, if you prefer, the American Spirit—is all about? As a European by birth and an “American by philosophy,” I’d have some ideas about how to answer, but this piece by David Ignatius, focused on the ongoing financial crisis and government bailout, can be helpful to get a down-to-earth picture of the whole thing in a socio-economic perspective, which at the moment is almost certainly the most topical one.