March 31, 2009

Obama links Chrysler aid to Fiat (Updated)


For Chrysler, America’s third biggest car manufacturer, the clock is ticking. The Obama administration has told the deeply troubled automaker it has 30 days of financial aid in which to complete its proposed deal for an alliance with Italy’s Fiat. And Chrysler has responded that it has reached an agreement on a framework of a global alliance with Fiat.

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. 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 January, Fiat and Chrysler decided to lend a hand to one another. And yesterday the US President Barack Obama linked Chrysler aid to Fiat and made it clear that any aid to the American automaker would depend on it striking a partnership with Italy’s Fiat. “Chrysler needs a partner,” he said, and “if they are able to reach a solid agreement which protects American consumers, we will consider lending them $6 billion […] if no such accord is reached and if no other viable partnership surfaces, we will not be able to justify the investment of further taxpayer money to keep Chrysler operating.” Fiat, he added, “is ready to transfer its cutting-edge technology to Chrysler and, after having worked closely with my team, has promised to build new, fuel-efficient cars and motors here in America.”

A Chrysler-Fiat combination would be the world’s sixth-largest by vehicle sales, behind Ford Motor Co.

UPDATE - MARCH 31, 2009, 3:00 pm

1. Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne is in the United States to hammer out the details of the partnership with Chrysler which will allow the Detroit No.3 to qualify for up to $6 billion in government loans.

2. Corriere della Sera:
Sergio Marchionne, who has collected more than his fair share of plaudits, was stunned. He said: “I want to publicly thank President Barack Obama, on behalf of the entire management team, for his words of appreciation for the work done in the past five years, and for his encouragement to finalise a solid alliance between Chrysler and Fiat. Talks with the task force have been hard but fair. We are convinced that we can achieve a result that will offer a credible future to this crucial sector of the economy. We are extremely happy that Fiat can play a key role in this effort”.

Here is The People of Freedom

The three-day founding congress, with about 6,000 delegates gathered in Rome to baptize the Il Popolo della Libertà (People of Freedom) party, the new conservative party which is a merger of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the rightwing Alleanza Nazionale, is over. It’s an important event, but not an absolute novelty, since the two parties ran together and won under the PDL label in last year’s general election. In other words, the new party was already a fait accompli, even though its “official baptism” has certainly marked another highly important step for both the conservative coalition (though only two of the three main groups on the right are included in the PDL) and the Italian political system as a whole. However, the point is that the People of Freedom is expected to make the Italians a stronger force in the European Parliament’s largest party grouping—the conservative EPP-ED—after the next European elections (the latest opinion polls gave the new party a 44 per cent share of the national vote).

As it was widely predicted, however, the event sounded like an unending and ecstatic hymn of praise to the Cavaliere, elected by acclamation as the first president of the new party, which provoked much annoyance among the opponents, in Italy and outside, who rant about the supposed “cult of personality” that surrounds Silvio Berlusconi. What they seem to forget is the messianic cult that surrounds “their” Barack Obama, but it doesn’t really matter, because their proverbial ability to opportunistically exploit this kind of charges (ad usum delphini, of course) is well known.

But, perhaps, what Berlusconi’s fiercest opponents most disliked was this passage of his conclusion speech: “The constitution must be enriched and revitalised ... The powers of the prime minister are almost non-existent ... The country needs to be governed.” Which is the plain truth, as they themselves well know. He also said that he would seek the support of the center left opposition in changing the constitution—which is a mere illusion, and he knows it—but would go alone if it did not co-operate. If I should express my candid opinion I should say “better alone than in bad company,” or in a company that can kill you.

March 29, 2009

SMS Venice

SMS Venice (Saint Mark’s Square) is a campaign launched last year and aimed to help save Venice’s art heritage by receiving SMS and Internet funding. This year’s goals are to restore the city’s famed Rialto Bridge and three historic churches: San Giorgio Maggiore, San Giuseppe and the Chiesa dei Gesuiti, as well as the Scuola di San Rocco with its famed Tintoretto paintings.

The fund raising campaign was launched last Thursday at the Theatre La Fenice, with a great charity concert, starring the wonderful voice of Madeleine Peyroux, the jazz pop artist now considered the new Billie Holiday. For this occasion, she presented in a worldwide sneak preview her new album “Bare Bones,” produced by Larry Klein, Walter Becker and Joe Henry.

As part of the campaign, last year five concerts had been held in St. Mark’s by Momix, Elton John, Giovanni Allevi, Joan Baez and Vinicio Capossela. The high spot of this year’s SMS campaign will be a Simple Minds concert in St Mark’s in July.

To support the initiative visit the new SMS Venice website and click on the how to donate link.

March 28, 2009

Harvard researchers agree with Pope Benedict on condoms in Africa

Well, I know, this is a minefield, but shouldn’t blogging be, in itself, a continuous challenge to prevailing views of what is worth debating and how (with what purposes and inclinations) it should be debated, of what is arguable and what is not, and so on? So, here we go and let’s strike a blow for a man who dared to say that “the scourge [of AIDS] cannot be resolved by distributing condoms,” and that by doing so we “risk worsening the problem.” Which provoked a most predictable and well-rehearsed chorus of boos from left-wing politicians, mainstream media and activist groups. By the way, perhaps Frank Pastore is right when he writes, in a must-read post at, that “activists can’t help throwing condoms, either at those who oppose their policy, or at populations dying of AIDS in Africa and around the world.”

But, after all, how could it be a surprise? Who knew that … Harvard agrees with the pope? Activists certainly didn’t, neither did Pastore, as he himself acknowledges, nor did I: Condoms don’t lower the HIV-infection rate, they spread AIDS, instead! Have you ever heard this before? And it’s also hard to believe, as Pastore fairly points out, that there’s a classroom or newsroom in America—and elsewhere, in the Western world, I would dare to add—where this has ever been discussed or broadcast. So, please, don’t waste your time, stop being so damn argumentative, just read what Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, had to say in an interview with Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online:

We have found no consistent associations between condom use and lower HIV-infection rates, which, 25 years into the pandemic, we should be seeing if this intervention was working.
The pope is correct, or put it a better way, the best evidence we have supports the pope’s comments. He stresses that condoms have been proven to not be effective at the level of population. There is a consistent association shown by our best studies, including the US-funded Demographic Health Surveys, between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV-infection rates. This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction technology such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) by compensating or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology.

I also noticed that the pope said monogamy was the best single answer to African AIDS, rather than abstinence. The best and latest empirical evidence indeed shows that reduction in multiple and concurrent sexual partners is the most important single behavior change associated with reduction in HIV-infection rates (the other major factor is male circumcision).

March 25, 2009

Doctor in mid-surgery heart scare

Claudio Vitale, a 59-year-old brain surgeon, was carrying out a delicate operation to remove a brain tumour in a Hospital in Naples, Italy, when he began having chest pains. Well, even when he realized, some minutes later, that he was having an angina attack, he refused to stop the surgery, despite his team’s urging and the pain worsening. “I couldn’t leave the patient at such a delicate moment,” he later told La Repubblica newspaper. “I’m not a hero,” he added, “I was only doing my duty.” After finishing the surgery, the doctor had an angioplasty operation to treat his attack.

However unusual and unlikely this might seem, in the light of the times we live in, such things still keep on happening upon this planet. Besides, this shows that, after all, it's not true that “good news is no news.”

Both men are now said to be recovering well.

Together around Mary

Today is the Fest of Annunciation, that is the revelation to Mary, the mother of Jesus, by the angel Gabriel that she would conceive a child to be born the Son of God. 

In the occasion Lebanon’s government launches a joint Christian-Muslim celebration in honor of Mary, who is venerated in both communities: the first “Islamic-Christian Day.” “Together around Mary, Our Lady,” is the title chosen for a celebration which will be more of a national event than a religious one. 

Frankly it seems to me to be a very good idea. H/T The Catholic Key Blog and Catholic Information Network.

March 24, 2009

Twice a year, the miracle ...

Holy Trinity Church in Barsham, Suffolk, England: it is not a scene from an Indiana Jones film, but a stirring piece of visual synchronicity that dates back to the 1300s, when a narrow window was built in the church tower … At the spring and autumn equinox, the setting sun hits the window and illuminates a carving of Christ on the Cross for a few unforgettable minutes. This spectacle was only rediscovered recently by the village church’s assistant curate, after having been completely forgotten for centuries. H/T Over the Water

March 23, 2009

What A Wonderful World

I see trees of green, red roses too.
I see them bloom, for me and you.
And I think to myself... what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue, and clouds of white.
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world...

The Louis Armstrong classic “What A Wonderful World” was the song with which Eva Cassidy closed the set in her final public performance, on September 17, 1996, in front of an audience of friends, fans and family. Eleven years later that unforgettable performance was spliced together with new vocals by Katie Melua and released as a single, which debuted at #1 on the UK Singles chart on December 16, 2007. All profits from the single went to the British Red Cross.

A wonderful tribute to both Eva Cassidy and Louis Armstrong, and a magnificent paean to life, love and joy … (thanks: Vanja)

Islam and the West: lines of demarcation

Some twenty days ago, in a post about the Crusades, I recalled the black legend according to which the Crusades were “Holy Wars” (and as such, by consequence, the antecedents of every religious and ideological wars), and the Crusaders themselves were ruthless, blood-thirsty fanatics. I also observed how today, in the Western countries, that black legend, imbued with a collective sense of guilt, is being continued in the spirit of political correctness, while in the Muslim world it is being continued by Islamists to breed greater resentment and desire for revenge in the Islamic world against the West, painted as evil, while Islam is “obviously” painted as a victim of Christian aggression. Which of course, according to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates and supporters, “justifies” Islamic terrorism as a “response” and a means of defense.

In the above mentioned post I argued that this is simply historically false. Now I have the opportunity to resume the thread of the discourse, thanks to this essay, focused on what it is about our civilization that causes such resentment (in the Islamic world), and, above all, why we must defend it (our civilization), by the English conservative writer and philosopher Roger Scruton, who is currently a professor at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Arlington, Virginia. This essay—first published in the Winter 2008-09 issue of Azure—is a revised version of a lecture given as part of the Program to Protect America’s Freedom at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Here is how Scruton concludes his essay (but a thorough reading of the entire piece is highly recommended):

[H]ow should we defend the West from Islamist terrorism? I shall suggest a brief answer to that question. First, we should be clear about what it is that we are and are not defending. We are not defending, for example, our wealth or our territory; these things are not at stake. Rather, we are defending our political and cultural inheritance, embodied in the seven features which I have singled out here for attention. Second, we should be clear that you cannot overcome resentment by feeling guilty or by conceding fault. Weakness provokes, since it alerts your enemy to the possibility of destroying you. We should therefore be prepared to affirm what we have, and to express our determination to hold on to it. That said, we must recognize that it is not envy but resentment that animates the terrorist. Envy is the desire to possess what the other has; resentment is the desire to destroy it. How do you deal with resentment? This is the great question that so few leaders of mankind have been able to answer. Christians, however, are fortunate in being heirs to the one great attempt to answer it, which was that of Jesus, who drew on a longstanding Jewish tradition that goes back to the Tora, and which was expressed in similar terms by his contemporary R. Hillel. You overcome resentment, Jesus told us, by forgiving it. To reach out in a spirit of forgiveness is not to accuse yourself; it is to make a gift to the other. And it is here, it seems to me, that we have taken a wrong turn in recent decades. The illusion that we are to blame, that we must confess our faults and join our cause to that of our enemies, only exposes us to a more determined hatred. The truth is that we are not to blame; that our enemies’ hatred of us is entirely unjustified; and that their implacable enmity cannot be defused by our breast-beating.

There is a drawback to realizing this truth, however. It makes it seem as though we are powerless. But we are not powerless. There are two resources on which we can call in our defense, one public, and the other private. In the public sphere, we can resolve to protect the good things that we have inherited. That means making no concessions to those who wish us to exchange citizenship for subjection, nationality for religious conformity, secular law for shari’ah, the Judeo-Christian inheritance for Islam, irony for solemnity, self-criticism for dogmatism, representation for submission, and cheerful drinking for censorious abstinence. We should treat with scorn all those who demand these changes and invite them to live where their preferred form of political order is already installed. And we must respond to their violence with whatever force is required to contain it.

In the private sphere, however, Christians should follow the path laid down for them by Jesus: namely, looking soberly and in a spirit of forgiveness on the hurts that we receive, and showing, by our example, that these hurts achieve nothing save to discredit the one who inflicts them. This is the hard part of the task—hard to perform, hard to endorse, and hard to recommend to others. Nonetheless, it is the task at hand, and in a battle the stakes of which are so high, it is a task that we cannot fail to undertake.

March 20, 2009


Sandro Botticelli, Primavera (Allegory of Spring), detail - Uffizi Gallery, Florence

The spring over there takes you by the throat, the flowers blooming by the thousands over white walls. If you strolled around for an hour in the hills surrounding my town, you would return with the odor of honey in your clothes.

—Albert Camus, The Misunderstanding (Le Malentendu), act 2, sc. 1.

March 19, 2009

Twitter's the fastest-growing social-networking service

Twitter “is growing really, really, really, really fast,” according to Nielsen. A new survey about the five fastest growing “member community destinations” in the U.S. reveals that Twitter is at the top: from February 2008 to February 2009, it clocked in at a whopping 1,382 percent growth rate …

'Why the GOP Can’t Win With Minorities'

Just a quick post to thank Tom for linking to a very interesting and insightful article by Shelby Steele (and to follow his example). Tom is absolutely right: this piece is worth reading “regardless of your political orientation.” Shelby Steele is an award-winning author, columnist, documentary film maker, and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He, as well as Barack Obama, was born to a black father and a white mother, but, unlike the current President of the United States, he is not a liberal. At least not any more.

Let the gratefulness overflow into blessing all around you

You think this is just another day in your life.
It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you today.
It’s given to you. It’s a gift.

Yet another amazing video (thanks: Emmanuelle). The voice is that of Br. David Steindl Rast, a Benedictine monk who has been regarded as Thomas Merton’s successor in the Christian contemplative tradition, and whose books have been translated into many languages (his most recent book is The Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey through the Hours of the Day).

For decades, Brother David divided his time between periods of hermit’s life and extensive lecture tours on five continents. At present, he serves a worldwide Network for Grateful Living—dedicated to providing education and support for the practice of grateful living as a global ethic— through

Here is a transcript of the narrative in the video.

March 18, 2009

For a better understanding of Obama’s policy on human cloning

There has been considerable discussion over the last week in the media and the blogosphere about President Obama’s decision to reverse George W Bush’s policy of denying federal funding to stem-cell research that requires killing human embryos. Expectedly, Obama has been praised and criticized in equal measure, mostly depending on whether the “judges” were Republicans (especially religious right-wing conservatives) or Democrats (especially left-wing liberals). This is actually perfectly normal. Yet, what was surprising to me was to discover that some harsh critics of Obama criticized him for both right and wrong reasons—I mean, they criticized him both for what is wrong and for what is right with what he did and said, thus exposing themselves, in my view, to the risk of falling into blatant contradiction.

Such is the case, for instance, of this post, which, after some righteous critical remarks, accuses Obama, who also declared in the same occasion that he would never open the door to the “use of cloning for human reproduction”—because, in Obama’s own words, “it is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society”—of having decided that while scientists may form cellular clones on which to experiment, “citizens may not use the same technology to create a human life.” Which implies that, according to Melissa Clouthier (and Katherine Jean Lopez), the use of cloning for human reproduction is in itself a good thing. In fact, she continues,

[i]f a family loses a child and can create a clone, who is President Barack Obama to impose his morality on that family? There may well be good scientific research that shows human cloning to be “safe” when “responsibly done.”

Interesting observations, and a fairly liberal attitude towards the whole matter …, or am I missing something? And if so, wouldn’t it be better to be a bit more straightforward?

This “might” also seem to be the case of Charles Krauthammer, in a must-read piece on (also here). He besides had long argued, during his five years on the President’s Council on Bioethics, that, “contrary to the Bush policy, federal funding should be extended to research on embryonic stem cell lines derived from discarded embryos in fertility clinics,” as he himself recalls. Which is, to me, an arguable opinion, but not devoid of common sense. But, he continues,

Bush had restricted federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to cells derived from embryos that had already been destroyed (as of his speech of Aug. 9, 2001). While I favor moving that moral line to additionally permit the use of spare fertility clinic embryos, Obama replaced it with no line at all. He pointedly left open the creation of cloned -- and noncloned sperm-and-egg-derived -- human embryos solely for the purpose of dismemberment and use for parts.

Here his criticism is exactly on target:

I am not religious. I do not believe that personhood is conferred upon conception. But I also do not believe that a human embryo is the moral equivalent of a hangnail and deserves no more respect than an appendix. Moreover, given the protean power of embryonic manipulation, the temptation it presents to science, and the well-recorded human propensity for evil even in the pursuit of good, lines must be drawn. I suggested the bright line prohibiting the deliberate creation of human embryos solely for the instrumental purpose of research -- a clear violation of the categorical imperative not to make a human life (even if only a potential human life) a means rather than an end.
On this, Obama has nothing to say. He leaves it entirely to the scientists. This is more than moral abdication. It is acquiescence to the mystique of "science" and its inherent moral benevolence.
How anyone as sophisticated as Obama can believe this within living memory of Mengele and Tuskegee and the fake (and coercive) South Korean stem cell research is hard to fathom.
That part of the ceremony, watched from the safe distance of my office, made me uneasy. The other part -- the ostentatious issuance of a memorandum on "restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making" -- would have made me walk out.
Restoring? The implication, of course, is that while Obama is guided solely by science, Bush was driven by dogma, ideology and politics.
What an outrage. George Bush's nationally televised stem cell speech was the most morally serious address on medical ethics ever given by an American president. It was so scrupulous in presenting the best case for both his view and the contrary view that until the last few minutes, the listener had no idea where Bush would come out.

More than moral abdication … I cannot but agree with Charles Krauthammer. Furthermore, he continues,

Obama's address was morally unserious in the extreme. It was populated, as his didactic discourses always are, with a forest of straw men. Such as his admonition that we must resist the "false choice between sound science and moral values."

But here is what might seem to be a turning point of Krauthammer’s argument:

Yet, exactly 2 minutes and 12 seconds later he went on to declare that he would never open the door to the "use of cloning for human reproduction."

By the way, please note that Obama did not close the door to human cloning, he simply closed the door to “the use” of human cloning for one purpose, but left the door open to “the use” of human cloning for other purposes, as Terence Jeffrey points out in another must-read post.

Well, says Krauthammer,

Does he [President Obama] not think that a cloned human would be of extraordinary scientific interest? And yet he banned it.

Does this mean that Krauthammer thinks that cloning for human reproduction is in itself a good thing? Well, no, actually, even though his formulation is somewhat (unintentionally) ambiguous. He basically wants to point out that Obama is contradicting himself:

Is he so obtuse not to see that he had just made a choice of ethics over science? Yet, unlike President Bush, who painstakingly explained the balance of ethical and scientific goods he was trying to achieve, Obama did not even pretend to make the case why some practices are morally permissible and others not.
This is not just intellectual laziness. It is the moral arrogance of a man who continuously dismisses his critics as ideological while he is guided exclusively by pragmatism (in economics, social policy, foreign policy) and science in medical ethics.
Science has everything to say about what is possible. Science has nothing to say about what is permissible. Obama's pretense that he will "restore science to its rightful place" and make science, not ideology, dispositive in moral debates is yet more rhetorical sleight of hand -- this time to abdicate decision-making and color his own ideological preferences as authentically "scientific."

In other words, it is not that Obama is doing wrong when he bans the use of cloning for human reproduction purposes, but the ban should be far more extensive. Quite a different story.

However, what is now certain is that it’s time for Obama’s pro-life supporters to face the facts: despite superficial and misleading appearances, Obama supports human cloning for embryo-destructive research.

To conclude, for those who might still have doubts, here is what Ian Wilmut, famed for creating Dolly the cloned sheep, had to say about reproductive cloning in an August 2008 interview to Scientific American:

S.A.  Why do you think a ban on reproductive cloning is important?
W.  Quite apart from anything else, I think it would be entirely appropriate to get a ban at the present time because there is a very significant risk of dead babies or of children with severe abnormalities. The list of abnormalities which we've seen in livestock and in mice is very long and quite horrifying if you think of it in terms of children. In one lamb, it panted all of its life, even when it rested, because of restricted blood flow through the lungs. After two weeks we decided that it was kinder to end its life because we could not correct the abnormality. And, of course, it wouldn't be without risk to the woman who was giving birth to the child because there are often difficulties. And so, on those grounds alone, I would have thought that there would be pretty well a unanimous wish to prevent that sort of thing happening.

My own view has not changed at all that there are other reasons why reproductive cloning should be prohibited, which are essentially because of the psychological effects of being a clone. We do tend to anticipate and expect that children will be like their parents. And I think that would be even stronger if the child were a clone. And so that's the reason why I would be concerned about it.

March 16, 2009

Schismatic Bishops, Holocaust Denial and Christian-Jewish Relations

Fr John McDade SJ, Principal of Heythrop College, University of London, on schismatic bishops, holocaust denial and the Church’s understanding of Christian-Jewish relations (thanks: Anna Arco). Here is how he concludes:

Modern Christians have inherited a version of Christianity in which there has been a negative relationship to Judaism […]. A considerably darker legacy is the hate-filled rhetoric bequeathed to us by John Chrysostom in 4thCentury Antioch, Martin Luther in 16th Century Germany and the countless preachers who stirred up the anti-Jewish feelings that flowed murderously into 20th Century European history. The task is now a simple one: to develop an account of Christian identity in which there is a positive relationship to the Jewish people. And with this project, we are setting ourselves the task of recovering the insight available in the earliest Christian decades that there is a living tie between what God does in Israel and what God does through Christ. This can only be an enrichment of the core Christian identity and mission, and it is this enrichment which is threatened by those who, for ideological reasons, try to drive a wedge between Christians and Jews. We should not tolerate them.

If Richard Williamson is accepted back into communion with the Catholic Church, there should be no question of his exercising either an episcopal or a priestly role in the Church. This would be completely inappropriate and unwelcome: no one needs ministry from a person who holds views which are inimical to the Church’s positive relation to the Jewish people. When Pope Benedict was simply Joseph Ratzinger, he wrote that ‘the highest vocation that we can have is simply to be a Christian’. This ought to govern the advice that is given now to Williamson: live as a Catholic layman and do your best to reach heaven through the grace you received at Baptism, but do not expect to act in the name of Christ in either a priestly or episcopal capacity. This matter is too important for the Church to act otherwise and Williamson is too marginal and offensive to genuine Catholicism to be given a ministry to speak in the name of the Church.

March 15, 2009

500 Years of Female Portraits

“500 Years of Female Portraits in Western Art”—nominated as Most Creative Video at the 2nd Annual YouTube Awards—is an awesome video, submitted by Philip Scott Johnson on April 22, 2007, but I discovered it only now (thanks to my wonderful friend Sandra), and I am more than glad to share it with my readers.

Be prepared to have an amazing viewing experience and to enjoy La Scapigliata (The Lady of the Dishevelled Hair) and the Madonna of the Carnation by Leonardo da Vinci, the Lady with a Unicorn by Raphael, the Birth of Venus by Botticelli, the Portrait of a Young Woman by Tiziano and that of a Young Venetian Woman or Red-haired Woman from Venice by Albrecht Dürer, and many other masterpieces (by Reynolds, Rubens, El Greco, Renoir, Modigliani, Picasso …  see here for a complete list of artists and paintings).

Sound track: J.S. Bach’s Sarabande from Suite for Solo Cello No. 1, BWV 1007 In G Major performed by Yo-Yo Ma.

March 14, 2009

Waiting for the Etonians

At The First Post Oliver Kamm reviews Nick Cohen’s new book, Waiting for the Etonians: Reports from the Sickbed of Liberal England. Nick Cohen is the author of What’s Left?, which has been one of the most powerful denunciations of the manner in which the Left has lost its way (and I loved it for that).

March 13, 2009

Which is the best Islamic state?

Has Sweden become the best Islamic state? What is certain is that Muslim influence is growing over there, Pamela Geller reports. But Pamela has something to say about Denmark, too, whose disintegrating social conditions in urban areas are under everybody’s eyes. See also: Islam in Europe  and Alamo City Pundit.

March 11, 2009

'Wrong You Are, If You Think You’re Right'

Luigi Pirandello’s classic, “Right You Are, If You Think You Are,” is the leitmotif of a thoughtful and insightful post by Roger L. Simon at The famous play, he says, “came immediately to mind when I read the results of the new Rasmussen poll reporting 53% of Americans see our country headed for a Depression similar to the 1930s.” Now, he continues, “the question is whether this will be a self-fulfilling prophecy,” in fact President Barack Obama seems “to be encouraging this.”

It’s quite the same here in Italy, but curiously, while in the US the “jinx” is the ruling Administration, in Italy, as noted here a couple of days ago, the wet blanket is the center-left opposition. As a result of this game with reversed roles, while the left-leaning US President seems to be mostly engaged in imposing “cap-and-trade schemes,” the right-leaning Italian Prime minister seems to actually prefer more “traditional” and effective ways to stimulate the real economy.

“What strikes me now more than ever,” says Roger Simon,

is how deeply psychological all things economic are. Of course, we have all always known that, and of course there are substantive matters like a world’s worth of unpaid mortgages and weird paper that would turn Bernard Baruch into a pretzel, but still, investors have to have some measure of faith in the economy for business to continue in capitalist society. For the moment, that’s gone. It’s more like “Wrong You Are, If You Think You’re Right.”

Pirandello, I’m sure, would have appreciated the irony.

Look, Mr. President, priority No. 1 is to create jobs!

“Forget Rush Limbaugh,” writes Patrick O’Connor, in fact “for all the focus on the king of conservative talk, Democrats may have found a more important villain in House Minority Whip Eric Cantor.” And here is why (via Gateway Pundit):

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) seized on the opportunity to criticize the president Tuesday for over-reaching in his first 50 days on the job.

Following the GOP's weekly conference meeting, the second-ranking House Republican told reporters that President Obama should be focusing on the "economic crisis," as opposed to holding four-hour meetings on healthcare, as the president did last week. The efforts may be laudable, Cantor said, but the White House should be devoting all resources to fixing the economy and not to "impose these cap-and-trade schemes."

"At the end of the day, we are in an economic emergency. Economists are saying that there's a 30 percent likelihood that we're going to be in a depression," Cantor said. "My goodness, we do have an emergency, and we oughta say, look, priority No. 1 is to create jobs."

March 10, 2009

Embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning

Melissa Clouthier has some important clarifications on President Barack Obama reversing of Bush Administration’s restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. Yet, there must be something in that piece I wasn’t able to understand. It’s when she quotes Katherine Jean Lopez :

[A]s Katherine Jean Lopez notes, “Notice the qualifier. Cloning is fine for research — ‘therapeutic cloning.’ In other words, you can create life as long as you’ll destroy it and not raise it as your child. That is an assault on human dignity. How many Americans realize the import of what Obama said today?”

“She is right,” Melissa Clouthier says after a moment. “Scientists may form cellular clones on which to experiment, but citizens may not use the same technology to create a human life.”

Since Katherine Jean Lopez is a conservative, pro-life and Catholic columnist, I guess I must have missed something. Let’s just say that “therapeutic cloning” is intrinsically evil—if not an affront to basic human values—because it creates life only in order to destroy it for research purposes.

Dalai Lama's statement on the 50th anniversary of Uprising Day

Here are some excerpts from the Statement of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising Day:

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Tibetan people's peaceful uprising against Communist China's repression in Tibet. Since last March, widespread peaceful protests have erupted across the whole of Tibet. Most of the participants were youths born and brought up after 1959, who have not seen or experienced a free Tibet. However, the fact that they were driven by a firm conviction to serve the cause of Tibet that has continued from generation to generation is indeed a matter of pride. It will serve as a source of inspiration for those in the international community who take keen interest in the issue of Tibet. We pay tribute and offer our prayers for all those who died, were tortured and suffered tremendous hardships including during the crisis last year, for the cause of Tibet since our struggle began.
Our aspiration that all Tibetans be brought under a single autonomous administration is in keeping with the very objective of the principle of national regional autonomy. It also fulfils the fundamental requirements of the Tibetan and Chinese peoples. The Chinese constitution and other related laws and regulations do not pose any obstacle to this and many leaders of the Chinese Central Government have accepted this genuine aspiration. When signing the 17-Point Agreement, Premier Zhou Enlai acknowledged it as a reasonable demand. In 1956, when establishing the Preparatory Committee for the “Tibet Autonomous Region”, Vice-Premier Chen Yi pointing at a map said, if Lhasa could be made the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, which included the Tibetan areas within the other provinces, it would contribute to the development of Tibet and friendship between the Tibetan and Chinese nationalities, a view shared by the Panchen Rinpoche and many Tibetan cadres and scholars.If Chinese leaders had any objections to our proposals, they could have provided reasons for them and suggested alternatives for our consideration, but they did not. I am disappointed that the Chinese authorities have not responded appropriately to our sincere efforts to implement the principle of meaningful national regional autonomy for all Tibetans, as set forth in the constitution of the People's Republic of China.

Quite apart from the current process of Sino-Tibetan dialogue having achieved no concrete results, there has been a brutal crackdown on the Tibetan protests that have shaken the whole of Tibet since March last year. Therefore, in order to solicit public opinion as to what future course of action we should take, the Special Meeting of Tibetan exiles was convened in November 2008. Efforts were made to collect suggestions, as far as possible, from the Tibetans in Tibet as well. The outcome of this whole process was that a majority of Tibetans strongly supported the continuation of the Middle-Way policy. Therefore, we are now pursuing this policy with greater confidence and will continue our efforts towards achieving a meaningful national regional autonomy for all Tibetans.

From time immemorial, the Tibetan and Chinese peoples have been neighbours. In future too, we will have to live together. Therefore, it is most important for us to co-exist in friendship with each other.

Since the occupation of Tibet, the Communist China has been publishing distorted propaganda about Tibet and its people. Consequently, there are, among the Chinese populace, very few people who have a true understanding about Tibet. It is, in fact, very difficult for them to find the truth. There are also ultra-leftist Chinese leaders who have, since last March, been undertaking a huge propaganda effort with the intention of setting the Tibetan and Chinese peoples apart and creating animosity between them. Sadly, as a result, a negative impression of Tibetans has arisen in the minds of some of our Chinese brothers and sisters. Therefore, as I have repeatedly appealed before, I would like once again to urge our Chinese brothers and sisters not to be swayed by such propaganda, but, instead, to try to discover the facts about Tibet impartially, so as to prevent divisions among us. Tibetans should also continue to work for friendship with the Chinese people.

Those rose-colored glasses of embryonic stem cell dogma

President Obama, they say, is determined to insulate scientific decisions across the federal government from political influence, and “to use sound scientific practice, responsible practice of science and evidence, instead of dogma in developing federal policy.” But what about if, for instance, among the “dogmas”—or “principles,” as someone might prefer to call them—there is one, called respect for human life, that has governed medical and scientific practice since Hippocrates’ day, and, in the United States, is at the heart of the Declaration of Independence’s guarantee of the “unalienable” rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for each individual?

There is a post on that very thing at which is worth reading (thanks: Sandra Kennedy Schimmelpfennig).

March 9, 2009

Italy's stimulus spending

In 2008 the Italian economy contracted 1.0 per cent, its worst showing since 1975, and last Wednesday the Bank of Italy predicted that the economy would likely shrink by 2.6 per cent this year. There is absolutely nothing to be happy about, but, as common sense suggests, if there is something that can make things even worse, it is to paint this crisis as a tragedy, and that is exactly what the center-left opposition is doing, along with some of the mainstream media. By the way, believe me when I say that this inner attitude of mind is another reason why so many former liberals—and I am one of them—became conservative voters, and proud to be so.

“Our greatest fear is that people will change their lifestyles just because they’re afraid, and thus worsen the crisis,” Berlusconi told reporters some days ago, after a Cabinet meeting in which the government gave its green light to funding for a major public works program valued at 17.8 billion euros. The program includes the Strait of Messina bridge, to connect the toe of the boot-shaped peninsula to Sicily (see my previous post). This, in addition to 5 billion for poor families and 2 billion for car rebates and incentives to buy energy-saving appliances, previously set aside by the government.

Moreover, next Friday the government will formalize a measure intended to stimulate the construction industry. Home owners will be allowed to add additional rooms to their homes (without exceeding 20 percent of the cubic volume of the existing structure). Practically, balconies and terraces could be covered and converted into indoor living space as extra bedrooms, bathrooms or kitchens. The plan will help families deal with the economic crisis while boosting activity for small, local construction firms.

This seems to me to be an effective and non harmful way to stimulate the economy. “Other countries have had to shell out money for bailouts,” said Finance minister Giulio Tremonti, “but they’ve done less for the economy.” Obama docet, I would dare to say. To give an idea, the new infrastructure program could be worth about 0.6 percent of Italy’s GDP, save some 65,000 jobs that would be otherwise lost due to lack of funds and create 140,000 new jobs. Public Works minister Altero Matteoli told Il Messaggero daily newspaper.

Of course, with regard to the Strait of Messina bridge, the opposition say it will be an ecological disaster, vulnerable to high winds, earthquakes and tidal waves, if not a boon for the mafia. But the truth is, as I told in a comment to my previous post (sorry to quote myself, but I’m lazy …), that for every public works project, here in Italy, there have always been crowds of Cassandras, objectors, hypercritical experts (or would-be experts) and, above all, political opponents who talk big and do nothing …, so most of the times I, as well most of my countrymen, just don’t trust them. There is no reason to think that the planners are so naïve, incompetent and irresponsible as to have not fully considered the possible impact of the bridge, its feasibility, etc. While there are very good reasons to think that Renato Schifani, speaker of the Senate and a Sicilian, was right when he declared the project to be of enormous importance for the whole of Italy’s depressed south.

Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, Timesonline, The Guardian, Ansa.

March 6, 2009

A bridge to the future?

Italy’s government has revived plans to build the Strait of Messina bridge, linking Sicily to the mainland. The single-span suspension bridge, with a central span of 3,300 m (about 2 miles), would be the longest in the world. The project is part of a massive 17.8bn-euro public works program to create new jobs and boost the economy.

Italy’s Foreign minister delays Iran visit

In light of the “unacceptable statements” made by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “against the state of Israel and the American administration,” Italy Foreign minister Franco Frattini has delayed a visit to Tehran. Yesterday Ali Khamenei described Israel as a “cancerous tumor,” and criticized Washington’s “unconditional support” for Israel. He also said that the Holocaust was used to “usurp” Palestinian land.

The Italian reaction to both the hateful and hurtful anti-Semitic statements made by Ali Khamenei and the equally unacceptable statements contained in the draft of the final document of the upcoming United Nations World Conference Against Racism (see my previous post), has been as severe as quick. Which is something new, to tell the truth, in comparison with the standards of our political decision-making. I think Franco Frattini earns a “bravo” for this.

March 5, 2009

Italy pulls out of UN racism conference

Soon after Israel, Canada and the United States, Italy decided today to withdraw its delegation from the preparatory negotiations ahead of the upcoming United Nations World Conference Against Racism known as the Durban Review Conference, which is a follow-up to the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

The conference is due to take place in Geneva on April 20-24. Italian Foreign minister Franco Frattini said that the decision is due to “aggressive and anti-Semitic statements” in the draft of the event’s final document, which he described as “totally unacceptable.” Ministry spokesman Maurizio Massari confirmed Frattini’s statements and said Rome would not participate in the conference unless the document was changed.

March 4, 2009

The mistery of Fr. Giussani

Today Communion and Liberation, the movement founded by Fr. Luigi Giussani, is present in more than 70 countries. There are about 100,000 people belonging to the Fraternity. Then there are the members of Memores Domini (men and women under vows), the priests of the Fraternity of the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo, the Sisters of Charity of the Assumption, and the Companionship of Works Association, which links about 30,000 industrial businesses, magazines, publishers, etc.

Who really was Fr. Luigi Giussani? For the first time, a book presents his spiritual biography: Don Giussani. La sua esperienza dell'uomo e di Dio, by Massimo Camisasca. An extract from the volume’s culminating chapter can be read in English translation at Sandro Magister’s website. Of course, at the center of everything are a “coming” and an “encounter.”

'Pope Ratzinger’s solitude'

Italian vaticanist Luigi Accattoli has written a very interesting piece, “La solitudine di Ratzinger” (“Pope Ratzinger’s solitude”), published today in Liberal. Fr. John Zuhlsdorf has had the great idea of providing an English translation of it on his What Does The Prayer Really Say? If you don’t know Luigi Accattoli yet, just read the article and you will understand why he is one of my favorite writers.

March 3, 2009

The Crusades: myth and reality

The Siege of Antioch (Medieval miniature)
The following post is a very modest attempt to pay tribute to one of the most controversial issues in Western intellectual history. Thanks to Steven, who wrote some very interesting posts on this subject, making me willing to tackle this admittedly difficult task.

While the events known as “Crusades” remain one of the most misinterpreted aspects of medieval history, “Crusades” and “Crusaders” are among the most misunderstood terms of our time.

In the West the Crusades have been described in a huge number of books and articles as “Holy Wars” (and by consequence the antecedents of every religious and ideological wars), which was a thesis upheld by the historians and philosophers of the 18th-century Enlightenment. Voltaire, for instance, depicted the Crusaders as blood-thirsty fanatics, while portraying their opponents, particularly Saladin and al-Kamil, as wise and just monarchs. But there was a reason why the Enlightenment circles cast that “black legend” shadow on the Crusades: they wanted to use it as a weapon in their anti-religious campaigns, and particularly in their psychological war against the Roman Catholic Church.

Today, in the Western countries the black legend, imbued with a collective sense of guilt, is being continued in the spirit of political correctness, while in the Muslim world it is being continued by Islamists, who use it to paint the West as evil and Islam as a victim of Christian aggression. Al-Qaeda often uses the terms “Crusades” and “Crusaders” to refer to the West and its presumed (past and present) “aggressive” attitude towards the Muslim world. Which of course, according to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates and supporters, “justifies” Islamic terrorism as a “response” and a means of defense.

“We all pay—and will continue to pay—the consequences of the Islamic masses’ desire for revenge, of their call for vengeance against the ‘Great Satan,’ which, by the way, is not just the United States, but the whole of Christianity, the very one responsible for the Crusades,” wrote Italian Catholic writer Vittorio Messori—who interviewed Pope John Paul II in Crossing the Threshold of Hope—in a July 1999 article in Corriere della Sera newspaper. “After all,” he argued, “is it not Westerners themselves who insist on saying that it was a terrible, unforgivable aggression against the pious, devout and meek followers of the Koran?”

But the historical truth is quite different. Even the term “Crusades,” according to Messori, is a lie:

It was anti-Catholic propaganda that invented the name, just as it invented the term Middle Ages, chosen by ‘enlightened’ historiography to describe the parenthesis of darkness and fanaticism between the splendors of Antiquity and the Renaissance.

And it goes without saying that

those who attacked Jerusalem 900 years ago would have been very surprised had they been told that they were engaged in what eventually would be known as the 'first Crusade.' For them it was an itinerary, a 'pilgrimage,' a route, a passage. Those same 'armed pilgrims' would have been even more surprised had they foreseen the accusations leveled against them of trying to convert the 'infidel,' of securing commercial routes to the West, of creating European 'colonies' in the Middle East ...


there is a question we must ask ourselves. In the context of more than a thousand years of Christian-Islamic relations, who has been the victim and who the aggressor? […] When Caliph Omar conquered Jerusalem in 638, the city had been Christian for over three centuries. Soon after, the Prophet's disciples invaded and destroyed the glorious churches of Egypt, first, and then of North Africa, causing the extinction of Christianity in places that had had Bishops like St. Augustine. Later it was the turn of Spain, Sicily and Greece, and the land that would eventually become Turkey, where the communities founded by St. Paul himself were turned into ruins. In 1453, after seven centuries of siege, Constantinople, the second Rome, capitulated and became Islamic. The Islamic threat reached the Balkans but, miraculously, the onslaught was stopped and forced to turn back at Vienna's walls. If the Jerusalem massacre of 1099 is execrated, Mohammed II's action in Otranto [Italy] in 1480 
must not be forgotten, a raw example of a bloody funeral procession of sufferings.

And here were Messori’s final remarks:

A simple review of history, along very general lines, confirms an obvious truth: Christianity is constantly on the defensive when it comes to Moslem aggression; this has been the case from the beginning until now. […] Admittedly, some in the course of history need to ask for forgiveness. But, in this instance, must it be Catholics who ask for forgiveness for actions in self-defense, and for keeping the road open for pilgrimage to Jesus' places, which was the reason for the Crusades?

This is a very similar approach to that of historian Franco Cardini of the University of Florence, the author of Europe and Islam (2001). In an article published on July 21, 1999 in Avvenire newspaper, to the question whether or not the Crusades are to be considered as “Holy Wars” or “religious wars” Cardini’s answer is unequivocally negative:

[T]he real interest in these expeditions, in service of Christian brethren threatened by Moslems, was the restoration of peace in the East, and the early stirring of the idea of rescue for distant fellow-Christians.
[T]he Crusades were never 'religious wars,' their purpose was not to force conversions or suppress the infidel. The excesses and violence committed in the course of the expeditions (which did occur and must not be forgotten) must be evaluated in the painful but usual context of the phenomenology of military events, keeping in mind that, undoubtedly, some theological reason always justified them.
The Crusade was an armed pilgrimage that developed slowly over time, between the 11th and 13th centuries, which must be understood by being inserted in the context of the extended relations between Christianity and Islam, which have produced positive cultural and economic results. […] If this was not the case, how could one explain the frequent friendships, including military alliances, between Christians and Moslems, in the history of the Crusades?

The Crusades issue is not so easy, after all. When correctly interpreted, it shows that there has been an over emphasis on what, on the Christian side, was wrong, negative, cruel, while what was positive and right has been kept quiet. And that Muslims and Christians did not only make wars. It is also worth noting that several European authors claimed that not only did the Crusades era produce active intellectual exchanges between East and West in all fields of science and culture, but also that there has been direct, although discreet, contact between the spirituality of Islam and that of medieval Christian Europe, to say nothing about the supposed liaisons between Dante and the tradition of Arab mystical poetry, and between the so-called Christian “initiatory organizations” and the Sufism, which is generally understood to be the inner, mystical dimension of Islam.

Even from this point of view the case of the Templars, who played a fundamental role in the Crusades, is paradigmatic. This order of knights was founded in Jerusalem in 1119 and was given its Rule by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who opposed the lay knighthood, which in the 12th century was often made up of avid, violent and amoral persons, with “a new knighthood” made up of monks at the exclusive service of the poor and pilgrims and well-aware that an enemy might have to be killed during war if there is no option, but must never be hated. Well, as Franco Cardini recalls in his Gerusalemme d’oro, di rame e di luce (1991, no English version, as far as I know), Usama ibn Muniqidh, an Arab-Syrian noble and warrior of the twelfth century and Emir of Shaizar, wrote in his autobiography that he was friendly with one European Christian knight, talked with Christians, and stayed with the Templars, “who were my friends,” when he was in Jerusalem. The Templars would also allow him to pray in a chapel they had built in the former Aqsa mosque.

And this is just one example among many.

Having said that, it’s obvious that the Crusades remain an insult to all those who reject war “without any ifs and buts,” as well as to those Christians whose basic tenet is to turn the other cheek, and to forgive everybody for everything, at all times, regardless of circumstances, consequences, and common sense—the kind of Christians the author of this article was referring to ...

March 1, 2009

Bye bye bishop Williamson

The “absolutely unequivocal and public” taking of distance from his positions regarding the Shoah, which the Vatican was expecting from bishop Williamson, has not come to pass. Which is perhaps no surprise, given the nature of the case—a desperate one, indeed.

What is surprising is, in my opinion, that Richardson felt the need to perform an attempt to apologize for the interview he gave to a Swedish TV program last November (aired in January), in which, as it is well known, he disputed that six million Jews had been killed by the Nazis, and said that none had died in gas chambers.

So, in a declaration released on February 26, he said that he “regretted” having made such remarks, “because their consequences have been so heavy,” and that, had he known beforehand “the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise, especially to the Church, but also to survivors and relatives of victims of injustice under the Third Reich,” he would not have made them. Furthermore, in a vain attempt to minimize the significance of his remarks, he added that on Swedish television he “gave only the opinion (...”I believe”...”I believe”...) of a non-historian, an opinion formed 20 years ago on the basis of evidence then available, and rarely expressed in public since.”

But the simple truth, as Norm Geras points out, is that

[t]he one thing he doesn’t say—and you have to assume that this statement has been thought about carefully—is that he has now concluded in light of a review of the evidence that those opinions were wrong. It looks […] like an apology because some were offended, as opposed to an apology for a falsehood now recognized by him.

And that’s why Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, said yesterday in a verbal statement that the apology “does not seem to respect the conditions” set out by Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone. The Vatican spokesman also described the apology as “generic and equivocal.”

However, once again it is to be noted that, even if Williamson would have “respected the conditions,” his status within the Catholic Church wouldn’t change, since the lifting of the excommunication by the Pope did not by any means heal the schism between Rome and Lefebvrists. In fact, as canon lawyer Peter Vere points out, Williamson’s ordination—along with that of the other three bishops—20 years ago was illicit, because it was against the wishes of the Pope, but nonetheless valid. Which means that Williamson “is in fact a bishop with episcopal powers,” because his episcopal consecration was valid, but “not a Catholic bishop.”

The remission of the excommunication has freed the four bishops from a very serious canonical penalty, but it has not changed the juridical status of the Society of St. Pius X, which presently does not enjoy any canonical recognition by the Catholic Church. The four bishops, even though they have been released from excommunication, have no canonical function in the Church and do not licitly exercise any ministry within it.

As for the attitude of the Catholic Church towards the deniers of the Holocaust, what Pope Benedict said on February 12, speaking to American Jewish leaders at the Vatican, swept away any reasonable doubt, while the latest declaration by Williamson seems to have raised an insuperable wall between Williamson himself and Rome. Which I guess is not that bad.