November 30, 2009

Climategate - 4

There has been no particularly relevant news item in the last few days, except Christopher Booker’s superb summary of the Climategate story so far, and the fact that the reaction to the Climategate scandal has grown exponentially in the US, mainly thanks to Fox News, Barack Obama’s Nemesis, and the blogosphere. At the same time the silence of the MSM has been deafening.

Furthermore, James Delingpole wonders what is going on at Google:

I only ask because last night when I typed “Global Warming” into Google News the top item was Christopher Booker’s superb analysis of the Climategate scandal.
It’s still the most-read article of the Telegraph’s entire online operation – 430 comments and counting – yet mysteriously when you try the same search now it doesn’t even feature. Instead, the top-featured item is a blogger pushing Al Gore’s AGW agenda. Perhaps there’s nothing sinister in this. Perhaps some Google-savvy reader can enlighten me…..

Yes, perhaps there’s nothing sinister in this, though.. Enough, let’s look ahead, to be precise when Air Force One will head to Copenhagen for the climate summit (Dec. 9). Here is what Michael Barone has to say about it.

November 29, 2009

First Sunday of Advent

“Veni, veni, Emmanuel” is one of the most solemn Advent hymns, whose melody was quoted by Ottorino Respighi in “The Gift of the Magi” in his Trittico Botticelliano. It is believed that the traditional music stems from a 15th Century French processional for Franciscan nuns, but it may also have 8th Century Gregorian origins.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. To live it properly, I thought the listening of this wonderful hymn, sang by the choir of Paderborn Cathedral (North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany), might be helpful.

The popular English version (“O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” see below) from the original Latin is by John Mason Neale (mid-19th century).

I wish you a blessed Advent season!

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

November 27, 2009


  Italian souvenirs by Mirino

We arrived in Milan like lost babes in the wood, carefully driving the little, French number-plated Peugeot, crawling along, obviously unsure of where we were. My girl friend was engrossed in trying to understand the part of the inadequate map that didn't seem to correspond with reality. We were looking for the hotel where we had already made our reservation.

Suddenly, in a secluded, fairly wide, one way lane separated from the opposite lane by a wide expanse of trees and wasteland, I felt the back right tire go flat. It was hot and the driver side window was wide open.
I loosened the wheel bolts of the flat tire, and started to jack up the car, wondering uneasily why my girl friend was talking to a stranger backing away behind me. When suddenly the car shook a bit, I immediately knew that something was very wrong. I called my friend to have her check that everything was still in the car. There was the portable computer still on her seat, but her bag had gone. Credit cards, money, identity card, social security card, driving licence, the lot. Even precious family photographs. All gone in one foul swoop. Apparently they know exactly where women leave their bags in cars.

I finished putting on the spare, parked the car, then we started searching around the area vainly hoping at least to find the empty bag, but we found no trace of it.

We eventually found our hotel however, and gave the hotel manager a long account of our woes. We did all that was necessary informing banks, etc., of the theft to block any unauthorised use of the credit cards. The manager was extremely helpful.
We unloaded the car, then, for what it was worth, drove to the nearest posto di polizia. When it was finally our turn, the police listened with bored expressions. They had heard it all too often before.

Even more discouraged we left. Moments later, not even fifty yards from the commissaria, I felt the back tire go flat, same side, back right, same tactics. Welcome to Milan..

Without any spare I drove as best I could to the nearest garage. The guy who had knifed the tyre came along with us, on his scooter! He calmly mobile phoned his gang mates to let them know that they were too late, there was nothing left to take. There, right next to us!
As the tyres had been stabbed in their walls they were irreparable. So to boot, we would have to buy two new tyres. In the meantime we had no other choice but to leave the car there, at the garage, and wearily walk back to the hotel.

All this as a intro to this great, Lombardian city, but also to point out how marvellous my companion was, because despite everything she was determined it wouldn't spoil our week in Milan. And it didn't.

We admired the fabulous Duomo di Milano, Piazza Duomo, fourth largest Cathedral in the world, strolled down the magnificent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and visited as many other sites as time allowed. But what was most memorable, at least to the palate, which has a curious way of according peace of mind and forgiveness to all such wrong doers who are a total discredit to Italy and tourism, was a restaurant where we ate the most wonderful pizzas.

The worst pizza I have ever eaten was this year in Sienna, strangely enough. One of the best was in Marco Polo's in New York many years ago. A certain Pizza restaurant in rue de France, Nice takes a lot of beating, as does Tonio who produces generous miracles every Saturday evening in his pizza van near where we live. But those we ate with fresh and delightful sparkling red wine on the terrace of that particular restaurant in Milan were absolutely superb.

I was also proud to have traced a remote specialist in spare parts for Pavoni coffee machines, and so pleased to be able to replace the dud element for my 'trophy'. The fact that it cost me more than I originally paid for the coffee machine itself was of no great importance. When I told him this he pretended that it wasn't possible, with a smile that clearly indicated beyond all doubt that it was.

Perhaps it comes down to, if you can take the rough with the smooth, you invariably come through such experiences winning, and even richer, certainly with such memories, than ever you were before. Maybe this was also part of the valuable lesson Milan, graciously and ungraciously, had to offer us.


Text © Mirino (PW) November, 2009. Modified Photo (from Markus Mark with thanks).

November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have always believed that this anointed land was set apart in an uncommon way, that a divine plan placed this great continent here between the oceans to be found by people from every corner of the Earth who had a special love of faith and freedom. Our pioneers asked that He would work His will in our daily lives so America would be a land of morality, fairness, and freedom.
Today we have more to be thankful for than our pilgrim mothers and fathers who huddled on the edge of the New World that first Thanksgiving Day could ever dream.

~ Ronald Reagan, “Thanksgiving proclamation,” 1982

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends!

November 24, 2009

Climategate - 3 (updated)

Yet another update on Climategate. As we have already learned from the previous episodes of the series, CRU hacked emails reveal a pattern by prominent climate alarmist scientists of concealing evidence contradictory to the theory of man-made global warming, manipulating scientific data, preventing conflicting reports from being published in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report, etc. Here is a couple of examples.

CRU head Phil Jones, in response to an article challenging global warming, writes that Climate Research, the journal which had published the article, needs to “rid themselves of this troublesome editor.” And here is Michael E. Mann’s reply (Mann is director of Pennsylvania State University’s Earth System Science Centre and a regular contributor to the popular climate science blog Real Climate):

I think we have to stop considering “Climate Research” as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal.

As Robert Tracinski points out in a very thoughtful post at Real Clear Politics, it is to be noted

the circular logic employed here. Skepticism about global warming is wrong because it is not supported by scientific articles in “legitimate peer-reviewed journals.” But if a journal actually publishes such an article, then it is by definition not “legitimate.”

But this scandal, says Tracinski, goes beyond strictly scientific journals and into other media.. for example,, a website which much of the mainstream media has relied on for climate science developments and which has been billed—at least until some time ago, in particular (I presume) until before this article by Roger Pielke Sr.—as an objective website and as a place where both global warming activists and skeptics can engage in an impartial debate. Yet, in another email, Michael E. Mann, on behalf of the CRU people, boasts that RealClimate is pretty well under control..

I wanted you guys to know that you’re free to use RC in any way you think would be helpful. Gavin and I are going to be careful about what comments we screen through […]. We can hold comments up in the queue and contact you about whether or not you think they should be screened through or not, and if so, any comments you’d like us to include. […]
You’re also welcome to do a followup guest post, etc. think of RC as a resource that is at your disposal to combat any disinformation put forward by the McIntyres of the world. Just let us know. We’ll use our best discretion to make sure the skeptics don’t’get to use the RC comments as a megaphone...

Well, I don’t really know what else to say about this, other than the pattern emerging is simple enough:

In any discussion of global warming, either in the scientific literature or in the mainstream media, the outcome is always predetermined. Just as the temperature graphs produced by the CRU are always tricked out to show an upward-sloping "hockey stick," every discussion of global warming has to show that it is occurring and that humans are responsible. And any data or any scientific paper that tends to disprove that conclusion is smeared as "unscientific" precisely because it threatens the established dogma.
For more than a decade, we've been told that there is a scientific "consensus" that humans are causing global warming, that "the debate is over" and all "legitimate" scientists acknowledge the truth of global warming. Now we know what this "consensus" really means. What it means is: the fix is in.

Needless to say, this has little to do, in itself, with one’s honest and sincere convictions about the “Anthropogenic Global Warming” doctrine, or about the opposite (and equally respectable) view according to which global warming is a natural phenomenon, correlated to solar flare activity. And no matter if in the 1300’s grapes were grown in the south of England and parts of Norway could cultivate wheat, and when they discovered Greenland, they called it Greenland because there wasn’t as much ice or snow as there is now.. But the fact remains that now the CRU people (if not all those arguing the case for man-made global warming) seem to be afraid of open and honest debate. Which makes them (at least) far less reliable than what was thought previously.


UPDATE: Nov. 25, 2009

Even British writer George Monbiot, a leading environmentalist and a columnist for The Guardian, has admitted to being “dismayed and deeply shaken” by some of the emails:

It’s no use pretending that this isn’t a major blow. The emails extracted by a hacker from the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia could scarcely be more damaging. I am now convinced that they are genuine, and I’m dismayed and deeply shaken by them.
Yes, the messages were obtained illegally. Yes, all of us say things in emails that would be excruciating if made public. Yes, some of the comments have been taken out of context. But there are some messages that require no spin to make them look bad. There appears to be evidence here of attempts to prevent scientific data from being released, and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request.
Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics, or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I believe that the head of the unit, Phil Jones, should now resign. Some of the data discussed in the emails should be re-analysed.
The hacked emails are a hard knock, but the science of global warming withstands much more than that.

Of course George Monbiot doesn’t think these revelations justify the sceptics’ claims that this is “the final nail in the coffin” of global warming theory. Yet, nobody was expecting him to suddenly change his mind about the whole matter. Intellectual honesty is enough of a reason, for me, to recommend a thorough reading of this article. Monbiot has taken an intellectually honest stance, and I really appreciate him for that.

November 22, 2009

Climategate - 2 (updated)

“This is not a smoking gun; this is a mushroom cloud,” said Patrick J. Michaels, a climatologist who has long faulted evidence pointing to human-driven warming and is criticized in the documents.

A short supplement and a marginal note on what could turn out to be the greatest scandal in modern science. The following case, in my opinion, shows that there is something suspect about the media’s coverage of global warming.

Prof. Mojib Latif of Germany’s Leibniz Institute is one of the most prominent climate modellers in the world—he earned several international climate-study prizes—and a lead author for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To be more precise, Latif has contributed significantly to the IPCC’s last two five-year reports that have stated unequivocally that mankind’s addiction to burning fossil fuels is rapidly changing the climate. The idea that the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans would absorb much of the greenhouse warming caused by a rise in man-made carbon dioxide, and that they would subsequently let off that heat and warm the atmosphere and the land, is exactly what the global warming theory has been based on.

Yet, at the last UN’s World Climate Conference in Geneva (August 31-September 4, 2009), Latif conceded the Earth has not warmed for nearly a decade and that we are likely entering one or even two decades during which temperatures cool. An “inconvenient truth” for global warming alarmists, who since the Kyoto accords were signed in 1997, have been telling us that the Earth is warming and will continue to warm rapidly through this century until we reach deadly temperatures around 2100. But most of the media ignored Latif’s remarks. This was the analogy made by columnist Lorne Gunter in the Calgary Herald:

Imagine if Pope Benedict gave a speech saying the Catholic Church has had it wrong all these centuries; there is no reason priests shouldn't marry. That might generate the odd headline, no?
[…] When a leading proponent for one point of view suddenly starts batting for the other side, it's usually newsworthy.
So why was a speech […] by Prof. Mojib Latif of Germany's Leibniz Institute not given more prominence?

Most members of the mainstream media, in the United States and the rest of the world, seem to be interested only in viewpoints that conform with the global warming myth that they have been promoting for the past few years.

Of course this story has no direct relation with “Climategate,” but you might want to let the info be of some use.


UPDATE: November 22, 2009, 11:45pm

This is an interesting variation on the theme:

How the MSM reported the greatest scandal in modern science
(The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times, The Independent, The Guardian, BBC)

But, you know,

As Upton Sinclair once said:
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.”
So don’t expect this scandal to be written up in the MSM any time soon. But why would you want to anyway? It’s all here, where the free spirits and independent thinkers are, on the Blogosphere.

Read also Climate Depot for links to all the latest updates, and An Elegant Chaos for a full reading of those potentially incriminating emails (made available in searchable form!).

November 20, 2009

Climategate. The conspiracy behind the Anthropogenic Global Warming myth

“If you own any shares in alternative energy companies,” writes James Delingpole in his blog for the Daily Telegraph, “I should start dumping them NOW.” Why on earth? Just ask Anthony Watts of Watt’s Up With That? and Stephen McIntrye of Climate Audit, who broke the story this morning of the hacking break-in at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit. The story of how the conspiracy behind the Anthropogenic Global Warming myth has been brutally exposed after a heap of very confidential files, emails, etc. have been made available on the internet.

It is no exaggeration to say that this scandal could turn out to be the greatest in modern science, with stories of conspiracy, collusion in exaggerating warming data, private doubts about whether the world really is heating up, attempts to disguise the inconvenient truth of the Medieval Warm Period, possibly illegal destruction of embarrassing information, fantasies of violence against prominent Climate Sceptic scientists, organised resistance to disclosure, manipulation of data, private admissions of flaws in their public claims, and, last but not least, how to create a scientific climate in which anyone who disagrees with the Anthropogenic Global Warming can be written off as a crank, whose views do not have a scrap of authority.
[Thanks: Michelle Malkin]

November 19, 2009

Tibet: a dialogue about what?

Speaking at the 5th World Parliamentarians Convention on Tibet, held in Rome yesterday, the Dalai Lama expressed his appreciation for the support given to him by Barack Obama, who on Tuesday discussed Tibet with China’s president, “making clear his respect for the Dalai Lama as a cultural and religious leader, and his intention to meet with the Dalai Lama at an appropriate time.” “We did note that while we recognize that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China, the United States supports the early resumption of dialogue between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and Beijing,” Obama said soon after his meeting with Hu Jintao.

Yet, notwithstanding the appointment of a special Tibet coordinator by the White House, with one of his characteristic laugh, His Holiness also noted the “limitations” to the support he could expect from the US. In fact, if the US recognizes that Tibet is nothing but a part of China, “What bargaining chips remain for the Dalai Lama to use with the Chi-Comms?” as rightly pointed out by Ralph Alter on American Thinker. As a matter of fact, Obama’s statement shocked the entire Tibetan community, said Tenzin Cheoying, the president of a voluntary, Students for Free Tibet.

As Dhondup Dorjee, vice president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, puts it,

“Whatever he (Obama) stated today, of course, Tibetans in general we welcome his appeal to the Chinese leadership in urging early resumption of dialogue, but a dialogue without any result, dialogue with lots of pre-conditions from the Chinese government and with no intentions to come to a solution, will reach us no where. So, we expect the President to take up the Tibet issue at a higher level, not at the mere usual common stand to encourage dialogue. And, what was the fate of the dialogue we have seen in the 80’s and even in the recent dialogue what happened.”

Very well said, if I may add. But then again, what has become more and more clear in the course of the last months is that times have changed, and much water has flowed under the bridge since the day that George W Bush met the Tibetan spiritual leader in public in a ceremony on Capitol Hill, a couple of years ago. Everything became clear when, last October, for the first time since 1991, a US President decided to postpone a meeting with the Dalai Lama until after this November summit between Obama and his Chinese counterpart, in order to maintain good relations with the Chinese government. Congressman Frank Wolf described the presidential snub as an embarrassment: “Economics should not trump human rights. You can do them both together and do them respectfully,” he said.

What we can say today is that President Obama “effectively forfeited the issue of Tibetan sovereignty in favor of Hu Jintao’s expansionist government,” as Ralph Alter puts it, and that

Obama’s October cancellation of a tentative meeting with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, suggested that B.O. was looking for negotiating room in anticipation of his scheduled visit to Beijing. Despite Chinese forces torching Tibetan shops and attacking its citizens, it appears the U.S. President simply folded his hand, effectively tossing the Dalai Lama and his people into the crowded undercarriage beneath the Obama bus.

But most Americans, according to Alter, “are disgusted with B.O.’s determination to promote his ½ America principle.” Perhaps he’s right. As far as I am concerned, as a European by birth but an “American by philosophy,” I cannot but ask myself (once again): “Is this the America that the Founding Fathers would have wanted?”

November 18, 2009

More control of the health-care system?

The White House reports that

The federal government made $98 billion in improper payments in fiscal 2009 […].
The 2009 total for improper payments—from outright fraud to misdirected reimbursements due to factors such as an illegible doctor's signature—was a 37.5 percent increase over the $72 billion in 2008, according to figures provided by Peter Orszag, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

And they want more control of the health-care system…
[Thanks: Leslie Carbone]

A miracle in Arizona

Finally, a stimulus success story? Yes, if you trust the website set up by the White House to track stimulus spending. In fact, according to the above mentioned website, in Arizona’s 15th congressional district 30 jobs have been saved or created with just $761,420 in federal stimulus spending. Wow! Wouldn’t it be great if it were true? There seems to be one problem, though: There is no 15th congressional district in Arizona; the state has only eight districts...

So, what’s the moral of the story? It’s a very simple one: “It’s a miracle! Stimulus dollars create or save jobs even in congressional districts that don’t exist!” What else?

November 17, 2009


        Italian souvenirs by Mirino

It sometime happens. Dreams coming true. A wonderful gift from a dear friend. A carnival weekend in Venice.
We arrived very early having taken the night train. The sun, pale orange-carmine, gloriously magnified, was rising to greet us, but it was very cold. The fresh wind whipped our faces. And that first cup of cappuccino in the cosy, fragrant bar was so welcome and warming!

Within easy walking distance to the Piazza San Marco, the little hotel was perfect. In fact we had an independent room quite separate from the hotel itself, its door giving us direct access to the little, outside lane. We could come and go without disturbing anyone.

Gradually it all started. One could already feel the build up of a special atmosphere. And as it all unfolded, as though every detail and event was preconceived for the realisation of the complete capolavoro veneziano, I had the wonderful impression that I was being consecutively directed to where each event of real significance and artistic merit was taking place.

Maybe it was my own childish enthusiasm or awareness, incited by the imaginative intelligence, the beauty, and elegance of so many of those participating, their fabulous costumes and masks, that also guided me and created that necessary contact when one wishes to record as well as possible what's taking place.

I like to think that many photographs I took reveal this special contact. That certain expression, sad, beautiful eyes that really look at you from behind the mysterious mask that appears to convey exactly the same emotion. That particular penetrating and haunting gaze of someone disguised as death itself, that would later inspire me. Each moment was magic from beginning till end, from morning till night. 

I know how unique this occasion was for me. Such moments can never be repeated. It's no good trying to repeat them. It would be a mistake, like attempting to reproduce an outstanding work of art, instead of simply treasuring the original, in this case, in the mind's eye.
I would gladly visit Venice again, but not to see another carnival. I treasure too much the gift. The unique realisation of a dream. (Venezia, un Giorno)

Trying to capture the magic of the Venetian Carnival is nothing new of course. It has been the source of inspiration for centuries. And the fact that it's roots date from as far back as the thirteenth century can only add to its special enchantment and mystery. It's also a revealing indication of the liberality and libertinism of the Venetians. (A Venetian decree established in 1458 forbade men dressed as women from entering convents with immoral intentions..). But at one time the festivities were violent, due to differences between rival parishes then dividing the city. Sixteenth century history records mass fighting, particularly on the bridges. Open bull fights and the running of pigs or oxen in Venice are also recorded. It's difficult to associate this with the Renaissance, with the magnificent feats of art and architecture, and the exquisite finesse of its fashions. Perhaps this is another paradox of the times, or would it be caused by the frustrations of class division and social discontent then generally rife in Europe?

Our brief Venetian stay was naturally much calmer. For our last evening, we found a charming little restaurant, and again there was that indefinable contact, a sort of mutual recognition, perhaps appreciation, one would like to believe. No need to talk, or to try to communicate, it's already there, the excellent meal, wine and atmosphere. The complicit cordiality and elegance of the proprietress. That warm, spontaneous and nostalgic way in which she bade us farewell.
Should we ever return to Venice in another season, I wonder if we shall be able to find that little restaurant again. But perhaps we should never even try. 


Text & image © Mirino (PW) November, 2009. Source Wikipedia.


November 12, 2009

What we can learn from the Scandal of the Cross

Raphael: The Crucified Christ with the Virgin Mary, Saints and Angels (The Mond Crucifixion, National Gallery
There was an interesting piece in yesterday’s WSJ op-ed page on the issue of crucifixes in Italian schools (see my previous posts). In particular, after taking note—in line with the most common reactions, here in Italy, to the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights against crucifixes—that “anyone who cares about Italy’s national identity and distinctive traditions […] must give serious weight to the cultural case for crucifixes in schools,” the author pointed out that, nevertheless, “Christians might want to hesitate before adopting this line of argument, because displaying their faith's holiest symbol on these terms could come at the price of its trivialization.”

A Muslim colleague of mine, long resident in Italy, told me on the day after the court’s ruling that he had no objection to crucifixes in classrooms. But he said he found all the talk about the object as a cultural icon to be demeaning, as if placing it on par with the regional costumes worn by folk dancers at holiday celebrations.

That’s a very interesting point, in my view. That’s also part of what I meant when, from the very first post of the series, I conceded that the question in itself is a very broad and debatable one, that there is much to ponder and discuss about it. I dare to say, in addition, that in the light of what our schools have become in the past few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if some Catholic priests (if not the Church itself) were willing to remove motu proprio crucifixes from classrooms! (Hey I’m just kidding …)

But then again, the problem is not primarily a religious one, but rather a cultural (and political) issue, even though this may mean a “trivialization” of the whole issue.

Yet another interesting objection: as the article also reports, Italy’s new opposition leader Pier Luigi Bersani said ancient traditions such as the crucifix “cannot be offensive to anyone.” “But if he is right,” continues the author, “Christians should hardly rejoice.” In fact,

Soren Kierkegaard, who foresaw so much of post-Christian Europe more than a century and a half ago, wrote that a society incapable of taking offense at Christianity is lost to the faith, because it endorses the "glorious results" of the church's human history, instead of facing up to the original humiliation and sacrifice of God-made-man, which by worldly values are a scandal.

Yes, the scandal of the Cross… What a glorious, awesome, beautiful mystery! What an absurd anomaly, especially in today’s world! Because Christianity, as everybody knows, is not the same as the world-system. Christianity is of a different order... Yet, I don’t like the way the article ends:

Politicians naturally avoid such discomfiting ideas for the safety of abstractions like heritage and culture, and so prefer to justify the crucifix as a token of national tradition, without going into gory details. But to regard the object in such a way is to obscure its essential meaning, and thus poorly serve Italian students and citizens of all persuasions.

Politicians, in fact, are not theologians, and most of all, as far as I know, they are part of the world-system, they live in and belong to this world. And Christians involved in politics make no exception, though not without a secret regret. Quite a difficult position, no doubt. And an infinite story as well.

"The language of Europe is translation"

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Tower of Babel
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
As Umberto Eco once perceptively observed, “the language of Europe is translation.” Linguistic diversity, in fact, is a defining feature of Europe, whose cultural heritage includes masterpieces written originally in different languages, but common to us all thanks to a long-standing tradition of literary translation. Eco’s famous statement reappears in Leyla Dakhli’s interesting review (in French) of François Ost’s Traduire: Défense et illustration du multilinguisme. [Thanks: Arthur Goldhammer]

November 10, 2009

"Christophobia," a Wall That Hasn’t Yet Fallen

East German border guards stand on a section of the Berlin wall with the Brandenburg gate in the background on November 11, 1989 in Berlin.
AFP Photo / Gunther Kern

Yesterday, the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I would have liked to write about that historic event. Yet, browsing the blogosphere, I realized that there was such a quantity of wonderfully written tributes that I decided to give up. But today I would like to somehow make up for the lost opportunity. In fact, what this post will be all about is another wall.., a wall that, unfortunately, hasn’t fallen yet.

In two of my previous posts I wrote about the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights against crucifixes in Italian schools. A paradigmatic and emblematic case. In the second post I also mentioned the Buttiglione affair (October 2004): a distinguished Italian philosopher and politician whose views on homosexuality and abortion were claimed by a member of the European Parliament to be “in direct contradiction of European law” and consequently such as to prevent him from becoming European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security. Buttiglione, in turn, reminded his inquisitor of the famous kantian distinction between morality and law, and made it clear that it was his firm conviction that many things considered immoral should not be criminalized. But it was in vain, and he ultimately withdrew when it became clear that too many Euro-parliamentarians (most of them Socialists) agreed with the claim that he was unfit to hold office. Yet another paradigmatic case.

Later on, Buttiglione was asked by an online magazine to further explain how can be defined the relationship between the two concepts of ethics and legislation and whether or not every moral value should be legislated for. Here is how he answered (I’m quoting from the English translation, provided by the magazine itself, from the original Italian text):

If all immoral acts were punished by law, there’d be few people left walking free on the street, we’d all be in jail, including myself probably. No, moral conscience is one thing, the law is another. We have to hold onto this difference. I can think that you are mistaken, but I have to be ready to give my life to maintain your right to make mistakes. I have to, though, have the right to say that you’re mistaken. This is the principle of the liberal society. Priests have to have the right to say that a sin is a sin. Laypeople [laici] have to have the freedom as well to say that a sin is a sin. Sinners have to have the right to sin, up to the point, obviously, where it doesn’t produce damage, at which point the law intervenes. The law doesn’t touch upon the morality of our behaviour, but it touches upon the defence of the rights of the other. It’s an old distinction that remains valid. Today there’s a tendency to deny this distinction. My case in Bruxelles is an example. I support non-discrimination for homosexuals, but I think, or at least I have the right to think - without saying whether I think it or not - I have the right to think, along with the catechism of the Catholic Church, that homosexuality is morally wrong. I’ve the right to think that. In Bruxelles, they questioned me not to find out what my politics were: they wanted to know what my moral convictions were. And they discriminated against me because of my moral convictions, which furthermore have nothing to do with politics, apart from the fact that in matters relating to the family, the European Union has no competence. It’s a competence of the State, and it’s as well that it remains a competence of the State.
[Italics mine]

Now, in my opinion, the “special treatment” to which Buttiglione was subjected—his being inquired about and discriminated because of his moral convictions—goes beyond a separation of Church and State, and becomes hostility toward any form of political and cultural relevance of religion. In other words, Buttiglione’s withdrawal was the triumph of what he himself described as the “new totalitarianism.” Which is not, I believe, an exaggeration. Six months later, in fact, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger described the same phenomenon as “the dictatorship of relativism,” in a sermon opening the papal conclave of 2005. Of course, what is worst is that this new dictatorship marches under the banner of “tolerance,” “political correctness” and, needless to say, “human rights.”

Incidentally, the European Union Commission and the European Parliament had no problem when they accepted László Kovács of Hungary, a former career Communist official with decades of totalitarian experience, as a European commissioner (Taxation and Customs Union). Kovács worked closely—as Deputy Head of the Department of International Relations of the Hungarian Communist Party’s Central Committee—with the leadership of János Kádár’s sinister regime, “installed literally over the dead bodies of the Hungarian democracy activists killed by Soviet tanks after the 1956 popular uprising against the Communist Party’s monopoly of power,” as Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute put it in a December 7, 2004, Washington Times article. Given that communist systems imprisoned, tortured and murdered millions of people, Gregg continues,

one might think Euro parliamentarians would be slightly concerned about how deeply Mr. Kovacs was involved in some of the darker aspects of Hungary's communist dictatorship.
Just as searching questions were rightly asked of former Nazi Party members seeking public office in postwar Germany, they might have queried speeches Mr. Kovacs gave in the 1980s, attacking Western institutions such as NATO and extolling the Soviet Union as the bedrock of Eastern Europe's "stability."
Instead, the Euro MPs confined themselves to grumbling about Mr. Kovacs' somewhat scanty knowledge of energy policy. Mr. Kovacs passed his confirmation hearings with flying colors and is now the EU taxation and customs commissioner.
Rocco Buttiglione never previously participated in a murderous regime. He is a worldly, mild-mannered, philosophy professor who can be defined as a classical liberal in the Acton-Tocqueville tradition. Yet Mr. Buttiglione was the focus of a tempest in the European Parliament. The same MPs who calmly evaluated the nomination of several ex-communists labeled Mr. Buttiglione a potential inquisitor, an intolerant zealot, and a stain on the political landscape. His views, they said, made him unfit for office.
All Professor Buttiglione did was articulate his beliefs and answer questions. A full reading of the confirmation hearings transcripts reveal a man with profound tolerance and a commitment to equality before the law and to the equal dignity of every individual. The transcripts also reveal his religious faith and his personal views on the family and homosexuality -- views Mr. Buttiglione stressed would not affect his official duties. His opponents, however, began a public campaign and maliciously quoted the transcripts selectively to caricature Mr. Buttiglione as a homophobe who believes women should be in the home with children (ironically, Mr. Buttiglione's wife is a successful working professional).

The transcripts to which Gregg refers, along with a wide selection of articles by and about Rocco Buttiglione, are available here.

The truth is—as the two exemples (that of Buttiglione and of the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights against crucifixes) demonstrate—that there is a wall that, as I said at the beginning of this post, hasn’t fallen yet. This is a living wall, made up of thoughts and convictions, and its name is “Christophobia,” a term coined by international legal scholar (and an observant Jew) J.H.H. Weiler to describe a phenomenon clearly prevalent in many parts of Europe: not merely a fear of Christianity and Christians, but the root of the refusal to acknowledge what Weiler himself regarded as obvious: that Christian ideas and values were one of the principal sources of European civilization and of Europe’s contemporary commitment to human rights and democracy. “Christophobia” is deeply rooted in European laïcité, as distinct from American secularism: it is not simply a “I don’t happen to believe in God.” It is, in Weiler’s own words, “a kind of faith in itself. It is a positive hostility to religion, which in Europe means Christianity.”

So, what to say about that other wall? Well, I must confess that this is a rhetorical question, since I had my answer ready before asking the question: “Europe, tear down this wall!”

November 8, 2009


        Italian souvenirs by Mirino

My unique visit to Rome was for a long weekend in September, nine years ago, for the wedding of a most worthy nephew and his beautiful and intelligent bride tedesca-italiana. It was a magical stay, not only because of the wonderful wedding, officiated in the Chiesa di San Lorenzo in Miranda (by an excellent, Liverpudlian priest) followed by a sumptuous reception at the charming and prestigeous Castello di Torcrescenza, but for other, more personal reasons, including what I have since cherished as a unique and precious gift.

The day before the wedding we wanted to see the Vatican which was within easy walking distance from our hotel. This was simply to see and admire the architecture, perhaps visit St Peter's Basilica if possible, and wander round the square. As it was pouring with rain, it wasn't thought likely that we would stay out for very long.

Strangely however, as we approached the Vatican, we were engulfed by an ever increasing flow of people with umbrellas, all intent on arriving, or being swept along and into, la Piazza San Pietro. There were so many people that the enormous square seemed smaller than it actually was. And all the coloured umbrellas seemed to join to represent the shell of a massive, festooned tortoise.

Despite the rain, or perhaps also because of it, there was an extraordinary, electric atmosphere. Of course all this was totally unexpected. Obviously Pope Jean-Paul II was due to arrive. Word was spreading however that because of the weather and his fragile health, the address he was supposed to make would probably be cancelled.

Suddenly, purely by accident, I found myself perfectly placed. The Pope had arrived. He was driven slowly past, just there, right in front of me. It was as though I could have touched him. I was totally spell-bound. He was so white and his skin had a luminous quality that reminded me distinctly of our mother's, on another special day exacly one year before when she lay as though in state, the majestic, Scottish lady that indeed she had been and appeared to be even more so then.

For me this was enough. It was the year 2000. The Great Jubilee year. He would make an address that I wouldn't be able to follow or hear in any case. But it didn't matter. Next to me there was an American. His eyes too shone with wonder. We stared at each other through tears because we must have understood that this, with the thick, grey curtain of rain bouncing like countless jewels off the hundreds of coloured umbrellas, was a blessing. An unforgettable moment which left us speechless.

I'm neither starry-eyed nor conventionally religious, and it's probable that we all make personal connotations at such times, but that moment made an enormous impact on me.
For the following wedding day, a fresh breeze had cleared the sky leaving only those glorious, cumulous clouds against cobalt blue that make such perfect, aspiring backgrounds for certain, renaissance, profile portraits of Italian nobility.
Everything was ideal and it was a great privileged to be there to follow all the proceedings, yet involuntarily I was also transported elsewhere, still in wonder of what I had seen and felt the day before.                                                            

The Church of San Lorenzo in Miranda was built within the remains of the Roman temple of Antoninus and Faustina. Begun in the year 141 by the Emperor Antoninus Pius it was built as a dedication to his late, deified wife Faustina the elder.
The temple was rededicated after the death and deification of the Emperor himself to become that of 'Antoninus and Faustina'.

The church- 'San Lorenzo in Miranda' may already have been established in the seventh century, but it 's officially dated from the eleventh century.

The Castello di Torcrescenza is named after the castle built in 1400 by the Marquis Francesco Crescenza who had it built on the site of the original ancient tower dating from the eleventh century. It is situated in Rome in a beautiful old park embellished with many fountains.


Text © Mirino (PW) November, 2009. Source Wikipedia. Image Piazza San Pietro with thanks to Wikimedia Commons. Photo Tempio di Antonino e Faustina with thanks to Dan Kramminga.


Da Pacem Domine - Monastic Gregorian Chant

Yes, I love Gregorian Chant. Ever since I was a young boy I have been fascinated by the whole world around it. I love when the monks glide softly into the church, their white or black cowls—depending on which monastic order they belong to—billowing behind them, when they line up in silence, facing each other in long choir stalls. I love when “bells peal and the chant begins—low at first, then swelling as all the monks join in. Their soft voices wash over the ancient stones, replacing the empty clatter of the day with something like the sound of eternity,” as American journalist Mark Landler put it in his June 26, 2008 lyrical piece in the New York Times.

Yes, I love Gregorian Chant and didn’t have to wait until 1994, when the Benedictines of Santo Domingo de Solis, in Spain, prompted the last big revival of it with an album that became a phenomenon, nor did I have to wait until May 2008, when the Cistercian monks of the Stift Heiligenkreuz, deep in the Vienna woods, released an album of Gregorian chants, “Chant: Music for Paradise,” which shot to No. 7 in the British pop charts—at one point outselling releases from Amy Winehouse and Madonna—and made those monks a crossover hit, the latest example of how a once-neglected 1,000-year-old part of the Roman Catholic liturgy, can be repackaged for a secular society that savors its soothing, otherworldly cadences.

Yes, I love Gregorian Chant, and would like to share this passion of mine with all of you, my loyal readers. So enjoy this one and stay tuned for more info and videos.. [Thanks: The Metaphysical Peregrine]

November 7, 2009

Strasbourg: capital of muscular secularism

It is by no means an uncommon experience (for me, at least) to read a well-crafted piece on Italy in a foreign newspaper or magazine, whether European or American. And that’s why I feel like I have to mention this one in Time magazine. It provides a concise, yet thorough, coverage of the issue of the display of crucifixes in public school classrooms after the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (see my previous post).

“Europe’s increasingly muscular brand of secularism,” says the article. “has an unofficial capital: Strasbourg, France, […] home to the European Parliament and other key international bodies.” In fact, over the past decade, Strasbourg “has been the site of a series of repeated slap-downs to those who are fighting to hold on to the Old Continent’s fading religious impulses.” In 2004, for instance, a committee of the EU Parliament torpedoed the nomination of Rocco Buttiglione, a prominent Italian politician known for his traditional Catholic views and friendship with Pope John Paul II, as European Commissioner for Justice..

Of course, as the article points out, the presence of this Christian symbol in public schools “might be jarring to those in the U.S. and U.K.—even to the religiously inclined—where separation of church and state is drawn with clear lines,” but “the crucifix is widely accepted by Italians as a cultural as well as religious symbol.” Furthermore, while a 2008 Gallup poll registered that more than two-thirds of respondents in countries such as Britain, France, the Czech Republic and all of Scandinavia responded “No” to the question of whether religion was important to them, in Italy only 26% of respondents answered “No” to the same question.

Does this suggest anything about the state-of-the-art of the subject?

November 5, 2009

A blow against Europe's Christian heritage? Well, yes, actually

So the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the use of crucifixes in classrooms in Italy last Tuesday, and this because, according the seven judges ruling on the case, the compulsory display “in premises used by the public authorities” of a particular religious symbol “restricted the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their convictions, and the right of children to believe or not to believe.”

It also seems that the decision was taken unanimously, which is perhaps more emblematic than the ruling in itself. Now, although I am a conservative Christian (Catholic), I don’t want to be too harsh and/or too categorical on this.

Well, I am convinced that the display of a symbol which is deeply rooted in the conscience of so many Italians is nothing but the recognition of their own cultural identity, and that the principle of the secularity of institutions is something else than the denial of the role of Christianity in the formation of the Western civilization and of the Italian identity. But, at the same time, I concede that there is much to ponder and discuss about the issue of religious symbols in public school classrooms, and that the question in itself is a very broad and debatable one.

Yet, politically speaking, I wonder whether that decision is well-timed and “appropriate to the context,” I mean, I wonder whether it is a suitable and a wise one today, in this period of our history, although I won’t say, along with Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, that the European Court of Human Rights makes us doubt the common sense of this Europe.. However, one thing is to decide not to display the crucifix where there hasn’t ever been one, and another very different is to rule against the display of crucifix where there is a long tradition of displaying the central symbol of Christianity.

That’s why, even apart from my religious beliefs, I cannot but agree with Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who told La Repubblica newspaper he could not understand the decision:

“When I think that we are talking about a symbol, the crucifix, an image that cannot but be the emblem of a universally shared humanity, I not only feel disappointed but also sadness and grief.
The crucifix is the sign of a God that loves man to the point of giving up his life for him. It is a God that teaches us to learn to love, to pay attention to each man ... and to respect the others, even those who belong to a different culture or religion.
How could someone not share such a symbol?”

And that's also why I think the Italian government, which said it would appeal the European Court's verdict, is definitely right.

November 1, 2009

The Afghan democracy

            Opinion, by Mirino 
Is it not suspiciously strange and even hypocritical that there is no international support in favour of the conditions that Abdullah Abdullah requires in order for him to participate in the second ballot of the Afghan elections?
It's not as though he doesn't represent a considerable proportion of Afghans. It's not as though a man of his stature is of no consequence.

Yet It would seem that his requirements to insure that essential voting principles in democracy are fully respected, are not even shared by those who are sending and sacrificing troops in defence of essentially what Abdullah is trying to uphold.

Reading between the lines of a recent article in Le Figaro, it would seem that one wouldn't be alone in having such doubts about this. 

Whilst Obama is mulling over how many more troops he should send to Afghanistan, despite the opinions of those who in any case should know far better from experience, the essential issue of what Nato and the Afghans themselves should be defending, seems to be of less consequence to him.
The only explanation for this would be the tacit requirement that Karzai stays in office as president of Afghanistan.

If I were Afghan, I wouldn't be at all satisfied with this arrangement, and I would be very disappointed in such a so called democracy that I would already have risked my life for.