March 30, 2010

Returning to Tuscany

            Intro by Mirino 

The following interview between CNN and Frances Mayes, professor, poet, novelist and author of the best seller 'Under the Tuscan Sun', is a very pleasant reminder as well as confirmation of my own warm impression of the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance (Italian souvenirs). 

In the interview Frances Mayes also alludes to the vegetable gardens, and one's 'memory taste buds' automatically recall the delicious, summer perfume of basil and tomatoes. The region is perfect for growing virtually everything, and this would certainly include mushrooms, especially their famous 'Boletus edulis', or 'Cèpes', as they are called in France.

Although the English might be making some progress in the art of appreciation of various species of edible mushrooms, as far as I know, the basic choice in the UK is still between mushrooms or toadstools. Mushrooms would be the sort of archi-connu champignon de Paris, whilst Toadstools would be anything that doesn't exactly correspond with the former. I've even seen Morilles- highly prized mushrooms anywhere else of course- growing in public parks in England, untouched! Perhaps this paranoid distrust dates from the English Middle Ages when poisons were often concocted from more lethal fungi.

Anyway, one of the most delicious meals I enjoyed in Tuscany was a large, filet steak topped with the dark, warm brown head of a boletus mushroom, exactly the same size, which gives some indication of how big it was. An unforgettable, perfect duet of tastes. And this royal meal served on the terrace of the little restaurant in Pergine Val d'Arno was embellished and blest by the warm glory of a Tuscan sunset.
Certainly there is something quite magic about Tuscany, and probably at any time of the year.

(CNN) - Many authors can move readers with their words, but Frances Mayes has the power to actually make readers move.
As in pack up and start a new life thousands of miles away in Tuscany - the enchanting northwest region of Italy known for its food, wine and scenic beauty - just as she did 20 years ago.

Mayes chronicled her decision to buy and restore a villa near the town of Cortona in "Under the Tuscan Sun," which became a best-selling book and the basis for the 2003 movie of the same name starring Diane Lane.
The story inspired some fans to do much more than go out for an Italian meal. About 20 expats have bought homes near Mayes' beloved country house, Bramasole, after reading about her experiences, Mayes said. "I heard from somebody yesterday who said, 'I just read your books and I've never been to Tuscany, but I'm now planning to move there.' And I thought, oh no, please, don't blame me if it doesn't work out," Mayes said with a laugh.

Her new book might tempt some more would-be Tuscans.

In "Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life," Mayes describes enjoying the bounty of her garden, buying a new house, going on trips to the resort town of Portofino, seeing Castello Brown (the castle where "Enchanted April" was filmed), tasting wine and eating fabulous food - oh, the food. Everything from duck breast with caramelized spices and artichokes to steamed chocolate cake with vanilla sauce. The book contains 25 recipes of some of the dishes Mayes likes to cook.

Author Frances Mayes spends up to six months in Tuscany every year. She also lives in North Carolina. She recently talked about her life in Tuscany with from North Carolina, where she lives part of the year. The following is an edited version of that interview.

CNN: You get a very warm feeling reading your book. It's all about friends, trips, wine and food. Is there any other place on earth where you have experienced this magic atmosphere beyond Tuscany?

Frances Mayes: In a word, no. I find that other countries have this or this, but Italy is the only one that has it all for me. The culture, the cuisine, the people, the landscape, the history. Just everything to me comes together there.
I do find some similarities among the people with the people I grew up with in Georgia in the South. There is that shared hospitality and sense of everything happening at the table.

CNN: Can you explain the magic of Tuscany?

Mayes: The initial thing is the landscape. It's largely man-made in a way because over the centuries, it's been farmed so much. So those terraced hills of olive trees and the punctuation points of the cypress and the wonderful silhouettes of the hill towns. All those things are imposed upon a landscape that is already beautiful.

The second thing is, people really respond to the Italians. In our town, even though partly because of my books we've had a lot of tourists there in the past 10 years, somebody who comes there can still make great contact with the local people.
If you break down in your car and knock on a door, you're going to be invited in for lunch if it's time for lunch.

The third thing would have to be that the Renaissance did happen there and there's so much art. Every little town, no matter how small, will have its treasure, and that sense of connection with art is so profoundly nourishing to the spirit, you don't even know that you lack it until you go there and you feel the beauty of the architecture.

And then there's just this big old Mediterranean sun. The weather is kind of glorious and benign, and everything just kind of comes together.

CNN: Nature is a very important part of your Tuscan life -- you talk about flowers, strawberries, cherries and your vegetable garden. Can you explain?

Mayes: If you've got a plot the size of a car or a tiny yard in Italy, you're going to be growing tomatoes and basil and celery and carrots, and everybody is still connected to the land. When we have guests from Rome or Milan, very sophisticated people, it's not 20 minutes before they're out looking at the olive trees and asking about the garden.
There's this sense that you go to the land for your food, there's still that old primitive connection there which culminates in the olive harvest [in the fall].

And that is a magnificent time to go to Italy, because everyone is out picking their olives and celebrating this end-of-the-year ritual.

At the end of the harvest, in many towns, and certainly in ours, people gather in the piazza, and everyone's got their new oil, and the baker brings out bread, and everybody is tasting the oil together, and it's just another one of those amazing ways people come together over a natural thing like olives.

CNN: Do you like to explore other parts of Italy?

Mayes: It is still endless to me. I feel like we haven't seen anything yet, it's just a place where it will never run out on you. There's always a new town with a new dialect and a different pasta and a different Renaissance artist. It's an infinitely various place. I adore going to the south and Sicily and Sardinia. I've never been to the Aeolian Islands, and I'd love to go there.
Venice, the most touristy place in the world, is still just completely magic to me.

CNN: You write that you admire the Italian quality of taking great satisfaction in the everyday. Can you explain?

Mayes: The Italians have their priorities right: They're driven, they do their work, but they really enjoy the day-to-day and they don't put off the enjoyment of the everyday for some future goal. There's an immediacy there.
Every day centers for me mostly in the piazza, and this is pretty much true all over Italy. Everyone goes to the piazza every day. So people aren't on their computers all the time e-mailing each other, because they're going to see each other in a half an hour in the piazza.

I've loved reconnecting with that sense of community. You walk down the street, the people who own the shops are standing in the doorways, and you chat and you hear the news and you walk home.

Read an excerpt from Mayes' new book

CNN: You're sort of an ambassador of Tuscany now. Would you ever move there permanently?

Mayes: We live there about five months a year, sometimes six. My husband would move there in a moment, but I like living here just as well. I like my American life [in North Carolina], I like going to bookstores and seeing my friends. I'm an American, so I would not like permanently to decamp to another country. But I feel lucky to have two cultures because it's interesting the way they bounce off each other for us.

CNN: For someone visiting Tuscany for the first time who has a week or two, where would you advise them to go?

Mayes: I would definitely start in Florence, because that's were the center of the Renaissance was and it's still one of the most beautiful cities in the world. You could stay there for a lifetime and not learn everything about Florence.

I would stay about three days in Florence, then I would probably travel an hour and go to Sienna. After that, I would stay in the Tuscan countryside -- Pienza, Montepulciano, Cortona -- some small town for a couple of days. And it would be great to get over to the coast for a couple of days, maybe stop in Lucca and go down anywhere along the coast.

CNN: What's a good time of year to go?

Mayes: For the first time, if you can, spring or fall, because those are glorious seasons and not as crowded as summer. But any time is good, really. I love traveling in the winter.

CNN: Any advice to American visitors?

Mayes: If you learn 10 words of Italian, you can go a long way because Italians love to talk. If you just really make an effort to interact with people, they will be so responsive, and I think language is always the key to that. Just going there with the attitude of "I can meet some great people" would be the best way to go.

CNN: Do you feel Italian?

Mayes: Oh no, I wish I could, but no, I don't. I'm kind of a quiet person, and I feel like there, I have become a lot less reserved and I certainly gesture with my hands a lot more than I used to.

And I know that I've absorbed a lot of their attitudes and ways of being, but I still feel first of all Southern and second of all American.

CNN: What is your next project?

Mayes: I'm working on a cookbook, which is just a fun project, but I'm going to be writing a Southern memoir, a book about growing up in the South and then coming back to the South to live many years later. After that, I think I would like to try to write a novel, but I don't know, I always get these big travel urges, so I might like to do something else in the travel world.

CNN: Where else do you like to travel beyond Italy?

Mayes: Most recently, Poland. I had a great time there, and it was just an eye-opener to be in that country. I love all of South America, I want to see a lot more of it. I love to go to France, and Turkey is one of my very favorite places.
I want to go to India and Egypt- there are so many places I haven't been.

                                         Image © Mirino, March, 2010 

The 'Right Nation'

Mid-term elections, in the US, are generally unfavorable to the party in control of the White House. Well, here in Italy these regional elections, not unlike the regional elections which took place in France one week ago, were the closest thing to the US mid-terms elections. But while in France the results were a disaster for Sarkozy and his ruling party (UMP), in Italy the center-right ruling coalition won 6 out of 13 regions, including the most populous and/or prosperous and developed (Lazio, Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont, Campania).

It’s also to be noted that in 4 out of the 6 the center-left was in power, and that in Lazio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party was excluded from the ballot in the key Rome province, which has more than 2 million voters, after it failed to submit its list by the deadline! That’s why there is no doubt about who is the winner, as Antonio Di Pietro, the leader of the small Italy of Values center-left party, surprisingly said tonight while his allies were desperately (and ridiculously) trying to deny the evidence of the facts.

What this election shows—apart from the obvious consideration that Berlusconi is “a formidable campaigner, able to pick up votes despite a weak economy, a corruption investigation involving some of his closest aides and suspicions that he was trying to influence state television ahead of the vote,”—is that the country is irremediably… fed up with the left! And that Italy has become a “right nation,” more conservative, more Christian (and less politically correct) than most of the other European countries. Because if Italy can afford Berlusconi, with all his faults and imperfections, what we cannot afford is the left—not any more.

March 29, 2010

The Shroud, again

This spring marks a major milestone for those interested in the Shroud of Turin, in fact the ancient linen cloth—which, as everybody knows, is believed by many to be the winding cloth that covered the body of Jesus of Nazareth after his crucifixion—will be exhibited to the public for the first time in ten years from April 10th through May 23rd. This is an exceptional opportunity, since traditionally a public display of the Shroud occurs only once every 25 years.

Apart from the meaning of the event for “true believers,” however, as the Independent puts it, “In the age of Dan Brown and Da Vinci-mania the story of the Shroud is also the perfect potboiler, with something for everyone—including amused sceptics who’ll appreciate its cameos from the Knights Templar and even the Renaissance man himself.” But in this respect a great change has occurred since last year, when a new book was published, The Templars: The Secret History Revealed, by Barbara Frale, a researcher in the Vatican Secret Archives. The Vatican’s medieval specialist, in fact, brought to light a document in which Arnaut Sabbatier, a young Frenchman who entered the order of the Knights of the Temple in 1287, testified that as part of his initiation he was taken to “a secret place to which only the brothers of the Temple had access”. There he was shown “a long linen cloth on which was impressed the figure of a man” and instructed to venerate the image by kissing its feet three times—the Knights Templar, as it is well-known, had been accused of worshipping idols, in particular a “bearded figure,” called Baphomet, well, now we know, says Frale, that in reality the object they had secretly venerated was the Shroud!

Yet another reason why this whole affair shouldn’t be underestimated.

March 25, 2010

The Vote Down the Throats

~ “LETTERS FROM AMERICA” - by The Metaphysical Peregrine ~

Due to illness and now going on vacation until next week, The Metaphysical Peregrine has been unable to create a fresh blog for the Wind Rose Hotel. I felt the need to post this because of Rob's last post on ObamaCare. I agree with Giannino from that post. I posted this regarding the health care battle going on here in the U S. on my own site. What follows is a bit wonkish, but gives an idea of some of the things in the nearly 3000 page bill that not one Senator or Congressman that voted for it has read. Lots of bribes and threats were made to pass this. When I get back from vacation, I'll provide an update about the political repercussions, and some of the terrible costs imposed, both financially and to people.

The Vote came down to this.

U.S. House Roll Call Votes On Passage of the Bill "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" (H.R. 3590) Sunday, March 21, 2010.

YEAs: 219 (Voting yes were 219 Democrats and 0 Republicans)
NAYs: 212 (Voting no were 34 Democrats and 178 Republicans)
(There are 4 vacancies in the 435-member House.)
How each Congressman voted here.

It's estimated that this bill will add somewhere between $1.5 - $2 Trillion, while at the same time saving billions and reducing insurance premiums by 3000%. The 3000% is a quote a couple days ago by Obama. How costing trillions more reduces costs and lowers the deficit is a mystery to me. Whenever I spend more money, I have less of it. When I borrow money and spend it, I shoot right past zero and have less than less of it.

Here's one accounting trick the Dems are using. They will collect revenues for Obamacare for four years before spending or "outlays". Of course they will use that money for their other Statist programs, not invest it in health programs.

Doctors will receive cuts in Medicare payments; so do you think they will continue to provide Medicare services? Would you work for less money? About 30% of doctors say they will change professions. These are smart people, and have plenty of professional options open.

Taxes: $409.2 billion in additional taxes by 2019, and who do you think will pay those? Of course the Dems say rich people will, but rich people can hide their wealth. Who's left? You, middle class America. The "poor", the nearly half of the population that doesn't pay taxes, get an even bigger free ride. Do you have a really good policy? Cadillac plan penalties of course won't be paid by union members, rich people have their own coverage, and poor people get a free ride. Who does that leave? Middle class people. We're talking about a 40% excise tax. If you're a small businessman making $250,000...that's your income from your business that is taxed as personal income, would you expand your business so you can pay more taxes?

Need a wheelchair? Taxed an extra 2.3%. How's that for compassion? I have several friends in wheelchairs, and every one of them struggles financially. Need a hip replacement? Added tax.

Business. They already know it's cheaper to pay the fines to not cover their employees than cover them. Insurance executives that get paid over $500,000 will be penalized, and will not be able to take deductions. Someone want to show me where in the Constitution it says the government can control private citizens' pay?

This last really caps all this. Citizens who don’t buy insurance will be fined $325 in 2015 and $695 in 2016. After that you can get penalized as much as 2.5 percent of your income in 2016, if the total is greater than the flat payment. Someone want to show me where in the Constitution the government can force citizens to buy a product and fine them if they don't? Dems say health care is a "right". Can anyone show me a "right" that you decide not to indulge, that you'll be fined and/or sent to prison?

Complete esoteric details of tax, prison, fines, and the rest of this unconstitutional mess here.

My suggestion, after Obama signs this, if you have a complaint about your insurance company, call your representative and senator. Have a complaint about your doctor, call your representative and senator. When your insurance rates go up, call your representative and your senator. If you're on Medicaid, and your state decides it's cheaper not to have it, that the Fed's have to carry the weight, and you're denied care, call your representative or senator. If the cost of your meds go up, and they will, call your representative or senator. I say all this because they know better than you and your doc how to treat what ails you. Next time you're in the DMV, and waiting forever to be called for a 10 minute transaction, just be thinking, "Boy! I can't wait until my medical care is so great!"

By the way, Leftist CNN has new poll today, shows 59% of Americans are against this. Before today 52%-56% against.

Even more esoteric details of this plan here.

ObamaCare. A view from over here

ObamaCare: to be honest, I think I do not yet have a sufficient understanding of the whole matter, nor do I think most Europeans do, since everything, in this important and vital field, is—or seems to be—very different over here. Thus, what has been going on in the US in the past few months is perhaps a bit “too American” for us. Hence my silence on this issue … until now. What made me change my mind? What moved me to break my silence is this post in Italian by Oscar Giannino—as usually I asked Mirino to translate into English some excerpts from the post: thank you once again my friend!

Giannino is among the most respected economic opinion-makers in Italy, a columnists for several Italian newspapers, and the author of many publications on economic issues. What I appreciated most in Giannino’s post is that it’s focused first and foremost on the differences between Europe and America, which, in turn, somehow helps me focus what is peculiar about the American health system—the ways of Providence are infinite!

But first of all, to make it easier for American readers to understand what Giannino means, let me summarize what the Italian health system is all about and how it works. The National Health System offers inexpensive healthcare to all European citizens. However, even though the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale ranks number 2 on the World Health Organization’s list of top countries for quality health care services, there are some state hospitals that are substandard, providing a comfort level below what most Americans would expect. These hospitals are normally found in Southern Italy (where, paradoxically, public health spending per capita are twice or three times as high as in the Northern Italy…). In-patient treatments which are covered include tests, medications, surgeries during hospitalization, family doctor visits, and medical assistance provided by paediatricians and other specialists. The health system is also responsible for drugs and medicines, out-patient treatments, and dental treatments. This being said, however, can we really speak of free healthcare for all? Well, if you are employed your health insurance is paid in part by employers and in part by wages withheld from workers’ paychecks. Of course, if you are unemployed you don’t have to pay anything, and you still get healthcare.

Now let’s see what Oscar Giannino has to say.

I’ll be brutal. The enthusiasm of the media, even more than that of the Italian left wing, for Obamacare, indicates two things. They don’t know the reform, or they pretend not to know it. They’re only drinking a toast to the political patron. That almost no one has read the 2,800 pages of Obamacare is obvious. Why would they otherwise exult, if the reform excludes clandestine immigrants from every cover? In Italy they would accuse anyone who came up with such a thing as a fascisto-racist. What is there of “left wing” in a reform whose aim is to save the hole—estimated to be six times the US GDP—of American private insurance companies, that nevertheless remain private but with tariffs and services decided by politics, and with levels of debit charged to enterprises and tax payers? In Italy anyone who proposed such an idea would be accused of being a lackey to insurance companies.
Who are the great beneficiaries of the reform? The insurance companies, whose shares in recent months have in fact climbed by 30%.
I then omit what would happen in Italy, if State Prosecutors had intercepted the numerous telephone confrontations during the final days before the risky ballot to the House of representatives. How would they manage to avoid filing corruption charges to Nancy Pelosi and Obama himself, when the ballot is “bought” in exchange for concessions for every constituency whose vote counts so much?
Rhetoric is an indissoluble part of politics. But rarely does one hear so much rhetoric diffused in Europe for Obamacare, which has been compared to the approval of the Civil Rights anti- segregation Act of 1964, or even to the Constitution written by the Founding Fathers, in the skillful emphasis by which President Obama and the heads of the Democratic party knew how to enclose the vote to the tightest margin with which the law would pass, in spite of the defection of forty democrat congressmen.
For every American cautious of the many taxes he or she will have to pay in future, for a national debt increasing towards 100% of the GDP, such an onerous reform—to save private insurance—entrusting everything to politicians, induces a distrust very different from the enthusiasm expressed by European (right or left wing) statists. But Obama has preconstituted a cunning advantage. At the time of his re-election campaign in 2012, when the reform will begin to enter in force with the greater covers, the accounting effects will not be evident. Nor they will be much more evident four years later, when Obama might intend to “bequeath” the White House to another Democrat: the taxes and the additional, obligatory contributions come into force as from 2014, but the public levels of the costs of the pharmaceutical prescriptions won’t be released before 2018. They will fall on his successors, and on future taxpayers. A slow passage of Lord and Master’s politics, with private companies kept on a tight rein by party leaders. The European Public Health systems, directly managed by the State, and only integrated by private companies, are more coherent. The Obamacare is a real, fundamental attack on the America we love. That’s why the democratic left à la Pelosi is so fanatically favorable. How ghastly! If we were Americans, we would be rallying in the streets.

As for me, after reading this, I’m beginning to convince myself that, if I were American, I could not support the healthcare reform bill—even without ignoring the arguments in favor (it offers more equality: expanded insurance, more redistribution). I could not help but fear that the legislation will add to the fiscal burden Americans are leaving to future generations. And, yes, I guess that, if I were American, I would be also rallying in the streets …

March 23, 2010

Whether blogging is a waste of time or not

Is blogging a waste of time? Yaacov’s answer is,

All of which is to say that I ought to blog less. Blogging is so intensely a matter of the moment, so irrelevant two days later, that it has to be a waste of time. I’m not saying I’ll stop, but I ought to.

As for me, I think you can guess what my answer to this question is. First of all I blog a lot less than many hyperactive bloggers—well, I might justify myself by saying that I don’t believe in quantity, but this might sound presumptuous, and that’s why I prefer to say that I have a lot to attend to… Second, this is “a war blog,” not my random thoughts and whine blog, if I may say so myself, I mean it’s—right or wrong—against something and for something. There are so many things worth fighting for! How could I give up the good fight?

However, I couldn’t agree more with Norm when he says, “I’m struck by the ‘all of which’ that frames this, though. For it refers to... the histories of Venice, Florence and Jerusalem!”

Yes, Venice, Florence and Jerusalem. Yaacov, in fact, has just come back from Italy:

We started in Venice. A place like no other I've ever seen. Created after the fall of the Roman Empire, the town flourished for a thousand years as a republic while the rest of Europe went through the Middle Ages. It was easily one of Europe's largest towns, doing a roaring business sitting astride the lines of commerce between Europe and the East. It was a hard-nosed and stern place, not to say cruel, and it's goal was to be rich. The accidental discovery of America was partly the result of the search to find a way around Venice as the middle-man of trade with the East; it worked, though not in the way anyone foresaw, and Venice spent the 17th and 18th centuries magnificently living off its accumulated wealth. Napoleon ended it in the 1790s, and ever since it has been essentially a tourist attraction, no more.

For all its longevity, splendor and uniqueness, it's hard to think of anything of lasting value that it created, except for the city itself.

From Venice we went to Florence. Technically older than Venice by many centuries, Florence compressed its historical role into a few centuries, most famously the Fifteenth. Yet what a role it was: a small town that would fit easily into southern Manhattan took human history and diverted its direction. Not in one field - say, the ability to represent reality in art - but in many. The Florentines redirected literature, and art, and science, and philosophy, and the art of governing - and banking, too, though the bankers are a bit unpopular lately. They invented the Renaissance, those Florentines, and that lead to the Enlightenment, and to Capitalism, and Democracy, and Socialism, and Fascism, and Communism and Nazism... and if you think the present war between parts of the Islamic world and humankind isn't a direct result of the fact that some folks followed Florence and others didn't, well, I don't know why you come to this blog.

Well, now I know why I came across that blog, which unfortunately I didn’t know about until just now, and why its author ought not to stop blogging!

March 22, 2010

Can you smell the wood of the cross?

Homily by Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP.

Can you smell the wood of the cross? There are many more steps between here and now and the foot of the tree. The hot sand blows stinging hard and everything and everyone you’ve left behind calls to you out of friendship to come back. What’s ahead after all? Blood, bits of flesh, spit, gall, deception, cruelty, violence…your betrayal of a friend. You can turn back now. Do it. Just for a second. Look back to Ash Wednesday. What do you see? Hot promises? Eager intentions? A hunger for holiness? I’m going to do it this time!? Sure. And will you? Not likely. You’ll make it to the cross alright. But you won’t make it there any holier than when you left on Ash Wednesday. Do you think the purpose of Lent is to make you holy? Holier? The purpose of Lent is to show you your need for God. You will make it to the cross b/c God wants you at the cross. Holy or not. Your dieting and fasting and fussing about prayer and alms are at best distractions if they don’t serve to clear up God’s will for you: smell the wood, then see the wood, then taste it. Then feel it against your skin, your hands, your back and feet, feel it—burning, wet, raw, sharp. You are Christ. Lent is not your time to flee from weakness and temptation. Run to them! Lent is your time to pray like the Prodigal Son, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and you, I no longer deserve to be called your son…” And then wait for God the Father to forget your sins and drape you in His finest robes and slaughter the fattest calf to welcome you home again.

Sniff the air. The cross is coming closer. The cup is full. Will you drink from it? Or will you pour it into the desert sand?

March 20, 2010

'You must answer for it before God and before properly constituted tribunals'

“Dear brothers and sisters of the Church in Ireland, it is with great concern that I write to you as Pastor of the universal Church…”

The pope’s pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland, on the scandal of sexual abuse against minors on the part of priests.

March 18, 2010

Anwar al-Awlaki's call to arms

Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni-American Muslim lecturer and preacher, called on American Muslims to turn against their government because of its actions against Muslims around the world. Believed to be a senior talent recruiter and motivator for al-Qaeda and described as “the bin Laden of the Internet,” Anwar al-Awlaki described his own radicalization after U.S. operations against Muslims in his latest message, aired on CNN yesterday.

“I […] came to the conclusion,” he said, “that jihad against America is binding upon myself just as it is binding on every other Muslim. […] To the Muslims in America I have this to say, how can your conscience allow you to live in peaceful coexistence with a nation responsible for the tyranny and crimes against your own brothers and sisters? How can you have loyalty to a government leading the war against Islam and Muslims?”

It was thought that he might have been killed in a pre-dawn air strike by Yemeni Air Force fighter jets on a meeting of senior al-Qaeda leaders at a hideout in Rafd, a remote mountain valley in eastern Shabwa, on December 24, 2009, but this was clearly a forlorn hope: he is as alive as he can communicate his peaceful thought—please don’t forget that Islam is “the Religion of Peace”—by addressing the American Muslims on Cnn.

By the way, just a few hours ago I was appreciating not only how much Islam is a peaceful and loving religion, but also its tolerance and gracefulness towards other faiths...

March 16, 2010

Tom Hanks strikes again

In an interview with, Tom Hanks further explained–but stood by his statement–that the Pacific theater of World War II was a war of “racism and terror.”

He also said,

“I’d like to think that as our time has gone by and as Americans have found themselves in 2010, ignorance is being replaced by a certain amount of enlightenment and racism is going to be replaced eventually by an acceptance. It’s just taking an awfully long time.”

A good reply to this has been given by Michael van der Galien:

“I’d like to think,” Tom? Is there any doubt in your mind that America has, for the largest part, overcome racism? A black man was voted into the White House, for God’s sake. What more proof do you need to understand that racism is, by large, a thing of the past?

What to say about the rest (war of racism and terror, etc.)? Nothing but silence, this time.

March 15, 2010

Catholic troubles

'The Catholic Church is “imploding” over child sex abuse.' That, according to Ruth Gledhill, is the view of “a senior journalist in Rome.” Accused of continuing “to act as apologist for the Roman Catholic Church as further cases of paedophilia by priests come to light, The Times religion correspondent apologizes to readers and to victims, pledges to reform forthwith, and takes stock of the situation… by quoting some of the headlines in the Italian press (English version by Richard Owen).

'We wanted to annihilate the Japanese because they were different'

Did you think that, back in World War II, the United States fought Japan because of Pearl Harbor, or because the Empire of the Rising Sun was trying to conquer the entire continent of Asia? Nah, if you think so, in the best case you are stupid and ignorant. The Truth is that the US “wanted to annihilate” the Japanese “because they were different,” and (as it was not enough) if that doesn’t sound familiar, by any chance, to “what’s going on today,” then, according to the Mouth of Truth, you must probably be even worse than stupid and ignorant, you are hypocrites and racists. And that’s also why—despite appearances to the contrary—the West is fighting in the Middle East nowadays, not because Islamists attacked us and want to destroy our way of living! Is the message clear enough, ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers?

PS: Ah, sorry, forgot to say the main thing: the Mind behind such inspiring Thoughts is that of Hollywood star—and “honourable man” par excellence—Tom Hanks. Let’s give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to Brutus what is Brutus’s ... (Via Michael van der Galien)

March 14, 2010

How to spend a day nobly

Emerson in His Journals ( to spend a day nobly is the problem to be solved, beside which all the great reforms which are preached seem to me trivial. If any day has not the privilege of a great action, then, at least, raise it by a wise passion. If thou canst not do, at least abstain. Now the memory of the few past little days so works in me that I hardly dare front a new day when I leave my bed. When shall I come to the end of these shameful days and organize honour in every day?

—Ralph Waldo Emerson [from his journals, Sept. 12, 1839], in EMERSON IN HIS JOURNALS, selected and edited by Joel Porte, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Massachusetts) - London (England), 1982.

March 11, 2010

News from Italy

In search for news from Italy? Well, here are two for you to ponder, but not actually “good” news, just news—I have got to warn you, if you ever loved this country… The first one is that once upon a time there was Milan, I mean AC Milan. The second one is about the elections on March 28 and 29 in 13 of Italy’s 20 regions. Follow the links and you will find out “almost” everything you need to know about the two stories. Embedded in that “almost” is my personal opinion, above all on the election affair, but one cannot always split hairs, can one?

Chinese 'security' forces in Tibet

“There will be a time when truth will prevail. Therefore, it is important that everyone be patient and not give up,” said the Dalai Lama in a speech delivered yesterday in India on the 51st anniversary of his flight from Lhasa.

Meanwhile, we learn from a New York Times report that

[f]or a second straight year, the Chinese government has increased security across parts of the vast Tibetan plateau to dissuade any Tibetans from holding protests this week to mark the anniversaries of ethnic uprisings. Witnesses who have spent time recently in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, and other Tibetan areas of western China say there are more police and paramilitary forces on the streets, some of them bearing automatic weapons.

Read the rest.

March 10, 2010

Help free Dhondup Wangchen

Dhondup Wangchen is a Tibetan film-maker who was arrested in March 2008. He had just completed filming an extensive series of interviews with ordinary Tibetans, giving a voice to Tibetans under China’s rule. The interviews were smuggled out of Tibet at great risk and have been made into a remarkable 25-minute documentary, Leaving Fear Behind, which was secretly shown to a small group of foreign reporters on the eve of the Beijing Olympics last year, and eventually was seen screened in more than 30 countries.

As a prisoner of the Chinese government, Wangchen endured torture to extract a confession, contracted hepatitis B (being denied adequate treatment), and had the lawyer he chose replaced with a government-appointed one—violating his right to choose his own counsel and denying him access to independent legal assistance.

His arrest and sentence of 6 years prove that the Chinese government will not allow Tibetans any expression that opposes Chinese rule.

Please, tell the Chinese government to free Dhondup Wangchen and to uphold the right to freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial in future cases: Sign Petition & spread the word!

March 9, 2010

Let them marry ...

“But if they have not continency, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.”
(1 Cor. 7:9)

Swiss theologian Hans Küng has linked clerical sex abuse with priestly celibacy, as reported yesterday by Ruth Gledhill in the London Times. It’s a well-timed provocation, which comes a few days after the Regensburg Diocese in Germany revealed that a former chorister claimed he was abused while a member of its famous choir, to say nothing about the previous scandals of sexual abuse by priests in Ireland and in the US.

Father Hans Küng is a Prominent Catholic theologian—even though in 1979 he was stripped of his licence to teach Catholic theology because of his rejecting the doctrine of Papal infallibility (Infallible? An Inquiry)—whose books have been translated into many languages. Several years ago I happened to read his Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection—in which he argued there is fundamental agreement between Catholicism and Barth’s doctrine and that the somewhat divergent viewpoints would not warrant a division in the Church—and found it very informative and helpful, if not eye-opening. That’s also why, despite his reputation of (old) enfant terrible of the Catholic Church, I am not biased against him.

Writing in The Tablet, Father Küng described the denials of any link between abuse, celibacy and other teaching as “erroneous.” Of course, he said, perpetrators of child sexual abuse were also found in families, schools and other churches, but “Why is it so prevalent in the Catholic Church under celibate leadership?” Citing the New Testament, he said that Jesus and St Paul practised celibacy but “allowed full freedom in this matter to each individual.” He also quoted St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “Because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.”

“Compulsory celibacy,” according to the Swiss theologian, “is the principal reason for today’s catastrophic shortage of priests, for the fatal neglect of Eucharistic celebration, and for the tragic breakdown of personal pastoral ministry in many places.” (Küng also argues that, in order to fight the shortage of priests, besides the abolition of the celibacy rule, the admission of women to ordination would be a reasonable solution. But this is a completely different story.)

Now, I really don’t know what to say about that other than I’m beginning to suspect that Küng is right. After all, the Eastern Orthodox—who are very close to Catholics in theology, so that the Catholic Church does not consider their beliefs to be heretical—do not deny a celibate priesthood, and that’s why priest-monks exist, but celibacy is voluntary and never imposed.

On the other hand, since the official introduction of compulsory celibacy for priests by the Catholic Church, some 900 years ago in the 1070’s, contrary to the decisions of the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicea in A.D. 325, what have the results been? The history of the Church is full of wonderful and inspiring stories, but also of less edifying examples, to say nothing about the present times.

March 3, 2010

Night Song of a Wandering Shepherd in Asia (Canto notturno di un pastore errante dell'Asia)

Yet another poetic, philosophical and aesthetic interlude between one political post and another—a sort of “ecology of political blogging” is needed, in my opinion!

In a previous post on the great 19th century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi I drew attention to what seems to be a fascinating intellectual paradox, but it isn’t: I mean, the “phenomenon” may well be fascinating, but on closer inspection it’s not a paradox… I’m talking about the religious reading of Leopardi himself, despite his inclination toward pessimism—Leopardi’s deeply pessimistic Weltanschauung, in both a “historical” and a “cosmic” sense, is based on an empirical and mechanistic world view (inspired, among others, by John Locke), denying purpose in the universe, and seeking to explain all phenomena solely by efficient causality.

Now it’s time for me to introduce a poem which is a sort of manifesto of both Leopardi’s pessimism and his “religiousness,” the Canto Notturno di un pastore errante dell’Asia, (“Night Song of a Wandering Shepherd in Asia”). It’s by far my favorite Leopardi poem, a powerful meditation on the meaning of life, and, in my opinion, one of the most profound things ever written.

However, before reading, please bear in mind the following scheme: we human beings seek an infinite fulfilment, an infinite coherence, an infinite wisdom and comprehension, an infinite love, an infinite perfection. But we do not have the capacity to achieve any of these things, and the mystery of life, the mystery of happiness, seems always one step beyond us. Yet, does this necessarily mean that, at the end of the road, there’s only darkness and despair? Perhaps so.

Embedded in that “perhaps” is the possibility of hope. By our own power we are hopeless, but, as St Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” (Nos fecisti ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te). Leopardi’s “restless heart,” far more than his pessimistic Weltanschauung, is what this wonderful poem seems to be all about.

Night Song Of A Wandering Shepherd In Asia

What doest thou in heaven, O moon?
Say, silent moon, what doest thou?
Thou risest in the evening; thoughtfully
Thou wanderest o'er the plain,
Then sinkest to thy rest again.
And art thou never satisfied
With going o'er and o'er the selfsame ways?
Art never wearied? Dost thou still
Upon these valleys love to gaze?
How much thy life is like
The shepherd's life, forlorn!
He rises in the early dawn,
He moves his flock along the plain;
The selfsame flocks, and streams, and herbs
He sees again;
Then drops to rest, the day's work o'er;
And hopes for nothing more.
Tell me, O moon, what signifies his life
To him, thy life to thee? Say, whither tend
My weary, short-lived pilgrimage,
Thy course, that knows no end?

And old man, gray, infirm,
Half-clad, and barefoot, he,
Beneath his burden bending wearily,
O'er mountain and o'er vale,
Sharp rocks, and briars, and burning sand,
In wind, and storm, alike in sultry heat
And in the winter's cold,
His constant course doth hold;
On, on, he, panting, goes,
Nor pause, nor rest he knows;
Through rushing torrents, over watery wastes;
He falls, gets up again,
And ever more and more he hastes,
Torn, bleeding, and arrives at last
Where ends the path,
Where all his troubles end;
A vast abyss and horrible,
Where plunging headlong, he forgets them all.
Such scene of suffering, and of strife,
O moon, is this our mortal life.
In travail man is born;
His birth too oft the cause of death,
And with his earliest breath
He pain and torment feels: e'en from the first,
His parents fondly strive
To comfort him in his distress;
And if he lives and grows,
They struggle hard, as best they may,
With pleasant words and deeds to cheer him up,
And seek with kindly care,
To strengthen him his cruel lot to bear.
This is the best that they can do
For the poor child, however fond and true.
But wherefore give him life?
Why bring him up at all,
If this be all?
If life is nought but pain and care,
Why, why should we the burden bear?
O spotless moon, such is
Our mortal life, indeed;
But thou immortal art,
Nor wilt, perhaps, unto my words give heed.

Yet thou, eternal, lonely wanderer,
Who, thoughtful, lookest on this earthly scene,
Must surely understand
What all our sighs and sufferings mean;
What means this death,
This color from our cheeks that fades,
This passing from the earth, and losing sight
Of every dear, familiar scene.
Well must thou comprehend
The reason of these things; must see
The good the morning and the evening bring:
Thou knowest, thou, what love it is
That brings sweet smiles unto the face of spring;
The meaning of the Summer's glow,
And of the Winter's frost and snow,
And of the silent, endless flight of Time.
A thousand things to thee their secrets yield,
That from the simple shepherd are concealed.
Oft as I gaze at thee,
In silence resting o'er the desert plain,
Which in the distance borders on the sky,
Or following me, as I, by slow degrees,
My flocks before me drive;
And when I gaze upon the stars at night,
In thought I ask myself,
"Why all these torches bright?
What mean these depths of air,
This vast, this silent sky,
This nightly solitude? And what am I?"
Thus to myself I talk; and of this grand,
Magnificent expanse,
And its untold inhabitants,
And all this mighty motion, and this stir
Of things above, and things below,
No rest that ever know,
But as they still revolve, must still return
Unto the place from which they came,--
Of this, alas, I find nor end nor aim!
But thou, immortal, surely knowest all.
This I well know, and feel;
From these eternal rounds,
And from my being frail,
Others, perchance, may pleasure, profit gain;
To me life is but pain.

My flock, now resting there, how happy thou,
That knowest not, I think, thy misery!
O how I envy thee!
Not only that from suffering
Thou seemingly art free;
That every trouble, every loss,
Each sudden fear, thou canst so soon forget;
But more because thou sufferest
No weariness of mind.
When in the shade, upon the grass reclined,
Thou seemest happy and content,
And great part of the year by thee
In sweet release from care is spent.
But when I sit upon the grass
And in the friendly shade, upon my mind
A weight I feel, a sense of weariness,
That, as I sit, doth still increase
And rob me of all rest and peace.
And yet I wish for nought,
And have, till now, no reason to complain.
What joy, how much I cannot say;
But thou some pleasure dost obtain.
My joys are few enough;
But not for that do I lament.
Ah, couldst thou speak, I would inquire:
Tell me, dear flock, the reason why
Each weary breast can rest at ease,
While all things round him seem to please;
And yet, if  I lie down to rest,
I am by anxious thoughts oppressed?

Perhaps, if I had wings
Above the clouds to fly,
And could the stars all number, one by one,
Or like the lightning leap from rock to rock,
I might be happier, my dear flock,
I might be happier, gentle moon!
Perhaps my thought still wanders from the truth,
When I at others' fortunes look:
Perhaps in every state beneath the sun,
Or high, or low, in cradle or in stall,
The day of birth is fatal to us all.


First written for The Metaphysical Peregrine