June 30, 2011

Aung San Suu Kyi at Risk, Once Again

Dark clouds are gathering over pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Burma’s government has warned the Nobel peace prize laureate—who has remained in Rangoon since her release from house arrest, but she has said she soon plans to travel to the countryside to meet her supporters—to halt all political activities. The warning is extended to Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the NLD (National League for Democracy). As is usually the case, let’s hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

June 23, 2011

Top Blogs and Websites on Religious Studies

I’ve just received an email from Catherine Elson informing me about an article, titled “Top 15 Blogs on Religious Studies,” she just posted on The Divining Blog. I’m glad to pass the information along. Catherine firstly reminds readers that religious studies—which differ from theology in that they are usually conducted by a third party, while theologists are usually a believer in the religion they are studying—combine the varying religions to see the effects on the mind, lifestyle and beliefs. “Learn about religious studies at these top blogs and websites on the subject,” she says. “Regardless of your own religious background, learning about others will help you gain a more thorough understanding of the world and often, your own beliefs.”

June 22, 2011

Smith, Wesson and Me

What would you do if someone tried to kill you by shooting a kind of rocket at you? Of course I wish you not to face a similar situation, but then again, as you know, everything is possible in life. Therefore it’s important to be ready! That’s why, in my opinion, you should consider the kind of reaction shown in the video below (don’t try to do this at home!), provided that you have a .357 Magnum Smith & Wesson revolver, and that you are a veteran shooter... From the movie RED :

June 17, 2011

George & Emmylou

Emmylou Harris
Country music scholar Bill C. Malone writes, “For the two or three minutes consumed by a song, Jones immerses himself so completely in its lyrics, and in the mood it conveys, that the listener can scarcely avoid becoming similarly involved.” Never has anything more true been said regarding country music legend George Jones. Yet, however true this may be, what makes Jones the best living country music singer is, of course, his distinctive voice and phrasing. Once, when the great Johnny Cash was asked who his favorite singer was he replied, “You mean besides George Jones?” To say nothing about the fact that Frank Sinatra once called George Jones “the second best white male singer”—not too hard to guess who was the best in his opinion…

But if Jones is the king of country singers, 12-time Grammy Award winner Emmylou Harris—the greatest female singer since Ella Fitzgerald, according to Sir David Frederick Attenborough—is the reigning queen of American roots music. She is probably the female voice by which all others are measured. As Elvis Costello puts it, “Emmylou Harris is the greatest harmony singer on the face of the earth. There’s no question about that. She’s also a great solo singer and a great songwriter as well. (…) Emmylou has this great sense of poise, grace. These are the words that come to mind when you think of her singing.”

Two great country music artists… But I’m not going to write an essay on George’s and Emmylou’s immense musical talent, the above was only intended as a brief introduction to the video below: George Jones & Emmylou Harris singing “Here We Are,” a song written by Rodney Crowell. Enjoy it!

June 14, 2011

New Beginning

Claude Monet, Impression Sunrise
Everything in life is temporary. Everything has an end. Winter ends, snow melts, spring ends… But, as the old proverb goes, every end is a new beginning, and when spring ends summer starts. Or, if you prefer, as T.S. Eliot put it, “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from” (this is also wonderfully expressed in “East Coker,” the second of Four Quartets). Why am I telling you this? Well, I’m referring to someone both you and I know and who is about to make a big change in his life—he’s almost retired from his previous career as a teacher…—and thought we could wish him a happy ending and a bright new beginning. May God always guide and bless him!

June 12, 2011

Pentecost on Mount Athos

Fresco in Koutloumoussiou Monastery
 Mount Athos
Mount Athos is not for everyone, at least it isn’t for women—the last authorized female pilgrim set foot there sixteen centuries ago, and her name was Galla Placidia, the daughter of  Theodosius, the Christian emperor of Rome (and Constantinople), but as soon as she entered one of Athos’s monasteries, an icon of the Virgin ordered her: “Halt!” and enjoined her to leave the mountain…

Yet, Mount Athos is a truly holy land that inspires fear of God, a place of free spirits and great charismatics, a place without time, unless it is that of the angelic spheres. On Athos “logos is wed to praxis,” word to deeds, says Eliseos, the igoumenos:

The monk has to show that the truths are reality. He has to live the Gospel in a perfect way. This is why his presence in the world is essential. Saint John Climakos wrote: “Angels are light for monks, monks are light for men.”

A voyage to the holy mountain of the Orthodox Church. First conducted and recounted in 1997. Meaning now, this year. “Because on Athos, earthly time is one and the same as the eternal today of heaven.”

June 3, 2011

Where Nothing Is Impossible

Yesterday, here in Italy, was the festival of the Republic, but the Italian Prime minister had few reasons to celebrate after his ruling center-right coalition was resoundingly beaten in runoff administrative elections last Monday. He lost Milan (44.9 percent to 55.1 percent), his home town, the city where he built his economic empire and where his political career started, and in Naples Luigi De Magistris—a former magistrate who was struck by politics on the way to Damascus—beat Berlusconi-backed Gianni Lettieri (65.3 percent to 34.7 percent). As it was not enough the center-left opposition’s candidates also won runoff votes in the northern cities of Mantua, Trieste, Gallarate and Novara, as well as Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia. In other words, a complete disaster. And, Ok, maybe it’s over for Berlusconi, the big loser, the bunga-bunga man, and so on.

But then again, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago after the (equally catastrophic) first electoral round, both the results in Naples and in Milan, as well as those in Bologna, Turin, and many other places, show that the center left is in no better shape than the center right. One example for all: the results of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (almost 10% in Bologna, 10% in Ravenna, 15% in Rimini, 5% in Turin, 8% in Savona, and so on), whose goal is to demolish the credibility of the whole Italian political, economic and financial establishment, which, of course, according to Grillo (and many others), includes the Democratic Party, i.e. the biggest and most influential opposition party, and the heir of the defunct PCI (Partito Comunista Italiano). And, actually, this is how Grillo himself described in his blog what happened in Milan, Italy’s finance and business capital:

The System has won. The one that makes you come out into the street because it’s you that’s won, but in the end it’s always the system that wins. It transforms the voters into fans content that finally it’s the Left that’s won or alternatively it’s the Right that’s won. Someone said of the PDminusL that “It’s easy to win with the candidates of the others”. OK, but who are the others? Pisapia, who is De Benedetti’s lawyer and the bearer of the PDminusL’s membership card number ONE (that has for the Swiss engineer the same magical effects as Uncle Scrooge’s mythical coin), Fassino a deputy in Rome and the mayor of Turin who wants the militarisation of the Val di Susa? Vendola who builds incinerators together with Ms Marcegaglia, has earmarked 120 million euro of public money from the region of Apulia to Don Verzé’s San Raffaele foundation; Don Verzé the spiritual father of Berlusconi and he is keeping the management of water in private hands? The system has liquidated Berlusconi and it has to present new faces so as not to be swept away. If they’re old, they pass them off as new. If Pisapia at least puts a stop to the monstrous construction of EXPO 2015 together with that of City Life, closes down the incinerators, cuts the salaries of the town cabinet members by 75%, I will change my mind. Do you think he will do that?
On reading the newspapers it seems that the 5 Star MoVement has been deleted from politics, swept away by the new that is coming in. It’s the PDminusL that’s won, the same one that guaranteed for Berlusconi “a life that is never late”, that has allowed in the Fiscal Shield, that voted for the Great Pardon, that did not make it possible to group together the local elections and the referendum (one vote would have been enough, but absences included 10 PDminusL people, including Fassino, and 2 IDV, do you think it was just by chance?),that gifted three public national frequencies to Berlusconi asking in exchange just one per cent of the turnover, that did not do a law on the conflict of interests when it was in government and did not even modify Calderoli’s “legge porcata” {filthy law}.
The Confindustria is looking for new ways of maintaining its parasites. It woke up after Fukushima, when it understood that the cake of about 30 billion for nuclear power stations was vanishing, before that it was expecting the juicy bone and was keeping quiet. The Confindustria, together with the parties, will do everything possible to cause the failure of the referenda that would take away from it the management of water for ever. No one is talking about the referenda any more. Everyone’s out in the street celebrating. Everything changes so that nothing changes. They will never give up (but is it in their interests?). Neither will we.

Well, Ok, he’s a comedian, not a normal politician, he’s a mad man and whatever you want, but there is little doubt that Grillo is right when he argues that they are cheating. Sometimes the truth, in politics, can make the difference.

Girolamo Savonarola's monument, Ferrara (Italy)
After all, it’s an old trick of the post-communist left to brand all of their political opponents—even the most upright of them—as “right wing extremists” and deeply dishonest people, and, at the same time, to strenuously defend their own “business agents” and to consider all of them as “honorable, ethical and virtuous people,” no matter what they really are. What I really like about Grillo, even though I often don’t agree with him, is that he doesn’t care whether you are right or left-wing, he only tries to fight political corruption (or what he regards as such) in whatever form and wherever it comes from. He may sounds more like a modern Savonarola (with Savonarola’s fanaticism but without his Christian faith) than a political leader, the opposite of a detached analyst, but he’s not a liar and a hypocrite. And he’s certainly honest.

On the other hand, if it is true that, as Stefano Folli put it in the economic daily newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, the electoral results “opened up the question of the leadership of the center-right,” it is also true that, as some other commentators cautioned, local wins would not automatically translate into an electoral victory at a national level. And this for many reasons. One is that the center-left coalition will have to face the challenge presented by Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement. And as the recent elections have shown, nothing is impossible here, in the Bel Paese.