December 30, 2011

Snowy Time

Pieter Bruegel, The Hunters in the Snow - Kunsthistorisches Museum - Vienna

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden's end.
The steed and traveller stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.
Come, see the north wind's masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, naught cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer's lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer's sighs, and at the gate
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone
Built in an age, the mad wind's night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Snow-Storm”

Just a quick Hello to everyone! I’m sure you’ll enjoy the above beautiful poem.

P.S. Light blogging until January 10, 2012

December 24, 2011

An Infinite Idea

The progress of our soul is like a perfect poem. It has an infinite idea which once realized makes all movements full of meaning and joy. But if we detach its movements from that ultimate idea, if we do not see the infinite rest and only see the infinite motion, then existence appears to us a monstrous evil, impetuously rushing towards an unending aimlessness.

~ Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore was not a Christian, but the above quoted statement could have been written by St. Augustine, because there is in it the same enthusiasm—in the etymological sense of the word: filled with the spirit of theos, God—and depth characterizing so many passages of St. Augustine’s writings. By the way, at the November 30, 2005 general audience in the Vatican, Pope Benedict, quoting from Augustine’s Expositions on the Psalms, said something very interesting about “those who do not know Christ” and yet, “within them, they have a spark of desire for the unknown, for the greater, for the transcendent: for true redemption.” However, apart from any theological consideration about this complex matter, I thought this was a very special way to wish all of you, dear readers,


Gentile da Fabriano, Pala dell'Adorazione dei Magi (part. Natività)
Uffizi Gallery - Florence

December 23, 2011

The Turin Shroud: Created by Flash of Supernatural Light

This is more an Easter story than a Christmas story, but then again, as the French saying goes, “tout se tient” (“to some degree everything is connected to everything else”), and that’s one more reason why we need to pay attention to it, rather than pretend nothing happened, as the mainstream media seem to be doing. Unfortunately for them, though, there is someone who doesn’t observe the rule of silence:

The image on the Turin Shroud could not be the work of medieval forgers but was instead caused by a supernatural “flash of light”, according to scientists.
Italian scientists have found evidence that casts doubt on claims that the relic - said to be the burial cloth of Jesus - is a fake and they suggest that it could, after all, be authentic.
Skeptics have long argued that the shroud, a rectangular sheet measuring about 14ft by 3ft, is a forgery dating to medieval times.
Researchers from Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development spent years trying to replicate the shroud’s markings.
They have concluded only something akin to ultraviolet lasers - far beyond the capability of medieval forgers - could have created them.
This has led to fresh suggestions that the imprint was indeed created by a huge burst of energy accompanying the Resurrection of Christ.
“The results show a short and intense burst of UV directional radiation can colour a linen cloth so as to reproduce many of the peculiar characteristics of the body image on the Shroud of Turin,” the scientists said.
The image of the bearded man on the shroud must therefore have been created by “some form electromagnetic energy (such as a flash of light at short wavelength)”, their report concludes. But it stops short of offering a non-scientific explanation. Professor Paolo Di Lazzaro, who led the study, said: “When one talks about a flash of light being able to colour a piece of linen in the same way as the shroud, discussion inevitably touches on things such as miracles.
“But as scientists, we were concerned only with verifiable scientific processes. We hope our results can open up a philosophical and theological debate.”

December 21, 2011

Adeste Fideles

Duccio di Buoninsegna, The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel
National Gallery of Art - Washington

“Adeste Fideles” is not only one of the most popular of all Christmas hymns, it is also one of which the origins are less generally known. As a matter of fact, the history of this most beloved hymn was shrouded in mystery for many years—perhaps that’s also the secret of its charm—and before the emergence of English hymnist John Francis Wade (1711-1786) as the probable composer, the music was attributed to many composers, including the English organist John Reading, Sr. (d. 1692) and his son John Reading, Jr. (1677-1764), Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759), Christoph Willibald von Gluck (1714-1787), and Portuguese musician Marcos Antonio da Fonesca (1762-1830).

The original Latin lyrics, in turn, were attributed from time to time to 13th century Italian scholar St. Bonaventura and others, from various countries, including the Cistercian order of monks.

John Francis Wade was a Catholic layman who escaped religious persecution in England and fled to France (after the Jacobite rising of 1745), where made his living by teaching mu¬sic and “by copying and selling plain chant and other music” (B.Ward, History of St. Edmund’s College, Old Hall, London, 1893, quoted here).

One of the many legends surrounding “Adeste Fideles” is also the reason why it has often been called “the Portuguese Hymn:”

This is because a 1795 performance of the hymn by Samuel Webbe was first heard by the Duke of Leeds at the chapel of the Portuguese embassy in London, one of the few strongholds of Catholic culture in the country at that time. The Duke was so impressed that he commissioned a fuller arrangement by Thomas Greatorex. This arrangement was performed at a "Concert of Ancient Music" (a.k.a. the Ancient Concerts) on May 10, 1797. According to Vincent Novello, the hymn was identified as "The Portuguese Hymn" since the Duke erroneously assumed that Portugal was source (Novello also wrote a popular arrangement).3 Soon the carol became very popular throughout England, Europe, and the United States.

Also a different account of the story is that according to which King John IV of Portugal (1603–1656 ), also known as “The Musician King,” wrote this hymn to accompany his daughter Catherine to England, where she married King Charles II. The account says that, wherever Catherine went, she and her embassy were announced and accompanied with this hymn.

The hymn, which has been translated into at least 125 languages, appears to have been written and composed by at least 1743, and possibly as early as 1740. In 1822, three additional Latin verses were added by Abbé Étienne Jean François Borderies to the original four; and in 1850, an unknown contributor added another Latin stanza. The most popular English translation (“O Come All Ye Faithful”) is that by Frederick Oakeley, a Church of England priest who subsequently followed John H. Newman in converting to Roman Catholicism.

Giotto, La Natività (The Birth of Christ) - Assisi Lower Basilica

Yet, apart from the above mentioned historical and philological aspects of the whole subject, let’s not forget the main issue here, I mean, there’s only one thing missing: we should ask ourselves—and try to figure out a good answer!—why “Adeste Fideles” is one of the most beloved Christmas hymns ever. It invites all the faithful to come to Bethlehem to worship the new-born Saviour, and that’s a great thing in itself—the greatest thing in the world!—but there are a lot of hymns and Christmas songs that express the same concept. So why this and not one of the others?

Well, the answer is up to each of us. Perhaps, in my humblest opinion, this one is not as amazing as “Silent Night,” nor as moving, and yet it is somehow unique, it has something old (if not ancestral), something eternal. It is as if we were transported back in time to 2000 years ago, as if we were surrounded by shepherds and we could see the star of Bethlehem. It’s “timeless.” That’s more than enough for me… Adeste Fideles, for ever and ever.

R.I.P. Václav Havel

Candles illuminate a portrait of former Czech President Vaclav Havel
Prague - December 19, 2011 (
The strange coincidence of December 18 will be remembered for a long time: the deaths of both Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s totalitarian “Dear Leader,” and Václav Havel, the Czech dissident playwright who stood firm against Communism and led his people to freedom in 1989 and turned president. In other words and in brief, respectively, the bad and the good. Of course, with all due respect for “our Sister Bodily Death,” as St. Francis of Assisi called it, we mourn the latter, not the former.

Here is a video showing how how Czechs bid goodbye to Havel (the clip ends on a humorous note, with an excerpt from a film directed by Havel himself, in which he emerges from below the surface of a pond, wearing a suit and tie, to say: “Thank you for turning off your cellphones. Truth and love must win over lies and hatred. You can now turn your cellphones back on.” Soon after, with both arms extended in a wave, he descends back into the pond. (Via NYT)

But, as not many may know, Havel was also a thoughtful observer of western democracies. In a series of speeches given in the 1990s, he saw “similar absolutist trends” in government structures that strive toward uniformity and ultimate solutions: an analysis that, if truth be told, seems even more relevant today. Read this piece in The Atlantic to dig deeper into this. Here is an excerpt:

Western governments, he said, are organized on a flawed premise not far removed from the Soviet system that had just collapsed. "The modern era has been dominated by the culminating belief," he said, "that the world ... is a wholly knowable system governed by finite number of universal laws that man can grasp and rationally direct ... objectively describing, explaining, and controlling everything."

These bureaucratic structures are profoundly dehumanizing, Havel believed, striving to control choices that should be left to human judgment and values. This "era of systems, institutions, mechanisms and statistical averages" is doomed to failure because "there is too much to know" and it cannot "be fully grasped." The drive towards standardization is fatally flawed, Havel believed: "life is nonstandard."

December 20, 2011

Theologians of the 20th Century

What the “Credo” proclaims, from the ecumenical councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon on, that the only-begotten Son of God became man without ceasing to be God, is also “what is most contested or obfuscated or forgotten today, inside and outside of the Church.” Which 20th Century theologians have given the most brilliant responses to this crucial problem? They are Oscar Cullmann, Wolfhart Pannenberg, and Ioannis Zizioulas. The first two are Protestant, the third Orthodox. And yet they are among the closest to the vision of Benedict XVI. This is what you will learn by reading a book which has been published this year in Italy (La teologia del Novecento). The author is

[A] Protestant theologian, the Waldensian Fulvio Ferrario, which is striking not only for the rare clarity and richness of its exposition and its narrative efficacy, but also for the prominence given to some great theologians who are, among non-Catholics, precisely those closest to the vision and sensibility of the current pope, himself a theologian.

Go to Sandro Magister’s website to read a brief but comprehensive introduction to the book. The many “false theologians” who are crowding the stage today “to ‘humanize’ Jesus instead of preaching him as true God and true man,” says Magister, have been served.

December 19, 2011

The Versatile Blogger Award

As a Nobel Prize winner recently said, “Prizes are always a nice thing. It doesn’t change the research per se, of course, but it’s lovely to have the recognition.” Well, er, mutatis mutandis, this could apply to me, too… In fact last Thursday, a talented young lady from India—a country I deeply love and which has always inspired me—was kind enough to nominate me for the Versatile Blogger Award. Of course it’s an honor for which I am truly grateful. But mostly I like the idea that this recognition comes from a young blogger from the other side of the world. It just shows how small this world has become…

Yet, as the old saying goes, “there is no rose without a thorn,” that is, in this case, since life is full of rules and regulations—and the Versatile Blogger Award is no exception—there is no prize without rules. And since I wouldn’t disappoint my kind and generous friend for anything in the world, I’ll take upon myself the burden of the rules (even though only in part, as I will explain later), which are the following:

  1. Thank the award-giver and link back to them in your post.
  2. Share 7 things about yourself.
  3. Pass this award along to 15 recently discovered blogs you enjoy reading.
  4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award.

Now, since I already thanked my friend, and since the rule number 4 is my own business, only the rules number 2 and 3 are left:

7 Things about myself

  1. The first thing I think of when I wake up is listening to radio and tv news reports.
  2. My favorite smell is that of bread baking, which, as I once heard, “like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.” A reminder of my childhood, and, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest aromas on earth.
  3. My favorite place to relax is along the seaside, watching sea-gulls and listening to the sound of waves washing up the shore.
  4. The animal I would most like to be is a seagull. I like the way seagulls fly as much as I love some of their typical habitats - such as, for instance, the Cliff of Moher in Ireland and the Côte Sauvage in Brittany. Moreover I love the sea, any time, in any season, in any latitude, as every seagull is supposed to do.
  5. I have always been a strong believer in the Power of Words. They can build up and just as quickly tear down. How we speak says libraries about who we are and what we believe.
  6. My most beloved movie is Howard Hawks’ 1959 Rio Bravo, with John Wayne and Dean Martin
  7. The last thing I do before falling asleep is read at least a page of the Bible.

Passing this along to other bloggers

This is the most difficult part of the task… You know, how to make a choice between dozens of bloggers I am dealing with everyday? How to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, or annoying someone else? Because bloggers sometimes are such touchy and/or lazy people! That’s why I decided to limit the range to just two categories of bloggers: the most frequent commentators and contributors on WRH, and some  recently discovered bloggers I like very much. But they (unfortunately or fortunately, it depends on the point of view) are not 15 but only 6. Here they are:

December 17, 2011

R.I.P. Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens died Thursday night at 62. Journalist, essayist, and one of England’s most celebrated, yet controversial  polemicists, he waged countless battles on behalf of causes left and right. The following excerpt from the full interview with him by Richard Dawkins in the New Statesman, that was trailed a few days ago, is  perhaps the most effective portrait of him—it is not yet online and I’m quoting from Norman Geras’ blog. And yes, along with Norm and many others, I will miss him.

I have one consistency, which is [being] against the totalitarian - on the left and on the right. The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy - the one that's absolute, the one that wants control over the inside of your head, not just your actions and your taxes. And the origins of that are theocratic, obviously. The beginning of that is the idea that there is a supreme leader, or infallible pope, or a chief rabbi, or whatever, who can ventriloquise the divine and tell us what to do.

That has secular forms, with gurus and dictators, of course, but it's essentially the same. There have been some thinkers - Orwell is pre-eminent - who understood that, unfortunately, there is innate in humans a strong tendency to worship, to become abject. So we're not just fighting the dictators. We're criticising our fellow humans for trying to short-cut, to make their lives simpler, by surrendering and saying, "[If] you offer me bliss, of course I'm going to give up some of my mental freedom for that." We say it's a false bargain: you'll get nothing. You're a fool.

December 15, 2011

These Emotional Germans

 Friedrich Overbeck, "Italy and Germany"
Neue Pinakothek - München
I must admit it, Germany has been for years one of my favorite countries. I was a student in philosophy, many moons ago—and everybody know how much Germans have given to the history of philosophy—and I had to learn some German in addition. Later on, I changed my mind, I mean, not that I loved Germany less, but that I loved other countries more, in other words I opted, so to speak, for different priorities. Or, more banally, I felt a little guilt (or shame?) for having been such a huge lover of Richard Wagner—may God (and Giuseppe Verdi) forgive me for having sown my wild oats! After all, as a wise lady once said, “Youth is a disease from which we all recover “(Dorothy Fuldheim). Be it as it may, I still can’t say anything bad about Germany and Germans, and certainly not more than what they could do themselves. And to avoid any misunderstandings, as for today, my favorite composer is by far J.S. Bach, and I have a great veneration for German poet Friedrich Hölderlin, philosopher Martin Heidegger, and novelist Thomas Mann, to mention just a few.

However, all of the above was just to introduce an article in yesterday’s FT (reg. required) and Corriere della Sera by Italian columnist Beppe Severgnini about “how to deal with these emotional Germans” in a time of eurozone crisis. I don’t know whether he is right or wrong—to be honest, I rarely agree with him, but in this case I must admit his arguments make sense. To corroborate his thesis, Severgnini quotes what former Italian ambassador Sergio Romano wrote in a recent leader in Corriere della Sera: “Nothing protects the German people from its recurrent, romantic angst more than the feeling to accomplish a meticulously conceived and prepared project.” But when things do not go as planned, “Germany becomes restless and nervous, almost neurotic.” Sounds appropriate, doesn’t it? At any rate, as French philosopher Paul Ricoeur might have said, “All That Gives Us to Think.”

December 14, 2011

Frances Chesterton: A Photo Album Collection

Frances Chesterton (1869-1938) was married for 35 years to G.K. Chesterton. Here is a Picture Album tribute to her (by the American Chesterton Society):

The soundtrack of this video is “How Far Is It to Bethlehem,” a Christmas song whose lyrics were written by Frances Chesterton herself (the music is based on a 16th-18th century tune called “Stowey”).

H/T: Società Chestertoniana Italiana

December 13, 2011

If the “God Particle” Actually Exists

(Image: Maximilien Brice/CERN)

Just a quick note for those of my readers who, like me, are weak in science (physics in this case), but willing to learn and to be taught.

European physicists at the CERN announced a few hours ago that they have found evidence that the Higgs boson, aka the “God particle,” actually exists. They have stopped short of claiming discovery, but in a press conference they said they may have finally glimpsed the elusive elemental particle critical to our understanding of how the universe works.

Here is a video by The Telegraph in which CERN Director General Rolf-Dieter Heuer and CERN physicists Fabiola Gianotti and Guido Tornelli explain what they have found:

But what does the expression Higgs boson—named after Physicist Peter Higgs—exactly mean? And what does this announcement mean for technology? To the first question the answer is:

According to Scientific American’s Kelly Oakes, the Higgs boson is the smallest part of the Higgs field, which physicists believe gives all matter the property of mass. Translated and oversimplified, that means that nothing would have weight without the Higgs field. For academics, finding the particle would complete a puzzle about the universe that’s been bugging them for decades.

To the second question the answer is:

Honestly, very little, said University of Maryland physics department chairman Drew Baden. It is “merely a look-see as to where the experiments are in looking for new particles, not seen since the first trillionth of a second after the big bang,” he said.
But Baden said that the technology that CERN developed for its research has spun off other valuable advances.
“Much of the progress in accelerators comes out of this kind of basic research,” he said in an e-mail, pointing to technology used in food radiation and cancer therapy. People are now working on laser-powered accelerators, he said, and future applications of that work could create sci-fi-like particle beams.

However, and to be fair, with reference to the expression “God particle,” there are also those who ask, “What has God got to do with it?

Don’t shoot Santa!

It's that time of year, seasonal illnesses abound...

This is the time of year when most of us celebrate God, Love, Family, Sharing and Giving. It’s also the time of year when Atheists and Bigots celebrate Intolerance and Hate. To do that, there have to be a lot of lies. The one that is gaining momentum is Santa Claus…

Read the rest at The Metaphysical Peregrine.

December 12, 2011

Learning About the U.S. Constitution

In order to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, says James D. Best—conference speaker and long-time researcher and scholar on the Federalist Papers, James Madison’s notes on the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and other original source materials—we need to understand it. Luckily, there are some great learning tools available to every American (and non-American). Well, here they are. “Hopefully, these sources will help those who want to learn more about the framing, ratification, and meaning of the Constitution.”

James D. Best is also the author of Tempest at Dawn, a dramatization of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and of several other books, including The Shopkeeper, Leadville, Murder at Thumb Butte, The Shut Mouth Society, and The Digital Organization.

December 9, 2011

St. Augustine: In Adam's Sin an Evil Will Preceded the Evil Act

Our first parents fell into open disobedience because already they were secretly corrupted; for the evil act had never been done had not an evil will preceded it. And what is the origin of our evil will but pride? For pride is the beginning of sin. [Sirach 10:13] And what is pride but the craving for undue exaltation? And this is undue exaltation, when the soul abandons Him to whom it ought to cleave as its end, and becomes a kind of end to itself. This happens when it becomes its own satisfaction. And it does so when it falls away from that unchangeable good which ought to satisfy it more than itself. This falling away is spontaneous; for if the will had remained steadfast in the love of that higher and changeless good by which it was illumined to intelligence and kindled into love, it would not have turned away to find satisfaction in itself, and so become frigid and benighted; the woman would not have believed the serpent spoke the truth, nor would the man have preferred the request of his wife to the command of God, nor have supposed that it was a venial trangression to cleave to the partner of his life even in a partnership of sin. The wicked deed, then—that is to say, the trangression of eating the forbidden fruit—was committed by persons who were already wicked. That evil fruit [Matthew 7:18] could be brought forth only by a corrupt tree. But that the tree was evil was not the result of nature; for certainly it could become so only by the vice of the will, and vice is contrary to nature. Now, nature could not have been depraved by vice had it not been made out of nothing. Consequently, that it is a nature, this is because it is made by God; but that it falls away from Him, this is because it is made out of nothing. But man did not so fall away as to become absolutely nothing; but being turned towards himself, his being became more contracted than it was when he clave to Him who supremely is. Accordingly, to exist in himself, that is, to be his own satisfaction after abandoning God, is not quite to become a nonentity, but to approximate to that. And therefore the holy Scriptures designate the proud by another name, self-pleasers. For it is good to have the heart lifted up, yet not to one's self, for this is proud, but to the Lord, for this is obedient, and can be the act only of the humble. There is, therefore, something in humility which, strangely enough, exalts the heart, and something in pride which debases it. This seems, indeed, to be contradictory, that loftiness should debase and lowliness exalt. But pious humility enables us to submit to what is above us; and nothing is more exalted above us than God; and therefore humility, by making us subject to God, exalts us. But pride, being a defect of nature, by the very act of refusing subjection and revolting from Him who is supreme, falls to a low condition; and then comes to pass what is written: You cast them down when they lifted up themselves. For he does not say, when they had been lifted up, as if first they were exalted, and then afterwards cast down; but when they lifted up themselves even then they were cast down—that is to say, the very lifting up was already a fall. And therefore it is that humility is specially recommended to the city of God as it sojourns in this world, and is specially exhibited in the city of God, and in the person of Christ its King; while the contrary vice of pride, according to the testimony of the sacred writings, specially rules his adversary the devil. And certainly this is the great difference which distinguishes the two cities of which we speak, the one being the society of the godly men, the other of the ungodly, each associated with the angels that adhere to their party, and the one guided and fashioned by love of self, the other by love of God.
The devil, then, would not have ensnared man in the open and manifest sin of doing what God had forbidden, had man not already begun to live for himself. It was this that made him listen with pleasure to the words, You shall be as gods,
[Genesis 3:5] which they would much more readily have accomplished by obediently adhering to their supreme and true end than by proudly living to themselves. For created gods are gods not by virtue of what is in themselves, but by a participation of the true God. By craving to be more, man becomes less; and by aspiring to be self-sufficing, he fell away from Him who truly suffices him. Accordingly, this wicked desire which prompts man to please himself as if he were himself light, and which thus turns him away from that light by which, had he followed it, he would himself have become light—this wicked desire, I say, already secretly existed in him, and the open sin was but its consequence. For that is true which is written, Pride goes before destruction, and before honor is humility; [Proverbs 18:12] that is to say, secret ruin precedes open ruin, while the former is not counted ruin. For who counts exaltation ruin, though no sooner is the Highest forsaken than a fall is begun? But who does not recognize it as ruin, when there occurs an evident and indubitable transgression of the commandment? And consequently, God's prohibition had reference to such an act as, when committed, could not be defended on any pretense of doing what was righteous. And I make bold to say that it is useful for the proud to fall into an open and indisputable transgression, and so displease themselves, as already, by pleasing themselves, they had fallen. For Peter was in a healthier condition when he wept and was dissatisfied with himself, than when he boldly presumed and satisfied himself. And this is averred by the sacred Psalmist when he says, Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek Your name, O Lord; that is, that they who have pleased themselves in seeking their own glory may be pleased and satisfied with You in seeking Your glory.

~ Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Book XIV, Chapter 13

December 6, 2011

Monti’s “Save Italy” Decree: Stay Tuned, It’s Just the Beginning

Mario Monti has called it the “Save Italy” decree, and the markets liked it (the spread over safe-haven German debt securities fell below 400 basis points for the first time in more than a month). It’s a €30 billion package—€12-13 billion in cuts to public-sector spending, and €17-18 billion in new taxes—which includes a two-percentage-point hike in the value-added tax rate (IVA) to 23%, the reinstatement of a property tax repealed in 2008, a 1.5% tax on income repatriated under the so-called “tax shield” amnesty program, tax incentives for businesses that hire women and young people, and an increase in the retirement age (to 62 for women and 66 for men, from 60 and 65, respectively). But the nastiest surprise—la carognata (roughly translated in English as “a really lousy thing to do”), as Italian economic journalist and commentator Oscar Giannino called it—was that only the minimum pensions (up to about €950 a month) will be protected from inflation in 2012 and 2013. That’s also why, by the way, at a press conference the welfare minister, Elsa Fornero, was overcome by emotion as she announced the decision.

Elsa Fornero's crying
And, well, I actually think her weeping was genuine, et pour cause if we think of the effect that could have on some of the most vulnerable members of Italian society—and to think that, as some commentators observed, it could have been enough to raise the tax on income repatriated from 1.5% to 2% to obtain the same effect! Yet, the markets agreed with Super Mario, and that’s no small thing.

Furthermore, to see the glass half full, besides the overdue increase in the retirement age, the “Save Italy” decree did not include a one-off wealth tax, nor did it raise the top rate of income tax (IRPEF).

Overall, however, there are two main criticisms to Monti’s decree: the first is about the package’s heavy reliance on tax increases (“Mr. Monti’s measures are long on tax hikes and short on serious reform,” and they “merely reflect a familiar Brussels mindset that values short-term tax revenue over long-term prosperity,” as the WSJ puts it); the second is that, despite the Prime minister’s promises of fairness, too much is being loaded on to the poor.

Admittedly, both criticisms are well-founded, but, at the same time, they are possibly too severe and too hurried. In fact, as to the first criticism, Mario Monti replied in a press conference with the foreign media that he understood concerns that the austerity package may worsen the recession. But then again, he added, “We need to think about what Italy would be without this package. […] Our package is very different from others this year. […] Without this package we believe Italy will collapse, Italy will become like Greece, a country for which we have a lot of sympathy but which we do not want to become.” Well, I think he is quite right: this is just an emergency decree, the first step in a long process, as he himself has repeatedly stressed, and, perhaps, the best of “Monti’s method” is yet to come.

However, one thing is certain: According to Reuters, Mario Monti’s new approach and “special relationship” with the foreign press is the biggest news:

If any reminder was needed that the fate of Italy lies outside the country, it was Prime Minister Mario Monti's decision to hold a highly unusual separate news conference for foreign reporters on Monday to explain his economic programme.
Monti, the respected head of a technocrat "Save Italy" government, impressed investors with a 30-billion euro package of painful and rigorous austerity measures unveiled on Sunday.
Italian bond yields, which had flirted last week with eye-popping rates above 7 percent, dropped back almost a full percentage point on Monday.
But it was difficult to separate the impact of Monti's measures from a broader mood of optimism that euro zone leaders may finally have summoned enough resolve to provide a concerted plan to restore investor confidence in the euro at a summit at the end of this week.
All along, much of Italy's fate has remained outside the control of Monti despite the sighs of relief that met his appointment last month after mounting exasperation over the antics of his billionaire predecessor Silvio Berlusconi.
So Monti's decision to hold a long and detailed news conference on Monday for the foreign press before he presents his measures to parliament was astute.
He knows they play a vital role in the crucial foreign perception of whether Italy can fight the two-headed dragon of huge debt and a decade of almost stationary growth.
In a clear drive to win over the foreign reporters, Monti said he had brought forward his cabinet meeting by a day specifically so he could talk to the foreign media on Monday before going before parliament.
He also emphasised that he was speaking to them before his scheduled appearance on Tuesday night on one of Italy's most watched television programmes to explain his austerity package to the nation.
In Monday's news conference, Monti said his government intended to set up special structures for dealing with foreign journalists, who have been deeply frustrated for decades by the reluctance of Italian officials to give out information.
Official spokesmen are reluctant to be quoted in anything but the vaguest terms, even when the inquiry is mundane.
Whatever the new prime minister's motives, his change of style compared with the scandal-plagued and flamboyant Berlusconi was clearly appreciated.
Some members of the foreign press, many of whom felt ignored by Berlusconi and reciprocated with scathing coverage, were so happy to have a prime minister visit their association in Rome that they broke into respectful applause when Monti entered and left the room.

December 2, 2011

A Unique Case in the History of the World

While reading Mitt Romney’s No Apology: The Case for American Greatness a few days ago—a very interesting read by the way—I came upon this passage:

During my tenure as governor of Massachusetts, I had the opportunity to join a small group of people in meeting Shimon Peres, Israel’s former prime minister and current president. In casual conversation, someone asked him what he thought about the ongoing conflict in Iraq. Given his American audience, I expected him to respond diplomatically but with a degree of criticism. But what he said caught me very much by surprise.

“First I must put something in context,” he began. “America is unique in the history of the world. In the history of the world, whenever there has been war, the nation that is victorious has taken land from the nation that has been defeated – land has always been the basis of wealth on our planet. Only one nation in history, and this during the last century, was willing to lay down hundreds of thousands of lives and take no land in its victory – no land from Germany, no land from Japan. America. America is unique in the history of the world for its willingness to sacrifice so many of its precious sons and daughters for liberty, not solely for itself but also for its friends.”

Everyone in the room was silent for a moment, and no one pressed him further on his opinion about Iraq. I was deeply moved. And I was reminded of former secretary of state Colin Powell’s observation that the only land America took after World War II was what was needed to bury our dead.

Okay folks, a quote within a quote is, if not a unicum, at least a rarity in the blogosphere, but if this isn’t worth a blog post, I don’t know what is!

December 1, 2011

Saudi Women: No More Naked 'Tempting' Eyes?

Okay, let’s suppose they pull it off and that the Orwellian entitled “Saudi Arabia’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice” succeed in getting their claim approved, namely that they have the right to stop women revealing attractive and particularly “tempting” eyes in public, well, do you think their problems will magically fade away? If you think so you are wrong. Read this—especially the last paragraph!—to find out why:

Are we to assume that there will be guidelines set on which eyes are deemed the most alluring? And will the thousands employed by the committee to ensure Islamic laws are upheld get the job of deciding which eyes are sexy and which aren’t?
It could lead to all sorts of trouble, this. Those poor men landed with the job of gazing into all those sexy, lash-framed pools; how will they stop themselves from being overcome with lust?
And what about the poor women whose eyes aren’t deemed sexy? They could be well offended.
Can’t they see that the only reason eyes become extra seductive is because everything else is covered up?
If Saudi men cannot resist a pretty pair of eyes, why don’t they get the veils?

H/T: Il Mango