Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Post Number Fifty-Two: Christmas?

Of the Season

It is generally assumed that everyone must be good on Christmas. Why on Christmas and not on the other days of the year I wonder... But what does Christmas mean nowadays?
This holiday is celebrated worldwide by many different cultures, most of which have nothing to share (luckily for them) with the Catholic religion. So technically speaking what Christmas really *is*, is a consumist frenzy centered on doubling the profits of producers and sellers. That's why it's celebrated by virtually everyone.
What is Christmas for me?
Christmas is what remains of the ancient Roman celebrations of the Saturnalia, a week-long holiday dedicated to Saturnus, God of the Sky. The Christians, looking for a day to celebrate the birth of their Jesus (and ignoring when he was born), borrowed the Saturnalia from the Romans and reverted it into Christmas. It was already customary before the coming of Christianity, to exchange gifts during the week of Saturnalia. I am willing to celebrate Christmas for this reason: because it is an ancient Roman celebration. It bridges the gap between the uncivilized world of today's Italy, and its greatest moment of history (Rome). So, as far as I am concerned, I am still celebrating the Saturnalia, and to hell with Christmas.

My two cents on the topic. Happy holidays, dear readers.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Post Number Fifty: Chapter 1, part 2

No need for much of an introduction: those who are reading this presumably read my two previous posts so they should know what this is all about.

Enjoy the second part of Chapter 1.


Elena knew that arguing with Manuela would be pointless, as she had no fault for the requests of Mr. Valeri, but thinking that the disgusting individual wanted to see her right away, for an "emergency", when they were right in the middle of the hottest hours of a suffocating summer Sunday, well, Elena really wished she hadn't picked up the phone.
She turned the handle of the door of the room, feeling even hotter for the annoyance, and she was almost leaving when she realised she was only wearing her underwear, and however modest that was, it certainly wasn't the most suitable clothes to exit the room with. Snorting again for the effort it would cost her to wear something, go out under that sun and drag herself to her job place, Elena picked up her jeans and a short top from the chair, and she wore them, after uselessly trying to wipe her sweat with a towel. With a last sigh, she opened the door and reached the corridor. The rented rooms of the other students were shut, probably because, Elena thought, they could afford the luxury to be left alone. She tried not to make any noise while she reached for the living room, where she found Mrs. Corte. The woman, closer to her sixties than she was to her fifties, sat on her old favourite couch, directly in front of the TV, which transmitted some banalities. It had to be something really boring, for Mrs Corte had fallen asleep, obviously helped both by the heat and by the quality of the entertainment. Elena sighed, thinking of how much she wished to be at that woman's place right then. Anyway, she recollected her energies and left the house.
Immediately she was greeted by a puff of intense heat, coming not as much from the sun as it came from the burning pavement under her feet. The impact with the external air was so traumatic that for a moment Elena felt she couldn't breathe and was caught by a sudden vertigo. She pondered over which physical torture she wanted to inflict on Mr Valeri for forcing her out with such heat. Unable to find any she liked, and being too hot to be willing to think, Elena decided to make it brief and reach the music shop taking the most shadowed path possible. Luckily, a small park – little more than a garden – decorated the square she was supposed to cross to reach her destination, and the leaves of the trees would provide the necessary protection from the merciless sunbeams. There wasn't anyone around. In fact, many citizens were on holidays, perhaps at the seaside, and those few that for the most various reasons were forced to stay in the city, certainly didn't choose to go out at three p.m..
"I am the only jerk around at this time…", Elena thought, while she reached the shadow of the trees in the small park. The sun stunned her and she felt she should hide from its blazing rays as soon as possible. Not a gust of wind moved the leaves. The plane trees and the elms stood motionless in the humid air. At each step on the burned and straw-yellow grass, Elena lifted small clouds of dust and dry earth which found their way through her open shoes, annoying her even more. After a few steps, however under the shadow of a tall plane tree, Elena realized she was feeling sick. She stopped, taking one hand to her chest. She couldn't breathe. She touched her face. Suddenly it wasn't sweating anymore. The girl felt her legs giving in and she let herself fall, hitting her knees, luckily not too hard, on the earth of the park, lifting a puff of dust. She brought her hands to her head which felt like on the verge of exploding. All around, she saw the plane trees float, the buildings facing the square moving towards her and away… for a few instants she felt the whole street was the deck of a ship in the middle of a stormy ocean. She tried to shake herself but the heat took her breath away. With an effort she tried to stand up, in vain. All the world tumbled around her, the sun kept hammering on her head. She saw the sky, greyish for smog and humidity, and the fronds of the trees ran through it like the hands of a crazy clock.Elena fall on her side losing her senses. The thud lifted a last cloud of dust which rested slowly around her.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Post Number Forty-Nine: More Fiction

Most unexpectedly, one reader of my awkward Prologue posted his/her appreciation to my post. I believe that what we do, whatever it is, is meant for others to enjoy. It would be a very poor and limited conception of art, that of one who believes that the creation of an artist is intended for the artist alone. I am not an artist, but if I do something I try to give it to others. There is no point in learning if you don't teach, no point in knowing if you don't share knowledge. What progress would mankind do if the early tamer of fire kept his secrets for himself?

My unfinished novel dissatisfies me, and I plan to start a new one very soon, but if even one person appreciates what I wrote, I feel compelled to post a bit of the rest and see what reaction I get.

This is the first part of chapter 1. I hope you will enjoy it.



It was a hot, humid and exhausting day, or such it was for those that, like Elena, barely put up with summer's heat. In fact, at least in this case, Elena's unease was shared with a great majority of the people of the city, for whom even a drop of rain could be a blessing. Sunbeams instead flooded the room as they had done every day for two weeks, mercilessly, overheating its air, baking the floor and causing a real torment for someone seeking rest among those walls.
Crippled by the heat and stunned by the light, Elena lay on the bed, hot, watching the ceiling. Sleeping, simply wasn't an option, despite her being dozy, because of that vague sluggishness that often catches us after lunch under the summer's incalescence. She would have stayed there, the whole day round, lying on the mattress, covered by a sheet drenched by her incontrollable perspiration, weren't it been for the importune as much as unnerving ring of the phone. Elena considered for a few instants the quite inviting hypothesis of ignoring it. She was too exhausted, too hot, to drag her body off the mattress and force it to make the gargantuan effort to cross the room and reach the desk, where the phone lay. She felt a slight pleasure imagining that whoever was at the other end of the line was punished for the annoyance he caused to her in such an efficient way, one that at the same time cost so little effort on her side. She simply had to stay where she was, watching the ceiling… sooner or later it would have stopped ringing… a ring… another… another one…
"Damn", mumbled Elena, barely audible. She realized she couldn't cope with this. She was too hot even to stand that unbearable ring that rumbled in her head with such insistence. Elena recollected her energies and managed to sit down, although even that simple movement made her blush, and she briefly moved her wet hand across her forehead, verifying that it too was equally drenched. With a snort, the girl rose from the bed and unwillingly dragged herself to the origin of that unbearable ring.
"Coming!" she grunted, as if the phone could hear her. She lifted the receiver and brought it to her ear.
"Ah, thankfully you are there!", answered a feminine voice that Elena recognized immediately.
"Manuela… is it you?", she said, and her voice sounded much more tired and sleepy than that of her interlocutor.
"What's up, are you sick?", she said, worried, perceiving her lack of energies.
"No, it's just this heat… It’s killing me! Come on, tell me what's up, so I can fall back on the bed and forget what you said."
"I am sorry Elena…", she began, and Elena realized by her tone that by the end of the sentence she was going to share the regret, "… fact is that Mr. Valeri needs you today."
Manuela was Elena's best friend, even if in this moment Elena's only thought was that she had forced her off the bed to give her bad news. Mr Valeri, instead, was the oily and stingy owner of a small music store where both Manuela and Elena used to work, at the sole purpose of rounding up the wages they received weekly from their parents and give themselves at least the impression they were slightly more independent than they were as children. It wasn't unusual that youngsters, students, were forced by need more than by choice to ask for their parents' help to survive. On the other hand, however, not everyone liked it, and some had the luck to be able to choose. Elena, who was an adopted child and felt a sense of gratitude towards her parents for letting her in their family, had opted for a job at a music store which was not far from her house, although it would have been more appropriately called a room, since that was what she had chosen to rent; this, to help their parents save money, and because, somehow, it gave her fewer responsibilities. At least, the landlady was a good woman, although sometimes a bit strange, and she lived in a flat that she had shared with a husband and five sons, but which became too large when her children formed their own families and her husband left her for another woman. For this reason, Mistress Corte rented the empty rooms that once had seen her children grow up, to students of the nearby University. She preferred to host girls, because, as she often jokingly put it, "in a house where six men lived there is a desperate need for women to clean up". Mistress Corte asked only for her rented rooms to be kept clean and reasonably neat. In exchange for that, she cooked for all her guests (which, invariably, ended up including some guys) and chatted lively with them all, to the point that some had started calling her "second mum".So pleasant was Mistress Corte, so unpleasant was Mr. Valeri. A person devoted to a single good: his own. He had eyes for his shop only, he had heart for his money alone. Employing personnel regularly to serve customers would cost him obviously more than he meant to spend. But he had the luck to be a few hundred yards away from the University, a place he had no respect for, but that provided him with a significant amount of low-cost employees. Students had little requests, they were satisfied with ludicrous salaries and they could be mistreated at will without fear they would inform trade unions or worse. For one who chose to quit the job, there could be another right away who despaired to gain some money, and anyway, considering the expenses for a youngster who lives far from home, there certainly weren't many that chose not to catch the occasion. Among those, certainly Elena wasn't one, since she had studied at the University for ten months and since five she had worked for Mr Valeri's shop. She studied Anglo-American Literature and this gave her a chance to work and study at the same time, taking her books to her job place and reading them in her spare time between two customers, which happened frequently. She found classical English Literature very attractive, but her passion was for those fantastic novels which told of kings and princesses, knights and fire-breathing dragons, which she had started loving as a child and which she kept on being fond of now that she had grown up. As she often repeated to her schoolmates, "there is something charming with fantasy, something that transcends reality and seems to call for us, and I can't resist that call". Elena thought that a lightning was more poetic than a light bulb and the passions of princesses and knights more exciting than those of her neighbors.


(to be continued)

Friday, October 14, 2005

Post Number Forty-Eight: Fiction

Dear friends and readers, I can't believe it's been a month already since I've last updated my blog. I didn't realize how fast time passes by. I have been busy and distracted, and so it happened that nothing was added to this long list of thoughts of mine.
I suppose that I should apologize for the lack of updates. After all, a number of readers were interested in my musings...

Today, for everyone's delight (so to say), I am willing to post the Prologue of a novel I started writing and that most likely I won't continue. Though the original text is in Italian, I made an awkward translation in English for the charming eyes of my Russian mate; yet I wonder if someone else here is interested in reading the beginning of a fantasy novel, so here you are. I hope you will enjoy it. And if you don't, I can understand you. Personally I didn' t like the outcome myself.

I would like to add, this is for all my readers, but for one in particular, a Singaporean Chinese girl called Iris. I don't know her, but I have read a few entries of her blog. She likes fantasy for sure, and she seems often depressed. I usually feel compelled to help people out of depression because I was depressed myself and know how it feels. There is very little I can do for someone I don't know and who lives on the other side of the planet, but if she likes fantasy, then I presume she might enjoy reading the Prologue I am about to post. If a trace of pleasure is stirred up in her mind as well as in any other reader's of mine, then I'll take it my goal is fulfilled.

To everyone, and to Iris the Chinese Singaporean, have fun.



The young guy would hardly find the courage to break into the large hall hadn't it been for the incredible urgency of the message he carried with him. His short, curly dark hair stuck to his sweaty forehead, more due to anxiety than for the run to climb the many stairs; the youngster halted when he entered the hall and looked around, anxiously.
The man he looked for, an elder with a flowing white beard, was sitting at the reading table, deep into one of the many books of his richest library. He was giving him his back, and showed no sign of having noticed the young man’s arrival. Drawing from the little courage he possessed, the youngster spoke: "Sir, I beg you to forgive my intrusion, I wouldn't disturb you but I believe this news deserves your… immediate attention, Sir". He conceded himself a pause before concluding the sentence: he knew all too well what the old man thought of haste and "immediacy". Evidently, his opinion hadn't changed, since the elder didn't reply, nor he lifted his head from his reading, to the point that the young guy wondered whether he had spoken too softly.
"Sir…!", he repeated, louder.
Without lifting his eyes, the elder answered with a persuasive voice, one that years appeared not to have affected if not barely. It didn't sound authoritarian, nonetheless it commanded respect in those who heard it.
"I am old, my child, but I am not deaf. Not yet, at least."
Blushing, the youngster was stunned. The elder raised his back but didn't turn around. Again, he spoke.
"Well? What have you come to tell me?"
"Sir, I believe it is better if you read this message yourself. It was delivered a moment ago."
"Then give it to me, child!", said the elder, yet not with disappointment, rather, almost amused by the youngster's embarrassment. He seemed to turn around to watch him on purpose, as if he meant to enjoy the scene of another confused guy in his presence.
"Sure! Here you are!", the youngster quickly answered, and handed him a rolled up scroll, tied by a narrow red stripe.
The elder took the parchment and untied the knot that held it in position, giving the impression of having read many messages without ever being struck by any in particular.
He started reading, mumbling some words, when he suddenly opened his sky-blue eyes wide. The wrinkles on his forehead corrugated in the expression of surprise that pervaded his face.
Expecting this reaction, the youngster wasn't taken aback by it. He had been told the contents of the message some minutes before and had reacted similarly.
"Is it authentic?", asked the elder, apparently he himself confused by the incredible news he had learnt.
"Yes, Sir. The signature is…"
"… Is the one we expected…. Yes… but this means that…"
"… We found her, Sir."
"But this letter says she is…"
"On the other side. I know Sir, I read it too."
"We must induce her to come here."
"What is it, child?", asked the elder, raising his eyes towards his interlocutor.
"The Enemy too knows we found her."
The elder stood up suddenly. One who hadn't known him for long would be surprised to see him so full of energies at his obviously not young age.
"How can it be?"
"One of our envoys was a spy, Sir. Our men stopped him but it was too late, he had forwarded his message already."
"Then we are in danger! So many years to reach this point and suddenly we lack time! We must act quickly. If she fell in the hands of the Enemy, it would be the end."
The elder turned around and opened a drawer. He took out a parchment, on which he quickly wrote a message using a goose feather he found on the table. He didn't even sit down to write. He rolled the parchment and turned towards the youngster.
"Here you are, take this. Those are instructions that you must forward to our envoys. Tell the guys downstairs to hurry, we don't have time. We must be quick."
The guy found it incredible, that even considering the circumstances the elder was using the word "hurry". He didn't remember him uttering that word aloud if not together with criticism about the foolishness of youngsters.
"Sir? Please forgive me… what are the plans? How…?". The elder didn't give him the time to complete his sentence: "There only is one way and it doesn't depend upon us, as you perfectly know. You are too young to remember it, but there has been another case when it was necessary to take something to the other side… although in that occasion that was the destination, not the starting point. Anyway, if the guys downstairs will follow my instructions literally, we do have good chances to succeed… otherwise… well, otherwise there won't be any place into which taking someone. "The youngster was caught by a thrill at the perspective he was being suggested, no matter how unlikely. He couldn't but trust the bearded man. Anyway, knowing him, and knowing how wise he was, he had no problems trusting his word.
"I'll be quick, Sir!", he declared, glad for an instant to be able to utter that word without being criticized.
"Good… and may Fate assist us. I only hope it's not too late already."
The youngster rushed to the stairs, while the elder scratched for a moment his bearded chin, thinking. He looked at the large book with leather covers, lying on the table. He didn't have the necessary concentration to keep reading it anymore. He closed it and mumbled: "This is our only hope… It is time to do my part". Therefore, he exited the large hall passing through a richly decorated side door made of white wood, leaving the book he was reading closed, on the table.Most likely for a long time.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Post Number Forty-Seven: Infamy Fell On Italy

Of Silvio Berlusconi.

Silvio Berlusconi, whom I consider my nemesis, the exact opposite of the kind of person I would esteem, and the ultimate evil to be eradicated if we want Italy to progress into the world of civilized countries, is the Prime Minister of Italy. I will hereby paste an excerpt from Wikipedia's entry about this person Berlusconi.

Silvio Berlusconi:


Berlusconi is a controversial figure at times. In one widely reported incident, upon being asked how he would have dealt with his conflict of interests by the German member of the European parliament Martin Schulz (SPD) during Italy's presidency, Berlusconi reacted with the words "Mr. Schulz, I know there is a producer in Italy who is making a film on the Nazi concentration camps. I will suggest you for the role of kapo. You'd be perfect." The reference to the Nazis caused an uproar in the 626-seat assembly and a short diplomatic crisis between Italy and Germany.
On another occasion, he stated that "Mussolini's regime hadn't killed a single person" and that Mussolini "just used to send opposers on holiday" thus apparently denying or dismissing a long series of fascist crimes, from the murder of Giacomo Matteotti to the infamous fascist concentration camps (Rab, Gonars, etc.). Berlusconi later claimed that he did not mean to white-wash Mussolini, that he only reacted to a comparison, which he felt unfair, between the fascist dictator and Saddam Hussein.
One of Berlusconi's strongest critics in the media outside Italy is the British weekly The Economist (nicknamed by Berlusconi "The Ecommunist"). The war of words between Berlusconi and the Economist has been infamous and widely reported, with Berlusconi taking the publication to court in Rome and the Economist publishing open letters against him http://www.hebig.org/blogs/archives/main/001105.php.
In any event, according to The Economist, Berlusconi, in his position as prime minister of Italy, now has effective control of 90% of all national television broadcasting. http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=593654 This figure includes stations he owns directly as well as those he has indirect control of through his position as Prime Minister and his ability to influence the choice of the management bodies of these stations.
Berlusconi's extensive control of the media has been linked to claims that Italy's media shows limited freedom of expression. The Freedom of the Press 2004 Global Survey, an annual study issued by the American organization Freedom House, downgraded Italy's ranking from 'Free' to 'Partly Free' http://www.freedomhouse.org/media/pressrel/042804.htm on the basis of Berlusconi's influence over RAI, a ranking which, in "Western Europe" was shared only with Turkey (2005). Reporters Without Borders states that in 2004, "The conflict of interests involving prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and his vast media empire was still not resolved and continued to threaten news diversity".http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=10148 In April 2004, the International Federation of Journalists joined the criticism, objecting to the passage of a law vetoed by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in 2003, which critics believe is designed to protect Berlusconi's alleged 90% control of national media. http://www.ifj-europe.org/default.asp?index=2451&Language=EN
Berlusconi's influence over RAI [The National Broadcasting Company of Italy] became evident when in Sofia he expressed his views on the journalists Enzo Biagi, Michele Santoro http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=3284, and comedian Daniele Luttazzi after his satiric behaviour and his interview with journalist Marco Travaglio. The four never appeared in any TV shows since then. Left-winged politicians and media refers to this episode as the Sofia Diktat. The TV broadcasting of a satirical program called RAIOT was censored in November 2003 after the comedian Sabina Guzzanti made outspoken criticism of Berlusconi media empirehttp://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=8587. Mediaset, one of Berlusconi's companies, sued the italian state broadcasting company RAI because of Guzzanti show asking 20 million Euro for "damages" and from novembre 2003 she was forced to appear only in theatres around Italy.
In response to such claims, Mediaset, Berlusconi's television group, has stated that it uses the same criteria as the public (state-owned) television RAI in assigning a proper visibility to all the most important political parties and movements (the so-called 'Par Condicio'). It is also true that while the distribution of newspapers in Italy is lower than most other European countries (100 copies per 1000 individuals compared to 500 per 1000 in Scandinavian countries, for example http://www.nikkei-ad.com/media_data/ad/jpmarket/paperinjp.html), the majority of national press, which includes the three italian largest printed dailies, La Repubblica, Il Corriere della Sera and La Stampa, tends to report independently of the Berlusconi government or (in the case of La Repubblica, among the three major newspapers cited above) to be very openly critic of it. Yet the resignations of the director of Corriere della Sera, Ferruccio de Bortoli, were seen as a grasp for more media control from the government. In fact the FNSI, the Trade Union for Italian Journalists, organized a three days long strike to show support to the former director of the newspaper.
The conflict of interest issues can be better understood in the context of the structure of control of the state media. The board of directors of RAI is appointed by both presidents of law-makers' chambers (Senate and Deputies). Although the presidents are chosen by the majority group, they are traditionally chosen in order to be acceptable by the opposition too. As of 2005 these positions are occupied by Marcello Pera and Pierferdinando Casini respectively. The Italian parliament established an oversight commission for radio and TV broadcasting services in 1975, including members of all parties. The chairman of this commission is traditionally a representative of the opposition (at the present time a member of DS-Ulivo party) http://www.parlamento.it/leg/14/Bgt/Schede/Commissioni/4-00060.htm)

Legal investigations of Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi undoubtedly has a rather long record of judicial trials, as several crimes have been alleged to him or his firms (see also the following subsection on Berlusconi's trials), including false accounting, tax fraud, corruption and bribery of police officers and judges. Some of Berlusconi's close collaborators, friends and firm managers have been found guilty of related crimes, notably his younger brother, Paolo, who in 2002 accepted to pay 52 million euros as a plea bargain to local authorities for various charges including corruption and undue appropriation17. However, no definitive conviction sentence has ever been issued on Silvio Berlusconi himself for any of the trials which have concluded so far; in some cases he has been fully acquitted of the alleged charges, in others he has been acquitted with dubitative formula (not proven), or he was acquitted because the statute of limitations expired before a definitive sentence could be issued; in one case a previously granted amnesty extinguished the crime (perjury) before the sentence came into effect. The Italian legal system allows the statute of limitations to continue to run during the course of the trial. Consequently, the dilatory tactics adopted by Berlusconi's attorneys (including repeated motions for change of venue) served to nullify the pending charges. Some of the suspects on Berlusconi's person arise from real or perceived blank spots in his past. Notably, in 1981 a scandal arose on the discovery by the police of Licio Gelli's secret freemasonry lodge (Propaganda Due, or P2) aiming to move the Italian political system in an authoritarian direction to oppose communism. A list of names was found of adherents of P2, which included members of the secret services and some prominent personalities from the political, industrial, military and press elite, among which Silvio Berlusconi, who was just starting to gain popularity as the founder and owner of "Canale 5" TV network. The P2 lodge was dissolved by the Italian parliament in december 1981 and a law was passed declaring similar organizations illegal, but no specific crimes were alleged to individual members of P2. Berlusconi later (1989) sued for libel three journalists who had written an article hinting at his involvement in financiary crimes and in this occasion he declared in court that he had joined the P2 lodge "only a very short time before the scandal broke" and "he had not even paid the entry fee". Such statements, however, conflicted with the findings of the parliamentary commission appointed to investigate the lodge's activity, with material evidence, and even with previous testimony of Berlusconi, all of which showing that he had actually been a member of P2 since 1978 and had indeed paid a 100,000 Italian liras entry fee. Because of this he was indicted for perjury, but the crime was extinguished by the 1989 amnesty.
Berlusconi's career as an entrepreneur is also often questioned by his detractors. The allegations made against him generally include suspects about the extremely fast increase of his activity as a constructon entrepreneur in years 1961-63, hinting at the possibility that in those years he received money from unknown and possibly illegal sources. These accusations are regarded by Berlusconi and his supporters as empty slander, trying to undermine Berlusconi's reputation of a self-made man. Frequently cited by opponents are also events dating to the 1980s, including supposed "favor exchanges" between Berlusconi and the former prime minister Bettino Craxi, indicted in 1990-91 for various corruption charges; and even possible connections to the Italian Mafia, the latter accusations arising mostly from the curious circumstance that he employed for two years, as a stableman in his Arcore villa, the wanted mafia boss Vittorio Mangano4. Berlusconi acknowledges a personal friendship only to Craxi, and of course denies any ties to the Mafia, stating that he was absolutely not aware of who Mangano really was when he employed him. Heated debate on this issue was recently (2004) triggered again when a Forza Italia senator and long time friend of Berlusconi, Marcello Dell'Utri, was sentenced to 9 years by the Palermo court on charge of "external association to the Mafia" 5, a sentence on which Berlusconi refused to comment.
On some occasions, which raised a strong upheaval in the Italian political opposition, laws passed by the Berlusconi administration have effectively delayed ongoing trials on him, allowing the statute of limitations to expire, or stopped them entirely. Relevant examples are the law reducing punishment for all cases of false accounting; the new law on international rogatories, which made his Swiss bank records unusable in court against him 6; the law on legitimate suspicion, which allowed defendants to request their cases to be moved to another court if they believe that the local judges are biased against them 7,8; and most importantly the lodo Maccanico law, passed in June 2003, which granted the highest five state officers, including the Prime Minister, immunity from prosecution while in office2. This law froze Berlusconi's position in the SME-Ariosto trial in which he was accused of having corrupted judges in previous legal rulings regarding his partecipation in the public auction of the state-owned food company SME in the 1980s. However, the trial was not frozen for other defendants, and the former lawyer of Berlusconi's main firm (Fininvest) and former Italian defence minister, Cesare Previti, was sentenced to 5 years although the crime was reduced from corruption of judges to simple corruption 9,10. In January 2004 the Lodo Maccanico was nullified by the Constitutional court as it was ruled to be in conflict with the Italian constitution. Subsequently Berlusconi has declared his intent to re-introduce the law using the correct procedure for constitutional modification. Because of these legislative acts, political opposers accuse Berlusconi of passing ad personam laws, to protect himself from legal charges; Berlusconi and his allies, on the other hand, mantain that such laws are consistent with everyone's right to a rapid and just trial, and with the principle of presumption of innocence (garantismo); furthermore, they claim that Berlusconi is subject to a judiciary persecution, a political witch hunt orchestrated by politicized (left-wing) judges 11.
For such reasons, Berlusconi and his government have an ongoing quarrel with the Italian judiciary, which reached its peak in 2003 when Berlusconi commented to a foreign journalist that judges are "mentally disturbed" and "anthropologically different from the rest of the human race", remarks that he later claimed he meant to be directed to specific judges only, and of a humorous nature12. More seriously, the Berlusconi administration has long been planning a judiciary reform intended to limit the arbitrariness allowed to the judges in their decisions (for example by introducing civil liability on the consequences of their sentences), but which, according to its critics, will instead limit the magistrature's independence, by de facto subjecting the judiciary to the executive's control. This reform has met almost unanimous dissent from the Italian judges 13,14 and, after three years of debate and struggle, was passed by the Italian parliament in December 2004, but was immediately vetoed by the Italian President, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi 15, who said some of the passed laws were "clearly unconstitutional". Presently (February 2005) the law is in process of being examinated by the parliament again, taking into account the President's objections of constitutionality.
Berlusconi has also been indicted in Spain for charges of tax fraud and violation of anti-trust laws regarding the private TV network Telecinco, but his status as a member of the European Parliament allowed him to gain immunity from prosecution 16.

This section provides a summary of each of the many trials involving Silvio Berlusconi as of 2004.
Completed processes
False testimony on Propaganda 2: In 1990 Berlusconi was declared theoretically guilty of perjury by the appeal court of Venice for false testimony on his affiliation to the freemason lodge "Propaganda 2", commonly known as "P2"; however the court did not proceed to a punishment sentence because the crime had been extinguished by the 1989 amnesty.

Bribing a member of the Financial Police (corruption)
First Court: sentenced to jail (2 years and 9 months) for four bribes.Appeal court: the statute of limitations expired for three of the charges, an acquitted was given on the fourth with dubitative formula (similar to Scottish law not proven verdict).

All Iberian 1 (illegally financing a political party)
First Court: sentenced to jail (2 years and 4 months) for paying 21 billion lire (about 10 million Euro) to Bettino Craxi via an offshore bank account codenamed "All Iberian".Appeal Court: the statute of limitations expired before the appeal was completed so Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted.

Medusa Cinema (false accounting)
First Court: sentenced to jail (16 months) for false accounting of 10 billion Lire (about 5 million Euro) in some of Silvio Berlusconi's bank accounts.Appeal Court: acquitted on the charge with dubitative formula (not proven) .

Lodo Mondadori (corrupting a judge)
Appeal Court: statute of limitations expired before the appeal was completed so Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted.

Trials still running (September 2004)

All Iberian 2 (false accounting):
Trial suspended: both the European Court of Justice and the Italian Constitutional Court are examining the new laws on social crimes approved by Berlusconi's Government. If the new laws are accepted, the crime statute of limitations will have expired.

Macherio estates (embezzlement, tax fraud and false accounting)
First Court: acquitted for embezzlement and tax fraud, the statute of limitations expired before a verdict was reached on the two cases of false accounting.Appeal Court: acquitted for embezzlement, tax fraud and the first case of false accounting; statute of limitations expired for the second.

Lentini affair (false accounting / 5 millions Euro paid secretly to Torino football club for buying the player Luigi Lentini)
First court: The statute of limitations expired for the charge.Appeal court: still running.
Fininvest media group consolidated (false accounting / 750 million Euro of illegal (black) funds stored by Fininvest in 64 offshore societies)The statute of limitations expired due to the new laws on false accounting recently approved by Berlusconi's government.

SME-Ariosto (corrupting a judge)
At the beginning, the trial SME-Ariosto involved both Cesare Previti and Silvio Berlusconi. Then, the Italian government approved a new law, the so called "Lodo Maccanico" (also known as "Lodo Schifani"): this law gives immunity to the five highest state officers (premier, president of the Republic, Senate's president, Deputy Chamber's president, Constitutional Court's president). In order to avoid the complete suspension of the trial, the Court of Milan has split it in two parts, one regarding Cesare Previti, and the other regarding Silvio Berlusconi. The Cesare Previti's part of the trial resulted in a guilty verdict, while the other part (regarding Silvio Berlusconi) was closed because of the statute of limitations, and not with a innocence verdict. Actually, the Constitutional Court declared that the "Lodo Maccanico" violates articles n. 3 and 34 of the Italian Constitution (Sentence n. 120, 2004).

SME-Ariosto (false accounting)
Trial suspended: the European Court of Justice is examining the new Italian laws on social crimes (see trial on All Iberian 2 above).


Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia © 2001-2005 Wikipedia contributors (Disclaimer)
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
View this entry at Wikipedia.org - Edit this page at Wikipedia.org - Donate to the Wikimedia Foundation

I think everyone can understand why I hate this man.

As for the rest, I still believe that all men are created equal - which is definitely something Berlusconi doesn't believe, much less understand.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Post Number Forty-Six: Ceterum censeo, Carthaginem esse delendam

Of Equality

In the III-II centuries b.C., the might of Rome conflicted with that of Carthage, a city built on the coast of modern Tunisia, from where it controlled the Mediterranean. Already in control of the Italian Peninsula, the Romans knew that Carthage represented an obstacle to further growth of the economy of the Republic (Rome was a Republic then). Sea routes were of critical importance to boost commerce and Rome simply couldn't let them be controlled by a foreign power. On its own side, Carthage knew that its dominion on the sea was in danger and Rome was to be confronted soon, before it became too mighty an enemy to deal with. This led to the Carthaginian Wars, three series of battles which rank among the most famous campaigns ever fought on this planet. Certainly, one of the most renowned episodes is that of the Carthaginian general Hannibal moving from Spain (back then, a nation under the rule of Carthage) with an army that included elephants, an animal Romans were unfamiliar with. Hannibal was driven in an extenuating series of battles away from Rome by Quintus Fabius Maximus, a Roman General I am proud of having my same name (Maximus is the Latin translation of my Italian name). Anyway, it is known that after the second Carthaginian war was ended, Marcus Porcius Cato the Censor was elected consul of the Republic of Rome, and he had the habit to conclude whatever speech he had on no matter what topic, with the sentence "Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam", that means "As for the rest, I believe that Carthage must be destroyed".
His insistence should be now matched by my intention to close every post I submit to this site with the sentence "Ceterum censeo homines equales esse", or "As for the rest, I believe that all men are equal".

All men are EQUAL. I have already stated this sentence in my blog. I have noticed by talking with Viv that some people still find this too hard a concept to understand. Perhaps, some people do not really know what it means, to state that all men are equal.

I am a guy. I have brown hair and brown eyes, a white skin that becomes beautifully tanned very quickly after a short exposition to sunshine. I have studied Physics, I enjoy literature, I can speak two languages and mutter some words in another couple, my IQ was estimated equal to 135, I am sensitive to music and much less to paintings, I love classical music and beautiful women (the definition of beautiful woman is very subjective in this case). I am European and Italian, specifically Northern Italian. I pride myself of being continuously flattered by Miss Vivien Won who I repute one of the most interesting people in the world, and by Tanya Gelfand who is, simply said, a perfect charming friend of mine. I love science and philosophy, am curious and somewhat arrogant especially when it comes to dealing with Catholic lowlife.

This very inaccurate description of me already identifies a series of characteristics of my being me, that set me apart from a lot of people. I am a guy therefore I am not a girl (and sometimes I regret it). I have brown hair, hence I am not blonde. I am Caucasian, so I am not Asian or Black.
And so on.

I adore Tanya Gelfand and Vivien Won, but they are obviously very different from me. And very different between themselves as well, for that matter, if anything, one is an Asian beauty with a devastatingly inquisitive mind and the other is a Russian-Jew concentration of pure charm and artistic talent. I am not an Asian beauty and I am not slightly talented for visual arts.

If I were so picky as to care about this, my left hand is different from my right hand. They can both type relatively quickly on the keyboard but one can write, the other can't. My eyes are not remotely similar, one is very larger than the other and my sight is therefore impaired: unless I intentionally focus my sight, everything in my world appears blurred just as things do in impressionist paintings by Renoir.
And so on.

It is therefore very evident on the surface, that I am quite different from other people, and in fact I am quite unique. I am a strong supporter of the uniqueness of human beings. There can only be one Vivien Won, and even if we cloned Vivien the new Vivien would not be the same person, for the new girl's life experiences would be totally different and therefore would lead her to a different personality behavior. When I was a child the world was totally different. I was born in 1974 and there were no home computers, cell phones or globalization back then. If I were cloned here and now, my clone would grow up in a totally different world and would certainly develop a different character according to his surroundings.

Each of us is unique, but still I reckon that all human beings are equal. How can it be so? How can I plainly state that human beings are equal if I just stated that human beings are unique and unreplaceable?

I state that because being equal does not mean being, in fact, IDENTICAL. I am not the same as Viv or Tanya.

Stating, like i do, that I am equal with Tanya and Viv, means that, while I recognize the obvious differences among the three of us, I believe that from a certain point of view, that is as far as our nature of human beings is involved, such differences are irrelevant.
In fact, while Tanya and Viv are obviously more attractive than me, no one can deny the fact that the three of us are, actually, human beings. Were I so insane to punch Viv to unconsciousness, I am quite positive she wouldn't be happy about it, as in fact no other human being would. I can in fact assure you that I wouldn't be happy to be punched to uncounsciousness by Viv as well... As human beings, we have similar feelings that induce us to cry or rejoice. When a person says "I am sad", we all know what that means because we all know what it means to be sad, and we know that because we experience that all the time. A human being has a brain (although most human beings do not use it). This brain, in case it is put to use, is able to produce rational thinking. Rationality is a characteristic of all human beings (put aside whether it is actually used or not). Humans share the same destiny on this planet. If the planet was wiped out, all humans would die. In fact, anyway, all humans die, and all humans are born from a mother - or at least from an egg cell.

Those among humans that believe we are equal, actually do not believe that we are identical. What we believe is that the differences among us are not as important as the things that unite us. It's all there. I dare a further step. The differences among living beings are irrelevant. All of us are alive, therefore similar.

We therefore believe that the fact that we are all humans, implies we have certain rights.

Regardless of how sexy or smart or rich or hard-working or whatever you think other people, or yourself, are, because you are a human being, you have rights.

This is it.


Which rights?

1. the right to be alive. I have the right to live. Note: I do not have the duty of living. I have the right to live, which implies, in my opinion, that I also have the right to choose when I want to stop living. Note number two: I claim, state, and fiercely assert that embryos are not human beings and therefore their supposed right to live comes second to the right to be happy of their mother.
because, in fact, right number two is
2. the right to pursuit happiness. To each his own. We are all different so we are happy in different ways, but each of us, for being human, has the right to pursuit his/her chosen path to happiness. VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Your chosen path to happiness cannot clash with the paths of someone else. You do what you like with your life, but do not tell anyone else what to do with theirs, and most of all, do not prevent others from pursuiting happiness through your careless behavior
3. the right to a job. Surprise. Job is a right.
4. the right to a house. Surprise #2: housing is a right.
5. the right to feed and drink (this is actually an extension of right 1.)
6. the right to health (this is again an extension of right 1.)

These things are inherent rights of human beings. I was born humans therefore I have all those rights.

What we do in Europe (what we used to do and only some countries still do, specifically the wealthiest and most competitive economies in the world - Scandinavia) is to set rules that guarantee these rights.
We believe that since all humans are equal, the community of humans counts more than the single individual, in the sense that what one does, he doesn't do it for himself alone but for the community. So it is simply right that if I work hard, I do it for the good of the human community and not just for myself. So a part of what I gained I give it to the rest of the people, because only an imbecile would think that if one is poor, that is his fault.
We do not prevent people from being rich, but we do our best to redistribute wealth among all the people, through taxes, so that no one is too richer than someone else. Because everyone has the right to own a house, to be treated if ill and to be fed if hungry.
What happens if a country does not do that?

In the USA, they really believe that if you are poor it's your fault. They do not redistribute wealth through taxes, they despise the poor and praise the wealthy.

The poor have aren't guilty of their condition of course, but Americans are driven imbecile by Republican propaganda. Therefore, when a city is flooded like New Orleans these days, instead of working side by side, feeling a part of the society (which is what Europeans did in Central Europe during the floods of this summer), they shoot each other and try to steal each other's wealth. This is what to expect from a people that does not recognize the rights of human beings. This is also the beginning of the decline of the USA, which is something they looked for, and I hope it will teach them a lesson.

Now all of us, let's think of our country. Are human rights protected? Are humans treated as equal, regardless of their differences? Are omosexuals tolerated and treated equally? can they marry? are girls treated equally like guys? Does the Government make the rich bastards pay taxes so national wealth is redistributed to the good people that did not sell their soul to the devil to become rich bastards? Are the poor treated with condescence and helped regardless of their race?
Italy is light years behind in this sense. We are a bunch of racist imbeciles with so little understanding of human rights that even the Americans fare better than us. And Americans have basically no knowledge of human rights, apart from what they wrote in the Declaration of Independence (all of which their Republican rulers were very quick to forget).
Finland is much closer to this "ideal" of equality. Finland has the most competitive economy in the world, and Italy doesn't even appear in the list of competitive economies.

Being equal means that we have the same rights.

And as for the rest, I believe that all men are created equal.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Post Number Forty-Five: Thoughts of a Breakfast with Viv

Of the European path to Civilization

First and foremost:
Dear friends and readers of my blog, as you will notice, I have added the "word recognition" feature to add comments to my posts. This was necessary to prevent comment spamming. I would like to state clearly, that comments to my posts are most welcome and accepted as long as they are not used to promote or advertise services and products of any sort. I will not tolerate advertising of any kind and such comments will be removed as soon as I detect them. Some companies use advertising software to automatically add comments to posts. Simply said, I won't tolerate any form of advertising, automatical or intentional.


During my stay in Sweden, I had at least two particularly intense and thoughtful conversation with that charming girl Viv, whose volcanic mind never fails to impress me. One of them, though, found me in total disagreement with her, and I believe, such disagreement was most likely due to a cultural gap that I have always ignored (and keep ignoring) between the Europeans and the Americans.
What have Americans got to do with a Chinese girl from Singapore? Apparently nothing, but when one thinks about it, it can't go unnoticed that the economical model of development of Singapore, as well as that of other like-minded Eastern nations like Hong-Kong, Taiwan and South Korea, borrows a lot from that of the United States of America. Especially in terms of "freedom of market", scarce-to-non-existent interference of the State in business, low standards of public welfare, promotion of self-entrepreneurship, pursuit of wealth as the main goal of the laymen and such.
Therefore, the American model, which is quite based on these standards, is definitely important in shaping and leading the economies of most Eastern nations, including Singapore's.
The European approach to economy is quite different of course. In the European model, the State intervenes relatively heavily on business through the taxation of financial transactions, by owning critical services (public transport, resources, highways, TV networks...) and by providing significant public services to the population, paid for by taxes. It is known as "Welfare model", and it is typical of the Central and Northern European Democracies, usually led by Social Democratic Parties. Just in case, I am a Social Democrat at heart.
According to Viv, such a system would not work in Singapore, basically because the population is very diverse. There is no way the hard-working Chinese would accept to be stripped of their earned wealth by taxes that would be then used to provide assistance and services to the lazy members of some other ethnic group. In a very diverse society, where people know they are different from each other, any public welfare system is doomed to failure. Besides, it would impoverish the economy, and Singapore is surrounded by hostile nations, protected by its wealthy economy alone.
I presume I have reported Viv's opinion precisely enough. If I made any mistake, and you are reading here Viv, you are welcome to correct me.
First of all, I would like to point out that the fact that a welfare system such as that of Europe is not, as the Americans like to advertise on books written by their experts, going to impoverish the economy. This is simply explained by carrying one example.
The nation of Finland has the wealthiest economy in the world. According to international surveys, they vastly beat the United States in terms of technological advancement and they even surpass mainland China in educational level. Their reliability in business is usually the highest in the world. Nonetheless, they also run their State according to a strictly Social Democratic, European Welfare model, which doesn't make their economy any poorer or less competitive than that of other, aggressively capitalist countries. In fact, they are faring better in terms of economy than those countries.
You might want to check the following link:
Here you will find a listing of the most competitive economies of the world. You will notice that Finland is number 1 in the world, and among the first 4, 3 (Finland, Sweden and Denmark) are actually Socialist European countries, where taxes are high and the welfare intense. In fact, Singapore ranks 6th. This means that the three countries with the highest level of welfare in the world (Finland, Sweden and Denmark) actually possess a more competitive economy than Singapore. Therefore, if Singapore were to choose a Social Democrat model of development, chances are high that the nation would be wealthier and probably even better protected by its hostile neighbors. It might be interesting to note that among those leading 15 economies in the world, Northern and Central European countries with a Socialist approach to economy appear 8 times, and New Zealand, which is also modeled on the Northern European economy, is ranked 14th.
The secret of course lies in not in how free the market is but on how much the country focuses on high education, high tech, and most especially on how efficiently wealth is redistributed among the people, so as not to produce large sectors of population that are basically unproductive for excessive poverty or lack of education.
Finland has the best economy in the world (better than the American) and an extensive public welfare system. This is the last word on the books written by self-appointed experts from the USA that are just afraid they might have to pay more taxes, or even worse, that their taxes could be used for the welfare of the population instead of supporting the industries they own.

This much said it is also true that the European Economy is in general quite sluggish, especially in Southern Europe and Germany. This is usually explained by an alleged malfunctioning of the welfare system.
This is quite not the case.
Ever since Berlusconi set his dictatorship's agenda with the main goal of dismantling's Italian Welfare system, the Italian economy has gone worse and worse each year. The misconception that less taxes imply an economic boom is, in fact, just that: a misconception. The economy can grow a little bit faster with less taxes for a short while, maybe 10-20 years. Then it just becomes sluggish and the nation usually faces the consequences of not caring for its population: in America, the child death rate has increased significantly in the last 50 years, and there are large sections of the population (especially immigrants) who do not have a job, are seriously lacking an education and therefore do not participate to the wealth of the economy. This is America's greatest mistake. Today, America is alive only thanks to the foreigner Engineers that work there, but as soon as other countries will provide better education, America will face the consequences of its shortsighted economy. In 50 years from now, unless America changes dramatically, I expect it to become much poorer and to lose, perhaps indefinitely, its lead in technological innovation in the world.
This I believe is evidence enough to disprove any misconception about the purported efficiency of de-regulated markets as opposed to systems where taxes are used to redistribute wealth.

Now, to the most important part of the conversation I have with Viv. She was saying that Europe needs reformations in the market (I presume, she intended in the sense of free-market reforms American style). I was answering that in Europe there are very powerful leftist parties that would not allow that. She replied that Europe will have to face the consequences of this because the globalization cannot be stopped and such.
I will leave the whole discussion aside for a second because it dawned on me later that morning that probably Viv believes that reforms are prevented by the existence in Europe of leftist parties. And moreover, she might believe that the European model of social welfare was somehow granted from the above by some benevolent socialist government in total disregard of the efficiency of the economy. I have no idea whether in Eastern Asian emerging economies it is usually taken from granted that the model of development is chosen by the government or not, or whether the people over there usually accept the system they live in or not. Judging from her words, it might seem so, but I have no way to know for real. What I know is that this is not the case in Europe.
I am becoming more and more convinced that the Western Civilization is in itself a misconception. There is no Western Civilization. There is a European Civilization and an American Civilization, and to my great discomfort, not all the Western countries are equally philosophically advanced, which makes some of them much more shortsighted than others. Italy is among the most shortsighted by the way.
The European economy started off in the 1950s, after recovering from the world war, following the same principles of the American free market economy. The government were not benevolent. The people had little or no welfare, taxes were relatively low, and there was a huge difference of wealth between the poor and rich. There was no benevolent leftist party granting anything to anyone.
I don't know if this has to do with the fact that we are the cradle of civilization or if Europeans are just made this way. After all, 2500 years ago in Rome the plebeians, which were the common people in the Republic of Rome, revolted against the rich aristocrats and obtained their representatives in the Senate. Perhaps ever since we Europeans have it hardwired in our brains that human beings are all equal, no matter how much some would like to believe otherwise. Whether some people want to buy it or not, human beings are all equal, especially in their reactions to stimuli. It is not a philosophical abstraction, it is a mere fact. They are so similar that every place where some people have been intolerably made to suffer, the weaks revolted. Every time, every where. The Jews revolted against the Egyptians 3500 years ago. The Cubans revolted against the pro-American rich bastards in the 50's. The Chinese revolted against the colonialists in Peking (the revolt of the Boxers) at the beginning of the 20th century.
And the Europeans revolted against the free market economy in the 60's and 70's of the 20th century. Just to make it clear: we are one step beyond capitalism, not behind. There are people, even in Italy that fought and died to obtain pensions, retirements, public health care and general welfare. And the governments were far from benevolent. In the late 50's the infamous Italian Minister of Internal Affairs Mario Scelba, prided himself of ordering the police to open fire on demonstrants. We have made the European economy EVOLVE from the savage, barbarian, primitive capitalism of the USA, into the modern, state-of-the-art welfare system that makes Finland the leading economy in the world while the USA slide down the list day by day.
The leftist parties now found in Europe are there because the people put them there, they are not some bunch of old-school Marxist philosophers that live in la-la-land and do not understand the requirements of globalization. They are the expression of the European people in its struggle to evolve into something more than mere market. Who said that Europe cannot cope with globalization? Not only we can, we are going to change the path of globalization. Thanks to the well-established liberal culture of Europe, the continent is putting more and more pressure on a regulated globalization that favors the development and wealth of third world countries, possibly in contrast with the American approach that is based on the belief that the world is George Bush's playground. There is no way the people of Europe can let their governments return to the old barbarian capitalism. We haven't died for nothing. What is going to happen, instead, and must happen, is that on the long run the so called free-market economies, after their initial skyrocketing increase in GNP, will create such an intense social tension that strikes and revolts will be unavoidable, and their countries will have to concede more and more to the population. Believe it or not, human beings are equal and they always revolt after the social tension reaches a maximum level. Regardless of their culture. It is somewhat possible that in Singapore it won't be the Chinese to revolt. Perhaps the Malay or the Indians, depending on who's the poorest.
The secret to wealth and prosperity is education and lack of social tension. This means lots, lots and more lots of science and technology. Mathematics. Physics. Biotechnologies. Informatics. At all levels. That's the first step. The second step is to prevent the concentration of wealth in the hands of few people. This means taxes whose revenues are used to increase the welfare of the people. It shouldn't be too hard to realize that a society whose people is not stressed, where the public health is granted to everyone regardless of their wealth and life is mostly secure, where everyone has a state-of-the-art level of education, there are no unproductive citizens left behind. That's the secret of Finland, and that's the secret of Europe too.
I am beginning to wonder if Europe has some sort of "destiny" to always be one step ahead of the United States after being left behind when they made their nation. Incidentally, the initial boom of the American economy was due to the immense amount of money invested by their government in public education during the 1800's. Nowadays, America's level of education is appalling to say the least, science is diserted and many confound the bible with reality. That's why they are slowly losing their lead in technological development.

One word about China.
China grows at 9% per year. It's a lot. Some might think that this is a proof their model of development (without even the slightest trace of welfare, despite they claim themselves to be "Communists") actually works.
It works now. It is doomed to fail as soon as the population starts growing older unless pensions and other public care reforms are introduced. Finland's economy was not exactly state of the art in the 50's. They were a backwarded nation of fishermen lost among the swamps of the Eastern Baltic. They invested in education, science and technology. They implemented a capillary structure of welfare. They did not grow at 9% per year and it took them 50 years to climb the ladder, but in the long run they became the most competitive economy of this planet. A recent survey shows that even now Finnish students fare better in science and maths than the Chinese (who are second in the world). Americans rank among the worst. Italians fare worse than the Americans. Italian economy is stagnant (in recession actually). Finnish economy is steadily at the top. We are dismantling our welfare, they are not. This should tell something.

One final thing.

I can't be proud of being Italian thanks to Berlusconi and its dictatorship. There is little to proud of in Italy. I think Italy has a lot to learn from other countries and I am appalled by the stubborn attitude of our leftist philosophers that think that Italy has such a strong Socialist tradition that everyone else should learn from us. Look, we don't have any strong Socialist tradition and there is nothing particularly leftist in the Italian culture. Our former Communist party leaders, although respectful enough, aren't nearly comparable to the personalities of British Labour Party or the Swedish Socialdemokraterna. We have to learn from others just like everyone else.
But I can and am proud of being European. I understand that we Europeans have perhaps fought more and more often for our rights and for equality than some others. I do not mean, by this, that we are better, because I insist that we are equal. I like to think of myself as a European Citizen of the World. I love the Japanese and the New Zealanders, the post-apartheid South Africans and the Brazilians, but I am also proud of all the cultural background that I have been given by my European ancestors.

Perhaps it is time for Europe to open its doors again and export its welfare culture, instead of passively watch the Americans invade other countries and impose their model of so-called Democracy to them.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Post Number Fort-Four: Jag älskar dig!

Of my three Swedish weeks, and of my return to Italy.

Dear readers, and friends of mine, I have come back from Sweden, and here I am, typing a new post on my long-deserted blog.
How could I possibly summarize my trip to Sweden in a few lines (especially considering how blatantly long my typical entries are, particularly so when I mean to write short notes)?

First of all, this is hardly the first time I go to spend my holidays in Sweden. In fact, the first time I went to Sweden was in 1998, when, after staying with a friend I loved a lot in Oslo, Norway (unluckily I lost all contacts with that girl, Trine), I took another 8 days trip to "nearby" (6 hours by train) Gothenburg, to visit my other friend Helen. Things didn't work out too well with Helen, we probably ended up in bad terms back then because her husband wasn't too happy about having me around, so I was asked to leave her house and found myself on my own on Swedish soil. Back then, I had no idea what kind of marvel Sweden could be, but since I loved Gothenburg so much, heck, I said, next year I am off to Stockholm, let's see the Swedish capital.
In 1999 I went to Stockholm for the fist time and that was it. I discovered dreamland. You know, that Somewhere Over the Rainbow the song talks about? Only there's no Wizard of Oz there, just me feeling like Dorothy when she tells her dog "I think we are not in Kansas anymore". Also, feeling a bit like her dog too.
The first time I went to Stockholm in 1999 I took 360 pictures of the city. Those were the years when digital camera era had not dawned yet on Italy and so yours truly spent a fantastic amount of his parent's money to develop the 360 snapshot of Stockholm, especially because it was obscenely expensive to develop pictures in Italy in 1999 (now it's much more so). In fact it cost me more than what I paid for the roundtrip with the plane.
The next year, 2000, I took my mother and my sister Flora and dragged them to Stockholm. My sister uttered the now famous sentence: "I like this place. I'll have a house here".
Famous, because later, in 2003, I went to Stockholm and my sister was indeed staying in a house for rent there. I went to Stockholm in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and now 2005. And you can bet I will be in Stockholm on the first week of August 2006, 2007, 2008 and so on. Unless I finally move there once and for all, which is something I should have taken more seriously before I got a good and reasonably well paid job in Italy.
Stockholm is almost a second home to me. When I go there, I don't need a map of course. I know how to use the public transport, I know where the nicest areas are, where are the museums, the ferry boats, the bus stations, the subway stations and so on. Sergels Torg, Riddarholmen, Odenplan, Drottningatan and Stortorget i Gamla Stan are as familiar to me as my neighborhood in the suburbs of Milan, Italy. I actually can walk around Stockholm easier and more comfortably than I could in Milan (which is a hardly walkable city at all anyway).
How can I describe Stockholm?
It is beyond imagination. Especially for my most numerous Singaporean readers. I somehow convinced the lovely and cute Singaporean girl Vivien to pay me a visit in Stockholm this summer. She came over and spent only one Sunday in the capital of Sweden. Perhaps I should quote her very observant boyfriend Stephen, who noticed in less than thirty minutes that:
1. There is no traffic in Stockholm city. I mean, there are very few cars around at any given time of the day and night. The majority of people, regardless of weather conditions, take public means of transport (which include trains, subways, buses and ferries) or, preferably, reach their destination by bike, walking, roller-skating or even riding a horse. To accomplish this, they are greatly helped by the capillary network of bike lanes that run throughout the city and beyond, effectively connecting the whole nation and neighboring country in a vast bike-lane heaven.
2. The rythm of life is extremely relaxed. The people look contented, relaxed, satisfied. They mind their own business, they don't stare at you (Italians stare at people continously, making comments on how they are dressed, and more so if they are Asian), and regardless of their opinion on this topic, they don't know what stress is about.
3. You can stay at the table in a restaurant for two hours chatting with friends. It's absolutely normal, and it would be considered outrageously rude to rush things, serving your food too early or inducing you to believe you are expected to leave some time during the day. For me, this equals to heaven. For my Singaporean friends, I suspect they just needed more time to get used to that. I have heard with much astonishment and a bit of incredulity that Stephen eats in 5 minutes in Singapore. I would not drink a cup of tea in 5 minutes, and I can't imagine how one can possibly eat a whole lunch in 5 minutes. I have long archived memories of that kind of stressful life in Milan when I hadn't been to Sweden yet. Now I am completely Sweden-ized and perfectly able to relax and enjoy the company at the restaurant sitting there for two hours.
4. All in all, Stockholm, in Stephen's words "looks more like an amusement park than a city". That's because in one day we took subway, buses and ferry boats, including a trip in the woods. It is to be known that the Swedes love to live outdoors and they reject as an obscene abominion the idea that a city should be an agglomerate of buildings with occasional geometrically designed small parks. In fact Stockholm is the only city on this planet that hosts a national park within its very borders. It takes but a glance from the city hall's courtyard to realize that Stockholm is a huge park with some buildings appearing here and there.
5. And for this I need not to quote anyone else but me: the Swedish girls are by far the fairest women of the world. I am famous in Italy for caring so little about local girls that I don't even bother looking for a girlfriend. On the other hand, I am not ashamed to admit that I proved my cute friend Viv that I effectively turn into a drooling creature leaving a trail of drool behind me like a snail as soon as I reach Sweden.
This takes me straight ahead to the most beautiful girl of Sweden, which is a girl called Petra, a girl my friend Viv had to hear about enough to give her a year-long headache. If you are reading here Viv, look, I am sorry for that, I just couldn't help it. Petra works in a restaurant in Drottningatan, in the center of Stockholm. I took Viv there because I wanted to introduce her to Petra, which I consider my first Stockholm friend ever. That night I decided to leave my email account to her, so that we can keep in touch during the winter. I truly hope she will write to me. Her smile shines brighter than a sun beam at dawn, and I would lie if I denied that I wouldn't feel my trip to Stockholm complete if I didn't at least pass by Petra's to say hi to her.
Viv was most unlucky with the weather. It looked like Autumn in Sweden when she was there. Not to mention that as soon as she left... well, it was summer again, and I am sorry Viv, I actually got an amazing sun tan over there... quite disturbing, if you are reading here, you should take another trip to Stockholm.
After 9 days in Stockholm, one of which with Viv and Stephen, we moved on to Malmö. That's a lovely city in the south of Sweden. I have another friend there, miss Jeanette Johansson. Apart from being the receptionist of the hotel I stay at each time I go to Malmö, she is also an absolutely lovely girl. She was so nice on Friday, to spend the whole afternoon with us, took us to a nice bar in Lilla Torg, and even joined my mum and me in the trip to the Western Harbour to watch the sunset over Copenhagen. She took a photo of me when I was staring at the pastel light of the sky, my mind lost in charming thoughts of Sweden and my heart bleeding at the thought of coming back to Italy the incoming Monday. Then she showed me the picture and claimed I was most certainly thinking of Petra. Because I spoke a lot about Petra with Jeanette too, poor girl. I wonder how Jeanette could tolerate my litanies.
In fact I wasn't really thinking of Petra in that moment, I was just thinking I was going to miss Sweden a lot.
It felt worse than usual to come back to Italy, a country I have come to dislike more and more thanks to Berlusconi, the Fascists and the Catholic propaganda. Sweden is heaven to me. That's why I will go back there next year.
Unluckily I have to cut this short for my dinner is ready, but stay tuned for my incoming entries soon enough!
A big warm hug to all those who still care to read me!

Friday, July 29, 2005

Post Number Forty-Three: Du gamla, du fria

I haven't written much in the past two weeks. There was much I wanted to write about, yet it's been so hot in Milan and I have been so tired, that even turning my PC on was unthinkable for it heats the room.

Anyway, there's another reason for which I am going to write nothing for another three weeks and therefore (perhaps) disappoint a couple readers of mine, if I still have any.

In fact, I am leaving tomorrow: I am going to Stockholm, leaving this cursed summer behind with its heat and its humidity and moving to Sweden for three weeks, three long blessed weeks where I will be in the company of trees, lakes, and fresh air.

So I bid my readers goodbye for the moment, and wish everyone a pleasant summer. I'll be back with my annoying blog in September. Till then, enjoy your time and remember: selfishness is not living the way you want to live, it is asking others to live the way you want to live (Oscar Wilde).

Monday, July 18, 2005

Post Number Forty-Two: Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

Of Fantasy and Fairy Tales

"Suddenly the King cried to Snowmane and the horse sprang away. Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a field of green, but he outpaced it. After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them."
(The Return of the King, ch. V)

Whether you are one of the half a billion readers of the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, or one of the (presumably) as many viewers of the movie by Peter Jackson, I think few will fail to recognize this excerpt. Both in the movie and in the book, this is one of the most emotionally powerful and breathtaking scenes of the Return of the King, the third book which completes the saga of the Lord of the Rings. As the Orcs of Mordor, gathered in the hundred thousand on the fields of Pelennor to siege the human bastion of Minas Tirith, seem close to triumph, swarming in the streets of the white city, there rings a horn in the distance. And hence appear the ten thousand knights of Rohan, the legendary Rohirrim, rallied by King Théoden to bring much needed help to the lands of Gondor. "Death", they cry, loud and terrible, and like a tide they sweep across the battlefield, overwhelming the Orcs.
Personally, both viewing the movie and reading the book, I felt this scene as a magnificient moment of relief. When everything seemed lost, when catastrophe was obviously upon Minas Tirith, hence upon Good, upon the free men of Gondor, there comes the Rohirrim, and they ride to victory, for the world's ending. I could write a novel on the feeling but certain things are better felt than described. If you are as sensible to the Lord of the Rings as I am, you know what I am talking about without my need to speak further.

According to J.R.R. Tolkien's definition of a Fairy Tale, moments like the arrival of the Rohirrim in the fields of Pelennor are essential to the very fabric of a Fairy Tale. The ultimate purpose of such a story, in fact, is to lead the reader through an apparently hopeless drama, and then, when everything seems utterly lost, when all hopes are almost forgone, only then there comes a sudden change of events, that gives the reader that sense of relief which is exactly what the Fairy Tale is meant to provide, and which is what the reader ultimately seeks.
Fairy Tales are not stories for children, as many tend to assume since the nineteenth century. But this requires a little historical/philosophical explanation.

During the European Middle Ages, the greatest bards (because stories were sung by bards more likely than written down by authors) told tales of elves and goblins, knights and damsels, Kings and (especially) Dragons. Stories like this hold little ground in the everyday experience of the Medieval laymen. Nonetheless, such stories are anything but limited to the Middle Ages, or to Europe. The Greeks told fantastic stories of Gods (usually called Mythology, but ultimately, not very much unlike Fairy Tales, from which Mythology differs because it lacks the "happy ending"). The Chinese of all ages record stories of Dragons, damsels that pretend to be guys and fight in the Army (Walt Disney's Mulan is but one of the many), and if we move on to Africa, Oceania and South America, everywhere in the world human beings invent stories that hold no resemblance with their everyday's experience. It appears therefore, that telling stories is not a cultural mishap of Europe, but rather a human need. Or at least, a human instinct.
In fact, it never fails to strike me that a story like the Lord of the Rings, which is obviously very European (very English, to be precise) is nonetheless universally appreciated and read by the Japanese and the Moroccan, the Scandinavian and the South African, the Australian and the American, the Argentinian and the Russian.
When the Enlightment came, together with its values and its Reason, Fairy Tales fell its prey. For stories of Dragons and Trolls were considered close to Unreasonable superstition, and therefore deemed unsuitable for the mature reader. Hence, the Tales ended up in the realm of Children's Books, where they never belonged. In the 1800's, philosophers changed their mind quite radically. They decided that telling fantastic stories wasn't that wrong. Actually they enjoyed superstition, they felt a return of esteem for the Middle Ages. But it wasn't until the Twentieth Century that at least a part of the authors decided Fairy Tales could be for mature readers, after all. Which is what they had always been, though.
In the Middle Ages, the adventures of King Arthur, Roland and Orlando were not intended for children. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was all but a story for children.

Tolkien is among the first authors in the 20th Century to recognize the value of Fairy Tale, and in the intent of giving England its Mythology (because he didn't deem King Arthur a truly English legend, as it was imported from France), he created the now (righteously) legendary saga of the Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, and the Silmarillion.

According to Tolkien, Fairy Tales are not allegories: they do not represent a metaphor of something happening here and now. They are rather "applicable". That is, they tell something of such universal value and meaning, that anyone, in any age, can find a way to apply the Fairy Tale to his experience. Because, as Tolkien puts it, he doesn't speak about lightbulbs, which are contingent to our time and experience, but about lightnings. Anybody can see the difference between a story where a policeman born in New York City on Jan 23rd, 1969, manages to arrest a local Mafia boss, and a story where a valiant ageless Knight, armed with shield and a magic sword earned through great peril, confronts and finally defeats an evil dragon whose intent is to burn down the whole Kingdom.
Everyone has a Dragon to kill, like Bilbo in The Hobbit. Bilbo's Dragon is called Smaug. Our Dragon could be called Established Beliefs, The Math's Teacher, Adolf Hitler, Physical Impairment...
In everyday's life, victory is never certain. Sometimes "evil", whatever that word might mean, wins. Sometimes, it loses. The power of Fairy Tales consists in providing the reader with hope. In this sense, holy books like the Bible or the Quran are "Fairy Tales", for their aim is precisely that of giving hope to the readers. So, Fairy Tales should really be taken much more seriously and not confined to the diminutive and often misused realm of children. Tolkien goes as far as to say children should never be spared the most gruesome details of a Fairy Tale. Either they read it all, or they'd better not read it.

Fairy Tales, in modern literature, have acquired a new name, one that was applied to them to account for the impossibility of relieving them from the sign "Books for Kids". They are now called Fantasy stories.
And I am fixated with Fantasy stories.

I am in complete agreement with Tolkien: Fantasy stories, the truly good ones, are those that ultimately give hope to the reader. In fact, they should be defined as stories about the Fantastic, which lead to a happy ending. Anything lacking one or both such attributes, should not in itself qualify as a truly Fantasy story.
Science Fiction, for example, is not truly Fantasy, or at least not in its most traditional form. Science Fiction (with which I am equally fixated) is only as good as it is acceptable by the reader. Star Trek is a very good example of perfect Science Fiction, and the books by Asimov are equally wonderful. In Science Fiction there is little room for what is Fantastic, because depicted stories must have a relatively cogent scientific basis. I hope to make it clear through a simple example: can you perceive the difference between a positronic robot a-la Asimov (incidentally, also like Data from Start Trek TNG, and not by chance), and a Dragon?
Dragons do not exist. They cannot exist. There has never been, nor there will ever be such a thing as a fire-breathing reptile with huge bat-like wings and mighty fangs.
Positronic robots do not exist as well, but they could at least in theory be real. They are loosely based on scientific theories.
Ultimately, the difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy is summarized in one, critical, detail: magic. There can be no magic in Science Fiction. Science Fiction is about technological marvels, which is precisely what Fantasy cannot be about. Because Science Fiction is about lighting bulbs, and Fantasy is about lightning bolts.
Mixing the two genders is usually criminal. They just do not intertwine. The only case I have seen Fantasy and Science Fiction mingle without devastating both genders was in the Star Wars Saga. But in that case, the mingling is purely superficial. Star Wars is ultimately not Science Fiction as much as it is "Space Fantasy". Especially as long as the concept of The Force was left out as some Magic rather than spoilt with the whole idea of Midiclorian (honestly, that completely spoilt the balance of Star Wars, in my opinion).
But I'd rather not digress and stick to Fantasy.

So, the ultimate difference with Dragons and Robots is that Dragons are magical. Magic is essential for human beings in many senses. Magic represents the desire of men to master what's beyond their control. It can be either a positive or negative concept, depending on who's the writer. Tolkien was adverse to Magic as he perceived it as an unspoken instinct to technology (after all, it is technology that serves the purposes ascribed to Magic). He even insisted that Elven Magic was not Magic, and that another word should be invented to describe it (the elves try to explain Frodo this very concept, in the Lord of the Rings).
Personally I am not adverse to Magic. I of course know that Magic doesn't work, but it somehow defines the charm of a Fantasy Story, which I have described as based on Magic after all.
Exposition to Fantasy (in the Tolkien's sense of stories that, through a Happy Ending, provide the reader with a sense of Hope) is in my opinion essential to every human, and this is the reason why humans of all ages and cultures keep inventing such stories.
I also believe that a stubborn belief in improvement can be the result of heavy exposition to fantasy, as opposed to a nihilistic pessimism which is often typical of our age. Personally I deem myself relatively optimistic, in the sense that I recognize this world basically sucks (with few notable exceptions) but I am also stubbornly convinced that it can improve and that in the end it will be improved.
I am convinced , as well, that this stubborn belief of mine is a consequence of the fact that I have read, and keep reading, a lot of fantasy that inevitably leads to a happy ending. In fact, I tend to dislike stories that lack a happy ending. They do not provide me with that sense of hope that is what, after all, we are looking when attempt to evade this world where happy endings are not necessarily the norm. This is not to say that I do not read or fail to enjoy completely sad stories, but I deem them less evocative and less poignant, in many ways.
Because, after all, let's be frank: take the story of a love that ends in tragedy when the beautiful young maiden is killed by disease (see, for example, Autumn in New York with Richard Gere and that marvelous beauty of Winona Ryder). As much as I loved that movie (and the main actress), and as much as it filled my heart with sincere grief and my eyes with warm tears (I weep a lot when I see such movies), there wasn't anything there that could compare with the feeling that stormed upon my heart when I saw the Rohirrim riding their horses against the evil Orcs, crying Death with their axes and swords raised...
The same feeling after all, that I felt when the Ents marched out of Fangorn to move war against the industrial abomination of Saruman. Considering my almost irrational love for nature, there's no reason to explain how it feels to see the trees reacting to the insults of men. Every time I see the movie or read the book, inevitably I tell myself "I wish trees could move war against industries".
Fantasy is about Dreaming, and there's no point at Dreaming if it's a bad dream. We all dream of a better world, and I presume no one is dreaming of a worse world. Hence why Fantasy is so dependant on its ultimate Happy Ending.
Tolkien called it the eucatastrophe, the "Happy Catastrophe". A final catastrophe that, when everything seems lost, reveals its happy ending.

There would be no relief if Sauron won. Saurons of our world win all the time. My Saurons are called Silvio Berlusconi, the evil dictator of Italy, Microsoft, the evil industry of Bill Gates, and pollution, and so on. I need, and I believe many others need, stories that tell us Bill Gates is not ultimately unbeatable. So, I feel no need to read that Sauron wins.
I also believe that most of those that would rather have it the other way, either weren't exposed to enough fantasy and are therefore lost their chance to become "hopers", or they have been disillusioned by the world, and therefore they have lost their ability to dream.
But dreaming is what humans do best. Dreaming is a natural feature of our brain. Dreaming is what led philosopher to state ideals that contrasted the obvious reality, and ultimately, it's been thanks to the dreams of certain people that civilization progressed. I already addressed this matter in another post a while ago.

A year ago, or so, I started my first attempt at writing a novel. I seriously lack time, and sometimes I doubt the skills either, to pursuit such an endeavour, but I am supported by a very limited number of readers. It is a fantasy story, and it's written in Italian (it also existed in an English translation, but it turned out too hard to type it in two languages, and my English reader wasn't even too satisfied of the result).
It is about two girls (I find it easier to write about girls, for many reasons - including the fact that when I was a kid, my favorite books included Little Women and Little Princess). One of them is a dreamer, the other one is anchored in her real world. They are both transported in some Elsewhere, where Magic works and castles float in the air. One through the power of her dreams, the other one sucked into it by the very fabric of the reality she was so fond of. In the Elsewhere, they will both learn to measure things, that is, mingle Dreaming with Realism to cope with life on both planes of existence. But first, they will have to join forces with the Five Wizards of the world of Elsewhere to defeat the evil Barnsheth, the Robber of Dreams.
At the level the story has been developed so far, Elena and Manuela, the two friends from our own world, are teleported to a magic land. Elena wakes up in the Castle that once belonged to the valiant Silver Paladin, a red haired maiden who lived centuries before and already defeated Barnsheth. The Castle is now inhabited by the Archmage Aristius, who believes Elena is the reincarnation of Artemis, although the teen-ager girl seems unfit to wear an armor and wield a heavy sword. Aristius sends Elena and five companions, chosen among the most powerful adventurers of the known lands, on a journey to recover the lost Diadem of Diamonds, a magic artifact that would grant Elena immense powers and account for her lack of physical strength.
At the same time, the athletic blonde Manuela is imprisoned by Barnsheth himself, and with great difficulty she finally accepts to be in a world of magic, where her main need is that of escaping Barnsheth's yoke.
The two friends will live an incredible adventure before meeting again, and the outcome has yet to be unveiled.

I love Fantasy. I love it because I love the Ride of the Rohirrim in the Fields of Pelennor. Because I love seeing Sauron's Tower of Barad-dur shattered like I'd hope for Bill Gates' empire.
Fantasy is about Dreaming.

And above all things, I am a Dreamer.