Quantarelli’s Formula

I have always been of the opinion that even in the worst sistuations, just like this Covid-19 pandemic, there is something positive, a hope. The experience of disasters, somehow, often promotes social changes and, why not, the coming together of communities in order to help one another. Quantarelli explained this through a simple formula: the worse the situation is, the better people become.

Enrico Quarantelli was not a utopian, but an American sociologist, specialized in the study of reactions to disasters. He started with a tornado in Arkansas in 1952 and went on with dozens of cases.

It was after the great earthquake in Alaska in 1964 that, having noticed the same recurrent behaviors, he drew the first conclusions: catastrophic events bring the best out of humanity. It is not true that we react hysterically. Solidarity prevails over conflict. Society becomes more democratic. Class inequalities and distinctions vanish, at least temporarily.

We suffer and work together. Governments and bureaucracies that impose rigid rules and never improvise often remain helpless. That is the moment when spontaneous organizations of citizens arise, a sort of civic response immune to evil, thus becoming closer to the sense of things and of ourselves.

In normal times we suffer alone, the experience of vulnerability marginalizes us and makes us feel discriminated against and resentful towards those who are spared. Disasters unite, remove what is superficial, leaving the essence.

To those who asked him why we tend to think the opposite of what his research showed, Quarantelli replied: “It is difficult to accept that goodness is normal, it is too reassuring a truth”.

 

P.S. Three posts ago (February 26 th) the cases in Italy were 378 and 12 deaths. Two posts ago (March 8th)  they had raised to 5883 and  the deaths to 223. One post ago (March 13th) we reached 15.113 cases and 1.054 deaths. Today’s bulletin is: 23.073 cases and 2.158 deaths.“Things are going so fast that this article will be old by the time I post it, that is: now.” We must all stay at home.

Stay At Home!

Who ever said that simplicity in communication works? It does not. Because simplifying a concept too often corresponds to a mere banalizitation, which may be misleading for many.There are occasions when words are never enough to grasp the complete meaning of a message, and, being words free, should never be spared. A couple of days ago an entire nation experienced one of those occasions.

It was Monday at about 9:00 p.m. when our premier Conte spoke to the country on tv to refer about the new strict measures which were to be undertaken to stop the outbreak of Covid-19 in Italy. I was a bit of annoyed and with me other 10 million Italians, as we were all ready to watch the new episode of Commissario Montalbano, after all, what could be said that we didn’t know already! Well, he came up with a brand new decree, the previous one was only 48 hours old, whose name was: Stay at home!

We heard – did we? – him speak: the number of cases, deaths, red zone, orange zone, wash you hand, don’t hug, don’t kiss, do this, don’t do that, till he concluded that the entire nation was to be put on lockdown, so, he ended :” just stay at home”. Did we fully understand the meaning of those words at first? I don’t think so. I did not. For many of us staying at home was a sort: “Wow, we won’t have to go to work till April 3rd!” Splendid!. And I bet that soon after that speech many chats like these followed: “Have you heard?” “Since we are on vacation, we may catch up for a drink tomorrow at last, let’s say at 12:00” “All right”! And then we went all back to watch Montalbano. Of course, I’m talking about those who did not live in the red zones like me.

For others those words were reason enough to hurry to the nearest supermarket to stock on food and drinks – no cases of people stocking on toilet paper here, we actually didn’t think about it or it was not our primary issue like in other non-EU countries – so the following day there were those who lightly thought that the present situation was an occasion to improve their social life and those, a minority, who had barricaded themselves wearing face masks and gloves. It didn’t take long to understand that the simple phrase “stay at home” was not clear enough and some explanatory notes were required.

So we have learnt that staying at home means literally staying at home and since it seems we still had a little trouble in accepting it – as usual – all shops, bars, restaurants have been closed till (at least) March 25th. So there is no chance of having any social life. We can leave home only to buy what is strictly necessary, queue are so long that you don’t certainly feel like waiting an hour to get a bottle of coke. Jogging, going for a walk are forbidden and if we need to drive somewhere, we have take with us a sort of self-declaration, in which we state the urgent reason why we are moving to show it to the police in case we are stopped. For any violation we may either be fined or prosecuted .

So everything is clear now. By staying at home our premier meant being under house arrest with the possibility of spending our yard time at the supermarket only. Of course in the next two weeks (at least) we could do many things, but I am sure that among the vast range of opportunities, one in particular will be explored more than others: eating and since we cannot move much, at the end of this tunnel our next goal will be just one: seeing a dietitian.

P.S. Two posts ago (February 26 th) the cases were 378 and 12 deaths. One post ago (March 8th)  they had raised to 5883 and deaths to 223. Today’s bulletin is: 15.113 cases and 1.054 deaths. “Things are going so fast that this article will be old by the time I post it, that is: now.” We must all stay at home.

Plague: The Time of Experience

It is not a simple flu. I was wrong, but in one thing I was right: leap years are ill fated. When I wrote the previous article about Covid-19 diffusion in Italy, that was the situation: 378 people had been infected, 12 had died and all of them suffered from serious pathologies. Nothing that serious, I believed; but things have worsened soon. At the time being this is the updated bulletin: 5883 infected, 1247 new cases since yesterday, 589 have recovered so far and 233 have died. In only 10 days. It is not a simple flu.

Let’s explain why. 1) A normal flu is seasonal, it mutates, therefore, it is always slightly different from the virus of the year before, that is why we are not completely immune, even if we have been infected. Being a variant of the flu virus of the year before, we are only partially immune. Each of us has a different immunity rate, which depends on age, health conditions etc. . We are not immune to Covid-19 and it is very contagious.2) We know how the seasonal flu virus works and we produce new vaccines every year, because, as we have just said, the flu virus mutates. We have no vaccine for Covid-19. 3) We have medicines to cure or relieve flu symptoms, while there is no cure for Covid-19. Not yet. 4) A normal flu may sometimes degenerate into a bacterial pneumonia, which, however, may be treated with antibiotics, for example. If Covid-19 reaches the lower parts of the respiratory system, it may cause a viral pneumonia, for which there is no treatment. In the case the virus develops to that stage (10% of the patients), hospitalization is required and the most serious cases need ICU. And this is the problem, because the average stay in ICU is usually 2/3 weeks. Too long.

Beds in hospitals are not infinite, they are at the limit of total saturation and we may get to the point when there will be none left, hence, we won’t be able to treat patients properly from the complications of the infection. So what can be done? Well, only following the health protocol, staying at home to avoid feeding the spread of the virus from person to person and hope that it will stop sooner or later. We must make the virus less contagious so that to decrease the number of infected people and give everybody the opportunity of being cured.

In the meantime our life has changed. The country is reacting mostly paralyzing any activity and this has and will have serious consequences on our economy. Schools have been closed till (at least ) March 15th. It is today’s news that those living in Lombardy and other 14 provinces won’t be allowed to leave their sites till April 3rd. It is as if we were caught in a limbo and we can do nothing but give up any social life and wait. Things are going so fast that I bet this article will be old by the time I post it, that is: now.

 

 

 

Plague

image from The Times

As you already know, here in Italy we are in quarantine as Coronavirus seems to prefer our land to any other country in Europe. How could it be otherwise after all? We have been enjoying the most incredible winter ever, more like spring than winter, trees are already sprouting, why should the virus head to some more uncomfortable place? In the meanwhile from North to South we are panicking. Supermarket have been assaulted to stock up on food, drinks, masks and above all bottles of Amuchina (Purell), which currently cost more than white truffle. Some schools in the North have been closed as a precautionary measure, school trips forbidden and worst of all, there is the most serious danger that football games might be played behind closed door, right this year that my team S.S.Lazio is that close to win the League (after 20 years).

But when I come across such articles as the following one, I cannot but change the tone of my words:

In the European Union, which prides itself on its open borders among member nations, new cases were recorded in Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Spain and Switzerland. Most were tied to Italy, where the authorities have been struggling to contain an outbreak that has infected at least 325 people, most of them in the north near Milan. ( The New York Times)

Hence, open borders are the problem according to the New York Times. I don’t know why we have become the epidemic centre, but one thing I can say for sure, it’s not because of open borders. People have always moved carrying in the lands they visited their kit of bacteria and viruses with the consequences everybody knows and they’ll keep moving with or without borders. It’s not because of immigration from North Africa too, as the virus comes straight from the civilized, rich and sovereigntist North. But what makes Coronavirus so dangerous to cause such a nervous breakdown in all the country? As far as I can see: mass media.

As you can imagine, we are flooded by updates, interviews to epidemiologists and commentators of any kind, thousands of fake news. Everybody seems to master the topic and has something to say about, but, eventually, the only result is that of increasing a sense of general insecurity generating panick, whose consequences, it’s not unlikely, might lead to an economic recession. And for what? Coronavirus is nothing but a flu. In Italy, which is currently the third country in the world for number of cases, 378 people have been infected and 12 have died. These latter, to be precise, were old and have not died for the virus itself, but for the serious pathologies they had been affected before, which had weakened their immune system. These are the facts plain and simple. Of course, we must take precautions and follow the health protocol, which is exactly the same for any other seasonal flu. Once again, we have another proof of how the excess of information cannot but generate misinformation, ignorance and pointless fear.

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

Sex & drugs & rock & roll”  I remember Ian Dury sang some time ago. A mantra which has constituted for more than one generation the antidote to the homologation to middle class morality and values: family, a good job, a responsible life. Dull!! I am sure any of us has enjoyed a more or less long “sex & drugs & rock & roll ” phase in their life, the rebellious phase, when you want to break the world of OLD RULES, advocating one with NO RULES, till without even realizing it, you find yourself banging your head against the wall of NECESSARY RULES (better known as compromises), so the Hegelian phase of growing up comes to an end and you have become an adult, brand new middle class, of course.

This fight against the bourgeois system of values is nothing new and actually dates back to the time when the middle class world definitely imposed itself on the old aristocrat model of society. Profit, utilitarianism, success, respectability united to a massive dose of prudery and hypocrisy became the totems of the age of the triumph of the middle class: the Victorian Age. And you know what kind of lifestyle did the rebels of the time dream of? Sex & drugs an& rock & roll. Nineteenth century style, of course.

These peculiar kinds of rebels were called “dandies”. They were easily recognizable, as they exhibited a unique refinement, which was their way to express their contempt towards the triviality, hypocrisy, materialism, in a word, the ugliness of the Victorian bourgeoisie. Aesthetics was for them a religion and as they believed that the Victorian society was desperately in want of beauty, they defied it trying to make of their lives something different, just as beautiful as a work of art and if a prudish, respectable kind of behaviour was required, well, they chose to devote themselves to the god of pleasure. Dandies never followed fashion, they did not seek for homologation, for sure. They made it. They embodied such models of elegance and sophistication, which were to be seen unattainable by anybody and no amount of money could buy.

Hence, the dandies chose to fight the system creating an antithetical model, thus proving the mediocrity of the Victorian standards of behaviour. Did they succeed? Well, yes, of course, till they banged their heads against the above mentioned wall (sooner or later it happens). However, they were not the only voices against those standards, there were some others, who were called: Bohemians.  They were, as William Makepeace Thackeray said, “ artists or littérateur who, consciously or unconsciously, secedes from conventionality in life and in art” rejecting permanent residence and surviving on little material wealth. They were exactly like the hippies of the end of the nineteenth century. In Paris many of them lived at Montmartre, not far from the “Moulin Rouge”, while in London they could be seen at Chelsea or Soho. They lived solely for art and literature’s sake and their dissolute lives were often characterized by alcohol and drug abuse, as well as open sexual freedom.  The Bohemians, in fact, felt the need to express and assert themselves, being at such a social and economic disadvantage. They aimed at defying the system, flaunting their marginality. They were actually sex and drugs & rock & roll.

Did they succeed? You know the answer. Rebellions bring new lymph to any society but their life is short and their fate is inevitably homologation. Therefore, once the disuptive impetus has gone, what remains is a sort of quietness, better known as adulthood, and in this new land only the memory of a refrain remains: “sex & drugs & rock & roll”.

 

Freedom is……….

Think about a region, a very productive one, where there is the best education system, the most advanced health system, excellent manufacture, a place where ingenious, hard working people have succeeded in making profit even out of one of the less quaint stretch of coastline of the Adriatic sea, creating well organized bathing resorts, a mix of good quality facilities and places to have fun, which attract thousands of tourists from all over the world. In this region poverty rate is very low, welfare truly works, good food is popular cult and lively music part of the cultural heritage. A paradise. Does such a place really exist in Italy? Yes, it does. It’s Emilia Romagna, 1 of the 20 administrative regions of Italy, the place where lasagne, tortellini and piadina, just to mention some of their worldwide most famous delicatessen, were born. This region has been ruled by the same party for 72 years.

Now, imagine that on occasion of the administrative elections to choose the new president of this region, another political entity would decide to defy the ruling party. With such history and such outcomes it would seem a desperate attempt to anybody. Emilia Romagna has always been the most powerful stronghold of the left wing, doing better would be very unlikely. Another scenario had to be found to have a chance of victory. Something that could mine the certainties of those lucky citizens and convince them that they were not safe at all, that there was a real danger, despite all the good that had been done in years, right behind their doors which could reduce them to poverty: immigrants, thousands of immigrants, ready to replace them at work and strip them of their wealth.

What did the leader of the new political entity say to persuade them? Well, not much. Apart from the same refrain about immigrants, his political campaign was mostly based on the kissing of rosaries, on calling the name of the Virgin Mary and all the Saints in any possible occasion and taking selfies with all the fans who wished it. Fans ? You would say. Yes, fans. He has got millions of fans, who worship him from North to South in any social media, who believe he is just like one of them as he speaks their language and are ready to support him in his holy mission, which,  he seems sometimes to imply, was given him by God himself ( this must be when he is under the effect of a mojito): defend us from any invader and unify the country under one motto “Italians first “(the fact that only 2 seconds before, as the  leader of lega, he had claimed the secession of other two rich regions Lombardia and Veneto, was only a little detail). About Emilia Romagna he never said much. It was not important. If you think, I am just joking, you can have evidence of this in any Italian paper ( but if you do, I’ll be offended).

One thing I forgot to say, this leader, who is former Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, was not the candidate for the presidence of Emilia Romagna, the candidate was a woman, of whom we had only seen a picture of her, I can’t remember her name, actually, and only few have ever heard her say a word (and those who have, refer that those words had the power of breaking the spell had won their brains and went back soon to normality). Salvini did the campaign on her behalf, in fact, as he had planned to make of those administrative elections a test on him and the government stability. Winning Emilia, even with no strong candidate but himself as enchanter, would have smashed the last fortress of the left wing, thus opening the way to new elections and god knows what else .

Did it work? Well, you know well, particularly if some British readers have ventured to read this post so far, that a good dose of populism, nationalism, dreams, inconsistencies rather proven fact and fears, make the infallible potion to win any political test these days, in fact, in November Salvini’s candidate, or better the bill of the candidate, was 7 points before the candidate of the left wing and former president of the region, whose work had been esteemed incontrovertibly good till then.

Something had to be done to stem the losses but what and how? The political forces of the left wing were under shock and did not seem capable of planning an effective counter attack, so as citizens, what can we do in these cases? Well, we can stay at home and pray that something happens or make it happen. Matteo Salvini had planned to open the political campaign with a rally in Bologna and about 5.000 people were expected there. It could be the beginning of the end. Mattia Santori, Giulia Trappoloni, Andrea Garreffa and Roberto Morotti, all around their thirties, thought they could not just watch in silence. Something had to be done. So in few days they organized a counter-rally at Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore the very day Salvini would start his campaign at the sports arena. They hoped to be at least 6.000. More than 15.000 thousand people gathered at Piazza Maggiore.

They call themselves “Sardines”, as they aim at filling squares packed together like sardines in a tin box. And this is what they did: wherever Salvini held a rally, the “Sardines” followed him, organizing another one and attracting more people than he did, thus demostrating that the voices of many people together can make a very powerful one that can silence any threat. Bologna, Modena, Ferrara, Parma first and then the movement spread all over Italy from North to South. A week ago Salvini was defeated at the regional administrative elections, and the candidate of the left wing won with a 9 point margin. As an Italian singer once said: “freedom is not standing on a tree, it is not even the flight of a fly, freedom is not an open space, freedom is participation.

La libertà non è star sopra un albero
Non è neanche il volo di un moscone
La libertà non è uno spazio libero
Libertà è partecipazione…(Giorgio Gaber)

Leap years, ill-Fated Years?

2020 is a leap year, but I don’t like that confident about it and do you know why? Because I am Italian and in these latitudes leap years are believed to be bad luck. Of course, there must be a reson that gave origin to this common belief and we have to go back to Roman times to find it .

A year is said to be a leap year, when instead of lasting 365 days, it has one more day, exactly in February, which therefore counts 29 days in all. The reason for this change is to be found in the exact duration of the solar year, that is, the time taken by the Earth to make a complete tour around the sun. History traces the origin of this ancient practice to the time of the Ancient Romans: Julius Caesar in 46 BC already knew that the calendar year actually lasted 365 days and 6 hours. So every 4 years in his calendar, he had added one more day immediately after February 24, a date that was pronounced in Latin “sexto die ante Calendas Martias“, that is ” six days before the first day of March”. The extra day was called “bis sexto die“, that is ” the sixth day for the second time”, that is why the Italian word for leap year is “bisestile” (bis-sexto).

But, why is a leap year associated to bad luck? Well, in Ancient Rome February was the month dedicated to funeral rites, the commemoration of the dead and penance. The 21th of February was also the day of “Feralia” which means “bringing” (in Latin: fero) gifts to the dead.  Roman citizens brought offerings to the tombs of their deceased ancestors, which consisted in the delivery, over a clay pot, of flower garlands, ears of corn, a pinch of salt, bread soaked in wine and loose violets. Even if additional offerings were allowed it seems that the dead were appeased only with ritual offerings. These simple offerings for the dead had been introduced in Lazio perhaps by Aeneas, who had poured wine and violets on the tomb of Anchise. Ovid narrates that once the Romans had neglected to celebrate Feralia, because they were engaged in a war, so,  the spirits of the dead had come out of the tombs, screaming and wandering the streets angrily. After this episode, reparatory ceremonies had been prescribed and the horrible manifestations ceased.

February was therefore commonly considered a bleak and fatal month and the extra day of a leap year made it ever more so. Another hypothesis is that for the ancients, everything that was anomalous and not rational, was to be considered a bad omen, therefore, also a year with an extra day. That is why after many centuries we keep believing that a leap year is not a good thing and how could I think it otherwise, since I woke up the 1st of January with a cold? And if this is just the beginning and 365 more will have to come like this, oh my!!