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)

Sardines in the Ocean

Mala tempora currunt. These are desperate times and it has been so for quite a while. Too much. The outcomes of global politics of these last years has been so far only division, hatred, selfishness and it seems that perspective of erecting barriers, thus protecting our little world, makes everybody happy. Those who don’t find themselves in all this have been left alone, as that disruptive wave of populism with its simple but effective language has found the political antagonist forces unprepared and weakened, if not ridiculed, by the power of  their slogans and tones. So, we have become hopeless spectators of what to me is a cultural disaster, waiting fora someboby” that when the time comes takes us out of this mess. But, what if we imagined ouselves to be that somebody?

Mattia Sartori

Only a month ago Mattia Santori, 32, from Bologna, felt the urge of doing something. A couple of days before Salvini and his coalition partners, the smaller far-right party Brothers of Italy, and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, were due to launch their campaign for the Emilia-Romagna regional election at an indoor sports arena in Bologna. Emilia-Romagna has been since ever the stronghold of Italian left wing and there is a real danger that Salvini might win the election. He sent an urgent message to three friends late at night telling them to meet the next day. Over lunch, the four friends hatched a plan to Salvini’s boasts about filling Italy’s squares with supporters. The sports arena had a capacity for 5,700 people, and so, via an announcement on Santori’s private Facebook page, the group invited people to a counter-rally at Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore, with the aim of attracting 6,000 people. 15,000 people filled the Bologna square.

Sardines in Bologna

As Salvini’s far-right electoral alliance pursued its campaign, the Sardines converged in other Emilia-Romagna cities before spreading across   Italy, Turin, Florence, Naples and  yesterday they arrived in Rome. They call themselves “Sardines”, as they aim at filling squares packed together like sardines in a tin box, so sardines are the thousands of people who spontaneously gather to manifest their discontent towards the language of populism embodied  by former minister Matteo Salvini and his party.

Sardines in Rome

Yesterday’s square, Piazza San Giovanni in Rome, was not a tight space, it was enormous, an ocean.  Nonetheless, and immense crowd of sardines, young and old succeeded in filling a landmark which has hosted memorable rallies. All of them demanded another way of doing politics, a different storytelling, which is not only a never ending political campaign on twitter or fb, which feeds itself with fears and the rethoric of hatred. The only way which leads to a future of peace is that of anti-fascism, anti-racism and solidarity.The full squares are a clear message to politicians, both left and right.

Sardines in Rome

Very interesting so far, but what comes next? This is a movement, and movements only dent the so called political system or they may end up being swallowed by it, if they just aim at agitating waters. As after a while, sediments, having recovered from the unexpected tides, settle comfortably again, so nothing changes. Our recent history has already undergone the effects of another movement, the so called “five star movement”. They believed they embodied the revolution in politics and would have opened parliament just like a can of  tuna –  fish metaphors seem to be very en vogue and effective here – , but when they turned into a party and got the majority of votes with an incredible 34%, they actually upset the political balances of parliament, only, they didn’t understand that that was the easy part. Once elected and comfortably seated in the can, the destructive phase was now over and  should have been replaced by the constructive one. Their effective slogans crashed against reality and furthermore, being totally inexperienced, they paved the way to a much more skilled shark named Matteo Salvini.

Sardines in Naples

So I ask again: what comes next? Pietro Nenni, an Italian politician, long time ago warned that full squares don’t fill ballot boxes, as the recent history of Brexit demonstrates, so we cannot hope that the “sardines” will stop Matteo Salvini and friends, for sure. However, the people in  these squares showed us that we are not alone, we are many and in our small way we can react to the populist wave.  It is good to talk about politics rather than empty slogan again, it is good to see anti-fascist and anti-racist squares, it is good to see a positive attitude in all the people who joined the rallies and this gives me hope. From Piazza San Giovanni, together, we may start to make a better future.

That Sacred Closet When You Sweep

That sacred Closet when you sweep —
Entitled “Memory” —
Select a reverential Broom —
And do it silently.

‘Twill be a Labor of surprise —
Besides Identity
Of other Interlocutors
A probability —

August the Dust of that Domain —
Unchallenged — let it lie —
You cannot supersede itself
But it can silence you — (Emily Dickinson)

Every year, on the 27th of January the world observes the Holocaust Memorial Day. On that day we are called to remember how far can the folly and cruelty of man can go. We must remember; and teach our children that the privilege of being born in such a long time of peace and wealth, at least in this part of the hemisphere, is not for granted, it may not last forever as those dangers are always behind the corner. Peace must be defended by any attack ignorance and arrogance may launch.

Some students from a school in Palermo saw those dangers and on the occasion of the Holocaust Memorial day last January, they decided to put their thoughts in short video made of a few slides. The above poem by Emily Dickinson with its warnings was the elegant introduction to their work, just to say that they had actually swept that “sacred locket” with the utmost care and that in that “domain of dust” they had perceived the semblance of the same ghosts of the past still roaming in the present. Of course, they wore different clothes, their manners could seem more agreeable or even affable sometimes, but there they were. Hence, they proceeded comparing the Italian racial Laws of 1938 step by step, that is, those laws which restricted the civil rights of the Jews, to the first Security Decree of the Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini of 2018, which regulated the rights and protection of the immigrants in our country with the conclusion that they had similar traits. It wasn’t actually even a very original work, as a popular Italian magazine, “L’Espresso”, had already extensively compared the two measures a couple of months before. Nevertheless, this demonstrated that those students were at least well informed and displayed an uncommon poetical taste.

That article had no consequences of any kind, there is still freedom of expression as far as I know, but things didn’t work the same for what concerns those students in Palermo or better, their teacher: Rosa Maria Dell’Aria. The latter, in fact has been recently put off her job for two weeks. She was considered guilty of  having allowed her students to express their free point of view rather than censor it and require a disciplinary measure against them. Don’t rub your eyes, you’ ve read it right, she was requested to censor her students’ thoughts, thus ignoring the Statute of  Students, which in paragraph 4 of article 4 states very clearly that “in no case the free expression of opinions correctly manifested and not detrimental to the personality of others can be sanctioned, neither directly nor indirectly,  ” and in case somebody forgot:”The life of the school community is based on the freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion, on the mutual respect of all the people who compose it, whatever their age and condition, in the repudiation of any ideological, social barrier”. The video was clearly a free expression of opinions just like the article and the cover of the “L’ Espresso”. Hence, the teacher was punished for complying with the Students’ Statute and acting correctly.

What I find really alarming is the presence of the DIGOS (the police department dealing with political security) in a school of teenagers in Palermo. Does that mean that if a student expresses an opinion that the government dislikes, the police department that deals with political crimes or terrorism is allowed to intervene? So, am I to expect to find the police in my classroom if somebody says, that the second Security Decree, for instance, which should be approved tomorrow, goes openly against human rights, as everybody says, because it means at stopping immigration sanctioning those who go to the rescue of the immigrants at sea with fines between 3500 and 5500 euros for each migrant transported, thus condemning to death those who will try anyhow to leave their countries looking for a better future. This is but an intimidation. An attack on the freedom of students and teachers. An attack on the free and democratic school and teachers cannot be found divided or distracted this time.

At end of the video, those student asked a question: what is the point of celebrating the Holocaust Memorial Day, if we seem to forget everything, making the same errors of the past? But, they had an answer and a good one, in my opinion: commitment. Remembering is the key that should make us feel like committing ourselves more, learning from the errors of the past to create a better future, because if we choose only to be the spectators of life, we may not enjoy the show sooner or later and then it might be too late to change channel.

The Helpless, the Intelligent, the Bandit and the Stupid.

I’ve always been of the opinion that since very first human beings have made their presence known on this planet, they have always shown a very high opinion of themselves. Religion has given its contribution, of course, stating that we were the elected who had been made with the semblance of our creator and the only one endowed with that super power called reason which allows us, sons of the Enlightenment, to make the future we imagine come true. We believe ourselves to be as a sort of demigods. However, if it were so, is this the kind of future we had imagined? There must be a fault in this divine scheme, or more than one as my dear friend Jonathan Swift had cleverly pointed out in his Gulliver Travels, otherwise, our present wouldn’t be so full of contradictions and oddities. I cannot clearly make out where we are going or if the demigods we have elected have in mind to take us to a place different from the one called “disaster”. I am convinced there must be circuit breaker somewhere.

So while I was thus immersed in what the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi called “cosmic pessimism”, my attention was drawn by an essay written by Professor Carlo Cipolla : “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity” and magically everything became clear. Professor Cipolla aimed at discussing the following facts:

1. the stupid damage the whole society;
2. the stupid in power do more harm than others;
3. the stupid democrats use the elections to keep the percentage of stupid people in power  high;
4. stupid people are more dangerous than bandits because reasonable people can understand the logic of bandits;
5. Reasonable people are vulnerable to stupid because:
* generally they are surprised by their attack;
* *they fail to organize a rational defense because the attack has no rational structure.

Having thus said the Professor formulates the following five laws:
1:Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation. I know, it sounds ungenerous, but it is a matter of fact that too often those who once we judged rational and intelligent turn out to be unashamedly stupid and think about it, how often have we been harassed in one of your activities by stupid individuals who appear suddenly and unexpectedly in the most inconvenient places and at the most improbable moments? It is impossible to fix their percentage, however, any number would be too small.
2:The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person. Education, race, status or gender( sorry, Mr Run😙) have nothing to do with it. In fact, you will see that the fraction of stupidity is exactly the same among blue-collar workers, white-collar employees, students, administrators, professors, men or women.
3: A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
4: Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
5 :A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

The corollary of the Law is that: A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit, a statement which leads to the core of Professor Cipolla’s theory. Individuals can actually be divided into four types four basic categories: the helpless, the intelligent, the bandit and the stupid.
The Helpless are those who with his action tends to cause harm to themselves, but also create advantage to someone else.
The Intelligent tend with their action to create an advantage for themselves, but also create an advantage for someone else.
The Bandit , of course, create advantage for themselves, but at the same time damage someone else.
The Stupid are those who cause harm to another person or group of people without at the same time realizing any advantage for themselves or even suffering a loss.

Professor Cipolla also states that intelligent people are generally conscious of being so, the bandits are also aware of their attitude and even the unfortunate people have a strong suspicion that not everything is going right. But stupid people do not know they are stupid, and this is one more reason that makes them extremely dangerous.
If it is so, I start to suspect something and I cannot avoid asking myself a painful question: am I stupid? Even if tests had proven my I Q, I know  these tests would not mean anything.I am often told  I am intelligent, but even this proves nothing. These people may perhaps want to hide me the truth, or, they might be trying to take advantage of my stupidity with a harmless flattery or they could be as stupid as me.
Then another question comes, am I aware of how stupid I am (or was)?  And I can proudly say, yes, I am.😑
And this proves that I’m not completely stupid.😏

The Abstract Principle of Equality

It was 1871 when Swiss philosopher Henry Frèderic Amiel  pondered on the nature of democracy in his “Journal Intime”. It is impressive how Amiel in few clear words nails effectively the problems implied by a representation where one is worth one despite merit, experience, education etc. and foresees the processes that will shape the world as we know it. Of course, he could not predict how the impact of modern means of communications would have made the development of those processes more dangerous and faster with the consequences we know worldwide, however, his intuition has become astonishingly and bitterly true.

“The masses will always be below the average. Besides, the age of majority will be lowered, the barriers of sex will be swept away, and democracy will finally make itself absurd by handing over the decision of all that is greatest to all that is most incapable. Such an end will be the punishment of its abstract principle of equality, which dispenses the ignorant man from the necessity of self-training, the foolish man from that of self-judgment, and tells the child that there is no need for him to become a man, and the good-for-nothing that self-improvement is of no account.
Public law, founded upon virtual equality, will destroy itself by its consequences. It will not recognize the inequalities of worth, of merit, and of experience; in a word, it ignores individual labor, and it will end in the triumph of platitude and the residuum.”
HENRY-FREDERIC AMIEL
Journal Intime”
12th June 1871

Stay Worried, Stay Foolish!

I have always been inspired by Steve Jobs’s famous speech at Stanford. So motivating. In particular by his use of the word “foolish”. For foolish he meant to be daring, creative and ready to explore paths unseen to the wise. You must be courageous and determined to do that of course, but above all: fool. That is why I can undoubtedly say that Rome has been in these last two years the splendid lab of that foolishness as Steve Jobs did mean it, especially for what concerns public administration, no joking. Let’s give some examples.

When roads  become for many reasons very dangerous as it is in Rome these days, I guess that organizing public procurements for road maintenance could be considered a wise plan, but this would be so for anybody else but the foolish. In Rome, in fact, it has been decided to solve the problem in a very creative way: reducing the speed limits thus saving the money for road maintenance. Amazing, isn’t it?. So it may happen to drive along large roads that seem highways trying not to exceed the maximum speed limit allowed of 50 km per hour, if you don’t want to be fined. Slow but safe. Of course, a lot of fb pages have flourished with the aim of alerting drivers when there are traffic police units in sight. After all, we citizens have to defend ourselves in some way and naturally, I may define foolish this as well in a certain way. Therefore, for our administration fixing road potholes is nothing but a waste of money, especially when only a shower is enough to make all the maintenance useless here. So this is what driving in Rome has become nowadays and you may understand it better if we compare it to another city like Los Angeles mostly inhabited by the wise:

sobrio= sober; ubriaco=drunk

Of course, in Rome the drunk is the one who keeps the straight line as he can’t see or avoid the potholes. Would you like another example? About 20 years ago the then Mayor Rutelli planned to retrain 100 squares, mostly in the suburbs, not only having them cleaned but also creating a lot of green spaces for families and children. Of course, even those squares and green spaces would have required regular maintenance, but unfortunately it did not happen. So, after 20 years they have become just what they used to be or even worse. The problem of green area maintenance regards also the big and famous parks and villas in Rome, the roads and sidewalks where weeds keep growing wildly and the trees which have not pruned for years. If you ventured to read the post that far I guess you have understood that it seems that there is not much money to spend on this project ( nor any other project), so what would you think the foolish have thought about?

Yes, sheep. So pretty soon my dear tourists, you might see sheep graze in Piazza Venezia or walk lazily along Via del Corso to reach Villa Borghese through traffic. Think about sheep manure especially at summer time, what a pastoral sight and smell! Don’ t forget that we are talking about the capital.

The point is that this foolishness is destined to cross the borders of the capital and become national as the party that runs Rome won the national elections almost three months ago and made a contract with the most reactionary and anti-European faction in Italy in order to rule the country. It is a very ambitious contract, indeed. First of all they aim at reducing the public debt. At last, you would say, as we have the third largest debt in the world, but how? Making reforms, reducing waste or combating tax evasion? Oh,no.That would be too wise. The foolish recipe is: not to pay, as they aim at negotiating with the BCE a cut of the public debt of 250 billions of euros for…..nothing.

Maybe, you may wonder, strategies will be implemented to stop the public debt, for sure. Not exactly, as they have in mind a “flat tax”, that is, two tax rates of 15% up to 80.000 euros and 22% if you exceed that income threshold.  That is the revenge of the Sheriff of Nottingham over Robin Hood, who is rolling over in his grave I am sure by now, as that would mean that the poorer classes will be damaged more and pay for the rich. How can it be that a footballer, for example, and a teacher are subjected to a similar tax rate?

And the poor? Don’t you worry, they will be given a sort of “basic income” of about 1.000 euros or more to stay at home. I forgot to mention that those who are holding the reins of the destiny of this country have little working experience. I don’t mean political experience, bur really working experience. One of them before becoming deputy and now candidate Prime Minister, was a steward at San Paolo football stadium and webmaster. Nothing more can be found in that C.V., but maybe I am not fool enough to understand all this.

 

 

A Portrait of an Eligible Ruler

From the comments of the previous post, everybody knows what they dislike about their rulers, but let’s try and be constructive: what makes a politician fit for being in charge of a country? Would you like him to be a sort of shrewd leader as the one suggested by Machiavelli, a heart inflaming dreamer or simply an honest anybody, as it seems to be so “en vogue” here these days? Well, my answer is: a sharp-witted accountant, and by accountant I mean somebody who knows exactly figures, understands present situations and pursues his goals according to the real possibilities the State budget offers him and nothing more. A leader with such skills would make the fortune of his country, and I know this is to be true as in the past there was a ruler I do admire, a king, that somehow had many of these characteristics: Henry VII Tudor.

When Henry became King, he had inherited a nation shattered by a long civil dynastic war between the noble families of Lancaster and York. For what concerns foreign policy, the importance of England in Europe had become quite marginal especially after the loss of the Hundred Year’s war and furthermore, he was aware that his claim to the throne was shaky, plots and conspiracies were, in fact, always behind the corner. Differently from the other European countries, we have to remember that English kings did not rule by Divine Right, hence, they could not act as freely as they would, because their actions were submitted to the Common Law and the Magna Charta. Apparently weak, in charge of a country torn to pieces, what could he do? Not much, it would seem, but Henry accepted the challenge. First of all, he didn’t search for the limelight with great, noble actions that would have made his people dream, he was not a man of dreams, but facts, hence, he put on the clothes of the inflexible “accountant” and set to work.

He targeted two main objects: unifying the country and centralizing the power in the hand of the monarchy. Being an attentive “accountant”, he accurately pondered about what was advisable to do and not to do. First of all, he aimed at avoiding troubles with foreign and more powerful countries, as any other war would have made him at the mercy of Parliament. He chose to make commercial treaties with France and The Netherlands, thus opening up trade with both countries and arranged the marriage of his children to the crowned heads of Europe forming stronger alliances.

Stability was the main goal of his domestic policy.  First of all he married Elizabeth of York thus uniting the House of Lancaster and the House of York. Then he deprived the noble families of their private armies, enforced royal taxes, modernized administration, promoted trade and the making of a fleet, thus demonstrating that he well understood what was necessary to face the new era marked by the discovery of America. When he died, he left a safe throne, a solvent government and a prosperous and reasonably united country. Of course his son Henry VIII and his grand-daughter Elizabeth I are more interesting and well-known sort of rulers, but it was Henry VII, who actually laid the foundation of modern England.

I can’t imagine of any ruler with such determianation and clarity of purpose nowadays and certainly not here in Italy. Sunday’s vote has nothing to do with innovative or clever politics of enlightened candidates, but rather, it will end up with choosing between the frying pan and the fire and we are well aware that you might get burnt with both of them, unfortunately.