Monday, 18 October 2010

Fratelli d’Italia pt. 2

Striscia la Notizia StudiosImage by via FlickrPart 2: we shift to television, as I said before. 
  • TV Debates Generally - I already mentioned politicians arguing on televisions, but they're certainly not the only ones. On Striscia la Notizia they frequently draw attention to the phenomenon with a sort of chart called I Nuovi Mostri ("The New Monsters" - I believe it's a nod to something rather more cultural) where they basically run through the people who've made arses of themselves on TV in various ways during the week. Some people seem to get invited onto TV shows specifically to argue - if you didn't know that Berlusconi was behind Italian TV you might suspect Jeremy Kyle had something to do with it. The thing I really don't understand is the lack of intervention by TV presenters. There's a certain naivete about it all: when someone, either in the audience or properly in front of the cameras, is shouting over the top of someone else, so that the whole spectacle has become entirely farcical, a presenter might implore some dignity, a bit of calm, but the idiot somehow retains use of the microphone. Note to Italian TV people: when you take a microphone away from someone, it makes them harder to hear. Thank you.
  • Repetitive, Crap TV - The most obvious criticism that you can make about Italian TV is that it's lousy. I generally get told at this point that English TV isn't up to much at the minute, plus, you have to stay up later than I do to watch the good stuff. Fair enough. Bad television isn't strange in itself: what I'm curious about is the way in which it is bad. There's a spectacular lack of variety: a good number of programmes are on every working day, such as Renegade (old, American, shit, ugly protagonists with bad clothes) and Squadra Speciale Cobra 11 (silly German series about a special branch of the traffic police with implausible storylines and obligatory scene with cars exploding on the Autobahn - Monica reserves a special scorn for Germany's contribution to Italian TV). There are also programmes on every day which aren't bad, but there's simply no need to repeat  them, such as The Simpsons ('Woo-hoo!' = "Mitico!" btw) and Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, which even runs on Saturday I think - basically, you can tell that it's the day of rest when even Gerry Scotti isn't on the idiot box. I was recently reminded of the extraordinary fact that the Mayans (before the Spanish decided to destroy their civilisation) believed that the sun would cease to rise if they ceased to offer human sacrifices. One wonders how such a situation could arise, but I suppose you start small. Perhaps in 100 years, Italians will believe that the sun will not set if they neglect to broadcast Striscia every single day of the week including Sunday (or Veline/Velone/Paperissima to appease the god of the summer hiatus), as is their current practise.
  • Films on really late - More of the same scheduling madness. Again, I am penalised for my early nights, but it seems a bit over the top to me. Some of the best films that I see in the terrestrial schedules begin at somewhere around 11:30, whereas the lousy ones (Big Mama is on at a watchable time this evening, for example) get the primetime slots. The way I see it, the films must cost the channel the same amount no matter when they broadcast them, though the revenue from advertising must be higher before midnight. So isn't it in their own interest to give us the best films in the evening, and the bollocks at night?
  • Veline
    Apparently there was a feminist movement in Italy once. This explains why there is civil divorce and legal abortion. However, I frequently wonder what happened to all the feminists; there's still rather a lot of work to do. I allude in this instance to the veline, properly speaking a feature of Striscia, but representative of Italian TV in general. With varying degrees of sobriety, there are a lot of women on TV whose only purpose is to act as eye-candy. Striscia's veline, as the wikipedia article says "perform short dance breaks or stacchetti, always finishing up on the news anchors’ desk. They usually perform in swim-suits or tank tops and sing pop tunes as they dance." They do nothing else, except for the strange style of staged publicity that they have here for the shows' sponsors. Apparently the veline are meant to be a parody of the bimbos (strange use of Italian by us by the way - a bimbo is a male child) but I don't buy that story for a minute. Now, I have an ambivalent relationship with feminism (if you were to use the term "feminist literary theory" for example, I would immediately feel contempt) but I'd feel happier if they came back and addressed this outrageous affront to the dignity of women. As I say, this phenomenon exhibits itself with varying degrees of class: the most crass examples I'm aware of would be Ciao Darwin and Chiambretti Night, which I can't watch and the most tasteful Che Tempo Che Fa. But the last example is perhaps the most depressing, because it's a good programme, but they employ this completely superfluous Scandinavian woman. She may be elegant, she may have a reasonable amount of clothes on, but she's still purely decorative.
Update: I received, in response to the last part, a link to a documentary on the subject. And I see that there's even an English version.
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Friday, 15 October 2010

Fratelli d’Italia

Satellite image of Italy in March 2003.Image via WikipediaI would have liked this to be my first ever proper bilingual blog post, but for reasons which will soon bcome clear, this is not really on the cards. I only have so much free time...

Anyway, this is inspired by an exchange in the kitchen at work. We were talking about English pronunciation, which led, naturally enough, to the conclusion that the English are strange. It must have been Manu (that’s Emanuela, not Manchester United) because I proceeded to vent my indignation in her direction, with a combination of gusto and bad Italian – my cool was lost, though I wasn’t at all offended. Us, strange? That’s a bit bloody rich considering what goes on in this country – that was the gist of it. Ever heard anyone in England start a sentence with "If this was a normal country..."? Me neither, but in Italy, every now and then...

I didn’t get to the point of saying “You want a list?”, but I thought it might be fun to blog one. Some of these things I just find interesting, and some I find very annoying. The only key element is that I think they’re a bit (or bloody) odd.
  • Berlusconi
    I know, I know – it’s too obvious. However, in the same way that the Nazis tend to find their way into discussions on morality, if you start talking about Italy’s problems, there’s one of them which is always, inexplicably, on the telly. Where to begin? A man who clearly should not be left in charge of organising a piss up in a brewery, who is a gaffe generator of Prince Philippian proportions, whose political efforts are all concentrated on keeping himself out of trouble, who thinks that Italy gains by association with Muammar al-Gaddafi (who’s always popping into the country for a visit), who is a walking conflict of interest as far as his media empire is concerned, who is compromised by his alleged criminal history which he (coincidentally of course) takes measures to ensure are not investigated – I’m amazed that a single Italian could vote for him, let alone the requisite majority.
  • Berlusconi’s Smile
    I feel that this deserves an entry in itself. If I were in charge of Italy, I don’t think I’d be smiling. He, on the other hand, always has this cheesy grin on his ridiculous mug (which, by the way, is beautified with a hairdo that looks uncannily like shoe polish) – happy as Larry. There’s no small amount of discontent in Italy at the moment; how is it that no-one has taken the trouble to punch that smug grin off his face?
  • The OppositionOn paper, being the political opposition in Italy must be a piece of cake, right? "Hey," they might say, "you know that moron who's in charge of the country, the one who looks like a used car salesman? If you vote for us, the worst that could happen is that a different moron will be in charge." At this point I imagine the populace desperately breaking down the doors of the voting stations. It's not quite like that. You can't entirely blame the electorate. They don't (by their own admission usually) really do politics here. I've been here about two years, and if you asked me what policy differences exist between Berlusconi's Popolo della Liberta and the principal left-wing opposition party, the Partito Democratico, I honestly couldn't tell you. I may be partially to blame for this, because reading the papers is something I never got the hang of in English, let alone Italian, but I'm sure the PD could get their message (always assuming that they actually have one) onto TV if they put their minds to it.
  • Politicians on TV and in the Camera
    Two words that you might hear a lot in Italy are "pazienza" (patience) and "vergogna" (shame). They like to tell each other that they should have these important characteristics. In the case of the second, the sense is "You ought to be ashamed of yourself". This applies especially to politicians I think. Now, Italians don't have a problem with talking, and sometimes shouting over each other, whereas we don't. It takes some getting used to, but there's nothing essentially wrong with it. Variety is the spice of life. On the other hand, when I see Italian politicians on TV I often find myself thinking "But you know you're on TV, right? That people can see you, and that you're behaving like a child?". They call each other names, shout over each other, throw tantrums, refuse to let other people speak, and so on. And it's not much better in their parliament, the Chamber of Deputies. I seem to recall a fight breaking out once. If you think Prime Minister's Questions can get a bit juvenile sometimes, think of Italy and count yourself lucky.
I made a list of things to cover, and I've just done 4 of about 27, plus things continue to occur to me. It so happens that the list switches from politics to the telly at this point, plus, I've had request to break this mother down into smaller sections, so I will.
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    Sunday, 10 October 2010


    A mug of golden beer with a white froth; again...Image via Wikipedia Just a quick note to say how much I'm appreciating my parents' birthday present (birthday in may, but the moment was not opportune) - the BruBox! Apparently to the extent that I'm basically giving them a little publicity. They don't supply direct, but they do list stockists.

    It's a little cube for brewing 10 l of beer in about the simplest way possible. I reckon I might even manage to do it with a small baby about. It's something of a godsend in this mysterious country where they know (almost) everything about food, but nothing about beer...

    I wonder how I'll get the next packs.

    N.B. It does make a bit of noise though. I'd advise the presence of multiple walls between the kit and, say, a pregnant wife.
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    Sunday, 3 October 2010

    Say it with water! pt. 2

    A follow up post. Mostly because I had a look at the video that my friend mentioned in the comments. He asked me to let him know what I thought, and I asked him if I could blog about it, so here we are. I transcribed the bits I wanted to mention in the video, but I only took down references to the bible, so perhaps the translation used was a bit different.

    There was also a comment from Scott which is worth putting up if I am blogging again:

    Just to point out, since you began the discussion, that not every instance of "baptism" in the New Testament means a baptism of water. When it says "so many of you as were Baptised into Christ Jesus", it does not mean water baptism. (like when Jesus says "you cannot be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised in".

    Most theologians consider there to be three baptisms:
    1. Baptism of Salvation
    2. Water Baptism
    3. Baptism with the Holy Spirit
    The video makes the same point more explicit: "baptism" means "immersion", and can be interpreted, according to context, in ways which have little to do with water. As I said at the time, I don't see anything in the bible which says that Romans 6:3-8 isn't related to water baptism. What's more, John 3:3-8 links spiritual and water baptism. I also think Romans should be read in the light of Matthew 28:18-20, but that is perhaps a bit abstract.

    Leaving aside the factual accuracy of whether or not most theologians say that there are three baptisms, it is in any case possible that they occur simultaneously. The fact is that a wealth of interpretations are available. My starting point is the teaching of the Catholic Church rather than the bible, partially for that very reason. I won't say any more on that here, but I will give you a link to a previous post about the same thing.

    Moving on to the video more explicitly ... well, I'm back where I started really: I'm not really sure where the idea of baptism as an expression of faith comes from. I can't think of a passage that suggests it. My friend said that biblically "it's a public statement of a decision to join/follow" and the video repeatedly stresses that public aspect.

    My friend was kind enough to say that it'd be okay for me to blog on the video (I don't think it's his technically) so I'm very conscious that I shouldn't be gratuitously critical, but I just don't see it. I think I went into the biblical picture of baptism pretty thoroughly for some bloke with a keyboard and an internet connection, but the verses that indicate that baptism is an expression of a pre-existing spiritual reality - I just didn't see them. Where are they?

    "...a person being baptised in the name of Jesus is saying publicly that they've been immersed in Jesus and that they're taking on his characteristics."

    "The bible says that a person has a spiritual baptism as soon as they believe in Jesus."

    And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory.
    Ephesians 1:13-14

    For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
    1 Cor 12:13
    It doesn't say that baptism expresses immersion in Jesus, it says "we were all baptized by one spirit into one body".

    As for "the bible says that a person has a spiritual baptism as soon as they believe in Jesus", I just think that's wrong, especially the "the bible says" part. The verse given from Ephesians - which in fairness probably isn't intended as a proof text - doesn't even mention baptism. You might perhaps read it together with other passages to make this argument, but to me it seems that this is simply a case of going beyond the text.

    More technically, if you look at the points that I marked in italics, you'll see that the second is translated by the NIV as "having believed". The word is πιστευσαντες in Greek, and, from what I understand from John Dobson, that's a straightforward literal translation. Now, "having believed, you were marked" could be read as "at the moment that you believed, you were marked", but it isn't necessarily the case. The only certainty is that belief comes before being marked. If for example I say that Steve, having caught the 8:45 to Exeter, went to the 11:15 church service, there's nothing logically wrong with what I say, though you may wonder what Steve did to kill the time. Therefore, that "as soon as they believe in Jesus" also seems unwarranted to me.

    I marked "when you heard" as well because I noticed that it actually has the same form as πιστευ-σαντες; it's ἀκου-σαντες. I'm sure that there's a good reason why the NIV translators went for "when you heard" but equally I think that "having heard" may perhaps be more literal. I won't labour the point because I'm still learning Greek after all.

    "...but the bible also says that alongside this inside experience, the outside experience of water baptism should happen too."

    Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
    Acts 2:38

    "They're saying Jesus has washed away their sin"
    "They're saying that Jesus took the punishment for their sins at the cross, washing them clean in God's sight[.]"

    And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.
    Acts 22:16
    It doesn't say that baptism should happen in addition to a spiritual experience, it says "repent and be baptized [...] for the forgiveness of your sins". And it doesn't say that baptism expresses being washed clean of sin, it says that we should "be baptized and wash [our] sins away, calling on his name." Does baptism wash our sins away? Does calling on his name wash them away? This verse (or at least this translation) doesn't make it clear. Taken together with John 3:3-8 and Acts 2:38, I think the natural conclusion is that water baptism somehow washes our sins away. St. Peter even writes that "baptism [...] saves you". (1 Pt 3:21)

    "They're saying that, in Christ, they've been born again to a new, eternal life with God."

    We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
    Romans 6:4

    ...having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
    Colossians 2:12
    The bible doesn't say that baptism expresses being born again, it says "we were [...] buried with him through baptism [...] in order that we too may live a new life" and that we were "buried with him in baptism and raised with him through [...] faith". Both verses say that baptism into death actually precedes new life. And Jesus says "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water" (and the Spirit) (Jn 3:5).

    They're saying that they now carry Jesus with them at all times.

    [A]ll of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
    Galatians 3:27
    The bible doesn't say that baptism expresses carrying Jesus with you, it says that whoever is baptised has "clothed [them]selves with Christ."

    Perhaps this has been a bit repetitive, but basically I don't just disagree with the emphasis that the video was placing on publicly expressing faith, I don't even understand what the biblical basis for it is.
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